Autumn weekend in Edinburgh

I was cursing the fact I had not packed my sunglasses on Saturday morning as we were treated to yet another sunny autumn morning. Café society was out on all the pavements in town, weekend school sports and boot camps in the Meadows and I was squinting in the sunlight to see where I was going.
I had hoped we would manage to squeeze in some jazz at the Scottish Arts Club at lunchtime but our shopping trip took longer than expected so I spent the afternoon reading and watching birds. A flock of jackdaws were feeding on the lawn, the cherry tree and the building opposite, joined by a pair of magpies. They did not stay still in one place long enough for photographs. Today, James was attending a course and as I did not sleep well last night, limited myself to one outing to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, a wonderful building on Queen Street.
I had gone to see an exhibition that finishes on 16th January: ‘Facing the World: portraits from Rembrandt to Ai Wei-Wei’. There are five sections in the exhibition and the earliest are of course, oil paintings. I was reminded of a conversation last year with a friend around the topic of being able to appreciate a work of art without knowing anything about the artist. This is true but knowing something can shed more light on why this particular work was produced at this particular time. Or perhaps it is just that I am interested in people, have spent my career working with them and have a particular interest in creativity. On my current reading list is a recently published book entitled ‘Wired to Create’.

This work stuck out for me amongst the oil paintings. It is by Georg Philipp Schmitt in 1823-4 when he was 15 or 16 years old and is in pencil which was then a recently invented tool. I had forgotten that they really have not been around for long.
Portraits can provide an insight via facial expression, clothing and props and also the setting. This is Wilhelm Schnarrenbarger in his studio.
Others depicted themselves with friends or family members, role played or focussed on specific parts of the body such as this untitled circle of hands by Bruce Nauman.
There are 20th century photographs, video and outside the exhibition, the opportunity to contribute your own selfie to a display or for children to draw themselves. I have never painted or drawn a self-portrait and my sister complained recently that I was always behind the lens and not in front of it. Here is a photographic self-portrait from 1984.

Sunny day in London

We have been enjoying the Indian summer and the fruit harvest here. I have been busy producing apple juice, picking plums, raspberries and blackberries and amazed that I am still having to water the veg outside in September. However, today we escaped and headed to London to meet up with a friend from Sydney who is visiting for a short time. I had booked brunch at the Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell and as the trains are not great on Sundays (years ago my secretary was told by someone at a rail company to tell her boss not to travel on Sunday) we decided to drive down to Watford Junction and take the train into the city from there. All went well until we were well down the M1 and they had decided to close the motorway in order to demolish a bridge. So, we endured a very slow crawl around the environs of Luton and then through the centre to rejoin the M1. At Watford Junction we found ourselves on a new London Overground train which was far from crowded and half an hour later were at Euston. We wandered down towards the restaurant with brief stops at a bookshop and cafe. It is situated in St John’s Square which is where the Priory of the Order of St John was set up in 1040. There is now a museum devoted to the history of the order (who are now known to most of us as the St John Ambulance. There is a lovely garden filled with some of the plants the monks used to treat their patients with.
The gate into the priory has undergone several transformations. In the 18th century, it was used as a coffee house, run by Richard Hogarth, father of the artist William Hogarth. Dr. Samuel Johnson was given his first job in London at St John’s Gate, writing reports for The Gentleman’s Magazine. Later, the Gate was used as a pub, The Old Jerusalem Tavern, where artists and writers, including Charles Dickens, used to meet. It now houses the museum.
We met our friend and were part way through our meal when I realised that I did not have the bag with my camera in it with me. I knew I had been taking photographs in the garden and that I may have left it there. We eventually discovered that someone had found it and handed it in to the museum. Afterwards, we wandered past Smithfield market where we saw the now closed nightclub Fabric:
save-fabric-london-11-sept-2016-1 and enjoyed the blue sky and sunshine.
Down on the Thames Path we had some slightly different views of the bridges seen last week.
We must walk the Thames Path from its source in the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier (184 miles) someday soon. Eventually we had to head back to the tube from near the Tower and part company with promises to meet up for longer in 2017 and 2018. We got our train and out of Watford onto the motorway fairly easily and made good progress, being thankful that we were not going in the opposite direction as there was very heavy traffic heading back into the city. Just before we left the M1, we saw the brake lights come on and a plume of smoke ahead. A car on the hard shoulder was on fire and the emergency services were arriving. It looked like everyone had got out unharmed and the fire was confined to the front end of the car so we could get past without too much risk of it exploding. The rest of the journey home was thankfully, eventful.

Blue skies in the Highlands

On Friday we had lunch with a friend in the Scottish Arts Club and then left Edinburgh to drive to Inverness. As expected it took a while to get out of the city but we were soon at the Forth where the new crossing is being built. There are no longer any tolls on the road bridge and the rail bridge was looking great in the sunshine. Most of the leaves have gone from the trees but the colours in Perthshire were fabulous. The new average speed restrictions are now in operation on the A9 and many people had predicted problems but we found none. North of Dunkeld there was a lot of flooding in the fields and all the rivers were in full spate. There was, for the time of year, very little snow on the top of the Cairngorms and we descended the Slochd as the sun set and drove into Inverness. After a couple of drinks at the Heathmount we had a great dinner cooked by our friends as we plotted the next day’s walk. On Saturday we were up early and off the the Black Isle to walk near Cromarty. The sun was shining and the sea and the sky blue so we had a very pleasant walk along the shore and up into deciduous woodland with views across the Firth from the top of the hill.
Installation on shore Cromarty 8 Nov 2014 (1 of 1)
We descended across some fields to a minor road and then sat by the harbour with coffee and some great cakes from the local bakery, watched closely by a pair of juvenile gulls who were begging for titbits. Now we are resting back at the house (the boys watching the rugby) before going to Scottish Opera’s production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola this evening.
Cromarty from the South Sutor 8 Nov 2014 (1 of 1)