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Opening muse

In recent years I have cut my blogging teeth over at laidbackviews, though my regular readers will need no reminding that it has been somewhat stagnant of late, tired even, perhaps stale.  I have begun to examine reasons for that, and with enthusiasm on the rise once more decided that a fresh outlet is needed, and here we are, at LaidBackMuse.

I will continue some of the topics we have covered over the years, especially on the love of books and the continual quest for fine writing.  Food and drink too are essential parts of life.  That old recumbent bike still finds me lying back for occasional trundle round the lanes and I’ll let you know what  I come across, as I poke around the hedgerows or see what’s perching on the phone poles.

And we’ll cast an eye further afield, to the horizons and beyond, looking at what nature has in store, and what the landscape has to show.

One significant change on how that old site evolved is that these pages will remain free of political comment, even though these times get more interesting with each passing year.  We’ll leave the politics for other outlets.  Promise.

In short the aim is to refine, and to improve, expanding on familiar themes, but only some of them.

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Burns Country

Barely a whisper of cloud, a morning bereft of wind.  The heron glances over his shoulder, stretches out his grey canopy and, legs trailing, rises languidly.  He had been fishing.  Water sluiced as he rose, but no breakfast dangled from his beak.

A mewling buzzard also took to the air, rising from the ground where he may or may not have been breaking his own fast.  Higher he rose, circling, calling.  No answers came.

Both birds had taken a dislike to their peace being disturbed by an early morning cyclist.  Said rider took the opportunity to stop and watch, stretching legs, a much needed pull at the water bottle.  It had been a long time, plenty of hard work, and more to do.

To one side the forest rose, gently.  Birdsong filled the still air; skylarks above, copious unseen and unidentified through song, wee brown jobbies sang their morning notes.  Answering calls came a-plenty from the moors across the water; the moors above which that buzzard planed yet.

It was one of those days, the type that don’t come often; those days when the sun shines and the wind is notable by absence.  Even this cyclist can’t resist, and we head out early, cool yet as the slow pace takes time to warm the muscles through.  The first of the climbs soon remedies that.

By the time we hurtle downhill and disturb that heron, a break is welcome.  It’s a scene that demands being photographed, or at least a closer look.  But the bike carries no camera, no field glasses, indeed not even a notebook on this occasion.

So later on we dig out the map, a closer look, despite knowing the road well, the wide vistas of forest and moorland, of water and sky.

The Calder Water is where the heron fished.  It burbles along, tinkling slowly, bubbling just enough to be heard.  For there is no other sound, other than the birds.  No traffic, not even a swish or a thrum from the massed turbines, turning yet despite the calm.

Later the map reveals so much more.   I had stopped as river and road came together, a little before the bridge which takes me to t’other side.  The Rotten Burn had just added to the volume, dribbling through the forest.  But it is on the moorland side of the road that the map holds most interest.

The Craw Burn rolls in, before the Rotten, then the Browncastle Burn adds more.  But these little tributaries hide more comings and goings further upstream  the Craw, for instance, also contains the waters of the White Burn.  A little further back the Pohapel and the Padonochie burns had come together before joining the Water.  There has to be something behind those names.

The Craw and the Browncastle come in from either side of Blood Moss, which must be another name that hides a tale or three.  A little upstream of them lie the Knowes, Craw, Moat and further back Bught.  The map tells me there’s a monument on the banks of the Padonochie, to what I know not, hidden in the depths of forested hillside.

A little earlier it seems I cycled past a shaft (dis).  The road ahead will take me past waterfalls I’ve never noticed from the car, and as the river diverges from the roadside Stepping Stones mark the way of old.

And that’s just a mile or so of one stretch of a morning run.  I’ve cycled it often, but rarely in such fine conditions, ruminating time.  Might even take the map with me next time, perhaps a camera too.  Aren’t maps great?  What’s hidden behind those names?

Now Padonochie, monument, let’s see what Ecosia has to say…

 

More Feathers

Since watching the gannets at the Bass, and enjoying Lev Parikian’s 12 month sojourn around the country’s bird hides, I stayed with our feathered friends for another night or three.

In My House Of Sky we are treated, by Hetty Saunders, to an insight into the little-known life of the man who wrote one of the finest volumes on nature, a volume that may well have sparked, and certainly influenced, the rise in nature writing these past twenty years or so.

Last year saw the publication of the 50th anniversary edition of The PeregrineThis was not just a book on birds, on raptors, or even on one falcon; this was the collection of words that brought the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize to J A Baker, specifically for the poetic nature of his writing.  It was, indeed is, quite simply a gem.

Baker did not have an easy childhood, difficulties on the home front as war erupted all around, Cheltenham feeling the full force, were exacerbated by health issues.  Eventually he was so wracked with pain that both work and birding had to take a back seat, before the cancer brought on by the pain relief eventually took him, ridiculously early, at only 61, twenty years after the finer of his two volumes was published.

Another thirty years have passed, and Saunders delves into the archive, unearths letters written in the post-school, pre-work, pre-birding years.  In those days Baker penned some verse; letters to his school chums could run to 60 pages.  Life was unsettled, breakdown imminent.

In time he settled, right job, new home, the lovely Doreen.  And the marshes, rivers and countryside around Cheltenham beckoned.  For a decade he cycled, filling note books, marking his maps.  And all the time he read, his other great interest.  The archive includes the manuscript, hand-written, sections held together in rusted paper clips.

Pulling together those years of notes Baker  treats us to the life of the peregrine, the world through its eyes.  I’m left thinking this should have been the subject of that advert, all those years ago, for Yellow Pages, though my fly-fishing chums may disagree.  In the current era of search engines and online catalogues that dusty bookshop is getting harder to find.  But Baker’s Pergerine is not elusive.

In putting this biography together Hetty Saunders includes a raft of archive material, from poems to pictures, maps and anecdotes.  It is beautifully packaged by Little Toller.

And it has me wanting to immerse myself in Baker’s words, his life under the sky he shared with those falcons, all over again.  On next reading I’ll feel much closer to the author, as well as his birds.

Where’s The Birds?

I mentioned my enjoyment at the writing of Lev Parikian recently.  His Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? is a gem, beautifully packaged from Unbound.  The interest lies far beyond the quest at hand.

In short Parikian floated an idea on Unbound to write a book.  His intention was to see 200 different birds in a calendar year, and to tell us about it.  Enough backed the project, and we now have a fine volume on the shelf, packed with fine words, and grand tales.  That’s how Unbound works, for many of us the best way to see our names in print, backers of the project.

Parikian is a genial host, a conductor by profession, of immigrant stock.  In his childhood, as well as dabbling at the piano, he also delved into birding.  Then life got in the way, as it does, and we find him settled, 50ish, yearning.  He needed a quest.  I suspect the writing was as much of the quest as the seeking.

The narrative flows, like the baton over the assembled musicians.  It is peppered with tales of family life, now and then; memories return at any time.

And he takes us to interesting places, from Sheppey to Skye in search of the birds; from Cyprus to France in childhood, and to so many places in between.  He takes us to interesting times, sparked by his wanderings and his findings.

Bird number 135, and I can’t remember what it was, instantly recalls Alan Knott’s highest test score, and Hurricane Higgins’ last frame break in the world final epic.  These things I do remember, the birds are incidental.

The quest gives his wife and son a year of mini-breaks, of extended trips.  He gets the balance right, me-time at silly o’clock, and family time on the bikes or with the boots on later.  His music is never far away, but as the quest progresses priorities may change.

There are familiar places for every reader, from Lindisfarne to the Isle of Wight, or even Norfolk.  The Scottish trip’s a good one, except for the birdwatching, surprisingly.  He recalls his first eagle, in childhood, through binoculars bought from his own savings; and excitement which surpassed his first cassette recorder, Bohemian Rhapsody, his lovingly-oiled Slazenger bat…

A work trip to Edinburgh opens up the road to Loch Garten, and Abernethy.  The cycle trails of Gartmore Forest with his son, hammering along.  A goshawk.  The boy transfixed, wow.   Skye beckons, North Berwick too where we ventured just the other day, seabirds.

There’s much more to reading Lev Parikian than the birds he was seeking.  Even for one with a mild interest in our feathered friends its the words that beat the birds.  He keeps us engaged right to the end, a year of good company, of moments of magic.

200 different types of bird, in 12 months.  I wouldn’t get close, at least not knowingly.  And its the knowing skills that are honed as the year progresses.  Taking along experienced company; the guys in the hides, the app on the phone.  It’s looking for the differences, eliminating one, finding another by default, by sight, by sound, on the wing or on the water.  Simon Barnes isn’t far away, making bad birdwatching easy.

I recall my own moments, perhaps the hide on the shore at Scourie, desperately trying to convince myself that the distant diver has a red throat.  That was the childhood Lev; today he’d know, he’d fathom it out.  No cheating.

I’ll not tell you how it all panned out, whether he was left stranded on 199 like K L Rahul in that final wintry month.  But his elusive brambling, well you can catch it here Lev, on the feeders in the winter, that flash of orange amongst the pink…

Glowing in the East

We left behind a golden carpet.  In the home policies around two-thirds of the thousand or so daffodils brighten the days up yet, only the earlies on the wane.  Arriving in the east there was a noticeable golden glow, but not a daff to be seen; gone, each and every one of them.  Instead we found dandelions along the roadside, acres of rapeseed in the fields, and the gorse in bloom too.

We wandered down between two hedges.  The beech on the left in full greenery, the hawthorn opposite in fine foliage.  Back home the hedges tell a different story.  The maple has sap risen a yard or so, the hawthorn a bit higher but the greenery remains sparse yet; and the beech is in motley, the copper giving way to the new growth, greening by the day, our season evidently a couple of weeks behind.

There was no squabbling in the car, for the ‘Gone Fishing’ sign was up in one half of the back seat; Boy Urchin had decreed a muddy puddle with Uncle the better offer.  Nae ice cream though.  And no fish to chuck on the barbie as we gathered later.  Guys, the empire biscuits were not the bait…

We only had one decision to make, Di Rollo or Luca?  It was a split decision, as I opted to wait for that familiar wee van, sixties style, foregoing the range of flavours in hideous colours.

Where once there was synchronised swimming, bathing belles in flowery caps, underwater lights, freezing; now we are treated to the perpetual jangle of yachts, sitting parked on numbered tarmac bays, tarpaulined against the elements.  The only reminder of those bathing belles of old was a row of coloured doors, the booths that once the lined the pool.

Yes, it could only be North Berwick, where the arch still stands proudly atop the Law, the current version in fibre glass though.  There has been a whalebone (or plastic replica) on the summit for over 300 years.  Wonder where the originals ended up?  I like the Law, a sister volcanic plug to our own Loudoun Hill.  There’s another offshore.

It was at Tantallon Castle we had our best views of the Bass, and I’m left wondering why, in all those years of holidays at NB, it was a place I’d never visited.  Marvellous it is, bringing to mind that day at Dunottar.  Clifftop ruins both, Tantallon doesn’t have quite the majestic setting of Stonehaven’s finest, but there ain’t no gannetry offshore further north, no prison for Davie Balfour  and Alan Breck Stewart, no Stevenson light; and no guano.

Mind you that day at Dunottar also included the madness of the aqua ceilidh.  In the town that kept the open air pool they Splash their White Sargeant amongst other things, every year at the Folk Festival, and it is quite a sight.  I’m hoping the kids from Gael Music may be on stage again this year.  Might even take my dookers, and my dancing pumps…

From our vantage point atop the battlements we could see the whirling gannets, not close enough  though to witness their own golden crowns.  A few house martins squeaked and fluttered around.  The boat trips out to the rock may have witnessed puffins as the gannets plunged, but there were none closer to shore, perhaps a tad early yet.

And there were no fishes caught for my tea from the boys at the fishery, a lazy day in the sun.  But the barbie was up to heat as we arrived, and the burgers and pork fillets were soon piling up, as they always do.  And exhaustion crept up.  A grand day in the sun.

On the First of May

It started as one of those days, the light through the curtains just enough to read before rising to face whatever is in store.  Over the airwaves comes news that the ferry from Fionnaphort will be at some risk after lunch.  Behind the curtains there is more blue than cloud, and the thousand or so daffodils bob lightly.  Not a hint of what is promised to roll in later.

Cycling time then, best chance of the day.  Get moving, for it will change by the hour, and the homeward leg will see weary legs working passage against the wind.

The book I set down is proving to be a real gem; and that barely three months into Lev Parikian‘s 12 month odyssey to rediscover the birding habits, much flawed, of a distant youth.  His writing has much of the Simon Barnes to it, in terms of talking birds to the inexpert reader.  His youth is not unfamiliar, back in the 70s, memorising the Kent batting averages.  Music took over, from violin to piano; a crash at the drums, and then the realisation from his seat at the back of the orchestra that the baton was what he wanted.

So Parikian conducts us through the days of ticking off birds, to learning them properly.  His ear is attuned much more than mere mortals, but it is the jizz first, then the detail.

The outward leg is a good warm up, then we head uphill, into that area of calm.  A starling sings from the left, answered from the trees on t’other side of the road.  Further off the cuckoo calls, for it is the first of May and I’d have been disappointed if she had not joined me on the morning ride.

An earworm, and Mel Torme joins us too, attaboy.

It had been the wheatear yesterday, first sighting of the year, hopping about in the tussocks in the shadow of Loudoun Hill.  A pair of ravens circled high above, riding the thermals under a sun chilled by an easterly breeze.  The ravens settled on the crags, and above a pair of white dugs dragged their owners over the tops.  It had been a walking day, a brief respite away from a growing heap of work on the office floor, let down by software updates.  A day to be paid for soon, one hopes.

The hill does not end, just teases from time to time, a dip, a breather, then the climbing muscles strain once more.  After a couple of weeks gently easing the winter from the legs and the lungs we aim further, higher, anything but faster.  New fences and gates have appeared since last we rode this route, but the pain remains.  Down we whizz, sharp left bend, then the long slog up past the battle monument.

It is the ride down that thrills, wind behind, bends and rises, and down again.  Heavy on the brakes as the main road looms, rush hour, trucks and school buses replacing the one cyclist I have seen in an hour.  On that downhill the birdsong disappears, replaced by a ruddy windrush in the ears as the fields and the jizz whizz by.  Black lambs at the teat, tails helicoptering, the rubber band working towards to the dock.  Soon they will leave mama’s side, frolic together, and I sense garlic and rosemary, salivating.

And the lamb lies down, another earworm.  But I prefer the jazz with my jizz, and Torme reminds me again of the date.

A long, slow, slog home, into the rising wind.  The main road and the traffic is torture, the surface pitted.  Behind me the celtic knot banner that flies atop a bendy pole gives advance notice that a low slung bum struggles, hidden by the hedges.  It rustles and snaps in the wind, unhindered by the speed at which the wheels turn.  In the distance a white speck on the hillside draws me on, four long miles yet, tiring legs, rising wind.

I’ll give you more of Parikian later, for his Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? is another fine example of the writing projects that those grand chaps at Unbound can bring to us (and the best route for some of us to see our name in print).  A writer pitches an idea, and those who want to back the project.  In time a beautifully bound volume arrives through the post.  I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of them, and Parikian’s not going to end that run.

The final slog up the hill, and I hear that cuckoo yet, a memory to take home.  Lev would tick it off on his list.  But I have a song in my ears, for we are On The First Of May, and surrounded by what might loosely be termed Mountain Greenery.  It’s a fine day, so far.

Joy and Pain

A brace of Canada geese skim the hedges.  Those copper beech leaves, which had retained their colour through the harsh winter, are beginning to fade, crinkling, succumbing to the breeze as the new shoots seek freedom.

Signs of spring slowly emerge.  Around half of the garden daffs are now adding cheer below the grey skies.  On the roadsides the rosehips are showing signs of leaf bud, as too is the hawthorn, minutely yet.

Those geese honked as they passed, laughing I imagine.  C’mon slow coach, you’ve only done a couple of miles; you should see the journey we’ve had.  That’s all good and well, but there’s no uphill for you, and I’m a tad less aerodynamic down here.

Uphill, always up the hill.  It’s only a second outing for The Grasshopper, after months of inactivity, a combination of weather, health, but mainly inclination.  With the chain oiled and the gears running we head for the gentlest inclines.  Lost in the grey, a lark somewhere begins to sing about it.

And as I stop for a wheeze I realise that the trees are alive with birdsong.  The great tit rises above all; chaffies flit along the hedgerows; a hare rests on the moss beside the abandoned fish pond, rancid.

It was one of those days when you wake to weather news hailing the start of something long and hot.  Mentally you add except for listeners in Drumclog.  For there will be a wind, getting revenge on that Beast that visited from the other side a few weeks back.  It has howled these last few days, seems quieter now.  Out you go.  Seeking Psithurism.

Instead it howls again, the wind in the lugs drowning out anything in the trees, rustle or song.  And it’s nothing to do with the speed of said Grasshopper.  The gears all get used, some more than others.

I know there will be calm though, for on the far side of the main road the weather will be different, always is, and only a couple of miles away.  And that is where the geese have their fun, the hare his rest.  It also happens to be one of the more gentle rises of my usual selection of rides.  All thoughts of a circular run quickly dispel.  This will be a there-and-back-again ride; just a few long and very slow miles.

Anything resembling fitness remains a distant aim, but on days free of rain an hour can be found, maybe a couple after a few weeks.  In these changing days, these days when there is life in every tree and every hedge, in the skies above, there will be joy above the pain.  And next time we will manage a little further, a little higher, a different gear perhaps.  And the lark will still be singing.

Another hour will need to be found later in the day.  At the hospital mum will want to know what birds are around, what flowers are bursting.  There are primroses in the garden, and goldfinches on the feeder.  It may be the last time she hears of them.  Of the joy, and of the pain.

Play for Tomorrow

Cast your mind back, way back, to 1974.  A regular slot on the BBC was Play for Today.  I watched one of them the other night, a hugely enjoyable 90 minutes.

It had a grand cast, two voices in particular recognisable for all the fine work they have done since.  Mind you a few stones lighter, and somewhat more hirsute might have you looking thrice at the screen to match voice to face.

Alex Norton plays a mean guitar, both acoustic and electric, and a meaner banjo; he can hold a note too.  But the long hair and beard is very much a sign of those times.  Also sporting a tad more hair than we’re now used to, and a moustache with his mullet, is a young Bill Paterson.  He too sings a bit.

That said the singing highlights come from Dolina MacLennan, with a handful of fine Gaelic airs.  Together they represent the 7.84 Theatre Company at its finest.

The production features a live perfomance from Dornie Village Hall, cut through with film footage to support the script.  We have interviews from riggers and roustabouts and disillusioned Aberdeen housing tenants.  Maitland Mackie’s there too, council man.

And for the earlier days we have footage of what Neil Oliver might call ‘migrations’, as crofts are burned and wee auld wifies’ battered.  Oliver may have taken his hairstyle from young Norton, but I’d hazard a guess that he may not have watched The Cheviot The Stag and the Black Black Oil.

That this production was aired on the BBC was unremarkable back then, but my flabber would be well and truly gasted if the organisation that the state broadcaster has morphed into today would even think about showing it again now.  Outlander anyone?

So if you want to catch that original production, with that fine young cast, you’ll need to head over to Panamint Cinema, and their fine catalogue of DVDs.  They also have Venus Peter, based on Christopher Rush’s A Twelvemonth and a Day, amongst other things.  Rush, my regular reader may recall, has become a favourite author, and Twelvemonth is one of his earlier works, of childhood in St Monans, and features the brilliant Aunt Epp.

Och, you’ll have me rambling about Rush now, when all I wanted to mention was Cheviots, Stags and of course Black, Black Oil.

 

A Rare Day Out

It is not often that the old walking boots get an outing these days, and more likely to be a walk in the woods than on the hills they once trampled.  So it was with a degree of trepidation that the heels were plastered, the knees strapped up, and the poles unearthed from the depths of the car boot.

Tinto Hill was the venue, and we really do have to apologise to anyone who may have harboured thoughts of a quiet morning  and some fresh air in which to solve the problems of the world. 

For descending on that wee car park on the road to Symington was an army pre-teen kids, dragging with them a bunch of reluctant parents, dugs and even a few coaches.  Clydesdale FC were on a fundraiser, a sponsored stroll for the 2005 and 2006 squads .  Quiet and peaceful it was not, and that was just the wheezing and gasping from the responsible adults. 

Glimpses towards the summit from the road through Rigside confirmed a few large pockets of snow on the sheltered slopes, and upper slopes shrouded in mists as the clouds took their time in rising.  Inviting it did not look.

Eventually though the troops gathered, and could delay no longer.  The young and the eager to the fore the kissing gate squealed and crashed, almost complaining at giving up access to the slopes to this motley crew.  The ground rose slowly, higher levels disappearing behind the first shoulder, and old bones began to complain as muscles stretched into long forgotten positions.  It didn’t help that there had been a ceilidh in Strathaven before we lost an hour into summer time, and the stripping of those willows and all that sergeant dashing didn’t seem as much fun on the morning after as Lanarkshire’s southern outposts began to open out below.

The progress may have been slow, but the goodwill carried us forward, rising steadily.  Ill-equipped, inexperienced, but with the prospect of entering tournaments, and being kitted out with team tracksuits, new strips and a load of balls, the kids from the streets took to the hills with relish.  In due course, it seemed like an age, there was a gathering round the summit cairn.  As always the clouds descended just as the camera emerged from the depths of the pack, dragged up the hill and cursed with every tortured step.  Hot soup in the flask and a snack or three to re-fuel, the clouds parted to leave the county spread far and wide below, just as the camera had been stowed away for the downward trudge.

Downhill, that’s when the old knees really suffer, and afore long they shuddered and trembled as we picked our way carefully and slowly through the rubble and the snow melt.  A foot began to drag, through some heather; perhaps something caught?  Nothing, and on we went, dragging again.  Lift your feet, old git!  On further inspection the source of the problem was evident, with the sole of the right boot flapping loosely, slapping, with an inane grin leaving the metal plate exposed and  allowing the mud into the toes.

There was a fair way still to go, and the thought of emerging through that kissing gate with one boot on, and a stockinged foot shredded at least took the mind off the pressure on the dodgy knee.  Slowly and very carefully was the rest of that descent.

The kids though, had a great time, and hopefully the coffers will be well and truly boosted from a massive effort by all.  In addition to a couple of my own snaps I’ve added a few, with assumed consent, the unofficial club photographer Danny Maxwell’s camera being lighter than my own, his skills infinitely better.

Through it all the Dick family led, as they always do, this time with Buster very much in charge.  And for that all three teams will always be grateful.

Decision time now – replace those boots, or retire gracefully? 

 

The Water Boys

I’ve made no secret of my admiration for the writing of Anna Badkhen, having been enchanted by her tales from Afghanistan, and mesmerised with her wanderings in the Sahel.  So it’s been a long wait, having followed the crowdfunding and then the social media posts from her trip to West Africa.  Finally though Fisherman’s Blues has arrived, and it was well worth that wait.

This is a book you read slowly, often going back over a paragraph just to let the words run round once again.  And all the time there’s an earworm, snatches of The Waterboys, strumming away in the background.

It was when Walking With Abel, that Badkhen set her sights on the African coast, and so we find her in Senegal, embedded – it’s a throw back from her days reporting from less peaceful places – in a fishing village, Joal, and working on the pirogues, by day and by night.  She takes us into the homes of the families, through good times and bad, weaving words from dust once again.

They didn’t always fish from the beaches of Joal.  Not too long ago it was a farming community, but the millet harvest failed, in drought, and starvation saw eyes cast offshore.  Now the nets are cast, up to a mile long, but the fish stocks have been harvested, as has happened in fishing communities far and wide.  Over fishing, no farming, and two thousand boats trying to support the crews and the families.

There are shipwrecks and disasters, tales to be told, wives – that’s plural in most households, and births, and deaths.  Boats need repaired, new ones built.  Stars sparkle on the waters.  Words glitter on the pages.

Through it all Anna Badkhen adds colour, like the hull of the vessels, spattered with painted flags, a name hidden here and there.  We learn the hand signals that pass between the crew, spotting the shoals.  Nets and buoys, anchors too, all home made from jetsam and waste.

I hear she’s taking us to West Texas next time, perhaps a sympathetic eye for the native Americans.  It’s not a country I tend to read a huge amount on, but in Badkhen’s case I’ll make an exception; for this Russian-turned-American writes beautifully, always.

Then I remember I’ve made the odd meal from her recipes, and I begin to worry.  Mind you there’s a couple of her previous books I’ve yet to add to the collection.  Now might be the time…

Fisherman’s Blues, get the song playing, open the pages, and take off to distant shores.  Dip your toes in the water, but make sure you have a gris-gris, for there’s magic in these pages.

 

Improving with the years?

Absolutely not, for as a big fan of the works of John Lister-Kaye I dipped into one of his earlier volumes, and The Seeing Eye dispels the myth of improving with age.  Published back in 1980 it is quite clear that JLK was as much a master of narrative in his early writing career.

The Seeing Eye takes us back to the early 70s, those dark days after the death of Gavin Maxwell, the days after the author had completed his work with the eider ducks on Kyleakin island, and was seeking a place to write, to recover, and to plan ahead.  He takes us to various dens and bothies across the highlands, places to become temporary homes.  His first book, The White Island, is in progress.  Between writing sessions he does a bit of game-keeping and we hear of poachers and predators, and of course the wildlife of the highland glens.

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Lister-Kaye hankers to remain in the highlands and a plan to develop wildlife guiding tours takes shape, moves forward, and leads us into some fine tales.  One of the best is of his distant wooing of the woman who would become Mrs Lister-Kaye and who would throw herself into the mountains and the rivers, so alien to her days in London.  Together they deal with all the set-backs that providing for groups of people in the hills can throw at them, and in making a home and a base.

There are far too many gems to highlight in these brief notes.  Through it all Lister-Kaye spells it out beautifully, capturing the majesty of the mountains, the joys of the flora and the fauna, and the hardships they face.  He takes us further afield, to Arctic Lapland and the skills of the Sami, and to Treshnish for seal calving.

We end with the first sightings of the house at Aigas, the dreams of a field centre with accommodation for his groups.  It is at Aigas in later years, the place we have come to know from appearances on Springwatch, that he will hone his crafts, from where he will take us on his daily walk round the loch, treat us to the birdsong that fills the air and then to reminisce.  But if I thought his writing was developing through these years I was wrong, for in The Seeing Eye, we find a craft mastered early on.  It is a joy to read.

If you ever get the chance to listen to Sir John Lister-Kaye on the book festival circuit then take it, for he the tales are even better to hear first hand.  Time I think to dip into The White Island once again; it’s been a while.