Archive for January, 2010
Stop press: The Guardian has just announced their Edinburgh beatblogger
On a mild and misty morning your friendly neighbourhood beatblogger slips a mobile phone in her pocket and sets off hoping to catch sight of the local community policeman breaking into an old railway tunnel.
It’s a good news story. Opening up the old railway tunnel is just one of PC Simon Daley’s imaginative plans to create a more stimulating environment for young people. As it happens the demolition work has been delayed but I posted an earlier story about him on the Leith Open Space community blog and hope to follow it up soon.
So I am only half joking about the beatblogger bit. A couple of months ago The Guardian was advertising for their first official Edinburgh beatblogger. “The successful candidate will be a confident blogger, know their yelps from their tweets, have a passion for local news and understand how to build relationships with the local community.”
I understood most of that sentence. And hoped a passion for local news and community relationships would count for at least as much as a yelp or a tweet. But wasn’t really clear what it meant. Since then, in idle moments Googling “Beatblogger’, I have discovered different definitions, the most confident one coming from Beatblogger.org:
A beatblogger, simply put, is a beat reporter who uses their blog as a tool to engage their readers, interact with them, use them as sources, crowdsource their ideas and invite them to contribute to the reporting process.
But just as I think I am getting the idea, and before the Guardian’s beatblogger gets a chance to hit the streets, a new kid arrives on the block. Caledonian Mercury, Scotland’s first exclusively online newspaper, went live yesterday (on Burns Night no less), and clocked up more than 30,000 hits before Newsnight Scotland interviewed the new editor – and added two more from our household at least.
It’s a big gamble but the former editor of the Scotsman website, Stewart Kirkpatrick, seems well up for it and (as the Newsnight pundits agreed) the first edition looks pretty good – with perhaps some of the self-confident quality that I remember from the better old days of Scotland’s would be national newspaper.
Where does that leave the beatblogger? It looks to me as if Caledonian Mercury is beatblogging writ large though it seeks to “return journalism to journalists”. I like the positive tone of the opening leader – makes a very welcome change from the Scotsman – but it will be interesting to see how it develops. And who will have time to read it.
It’s getting mighty crowded in cyberspace. It takes an open mind, a keen eye and a lot of time to spot the facts among the vested interests. Meanwhile, there are plenty of stories going untold. I hope the new newspaper and the beatbloggers will be able to find them in the crowd. They will need that passion – and a chance to get out and meet people face to face.
On my way back from Scotland Yard I saw my first snowdrops of the year. Sometimes it’s good just to get a walk in the park
January 26th, 2010
[thanks to Dougal for the snow track picture]
You don’t have to be able to read the tracks. When we get to Pond Cottage, the signs of deer and rabbit are all round the garden. Deep snow protected the plants from frost but gave the animals a leg up above the tree guards. Apples, hollies, junipers and yew are all stripped bare. “I thought yew was poisonous,” says Ray.
A few hours later we get the answer. A dead deer is lying on the path not far from the yew. It was sniffed out by the friendly lurcher that comes for a daily walk through the woods and Mr Lurch (his friendly owner) points it out to us.
I’m sad about the yew, it has been growing well for the last 10 years or so. The idea was to make a focal point at the end of the bird cherry lane and thanks to the run of mild winters the tree has been making good progress.
But I am sad about the deer too. Real foresters would not agree – deer cause a lot of damage – but the roe deer are a magical sight running through the trees on a winter evening (and once we found young twins curled up together in the long grass in the clearing which is enough to melt anyone’s heart). Until this year they haven’t caused us much trouble. They must have been really hungry to attack the yew. According to the DEFRA website death follows within two to three hours – animals are often found lying beside the yew or yew clippings – and it sounds a miserable way to die. But then, so is starvation.
On the other hand I am mad about the fruit trees. For the last few years we have had fantastic crops of apples, we’re even getting quite good at making juice (if pretty useless at cider). But the rabbits (the droppings give them away) managed to climb above the tree guards and munch their way round every tree. This happened to one flowering cherry the last time we had heavy snow and amazingly, despite being ring barked, the tree survived but we don’t have much hope for the fruit trees. Interestingly I just found a comment on Yahoo answers from a vet claiming that rabbits might be poisoned by the cyanide found in the bark of apple trees.
Taxine and taxol in yews, cyanide in apple trees; it’s a wonder trees ever die!
Ray buried the deer under the larch trees where the daffodils are just ready to burst through the ground. Larch, by the way, is full of medicinal and disinfecting properties but daffodils are poisonous in a half hearted kind of way – the bulbs cause stomach upsets if you mistake them for onions. Rabbits don’t.
January 18th, 2010
The pond taken by Dougal standing where he really shouldn’t ought to.
The night we arrive we have to abandon the car by the gate and carry the cats through snow so deep it comes right over our wellies. It’s so cold the cottage feels like a scene from Dr Zhivago.
“Diesel freezes at minus 15,” says Ray, matter of factly, remembering that winter when the generator didn’t work because the oil froze in the pipes. Outside the cottage, the windmill, blades blanketed in white, is facing resolutely north and standing absolutely still. Inside is obviously much warmer than it feels because oil and water are still flowing. That means we can light a fire and start the tractor. Ray makes tracks to retrieve our booze and food and clothes from the road end while I guard the fire willing the thermometer to rise ( a hard job but someone has to do it).
Like that scene in Dr Zhivago the icy, shrouded house slowly comes to life; candles burning, fire blazing, food cooking, steamed up glasses filling, cats purring on the sofa. I know it’s not quite like that in Varykino, in the midst of the Russian civil war, but in the absence of Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, Beth and Marley will just have to do. Besides, according to Wikipedia, the ‘ice palace’ scene was shot in Spain in a house with icicles made from beeswax. Huh.
Our snow is real and it keeps on coming for the four days of our holiday. Moon on snow, sun on sun, snow on snow and when the New Year’s day pheasant shoot starts in the neighbouring wood, blood on snow.
There are stalactytes and stalagmytes growing by the back door. A couple of Christmases ago, before recession set in, village houses were festooned with electronic icicles. Now we have the genuine articles hanging from anything that would drip.
Each new fall transforms every mundane object and turns every task into an endurance test: filling the log basket is an expedition to the North Pole. “I know it’s been said before,” says Ray, “But I am just going outside. I might be some time…”
We watch chaos on telly and wildlife through the window: crowds of birds visiting the feeders, one crow loads his beak so full of goose fat it is a wonder he can take off.
Last time we had snow this deep was 15 years ago (second thoughts, make that 17 years ago) in Aboyne where we built a fine igloo, big enough for the six footers in our company to stand upright inside. This year Dougal, Anny and I find it hard going.
“It’s the wrong kind of snow,” says Anny after an hour or so. And it really is. Too dry and powdery to stay together though we keep trying until our fingers and toes go on strike.
With an old biscuit tin (mine) and some rudimentary geometry (Dougal’s) we reach waist height (Anny’s) but when it’s time to start curving inwards for the dome the building material defeats us.
That was the holiday. We’re home again now and it’s still snowing. We left the cottage and the igloo and the ducks on the frozen pond a little wistfully thinking it would all be back to normal next time we come. Watching today’s weather forecast I am not so sure. We might manage to finish the igloo this weekend. As long as the anti freeze keeps the diesel flowing!
January 7th, 2010