Wednesday, 31 December 2014
Saturday, 13 December 2014
For some reason my story did not secure a place. However, since it is difficult to know what else you would do with such a story I have decided to publish it here. I hope you enjoy it.
My refrigerator is haunted. It goes cold and dark inside with the door closed. Spooky! Snatch it open and catch him? No, too slow. Wait! Suppose I just leave it closed? Starve to death. There, that will teach him!
Wednesday, 3 December 2014
Saturday, 22 November 2014
Foaled 1989 died 22 November 2014.
I bought Buster at auction in 1993 with the last bid I could afford. He was my riding club horse as well as a point to point racehorse. He was in professional training with three different trainers and twice placed third in novice steeplechases over two miles before his impoverished owner ran out of the wherewithal to pay training fees.
He remained in good health to the last, having almost miraculously recovered from a stroke a few years ago that initially almost paralysed his near hind leg. Just a few days ago we were commenting on how well he was doing for his age. Fine last night at supper time. Found dead in his stable this morning.
Along with his stablemates, his relevance to my writing is there in every description of horses and riding.
A very good friend of mine. R.I.P.
Monday, 17 November 2014
Friday, 31 October 2014
Even on a guided tour it will often prove difficult to take in everything that you are told, but
photographs will help you recall it. The best tour guides throw in all sorts of local colour: history, myth, prejudice, manner of speaking. All of these have their potential uses.
My two example photographs above are both from Taormina, Sicily. The first is a detail of the second.
Friday, 17 October 2014
The US CreateSpace shop page is here
The UK Amazon page is here
I understand that it will take a few days before it is available elsewhere. I'll try to keep this post updated.
It was quite strange to pick up a copy and discover how heavy it was! I do hope that people enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Perhaps you will let me know?
Thursday, 9 October 2014
For a long time I was completely unaware that the nearby village had established a presence on the web. I was recently pointed in the direction of this facebook page which contains a lot of pictures and stories about the village of Slamannan. It seemed to me that this deserves to be more widely known, along with an overall history of this interesting area. So here is a little introduction. I shall try to add details of the village's history in due course.
Slamannan (above) is a village, or more accurately a group of villages in south east Stirlingshire, Scotland. Its population, including the outlying hamlets of Limerigg and Binniehill, (below) is in the region of 1,400.
Nestling in a natural hollow of Sliabh Mannan at the confluence of the River Avon and the Culloch Burn, it is around 150 metres above sea level and on a clear day commands views right across the Forth estuary to the Campsie Fells and Ochil Hills. The whole of the surrounding area is designated as being of Great Landscape Value and is home to a number of protected species including bats, bean geese and badgers.
At the centre of the village stands an impressive clock memorial to the dead of the Boer War, and south of this in the middle of the twentieth century a substantial council housing scheme was built. Further from the centre in all directions stretch more modern private housing developments.
There are three nineteenth century mansions nearby, one of which is now a respite home.
The village has its own primary school, community centre, medical centre and library. There are two take-aways, a chemists, grocers, post-office, cafe and garage.
It also has a lot of very nice people who are happy to talk about the place where they live, though when it snows in winter and the road to Falkirk is blocked for an hour or two the location can become a little less popular!
Tuesday, 7 October 2014
I discovered at an early stage that you cannot get away with a hand held camera. Even the steady hand of a surgeon might struggle to hold his lens sufficiently immobile for a night time exposure at a quarter of a million miles away from his subject. So having acquired a tripod, I tried again, using my Minolta 75-300 mm. lens on its maximum extension. Now this is decent lens for a zoom and I ended up with respectable pictures, but only very small ones after cropping so far into the frame.
Last night I decided to stack lenses in a reckless fashion to see what I could do with a big image. I used my elderly Sigma 400mm f5.6 M42 lens and two doublers, a Helios and a Tamron. Effectively I was trying to focus and set aperture and exposure manually for the equivalent of a 1600mm lens. This is not easy; at least it's not easy for me. I made numerous mistakes. However I finally got a couple of presentable pictures, of which the one below is the better, in my opinion.
Sunday, 5 October 2014
Sometimes when I contemplate the awful problems that beset our world, I wonder why it is that the leading figures in society and politics today seem so puny compared with the colossal shadows cast by their predecessors. Where is the modern Churchill, Gladstone or Disraeli? Would the new Duke of Wellington please stand up?For some reason the present generation seems to reach its pinnacle in people for whom the achievement of simple competence is regarded as a triumph. Has something gone wrong with our education system? Do we no longer breed statesmen and heroes or do we somehow conspire to keep leadership out of their hands? Has society itself become so open and tolerant that we are no longer capable either of making or accepting the strong and often upsetting decisions that are needed? But when we look back to ancient society we find exactly the same sentiments of the degeneration of the human race. Greek heroes described in Homer could perform wonderful feats of strength 'greater than any two men born today'. The borderline between heroes and gods was tenuous and frequently crossed. It seems probable that human beings have always looked upon their problems as huge and their own resources as feeble by comparison. Since we need to believe that the situation is not hopeless, we weave myths around the men of the past until in retrospect they achieve the stature of giants. "All we require," we say, "is another such hero to come along and his superior powers will get us out of this mess." Unfortunately the prominent figures of today will always suffer by comparison with an idealised past that lives only in memory and from whom time has stripped away all shortcomings. Maybe we ought to cut the current generation a bit of slack. Who knows, some of them, when the next century looks back on this one, may turn out to be legendary giants.
Wednesday, 17 September 2014
How very thin the crust of civilisation is. There we were, patronising the mediaevalism of other cultures, confident that we had progressed beyond all that nonsense.
Then along comes another false messiah, denying every inconvenient fact and promising a naively simplistic road to (earthly) paradise. Lo and behold, masses of our fellow citizens (on both sides) promptly revert to tribalism. The English backlash is no prettier than the Anglophobia that provoked it.
Perhaps someone will remind me when was the last time an arbitrary line drawn on a map, leaving minorities numbering hundreds of thousands on each 'wrong' side, helped solve rather than create problems?
Or the last time that emphasising what divides people rather than what unites them led to peace and prosperity?
Whoever wins on Thursday, we have all lost already.
Thursday, 11 September 2014
If you see a friend walking towards the edge of a cliff whilst playing a game of blind man's buff, what do you do? Call out a warning, I expect.
You might well be surprised and upset when your friend shouts back, "Scaremonger!" and continues to walk forward.
"No really, there's a cliff!" you call.
"Disgraceful negativism!" he replies, sticking his fingers in his ears and starting to hum "La,la,la - can't hear you!"
Separatists amongst Scots seem to believe that as long as you dress up market forces as pantomime villains and hang a sign round their necks labelling them 'English Tory Scares' you may safely ignore them. Economic laws do not apply in the land of Braveheart.
But isn't it really going a bit far to respond to relocation decisions from major financial institutions by continuing to shout 'Scaremonger'?
Just what counts as economic evidence if capital flight does not?
People who don't trust what might happen at the ballot box are voting with their wallets.
It might be a good time to remove the blindfold and take a look ahead.
Wednesday, 3 September 2014
If Scotland continues to use sterling despite no
longer being part of a currency union, we will have no choice but to accept
whatever monetary policy the UK decides upon. There are 58 million in the UK and 5
million of us. They will have no more reason to take account of a foreign
Scotland when determining their monetary policy than the USA has to take account
of Panama when determining theirs.
Deduct the forty odd Scottish Labour seats and
the chances are that the next UK government is Conservative. They will
implement Conservative monetary policy in the UK and that policy will apply in
Scotland because Scotland will not have its own monetary policy.
Perversely this means that, so long as Salmond’s
Currency Plan B remains the use of sterling without agreement, voting 'yes' in
the referendum results in the imposition of a Tory government's monetary policy
Perhaps this is what he means when he promises that Scotland will get what it votes for.
Tuesday, 26 August 2014
Saturday, 16 August 2014
Thursday, 7 August 2014
Now I have nothing against sailing. Far from it, as readers of a recent blog post will have noted. And I am also quite a keen bird photographer. In fact the seagull that used to feature on the cover was a photograph that I took myself.
However the old cover was supposed to pose this question: 'Can witches transform themselves into gulls and perform sea magic whilst they're at it?' It rather seems that the picture must have been asking this question in a very obscure language that not too many readers understood. So I decided to turn to a professional* instead of trying to express myself in pictures as well as words.
There is a question posed in the book that is considerably more fundamental. That question is: 'Can a modern woman be as glamorous as the lady on the new cover and still be a witch?' Well, I suppose you might be able to guess the answer. But what will you do about it?
This is the original synopsis.
Buy from Apple
Buy from Barnes and Noble (US)
Buy from Nook GB
*(I am indebted to Cristi Iancu at dreamstime.com.)
Saturday, 2 August 2014
Friday, 25 July 2014
Saturday, 19 July 2014
Another thing that I found very refreshing was to be treated as an adult. I sometimes despair of being regimented by holiday couriers as though I were a child of five. On Royal Clipper they seem to say, "You know what? This is a sailing ship. There are ropes everywhere. Since you are not a child we don't have to tell you not to walk into the ropes. You can duck them or climb over. Unless someone is actually pulling on a particular rope at the time you can, using care and your own judgement, pass by it. Obviously don't get in the way of sailors handling the sails in difficult conditions. Otherwise go where you like." Oh bliss.
Two aspects of sailing stick in my memory. One is being allowed to fulfill a lifetime's ambition and actually climb up the rigging to the crow's nest. Oh yes I did, and I have photographs to prove it! The other was a match race between Royal Clipper and her sister Star Clipper off the Croatian coastline. Whilst I may entertain a few doubts as to whether the race was slightly choreographed and whilst the deck never really leaned over far enough for this enthusiast's taste, it certainly provided the ultimate photo opportunity for a lover of tall ships.
Star Clipper (left) is technically a barquentine rather than a true clipper. That means she only has square sails on her foremast. You do not however notice this holding her back in relatively light winds such as we experienced, whilst our heavier vessel perhaps needed a stiffer blow. Nevertheless I want to thank the captains and crews of both ships for providing so wonderful a spectacle. (And if anyone who was on Star Clipper wants to swap photos, please do get in touch!)
Wednesday, 25 June 2014
An informative lecture / demonstration on fly fishing that renewed my conviction that an expert in anything who possesses good communication skills is always worth listening to. I could easily have been persuaded to become an angler.
The birds of prey were most impressive. We are accustomed to see hawks and falcons, but here were eagles and vultures. These are seriously large birds and very beautiful in close up.
Seventeen heavy horse pairs drawing drays provided a picturesque spectacle in the main arena in the morning. What a great thing it is that so many firms and individuals are willing to put the required effort into the preservation of a glorious piece of our heritage; one that still offers environmental and commercial benefits today.
I was also very taken with the private driving classes. This is something that I really should like to try, though it is an area of horsemanship of which I know very little. I hope I am not too old to learn something new!
Both the working hunter class and the Grand Prix showjumping offered spectacular opportunities for the aspiring photographer possessed of a decent long lens. I quite surprised myself with the quality of image that my old Minolta 75-300 AF would produce at 1/500th of a second, even under slightly overcast skies through part of the afternoon.
And I have yet to mention the displays of farriery, sheep-shearing, willow weaving, dog agility, pole climbing and who knows what else. I was impressed by the singing of the Farmers' and Farmers' Wives' Choirs, who seem to have reached a high standard in a very short period of existence.
Of course the show classes themselves are the heart of the whole thing. I saw breeds of sheep that I had never even heard of and watched the parade of class winners for cattle and horses.
The whole event was well organised and informative commentaries were provided throughout. I greatly enjoyed my day.
Monday, 23 June 2014
I tentatively identified the more common of these (left), from a guide book, as the common spotted orchid (dactylorhiza fuchsii), though to my way of thinking that was a serious misnomer since I had never spotted it before. It turned out that the name signified the presence of dark spots on the leaves and spotted patterns on the mauve flowers.
Considerably less common was a much darker purple flower (right) that I thought was probably the early marsh orchid (dactylorhiza incarnata). I claim no great conviction behind these identifications, so if you know better please feel free to let me know. There is a variety known as heath spotted and another called northern marsh that look superficially very similar.
The new flowers were attended by a locally new species of butterfly, the common blue, as reported in an earlier post (28 October 2013) of this blog.
For the next few years a few stunted specimens appeared erratically. This month however the meadows are once again full of these beautiful wild flowers. I suspect the mild winter has encouraged them, as it has so many tender plants.
Remarkably the magnolia in my garden flowered this year for the first time since I planted it, although I bought it years ago as a sapling already in flower.
Monday, 16 June 2014
Saturday, 7 June 2014
The gathering place for tourists on the west bank is the narrow strip of land to the south of the confluence. This is known as Deutsches Eck (German Corner) and features an enormous equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. The statue was destroyed in the Second World War and only certain recovered pieces are incorporated into the modern restored version.
The Electoral Palace is a baroque building, now a museum, featuring a view across the Rhine.
Sunday, 25 May 2014
Each year there are four categories of competition and a separate distinguished adjudicator is invited to judge each of them. The benefit for the writers who attend is primarily the advice of the judges and the opportunity to meet with other people who like to discuss the art of writing.
We don't always agree of course. If we did then our readers would be sadly deprived of choice. There are usually a variety of roads by which we may attempt to reach our destination. Personally I have no skill in tailoring my entries to the perceived preferences of the judges. I simply choose a piece that pleases me and then hope for the best.
It was very gratifying therefore to be awarded first prize in the short story section by so distinguished a judge as Evelyn Hood. I knew that I had taken a risk with this story. Privately I had already decided that it could only be first or nowhere. It is not the sort of story that could ever figure in the minor placings.
It remains to be seen whether the story will find a publisher. Watch this space.
Sunday, 11 May 2014
Friday, 2 May 2014
This is an anonymously judged competition so names don't count and work does, which is of course a proper challenge. I was quite fond of my story this time, though I spotted a continuity error after I had submitted it, so I think I should consider myself fortunate that it did so well.
On we go to the second quarter, for which my entry is already submitted. I have some thoughts about quarter three, but still a couple of months in which to organise them.
Monday, 28 April 2014
Monday, 21 April 2014
Thursday, 10 April 2014
Possibly the oldest city in Germany, Trier (or Treves in French) was the administrative centre of Gaul in Roman times and one of the largest cities in the known world.
There are three Roman baths here (see below) and a huge basilica (left, left centre) that is today in use as a protestant church. An amphitheatre also survives, at least in terms of having left its shape in the ground, as well as a bridge across the Moselle that was built in the second century and still carries traffic.
The Dom or Cathedral of St Peter also was founded in Roman times, (above, right centre) whilst the Liebfrauenkirche next door is in the French Gothic style.
The Archbishops of Trier were important princes of the Church and Electors of the Holy Roman Empire.
Its famous Black Gate (Porta Nigra) is the best preserved Roman city gate in Northern Europe, though it was tricky to photograph during our visit because a major festival in the city was using it as a stage for a pop concert.
Karl Marx was born in Trier in 1818. In the USA both Illinois and Minnesota have towns named New Trier that were founded by settlers from the area.
Evidence of the early and continuing importance of wine is preserved in the form of this well known statue outside the Liebfrauenkirche.
Certainly a city that required more time than we had. I suspect that it really deserves a few days rather than a couple of hours. I was however grateful to have been given the opportunity to photograph the whole panorama of the city and its valley from the great hill that overlooks it.
Tuesday, 1 April 2014
Readers will doubtless realise that the story is a tribute to one of the giants of the cinema. I was trying to show that his methods of creating and sustaining suspense and psychological drama need not be confined to modern world settings but work perfectly well in speculative fiction. You will have to judge for yourselves whether I succeeded.
I will admit that it was great fun to write. It is quite difficult even for the author of a work of detective fiction to keep his eye on the ball in a complicated plot.
And no, despite the date, this is not a joke.
I am particularly grateful to AE, which also brought my first commercially published fiction to the world last year in AE Micro 2013.
Friday, 28 March 2014
Like many towns along the Moselle, Cochem is well supplied with half-timbered buildings, despite suffering extensive war damage. Its main industries are wine and tourism. It must have fit schoolchildren since they have to climb a very steep path up from the town towards the school which is situated high on the castle hill.
Friday, 21 March 2014
In my letter published in yesterday's Falkirk Herald I used the same metaphor that I have previously used on this blog. When I compare a currency union to the joint bank account of a married couple, I do not of course mean to suggest that they are the same thing, merely that they have a number of helpful similarities.
Not many non-economists have a clear grasp of the nature of currency unions. Indeed the history of the Eurozone suggests that either a fairly substantial number of economists did not understand these principles either, or that political confidence overwhelmed economic objections. The disparate economies that were enclosed in the straitjacket of the common currency were simply not sufficiently closely aligned. A certain number of conjuring tricks were employed to make the figures look reasonably convergent in the qualifying year, but everyone should have realised that the important issue was not the statistics but the underlying reality.
A decade of growth camouflaged the problem; it did not make it go away. The long rolling series of near defaults was always going to happen. The fact is, that two divergent macroeconomic policies cannot be accommodated within a single currency zone.
Non-economists will, I hope, find the problem simplified by my analogy. Like our divorcing couple separating their bank accounts in order to prevent one party from spending the other's money, two countries each need their own currency in order to operate any approximation to an independent monetary policy. The Eurozone went for the joint account first and loveless political marriage seems bound to follow if they will not reconsider their mistake.
Scotland is a tenth of the size of the UK and any currency union between the two would never result in her being able to underwrite UK debts. The UK would have no partners in underwriting Scotland. In return for taking on unlimited liability the UK is offered freedom from exchange costs that at most would amount to a little more than 1% of what it cost the UK to bail out RBS alone. Can anyone seriously claim that represents a good deal for the UK?
There is no economic justification for divorcing London in order to marry Berlin. The Eurozone is going to tighten its political integration. Unofficial use of sterling can only be a short term stratagem since it would deprive Scotland of any effective monetary policy at all.
Independence means a new Scottish currency. There. It wasn't so hard to say it after all.
Sunday, 9 March 2014
- The Yes campaign's response to the refusal by all three UK parties and the UK Treasury to contemplate a currency union with Scotland is not to devise an alternative currency scheme. Instead they claim that nobody except the Yes campaign can do sums properly.
- They also point out that we may be dragged out of the European Union against our will by the 2017 in/out referendum. Safer to vote for independence and be sure, eh?
Sunday, 2 March 2014
- It is not possible for a single central bank to operate two monetary policies. Market forces would oblige the central bank to pursue the monetary interests of the larger partner, even if political factors did not.
- Likewise neither partner could pursue an independent fiscal policy, because each government's borrowing would increase the common money supply. Agreement would be required.
- The UK would therefore have to cede a degree of its own monetary independence to Scotland. It has previously resisted doing this for the Eurozone, which is a much bigger market.
- An additional disadvantage would be each partner taking on an obligation to underwrite the finances of the other without the multinational burden sharing that is possible within the Eurozone.
- This is the option that the UK has ruled out. There are good economic reasons for ruling it out and no advantages for the UK that would come near to compensating for the loss of independence.
- It would not allow Scotland to create its own money supply.
- It would prevent a Scottish central bank from operating a meaningful monetary policy.
- Although this would also remove the need for UK government agreement of Scotland's fiscal policy, the same sort of constraints would be imposed instead by the need to obtain sterling through trade etc.
- It would remove the guarantee provided by the UK underwriting Scottish finances. This would imply a higher government borrowing rate for Scotland.
- This has a lot of short term costs and risks, including the introduction of exchange costs with the UK.
- However a more serious problem would be the need for the new currency to be underwritten by a Scottish government with no track record of debt management and which has incautiously flirted several times with the option of not taking on its share of UK National Debt. Possible lenders will remember perfectly well that a lot of the UK debt was incurred in bailing out Scottish banks and threats to walk away from responsibility for that debt can only raise the cost of borrowing by an independent Scotland.
- It might take some time to reassure foreign exchange markets that the new currency was 'hard', (i.e. it can be trusted to hold its value.)
- The new currency would also be a 'petrocurrency', (i.e. volatile and vulnerable to oil shocks.)
- It needs to be borne in mind that the Eurozone is just another currency union and that Scotland would be even less influential within this much larger zone than it would be in a sterling zone.
- Effectively monetary policy would be determined centrally and fiscal policy would be subject to the EU's Stability Pact.
- Even this has not been enough to preserve stability in the Eurozone of late and it seems likely that more political integration within the zone will be required in order to cement the stabilisation of the Euro as a currency.