Archive for August, 2007

August Colours

The colours in the countryside have been simply stunning these past two days.

I have been cutting oats, which are truly a rich golden colour.   Set that against a bright blue cloudless sky, and watch as the afternoon draws on to evening, and shadows lengthen.   An orange harvest moon popped up yesterday, but only for about an hour before setting again.

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Mending the Combine Week

This has been ‘mending the combine harvester week’, and is something of a ritual as the grain harvest approaches.

I run a Claas Dominator 76, which I bought second hand and is now getting pretty old in the combine world.     But there are lots of machines of this vintage working year in, year out.    Being of a certain age means that there are no electronics to go wrong, and repairs can mostly be fixed with a normal tool kit.

We ask a lot of combine harvesters – they sit in the shed for 11 months, and are then expected to run full throttle for the harvest, and work perfectly.    It does not happen like that, of course, as there are lots of moving parts, belts and pulleys to play up on the hottest day of the summer when the crops are crackling ripe.

So, time spent ahead of harvest fixing anything that might go wrong is time well spent.    All in all, it has been a busy week, and there is still a big metal shaft getting sorted at out local blacksmith, and which has to be fitted back in (quite a major operation) once it is ready.

I  also paid a visit to a combine graveyard in Fife, as taking bits off an old machine can be very cost effective, and got a part that just suited my machine fine.    Combines are terrible machines for going on fire, and once they are alight, they are tricky to put out – usually being out in the middle of a field, miles from water.   Hence the combine graveyard.

So hopefully next week with oil changed, chains tightened, bearings greased and (combine) knife sharpened, we will be ready to start.

It just needs to stop raining.   It has been pouring here all day.


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Dundee Rep is 25 years old.

I was invited to a 25th birthday Gala performance at Dundee Rep last night.    I have managed to get along to most plays over the past 23 years and the poster on display of all the past programmes matched my bookshelf at home.   

Not as sad as you might think:    first of all, the space inside the Rep is simply a wonderful place to see a play.    It is a 470 seater, but the design of the auditorium with the projecting stage makes it very intimate indeed.    This can be a challenge for actors and audience , but when things go right – as they often do at Dundee Rep – the experience is unforgettable.    (Saw ‘Street of Crocodiles’ there by visiting company Theatre de Complicite – and was blown away by it – totally)

Secondly, Dundee Rep consistently put on interesting plays and musicals.   They have had a series of first class directors, and their recent ‘resident company’ way of working is the envy of the rest of Scotland.    With a resident company, the acting and production team really get to know one another and their capabilities, and we in the audience really enjoy watching them develop and take on different roles.

Thirdly, the Theatre has forged links into the Community from the start, and some groundbreaking Community Plays have been performed.    It allowed space for the people of Dundee to produce a piece of work called “On the Line” which was a reaction to the Timex factory (a major Dundee employer) closing down, and the appalling way it was handled.   The Rep has also been home to the Scottish Dance Theatre – now internationally recognised as company producing excellent work.

There have been some wondeful moments in the theatre – watching David Tenant begin his early career (clearly a star in the making);    a memorable ‘Cuttin’ a Rug’ by John Byrne with a knockout cast including Alan Cumming, Forbes Masson, Bobby Carlisle, Katy Murphy and so on;  Joanna Lumley joining the company for the ‘Cherry Orchard’ and ‘Hedda Garbler’;   Alan Lyddiard’s challenging productions of Joe Orton plays as well as a wonderful ‘Moby Dick Rehearsed’ where the actors suddenly covered themselves in multicoloured bright body paint. 

Michael Marra passionately belting out Jute Mill worksongs from a battered upright piano;   the quadrophonic soundtrack of seagulls whirling round the auditorium in ‘Widows of Clyth’;  a wonderful play about the Dundee whaling industry called ‘Toshie’;   genuinely moving productions of Arthur Miller plays, and new stuff like Forbes Masson’s musical play ‘Mince’.

And more recently, there have been award winning ‘do not miss’ productions like ‘Winters Tale’, ‘Scenes from an Execution’ and ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’.    The British Council asked for the Dundee production of Winter’s Tale to be performed in Iran.    These were all truly haunting productions.

Dundee Rep has done everything expected of a theatre, and more in the last 25 years.   It has adapted better than most to changing funding, and has kept pace artistically, keeping it ahead of other theatres in Scotland in many respects.    Here’s to the next 25 years.

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Saw this play in preview.   A new full length David Greig play is an event in itself, and this one shows him on top form as he returns to old themes and explores new territory.   Different languages and cultures was explored in a very early Greig play called ‘Airport’, but in the claustrophobic Damascus hotel lobby there are richer and deeper themes to be developed.    

Told in flashback by the ever-present hotel pianist (who launches into glorious Messiaen when she thinks no one is around to hear) it is a tale of an innocent abroad being dragged further into unfamiliar situatiuons.  

Paul, our innocent, arrives in Damascus to try to sell his english language course books (and supporting CD) to Muna.     Muna might buy these, but only after a series of amendments to comply with local custom and belief.    Wasim her boss (and former teacher and lover) is much less accommodating.    Greig throws in a hotel worker who wants to sleep with American girls, sell his badly written autobiography and leave Damascus into the mixture, and lets it develop from there.    

I was actually unsure about the ending, which could actually have gone a number of ways right up to the last second.    But there are some wonderful Scottish/English jokes, and the topical message that once you get into very foreign parts, you are still very much British, however Scottish you might feel. But great performances all round, and certainly worth seeing.  

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Foot and Mouth

I can’t believe it is back.   

We were a long way from the outbreak in 2001, but the countryside effectively closed for quite a while.    That outbreak cost Farming in Scotland £230 million and Tourism in Scotland between £200 and £250 million, not to mention the heartbreak of losing livestock, and some longstanding pedigree herds.

The authorities have moved very swiftly on this one following a poor performance in 2001, and immediately stopped all livestock movements.    Time will tell if it has been nipped in the bud – it is a case of fingers crossed for the next few days.

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Now while I am not a big fan of cats, I tolerate them, and we have always had at least two cats on the farm, and as many as five.   They don’t come in the house mutch, but have a base in the boilerhouse where they get fed and have beds.

Oscar, the cat in the news last week perfectly illustrates why I don’t trust cats ……. he lives in a nursing home/hospice in America, and can tell when people are about to die.    He is not a ‘people cat’, but when someone’s ‘time is coming’, the cat senses this and goes and sits on their bed until the inevitable happens.    He outperforms the staff apparently in predicting who will be next to pass on.

I was driving down the farm road late at night this week, when I saw lots of animals on it – rabbits, I thought as I drove closer.   But no – it was a whole family of feral cats on the move – mother and six kittens.   Five kittens were quite well grown, with an obvious runt of the litter trailing along behind.    The mother has done well to raise six kittens in the wild.

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