Blueberries for my delight

The health value of blueberries have been promoted and I eat them  with relish.  Anyone who lives in Scotland is acutely aware that eating such luxury items comes at a high cost.  The supply is currently sourced from Peru.  Previous supplies have been mainly Poland, but also Chile, from where I also know my prunes are sourced. A small amount of blueberries are grown in Scotland, but they are not as big as those grown in more appropriate climates.

I investigated online.  I looked at Produce Business UK.

It seems the UK love eating blueberries to the point of raising demand to such an extent the Peruvian growers hope to treble their output.  In the UK, 11.3 million households bought blueberries in 2014 compared with 4 million in 2006.  I suppose we have all become more educated about the harm processed foods have done to us and are seeking the detoxifying Super Foods to aid our recovery from lifelong poor eating habits.  The canny producers have noticed the luxury market in food supply by retailers such as Marks & Spencer.  They have wisely targeted the high end market.  I have become vegan, and find what I don’t spend on processed foods leaves me more to spend on quality foods like blueberries.  Peru has managed to get their blueberries to us this month, filling the window left by other producers until Argentinean and particularly Chilean blueberries arrive. However, they enjoy ideal conditions for growing along the desert coastline and could continue supply into March or April. They cover the northern hemisphere supply in September /October  and then target the Southern Hemisphere in March/April.  Peru mostly targets the US and Asia-Pacific, but I am so pleased they have kept me happy during September!  If there is a shortage from competitors, they believe they could fill the gap.  They have a stable climate (except for years like 2016 when El Niño is active) as conditions are usually dry and no fungus is present.  Fungus is a massive problem in Scotland.  Peru is on course to export 17,000 tonnes of blueberries by 2020.  The main growers are Campusol – part of the United Nations Global Compact, and Tal SA.

The strong El Niño of 2015 to 2016 has declined, but it has been tough for the growers.  The warming of the ocean at the equator off the coast of Peru and Ecuador was strong enough to change ocean currents and weather patterns globally.  See Discovery Organics.  This was the strongest El Niño recorded with ocean temperatures at the peak of 3.4C above normal across a vast swath of the central Pacific. That amplified global warming during January and February.  These temps are now above the ‘tipping point for bad stuff to happen’.  So for how much longer can we expect to increase productivity, and escalate the carbon footprint for export to little me, here in Scotland.  The blueberries detoxify me, but the whole earth suffers at my demand for these pleasurable fruits.

Margaret, ‘Pearl of Scotland’

I struggle with pyramid style societies. As Lenny Bruce once quipped,”If the Venusians aren’t scufflers we’re screwed.” Placing each other in hierarchies; identifying ourselves along a line from bottom to top; forming friendships, alliances with those ‘at our level’ – is this a controlling methodology or a natural behaviour ingrained from birth no matter what the century?

I’m in Scotland. The history of the chief, laird, noble, monarch has been written up by scribes of one sort or another because a narrative has to be passed on for future generations. These narratives usually justify The Pyramid style of rule over the existing population. We do this to the present day.  It is a form of history, and we know archaeologists often dig up material which might add to or change the narrative. Usually it was the religious scribe who wrote the narrative because the only people allowed to read and write scripts were selected religious orders.  This further encourages a hierarchy of who  puts history into the written word form.

Thus it was that Torgot of Durham wrote the story of Margaret (1045 a 1093). Torgot (or Thorgaut) lived 1050 – 1115.  He was therefore one of her contemporaries. He was Archbishop and Prior of Durham, England and Bishop of St.Andrews, Scotland. He became close to the Scottish court toward the end of his life and he wrote the life of Margaret at the request of her daughter, Matilda, wife of King Henry 1 of England.  It makes good reading, like a romantic novel, you can believe the story to have been true.  It would certainly have delighted those important folk at the top of the pyramid he was writing it to please. You can read it  St Margaret  The description of her devout actions so satisfied the Catholic Church that 150 years after her death she was canonised on 19 June 1250 by Pope Innocent IV. She is also venerated in the Anglican Church.

When Margaret married Malcolm III, he was forty and she was twenty. His kingdom did not include north and west Scotland.  He fought many wars against the kingdom of England.  He ruled for 35 years. He was constantly at war with England. In 1070 Malcolm and his army raided across the Pennines, wasting Teesdale and Cleveland, and returning loaded with loot. Malcolm had met Margaret, by chance, a couple of times in the past year or so.  By the end of 1070 he was married to Margaret, whose ship had carried her brother and sister to seek exile in Europe but had floundered in Wearmouth, due to bad weather, and, again by chance, she met Malcolm and he was smitten. She personified all that is pure and good to the illiterate warrior, Malcolm.  He adored her and so did her people of Southern Scotland. They lived together for 25 years.

Malcolm and one of their sons, Edward, were killed at the Battle of Alnwick 1093. She could not cope with their loss and died within 3 days of their deaths.

She was highly devout and lived an austere life through choice.  She followed the religious fasting practice, so had little strength to cope with the blow of such bad news.  Throughout her reign, she influenced the worship and practices of the Church of Scotland to become closely linked to the Church of Rome.  She did this through her sincerity and persuasion, so did not stir any violent protest to her reforms. It was the Scottish Reformation, led by John Knox in the 16th Century which outlawed  the Catholc faith.  It then became an underground faith, particularly amongst the gentry.  Lady Fernihurst in the Borders was an example of gentry making their homes places of safety for priests. Lairds targeted catholic families in the Clearances between 1770 – 1810, many herded onto ships and sent to Canada. But in the 19th century, many Roman Catholics arrived in Scotland from Ireland – and more arrived later from Italy, Poland and Lithuania.  

It seems to me religion has created narratives to influence the masses who respected those better educated than themselves. Yet the very education of the elite gave them a perspective of superiority where they might feel they should be devout and care for the poor, or despise the mass and exterminate them at every opportunity, gaining redemption from some religious practice.  

Now, as I read the news of world conflict, endless suffering and human misery, I watch the narrative which is the rhetoric for world leaders as they create more havoc through elitist beliefs about who should despise who. Yet even the ‘devout’ seem to have sinister motives.  The Pyramid is a strong structure. So strong it may contain the human race and implode, leaving the Planet to recover from the Anthropocene era of destruction.

Eco concerns

I’ve watched the House Martins arrive with the Swallows year after year. My neighbour will not tolerate their noise and mess in the eaves of his cottage and has netted the eaves to keep them out. Another building is now unavailable to these amazing travellers from Africa. Our swallows returned to our cottage and successfully reared 7 young  

Sadly it has been an awful year for butterflies, particularly the Small Tortoiseshell. As Autumn arrives we still hope to have some decent weather which might afford some of our favourite butterflies to get a chance at nectar to revive them. This year I have recorded sightings of mostly Green Veined White, some Ringlets, a few Red Admiral and a couple of day flying moths.
 I have been been told to use poisons to kill off weeds around our cottage. These are carcinogenic and despite claims they are safe, there is no research which convinces me. I will not be using Monsanto Roundup, nor any other weed killer.  I will try the bio degradable polythene instead- though seems I can’t avoid products made from oil.

 This land is our land, this land is your land. This land was made for you and me…….not.


Playing God

I have written about the pair of crows who reared their young, year after year in the same nest in the large ash tree by our garden.  They have been shot at and persecuted over the years, but, despite that, their courage combined with instinct to reproduce never fails them.  This year they began again. Courtship, mating, nest repair, feeding up the female, her body expanding with her eggs. She began to settle in their nest and he brought her food.  She would occasionally fly with him to chase the buzzard circling overhead.  One day, these conversational birds fell silent.  The nest was empty.  I used my binoculars to scrutinise the nest.  No sign of them. 

One morning I noticed a stranger drive up and park on the fell road, which is high on the horizon above our cottage. His vehicle was pulling a purpose built small square trailer.  My stomach tightened as I thought I knew what it contained.  He opened it up. Yes. I was right. It was a legal trap for catching crows. He carried it on to the farmer’s land, set the trap, came back to his car and drove off.  I realised it was he who had caught and killed our crows.  We successfully fought a pheasant rearer who tried to deploy cages near us.  He has since ceased his pheasant rearing hobby after we confronted him with evidence he was not using the traps humanely and had him investigated. We hoped such traps would not be used here again, but how naive we were.

To add to our cumulative woes, the farmer’s tenant, who lives a short distance from us, decided to fasten a net over the deep eaves to prevent the annual migration of house martins who come from Africa all the way to nest at that cottage. Each year I have had swarms of them overhead, happily working, breeding well and mostly their young surviving to set off south as summer draws to a close. 

Coincidentally, a car drove by our cottage and I could tell the driver was unauthorised.  I went out to meet the stranger to find out what his business was here (we often get deer hunters).  I was very pleased to find it was an 81 year old gentleman revisiting his birth place – the cottage south of ours, where he was born in 1935.  He and his father were ‘herders’ he said.  They were tenant shepherds and the same landowner owned the land to the west of us as well as the land on which we lived, (which has since changed hands twice since we came here). We knew our cottage was previously a bothy which was used by generations of shepherds.  It has an extensive, well built pen area next to it for treating sheep.  The field in front of the cottage also held sheep and had a sheep dip, using the water from the nearby burn to pump up and flush out as the ewes were treated with toxic pesticides. The man told me there were hens kept at the bothy too so the shepherd had something to eat when busy out here. I told him the owner who bought the estate east of the drover road, was an architect.  He was proud of this cottage as he had demolished the old bothy, put 5ft of insulation underneath the foundations, before constructing probably one of the best insulated stone cottages in the area.  I had landscaped the dip and field area, so now we have a mature garden to attract birds, bees and butterflies.

It was good to meet this friendly gentleman.  He agreed the house martins were a welcome sight all the years they came to his family home.  I am so sad about the loss of our pair of breeding crows and the sight of the massing house martins.  However, we are compensated by the sight of a pair of swallows deciding our cottage window was a good place to build their nest.  This is only about 10ft from the ground, and it does have me worried as we and our dogs unavoidably walk so near to it. They knew that as they built it, so they seem to trust their young will not fall out into the mouth of a dog.  They will create quite a mess as they defecate on the window, but I will try to clean up when I can without disturbing them too much.




Completed nest

Oil and Me

The River Clyde is about 100 miles of driving from where I live, though much nearer ‘as the crow flies ‘. A recent announcement that drilling for oil may soon commence there has created a campaign by Greenpeace to stop drilling prospects for this fossil fuel. Back in the 1980s the former Defence Secretary, Michael Heseltine, blocked the oil boom off the West coast for fear drilling would interfere with the nuclear submarines travelling to and fro Faslane. The SNP have clearly stated they want Trident out – do they want the oil now instead? Scotland needs revenue and, having argued that revenue from North Sea oil was squandered by the Westminster based government, this might be an opportunity to secure any revenue entirely for the benefit of the Scottish population. But this is in contradiction to the renewables message the country has boasted after the SNP embraced wind farms which now cover thousands of hectares of Scotland’s once wild and untouched landscape.

The history of oil and its power implications is therefore of interest if not crucial.

Whilst 28 year old Prussian, Frederick the Great, was waging war on Austria during 1745, Empress Elizabeth of Russia was no doubt delighted that the first oil well and refinery were built in Ukhta by Fiodor Priadunov. The refinery produced a form of kerosene which was restricted to use in churches and monasteries. The same year oil sands were mined in Merkwiller-Pechelbronn, Alsace under Louis XV direction of a specially appointed Louis Pierre Ancillon de la Sabionniére. (The first modern refinery was built in Pechelbronn in 1857. This oil field was the birthplace of companies like Antar and Schlumberger. It was exhausted in 1970). Oil in tar form was found and used since ancient times, but the concept of drilling for it was what transformed its usefulness. This happened in Pennsylvania on 27th August 1859. A bi-product of oil was kerosene, which replaced whale oil for lighting lamps, and was so abundant it was much cheaper. This boom in oil changed the balance of power in the world to those who lead in how much a country can be said to produce.

In 2014 the Grangemouth Refinery, on the East coast of Scotland, owned by Ineos, was threatened with closure due to a dispute with unions over pay and conditions. This is the only refinery in Scotland.  It has used the vital North Sea gas in the process of refining the oil as it arrived onshore. As the gas ran low in supply, Ineos sought new supplies and purchased it from the results of fracking in the USA. This added to the expense of refining and it was running at a loss.  The only choice was to threaten to close the refinery, killing Scotland’s vital supply.  The First Minister held last minute talks with Ineos.  The next we heard was Ineos were going to invest millions in a new gas storage terminal and had obtained a license to secure gas through fracking on the land they owned around the refinery. This caused an uproar amongst anti fossil, particularly anti frackers, in Scotland.

I appreciate historically oil became the new gold.  All my life I have consumed food packaged in plastic protections, used and cast to waste thousands of plastic items, this keyboard on which I write is plastic as is the casing of the computer I am using. I am unable to imagine my life without plastic. Renewables such as solar panels and turbines, all use plastic to create their durable forms. Humans are dependent on oil, even the Bedouin Wahhabi,  who must use technology if wishing to network with other Wahhabi (as seems to be the case as war rages in the world today).

Oil products surround me, from the clothes I wear to the carpets I walk on to most items I use on a daily basis.  I am trapped by my dependence on products made from oil.  The Rockefeller family made their wealth from buying up failed leases from oil businesses.  By 1877 John D. Rockefeller owned some 90% of American oil businesses, his company became Standard Oil, which gave rise to Exxon, Amoco and Chevron. In 2014, his heirs to his vast fortune withdrew funds from fossil fuel investment as a symbolic gesture ahead of the United Nations summit on climate change, and 800 global investors followed suit. Now investment is directed at renewables. The Rockefeller Fund now aids those anti fracking groups and those fighting the destructive Keystone XL pipeline. They no longer fund tar sand oil extraction. But all that seems ironic to me.  Nothing has replaced oil with something which could then be said to be ecologically sound yet equally so incredible in its many applications. Unless something does replace it, we will continue to depend on it.  Our planet will become uninhabitable as a result, sooner rather than later.

Polymers such as acrylic, polystyrene, polyester – I thought them miracles of science as they developed over my lifetime.  Now we realise they are indestructible and end up in our oceans, ingested by ocean life which dies as a result, tipping the ecosystem into the end game. The plastics I have seen become pervasive over my 68 years have found their way into the oceans and we now see the heartbreaking results.  New plastics will degrade, but these older plastics may take 100 years to finally decompose through abrasion, oxidative degradation and other chemical and biochemical processes. If a mussel eats plastic it will be retained in its gut and is likely to be taken up in the food chain, the plastic then in the gut of another creature, which may have more than one plastic eating creature ingested.

Like many bits of plastic detritus they will be recycled into a new life as part of another product, but, like the recycled plastic which is used to make up the material that forms turbine blades for windmills, that is likely to be the last time they will be recycled.  Multiple plastics, combined to create a solid mass, become too complex to recycle again.  The end destined for many, such as turbine blades, is – horror of horrors – landfill.

Technology update and a new blog for 2015

Cold easterly wind today, but not the violent winds which blew in from the Atlantic recently, courtesy of the Jetstream.  As I write, the sun is trying to break through, but it is on its way to sinking in the west.

A male spider has climbed the wall in front of me, seeking a partner.

Frogspawn appeared in the ditch near our cottage exactly as it has year after year, on March 10th.

The Equinox will occur on the 20th March, but an amazing lining up of the earth, moon and sun will also take place and we may see the eclipse from our cottage.

The garden is now maturing after 6 years working hard to transform it from a muddy field used by sheep.  It is a joy to watch, season by season, as the variety of trees, shrubs, plants develop and spread themselves.

This short piece is for me to acquaint myself with the process of using a HUDL and a cheap keyboard to get my blog going again.


View from the cottage door

December storms in the UK

imageCan’t think of many days when it was not raining, ravaging the UK with storm force gales and alternating rapidly between unseasonal warm temperatures and below freezing within hours. December was wild. It was last December, but we thought that was an exception. Think the Jet Stream may be permanently displaced and likely to cause havoc in the Northern Hemisphere for the years ahead.


I do have some peaceful days I recorded with my camera, but many days were so dark my camera was kept out of action. As it is the eve of yet another storm as I write this, I am attempting to load some photographs before the storm cuts off our satellite connection.

My old computer and Browser will no longer handle the uploading of photos it would seem, so these photos may arrive in this blog later in the month, as I must borrow another device to load them. It is Boxing Day as we await the storm. I hope to report how it went from our little cottage half way up a mountain in the Scottish Borders.

I am here to tell the tale. The wind was wicked but no damage in our glen. As we move toward New Year, December is set to end with wind and plenty of rain, causing more flooding.

The lichens and mosses have loved the wet conditions and have flourished.

Flourishing lichens and mosses

Flourishing lichens and mosses

The foxes have been chased and hunted by the rabid Boxing Day Hunt as expected.

The dippers have paired up and are mating and producing new offspring during these winter months. They are so lovely to watch as they flit along the burn.

Two dippers were catching food at this spot

Two dippers were catching food at this spot

The sky is mostly overcast, heavy with rain or with clouds low on the fell causing fog. Can be depressing if the greyness lasts for days on end.

Our local pair of crows defend their territory as ever, chasing off any other pair who fancy this location. They also mob the young buzzard who may attempt to hunt in their chosen patch.

This tough couple have reared offspring for years, against all the odds

This tough couple have reared offspring for years, against all the odds

The tups are now ‘shagged out’ and the pregnant ewes will stoically carry their lambs to April/May to termination.

We see the occasional stoats clad in their white winter coats intended for camouflage. No snow yet so they are easily spotted moving over the fells at amazing speeds to catch prey.

Rabbits and water voles hide in our cottage walls when the weather is bad. We only know which animal it is if they utter a sound, the rabbit being so talkative.

Mice and bats burrow into the roof insulation between the tiles and rafters when the cold wind bites.

The garden soil holds all the larvae of insects, snails and slugs, safe with frogs, bees, butterflies and moths in the warm ground until a rodent comes along and finds a meal there.

Sunrise over the fells

Sunrise over the fells

Dusk on the fells

Dusk on the fells

Nature is doing its thing….I respect that and merely observe the importance of winter as part of the life cycle.

A new day

A new day