Saturday, 16 June 2018

Hothouse Musings. A Deeper Understanding. Morphogenesis in Nature and Society.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
On a recent wander around the Glasgow park-lands, some of which may at some stage be sold off to private developers for luxury housing projects as is already happening in many other parts of the UK at the moment under an increasing " it used to be a treasured public facility but it costs far too much to maintain so lets get rid of it and make some money " ongoing current popular agenda. A Common Blue Butterfly here which got me thinking about Alan Turing's Morphogenesis theory of Reaction:Diffusion to explain how animals, including us, have fingers and toes, how tigers and zebras end up with various stripes yet others have spots, flora and fauna patterns, and how all this can be explained as a form of natural engineering through chemicals and other factors interacting. Basically, the more we learn about the natural world the more it does seem to have been 'designed' or fits into mathematical profiling at any rate.
I don't pretend to understand all of this link but the general themes I can appreciate. Maybe at some future date using this theory in practice we can build not just 3D printed organs and structures but actually grow them organically- almost like a flower or an embryo grows using the same basic principles... Or buildings. Science Fiction has long imagined structures/ spaceships/ humans that combined both natural and synthetically grown materials into one cohesive unit.
A classic give and take system in action with a busy bee. All directions covered.

After all, it's only eleven short years since the Ray Winstone film Beowulf came out in 2007 as an animated version of the classic tale. It was a good enough film but also memorable for the lifeless eyes of many of the characters in close up. Jump forwards eleven years and you get this-..... a complete world of realistic looking plants, animals and humans with eyes full of expressive intent.

 In another 50 years will we know this world from the 'real' one? In 200 years will we know if we are still human and not just a regenerated version living in a simulated universe. What if we are there already and just don't realise it yet? Could we be created and designed? These fleeting thoughts and mental brush strokes of imagination certainly passed the time on a warm Sunday afternoon around the Kelvingrove district. Decades ago in the 1960s these ideas and concepts were certainly around in some of the books I read then but to be honest they seemed about as plausible and certain to come true as a flat earth with the oceans pouring over the edges... now though I'm not so sure given the leaps in technology over the last 30 years.

A self contained world under glass at the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow. Is this plant aware that it is growing up in an artificial environment or does it have its core needs satisfied to the extent that it doesn't really care. Obviously it couldn't survive outdoors at these latitudes anyway even if it was aware to some extent that it's living life in a sheltered dome.
This dome in fact.
One of the tree info signs in the Botaniic Gardens. I never thought I be getting such an interesting lesson in American history wandering in a west end park on the other side of the Atlantic but there you go.
I've found myself looking at things differently and in great detail on recent walks over the past few years and the more you look deeper into design features the more complex they become.
Is it just me or does this orchid resemble a walnut whip interior? ( well, an old style one anyway before they shrunk the interior and reduced the chocolate and nut content.)
Another orchid. The mouth of a hungry bird or just some weird coincidence?
An orchid or a hunting insect looking for a victim? Very mantis like. Or a tiny bird of prey in flower form.
Soon I was starting to see things that weren't there. Like a wood elf and a small velociraptor behind the middle part of this fence. Maybe need a decent sized screen though for that to happen.
Or a line of chatty women getting their hair styled in the local salon. Incidentally, I agreed wholeheartedly with Germaine Greer's comments last night about the # MeToo and Time's Up movements in that if it's taken so long since the 1960s to get to this feeble stage and still so little forward progress in general thinking and workplace attitudes/practices then there's not much hope unless suffragette style action is taken. The rise of the internet, with body shaming, surgically enhanced celebrities as desirable role models to aspire towards, overall casual degradation of women online everyday (but not men) and in social media comments everywhere ( from men and women.. who should know better) and the easy, always tempting option of shedding clothes and values as a tried and tested career path in certain influential industries to get ahead/ get noticed.... i.e in films, television, fashion, music, other entertainments etc means that women's lib is an uphill battle with a giant marble that's always gravity defined to roll back down again the instant you stop shoving. And it's been that way for millions of years. (Just wipe us out altogether and leave the marble alone.) The fact that many women in 2018 in Glasgow are getting three pounds an hour less than men for doing the exact same job says everything about progress on that front. I've had a few female bosses in the past so I presumed they were paying themselves the going rate but you never know until it's out in the open.
As unfair a set of scales as a recent programme about affordable social housing/ social cleansing/deliberate political tilted table engineering over decades highlighted in this link.

 Before Grenfell: A Hidden History. BBC 2. A snapshot of what's happening across the rest of the UK as well but focused on this one estate where a normal poor/ordinary working class family can all be working industriously over decades yet never afford to buy into London's booming property market but just a few streets away in Notting Hill and other affluent districts folk can earn more just from house value increases alone in one decade as that entire family gainfully employed over a lifetime of toil, scrimping and saving can. Unfair enough in itself but of course due to the UK system at present many have used that extra cash to buy ex- council properties, snapping them up elsewhere then renting them out to poorer folks who actually live in that area but are way down the ladder, cash wise, for a further profit. Well, you would, wouldn't you? Now I understand how people can afford to buy all the luxury properties they seem to be building everywhere I've noticed on cycle rides over the last decade. Not since the mid 1800s has this level of inequality existed in the UK and it has been engineered deliberately in many instances. This programme raised interesting points going back 50 years into the birth and transformation of that estate and London as a city. It got me thinking at one point...   'are the so called 'UK working class' turning into a redundant costly extra we no longer require ...with traditional jobs disappearing fast over the horizon? Not at present but in the near future. Or are they just changing into a Piranha feeding station instead with various outlets springing up every year to grab an extra mouthful of the action, capitalizing on desperation or stupidity. Legitimate short term loans, credit card industry, University loans...etc...(I get a new credit card offer in the post at least once a month. I could have dozens by now if I was that way inclined)
After all in the 1980s we switched from manufacturing and heavy industry into mass unemployment and a business and service society. Maybe another big change is on the way and not in an obvious direction either.
  Anyway, back to colourful images again.
Flowers sprouting from a bare branch. Who needs leaves? In 50 years time will we actually need the numbers of ordinary workers around at present or will they become an increasingly unnecessary commodity. Same thing happened with the weavers when machines replaced their efforts... and society moved on from strength to strength without them, rarely looking back.
A sunny day outside Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Bowls match in progress. My thoughts rolling along in tandem.
But maybe it doesn't always pay to look too closely at how the world around you works...
as you may not like what you find... ignorance is sometimes bliss.
A twice restored Glasgow School of Art perhaps if the city can afford it?... or luxury apartments instead utilizing the gutted shell facade of the burnt building and a few remaining fragments of period art thrown into the mix. Good views from that hilltop so a prime location. Our very own version of Edinburgh's Quartermile. Out with the old I say and in with gleaming glass and steel towers rising phoenix like from the ashes to soar above the city. Luxury penthouse apartments for speculators who might well choose to live elsewhere, even in another country,rather than occupy them but who would snap them up as a 'sure fire investment'. Not only will it save loads of money for Glasgow but 'Mackintosh Heights' would be a fine updated symbol of modern age Britain. Always a silver lining. (After all, he might well fall out of favour again in another 20 to 30 years time as he struggled to make a living at it when he was alive and was largely forgotten by his home city after his death until fairly recently.  This is the age of austerity after all and everyone must tighten their belts accordingly as we keep being reminded. We are all in this together. United by common adversity. Side by side, all born equal, in our struggle upwards towards the light. Blah, blah blah, etc etc....

Robots and the desire to create artificial life is nothing new, of course. Here's a very lifelike attempt at it from the late 1800s. " for 100 dollars extra we can build you a soul."  The ancient Clockwork Guild............or a future bio- engineering project.


Sunday, 10 June 2018

Eriska. Saint Conon's Kirk. Port Appin Memories.

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After climbing Beinn Mheadhonach in the Benderloch District and getting this lovely summit view of Ben Starav, 1078metres, and Loch Etive we headed a short distance further west in Alex's car to the heavily wooded island of Eriska.
Alex wanted to bag the high-point on the island but he knew I would like this extra excursion as well. In the past, like the majority of hill-walkers I've met, he could be very single minded about gaining summits whereas I soon deviated and took the slacker route, after doing the Munros, as I already knew inside I would never have the same drive to complete the Corbetts. I like interesting hills, jaggy summits and odd features and have never fully embraced the concept of climbing a featureless boring slope just because its on some list somewhere. Beiinn Mheadhonach was an enjoyable hill with various landscape zones to climb through from low level fields and vivid garden edges...

then up through small mixed woodlands, onto open meadows then the upper windy ridges and craggy summit views but many other hills are of the head down plod up variety with nothing much to see or photograph from top to bottom. Every place I've visited on holidays or trips here or abroad I've enjoyed the hills I've climbed but a part of me has always wanted to do other things as well, like visiting new towns and cities nearby, interesting beaches, places I've heard about or tourist haunts. I've always been that way, wanting to visit everywhere at once, with a competing range of interests to pursue so its always been a gentle battle of wills with others to combine both. Sometimes I win but most times no interest wins the day and I give up in disgust. In previous holidays I've been lucky enough to climb and walk in the Italian Dolomites and France but have always had a real effort to persuade my reluctant companions to go sightseeing around Italian and French towns and cities, just sightseeing in itself,  which I also enjoy with equal relish.
" Rimini- Wow- poly sexual sleaze capital of western Europe it says here in this guidebook and we are only 30 mins away guys. We've got to have a night out there. Look at that photograph of the main street. Where's your spirit of adventure?!There's a bus stop at the Youth Hostel. C'mon. " ( no takers in that instance due to an early rise next morning heading for ten days in the jaggy mountains and no enthusiasm at all for visual urban decadence either apparently :o(  Obviously you have to be fairly single minded to work your way through any list of summits so its always been something of a compromise going with other people to interesting places although I always like the company but Alex now is also more flexible and thinks " need to find something to interest Bob while still pleasing myself." This post probably comes under that heading.
Conal Bridge with the Falls of Lora just starting, on this occasion seawater/tide flowing back into Loch Etive over a rugged shallow rock shelf leading to the deeper loch behind. It gets more spectacular than this feeble effort given the right conditions.
Barcaldine Castle on the minor road in - now a private residence I believe.
Eriska. A small island sandwiched between the Lynn of Lorn and Loch Creran which seems nowadays to be heavily geared towards the upmarket island hotel plus holiday accommodation market judging by the number of small discreet wooden chalets we passed heading to the summit. It certainly didn't feel like the usual remote and normally empty highland outpost we are used to seeing on our travels, although scenic enough.
Being summer it was also very lush and green. As a largely wooded island it was hard to get any real sense of being on an island at all as very little water was visible until the highest point.
Ben Cruachan, 1126 metres, viewed from the 155 foot spot height on Eriska. I was using my old OS red one inch to one mile 44pence paper map from the 1970s for this area. Decades ago I kayaked round Eriska, Eilean Dubh, and the Lismore cluster of islands in nearby Loch Linnhe using this same map where, being out on the water, you get a far better sense of Eriska as an island as you can paddle around it.
Also spotted from here was the ferry from Port Appin to the island of Lismore which brought back some memories. In my teenage years I had a Glasgow fair fortnight mid July holiday here with my parents. My Mum liked the Scottish highlands, my Dad less so, even though he was in the Black Watch during WWII and wore a kilt in time honoured fashion. It was a caravan stuck in a remote field I remember a few km from the village itself and the milk for breakfast cornflakes came straight from the local cow's udders into recycled bottles without pasteurized lids for safety. A very different time. The numerous midges and summer flies haven't changed that much though or the humid weather of July with frequent downpours, thunderstorms, and often sweaty heat.
Due to the pestering effects of the flies and midges inland I spent a lot of the ten day holiday here exploring the rocky shoreline alone, playing music on a small portable hand held machine I carried everywhere at that time. Not loud as it was close to my ear in an age before i pods. Teenage years are strange ones anyway with so many conflicting emotions/hormones sweeping through mind and body where everything feels much more intense as its all fresh and raw seen for the first time. If it's true that our mental state often veers from madness to sanity over the course of any lifetime and is not fixed to one precise spot I think its fair to say I was more of a yoyo during my teens and twenties than at any other age. In what would now be termed a Goth stage I liked melancholy music and  morbid subject matter and found plenty of gloomy dark places here to mope around in but also found a certain weird happiness in sadness and solitude as well. I found numerous bats flying at night close by, a few lone otters playing in the shallow coves.... and seals in numbers would often stick their heads up and come closer when I played music to them, especially long folk ballads, or me yowling and singing softly back to them trying to find the best notes and drawn out sounds they liked, Irish pipes, and violins mainly got the biggest 'seal of approval', so I had loads of interest without other children my own age to play with and could escape into my own imagination instead. At night in the caravan I had a series of recurring weird dreams of lying under the stars on the grass surrounded by local sleeping donkeys with gleeful little vampire bats hopping across the field to feast on our blood each evening as I got thinner and thinner. This turned me into an infected emaciated ghoul who crawled out at night to dine on the village locals. On one occasion the bats had human faces of my various teenage friends left back in Glasgow shrunk down to miniature size. This notion came from a well known Sci- Fi postcard of the time I'd seen as a child that fascinated me for years afterwards so at least I knew the source. Ants in that instance with human faces. I was a strange boy who probably troubled his parents but I came out all right in the end.
After Eriska Alex had another wee detour planned to visit "the Rosslyn Chapel of the Highlands"
Saint Conon's Kirk on the shores of Loch Awe.
This was a real surprise as I'd motored past this modest building many times but it never occurred to me to go in. A fragment of Robert the Bruce ( a small bone from his body) is reputed to lie below this beautifully carved representation of the King of Scots.
Completed by a local landowner with a real flair for architecture its an outstanding achievement
and as we visited an hour before closing time (6:00pm shut) we had the place to ourselves apart from a few late stragglers.
Constructed in a range of different styles, even using two old warships for the oak beams, it manages to be both simple yet elegant with some lovely touches and flourishes many of which are not immediately obvious. Loads of little half hidden animals and features provide additional decoration both inside and out.
It's well worth a visit.
Stained Radiance.
A nice extra highlight to end the trip. And its free entry as well.
And the best news is........ I'm still completely mad... just not fully captured yet.

A window view on eternity.

and I still have lunch with various creatures on occasion to keep my strength up. (a damselfly here with a tasty takeaway snack) Mine came later of course. A meal inside a meal. Catch one get one free.
And I'm a romantic at heart. But aren't we all secretly......

One of my favourite videos on You Tube. Think Bronte sisters plus brother Branwell... the inner imaginary world they all shared together as children with its own rules and harsh judgements and you're halfway there. People don't change that much as they grow older. I still like sunlight... and obsidian... and bats. :o)



Saturday, 2 June 2018

Beinn Mheadhonach 714 metres, 2344 feet. A trip to Benderloch. The pros and cons of Heatwaves.

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Now that my leg has finally improved enough to attempt serious hill-walking again after a two month plus recovery period to mend itself I set off with Alex for a day trip to Benderloch- a scenic area of mountains, sea lochs, and islands just north of Oban. With the gorse in full bloom and skylarks singing we motored up through the Scottish Highlands in what is proving to be a sustained UK heatwave. In Scotland hardly a drop of rain has fallen in over a month and bogs, gardens and hillsides are bone dry, crying out for moisture. In some places forest fires have started sweeping across hillsides/woods/ moorlands and in urban areas glass bottles, dis-guarded cigarettes, untended barbecues or deliberate arson is always a threat to surrounding grasslands. Empty winter beaches and car parks are full to bursting as folk head for the coast ( judging by the online photos I've seen) and beauty spots get their annual influx of humanity with some inevitably leaving all their rubbish behind when they depart. Being a contrary bugger I've usually had enough of heatwaves after the first week  and when I start to see the hillsides burning around me, swarms of flies, clegs, ticks, and assorted biblical beasts increasing in numbers or society breaking down altogether I too get down on my knees under the sunshine and pray for rain. The UK and Scotland needs rain and cool weather to keep some kind of order. I firmly believe this. Here's what I mean.
Kelvingrove Park. Glasgow. photographed recently. People are social creatures and like to band together in large numbers. Most just enjoy themselves as on this day I passed during a recent bike ride but as the forces of law and order know only too well it only takes one flash point for things to turn ugly wherever you find like minded humans in sizable quantities. Years ago they used to have a colourful annual street parade every June ending their walk at this park. Various bands played live music and everyone had a great time, including normally anti social me. Most families headed home satisfied with their day out around six or seven pm but just like the 1960s Flower Power movement in San Francisco when it got too popular and well known, darker elements began creeping in. On a couple of occasions, late on, as the bands packed up and stopped playing you could feel the mood changing after 7:00pm when families left the scene and groups that had been drinking alcohol all day had the grassy slopes to themselves. Police had the unenviable job of moving them all on before dark but on at least one occasion I remember it started raining heavily at just the right time, forcing people to disperse naturally and averting any conflict. Rain in that instance totally saved the day.
Here's what happened when it didn't rain. A shame as I really miss that annual street parade. There used to be a few big free events in Glasgow in the early 2000s. The River Clyde Festival, West End Festival etc ...However, big happy events involving thousands seem somehow destined to end badly at some point in the cycle if they continue too long and get too popular. It's classic chaos theory in action. The West End Festival still happens- just not the same large street parade or open air activities.
Worth a look at this link to see what I mean.

Anyway, we avoided the masses on the beaches, beauty spots, and city parks by heading to a part of the Highlands and a hill well off most peoples radar. Alex's choice of Beinn Mheadhonach, a 2344 foot Graham on the edge of Benderloch District sitting beside Loch Etive proved a winner as it was both secluded and scenic.
A view across Loch Etive to the mountains. Not a single car in the layby and very few tourists around.

Surprisingly colourful as well as the Scottish Highlands in late May usually have a less varied palette than city parks. As a general rule you really need steady money, dedication and upscale gardens over a long period of time in any area to introduce a vivid range of colours in the landscape. Which is why the Lake District or similar affluent areas ( The Golden Bubble Syndrome) look as wonderful as they do. Nature, left to itself, is usually just green with occasional random splashes of difference.
and nothing like this carefully planned spurge of late spring glory side by side. Two different gardens near Connel Bridge.
Gorse is usually the most vibrant natural coating for UK hillsides and is one of my favourites. The smell is amazing- a spicy, sweet, semi coconut perfume that invokes so many summer memories of childhood holidays down the British coast for most people. For any outdoor playing generation in times past wandering off exploring and getting lost alone or with similar aged friends in a tangled gorse thicket covering half a hillside with no obvious way out and that almost cloying, pungent smell of flowers in May/ June was a first maze to never forget. Half joy-half panic, especially wearing shorts and bare limbs in another age. Pleasure and sharp pain combined if you tried to crawl out on hands and knees through bushy tunnels and received an early brutal lesson in the power of thorns.
As experienced veterans in the outdoors a way up was soon found through an open gate into fields, passing this hawthorn tree in full flourish following a faint path onto the open hillsides above. From there a steady slope gained the first level platform to look down on our surroundings.
It turned out to be a hill of many level platforms and many false summits as we reached one hidden rise then another. Luckily, a strong breeze gave us relief as otherwise it would have been a stifling ascent during this current  prolonged heatwave. Any midges were blown away and for once no sheep ticks, clegs, or biting insects had a free festival feast on my body. A first in the Highlands at this time of year when I usually come back covered in tiny teeth marks or bloodsucking probes. Insects love me apparently as I always have more bite marks than anyone else. Same as animals...can't get enough of me...  but sadly my powers never extended to females I liked. I 've always had no problems batting them away without even working at it. :o(
A fish farm in Loch Etive seen from our hill. Sea food is another no go zone for me these days.

As the nearest Munro was mighty Ben Cruachan, 1126 metres, still boasting snow on its north facing slopes, we had the hill to ourselves and any paths were few and far between, mainly created by red deer and sheep movements for their own ends so no paths visible leading to the summit. Just the way we like it nowadays- the way many remote Munros used to be in previous decades.
As we climbed higher, a full 2344 foot ascent unfolded from an almost sea level start and the higher ranges around us started to appear. Alex also started to get tiny in the landscape. I've always thought he was tiny anyway. A mere Corbett against my soaring Munro.  I'm at least three inches taller than he is. I wouldn't mention this normally but size always matters in the hill walking world  :o)
Buachaillie Etive Mor, 1022 metres, and Buachaillie Etive Beag, 958 metres, two fine Munros viewed from Benderloch direction.
Bidean nam Bian, 1150 metres, viewed from this less familiar, people empty, side rather than the  always busy Glencoe. Even with a strong summit wind the heat haze made photography tricky for distant views but I gave it my best attempt.
Alex reaching the summit cairn with Ben Starav, 1078 metres, in the distance. A popular and classic Munro at the head of Loch Etive.
Summit view across to the island of Lismore, a fertile limestone farm friendly oasis sitting in Loch Linnhe, itself an island dotted sea inlet carving a deep channel into the west coast interior to end at Fort William.
Connel Bridge and the Falls of Lora. The 'falls' are created each new tide by the sea rushing in and out through this narrow channel draining then filling the substantial mass of Loch Etive behind. At certain peak times experienced kayakers and divers flock here to sample the often powerful ebb and flow through the gap. Obviously, this can be dangerous if you lack the skill level required or get into difficulties without support.
A closer view of the bridge.
Golden Chain or Flowering Laburnum. Many people in urban areas have removed these beautiful trees from their gardens over decades in case they get sued by families with poisoned children but nicotine is apparently far more poisonous as a substance and you'd have to eat a lot of this plant to be seriously affected. Very few cases of anyone dying, children or otherwise, have been recorded in the last hundred years or so yet gardens and suburbs are loaded with far more toxic species that no one bothers about. A classic case of perceived guilt by public opinion, urban myth to some extent, and various media outlets joining in to identify a scapegoat rather than any hard concrete evidence of fatal poisoning over the years. Why this particular tree in the firing line? Think of the millions killed by drugs over the same time period. Or children accidentally poisoned every day by a range of common household products like perfume, washing machine capsules, bleach, prescription drugs etc. Do we get rid of them or is it just an easier target? This selective witch hunt happens with people as well all the time. Crowds love a scapegoat as much as insects love me.  Lesson is....never trust an angry mob carrying a rope. It might well be for you.
The joy of empty Scottish roads. Not always a certainly in fine weather with several mile long slow moving tailbacks down Loch Lomond practically guaranteed in good weather, especially during spring/ summer heatwaves, for the last few decades.  Knowing this we planned ahead and took an alternative way back.

I discovered Gemma Hayes a while ago and this is a brilliant acoustic cover of a classic KB song.
Appropriate lyrics as thunder is getting closer as I type. Very warm conditions recently for a good nights sleep.