May, 2015

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I have now been to Mecca. Or at least the one of ballet in Scotland, imaginatively called Scottish Ballet. This was for LoLo’s audition, which we didn’t get to see (this is a good thing, it’s not fair to put parents through that kind of experience).


Thanks to Google maps, we knew where we were going but the reality is always different from how you imagine it, just as everyone imagines the characters and scenes in a book differently, no matter how painstakingly the author has given details of everything. We knew we had to turn right at a church and spotted that straight away, but what we hadn’t seen on Streetview was the incredibly obvious Scottish Ballet building beside it (you’ll see from the picture at the end that it’s hard to miss!). It’s part of a building which was used to build over 1,200 trams from the 1900s and later aircraft wings during the Second World War. And of course, having never been anywhere near that part of Glasgow, we knew nothing of the history of the building.

The sole purpose of being there was dance, but as well as partly housing and partly hiding Scottish ballet, depending on which side of the building you enter from, there was a beautiful garden looking out onto a large mosque next door,


as well as rolling exhibitions of various forms of artwork inside and a huge brick chimney outside (aka photo op):


The auditions were in groups of 20-25 and it’s always impressive to see the dedication and determination of these youngsters, for some of whom dance is the most important thing in their lives. There was lots of swapping of favourite steps, plans for the future (dance only of course) and e-mail addresses. And we found out about other dance programmes from other parents, which we’ve since been investigating further. The bottom line is that there is no short way to success in dance – it takes time, effort and a lot of resilience. Much like anything else worth doing. And you could see on their faces how much they enjoyed what they do, no matter how far it takes them.


In the lap of the gods…

The marathon in 13 days (not that I’m counting) is now becoming very real. The race number arrived last week:

Marathon number

And I’ve started checking the weather for the 31st – basically cold and raining:

Marathon weather

That will be normal, then, although yesterday was really taking the biscuit. 24 miles with the dreaded combination of cold, wind and rain. The sandals performed admirably and I kept telling myself that although the sunglasses (when I started out, it was sunny!) really should have come with automatic wipers, at least the wind and rain weren’t constantly in my eyes. And I only had one car honk his horn at me. Why a car driver would feel aggrieved when the other person is a guy running in the rain in sandals escapes me. I just kept going. To be honest, it was a great run. Apparently if the conditions aren’t so good, sometimes you relax more and run better than you expected. Which might be as well given the forecast for the race day, but I have learned that it changes a lot between the first 2-week outlook and the day itself. The thing I’m looking out for (= scared of) is the wind factor. You can run just as fast in the rain, but if you have a strong headwind, it’s going to make a difference. But on that one, we are in the lap of the gods. It will be what it will be and I’ve done what I can.

From here on, it’s getting ready for the race. The weekly distance is a bit lower but the intensity of the runs is about the same so it will still feel like a proper run each time. Then I’ll get onto the beetroot juice (3% improvement in performance might not sound like a lot, but it’s about 5 minutes difference for a marathon and I’ll take that any day). And then I will just have to load up on sleep in the final week. What a sacrifice…

And then I get to go out and run with a few thousand kindred spirits. It’s going to be a great day. I already know that I won’t be first and I won’t be last. So I’m going to go and have some fun…oh yes, and run fast!

Heaven for an afternoon

I have to start this week with an apology. Yesterday, I summarily dismissed months or even years of work from thousands of writers, purely on the basis of the state of the spine of their book, the picture on the cover or even, in one case, the font the book had been printed in. Even as I was doing it, I felt bad, knowing that my judgement of their work was totally unfair and not what I would have done if they had been standing beside me.

This might tell you why such an attitude was necessary:

Inside building

That, and the fact that I had limited myself to one jute back (in fairness, the largest one I could find in the house), knowing that there was already not enough space for the books I have, and then there were a few in the back of the car already, and some in places nobody else in the family has yet discovered. Sounds like an addiction to me.

There was more than enough to feed the addiction:

Rows of books

This was the annual Christian Aid book sale in Edinburgh. It’s supremely well organised, staffed by lovely volunteers, and the outside stalls have long since been rain-proofed. Yesterday, that alone must have saved thousands upon thousands of books.

This scale of book sale is always wonderful. The sheer variety of books and subject areas means there really is going to be something for everyone there. They even had old dance programmes, but in the end we bypassed them in favour of a biography of Anna Pavlova, another dancer I had never heard of but LoLo knew all about when she saw the book afterwards, and some other dance-related books for her.

I came back with a few novels, a few on philosophy (don’t worry, the lighter end) and psychology (same caveat), and my star find – a huge photo book on East Germany:


As an aside, the white and gold building on the front was the Palace of the Republic which was later torn down after 1990, not least because of the amount of asbestos used in its construction. It had a ridiculous number of lights inside it, which gave it its nickname of ‘Erich [Honecker, the country’s leader]’s lamp shop’.

I suspect there will be limited demand for this book in Scotland, but it was close to a perfect book for me. It’s got hundreds of photos – the ideology is clear from both the text and pictures, but I would expect that – and even came with an insert about an extension to the University of Leipzig (I used some of their facilities, mainly the canteen, when I was living there for a few months a long time ago), and inside that insert was a stamp from 1980 in pristine condition:


The main thing for me was that the book was authentic from the time, it was how the country’s leaders wanted to present it and tells the story they told themselves in the early 1980s when nobody expected the Wall to fall. And all this for £2. In fairness, I suspect that if I hadn’t shown up, they wouldn’t have sold it at all so I think we all went away happy from that transaction.

The good news is that the book sale is on for much of next week – it’s at the East end of George Street (right beside Standard Life Investments if that helps anyone). It’s well worth a look if you like finding random books, but do spare a thought for the poor writers whose wares are being sold off for a song and without any of it going to them. Although I think there must be something about having several copies of your books appearing in second hand sales, it feels like a sign of success!

Nature 1 – Humans 0

Sometimes we have to bow to a force that is much bigger than us. In Scotland, that usually means the weather. The last couple of winters have been much milder than the one or two before that and we haven’t had two feet of snow suddenly descend in April as we did a few years ago. But the wind seems not to have stopped for the last five months.

We have a class from Finland visiting us at the moment, and one of the trips was to be a boat trip to the Bass Rock, a piece of volcanic rock about a mile off the coast of North Berwick, south of Edinburgh. That description doesn’t quite do it justice though. It’s about a hundred metres high (for the pedants, that’s the part above the sea) and looks to be white from a distance. That’s because it is the home of somewhere around 100 – 150,000 gannets, apparently 10% of the entire population of North Atlantic gannets.

Up close, you get a sense of the sheer number of birds as well as seeing the (now unmanned) lighthouse and ruins of a castle and a 15th century chapel.

Now there was no way I was ever going to get on this boat:


It had nothing to do with the boat, which has been in service for fifty years. I feel sick travelling on a train, never mind on a boat, even though I did make the catastrophic mistake of underestimating my reaction to the sea a few years ago when we went on a whale watch in Boston and I didn’t see anything other than the side of the boat for the first ten minutes before my body gave up and I fell asleep in an effort to recover from the ordeal, only to get a bad sunburn on one side of my legs. So unless it’s a rowing  boat on a pond, you will not see me on anything that goes on water. I have accepted that this means I will never see some of the islands off the Scottish coast but have made my peace with that.


Doesn’t look that bad, does it?

The Finnish class had followed the advice to wrap up warmly and everyone was on the boat… when the captain announced that they had to cancel the trip. A boat much more suited to rough water had just had to come back at half speed and they had already cancelled all the remaining trips from that day and the following.



If he isn’t going to go out in that wind…

Fortunately, the Seabird Centre was there and was somewhere I had never been before. Those gannets featured with some prominence in a short film. It turns out they dive bomb into the sea to catch fish – you can see clips here and here – they just suddenly drop into the sea en masse. Somehow they manage to avoid hitting each other. You can just imagine what would happen if a bunch of humans started to dive into the sea together. Chaos and injuries would abound. But these birds manage to look graceful even when swimming under water.

I would not want to be a fish anywhere near the Bass Rock, that’s for sure. So all was well that ended well and at least the sun shone behind the wind today.