Wednesday, 27 June 2012

A Trilling Dream

I have recurrent dreams about ICI, the company I joined as a keen young PhD chemist fresh from university. The preoccupation might result from my intense disappointment that such a great institution has disappeared into industrial history, another footnote in the story of UK manufacturing decline. Having said that, most of the businesses still exist in foreign hands, a bit like the UK car industry.
      In the dream I turned up for my first day's work and was shown into a vast laboratory with benches stretching out as far as the eye could see. There were three other people in the laboratory who introduced themselves to me. I was surprised to hear that each of them was called Dr Trill. Of course I don't remember anybody in ICI called Dr Trill so I searched for the word association.
      It wasn't too difficult because a few days earlier I had been reading a poem that I wrote several years ago. The poem commemorated my finding a four hundred year old fossil fish, Dipterus, in Achanarras Quarry near Wick. Dipterus was the immediate ancestor of the lung fishes who crawled out of the sea and set evolution on the path to mammalsThe first verse is reproduced below.

I'm in a quarry, probing the devonian layers.
The ring of my searching hammer
echos across the moor and returns 
as the warning trill of the curlew,
self-appointed guardian of the fossils

It seemed to me that the association with trill was a call to revisit the quarry; perhaps another find awaited me. This time we didn't hear curlews on the approach but found the quarry occupied by a flock of common gulls, perched on the surrounding fence at the start of their breeding season.
        The fossil beds are currently under water at the bottom of the quarry, so prospecting is limited to the surrounding spoil heaps. These have now  been well worked out, most stones have been split and I did find something, not a fish and I'll report later when I know what it is. Turning my attention to the gulls,I quickly found a few nests containing a total of three eggs. There had to be a three somewhere.
The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder, published by Willow Moon. e-book and paperback at all Amazon sites. See www. for reviews.

Garlic and Garden Report

Last autumn I reported the purchase of a trial pack of different garlic culivars from the Isle of Wight Garlic Farm. The crop has grown well despite being immersed in snow when the shoots were about six inches high. Not surprisingly the giant cloves have made the biggest plants followed byThermidrome, with Tuscany and Lautrec about the same. The Garlic Farm is already lifting green garlic but up here in the Pennines I'll wait another month. The Garlic Farm site is a mine of useless information on the subject. Apparently in the reign of the Pharoh Tutankhamun, fifteen pounds of garlic would buy you a healthy male slave. The corresponding weight for a female slave isn't recorded.
Elsewhere in the garden my standard Paul's Scarlet hawthorns are in impressive full flower. However planting standards wasn't such a good idea. You can see them leaning away from the prevailing and sometimes gale force westerly wind despite ever heavier staking and the problem gets worse as the tree head grows.  Solutions welcome! It is worth it for the fantastic display of blossom that creates a bridge into summer.
Two items currently sitting on the patio are also worthy of mention. An olive tree bought from Wm Morrisons and a lime tree which is already sporting an impressive crop for next winter's gin and tonics.They will spend the winter in the conservatory.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder published by Willow Moon. e-Book and paperback from all Amazon sites.See reviews at

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Wick Jubilee Harbourfest

Wick Harbour, once the shelter for a fleet of a thousand herring drifters during the summer season in the 1800's, has had to reinvent itself many times as the fishing industry changed and finally almost disappeared. Today it has a  thriving marina, destination for a wide range of visiting yachts. All year round it provides facilities for local yachts and sea anglers as well as the shellfish boats. In the near future it hopes to capture the service trade for the offshore windfarms that are planned off the coast of Wick.
     Last weekend's Harbourfest was the second such venture and this time round it was associated with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Happily the weather turned out better than forecast a few days before- despite a brisk north west wind, it remained dry and a large crowd attended. The events began with the crowning of the Harbourfest Queen by Miss Anne Dunnett, Lord Lieutenant, in the Market Square, Wick.
In the water the stars of the show were undoubtedly the three large heritage sailing drifters, Wick's own Isabella Fortuna, The Reaper from Anstruther, shown below in the outer harbour and The Swan from Lerwick, pictured above against the backdrop of Papigoe. All are straight stern 'Fifies' built around the end of the nineteenth century. Their histories are similar in eventually having engines fitted, being retired  and somehow escaping the breakers yard to be saved by restoration enthusiasts.

During the proceedings, a famous Wick landmark, 'e cannon', was rededicated by Miss Dunnett in its new position at the harbour breast. It was originally presented to the harbour trust by Mr Pender, the local MP as a fog warning device to help fishermen find their way home in the haars that can suddenly strike in the summer, before being retired to a quiet corner up the river. The smooth running of the day, several months in the preparation was a tribute to the competence of the organisers.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder, published by Willow Moon. e-Book and paperback from all Amazon sites. See reviews at

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Jubilee Line

A helium assisted Majesty reigns over our celebration of her diamond jubilee. Rain did affect play, driving the event from a leaky gazebo into the house.
     Commentators at every point on the royalist-republican spectrum have remarked on the pointlessness of  questioning the role of the monarchy at this point in history. The Queen has done a terrific job of  doing very little as titular Head of State. It will be up to her sucessors to try to maintain this position; no easy task. A Stuart comeback in an independent Scotland is the only threat (literary)on the horizon.

Meanwhile, on with the party where royal and not so royal celebrity masks were worn to confuse the children and patriotic fervour reached such heights that English wine was drunk with a  red, white and blue pudding.

Then all round the tele to see the Thames pageant, like viewing the Queen after Christmas lunch. It looked like the poor relation of similar events in previous centuries- not enough sails and oars and something of an ordeal for the royals, standing for four hours in the cold damp conditions. The evening concert looked like good fun with something for everyone from across the Queen's years. 
Roll on 2022.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder published by Willow Moon Publishing. e-book and paperback from all Amazon sites. Best paperback price and free worldwide delivery from Simply type in the ISBN number 9781468055900