The sun is out, the schools are on holiday and the festivals are in full swing.
The Fringe by the Sea Festival is held every year in August in the seaside town of North Berwick. Stalls and marquees are set up by the harbour, just below the Seabird Centre and a packed programme of speakers, workshops, personal development therapies, music and kids’ activities is filled with visitors from all airts and pairts, as we say hereabouts.
Parking in such a small, popular spot is difficult, so to ease the congestion, and do our bit towards saving the planet, we left the car at home and took the bus there. It was a leisurely deedle-dawdle through pretty little villages, their roadside stone cottages filled with kaleidoscopic flowers, and past fields of barley and brassicas, with stunning views towards the Firth of Forth and the Bass Rock. It took twice as long as driving but who cares? We weren’t in a hurry.
We settled ourselves into the Spiegeltent ready for our first speaker, Doug Allan. He is a film cameraman who has worked extensively with David Attenborough on series such as Blue Planet and who specialises in filming in the Arctic and Antarctic. He had many stills and film clips which had us gasping in amazement at the beauty of the Poles and appalled at the damage we are inflicting on it. Doug spoke strongly about the need to act now, not just as individuals but to force governments to do far more now otherwise, as he called it, we face climate breakdown. He gave the audience much food for thought.
Ian Rankin is one of Scotland’s most successful crime writers and his character, Inspector Rebus, now retired, refuses to do just that. Ian has recently donated 50 boxes of his manuscripts and correspondence to the National Library of Scotland, and his interviewer had picked out some of the items that were in the boxes. Rejection letters, letters from the likes of Ian Crichton Smith and Alexander McCall Smith, a certificate for reciting Burns’ verse aged 8 or 9 – all brought back memories of his early life in Cardenden, his first attempts at writing a novel and his later successes, and the problems of introducing a pet in his books. The body count can rise exponentially but whatever, happens, don’t harm the dog – or forget to mention it. Readers apparently get very upset by that. And all spoken about in his trademark casual, friendly manner.
The following week, the Edinburgh Book Festival opened in Charlotte Square. It has now grown so large and successful that it has spilled out into George Street as well. What better occupation than to wander round a tent filled with books, books and more books! I know of no greater pleasure than to spend time in among books, browsing and reading snippets of them before choosing some to buy. So much, much more satisfying than clicking on Amazon’s website and waiting for the purchase to be delivered. And as for downloading on to a kindle…. a featureless, bland experience. And after buying them (as usual, far more than I meant to) carrying them home in the special Book Festival bag, cradling them carefully on the bus until, at home, I can settle down to reading them. Bliss!
But before that, speakers Kaite Welsh and Caroline Lea spoke about their historical thrillers set in Edinburgh and Iceland. Kaite’s book, The Unquiet Heart, was triggered by the Edinburgh 7, the first women to become medical students at the University, and who suffered many trials and tribulations in their attempts to become doctors. Kaite’s main protagonist finds herself defending her fiancé from a charge of murder while trying to study medicine.
Caroline spoke about her love and knowledge of the old Icelandic sagas and the belief in the supernatural, still apparent today, among some Icelanders. Her book, The Glass Woman, begins with a hand apparently waving from the sea ice and the attempts by some men to bring it back on shore despite one of them, in particular, not wishing to do so.
Then to something completely different – afternoon tea with food writer and broadcaster, Ghillie Basan. While munching our way up the plate stand and sipping at the whisky supplied, we listened to Ghillie talk about her life experiences which had developed her love of spices and flavours and how to match whisky to various foods. Despite living as she described it, in ‘the back of the back of beyond’ in the Scottish Highlands and frequently being snowed up in winter, she still manages to produce interesting and flavourful meals, helped by her kitchen drawers packed full of spices which she obtains from her spice merchant in Istanbul. Her latest book is Spirit and Spice, where she talks of her life with food and includes many mouth-watering recipes.
Plenty of food for thought in all of that!