Leave a comment

The Joy of Trees

Over a decade ago I wrote an article called Consider the Tree.

It amused my wife, Julie—a landscape painter—as I couldn’t tell the difference between a copper beech and a sandy one! But my article wasn’t on the trees themselves. It dealt with what trees actually produce.

And when you think about it trees do give us so much.

They give us houses, furniture, sheds, doors, cricket bats, toys, boats and ships—the latter till the early twentieth century. Back then they supplied the world’s nations with ships.  The New World could never have been discovered without trees and the Americas would have developed differently.

So without trees the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Normans and Danes couldn’t have made us Brits what we now are. They’d have been arriving here in the late nineteenth century!

Trees give us food, milk (from coconuts), keep animals and insects alive, give the birds homes and—as the lungs of the earth—they purify our air. They even protect us from wind and act as hedgerows. The list is never ending.

To discover the kinds of furniture made from different woods is an interesting enterprise in itself. Julie and I had a stint in the antiques business and were forever fascinated by the expertise of dealers who at a glance could name the woods of pieces. They could look at marquetry and parquetry and instantly name every minute piece of wood.

The point of my article was to remind us of what we owe to the trees. I had never given them much thought other than enjoy the sheer beauty of them swaying in the wind or as the sunlight flooded their leaves.

After writing my piece, I listened to a documentary as Scots artist James McIntosh Patrick talked of trees. He explained his excitement from observing their detail as he painted these natural wonders. He found it mysterious how they could grow so high without toppling over.

Come to think of it, how do they confront strong winds in spite of their relatively slender loftiness? It all got me thinking.

As I’ve lived most of my adult life around trees—mainly in the Perthshire countryside—I wanted to find out how to identify types of trees individually. As a frequent visitor to Spain and Italy, and having spent three months in South Carolina, I fell in love with palm trees. I wanted to find out more about them. But as confirmed procrastinator, I never got round to it. Besides, I had other fish to fry—or leaves to spy!

I learnt to tell a deciduous tree from an evergreen but only vaguely. In this life things are never simple! This is especially so on finding that not all evergreens are conifers. Some evergreens are wide-leafed as in the holly. Also some leaves of trees look remarkably like others.

I always thought oak leaves were pretty much the same till I discovered that the turkey, cork and holm oaks have leaves that look nothing like oak leaves. And, if you ask me, the red oak’s leaf looks very iffy. But the field maple’s leaf looks much like an oak leaf to me. And I know that the maple is a kind of sycamore but—maybe it’s just me—plane trees’ leaves look pretty much like sycamore to me.

As if that isn’t bad enough, lime trees’ leaves look like those of the English elm.

It also came as a bit of a shock to me, I can tell you, that those limes we find in the supermarket don’t come from the lime trees neither—leastways not the lime trees that I have growing near to me.

The other thing I’m working on identifying at the moment is tree barks. I’m still learning to identify them. You could say many trees’ barks are worse than their height when it comes to identifying them.

My brother-in-law is pretty good at identifying trees. He’s one of those folk who can give you the Latin names as well as the common ones and tell you their genera into the bargain. Give him the common name and he’ll spit back the Latin one and vice versa.  As a common man I’m happy to make do with the common names.

I fancied that kind of knowledge when I portrayed myself as a young intellectual. I could quote James Joyce and his “Laburnum’s tendrils trail.” Few people were impressed as no-one knew what I was on about. Yet, I had the temerity to pretend I knew what Joyce was on about.


My problem—and probably that of others—is finding a book which will explain trees for laymen. I’d like to see a book called Trees for Dummies or A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Trees. Maybe experts can think back to when they knew nothing about trees and then each can write a book taking it from there.

Perhaps I should start one as a novice, writing one as I go along learning! Actually, the trick I’ve learned is not to try to memorized too many at once. Start off by homing in on one tree per day and don’t move on till you’ve studied everything about it. I wrote an e-book on grammar, and another on punctuation, using a similar technique (and which is doing very nicely, thank you, on Kindle). That way, the more time you dedicate to thinking about it the quicker you can move on to the next.

As it works with correcting bad grammar why shouldn’t it work learning about trees?

Once you’ve cracked the memorising, you end up knowing how to use the technique. Then it gets to the point that you learn quicker and it gets to identifying two trees a day then three then more and more.

I’ve just thought about using the technique with trees today. So I’ll let you know how I’m doing.

And my last complaint about books on trees is the illustrations. No matter how excellent the illustrator is, their interpretations of the trees can add to the confusion.

As learners have enough problems with subtle differences of various trees’ leaves, it’s more difficult for them where a leaf should look glossy and doesn’t. The same goes vice-versa. That can be more to do with the printing of the illustrations than the artist’s ability.

Moans over!

Over a year ago, Julie and I moved to the Angus side of Perthshire. So we’re now living right on the edge of a wood.  It’s nearby to other ones separated between sloping fields from where you get views right across the Tay valley.

So it’s delightful to walk through forestry where beeches surround Douglas firs and sequoias—bringing back childhood memories of leafing through my dad’s National Geographic at the General Sherman and the Chandelier people drove cars through—reminding me I’m in Scotland. There’s something intrinsically Caledonian about conifers. Just don’t ask me why.

I’m also cheered to remember I’ll soon be picking elderflowers for Julie’s home-made wine.

1 Comment

Problems with my problems.

You have problems (I hope), I have problems, we all have problems (I still hope). At least, I hope everyone else has problems because it means that I’m not alone–though many people are convinced I ought to be. Well, maybe not so much the  many as rather my family and those who think they’re unfortunate enough to know me well.

You see, I have problems with procrastination. Not so much my own as other people’s.

Mind you, it’s my own procrastination that makes other people feel they’re unfortunate to know me. And that bothers me because if they start taking it seriously they may start avoiding me. That means I will have less people to borrow money from and that is never a good thing unless they expect to have it paid back. Paying back is something I always tend to procrastinate about unless it’s paying back an insult or bad turn.

But, generally, I don’t mind my own procrastination because it’s worth the risk of people taking it seriously because they are never likely to. For example, my procrastination can be a boon to them when when–ach, I’ll tell you about that later. (If you’re lucky.) It’s too bothersome to go into now.

But other people’s procrastination can be infuriating. Like for instance when they promise to take you for a drink, a meal, a night at the theatre, a free run, and so on. And you’re left still waiting.

It’s like this blog. I even keep putting off getting on this thing! I mean I really want to. But… well–I’ll get around to explaining that at a better time. I mean, people have told me they’ll get onto it and I do intend to get back to them but rarely ever do. It’s not that I forget. It’s just that I keep putting it off.

Sorry and all that but it’s nothing personal.

But procrastination has it’s good points.

You see, I had problems spelling procrastination for years. I used to wonder: Is it procastination, procastrination, procrastrination or procrastination? I was kinda sure there was an r in the word somewhere. But not too sure.  And I was kinda sure–but again not too sure–if it was after the c or maybe after the st. But I kept procrastinating about doing something about it.

Then, as I thought I’d best make an attempt to get back to this blog in case, miraculously, someone did want to read it, I could get back on it and have the decency to apologize and explain my procrastination. And this is where procrastination has a good point–when it comes to helping to correct spelling. At least, the spelling of procrastinate and procrastination!

It made me sit down with a dictionary and write out procrastination about ten minutes back. So each time I had to type in the word again I looked at the previous procrastination till I got to the forth or fifth one and then I now know where the r goes without having to think about it. And, of course, it works for procrastinate too now that I know that the r comes after the c.

You see, you yourself have learnt a lesson there even if you already were able to spell procrastination. You’ll see that it can work with any word you have problems with. And if you couldn’t spell procrastination before, you now can!

Am I saying that procrastrination in itself can be a boon? I’ll tell you about that one some other time–if I get around to it.

Leave a comment

Men Shopping

The piece below is from my new e-book What Every Woman Needs to Know About MEN SHOPPING! I’m a man who’s shopped so I know what I’m talking about. All you women out there need to know what we go through. So do all of you men who have never shopped. Experience is the best teacher but learning from someone else is far less painful. Check it out.

In my carer days, I once took an aged gentleman to a supermarket. He was a very slow walker. And my job requirement was to get him back to his accommodation within the hour. Once there I was to make his lunch.

Timing was important, meaning an extra stress when shopping.

I had already been in trouble because, some days previously, I’d burnt this man’s dinner. I was to cook his Lorne sausage (peculiar to my native Scotland. Actually, it’s peculiar full stop and is a virtual heart-attack on a plate).

It was to be cooked in his microwave—for which you’d need a PhD in Thermonuclear Physics to work.  And I am a mere MA in History.

Not understanding that I should have defrosted the Lorne first, it was burnt when I took it out. It was so hard that if I’d thrown it at someone it would’ve split their head open.

And I’d been late with another of the residents from the same condo when taking him shopping. Again this was due to the shopping lists I’d received from the women bosses.

So I was also frazzled with the passing of time as we trudged through the supermarket.

Slow wasn’t the word. It felt like he was moving about half-speed of a crippled snail. It was bad enough that the only times I had been in supermarkets prior to that was with my wife—and I sat in the cafe reading papers and doing crosswords.

“I’m in enough of a predicament when I see, for example, ‘pie’ on my list.

See, in Scotland we have a pie which the English call Scotch pies. They are quite different from the other kinds of pies we have in this land. And a pork pie up here has to have the affix “pork” before any Scot will know what you’re talking about.

We also have steak pies which are kind of rectangular with rounded edges. We have mince pies, and bean pies and tatty pies and the list goes on.

Anyway. Being in the bosses’ bad books does not make you feel confident when you’re in a hurry with a slowcoach. Worse, when you haven’t been given the specifics on a shopping list—as in pie.

Also, every single item on the list was a general for a specific.

This is further proof of women’s powers of clairvoyance. They really do know what a specific thing is from a general statement. Knowing that they are convinced that men have this same other-world ability drives a man loopy when shopping on a woman’s orders.

I kept looking at my watch to see time ticking away and, to make matters worse, I couldn’t phone back to the office. I’d left my phone at home that day. Having not been in the job long, I wasn’t prepared for all that.

I kept asking assistants what they thought each item could be. A couple of times I got that here-we-go-again-mister glance that you pick up in their eyes.

Get this you women supermarket assistants: It doesn’t help any! We already know that it’s screamingly obvious to you. How do you think that makes us feel?

It only makes a man more confused, embarrassed and nervous. And if there are two of them, you see their eyes meet for that spilt second as if to say, “Do you think they’ll ever get it?”

“Hello, madam,” I feel like yelling, when I witness this, “I am from Mars! What can I possibly know about shopping?”

Then, unbelievably, the supermarket suddenly swarmed with uniformed school-kids.

I do not exaggerate when I say there must have been over a hundred who literally poured in.

This made it almost impossible for us to move.

To my despair, they were forming long lines at the cashier points. And we still had other things to get. When we did get them we had to wait in line behind these rowdy kids.

I was fretting as the time ticked away. We were already well behind time for getting back to the condo.

As we were near to the checkout, with only two kids in front of us—I could not believe it! I noticed that I didn’t have onions or mixed vegetables. I was near to running out and leaving the old guy to find his own way back.

I’d have lost my job but I was past caring.

I then remembered having seen a bag of mixed veg and a bag of chopped onions in his freezer once before.  So I “knew” the kinds I was to get.

We had passed the refrigerated foods on the way to the till so, leaving my ward at the checkout, I elbowed my way through the surging mass to find the frozen mixed veg and frozen onions. Grabbing the two bags, I jostled back again through the uniformed crowd.

I was delighted when I saw there was only one schoolgirl before us.

My delight instantly turned to despair when the cashier started having problems with the till. A mechanic was called for.

When he did turn up, about five minutes later, he tinkered with it for about another five minutes before saying something to the cashier. She announced, “This checkoot’s now closed. Yu’ll aw huv tae go to another ane!”

When I looked round, the mob of selfish, obnoxious, nasty, spiteful, moronic, vicious, teenage bastards behind us all darted off into the other queues. We had to start again at the back of another one.

I was as furious as I was worried. They’d never believe all this back at the condo office.

They didn’t. To make matters worse, when I took the food back into the gentleman’s accommodation, his freezer was full to brimming. It also included frozen veg and frozen onions. There was nowhere to put them.

Guess what kind of veg and onions I was supposed to get.

You’d think at least this time that, shopping for my wife, I’d now know what kind of veg and onions I’d be going for.

You would if you don’t know men, that is!’


Leave a comment

More thoughts of Kailyard Stripling

A copy of Auguste Rodin's The Thinker at the K...

While it is true that a ton of feathers is the same weight as a ton of bricks, it’s better to have a ton of feathers fall on your head from a great height than a ton of bricks.

If you had nothing to talk about if you weren’t complaining, maybe it’s best that you just don’t talk.

If you have bad breath and/or B O and/or stinking feet, don’t worry about it. It’s only other people it sickens. You won’t even notice it.

If your feet are dirty it’s a good idea to wash them, even if you only have cold water.

If there’s a drought on it’s better to drink the water first  then wash with what’s left. For one thing it wouldn’t taste nice if you did it the other way around.

Leave a comment

Glasgow girl cartoon

Glasgow Girls Inspire Poetry

Bonnie, Bonnie lassie frae Glesca toon starts the first line of a poem by the famous Scots poet Kailyard Stripling.

This ode, from the book of poems Hame Thochts Frae Hame, displays the femininity of the average Glasgow girl. It is a perfect picture of how one particular Glasgow girl inspired the poet.

Illustrated by the great Scots artist Martin Horan, this anthology of Stripling’s poems in the Scots language can be purchased from your local bookshop, classy High Street book stores, Amazon, or any back street barber’s for an exhorbitant price.

Leave a comment

A Word in Your Eye

Image of a modern fountain pen writing in curs...

My brother-in-law and my sister tell me they want to write a book. And they asked me for some advice. Why not? I’ve had several books published.

Though perhaps a vain person—people say I live in vain—I haven’t used vanity publishers. (There’s enough vanity in this world.) And neither should you. Unless, that is, you want to help someone to con you.

Then I’d suggest that you get as much money as you can and throw it into the sea. That can at least be an amusing way of getting rid of money and, if the tide turns, you have a chance of recouping some of it. There’s no chance of having such amusement and hope by investing in slimy vanity publishing crooks.

Anyway, my advice to my kin on writing a book is the same as I’d give to anyone else: Don’t!

But, if you must, here are a few pointers that are worth thinking about.

Refrain from being intoxicated by the exuberance of your own intellectual verbosity in a profusion of pertinacious, albeit percipient, polysyllables.

That is, don’t try to be smart by using big words.

It doesn’t look smart. It is only helpful when people suffer from insomnia. Even then, the terror of hearing such drivel can keep some people off their sleep.  At all times it is, at least, intensely annoying.

It is possible, or that is to say, highly probable, or at least probable in most circumstances, that whenever you want to say (and by say I also mean write or express yourself either orally or verbally) anything of value that you should not, as it were, beat around the proverbial bush whenever, basically, you should (or even simply could) at best, simply get right to what it is that needs (or even not necessarily needs but is preferable) to put it another way, stated in a perfunctory manner.

In other words, get right to the point and stick to it. Otherwise you’ll bore people.

People have much better things to do than get bored. Do you like it when people bore you? No? Then do to others as you’d want them to do to you.

Prefieres no escribir en Espanol o a’bhruin ann’s a’ghadlig, er le Francais, o espanol or en Deutschlander, et hoc genus omne.

Keep to English words!

Or, as I used to teach, “Prefer the Saxon word to the Latin or Greek one.”

Much intellectual and academic literature is full of words of Latin and Greek roots, if not actual Latin and Greek words themselves.

This never works in any kind of writing.

You might say, “What about Joyce’s Ulysses?

I’d reply, “That’s why Ulysses the most famous book that hardly anyone’s ever read.”

Irish writers almost have a tradition for laughing at their readers—Swift, Wilde, Shaw, Flann O’Brien, Brendan Behan, &c. Joyce, I’m sure, was keeping up that tradition.

Anyway, it’s been done.

Joyce did it twice with his even more obscure book Finnegans Wake. Yup, without the apostrophe—because he was making it the plural of Finnegan! Even less people have read FinnegansWake!

C.S. Lewis wrote a book called Miracles. Strange that he didn’t mention either of those books in it as it’s a miracle that either of them got into print.

Unless you are highly entertaining and witty, heed the above three warnings.

Even if you are entertaining and witty still avoid them.

Trying to show your academic, intellectual or linguistic prowess does not impress anyone. I have nothing against intellectual writing. It has its place. And that’s usually in the dustbin.

I really used to love reading Francis Schaeffer’s books. I thought his knowledge on the visual arts, literature, music, philosophy and culture in general was impressive and I thought his views and critiques on them were more worthy of note than  any other writers’ I’d read pontificating in any of those realms.

Amazingly, he was actually a theologian.

Whenever I’d try to get friends interested in his work, few could understand him. I thought it very sad. I thought they were missing out on so much.

The problem was that great communicator as Schaeffer was, he couldn’t communicate with the average Joe or Jane in the avenue.

A pity because, had he been able to, I’m sure he’d have been a great influence in changing many folk’s lives for the better. He certainly enriched mine.

So the whole purpose of writing it first is to communicate. That’s a two-way dual carriageway. Okay if you feel you have a mission to commune only with intellectuals and academics. Then go for it.

And another thing is to avoid clichés like people with aids and, therefore, not the plague.

But if you want to communicate with most people, write as if you’re actually talking to someone you like and respect. Try thinking of your granddad or granny when you write. You don’t have to impress such a person. You wouldn’t want to.

You write with respect when you treat someone as if they are intelligent. That means you write intelligently. You don’t need pretentious or flowery language.

Make sure your grammar and your punctuation are spot on or your writing will seem amateurish. It will actually appear quite ridiculous if you are trying to appear intellectual and you don’t understand how to write with correct grammar or punctuation.

Now here I can help:

I have come up with two Kindle books called Speak and Write Grammatically – The Fastand Easy way  and Punctuation Made Incredibly Simple. There are no grammatical or technical terms to learn. The techniques in these books are simplicity themselves. They’ll put your English on a par with any academic’s in a matter of weeks—or days depending on your own effort and enthusiasm.

So, impressing tactics in writing very rarely impress. They actually mostly depress!

So does going on too long. That’s why I’m stopping here.

Leave a comment

Kailyard’s contemplations

As well as being a great poet, Kailyard Stripling is also an insightful and prolific philosopher. As his wisdom can be a great boon to humanity, we are including some of his pithy and astute comments, axioms and comments on subjects close to his heart. As money and voluptuous young women are the things closest to his heart we will not include his comments on them on this blog, as they are not usually people’s idea of having anything to do with philsophy. Below is our first instalment of examples of his sagacious statements.

the sailor in 's-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands

Image via Wikipedia

It’s better to be in the army than the navy, especially when the ships sink.

It’s better to be in the army than in the air force. It’s a lot easier to fire a missile at a plane than at a single person. Besides, it would be too costly to fire missiles at single people.

It’s better to be a civilian than in the army as there’s less chance of being killed. Unless, of course, in peacetime. Then you’ve got a good chance of being run over by traffic.

Peacetime is a good time to be a sailor or a shepherd because there’s little chance of sailors or shepherds getting run over by traffic.