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text 2018-07-16 00:51
Sunday Adventures... prepare for some disappointment

Happy Sunday!

 

Following my resolve to make the most of this summer and the current heat wave, I thought today was a good day for another adventure. So, I set out and headed North again to try and visit the Dolphin Centre, a charity devoted to the conservation of and education about marine mammals. 

 

 

The centre is located on the mouth of the river Spey, which is mostly famous for providing one of the necessities to make whisky. If there is anything that exists in greater number than castles up here, it's distilleries...but that's a topic for another weekend.

 

The Dolphin Centre is a charity run by volunteers who, aside from staffing the cafe, organise tours of the centre and keep an eye on the local dolphin population. Apparently, there are around 190 of them in the Moray Firth, the area close to the centre. 

 

Unfortunately, none of them felt like making an appearance today. Not one. 

 

 

There were lots of gulls, ... but let's just say it would be more unusual not to see a gull. They are everywhere around these parts. 

 

Still, it was a nice day out and there were some gorgeous paths around the Spey estuary.

 

 

At some point during my walk, the rain set on. It was sunny and sweltering hot when I left home this lunch time. Too hot. The change of weather was magnificent. Even tho it was raining, it was the sort of warm summer rain that smells and feels like poetry.  Loved it.

 

I hope your Sundays have been fun, too.

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text 2018-07-08 16:46
The Sunday Post: Macbeth Country, well more of it... sort of.

Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more.

By Sinel’s death I know I am Thane of Glamis;

But how of Cawdor? The Thane of Cawdor lives,

A prosperous gentleman; and to be King

 Stands not within the prospect of belief,

No more than to be Cawdor. Say from whence

You owe this strange intelligence, or why

Upon this blasted heath you stop our way

With such prophetic greeting? Speak, I charge you.

 

- William Shakespeare - Macbeth (Act I, Scene III)

 

 “I wish the Bard had never written his damned play!

- John Campbell, 5th Earl Cawdor 

It's been a stressful and rather frustrating week at BT HQ last which started with some-Brexit induced admin nightmare, which needed me to seek out the an appointment at Glasgow City Council on Monday because none of the council offices closer to home, i.e. on the other side of the country, were able to offer the required services. This was pretty stressful in itself (had to take a day off work on short notice and nearly panicked when sitting down for getting paperwork checked etc. it looked like I might have misplaced a bit of it ... it did re-appear in a different pile ... but that was one long minute of near panic) but a few days after I received a call from the council officer whose only task in this whole process was to take copies: the copies had turned out blurry and could I "pop in" for another round?

 

Erm, ... no.

 

So, several calls with people on withheld numbers and the local Chief Registrar later, we got another plan of action.

As it turns out, if I had submitted my paperwork a few days later, there would have been no need to trek to Glasgow because my local council will start offering the same admin service on Monday. Monday as in from tomorrow. And by local I mean the council office that is is a 10 minute walk away. But of course this was not announced anywhere least of all on the relevant government websites... GAAAAAHH!!!!

 

Tuesday brought with it a minor surgery - nothing serious, but it needed to be done - which went very well apart from some slight discomfort and the weird experience of asking the consultant to stop telling me in detail what he was about to do. I'm not exaggerating when I tell people that I can't read gory horror stories or thrillers... The descriptions really make me queasy. And as I found out, being at the receiving end of even a minor surgical procedure while being told the descriptions and wherefores of incisions etc. does not make me feel any comfortable at all.

Apparently, my request that the consultant stop the narration and get on with the procedure was unusual and a lot of people want to know the details. Well, each to their own. I now know that I'd rather know the plan step-by-step beforehand but not during.

 

The rest of this week was a bit of a mess really, but not being one for moping about in fine weather (even if I wasn't allowed to play tennis - because sutures...), I figured it was a fine day for exploring a castle that I had not been to, yet.

 

Cawdor Castle, near Nairn in the north of Scotland had been on my list for a long, long time. As some of you may know, I have a bit of a thing for Macbeth - both Shakespeare's version and the historical figure - and one of my other favourite castles to spend time at is Glamis (near Forfar), but I just had not had a chance to make the trip to Cawdor (about 3 hours of leisurely driving in good weather). 

 

It was a fabulous decision. I mean just look at this beauty of a castle:

 

And the inside of it was just so ... let me show you because they had no problems with people taking plenty of photos of the amazing place:

 

 

Just look at them BOOKS! It's a lived in castle. The Dowager Countess does still live there and as one lady-in-a-hurry told me in passing, she does do most of the administration of the castle herself.

 

Also, there was a maze ... with a minotaur. :D

 

 

The castle was built in the late 14th, early 15th century. As the official guide book says:

"A new higher, harder site was chosen (traditionally by a donkey rather than by an architect - creatures with much in common), and as this rocky position was water-bearing yet firm, it could provide both a drinking-well and a strong foundation.

The tall, plain rectangular tower-house consisted of four storeys and a garret, served by a turnpike stair, and with one entrance to the outside world set at upper first floor level: the perfect design to keep out tourists."

So, what's the connection with Shakespeare? 

 

Well, Macbeth (1005 - 1057) was real, but he was not a Thane of Cawdor (nor of Glamis btw.). King Duncan was killed, but he was killed in outright battle by Macbeth's troops, not in his sleep while being a guest under Macbeth's roof. 

 

And as for the roof itself: The play was written in 1606 but not printed until 1632, i.e. after Shakespeare's death. However, the places described in the play were apparently added quite late in the play's publication history. So, can we really know whether the locations in the published versions are the ones Shakespeare intended? 

 

Even if so, Cawdor was not one of them. The play notes Macbeth's castle near Inverness, but this could just as well have meant the original Inverness Castle or another castle in the area - there are several - or it could have just all been invented. After all, it's a play! 

 

Most of all, of course, the possibility of the Cawdor Castle being the location of that gruesome midnight murder that lost King Duncan his life, Macbeth his sleep, and Lady Macbeth her mind, blows up in a puff of smoke when you look at the dates: the castle wasn't built until the 1400s and the previous castle near Nairn (about 5 miles away) was also built over a hundred years after Kind Duncan's death.  

 

So, I get that the Campbells, the owners of the castle, get a bit touchy every time some fan of the play takes Shakespeare's play as historical fact. There should be space enough in people's heads to hold both versions and people should have the critical thinking skills to be able to make the distinction between fact and fiction. Otherwise, we are letting entertainment and propaganda form our opinions and write our history books. 

 

Oh, hang on, ... that's already happened, ... and is still happening.

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text 2018-02-26 00:42
The Sunday Post ... But with a Twist

Well, it is Sunday, and this is a post, but as some of you may have noticed, I have been out and about enjoying this year's Granite Noir Festival this weekend. The Granite Noir Festival is a short local event that celebrates crime writing - with lots of readings, author meets, workshops, tours, theatre, exhibitions, etc. For such a relatively small interest group in this rather remote part of the world, there was a lot to see and do.

 

I have already written about the author event last night, with Hugh Fraser and Robert Daws, and I had planned to join the conversation with Val McDermid on Friday night also, but may have fallen asleep on the sofa after work... Um, yeah. Never mind.

 

Anyway, the main event for me this weekend took place tonight in the rather snazzy restaurant of our local theatre - A Poisoned Cocktail Party hosted by none other than Dr Katheryn Harkup, author of A is for Arsenic (which you've probably heard me gush on about in the past)  and Making the Monster (which I am currently enjoying). 

 

So, here is the twist ... Instead of our usual Sunday Soup feature, I will share some of the cocktails with you.

The idea was that with each "round", Dr. Harkup would tell about some of the ingredients and what made them poisonous and present stories - mostly of a dark but humorous nature - about the use of the poison. Btw, these were not all the same ones as described in A is for Arsenic, which made for an added bonus of interesting trivia.

 

First off, we had this one:

 

 

This was a concoction of gin, Cointreau, and absinthe (or rather essence of absinthe), with a shot of juice (can't remember which one but there was a slight hint of grapefruit). 

The cocktail itself was not a winner for me - it was remarkably bland. 

 

However, the story of how absinthe was used and how the thujone, the compound in the ingredient wormwood, can be toxic and lead to hallucinations and convulsions. There is, apparently, very little of the stuff in absinthe, and most of the problems with absinthe may have been caused by the high percentage of alcohol in the drink - but it was interesting to hear that Victorians also added copper compounds and other things to the drink to get the green colour. And those added impurities may actually be a cause of concern of their own.

 

We also heard about Brazil nuts, which may, apart from selenium, also contain uranium, depending on where they have grown. Delightful.

 

In Round # 2, we were given this yummy looking duo:

 

 

That is, tapenade with poppy seed crackers (to soak up some of the %), and a blood orange and amaretto cocktail - which was delicious.

 

Let me just say, there was nothing to worry about with the olive dish. 

 

The drink, of course, provided the anchor for a discussion of cyanide, which was one of the poisons described in A is for Arsenic that I found particularly fascinating. It is fast and effective, and horrible. And yet, cyanide compounds are in so many things other than bitter almonds, cherry stones, apricot stones, and apple pips - but it is the reaction with stomach acid that causes the problems. (Btw, apparently one would have to ingest about 200 apple seeds before the getting into trouble.)

 

The poppy seed crackers led to one of the most elaborate discussions of the evening - which was all about opium and its derivatives morphine and heroin. It still shocks me that heroin was prescribed as a "non-addictive" painkiller and given over the counter to anyone, including teething babies.

 

Lastly, we had this one:

 

 

I have no idea what was in that other than some coffee-based liquor like Kahlua or Tia Maria. I don't drink a lot and was already struggling with the previous two cocktails at this point. (I could, of course, have opted for the non-alcoholic versions on offer, but ... nah... )

 

The cocktail was ok. I was far more interested in Dr. Harkup's discussion about caffeine. It is also a neurotoxin, but it is so prevalent in our diet that most humans have build up some sort of tolerance to it. However, there has apparently been an experiment where  spiders were given different drugs and the scientists observed the effect on the spiders' web spinning skills. Apparently caffeine messed them up tremendously. 

 

Read more about this here or here

 

What have I learned from this evening? Buy your cyanide fresh and take your coffee seriously!

 

In all seriousness, tho, this was a brilliant event and I can only recommend that, if you have the chance, you go and see Dr. Harkup talks or read one of her books. 

But then, you already know that I'm a fan.

 

Happy Sunday!

 

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text 2018-02-21 20:44
Very Little Reading...

is getting done this week and weekend around here, because this is one of those weeks where I am not destined to be at home much.

 

But there are very good reasons for it: A very short-notice work trip took me to London yesterday. Yay! And even better, the work commitments ended just after lunch, with my colleague asking if I had plans for the extra time before we had to catch our flight home. 

 

Me? Plans? Of course, I have plans! Apparently, he didn't but he was happy to tag along to see Charlie and the Whale...

 

 

I had not been back to the Natural History Museum for a couple of years, and this was the first time since they changed out the dinosaur for the blue whale in Hintze Hall. It is huge. What a great idea to feature it in the main hall. It really let you get a sense of scale and perspective to see it stretching almost all along the main entrance.

 

We didn't have a lot of time, certainly not enough to look at anything in detail or wonder off in many of the specialist areas, but I did make a point of us saying Hi to Pickwick's great-great-great-grandma/pa.

 

 

I love this place.

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text 2017-11-14 02:46
16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Square #2: November 5th - Bon Om Touk

 

Tasks for Bon Om Touk:  Post a picture from your most recent or favorite vacation on the sea (or a lake, river, or any other body of water larger than a puddle), or if you're living on the sea or on a lake or a river, post a picture of your favorite spot on the shore / banks / beach / at the nearest harbour.

 

I love all things open water and there are a number of favourite pictures to choose from. However, seeing that I have just returned from a trip with friends to Penang Island (in the north of Malaysia), I'll share the following picture(s) of the Malacca Strait:

 

 

#1 - Batu Feringghi

 

 

#2 - Batu Feringghi

 

#3 - George Town

 

#4 - George Town

 

 

Batu Feringghi is in the north of the island, and - unfortunately - has been developed into a tourist resort with more hotels and shops than maybe necessary. There is another beach just along the shore to the west called Monkey Beach, which smaller and less developed, but it was getting late and we wanted to spend some time on the beach before dark. 

 

Btw, I'm glad we did not get there earlier than we did because temperatures during the day ranged between 34C and 37C without any wind to speak of that would have provided relief and not many clouds to provide cover from the sun. I am simply not built for hot weather - I start to melt when exposed to the mid-20s (C)!

 

The 3rd and 4th picture are taken along the promenade in George Town. My friends were going to a wedding for the afternoon, and although they assured me I was welcome to join them, I did not feel comfortable to crash the party. So, I seized the opportunity to go sight-seeing. Of course, that was hampered by the heat and I ended up chilling in an air-conditioned cafe with some iced tea and a book after visiting Fort Cornwallis.

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