All who have some interest in the history of Scotland should try to take a look into this unusual book. Born in France in 1842, the author spent most of his life at Inverewe, living the life of a highland laird. This area seems fairly in accessible even today, but then people thought little or nothing of sailing for days (no engine!) or just walking to the west coast from Inverness. Gaelic was the everyday language, not English. The lives of the ordinary inhabitants, winning a subsistence living from poor soils and the sea seems very hard by modern standards, but was compensated in some part by the values of a society in which few if any in need were abandoned.
Osgood Mackenzie was of course a member of the ‘elite’, but he too lived in a house lit by candles (although the first in the region to have a slate roof), with no local roads, no doctor (his mother played that role locally) and definitely no shops. Amongst a wealth of historical detail and descriptions of local life, he describes a sailing boat journey to the even remoter island of St. Kilda to carry supplies to the tenants and collect the tiny annual rents, which would not be undertaken lightly by a modern yachtsman with far better equipment!
One of his great passions was to fish the local lochs and rivers and shoot local game: it seems surprising that anything survived his efforts, considering the amount of powder and shot he seems to have expended. He left an enduring legacy, however, when he went on in his old age to establish the extraordinary sub-tropical gardens still maintained by the National Trust for Scotland at Poolewe. Go and visit them if you can, using the need to buy this book as an excuse!
A Hundred Years In The Highlands
Birlinn Ltd, 2007, ISBN 978-1874744290
(the illustration is the cover of an older edition, reprinted in 1956 by Butler and Tanner of Frome)
For the second week running I have a book by a local author in my hands. Sreyashi Ghosh has worked in various international organisations since completing her BA in Bangalore and has also worked as a freelance journalist for Inside Switzerland and Geneva Times. She is an artist too.
Ms Ghosh’s collection of poetry, My Soul on a Platter, was published in a beautifully crafted binding by Writers Workshop. It contains poems that recall her father and mother, some that explore her own feelings in relationships, her love, her hopes, her despair, but, for me, the most reminiscent are the ones connected with her travels.
We find ourselves with her in Africa, reacting to the sky, the colours of the Masai warriors and the sunset. She moves to Haiti, evoking the situation of the people after the devastating hurricane.
Genocide: to the people of R contains the lines, Now freed from hate/ But willing to make peace/ This is a new world / Though weather-beaten / The survivors stand up / They fight back / With the beauty of love … This is Ms Ghosh’s voice talking of what she has witnessed.
However, for me the most striking poetry comes from Ms Ghosh’s Indian roots. Her Homecoming: Calcutta Snapshots is precisely that, and Calcutta wakens for us at dawn, Neon halogen street lamps / through misty winter mornings / Calcutta looks quaint and romantic / There is history smeared on all corners / From Princep Ghat to Park Street / With early morning walkers up for a stroll / Aroma of freshly made ‘kachoris’ and ‘jalebis’ / This is unique to Calcutta …
Perhaps the most moving poem of all is the last one in the collection, The return of the bride, where a joyous young bride is betrayed and rejected, her hopes dashed. This poetry crosses continents.
Sreyashi Ghosh’s art work incorporates the themes that interest her in her work, women’s rights and the colours of the international world she travels in.
This little volume, Sreyashi’s second, is available at the OffTheShelf bookshop for just 20.- They have a wide range of books in English and are well worth a visit. You can enjoy meeting authors who participate in readings and book signings.
Astronomy this week, as a change from books. We could hardly believe our eyes at 21.14 on October 18th when we glanced skywards. A brilliant light appeared just above the southern horizon and climbed steadily on a south-north orbit.
Soon we could distinguish a satellite, a sight we frequently see, but this one was trailing a cone-shaped tail of brightness and was at least twice as bright as the usual ones that cross the sky. The object travelling on the same orbit behind it was stunning – by far the brightest object in the sky. It, too was trailing a long bright, cone-shaped tail and an immense shining halo soon developed.
Pointless to rush indoors for a tripod and camera so we just gazed in amazement until the whole dazzling show disappeared over the northern horizon four minutes later. We wondered whether Tuesday’s press would be full of the occurrence.
But no! Complete silence. Were we the only people out that night? We began our researches and soon established that we had been fortunate enough to witness the upper stage of the launching of a US polar satellite the DMSP.F18. It had been launched from Vandenburg at 16.12 G.M.T. and we were amazingly lucky in that it was boosted into its orbit by an Atlas Centaur rocket right over our garden! The glowing halo which created a vast ‘moonbow’ was the excess fuel that is vented when the engine is fired to send the redundant Centaur upper stage out of the earth orbit.
This beat Halley’s comet hollow!
Before Christmas we were enthusiastic about Kindle. Amazon have currently sold out. I think that shows what a success their new device is proving to be. On their site there is now a video demonstration that tells us all about the E-book reader. How very clearly it is explained and how tempting! Take a look!