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August 2008 Archives

August 1, 2008

A Cowal interlude

I returned yesterday from a magical few days in Cowal, the peninsula that reaches down like a crab claw around the Island of Bute in the Firth of Clyde. Having published books on long-distance walks in both Kintyre to its south-west and the Arran to its south, I'd been thinking it would be logical to publish a Rucksack Reader to the Cowal Way, a long walk devised by Jim McLuckie of the Colintraive and Glendaruel Community Council. I was encouraged in this idea when one of its Committee members approached me in Campbeltown over a year ago, saying that stocks of their own guidebook had run out. Published in 2001 with Lottery funding, that book was written by John Fisher, and always seemed readily available in Cowal but almost unobtainable outside. That isn't my view of how to bring in visting walkers, with their sterling, dollars and euros, to an area rich in scenery and wildlife.

The 2-hour drive to Ormidale (where we met in Jim McLuckie's lovely house) was extremely scenic, passing three large lochs (Lomond, Long and Fyne). The meeting was most enjoyable: longer, and with more laughter, than I could have hoped for: thanks, Jim, Michael and Annie. It would be lovely to think it might lead to a guidebook.

Anyway it made a good excuse to stay with my dear friends Bob and Di Tennent in Blairmore, from Ormidale only half an hour's drive easterly. And despite a fairly dire forecast on Wednesday, we had an amazing sail in a Freedom 21 around the Holy Loch and down the Clyde to Kip next day. The breeze was at least Force 4/5 and although the photo below is of the right boat, it's one that Bob took earlier this year. I should explain that we weren't actually flying the spinnaker for the good reason that there was too much wind: we were surfing at up to 7.3 knots even with the mainsail reefed! It's a long time since I've felt such sheer exhilaration and it was deeply refreshing.

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On Thursday I headed for Glasgow, mainly to meet John Johnston for lunch at the Ubiquitous Chip. John has become my SuperCard guru and was kind enough to fix a few problems on my laptop after lunch. It's wonderful watching a skilled programmer at work, even better when he is solving problems for you, and SuperCard's trace facility is very slick. John teaches at Sandaig Primary when he isn't writing creative SuperCard software such as Rommy Robot (see his blog) and rescuing folk like me who are out of their depths. After our email exchanges in July, it was great to meet this amazing former zoo keeper and enjoy a civilised lunch. Endearingly, it turns out he's a little absent-minded, to the extent that he told me if you withdraw cash from an ATM machine but walk away instead of collecting your cash, the machine takes it back and credits your account! (This presupposes that somebody else doesn't lift it meantime, so is not recommended.) This was just one of many things I learned today:)

And, returning to Dunblane yesterday afternoon, I couldn't believe I'd been away for only two nights. It always seems as if you've been away for longer when a ferry is involved.

August 6, 2008

The design genius of Apple

My 26 July post was about my recent efforts to achieve HyperCard/SuperCard migration. The payoff was being ready to order a new Mac. My trusty Cube had been grinding slowly, overtaken by "progress", and my online publishing business needs five applications open just to process an order, up to ten if I'm editing, choosing images or reviewing page design. Since it's nearly seven years since my last upgrade, I jumped without hesitation to the best current iMac: gorgeous 24-inch screen with blistering fast (over 3GHz) dual processors and plenty of memory. Best of all, it took under five minutes to unpack, plug in its single power lead and get it surfing the web fast and gracefully. I enjoyed small details such as well-designed packaging, and the way the remote control works straight away and intuitively, just like an iPod. Here's hoping this will suffice for the next seven years!

And, had my Cube been unmodified, I expect that Apple's brilliant Migration Assistant "software that lets you transfer your data, preferences and settings from one Mac to another" would have made the next bit painless. Sadly, all attempts to get the Cube to start up in "target" mode failed, so Migration never began. Best friend and guru Bob Tennent managed to troubleshoot this: it's a side-effect of the Cube's retro-fitted non-Apple optical drive. We tried using Airport (wireless network) instead of Firewire, but that failed: you can't even instal Leopard (System 10.5) on a Cube so as to use its two-way Migration Assistant. Deep sigh, but there's no gain without pain, especially where computers are involved. I spent the next few hours reinstalling software, importing bookmarks and retrieving passwords, product keys and settings. Without my wonderful SuperCard project (which contains everything I needed, and much more) I couldn't have done it nearly so fast, and maybe I would have lost my reason ... so converting from HyperCard first was deffo the way to go!

All the data files from the external hard drive came across fine. I rejected Time Machine's kind invitation to back up automatically, fearing that this might have replaced all my precious ex-Cube data with the iMac's minimal data. Remembering the bad old days of MS-DOS (which expected you to know syntax in order to back files up in the intended direction) I'd rather make such decisions manually.

Right now, less than 24 hours after the box was delivered, nearly all applications have been reinstalled and nearly all peripherals are working fine. Downsides (so far) are that AppleWorks 6 won't run any more, and my 19-year old LaserWriter is unable to print: maybe the iMac thinks it's too last-century and won't talk to it? Or maybe guru Bob will talk me through the solution tonight. It was after midnight when I finally sorted the Entourage database and frankly, some Dutch courage had been taken in the meantime: sleep beckoned, so I left it overnight, downloading its updates.

Best of all, all orders have been handled and no customer (unless they happen to read this blog) will be aware of any disruption. And husband Keir, who was in Oban overnight (just as well, for all the attention I'd have paid him:), will return to find my 22-inch screen attached to his Cube, where it will give his PowerPoints more room to breathe.

August 7, 2008

Wildlife at Landrick

I've just had a jaw-dropping experience: looking out of the window, I saw an otter ... a large, sleek, dog otter. It was only about 10 yards from the house, running across our driveway, where it met a fence and crossed again - in which instant I managed to attract Keir's attention so he saw it too. We haven't seen it since, but think he must have trotted in through the front gate, and presumably that's the only way he can leave because of our perimeter fence. Otters are my favourite creatures, and previously I've seen them in the wild only from a distance, and only twice before in Scotland (on the River Endrick and on Arran). So I was astounded to find one visiting our garden.

Landrick has the most amazing wildlife. We have a resident heron, known as Harry, who thrives on the fish in the pond, but also sometimes takes frogs and field mice. Roe deer are frequent visitors to the garden: unlike the otter they can easily jump the fence. We see brown hare and buzzard often, and stoat occasionally. We have had oystercatchers nesting in the garden, this year successfully thanks to my improvised shelter which kept the crows off. And a mute swan dropped in for a few days last year.

This year, unlike last when 12 ducklings all perished in their first few days, the ducklings have been a huge success: they were launched later, at the very end of June (instead of April) and their mother has been a total control freak, keeping them close and protecting them overnight by letting all 10 huddle beneath her. While out of line with infant-centred views about little ones choosing for themselves, this has the enormous advantage of having kept the little darlings alive. I wholly approve of this feisty mama, especially when she attacked me (I had picked up a duckling to let grand-daughter Amy stroke its superb down).

For weeks, I didn't even dare blog about them, in case I was tempting Providence, but now they are six weeks old and fledging, they are viable and have as good a chance as any. So here is our feisty mama, leading her offspring in closely controlled formation, with a larger close-up beneath: gorgeous or what?

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August 12, 2008

On hearing, deafness and a great novelist

I went to the Edinburgh Book Festival today, to hear one of my favourite novelists, David Lodge. He spoke mainly about his latest novel Deaf Sentence, but anyway I'd never heard him live before, and for me it's authors that bring books alive. His book explores the theme of loss of various kinds – of hearing, of his father, of youth, of retiring from employment. He skilfully exploits the comic potential of deafness via double entendre, pun and misunderstanding, acting out the premise that deafness is comic, whereas blindness is tragic.

He has hearing loss himself, but there isn't an ounce of self-pity either in his book or in his talk. With refreshing lack of political correctness, he describes himself as a "deafie". He also appreciates the point that my father demonstrated at age 95: being a writer is one of the few professions that can't forcibly make you retire. Let the market decide!

The EBF Main Theatre was packed to capacity to hear this charismatic writer read an edited version of the first couple of chapters. We all laughed a lot. In a few cases the laughter was delayed, and I realised that an unusual proportion of this audience themselves had hearing loss. The missing link was a skilful, sensitive sign language expert who somehow kept up with Lodge's dazzling stream of words. Indeed her hour-long performance was in many ways as impressive as his.

How on earth do you represent post-modernism, campus novels and linguistics (to pick three examples at random) using only hands, face and body language? And how did she manage to keep up that data rate for a full hour? Lodge is fiercely intelligent, articulate and deals in abstractions. He pulls no intellectual punches, and nor does Desmond Bates, former Professor of Linguistics and hero of his novel.

Question time was interesting: Lodge's hearing was clearly adequate to fielding questions, thanks to excellent microphones and acoustics. I had wondered if he would turn to the signer for "translation" but no, she just went on translating and it was fascinating to see how her body language independently echoed his, sometimes improving on it, although neither was watching the other. The whole event was truly captivating.

And afterward, my son Sandy took me to lunch at the Tiger Lily and I enjoyed catching up with his life a bit. He's in the process of hiring a PA to help with Experience Ecosse, his gift voucher company. Knowing how much a really good PA has helped me over the last 15 years, I deeply hope that he makes the right appointment. And having had a couple of amazing experiences thanks to his vouchers, I certainly hope that his company prospers.

August 14, 2008

Calmness descends after the computer upgrade

I'm delighted to report that the dust has settled on my computer upgrade, and I'm back to using the machine as a tool rather than diverting energy into installing software, troubleshooting and choosing hardware. My SuperCard project is running sweetly on the new iMac and although it doesn't try to exploit most of the new SC features, it does the job smoothly, and I can expand its functionality as I go along. And I have never seen photographs look as stunning as on its glossy 24-inch screen.

The problem with using my ancient laser printer was looking intractable with System 10.5 (Leopard), possibly related to its AppleTalk connection. Having swapped it with the new Epson printer (which I had given to husband Keir, see blog entry of 21.11.2007) for diagnostic purposes, I had the happy idea of making the swap permanent. Since husband Keir is not about to upgrade from 10.4 any time soon, Leopard gives me a good reason to retrieve the better printer! How ironic that a piece of machinery which has given 19 years' reliable service is now on borrowed time for reasons of software "progress"!

The AppleWorks problem has been solved, also in an unorthodox way. My own, legally purchased and upgraded AppleWorks CD had refused point-blank to instal under Leopard. Considering that all our invoices and many book manuscripts are in Appleworks, this was a major setback. The solution was a kind friend who emailed me his AppleWorks to try. Despite having the same version number (6.2.9) as mine, this one works a treat under Leopard. So all my recent concern about Microsoft Office 2008 and downloading a trial version of iWorks Pages was needless. I realise AppleWorks is no longer maintained, but feel I've done enough innovating recently and my motto remains "If it ain't broken, don't fix it". The time to change word processing systems is not ripe.

August 16, 2008

A death at Landrick

We woke up early, to catch an the 7.07 train from Dunblane to King's Cross for niece Saskia's wedding in Dulwich. Thanks to the train's slightly flaky wi-fi I am able to blog the sensational reappearance of the otter at Landrick only hours after it happened. At 0545, Keir came upstairs, breathlessly announcing that the otter was back, and devouring something on the pond. We hadn't seen him for 9 days, so this was a welcome sighting - until we realised that what Keir thought was a large fish was actually the remains of our goose.

Jack had lived happily at Landrick since 1994, when we purchased her from Auchingarrich in the belief she was a gander. At the time we were seeking a breeding partner for our resident gander, who at the time we thought was a goose called Jean. She seemed lonely and the children were keen on goslings. The first time they mated, the gender double muddle became clear: in the words of daughter Helen (then 9 years old) "they're doing it upside down".

Sadly Jean (the gander) died the following year and we had lost faith in the supplier's ability to sex a gander reliably, so we didn't replace him. Year after year, Jack produced a dozen or more eggs, sat on them faithfully for weeks, fiercely defending her nest from anything that came close, and losing a great deal of body weight. Annually we used to break up her nest and dispose of the addled eggs, fearing she might die of starvation brought on by excessive and wholly misplaced maternal devotion.

The violent demise of the family's pet goose was both shocking and sad, though perhaps less painful than watching her declining or dementing or whatever happens to elderly geese. Welcome though the otter's visit had been, we had naively imagined it would feed on fish and frogs. Having such a fierce carnivore in the garden is slightly worrying. All ducks and ducklings have disappeared, and since we haven't seen any corpses we hope that means they've moved away, as opposed to been eaten.

Postscript: it was dark when we got back on Sunday, so my first job on Monday morning was to recover her corpse and give her a decent burial. I felt I had to photograph the corpse first, as so many people had been disbelieving about the otter's ability to kill an adult goose. Since all we saw was the otter feasting on dead goose in the middle of the pond, in theory it might not have been the actual predator. But otters allegedly don't eat carrion. It all seems far too great a coincidence.

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August 17, 2008

Saskia and Trewin Restorick: the wedding (text)

Set back by yesterday’s train running 50 minutes late, after undue anxiety we finally made it to Dulwich College Library with ten minutes to spare before the marriage! The service included wonderful readings from Ovid's The Art of Love (my sister Lindsay, Saskia’s mother), Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat (Giselle, Trewin’s daughter) and Ann Morrow Lindbergh’s The Gift from the Sea (Saskia’s friend Sarah). Saskia was a truly radiant bride, and my three other nieces (Olivia, Helena and Rosie) were cheery and stunning as bridesmaids. I’ll add some unofficial photographs after I get home: this blog comes straight from the train.

We walked back to champagne and canapés in Lin and Nick’s magnificent garden, where 96 guests later sat down to a superb meal featuring organic lamb, in an enormous marquee. Drink flowed very freely, the dance floor was well used but not too crowded and it was the happiest, least formal wedding I’ve attended. Speeches were made by Saskia, as well as Trewin, best man Dave, the bridesmaids and bride’s father Nick, the latter clearly unscripted, inebriated and, as ever, very articulate and entertaining. After a dubious moment when Nick seemed in danger of going over the edge, he drew back from the brink just in time: brilliant.

We were in Dulwich for a total of 22 hours, at the price of over 16 hours on trains or in transit, and although that ratio was far from ideal, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. The fact I had totally lost my voice to an unseasonal throat infection was a bit frustrating, but it led to some interesting conversations, necessarily one-sided. Several guests worked at Global Action Plan, an environmental charity that Trewin set up in 1993, long before sustainable development had become trendy. It now employs 50 staff on a wide range of projects aimed at home, school and workplace.

And I really enjoyed my chat with Helena’s boyfriend, Henry Hemming. His father, John Hemming, wrote the definitive Conquest of the Incas which was important to me when researching our Explore the Inca Trail. Henry has clearly inherited his father's writing talent and appetite for adventurous travel. He works both as artist and writer, and was talking about his latest book, In Search of the English Eccentric.

Saskia and Trewin already have established a lovely home together in Clapham. Perhaps that’s why they had requested no presents, instead asking guests to email a recipe and a photograph. We complied, slightly puzzled, and months later were thrilled to find all recipes anthologised into a smart, spiral-bound book with recipes attributed and displayed alongside the photos. What a generous and imaginative souvenir to give your guests!

August 18, 2008

Saskia and Trewin Restorick: the wedding (photos)

A blog is the wrong medium for a photo gallery, but it may be a few weeks before the official photos are available so I'm uploading a few meantime for family and friends. Yesterday's entry gives the context. First, here are bride and groom, Saskia and Trewin, relaxing in the garden after the service:

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The rest were taken later, inside the marquee, first Helena and Henry over dinner:

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The bride's sisters, from left to right Olivia, Rosie and Helena making their wonderful speech:

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And finally, late at night, here's my gorgeous sister Lindsay dancing with my fit nephew Seb:

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August 22, 2008

Farewell to Alfred Brendel

We've spent the last three evenings at the Usher Hall for Edinburgh Festival concerts. Tuesday's had Brahms' Requiem as its second half, a work I first sang 45 years ago, and which I know and love from various perspectives, having sung it first as soprano, then as alto and once, to help out in rehearsal, even as "tenor". I also played the oboe line long ago. The Monteverdi Choir were absolutely wonderful, powerful despite their modest numbers, and a younger, more distinctive sound than a large chorus can produce.

However, Wednesday's event was a tribute to age and experience. After the Scottish Chamber Orchestra had romped through Mozart's evergreen 40th symphony, Alfred Brendel played Mozart's Piano Concerto 24. This was a masterly, moving performance, especially the wonderful larghetto which he made sound disarmingly simple. Brendel, of course, is a mere 77 years but is anticipating retirement just after his extended series of farewell concerts. Conductor Charles Mackerras, at nearly 83, made Brendel look young, but you don't need anything like the fine motor control (nor such feats of memorisation of scores) to go on conducting in old age as to continue playing at Brendel's level. Anyway, this was Mackerras' 56th Festival, and at the end of his standing ovation, Director Jonathan Mills announced Mackerras' appointment as its Honorary President - a post vacant since the death of Yehudi Menuhin in 1999.

And on Thursday, Brendel made his final farewell recital to the Festival audience. His programme returned to his classical repertoire with masterly performances of works by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert - the same composers as we heard him play here a year ago, when he described them modestly as "not a terribly daring" selection. This time, we all clapped until our hands were sore, and he rewarded us with no less than three encores. The standing ovation was prolonged and emotional. Nobody present will quickly forget the 21st August, 2008.

August 30, 2008

A deeply counter-productive protest

Today was our last day at the Edinburgh Festival, overshadowed by yesterday's extraordinary protest at the Queen's Hall. It is difficult to imagine a more peace-loving, well-behaved audience than that which frequents the Festival's finest chamber music. Most of us not only were polite to the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign demonstrators on the pavement, but also took and read their handbills, afterwards submitting cheerfully to the unprecedented bag search on our way in to the concert.

By the time the performance of Haydn and Smetana by this talented and delightful young quartet had been disrupted by loud, ignorant shouting not once, but five times over, systematically, we were all feeling a lot less tolerant. The accusations of "Gaza genocide", "Israeli army musicians" and worse were wholly misplaced. Good grief, would Barenboim have lent his dear dead wife's cello to Zlotnikov if he didn't approve of the cellist both personally and politically? And with two quartet members also belonging to the Arab-Israeli West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, what possible purpose did it serve to shout abuse and spoil the concert for 900 music-lovers who had paid to hear this wonderful, but uncontroversial, programme of classical music?

Since the protesters had bought seats scattered about the hall, the authorities were powerless to know where the next outbreak would come from. Indeed members of the audience started looking sideways at the stranger sitting next to them, wondering if it was safe to continue listening. The event security staff had to manhandle the protesters in order to eject them, so elderly concert-goers had to clear the row to avoid being injured in the fracas. The audience demonstrated its hostility to the protest with slow handclaps and shouts of "get them out", but the noise and disruption still meant that the quartet had to leave the platform each time a protest surfaced. Fortunately they resumed thereafter, apparently undaunted, with unruffled professionalism, so we heard most of the Haydn and Smetana twice: great value!

We also had the benefit of impromptu speeches from the viola player, and from Jonathan Mills, who reminded us that the Festival's theme was "Artists without borders" and pointed out that they had hosted performers from Iran and Palestine, as well as Israel. Alas, the appeal against interruptions went unheeded until the second half, when we heard the Brahms in blissful peace.

The audience demonstrated their whole-hearted support by sitting out the concert (which lasted nearly three hours) and closing with a standing ovation. I've never witnessed such a thing at the Queen's before, and it showed how much damage the misplaced SPSC protest did to their cause. We were rewarded with an encore of the wonderful slow movement of Borodin's first String Quartet.

About August 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in August 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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