Silent as light

The Antiquary: “is preoccupied on every level by the relation between past and present.”

Mary Midgley: “These doctrines are often bizarrely over-confident and over-simple”

George Orwell in Why I Write: “… one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality”

Raymond Tallis in Summers of Discontent “There are several things to be noted about emotions. The first is they fill the world with meaning”

Kenneth Calman in Makars and Mediciners:  “It is perhaps here that the role of literature and the arts generally can have an advantage, by the author exposing poor health choices and behaviour patterns, in ways which are more powerful and effective than that of the medical teacher or professor. The writer’s imagination and expression can change things. The word can be powerful.”

Nathan Filer in The Shock of the Fall: “I think that’s what I am doing now. I am writing myself into my own story and I am telling it from within”

Andrew Greig: “He knows fankle from bourach.”

Raymond Tallis in Defence of Wonder “When we are in love we see the ordinary things about another person for what they are: not in the slightest bit ordinary.”

Gilbert K. Chesterton: “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder

“She makes sunlight dim” (Sian)

Thomas Tranströmer to his lifelong friend Robert Bly: “In this climate it`s all or nothing. Anybody not 100% for is “self-evidently” 100% against. Have I given you a little picture of the climate? All you can do is Follow your own crooked conscience, wait for the moment of truth and hope you won’t need to be ashamed one day of how you lived through these years.”

Raymond Tallis: [Philosophy is a return] into that nearest, which we invariably rush past, which surprises us anew each time we get sight of it”

Tomas Tranströmer: “Balansnummer is ‘balancing act.’ The poem is partly a protest-poem against the prevailing mood in Swedish intellectual life. What I say is that finding the truth, being honest etc. is a difficult individualistic act of balance, you have to put off the rhetoric, all slogans and moustaches and prejudices and . . .”

Stephen Bann, MIDWAY: Letters from Ian Hamilton Finlay: “I recall saying once to Finlay that the special feature of the letter as a literary genre was that one never went back on the first draft to produce a fair copy.”

Nathan Filer in The shock of the Fall: “I have approximately 7.4 x 1027 atoms in my body”

Ian Hamilton Finlay: “Sometimes my wee best seems just not good enough”

Richard Holloway in Leaving Alexandria: “The toughest lesson life teaches is the difference between who you wanted to be and who you actually are. And it can take a whole life to teach it”

Robert Louis Stevenson: “Letter to a young gentleman who proposes to embrace the career of Art”

A. S. Byatt in Possession: “He put little slips of paper in the entries that made up his fragile narrative or non-narrative”

Adam Nicolson in Sea Room: “I’m wedded to this plunging-off form of thought, and to the acceptance of muddle which it implies”

Mukul Kesavan in Looking Through Glass: “Like all chroniclers of the relatively recent past, history ran out against the present”

Julian Barnes in The Noise of Time: “He bought a large scrapbook and pasted ‘Muddle Instead of Music’ onto the first page.”

Ronald Ross: “Science is the differential calculus of the mind, Art is the integral calculus; they may be beautiful apart, but are great only when combined.”

Walter Scott in The Antiquary (in Oldbuck’s room) “Amid this medley, it was no easier to find one’s way”

Margaret McCartney in The Patient Paradox: “The conclusion that variability is bad is distant from the much simpler observation that patients are all different.”

Robert Crawford in Young Eliot: “Leafiness suited him”

Alexander McCall Smith in Chance Developments: “His one and only book, ‘The Future Lies in the Past’, eventually published”

Patrick Deeley in The Hurley Maker’s Son: “I sensed the sun, beaming from a place that was higher than the world”

Penelope Fitzgerald in The Bookshop: “The sky brightened from one horizon to the other”

Hanya Yanagihara in A Little Life: “You made art because it was the only thing you’d ever been good at, the only thing, really, you thought about between shorter bursts of thinking about the things everyone thought about.”

John Berger in Here is where we meet: “To find any sense in life it was pointless to search in the places where people were instructed to look.”

Edmund De Waal in The White Road: “He writes a letter about how things are made, but it is actually about compassion.”

Alice Hoffman in Faithful: “No one could count all the stars. There are far too many.”

Madeleine Thien in Do Not Say We Have Nothing: “So familiar to me, like an entire language, a world, I had forgotten”

John Steinbeck in Of Mice and Men: “Both men glanced up, for the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off”

A child. An incredibly ancient child.

I recently read the novel ‘How to stop time’ by Matt Haig and in a brief passage of this he talked about an ancient tree that had outlived any sentient being:

For the last two years, in my greenhouse, a cutting of the Fortingall Yew has been growing. The Fortingall Yew is estimated to be between 2000 and 3000 years old.

I took six cuttings and potted them up but only one has survived. I have potted it up so that I can give it to Alexander McCall Smith in thanks for the kindness and support that he has given to me as an artist.


Epitome of current medical literature

This film takes as its title the opening section of the British Medical Journal of the last century.

The idea behind this film is to question what may be considered as “medical literature”?

I have deliberately placed myself at the centre of this film. What may appear as “monomania” is quite deliberate! I don’t know about you, but I read for pleasure and also because it gives me access to the lives of others. Literature opens up new worlds for me.

In this film I surround myself with some of those authors I have enjoyed reading and who have helped me to grow as a person and as a doctor.

We must remember that we are all subjective. We cannot put ourselves into the minds of others and truly share their lived experience.

This film also suggests, by including reference to the “modern ruin” St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross, (built in 1967, the year I was born) that we pass through time and that we age. I have included consideration of passing time as literature reminds us that medical science cannot ignore this.

In short this film is an artistic expression of the so-called “two cultures”.

Music credit: Spem in alium – Thomas Tallis

(1) The Pineapple, Dunmore
(2) Mossgrove, Bridge of Allan
(3) Old Stirling Bridge

Authors whose words have featured in my films.

The pioneer and genius

This film is about Henry Salvesen who built, by hand, Scotland’s first car.

Salvesen built the car for his family estate, Lathallan.

Lathallan is now most ruinous. Though it still looks out. Upon a roundabout of cars.

Who would be your ‘pioneer and genius’? And who ‘sparkles and shines” for you?

The pioneer and genius from omphalos on Vimeo.

My dissertation on Hedges

22 years ago I was awarded distinction by the University of Edinburgh for my dissertation on hedges.


22 years on I find that I have forgotten the words that I wrote! I recall the gist of my dissertation but little else.


I first gave the dictionary definition:

002 Hedge

I then introduced my thoughts:

003 Hedge

But my dissertation was on urban hedges:

004 Hedge

22 years on, Alexander McCall Smith, having watched my films, wrote to me to suggest that I might like this book:


I have always loved hedges, especially mixed hedges.

They do not divide in the way that fences or walls do.

Hedges can be trimmed. But hedges grow.

Hedges have gaps. The light gets through.


After I graduated in Medicine with the University of Aberdeen, 
and having trained as a Junior Doctor, I left medicine to study 
Landscape Architecture with the University of Edinburgh. 
Almost three years later I graduated MLA, with distinction 
in every subject.


Penicuik enlightens

Last week I was part of a gathering of minds to consider a project to bring together the “villas of the Esk’ for [what seems like] a forgotten landscape of special cultural significance.

The meeting had been set up by Dr James Simpson, architect, and was held around the dining table of Sir Robert Clerk of Penicuik.


To my embarrassment I was kindly introduced to Sir Robert Clerk as a “Renaissance man”. I am not this.

I recently met with Alexander McCall Smith who is an admirer of my short films and who came up with an idea of a possible shared creative venture. I replied to McCall Smith:

“I can only offer, for my part, boundless enthusiasm, magpieness and my sense of wonder in all that is around me in the country of my birth.”

Alexander McCall Smith wrote this in my grandfather’s old invoice book:


I use my grandfather’s empty invoice books as my notebooks. Sadly he left many empty books. He was one of Scotland’s last traditional orchardmen. Nothing mattered to him more than blossom.

Now through my window from omphalos on Vimeo.

I have digressed. Back to Penicuik: in the first few decades of the 18th century the Antiquarian, Alexander Gordon or “Singing Sandy”, was the closest friend of Sir John Clerk. They shared a curiosity: a curiosity enlightened by the past. Together they abandoned any notional (or simplistic) divide between the cultures of arts and sciences.

The Antiquary, Alexander Gordon, loved history, music, architecture, painting, poetry and philosophy. Yet he was a flawed man.

The Antiquary from omphalos on Vimeo.

The painting below was by Henry Raeburn and painted at Penicuik in 1791. It portrays Sir John and Lady Clerk. It has been considered as one of Raeburn’s finest paintings.


Peter Davidson, in his book ‘Distance and memory’ described this double portrait:


Raeburn01  Raeburn03



On Tuesday I attended the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh to observe further appraisal by the Petition Committee of my request that Scotland considers introducing a statutory Sunshine Act. This post is to thank the Committee for considering the opening of a window.window012

I share John Betjeman’s disapproval of bureaucracy. However I reckon that we all share a love of sunshine: Peter-Sunshine,-Jan-2015

This post is a pattern of images of windows that I observed as I walked from Waverley station to the Scottish Parliament. It was Alexander McCall Smith who wrote to me suggesting that I read this book:051

Candia McWilliams is another acclaimed Edinburgh writer:Candia McWilliams

Candia McWilliam’s book, What to look for in winter, is about her “functional blindness”. It is a book full of light:Candia McWilliams (3)

Candia McWilliams invited me for lunch at her home. Candia McWilliams opened windows in my mind. I made a film about what I gained from her (as I tend to do). Candia McWilliams (4)

I left Bridge of Allan station reading the Herald. I noticed this cartoon. I wondered if this cartoon window might be indicative of my day?window013

As I arrived at Waverley Station the glass roof appeared clearer to me than ever before:window011

At Carubber’s Close this half-clouded window caught my eye. Carubber’s Close always turns my mind’s eye to Richard Holloway, another acclaimed Edinburgh writer. I make films (as I may have already mentioned!) and I once made a film about Richard Holloway’s wonderful narrative “leaving Alexandria”:window010

Reaching the Royal Mile. I found myself wondering (yet again) how many windows to the world do we have? window009

Through a gap I spotted St Andrew’s House and the windows of the Scottish Government:window008

Impossible to miss, these spiked piers, similar to Roseberry, but here with a window behind reflecting the passing world in the ripple of old rolled-glass:window007

Next door, the whisky shop protects its wares with mesh-reinforcement to the glass window:window006

I always stop at the Poetry Library. Andrew Greig (another acclaimed Edinburgh writer) said “In Another Light“:  “Poems appeal to the engineer in me – such great size to power output ratio, wondrous wee gleaming machines, the best of them inexhaustible.” window004

Opposite the poetry library we have arguably Edinburgh’s finest poet. Robert Fergusson often poked fun at establishment and medical pedagogy:window005

Robert Fergusson brightens my spirits. But realising my tendency to be metaphorical, I stopped to show that I had not yet been locked up!window003

At least the policeman outside parliament saw no immediate need to detain me:window001

The Scottish Parliament is a wonderful building with windows of all shapes. As I watched the Petitions Committee light came in through every shaped window.

Petition for sunshine, 31 March 2015

The Convener of the Petitions Committee, John Pentland, MSP:Petitions Committee 31 march 2015

Not fitting the pattern

This is a post about the mental health debate held at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 6th January 2015. Alexander McCall Smith wrote to me recently recommending this book (appreciating that I had graduated in Landscape Architecture):051 My recent posts have, as a result, been based on patterns. 053This is the pattern of my Tuesday in Edinburgh. It is however not just a recent pattern but an old one too:Waverley-(6) Waverley: I arrived in the toon of my birth 200 years since Walter Scott wrote his novel.Waverley-(8) At the station, this was one of several Walter Scott quotes that I noticed: 058 But before the parliamentary debate, I had arranged to meet a dear friend: 049 My friend “dares to know” like no other I know. 048 We met for a bowl of soup at the storytelling centre on the Royal Mile. Here I was lucky to meet my friend’s son. Who I found to be a very fine young man. 044 The following quote was displayed at the storytelling centre: 045 The soup was good. The company and shared stories even better. 027 Our conversation over soup reminded me of Aesculapius. Edinburgh doctors, of enlightenment days, formed the “Aesculapian club”.

I need no “club”: I need only soup and good company.017 On the way to the parliament we passed by the Poetry library.016 This statue of Robert Fergusson lies opposite to the poetry vennel. 014 This was Fergusson’s 18th century view of medical language,’authority’ and learning. 052 Just before entering Scotland’s parliament one is met by the poetry wall. 038 The Scottish parliament is a most wonderful building. Rich in pattern and in materials.

It has no simple pattern.It is too much drinkThe Presiding Officer started proceedings [given her confusion, thank goodness there was no “routine” cognitive screening as mandated by Healthcare Improvement Scotland!] Jamie-Hepburn The Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health, Jamie Hepburn, MSP, led off the debate on mental health: we can kick offThe debate began. 18 MSPs in a mostly empty parliamentary chamber.020 My mind turned to a visit to the parliament five years before with my daughter’s primary school class. That was a day of lots of lively minds.006Jamie Hepburn’s address was followed by much parliamentary comment about stigma. 011 Stigma is a subject that I have written about and made films. My understanding is that stigma is experienced by the person. It is not a simply entity. 061 I read all the time. 021 My reading reminds me of how little I know. 059 I share C. P. Snow’s concern. As a graduate in both Arts and Sciences I have experienced very different cultures. I am not sure how healthy such separation is.023As a critical mind I sometimes feel alone. However I do feel reassured that I seem to be on the same page as Kenneth Calman and Sir Harry Burns. 010 I agree with Kenneth Calman. Though I would insist that experience also matters. 025 We are perhaps taught from an early age to appreciate arts and sciences as entirely separate. 022 History is also taught in separation. 039The “pattern” that I am attempting to present has strayed from the parliamentary debate. 041 Dr Richard Simpson, in his reply to the Cabinet Minister, outlined his concern about the “divide” between body and mind. 062The above was written by John Logie Baird in his diary at the time that he demonstrated television. CropperCapture[1] I welcomed Dr Simpson’s speech:004 Dr Simpson is aware of my view that I feel that informed consent to cognitive assessment is important [the above written by an elderly patient recently] . Dr Simpson said to parliament:CropperCapture[2] My concern here is that our elders will find that they have no choice in such assessments.  I am interested in ethics. For me this means listening to experience. CropperCapture[4] The above was part of the contribution by John Mason, MSP, to the mental health debate. A contribution that I welcomed.034 Whilst I do worry about “target” dominated healthcare, the following findings did concern me: CropperCapture[5]Over regulation is a worry for me.  We may find a day when professionalism is out-weighted by regulation.031   Below is an imbalance that I find concerning. Is this the real basis of loss of parity?039My closing thought on the mental health debate: I am of the view that Scotland, in its approach to mental wellbeing, needs to embrace a more pluralistic outlook: an outlook that includes those with lived experience, critical minds and the medical humanities.035END [with a young doctor] and “patients who don’t quite fit the patterns”