Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes by Robert Louis Stevenson – an enchanting, personal memoir exploring the city’s culture and heritage.
“Stevenson’s writing strikes the twenty-first century ear as still being fresh and intensely readable … we are in the company of an agreeable and relaxed guide giving us an anecdotal run-down on Edinburgh over a cup of coffee or lunch.”
Alexander McCall Smith
Novelist, poet and travel writer, Robert Louis Stevenson first published Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes in 1878, (revised 1889). This attractive new edition has been published by Manderley Press, a new indie publisher founded by Rebeka Russell, focusing on forgotten or out-of-print books which feature a memorable house, place or landmark. The books will be small hardbacks, quarter-bound in cloth and printed on high quality paper. Cover artwork will be available to buy as prints.
“I have always loved books, art, travel and old houses, so when lockdown happened, I decided the time was perfect to set up Manderley Press. Armchair travel and literary escapism had never seemed so important!” Rebeka Russell
Most appropriately, the name ‘Manderley’ is taken from the classic romantic novel, ‘Rebecca.’ “I could swear that the house was not an empty shell but lived and breathed as it had lived before.” Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca.
The first book selected for the Manderley Collection is ‘Edinburgh’ featuring decorative artwork by Iain McIntosh (as shown here on the front cover), with a marvellous Introduction by Alexander McCall Smith, who is renowned for his popular and most amusing novels set in the city (44 Scotland Street, Isabel Dalhousie).
McCall Smith begins with succinct biographical background explaining that having studied engineering (to join his family clan of lighthouse designers) and then law, RLS wisely followed his literary vocation as an excellent storyteller.
‘Stevenson found Edinburgh such a rich source of inspiration for his writing. This is a walk through parts of the city that have survived to this day as they were during his lifetime.
If we were to stroll down Heriot Row with him today, there would be no surprises for him when we reached No. 17, although he might not have expected a plaque.’
RLS moved here with his family in 1857 when he was seven. From the nursery window, he loved to watch the lamplighter, the Leerie, switch on the gas lamps every evening.
McCall Smith describes how much the city inspired him from his childhood, frequently ill in his bedroom, looking out over Queen Street Gardens. As young man he explored the streets, taverns, monuments, rivers and hills, fascinated by ancient history, legendary myths and cultural heritage.
“It is at times a prose poem. It is a stream of conscious memoir about living in a town so gorgeously romantic it could be an opera set; it is a love song to a city.”
This personal Memoir is divided into ten chapters, taking the reader on a journey to Stevenson’s favourite haunts as well as describing seasonal weather and festivities. RLS appreciates how the magic of Edinburgh gets under your skin – “ the place establishes an interest in people’s hearts; go where they will they find no city of the same distinction.’
‘What a clashing of architecture! Greek temples, Venetian palaces and gothic spires are huddled one over the another.. the Castle and the summit of Arthur’s Seat look down with a becoming dignity.‘
This is a city set up on a hill, he explains, dominated by the Castle with its open view to sea and land.
Tourists love to stroll down the Royal Mile from the Castle to the Palace of Holryroodhouse as did Stevenson to see St. Giles Cathedral, Parliament Close and the High Court spotting “ an advocate in wig and gown and a tide of lawyers.” (just as you will see today).
He is especially shocked by the social inequality between the overcrowded tenements, families living in a ‘huge human beehive’ in the Medieval Old Town, in contrast to the wealthy citizens in their grand houses on Heriot Row and Moray Place et al. around the Georgian-Victorian New Town.
Chapter Four is Legends, illustrated with a drawing of a man in a blindfold and bow tie with a hangman’s noose in the background – Deacon Brodie, a respected city councillor and cabinet maker by day but a thief by night – whose secret double life sparked the novel, ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’.
Edinburgh may be haunted by ghostly tales of grave diggers and murder but this is a “city of churches .. a clamour of bells upon the Sabbath morning in one swelling, brutal babblement of noise”. Babblement! – Stevenson’s rich language is inventive and colourfully poetic.
RLS was inspired by the stone carved tombs of the moody, gothic Greyfriars Kirkyard. More than a century later, J. K. Rowling followed in his footsteps to borrow a few names on the gravestones – Potter, Riddell, Scrimgeour, McGonagall, – now resurrected as her famous fictional characters.
The symmetrical grand design of the New Town features spacious crescents, round circuses, and private gardens. This sounds like the writer is standing on the corner of Heriot Row and the steep hill of Dundas Street with a view of Fife: “It is surprising to see a perspective of a mile or more of falling street and beyond that woods, villas, a blue arm of sea and the hills upon the further side.”
RLS takes a walk to the Dean Bridge over the Water of Leith where “carriages go spinning by and ladies with card cases pass to and fro about the duties of society” (elegant 19th century ladies who lunch!).
He recalls outdoor adventures as a schoolboy with a love of nature: “many an escalade of garden walls, a ramble among lilacs .. when the Spring comes round, the hawthorn begins to flower and the meadows smell of young grass”.
Calton Hill has hardly changed since Stevenson’s day with the Athens of the North ‘Parthenon’, Lord Nelson’s monument and Observatory. “Of all places for a view, Calton Hill is the best, since you can see the Castle, Arthur’s Seat, Holyrood Palace, Princes Street, Leith, the Firth. It is the place to stroll on one of those days of sunshine.”
In the chapter, Winter and New Year, RLS embraces the Scotch dialect to describe the cold wind – “snell, blae and scowthering, words which carry a shiver with them.” But there’s nothing cosier than an old pub, “the warm atmosphere of tavern parlours and the revelery of lawyers’ clerks.”
He finds a painterly beauty in the winter chill. “We enjoy superb sunsets, the profile of the city stamped in indigo upon a sky of luminous green.”
The New Year festive season in Edinburgh is listed in the book, ‘1,000 Places to See before you Die,’ attracting thousands of global visitors to join in the Hogmanay Street Party with music and fireworks.
For RLS too, it was “the great national festival, a time of deep carousel, musicians, whisky and shortbread, singing Auld Lang Syne”.
He remembers student days at Edinburgh University enjoying “heroic snowballing – skating and sliding on Duddingston Loch – reminiscent of the iconic painting of Reverend Robert Walker by Henry Raeburn (c.1795).
While he is fond of the city streets and sociable lifestyle, he would often escape to the rural tranquility of the Pentlands, Fairmilehead for a walk beside rivers and rolling hills, “a bouquet of old trees, a white farmhouse, the bleating of flocks… a field of wild heathery peaks”.
After many journeys far and wide, Robert Louis Stevenson left his family home in 1887 for the last time, sailed to New York, toured America and from San Francisco he and his wife Fanny chartered a schooner to cruise the South Seas. In 1890 they settled on the island of Upolo where he adopted the Samoan name, Tusitala, the Teller of Tales.
Stevenson would never forget his emotional attachment to the city of his birth, as he wrote in this memoir of Picturesque Notes.
“ There is no Edinburgh emigrant, far or near, from China to Peru, but he or she carries some lively pictures of the mind, some sunset behind the Castle cliffs, some snow scene, some maze of city lamps, indelible in the memory.”
Note: I would like to suggest that a decorative ribbon bookmark would enhance the design and the leisurely experience of reading these classic books by Manderley Press.
The addition of photographs and imagery in this feature are to offer background information and colourful illustration only.
The smart new Neighbourhood Kitchen-Bar-Garden, is the place for coffee and cocktails, lunch, supper and Sunday Brunch
The Bruntsfield Hotel, in the southside of Edinburgh is a grand property of four connecting Townhouses dating from 1861. Converted into a hotel in the 1920s, today the quiet location overlooking the Links and Meadows Park is ideal for visitors within easy walking distance to shops, theatres, cinemas and a short bus ride to the city centre.
As part of a £1 million investment, the Hotel’s former Bisque Brasserie has been transformed into The Neighbourhood to welcome hotel guests, locals, shoppers, students and office staff to meet, eat and drink, and described as “a new, exciting all-day dining, working, and socialising space”.
A recent media launch party was a marvellous opportunity for a sneak preview to sip a cocktail or two and sample the food. In the large, L shaped space, the Neighbourhood Bar is well designed for comfort and relaxation, the booth tables ideal for a couple or group of friends
As well as good selection of wines, Scottish beers the bar tenders have invented a menu of house cocktails such as the “Scottish Garden” made with Edinburgh Gin, Grey Goose vodka, Elderflower cordial and apple juice. This is so refreshing, tart and fruity ….and rather dangerous as you hardly taste the alcohol!
The Penicillin sounds like a healthy tipple to keep the bugs away – a blend of Famous Grouse and Laphroaig whiskies, lemon juice, honey ginger syrup, the perfect winter warmer, plus all the classics, Cosmopolitan, Negroni and a signature Ferrero Rocher Martini – Smirnoff vodka, Frangelico, cocoa liquor and whipped cream.
“We want The Neighbourhood to be somewhere to work and play with homely food, creative cocktails, and true Scottish charm.” Alistair Bruce, General Manager
Around the corner from the Bar is the Kitchen Bistro where Chef Colin Moore and his team serve an all day food menu focusing on seasonal, local ingredients, classic and modern Scottish cuisine.
For lunch, a choice of sandwiches and sharing plates. Warmly recommended is the Crab Arancini, a tiny, tasty light bite, and for a hearty meal, good old Fish and Chips – having sampled an appetiser portion, this was superb, crisp batter and perfect fat fries.
Other dishes include Cullen Skink soup, Scallops with cauliflower puree and Stornoway black pudding and Haggis ravioli with neeps, potato and whisky sauce. All the favourites too – pizza, pasta and burgers with vegetarian/vegan and gluten free options. And you might be tempted by Apple crumble or Sticky toffee pudding.
With the King’s Theatre, Dominion and Cameo Cinemas, a short walk away this is the ideal place for a drink or meal before or after the show.
The Neighbourhood is open for breakfast each day and at the weekend for a leisurely Brunch to enjoy a full Scottish fry up, Eggs Benedict/ Royale or Smashed Avo with Feta. Sip a spicy Bloody Mary or for a celebration, opt for the bottomless Prosecco to turn brekkie into a party.
Outside is the ‘secret’ garden, a plant filled patio where you can sit in heated booths with good lighting for alfresco drinks year round – dog friendly too after a walk around the Meadows.
As a change from WFH why not visit the Neighbourhood for a business meeting, work on your laptop with tea and coffee on tap and fast Wi-Fi for just £10 per day.
Hospitality is also family friendly with a healthy, appetising menu for children who can join in fun, educational quizzes to keep them entertained.
‘Eating at the Neighbourhood should feel like eating at your family dining table. Good food and good company is at the heart of what we’re about’.
Visit The Neighbourhood for coffee, a glass of wine, brunch, lunch or supper. The Kitchen is open from Wednesday to Sunday, 7am-1am, while on Monday and Tuesday, the Bar is open from 5pm until late.
Check all the information, browse menus and book a table here: www.thebruntsfield.co.uk/theneighbourhood
Best Western Plus Bruntsfield Hotel
69 Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh, EH10 4HH
Experience ‘Christmas at the Botanics’ this festive season – a sparkling, starlit walk through a winter wonderland
The night before Storm Arwen roared into town, it was a crisp cold dry night for the launch of ‘Christmas at the Botanics’ at the Royal Botanic Garden. Returning for its fifth year, this one-mile illuminated trail is inspired by the beauty of nature through the avenues of trees, plants, meadows, ponds and waterfalls with dazzling visual effects.
As you set off on the adventure through the magical forest, the creatively curated, amplified music soundtrack will immediately put you in festive mood. As you walk around, hear snatches of lyrics from a medley of all the famous, classic songs, Walking in a winter wonderland, Michael Buble, Driving Home for Christmas, Chris Rea, White Christmas and Let it Snow, Bing Crosby, O Holy Night, Il Divo and Waltz of the Flowers by Tchaikovsky
The lake beside the Chinese Garden sparkles with colourful lights over the waterlilies like a Monet-esque painting. ‘Digital Rain’ is a dazzling show of slender LED lights hung from the branches to give the effect of a shimmering, dripping rain shower.
A fabulous flutter of ‘Fireflies in the Woods’ is a dance sequence of 100 fairy lights flitting between the branches is like stepping into a Disney animated movie. Truly magical but impossible to capture on camera as they disappear into the dark night in an instant!
You never know what’s around the corner, such as this surreal woodland of Teepee trees like alien spaceships.
Enjoy a slow stroll along a meandering path with decorative sculptures to depict milkmaids, geese, partridge et al. for the carol, The 12 Days of Christmas.
The ‘Aquastell’ installation features seventeen luminous arches with beams of light flashing like shooting stars across the night sky.
Beside the Rock Garden is a mesmerising scene of trees, plants and bushes around the blue-tinted waterfalls
Visitors walk through the dazzling domed canopy of the ‘Christmas Cathedral’ featuring thousands of individual flower buds on long ribbons of sparkling lights.
Warm up as you wander around the edge of the ‘Fire Garden,’ a grassy meadow dotted with flaming torches and lanterns; a peaceful spot to pause to observe the flickering light and silhouette of trees, as you listen to Robert Burns’ Auld Lang Syne, a global anthem to reflect the end of the year and the start anew.
If you love to trim your Christmas Tree with old tinsel and trinkets, you will be inspired by the collection of Giant Baubles, 3 feet high or so, glittering gold and silver balls lying amongst the bushes.
A highlight of the trail is ‘Sea of Light’, an audio visual spectacle to recreate the swirling rhythm of the waves of water flowing in harmony to the music, a special sound installation created by ITHACA.
The magnificent mansion, Inverleith House appears in the darkness like a huge Doll’s house with superb imagery lighting up the windows with pictures of wreaths, gifts and Christmas cards through a medley of songs, Jingle Bells, Papa Elf and Home Alone.
As you experience the joyful music and dazzling installations, it’s the technical wizardry which impresses with theatrical sound and vision. A few statistics: 17 kilometres of power cable, 650 LED lights (to keep energy output low), 1,500 string lights, and 4,950 candles in the Fire Garden.
Adults and children alike will enjoy this leisurely winter walk through the garden, transformed with razzle- dazzle festive decorations; drinks and snacks available around the trail and the Terrace café.
‘Christmas at the Botanics’ runs for 32 nights on selected dates from 25 November, 2021 – 2 January, 2022. Tickets are on sale from www.rbge.org.uk/christmas.
Adult £20, Member £17, Child (4-16) £14, Family £66. (Children under 4 and carers, free).
‘Christmas at the Botanics’ by Culture Creative and Raymond Gubbay Limited, a division of Sony Music, is one of 14 illuminated trails across the UK presented in partnership with the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.
Photographs courtesy of Kenneth J Scott
Image of ‘Christmas Cathedral’ by Mandylights
‘Evocative Skies’ magical vistas from beach scenes to city panoramas – an exhibition by Jamie Primrose @ Dundas Street Gallery
Since 2003, Jamie Primrose has presented artwork at over forty solo exhibitions, specialising in city, land and seascapes from Scotland to the South of France. This new showcase focuses on the dramatic beauty of skyscapes along the East Lothian coastline and across Edinburgh.
The ‘Evocative Skies‘ exhibition is well laid out following a geographical route from the sandy beaches of North Berwick to Tyninghame and Yellowcraig, around the gallery to the rolling hills, high spires and streets of the Capital.
The introduction to ‘Evocative Skies,” describes the artistic theme:
‘The transient nature of light onto water and land to create luminosity and atmosphere, the dream-like quality of glorious streams of light reflecting onto the sea and iridescent sands; these sweeping cloudscapes depict the ever-changing play of light above sparkling, tranquil shores’.
The glowing, glimmering luminosity of fading sun is clearly illustrated in Late Afternoon looking towards Cove, in which the viewer feels they are standing on the sand to observe the immensity of the clear blue sky. This impressionistic scene is captured in striated layers where the sea meets the sand, and a line of white cloud hovering over the distant hills.
The iconic pudding shape of the bird sanctuary takes centre stage in Looking towards Bass Rock from North Berwick Beach, given a perfect perspective between the lapping waves on the beach and mauve-tinted clouds; a realistic sense of a brisk breeze whipping up over the sea and sky too.
Another majestic view of the craggy island in Clouds passing over North Berwick depicting a more blustery day. Again, the sky takes prominence, spanning over two thirds of the painting, with just a slither of sea on the edge of the sandy beach.
The Stevenson lighthouse on the island of Fidra is the focal point of Reflections on Yellowcraig Beach. Robert Louis Stevenson (who spent holidays in North Berwick), is said to have been inspired by the rocky shape of Fidra for his map of ‘Treasure Island’.
This is such an evocative and tranquil study of Yellowcraig beach after the tide has ebbed away leaving glistening wet sand with slender shards of sunlight below the billowing cloud.
The fading light at dusk is captured with such a delicate, pale palette in Tyninghame Reflections – the thick brush strokes sweep a soft dusty pink across the sky reflected with an impressionistic flourish on the waves and shoreline. Such an atmospheric, contemplative composition.
This is almost reminiscent of the artist’s previous abstract landscapes such as Tierra de La Luz (Costa Rica, 2003). The translucent sheen of blue, indigo and tangerine, with Rothko-esque expressionism, depict the horizon over the sea at sunset with stunning simplicity.
Perhaps, Jamie Primrose might be inspired to experiment again with his earlier, masterly artisic style to express these seascapes in similar abstract mode and manner, through blocks of pure colour, shape and light.
There’s an almost photographic perspective snapped in Shimmering light over Edinburgh from Longniddry, looking across the Firth of Forth. There’s a painterly pattern here: the foreground stretch of rocky beach is echoed in the long, low lying dark cloud, and also in the distance, the rolling mound of hills in a shadowy silhouette.
A seasonal, gold tinted cityscape is portrayed in Autumnal drama over the city from Blackford Hill, one of Primrose’s ambitious, signature, panoramic views with such architectural detail of the city skyline. The afterglow of sunset is sinking towards the west, turning the sky a shimmering salmon pink across the flow and flurry of clouds.
Around the gallery is a diverse range of other iconic skyscape views of Edinburgh, depicted from dawn to dusk – Duddingston Loch, from Calton Hill, the Castle and around the Old Town.
Limited Edition Prints
As well as over fifty original oil paintings on show, there’s also a selection of exclusive, limited edition prints: East Lothian beaches, Arthur’s Seat, city sunset skylines, colourful Old Town scenes, and more.
‘Evocative Skies’ paintings by Jamie Primrose
Magical vistas in East Lothian & Edinburgh
The Dundas Street Gallery, 6a Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ
Friday 5th – Saturday 13th November 2021
Open daily, 11am – 6pm. Saturday 13th November, 11am – 5pm (last day)
View the ‘Evocative Skies’ collection of original oil paintings online:
Limited Edition Prints:
East Lothian seascapes: http://shop.jamieprimrose.com/shop/3/12/index.htm
Vibrant sunsets: http://shop.jamieprimrose.com/shop/2/26/index.htm
The 29th French Film Festival is on the road – 30+ movies across 30+ cinemas around the UK from Aberdeen to Belfast and Plymouth
The French Film Festival is back, running from 3 November to 12 December 2021, offering another fabulous programme of new and classic movies screened in cinemas throughout the UK and on line.
“Bienvenue! We’re overjoyed to welcome back our faithful audiences to one of the most diverse line-ups, from award-winners to new talent. Thanks to our partner cinemas for showing enthusiasm and ingenuity and our sponsors for their unwavering support. Vive le cinéma! -Bon Festival.”
Richard Mowe, Director FFF UK
The FFF UK is the only festival dedicated to French and Francophone cinema in all its diversity, variety and vitality. This is a brief overview of a few highlights in the programme which will delight all movie fans who adore the intimate, dramatic mood and elegant style of French movies.
Deception (Tromperie), based on the novel by Philip Roth, relates the story of an American writer also called Philip (Denis Podalydès), who is working on a new book in London. Here he meets and becomes romantically involved with a married English woman, (Léa Seydoux), while his wife is back home. But is this literary affair real or a figment of the author’s imagination ?
In 1789, before the Revolution in rural France, fine cuisine was exclusive to the aristocrats. Delicious (Délicieux) is about the fine art of gastronomy. When a talented cook called Manceron, (Grégory Gadebois) serves one of his invented dishes at a dinner hosted by Duke of Chamfort, he is dismissed. Moving to work at a country inn, he is inspired to develop his creative passion for food to become a renowned chef. Bon Appetit!.
Starring the inimitable Catherine Deneuve, Peaceful (De son Vivant) is about a son in denial over a serious illness while his mother faces the truth. A real-life cancer specialist, Dr Gabriel Sara is cast as Dr Eddé, expressing genuine, personal empathy as a medical and spiritual advisor.
Inspired by true events, The Big Hit (Un Triomphe) is a comic drama about an out of work actor who gives drama lessons to high security prisoners, hoping to inspire them to perform a production of Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot. ‘The outcome is worth the wait, a naturalistic, well-balanced, satisfying social drama,’ says one critic.
In Promises, (Les Promesses) Isabelle Huppert portrays an ambitious Mayor of a Parisian suburb towards the end of her second and, expected, final term of office. Working with her Chief of staff, their mission is to secure a financial subsidy to save Les Benardins, an apartment complex from increasing urban decay. A power-grabbing, political game of chess ensues.
A neglected, feminist classic, Olivia, (1951), adapted from Dorothy Bussy’s autobiographical tale, captures the awakening passions of an English girl at a finishing school near Paris. The rather naive Olivia develops an infatuation for the headmistress, Mlle. Julie, sparking obsessive, jealous feelings in another teacher. ‘Gothic atmosphere, unspoken desire.…a landmark of lesbian representation.’
With perfect topicality in the race to save the planet, Hello World! (Bonjour le monde!) is a whimsical animated study of a fragile ecosystem. Papier-mâché puppets with a colourfully painted backdrop depict the life and natural habitats of a pike, beaver, bat, salamander, turtle, dragonfly and birds.
This charming film will appeal to all ages and is also part of the educational programme for children, L‘école du cinema.
As always in the FFF programme, there’s a selection of Short Cuts, mini-movies of between 8 and 24 minutes.
A special double bill features a mini-musical, Belle Étoile about a Vietnamese woman who has arrived in France to be married but her life turns upside down.
This is partnered with a vintage thriller, The Sleeping Car Murders (Compartiment Tuers 1965), starring Yves Montand as a detective in charge of finding a killer on a train, akin to Murder on the Orient Express.
After the welcome innovation and popular success of screening FFF movies @ home during lockdown, there’s a choice of nine films to watch from the comfort of your own sofa.
Another crime drama in The Enemy (L’Ennemi) follows the investigation when a politician is charged with killing his wife.
A classic from 1961, Vivre sa Vie, directed by Luc Godard, features his cinematic muse, Anna Karina as Nana, an aspiring actress who has a different role in real life, a lady of the night.
Thrillers, romance, wartime drama, politics, animation, documentaries – take your pick of the 29th FFF programme.
Browse the full selection of films, list of cinemas and screening dates on the website: frenchfilmfestival.org.uk
Converge – a masterly, moody, creative collaboration by four Scottish landscape artists at the Dundas Street Gallery.
Converge: ‘to come together and unite in a common interest.’
Sarah Anderson, Kirstin Heggie, Gill Knight and Fee Dickson Reid share a passion for capturing of Scotland’s natural beauty from the Lowlands to the Outer Hebrides in their own distinctive, dramatic mode, mood and manner.
Sarah Anderson grew up in Galloway surrounded by countryside and coastline: My inspiration is derived from the Scottish landscape to reflect the dramatic effects of weather … and envelop the viewer in the prevailing atmosphere.
Paintings based on a recent summer holiday to Isle of Harris are expressed with a vividly, exuberant colour palette in majestic panoramic scenes.
With the dark, thundery clouds, Approaching Rain, Scarista is mesmerising with its expanse of inky blueness, a glimmer of sun shining on the beach where the sand meets the lapping waves and the sea touches the sky.
This is akin to a Rothko-esque abstract in its bold geometric blocks of colour: the slither of turquoise water is renowned on this west coast and on summer days the white sand beaches evoke a tropical island.
Likewise, Scotland meets the Caribbean in The Colours of Harris in a more representative scene of the striated layers of sand, sea with flecks of surf, distant hills and flurry of clouds. The stylised structure of the composition is stunning with an expressive use of shape, light and movement.
“Composition is the art of arranging in a decorative manner the elements at the painter’s command to express his feelings.” – Henri Matisse
With an element of Van Gogh’s impressionistic ‘Pine Trees against an Evening Sky,’ the delicate patterning and halo of gold in Glentress Forest Light draws the viewer into the scene as the eye follows the winding path through the winter trees bathed in dappled sunlight.
Kirstin Heggie also specialises in semi-abstract landscapes, ‘building up many layers of texture and colour, adding and subtracting paint using brushes, twigs and offcuts of wood. It is often a messy process!’
This method of collage painting is most effective in Tonnan Mara, (from the Gaelic: surging waves of the sea), a most atmospheric composition with thick, criss-crossing crusts of paint reflecting the elemental force of the treacherous waves and pitch black sky.
A calmer seascape in Pure Morning captured with delicate minimalism in soft shades of white, azur and grey streaks, with an almost invisible divide between sea and sky. Pure indeed in the subtle, smooth blend of blue-green tones and texture.
Against a rust-red crimson valley, a copse of three Skinny Trees stand out in the barren, sun-scorched landscape – almost desert like with a feeling of strong heat. There’s a hidden narrative here on place and time which creates a most enigmatic and melancholic image, like a painterly poem.
Working in oils, acrylic and mixed media, Gill Knight describes her abstract and semi-abstract work as “dark, moody, atmospheric and emotional.”
Capturing the season with an impressionistic flourish, Autumn Tide features a wild swirl of threatening rain cloud brightened with a flash of sun on the water. With the focus on the sky, the smudged brushstrokes and cool colour palette of grey and blue, depict the luminous effect of shifting weather.
The same masterly technique is shown in Autumn Sky, the amazing contrast of light and shade with glistening shards of red and yellow – perhaps rocks and seaweed – on the shore.
‘To thole the winter’s sleety dribble, An cranreuch cauld!’
This line from ‘To a Mouse’ comes to mind when viewing Rain at Newhaven, such a drenching downpour in a dark night with hopefully no lost sailors out at sea due to the lighthouse guiding boats back to harbour.
The storm has passed over in Solace to depict a languid moment of peace and solitude – no wonder standing on a beach looking out into an almost natural ‘emptiness’, is so good for the soul.
Fee Dickson Reid first studied architecture before concentrating as an artist from 2009. Based in East Lothian, the subjects here range from boat yards and harbours to craggy rocks and beach scenes.
‘Sea, sky, sand is what I am drawn to paint big atmospheric pieces filled with light and often a sense of peace. The sea is a huge part of my life and my work. I live by it, I swim in it no matter what the season, and I paint it. It’s very much my muse’.
Fee Dickson Reid
Dramatic views from around North Berwick are prominent such as Lamb from West Bay – a simple line drawing yet with such detail, the curved sweep of the shoreline stretches out to the rocky islet on the horizon.
Here too is the bird sanctuary of the Bass Rock, its iconic pudding shape looming out of the night sky, so finely delineated as monochrome sketch. Her artistic technique is based on a blend of charcoal, ink, gesso, water and white pencil on Fabriano paper to create tone and texture.
Colour is also vanquished in Black and White Beach to produce such an evocative mood through lapping waves and flurry of clouds with such a sense of movement.
As we enjoy the golden days of Autumn, the ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,’ here’s a sunny splatter of seasonal colour in A Garden of Birch, in fruity shades of tangerine, orange, lime green and plum around this rural scene.
This creative collaboration is a masterly showcase of how the Scottish land and seashore can be conveyed with such a variety of expression from natural representation to the abstract purity of colour and light.
Dundas Street Gallery
6 Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ
27 October to 1st November
Open daily 10am – 6pm. Monday 1st 10am – 4pm.
Lost Worlds: an exhibition by Sarah Knox: a tranquil journey around Scottish gardens, glens, islands and the seashore with illuminating, poetic vision.
During the surreal experience of lockdown, Sarah Knox was determined to keep artistically creative, sketching outdoors around Edinbugh at the Royal Botanic and Malleny Gardens, Arthur’s Seat, the Firth of Forth and finally, this summer, a trip to the Highlands and Islands.
Following the pioneering approach of the French Impressionists, Sarah specialises in painting en plein-air to observe the changing light and weather.
“When I’m outside with a sketchbook balanced on my lap and the materials at my feet, I relax and produce magical and fluid images of the landscape. My theme of ‘Lost Worlds’ emerged because of my reduced boundaries during lockdown.
When painting is going well it feels like I am flying.”
The light-filled Studio gallery at Dawyck Botanic Garden is the ideal space to show her Scottish landscapes. A miniature painting quickly caught the eye – In the Fold of a Green Hill, its undulating layers of meadow, river and heather-clad hill all bathed in the dying light of dusk. The blended shades of emerald, azur, tobacco, coral pink with a snowy streak of white is so atmospheric.
Over the past year, Sarah often visited her neighbour’s garden to sketch and captured this glimmering, golden scene, Sanctuary. Beneath the bare skeletal tree, the empty chair indicates the absence of someone who was sitting there, their ghostly silhouette lingering in the shadows.
The broad panoramic scene in Light Washes over the Distance immerses the viewer close up into the landscape near Ullapool. Here is the rugged terrain of stones, sandy shore, tufts of grass as we follow the curve of the river towards the isolated trees and misty mountains under the glower of a murky sky.
With free-flowing, calligraphic style, Distant Colonsay is a sketchy abstract in sage green and grey to depict the fluidity of waves, island shore and rain clouds. This soft shimmer of a seascape is like a lyrical Haiku, the minimalist Japanese verses which traditionally evoke the natural world.
Taking centre stage in the gallery is a majestic viewpoint, On the Rim of the World which features a lake fringed by a forest of trees and jagged peaks beyond. This frozen land of snow and ice, reminiscent of Norwegian fjords or Glacier valley, South Patagonia, is now melting in global-warming watery drips. The location is not given – it is up to the viewer to suggest where this may be or is it a fantasy, lost world of the imagination.
After an invigorating stroll around Dawyck Garden, then view a few illustrations of the wild woodland in the gallery: Forest Shadow, Dawyck is a vivid, vivacious splash of a watercolour where the fine details of leaves and branches shine through.
In contrast, the dappled texture and botanical green tones in Poet, Dawyck create the artistic effect of a tapestry woven in wool.
In July this year, Sarah was able to head off to Loch Broom, a welcome escape from the city and lockdown – here is the artist in action outdoors (with midges galore), painting the aptly titled, There You Feel Free. You can see how her thick brushstrokes create a layered luminosity across sky and water with impressionistic effect.
Sarah Knox is fascinated by the liminal sense of space, time and place in her art, the boundary between reality and memory. While these landscapes are painted outdoors, back in her studio Sarah may experiment further to enhance the dramatic mood, pattern of light and natural colours as observed on location.
These are just a few highlights of this showcase of magical, masterly landscapes so do visit Dawyck Garden for a painterly journey around tranquil gardens, glens, islands and seashore illuminated with such expressive, poetic vision.
Dawyck Botanic Garden*
Stobo, near Peebles EH45 9JU
Lost Worlds – an exhibition by Sarah Knox.
On view in the Studio gallery to 30th November, 2021.
Open: 10am- 5pm (October) 10am-4pm (November)
Highly recommended is a visit to the very welcoming Dawyck Café for breakfast, coffee, lunch, Afternoon tea, scones & cakes
*Located in the hills of the Scottish Borders, Dawyck Botanic Garden is renowned for its seasonal displays of rhododendrons, blue poppies and golden Autumn colours. With a continental climate of warm dry summers followed by cold, snowy winters, there are plants from Europe, China, Nepal, Japan and North America.
For more information and directions:
Figurative: the human form captured up close and personal by ten contrasting artists at the Heriot Gallery, Edinburgh
The definition of Figurative Art generally reflects the shape of things, objects, places and perceptions; creating a likeness, a realistic representation but can also embrace abstraction and distorted images. This wide- ranging showcase at the Heriot Gallery covers portraiture and figurative studies inspired by varied artistic styles from classical Baroque to modernist Photorealism.
Soon after graduating from Duncan of Jordanstone, Saul Robertson was voted Young Artist of the Year by the Royal College of Art and in 2005 he won second prize at the B.P Portrait award. His painting ‘Journeys’ has recently been selected for the Scottish Portrait Fine Art Awards, 2021.
Solitary figures in a city or rural environment is very much the theme of his work here. The meticulous detail in The Rainbow Comes and Goes requires careful observation; this figurative landscape appears to be a break for a picnic on a road trip by vintage VW campervan, with sandy soil and dry grass of a remote, hot, desert landscape. Although we cannot see the face of the woman in the yellow dress, she seems to be looking wistfully out to sea. Robertson has captured a most meditative and melancholic scene like a Kodak snapshot moment, a memory of a distant time and place.
While Madame Pommery was the entrepreneurial 19th century brand leader of the champagne house, Rory Macdonald introduces us to Madame de Chardonnay in her lavish blue-ribboned white crinoline gown. This is such a theatrical, witty portrait – despite the fact that she holds an oversized, decorative glass of chardonnay, her expression is far from cheerful. Rather like Mona Lisa, she has a serious, thoughtfully perceptive gaze.
After studying Art History at St Andrews, Rory’s innovative approach is inspired by Renaissance and Baroque traditions (Velazquez, van Dyck, Giordano) to create a contemporary, often comical narrative. Also enjoying a tipple or two, Old Soak is a classic portrait of a bearded gentleman, proudly dressed in a ruff and red silk gown, standing incongruously in a tumbler of wine. The quality of light glinting on glass and rich fabrics illustrate his perfectionist style as a young ‘Old Master’.
In contrast, Peter Hallam captures a manner and mood of his subjects with a surrealist style. Here is a colourful line up of smart young men – racing driver, songwriter, androgynous fashionista and, very timely due to Bond mania, a Secret Agent. In his brown velvet jacket, tie, neat hair and piercing blue eyes (a la Daniel Craig), he appears suave and sophisticated.
Apparently, Hallam’s portraits are often based on real people, transformed into quirky fictional caricatures yet balanced with a lively sense of humanity and charming humour.
Cherylene Dyer also has an artistic narrative through characters, choosing actors and dancers as her models, in order to express emotion and a dramatic ambience. Her series, The World changed while I was sleeping’ are playful images of a girl wearing a tall crown made out of newspaper, but there’s a hidden message about disorientation as if lost in a fantasy dream world.
In Duality, we see a double image of a woman, one with eyes closed in a summer frock, the other is a back view, half undressed but the shadows of two figures perhaps reflect her dual, public and private faces. This is a poignant illustration of Dyer’s fascination with how we deal with social media, selfie images and the daily exposure of our identity.
In similar vein, Jane Gardiner has made a close study of the Venice Carnival where guests embrace the art of masquerade to hide one’s true self. Through period costumes, wigs and jewellery, people can adopt, and hide behind, a different glamorous personality. Titles such as The Bruised Heart, which suggests the end of an affair, shows an elegant woman, all dressed up for a party.
Light as Air is another evocative portrait to depict the Carnival atmosphere through this attractive lady, beautifully made up, rouged cheeks, a lace eye mask and glittering ear-rings. She clearly wants to make an entrance and catch the eye of a secret admirer.
Steven Higginson is renowned for portraits painted in a hyper-realist style, selected for the SPA each year from 2017 to 2121. He likes to experiment with the use of light and shade in a domestic environment such as the quiet study of a woman in The Last Light, with such delicate detail of sun-dappled skin, hair and wool sweater. On display too is a stunning self-portrait, The Awakening (BP Portrait Awards, 2019), with exquisite, photographic accuracy. You can detect the strong sunlight in his watery eyes and the brilliantly composed pattern of lines created by the window blind across his face, echoed in the shadow behind.
Like Rory Macdonald, Higginson too is inspired by the meticulous artwork of the Old Masters, transferring the traditional representation of a likeness to modern day life and society.
Angela Reilly won third prize at the BP Portrait Award for a self-portrait in 2006, and her work was also selected for the prestigious Ruth Borchard Prize, 2021. In the summer exhibition at the Heriot Gallery, she presented several exemplary paintings of the female nude to expose bare skin, flesh and bodily imperfections in intimate detail.
Here, in Wrap, Reilly’s artistic lens captures a close up of a woman’s thigh and long, slender legs, the left wrapped around the right to reveal the sole of her foot. The blank background, painted in a shade of soft buttermilk, gives the effect of the figure floating in mid air. There is extraordinary photographic quality in the texture and tone of smooth skin, blue veins, toes and nails.
The focus of Homage with a girl perched on a stool, shows the naturalistic posture of bent legs, knees touching and clutching her arm around her waist, as if giving herself a warm, comforting hug.
As a modern master of portraiture, the profile study of a Boy depicts the fine facial features, his eyes slightly dazzled in sunlight and shimmering shadow with such clarity.
This Figurative exhibition also features colourful illustrations of forgotten heroes by Stuart Moir who is inspired by classical Flemish art, Gill Walton, whose Pandemic-themed figures reflect religious icons and Ruaridh Crighton, who distorts portraits with bold abstract vision.
8 October to 6 November, 2021
Heriot Gallery, 20a Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ
Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm. Sat, 10am-4pm.
For more information on the artists and view images see the website:
‘The Padre was a Hooker’ by Stephen A. Blakey: the dedicated life of an Army Chaplain told with heart-warming compassion and gentle humour.
Born in the same house where the Scottish poet Robert Burns died, little did Stephen Blakey know the significance of this connection and that 30 years later he would be transporting a haggis from Hong Kong to Nepal for a Burns’ supper with a troop of Gurkha soldiers.
Guided by the commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” it may seem a contradiction in terms that a committed Christian would choose a career in the Armed forces but Holy men and priests have accompanied soldiers into action over many centuries. A Royal Warrant of 1796 decreed that provision should be made for the religious duties in the army. A contingent of sixty chaplains was recruited for the Crimean war, twelve of whom died. At the start of Great War, there were 117 Padres but by 1918 the number had risen to nearly 3,500.
“The Padres, what decent fellows they were, as we knelt in the fields or farmyards on a Sunday to listen to them speak.”
A soldier serving during World War 1.
‘Live with the men, go everywhere they go, share their risks and they will listen to you.’
Wise advice by Reverend Hardy to Reverend Studdert-Kennedy, aka ‘Woodbine Willie,’ the renowned World War 1 Padre who was awarded the Military Cross for bravery at Ypres.
‘For God and Country’ was a dramatised American Army film (1943) following Catholic, Jewish and Protestant Chaplains from training school to the battlefield, (Ronald Reagan as Father Michael O’Keefe), to explain how religion is required for motivation and mental healing factors in wartime.
This brief historical background clearly illustrates the vital importance of the role of the chaplain, ‘to raise morale in difficult and hazardous conditions,’ which continues in our modern age.
“ You should join the Navy as a chaplain,” Blakey’s friend John suggested during his final year at New College, training to be a minister with the Church of Scotland. “You would make a good bish’.
Short for Bishop, this is the nickname for chaplains in the Navy, while the Army uses the affectionate term, Padre, Spanish for Father. In 1977, there were a large number of theology graduates all seeking a place for their first year probation. Not particularly enamoured with restricted life at sea, he applied successfully to join the British Army and, aged 24, was the youngest chaplain ever commissioned. The first posting was at Redford Barracks, Edinburgh with an intense training programme at Sandhurst. “Seven weeks that would change my life.”
This was the start of a forty year career as the longest serving chaplain in the British Army, moving around five Scottish Regiments at home and overseas, in war and peace, in church and on the rugby pitch. Hence the witty title of this Memoir.
The focus for Church of Scotland chaplains is to care for the spiritual and moral welfare of Scottish soldiers and their families. This is Reverend Blakey’s account of his dedicated life serving in Northern Ireland, Belize, Italy, Brunei, the Balkans and the First Gulf War, et al. experiencing many a dangerous posting to the front line of defence.
As a non-combatant officer, Blakey still had to undergo essential training for health and safety, such as Nuclear Biological Chemical, having to wear a gas mask for 24 hours. A rough, tough, exhausting exercise.
In August 1990 after Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, Saddam Hussein declared Kuwait the 19th province of Iraq and very soon the Royal Scots first battalion in Germany was to be deployed to the British armoured division in Saudi Arabia. The Unit moved to Scotland for intense training, running to build up physical fitness and sweating it out in the sauna to prepare for the desert heat.
“The men were going to war. They were not all expected to make it home” was Stephen’s sobering thought as they set off on the mission, Operation Desert Storm, the liberation of Kuwait.
“If the men can’t go to church, then the church must go to the men.” Unknown Padre
The challenge for Stephen Blakey was conducting a Christian service in a Muslim country including serving wine at Communion, both against the law. But they persevered as The Royal Scots maintained the tradition of Church Muster and everyone attended not just for corporate worship but “a shared sense of unity.”
The Daily Mail reported on one of these services in a most moving description – the Padre standing at a makeshift altar of a trestle table covered in a tartan cloth and white linen with a simple wooden cross. Whatever their religious belief or creed, ‘in times of war, men who would not step inside a church need to find inner strength and comfort. And that is what is happening among the Royal Scots.”
A photograph of Corporal Brash shows him kneeling in the sand, dressed in desert combats with head bowed, a prayer book in his hand. It’s the juxtaposition of a rifle at a Christian service which is so chilling, a moment of peace during a time of enemy conflict.
‘The MOD does not employ chaplains to make soldiers into better Christians but to help care for them so that they will contribute to the challenges of military life including killing the enemy.’
In the desert, the Padre’s key role was all about offering comfort, guidance and a listening ear to share worries about “life and death, hopes and fears.” In this tight knit community, as a young man himself, Stephen it would seem, was not so much a Father figure but a brother or friend in time of need.
As well as sufficient food rations, he had to ensure a regular supply of cigarettes, chocolate, batteries, electric razors and radios – not always an easy task. The Jocks were a romantic lot it seems and requested flowers and Valentine cards to send home to wives and girlfriends. Hogmanay 1990 was a teetotal affair with Irn Bru and shortbread but no whisky although there was a rumour that bottles of Communion port were secretly pilfered.
” In the darkness before dawn, the Siberian cold made you gasp. Padre Blakey had wrapped a black and white checked shemagh round his neck, handing out prayer books. Standing beyond, Royal Scots HQ staff of 200 men, silhouetted in an orange glow from the fiery sun that was rising to replace the sight of the ugly angry flashes from the artillery. This was to be the last religious gathering.” Richard Kay
Following the service, Lt Col, Iain Johnstone addressed the troops to prepare them in no uncertain terms of the major challenge at the start of the ground war. His message was about killing, short, sharp and to the point. “We were due to move north and form up with the rest of the Brigade ready for the move into Iraq and whatever lay ahead.”
And so back to the title of the book. Stephen had played rugby since the age of eleven, captain of the school team and then at St, Andrew’s University and Edinburgh University. Sports every Wednesday afternoon was an important part of military routine. When based at Fort George, Inverness, the team from Kings Own Scottish Borderers were up against the Royal Highland Fusiliers with the Padre as hooker, which developed into a fierce battle of a different kind. He became a Rugby officer and hooked for several regiments over his Army career.
Here too are personal stories about his childhood, moving around Scotland in his younger days before settling in St. Andrews. As an Infantry Battalion Padre, he was mainly based in the Married Quarters with his wife Christine and a growing family of four children. Being posted around the world from Inverness to Hong Kong was all part of the job – “Over 16 years of regular army service, we had nine homes and six international moves.”
This regular disruption involved trying to arrange seamless school education and therefore many Officer’s children go to boarding school from the age of eight. When based in Germany, a soldier’s wife worked as an assistant in the Nursery, “learning the bairns their ABCs.” Realising that correct English grammar would not be taught here, they immediately enrolled their daughter at a local kindergarten where she thrived and learnt to speak German fluently.
Commuting to work was never an easy bus ride but a dizzying flurry of helicopter trips to see soldiers on observational watch from clifftop towers between Belize and Guatamala or visiting troops on guard at the Irish Border during the Troubles. The unnerving experience too during the Cold War crossing Checkpoint Charlie between East and West Berlin“which sat like an island in the middle of a hostile Communist sea.”
While based here, learning the basic language was a struggle for the Padre –at school he had studied Russian which was helpful later on, knowing the Cyrillic alphabet when travelling in Serbia. Most soldiers learnt essential German phrases, ‘Noch Schwei bier bitte (another two beers please).’
There’s also the crazy, colourful adventure with a Haggis as mentioned above. When Blakey was based in Hong Kong, his military parish covered Brunei, Korea and Nepal. As he prepared for a trip to Nepal in January 1983, a telegram arrived: ‘Ref. Visit by Padre next week. Request he brings haggis. Stop.”
The Scots Guard’s chef made a haggis which he duly packed in his luggage for a flight via Kathmandu to Dharan and fortunately it was not confiscated going through airport customs.! Wearing the uniform of an Army officer no doubt did help. With pipers and poetry for entertainment, a very successful Burns’ supper was held for the Gurkha soldiers with a dram or two of imported whisky.
Time to relax socially was essential, after long hours of military duty and exercises. There’s an hilarious anecdote about leisurely, liquid lunches at the Officer’s Mess on occasional Friday afternoons: “the port decanter would circle, the banter would flow and we would all enjoy the ambience and humour.”
The Padre would never, it is clearly apparent, let anyone down. When he was due to preach at a Remembrance Sunday service one year in Glasgow, he was then instructed to go to the Festival of Remembrance the night before at the Albert Hall, London which would be attended by the Queen. So afterwards, he drove all the way back through the night to Glasgow in order to get to the Church on time.
This poignant, page-turning autobiography captures the highs and lows of the peripatetic travels of an Army Chaplain blending stories of terrifying ordeals and humorous escapades. Moreover, as he was so often far away from his own family, it reflects his genuine kindness, compassion and commitment for the pastoral welfare of the soldiers.
It is heart-warming to know that his service to God, Queen and country, the Padre was very much appreciated as expressed in a letter of thanks on behalf of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Scots.
“You are so thoughtful and caring towards every single one of us and our families… a great support. You are about the most popular man in the Gulf. We are all grateful. Thank you.”
“The Padre was a Hooker” by Stephen A. Blakey
Published by Austin Macauley
Available from Amazon and all good bookshops
Hardback ISBN-13 : 978-1788230803
Paperback SBN-13: 978-1788230780