Back in January, I booked my tickets for the big events at StAnza, only to discover, three days later, that the Byre Theatre had gone into administration, and would close at once. What heroic efforts took place behind the scenes I do not know, but thanks to the team lead by Eleanor Livingstone - including many of the Byre staff who lent their help voluntarily to sort things out, Scotland's premier poetry festival went off without a hitch. I was there for two and a half days, long enough to hear Gillian Clarke talk about the Goddodin and give an excellent reading, Tessa Ransford and Iyad Hayatleh read and talk about their collaboration The Rug of a Thousand Colours, a furiously and filthily witty re-enactment of The Flyting of Kennedy and Dunbar, performance poetry by Rachel McCrum and Harry Giles, and an excellent discussion about engaging with nature at Saturday's Poetry Breakfast. These Poetry Cafe events are a fabulous idea, as the meat pies at lunch time and the danish pastries at breakfast are superb, and if I hadn't had the world's biggest breakfast at my digs, I'd have really gone for it. Add to this, a fish supper from the superb Tail End takeaway,some fortuitous book buying (including The Triumph Tree edited by Thomas Clancy, which I got on a hint from Gillian Clarke's lecture), a long session with my fellow-judge Anne Connolly working on the Red Squirrel competition, and the quiet open mike run by Jim Carruth, and you can see that a great time was had. I met old friends and made some new ones, and even bought a dress I've had my eye on in the Ness sale. You can read more about StAnza on The StAnza Blog - and mark 5th-9th March 2014 in your diaries, because that's when the next one is happening.
Meanwhile, the house is now more or less sorted out, and all the things set aside to go to charity shops have in fact gone. We still have two crates of books I don't quite know what to do with (yes, I am going to keep them!)and a whole lot of cartons that we can't get rid of because we'll need them when youger daughter moves out, but we can at least use all the house now without shifting a ton of stuff first, and we are all settling down quite comfortably.We have just heard that our newest grandchild - due in the summer - will be a girl, and Lucy read me the whole of Cinderella this morning and then said "You bring me one of your books, one with colourful pictures in, and I'll have a bash at it!"
The weather has been so dry lately that the river has been very low at low tide and very still at high tide. There are a lot of ducks here just now, goosanders and goldeneye, mallards and little grebes, and even a moorhen, which I haven't seen for a while. The best sight of all, though, was the otter. Forget shy and elusive, forget the state of the tide, this character was swimming about in broad daylight in the middle of the afternoon, just above our bridge where everyone stopped to look. I think the river must be in better health than I had imagined!
All the ducks are paired now, the black-headed gulls have their summer plumage, and the chaffinches and blue tits seem suddenly much brighter and more colourful. Magpies and blackbirds are obviously building nests and robins and wrens are visibly competitive. Birdsong in the early morning is louder and more various, and last week I heard the first song thrush. Even the snow and hard frost doesn't seem to have slowed them down. There are catkins on the hazels and sallows and daisies in the grass. Let the weather do as it likes, everything else knows it's spring!