Category Archives: Astronomy


For anyone with an interest in plants, art or indeed both, below is a link to the degree show at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.  They offer training in botanical drawing, a uniquely special method of documenting the life story of a plant.  I have long been in awe of this, and its practitioners.  There is a short film at the bottom of the page, and with all that’s continuing to happen in the world I can think of worse ways to spend 9 minutes, while waiting for the solstice and the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.

Thanks to Fife Contemporary for the nod.

Whilst we’re on the subject of links, it will come as no surprise to anyone if I point you, gently, in the  direction of the Christmas shows on line from the Lyceum theatre.  Well, who knew, Karine Polwart has made one…..






Oh good grief, I was sure I had posted at least once  in June, outwith Dad’s birthday, but I see the last one was May 28th.   Poor old BTW always suffers the most appalling neglect in the summer, it’s shocking behaviour and someone somewhere needs a strongly worded email.   In our defence I see that June encompassed the following activities: West Fife show with Rieko, Royal Highland Show, finding a spot to take pictures of HMS Queen Elizabeth*, at least three peregrinations** around Vane Farm, a trip to Beadnell with Team Discovery, three visits to the wonderful new museum and galleries in Dunfermline, and some catch ups with old chums, all the while working on new songs for the band and oh then there’s the day jobs.  Photos below include the two statues resident in the gardens of (deep breath) Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries, they are of Tam O’Shanter and Souter Johnnie.  And yes, we already know of interactions with traffic cones.   The picture of the heron was an attempt to capture the beautiful yellow and blue flowers in the wetland meadow, mayhap they would show up better after some gentle photo massage.

We had a brilliant 9th anniversary visit to Beadnell – the girls won the quiz!! – and were the skies ever so big as viewed from Alnwick beach?  Our 10th is obviously going to be a no holds barred, take no prisoners 72 hours of complete anarchic mayhem, I’m sure that’s what Roger said.

Some happy news of family and friends of which more anon, but huge and hearty congratulations to Emily Sanderson and Christopher White, who graduated from St. Andrew’s and  Edinburgh Universities respectively.

Lastly, and most importantly, Paul’s astronomy club was written up in the Courier, with no mistakes or factual inaccuracies and some ace pictures.  The photos were taken in March of this year.

Researching the subject of neglect, I found this rather lovely poem, and what do you know, it comes down to birds in the end after all.



Is the scent of apple boughs smoking

in the woodstove what I will remember

of the Red Delicious I brought down, ashamed


that I could not convince its limbs to render fruit?

Too much neglect will do that, skew the sap’s

passage, blacken leaves, dry the bark and heart.


I should have lopped the dead limbs early

and watched each branch with a goshawk’s eye,

patching with medicinal pitch, offering water,


compost and mulch, but I was too enchanted

by pear saplings, flowers and the pasture,

too callow to believe that death’s inevitable


for any living being unloved, untended.

What remains is this armload of applewood

now feeding the stove’s smolder. Splendor


ripens a final time in the firebox, a scarlet

harvest headed, by dawn, to embers.

Two decades of shade and blossoms – tarts


and cider, bees dazzled by the pollen,

spare elegance in ice – but what goes is gone.

Smoke is all, through this lesson in winter


regret, I’ve been given to remember.

Smoke, and Red Delicious apples redder

than a passing cardinal’s crest or cinders.


—R. T. Smith

Years ago I read or heard on the radio a spooky story about burning an apple tree, anyone recall that?


Team Discovery at Beadnell Towers
Bowbridge Alpacas at West Fife Show, Kelty
Heavy horses, West Fife show
Dunfermline Museum
Dunfermline Museum gardens
Cook family with Paul, Gillman hide, RSPB Loch Leven
Swallow, Vane Farm courtyard
HMS QE, from Limekilns harbour
Spooky wifey, Beadnell
Grey heron from Gillman hide













































































*a frankly massive aircraft carrier built in Rosyth.

** peregrination from the Latin peregrinus, meaning foreign, and also obviously that’s the root of the peregrine falcon, “young birds being captured in flight rather than taken from the nest”.   Eh, thanks Chambers Concise Dictionary, is that one of those hidden jokes you lexicographers put into your oeuvres?   Because if it is, I don’t get it.

Rocky Roads

Back home from Tenerife, to the nigh impossible task of selecting a few pictures from the hundreds taken, and sifting the memories into a condensed format for anyone unfortunate enough to be in our vicinity over the next few days.  We stayed here and once we got there, which was not easy, we found it very difficult to leave, so we basically spent our time in the national park.  The park is largely made up of the caldera of El Teide, the volcano.  It sits above the clouds and the tree line. Teide is nearly 4 kilometres high, the caldera is from the original top which slid off.   The land around is lunar, Martian, other worldly, call it what you will, strewn with lava, obsidian, pumice, bizarre rock formations and endlessly fascinating natural structures.  The forces involved are mind boggling, a stern reminder of what can happen when Nature Gets Upset.  Anyway, I see I have 248 pictures of rocks, which would test the loyalty of the most devoted chum/family member, so from a journey which included interacting with some of the least and most helpful people in Tenerife, much star gazing, a walk in the desert, a trip to the observatories, the cable car up the volcano, some truly scary roads (some sweary conversations with the sat nav), a selection below.  Thanks in no particular order to: the chap at the airport who phoned a hotel for us on his moby, when it became obvious we weren’t going to make it to Las Cañadas that night; the breakdown services and tow truck guy; everyone who stopped beside us on the TF 56whatever to ask if they could help – we now know the Spanish for “Eh, the clutch is knackered, pal”, well Paul can make the vroom vroom noises; and the man in the bar who made us fried garlic chicken and rice at 10 pm when the Barca match was on the tv.

Tenerife, what you call a road we call a precipice, but we love you and we’ll be back.

Paul & Kirsty at the cable car station
Monument to Telesforo Bravo
Officially up high
View from our room, sunset
National park
Roques del Garcia, sunset
Observatory gate
The European Observatories
Centro de Visitantes, La Orotava
Cable car ascending El Teide
Paul at top of El Teide (almost)
Roques del Garcia 2

Beggar’s mantle

If you haven’t already gathered, we live in the Kingdom of Fife, which King James VI described as “beggar’s mantle fringed wi’ gowd”, a reference to the fishing and trading villages of the coast.  Whilst it’s a handy and memorable phrase, especially in terms of the economics prevalent at the time, it has been superseded.  Not minding all that, this morning I found the loveliest interactive map of the Kingdom,  which I hope you can view here.  I know that the artwork should be credited to Wil Freeborn, I came across him when I read that he has designed new info signs for the Glen (Pittencrieff Park) in Dunfermline.

On Wednesday we attended a Pecha Kucha event, the format for which is that speakers have 20 slides to talk about for 20 seconds each, and it was a highly entertaining and informative evening.  It was curated by the team behind excellent Fife blog Avocado Sweet and  their Blueprint Dunfermline initiative.  We heard about the history, care of, and forthcoming changes to, architecturally connected issues.  Not least the new Museum, scheduled to open next year, and an installation of an eclipse in the Free School Close. Other highlights were bumping into Diana, and the picture of the woman hoovering her patio.

After 8 Mince were on the road again after the usual summer hiatus, we had the honour of playing at Henderson House care home yesterday, where a very warm* welcome was received.  They might even have us back!


*we may never play “Scotland’s No A Hot Land” again.  Roasty toasty.

No singularity

I just looked up singularity and it so does not mean what I thought it did, but get this:-

Mathematical singularity, a point at which a given mathematical object is not defined or not “well-behaved”, for example infinite or not differentiable.

If the thought of a badly behaved mathematical object doesn’t make you smile on a gloomy Tuesday afternoon, then what will?

Sunday found us in Anstruther once more, this time with the AB Astro club, taking a walk along the Solar System, then chowing down on picnics or fish and chips.

La porte
La porte
Crow steps and pantiles
Crow steps and pantiles
Dreel Halls
Dreel Halls
Sun sea sand sky
Sun sea sand sky
A ruffled herring gull
A ruffled herring gull
One of the solar system plaques
One of the solar system plaques
Door ornament
Door ornament
Paul reflected in the Museum plaque
Paul reflected in the Museum plaque


Train of thought

Well, I had hoped to be posting some pictures tomorrow of the Flying Scotsman on her journey round the Fife Circle, but as we all know now, that ain’t going to happen, since thanks to glorious ineptitude on someone’s part, no-one checked if the train would fit.  Now, the identification of untested assumptions is all part and parcel of risk management, so anyone who thinks  that a train called The Flying Scotsman will by default fit the railways in Fife and the Borders,  is talking mince.  In the same way, we have been members of the RSPB for many years but it doesn’t grant us immunity from birdy poop on the car.   But this will be a major disappointment to so many trainspotters, photographers and people with a sense of occasion.  We were just getting over the news that the loco had been been given a change of colour too.  All together now:-

I see a green train and I want to paint it black,

No tour round Fife today, it might not fit the track.

In other news, it has been busy, After 8 Mince launched their new CD with a shindig at the Sailing Club.  That was a very good natured evening, apologies if you weren’t there but it was a tough guest list to draw up.   We have had celebration family meals  and then there was the Transit of Mercury across the Sun, which occupied DB Astronomy Club for a full day.   The part I liked best was showing the Brownies and Rainbows, because they did take it in and some of them brought their parents back for another look.

Some pictures below.

Violet Jacob flagstone in Gladstone's Close
Violet Jacob flagstone in Gladstone’s Close
At the Witchery Restaurant in Edinburgh
At the Witchery Restaurant in Edinburgh
Container ship in the Forth
Container ship in the Forth
Flock of Eider Duck in Forth
Flock of Eider Duck in Forth
Sailboat with Barnbougle Castle behind
Sailboat with Barnbougle Castle behind
Says it all
Says it all
After 8 Mince in St. David's Harbour
After 8 Mince in St. David’s Harbour

Si vis pacem, para bellum.*

A maxim which applies to all areas of life, not just the battle field, IMHO.   Jings, where to start?   Where did I leave off?  February 4th, apparently.   Since that time we were made aware that the Russian Consul General in Scotland was to award Dad with the Ushakov medal, at home, in honour of his time served on the Arctic Convoys.  It was quite short notice and therefore a little tricky to arrange, but in the end Mr Pritsepov and his team arrived, to the great excitement of the assembled audience.  The Consul General asked Dad about his war service and in particular his experiences on board these runs.   If you know my father you will be aware that his memory is pin sharp,  so this was an informative and entertaining session.  The CG then presented dad with the medal, and a beautiful commemorative watch.  Everyone was invited to partake of a traditional shot of vodka at this point (you could tell afterwards who had had one because of the bright red faces).   Many photographs were taken, some of mine are below.

Otherwise we have had two lovely meals here, one for a cousin who unfortunately couldn’t be there, and a belated one for Paul’s 50th, with the White family.   We went out and about today, in Culross and the Bay, because although it was freezing it was gloriously sunny.  Managed to return a lost precious thing and to take pictures of the moon with Earthshine, Venus and Mars.  This software is placing the pictures in reverse chronological order, sorry about that, my IT guru is asleep.  As ever, double click to enlarge pictures.

Crescent moon with Earthshine, Venus and Mars below right
Crescent moon with Earthshine, Venus and Mars below right
Sunset silhouette, Culross
Sunset silhouette, Culross
Christopher White in the North Queensferry lighthouse
Christopher White in the North Queensferry lighthouse
Jacquie, Chris, Paul and Philip, Wee Restaurant NQ
Jacquie, Chris, Paul and Philip, Wee Restaurant NQ
My father's medals from WWII
My father’s medals from WWII
English translation of medal script
English translation of medal script
Medal Ceremony programme
Medal Ceremony programme
Alexander Miller M.A. Esq with Ushakov Medal
Alexander Miller M.A. Esq with Ushakov Medal
Mr Pritsepov awarding medal
Mr Pritsepov awarding medal, with Mr. Timofey V. Kunitskiy, Vice-Consul
Mr Pritsepov greets Dad
Mr Pritsepov greets Dad
Ushakov Medal
Ushakov Medal





















































































*If you wish peace, prepare for war.  Motto of the Royal Navy.

The North, Circular

Affairs of the stomach much on my mind these days, so it was with rising interest that I noted a factoid from the appendices to one of my favourite books, The Poetry of Birds*.   The noble bird the gannet derives its name from the Scottish word gant or gaunt which means to yawn by opening the mouth.   “Eh?” I first thought, but then realised that some of us still say “I’m gantin’ on a cup o’ tea”.   If you’ve never seen a gannet dive for fish,  it forms a W shape with its body and enters the water like a missile.  The old Norse name for gannet is Sula, from which the name Solan Goose is obtained and that brings us full circle to the the Sula Mhor which is, of course, you are ahead of me here, Calum McKenzie’s boat in Plockton, and we now all know that means Big Gannet.   And lastly, Gannet was the nickname for Paul’s friend Richard who introduced him to the Edinburgh Players drama group….the rest is history.

not taken by me, nicked it offy Google
not taken by me, nicked it offy Google

Seabirds always prove to me that they are so closely related to fish, they’re all just doing the same things but in a different medium.  Look at a cormorant and tell me that’s not a fish with feathers.

Yesterday was to be all about clearing the loft, but a delay at the hairdresser meant it was time for lunch once I was released from that perfum’d hell,  and after a frankly bizarre salad at Dobbie’s** (why bother to advertise food you do not sell???) the weather moved briskly from shocking to glorious, so we managed to invent a reason for tootling,  dropped by a potential Astro dark site, in a beautiful Perthshire glen, then pointed the car at Vane Farm.  The fields were covered with huge groups of geese and one huge group of curlew.  Large flocks of mallard roosted in the field beside flocks of mute swans, wigeon and two cormorants.  The last of these confused some viewers, as indeed they confused me the first time I saw them there, but they are fresh water as well as sea water birds, they’re not fussy, a fish is a fish.

Not many birds on the wee garden feeders, the hedgerows are stuffed with free food just now and the birds disappear for a bit, but greenfinches were spotted. Incidentally, it is now waxwing time, if you see or hear of any flocks, please let me know, I’ll be there in my pyjamas, I don’t care.  The day ended with thick golden sun light, and squally showers;  we had a high-up view of the Fife and Perthshire skies, so we could see the thunderplumps as they roamed eastern Scotland.

I was chatting with a similarly obsessed colleague who regularly sees flocks of up to 40 waxwings, but has never seen a flock of house sparrows.  We are fortunate to have one in our front garden and also, if you happen to be in Dobbie’s Dunfermline, you may see a large flock of this bird outside in the hen house.   The chook-chooks happily share their food with these wee importunate rascals.  After that you may view the aquarium section and ponder on the glories of evolution.

Anyway, back to the beginning and gannets, and a poem by Norman MacCaig.

Rhu Mor

Gannets fall like the heads of tridents

bombarding the green silk water

off Rhu Mor.  A salt seabeast of a timber

pushes its long snout

up on the sand, where a seal,

struggling in the straightjacket of its own skin ,

violently shuffles towards the frayed wave,

the spinning sandgrains, the

caves of green.


I sit in the dunes – the wind

has moulded the sand in pastry frills

and cornices:  flights of grass

are stuck in it – their smooth shafts shiver

with trickling drops of light


Space opens and from the heart of the matter

sheds a descending grace that makes,

for a moment, that naked thing, being,

a thing to understand.


I look out from it

at the grave and simple elements

gathered round a barrage of gannets

whose detonations

explode the green into white.

* ed.  Simon Armitage & Tim Dee, Penguin 2011.  Strangely absent from my top nine books.   Well, there’s a moveable feast for you.

** I only wanted a salad that I had picked by myself.  It’s about all I can eat in public just now so I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request. Yes, I am a grumpy cow.

Saturday serendipity

For the first time in a week it is actually possible to see the horizon.    A dreich haar has enveloped the Kingdom of late, and frankly it has been depressing.

Sunrise over Burntisland
Sunrise over Burntisland







Turns out to be jolly difficult to photograph in low light, through a window, without a tripod.  Who knew? So the one below makes me laugh, the green light is Asda and the blue is the car wash.

City lights
City lights








In other news, the chaffinches have found the Nyger seed feeder after about a year, and I have just half blinded myself taking more pictures, so the typing may be a bit iffy from here on  in.   The room was suddenly bathed in rich, rosy beams of light, as below.

Tree at dawn
Tree at dawn







I only know one poem about dawn, two verses from which follow below.   I am currently re-reading the Everyman Poems of New York so I may remember more.   Viscerally evocative, it brings back the feeling of pounding those streets.

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread — and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness —
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward Fitzgerald.

Omar Khayyam was a Persian mathematician, astronomer and writer, and he penned those words in 1120.  I guess his algebra is famous too, in certain circles.

Well, that’s birds, photos, Fife, poetry and now a song.  It’s not very cheery but it’s pretty obvious why I was reminded of it.  When I  was at Stirling Uni I used to listen to Tom Ferrie on Radio Scotland in the late evening and he would often play this, a counterpoint to a younger me,  cudgelling my brain to come up with something – anything – to say on Piaget.

Time for a big pot of tea.