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  • A Few Updates

    bookshelves floor to ceiling, two wooden steps in front of them

    I have a new computer, which is very lovely in many ways, but I am struggling to find the photos I uploaded yesterday, so until I learn the file management system on this beast, there will have to be old photos. This is one of my library, which was set up last year. Although it has a lot of books in it, it is mostly used for a chill out space for those of us who need a break from the chatter when we’re all together, and for crafting. Sometimes I feel rather uncomfortable about having so much space and access to books, when some people, especially the younger generation, find themselves struggling with access to resources to support their writing, so I’d like to find a way to share this. If you are a writer who needs to borrow or consult books that I have, let me know and we’ll see what can be done.

    This is a bit of a distraction from my main intention which was to remind everyone about the poetry event at the Little biggar Festival on 28th October. The Facebook posting reads:

    Biggar-based publisher Red Squirrel Press invites you to an afternoon of Red Squirrel Press poets and friends in aid of MacDiarmid’s Brownsbank, held in Biggar & Upper Clyde Museum on 28th October.

    Featuring some of the best-known names in poetry, WN (Bill) Herbert, Dundee Makar and Professor of Poetry, Sean O’Brien, multi award- winning poet and Emeritus Professor, Colin Will, writer, musician, former Scottish Poetry Library and StAnza International Poetry Festival Chair, award winning Biggar-based poet Lindsay Macgregor, Andrew Forster, poet and literature development worker and was previously Literature Development Officer for Dumfries and Galloway. Elizabeth Rimmer widely-published poet, reviewer and editor, author of four collections from Red Squirrel Press and editor of the eco-poetry discussion website Ceasing Never.

    Tickets available from https://www.biggarlittlefestival.com/literature/red-squirrel

    There is another upcoming reading in Stirling on 4th November as part of Paperboats Day for Nature, but I will post more about this later when further details are available.

    Also, I am sorry to announce that I am going to stop sending out my newsletter. I used Mailchimp, but as the parent company has announced its intention to scrape content in order to train AI, the potential for copyright infringements eems too high to be worth it. I’m looking for alternative ways of keeping in touch, as there are some subscribers who don’t follow me elsewhere on social media, but in the meantime, I can be found on BlueSky, (mostly poetry) Mastodon (mostly politics and environmental stuff) and Instagram (herbs, cooking and gardening). That’s a lot, and I’ll probably refine it as the platforms develop, but that’s where I am just now.

  • How Green is My Hilltop

    a clear plastic dehydrator tray with fresh alchemilla leaves ready for drying

    Everything greened up overnight. The alchemilla went from a tight nub of unfolding leaves to a whole clump of spreading leaf-fans and a fountain of emerging acid-yellow flowers. The thyme stretched five centimetres and put out purple buds. The broom bushes are fountains of gold and the hawthorns look like the last scene of Ghost Busters, with foamy cream coloured blossom sprayed everywhere.

    Last year the weather was so cold and damp for so long I bought a dehydrator, but even so, drying herbs for the winter was long and tedious, and I had to have three or even four sessions for some things. This year was a very different story. I harvested thyme, alchemilla and purple sage in great quantities, and stuck everything in at once. And ten hours later, I had a lot of good quality herbs, with no wastage. I am very impressed.

    The last few days of hot and sunny weather have done wonders for the seedlings. The tomatoes are in their final pots already, and and growing visibly. I’ve planted up some pots for the summer, with santolina and purple sage and lavender and bergamot, and I’ve planted out southernwood and mugwort into the garden. I had to clear a space for the mugwort in the magical border, which you might think has enough gallus herbs already, but I think it will cope. I am intrigued by this herb, as a great many people have been before me:

    First, you are called, oldest of herbs.
    You have the power · over three, over thirty.
    You have power over venom, · over airborne infection.
    You have power over the evil one · who wanders the world.

    Lacnunga

    Many people use it for magical purposes, to protect against evil, or to develop their feminine side, their sensitivity, or prophetic abilities. It is one of the large group of moon herbs, perhaps because of the silvery felted underside of its leaves, and Lucy Jones, the herbalist, says ‘If you find yourself travelling along (country) lanes by the light of the moon, you will notice that the silvery leaves of the Mugwort shine prominently…. if you have never noticed the appearance of Mugwort on a moonlit night, you have missed something special.’ In my garden it is just to the left of marshmallow, and in front of elecampane (also known as elf-wort), behind the ‘little wizard’ alchemilla, and not far from vervain and yarrow, so this is one powerful magical cocktail, if that’s your thing. I’m not sure if it’s mine, but I like the idea of the mugwort leaves at night, like Coleridge’s icicles, quietly shining to the quiet moon.

    As well as herbs, I’m growing flowers for drying, statice, safflower, teasel and for seed heads, quaking grass, poppies and nicandra, which has papery twisted seed cases of a dramatic inky blue. Most of them are in the front garden, in the pollinator patch, but poppy and teasel rogue seedlings turn up everywhere, along with the delightful surprise of heartsease, which hitched a ride in the flower pots I brought with me. There isn’t much colour in my garden yet, but it’s lush with green. I can’t get enough of it.

    a green border, with (left to right) fern, willow periwinkle lily of the valley, witch hazel shasta daisy,at the back, yellow flag iris meadowsweet, primroses, orpine, hyssop, dyer's greenweed and  roseroot in front

  • The Hill of Stones in April

    This is, I guess, what social media might call a ‘timeline cleanse’. There’s a lot to be anxious or angry about, but also a lot of people making an effort to do something about it all – people restoring landscapes, saving species, campaigning for refugees or the disabled, developing projects for people with mental health problems, working for peace or for better working conditions, trying to stop some of the unjust and downright irrational things going on. More power to them all, but also, a time of refreshment and reconnection. Here’s a few photos, and a bit of bird and flower chat.

    This weekend temperatures have gone up, and it has stopped raining long enough for me to get out into the garden. I’ve done some serious tidying up, and moved the first seedlings to my propagation patch, to harden off, and the lemon verbena and scented-leaved geraniums to their summer positions. Everything seems to have bulked up almost overnight, and I can see that winter was (mostly) quite kind to us. Almost all the plants have come through, and are finding their feet in the new plantings. This patch is the nine herbs garden, as most of the plants from the nine herbs charm are here (even the nettles, I’m sorry to say). The fennel and thyme are not – the fennel needs more sun than it would get here, and the thyme is too well established in the culinary patch to move. For reasons of my own, I have temporarily assumed that atterlothe is vervain.

    I’ve had my first harvests, violet leaves to dry for oil, and chives and fines herbes in the freezer. The chives are showing flower buds, so it won’t be long before I’ll be making chive flower vinegar and drying thyme, which is always ready earlier than I expect. There are now tomatoes in the greenhouse and blackcurrants and gooseberry and apple tree are blossoming, but the damson tree has barely had any flower at all, which is a major disappointment. We have persuaded our factor not to spray our fencelines with herbicide, in return for keeping them free of invasive weeds, and our neighbour Jude has benefited from a lot of dandelions for her tortoise as a result. Still got some, though, they seem invincible!

    Outside the garden, the hill is beginning to get serious about blossoming trees. There’s plenty of corporate pink and white cherry, but we have a lot of blackthorn, cherry plum and bird cherry coming out too, and the Victorian craze for lime tree walks is going to deliver a lot of forage for bees in a week or two. All the outlines of trees are getting scribbled in with new green, and there will be hawthorn and elder before too long. Bluebells are in short supply here though, and we may have to make a trip to Inchmahome to see them later on.

    We have fewer goldfinches this year, but there are bluetits, chaffinches, robins and wren nesting close to the house, and the sparrows are thriving. Magpies, which were here in great numbers only a few weeks ago, seem to have scattered, though there is an enormous ramshackle nest in the hazel tree on the back road. I’ve heard chiffchaffs, and the black-backed gulls are here in force, but no swallows yet.

    I am beginning to realise how much there is to know about a new territory, and though I have now been here for two and a half years, I’m barely scratching the surface. Because I’d been in Stirling for ten years before I started writing about it, I forgot the slow accumulation of things you notice, patterns you begin to recognise, knowledge built through experiment and failure. It can’t be rushed. I can see the shape of the hopes I had for the garden beginning to emerge, but I feel that this garden is talking back to me, shaping its own destiny and mine along with it. It’s a very different experience – I’m less young and gallus, but though I have to go slower, I think I might notice more, think more carefully, and maybe write better.

    a row of pansies in various shades of lilac and purple
  • Reading Winter into Spring

    It’s fair to say that life has been more than usually erratic lately. We have had a lot of disruption, what with issues in the house (and in our daughter’s new flat), health problems for just about everyone, tech problems and the distractions – lovely though they were – of Celtic Connections and StAnza. Nevertheless, writing has begun to happen, with the new ppoetry collection transforming itself while I wasn’t looking into something I’m not sure I recognise yet.

    As a result of this, reading has been much more random and diverse than usual, but I still have some really good books to recommend and to think about

    • Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature. I don’t agree with all he says, but he has the knack of making you think, see things differently, and reflect on questions of art and nature.
    • Gaston Bachelard’s The Psychoanalysis of Fire. To be honest it was pretty weird and unreadable, but his central tenet, that the myths we create about things like fire are as influential and important as the facts we can establish, is one I like. A lot of The Well of the Moon is about this very thing, and it will probably have an impact on the next collection too.
    • Rebecca Hurst’s debut poetry collection The Iron Bridge. I’d put this with the work of Séan Hewitt, Helen Boden and Eleanor Rees for its concern with place, walking, myth and memory, a very careful reflective book.
    • I’m currently comparing two books dealing with lockdown – Gillian Clarke’s The Silence and Tom Kelly’s Walking My Streets. Both collections are heavy with grief and the loneliness of the deepest lockdown, but where Gillian Clarke looks out onto the countryside where she lives, watching the birds and the rain, the quiet and the undifferentiated days when the dead are reduced to daily numbers, Tom Kelly looks backwards into memory at his early life, his community and the lost members of his family. My lockdown was more characterised by fear and the desperate need to maintain communications with people who were in trouble, rather than grief, but these two collections have brought back some of the deadly quiet of those weeks. It’s important not to forget.

    People who sign up to my newsletters will, I hope, get more reviews, and I am planning to write some for The Glasgow Review of Books, so please look out for them.



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