Memory Maps

English: The North Cuillin ridge from Portree.
English: The North Cuillin ridge from Portree. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is such a neat idea. I read about the concept of the memory map in our local weekly newspaper, the ‘West Highland Free Press’, last week.

West Highland Free Press logo
West Highland Free Press logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have never heard of anything like it before. I’m so taken with the idea that I wanted to share it with you and then I thought I’d give it a try – but using only words rather than words and drawing.

So what is a memory map? It’s a work of art primarily, but it can also be used to find your way around a place. Artist J Maizlish Mole recently produced one for Portree, the town where I live. To produce such a map, Mole spends time walking around a place such as a village or town. He’ll do it for hours and on several occasions. He’ll speak to locals and respond to landmarks and the landscape at a personal level. Then from memory he produces a, to scale, personally annotated map of his walks.  For example on the harbour section of the map of Portree, he has the note ‘helluva place for oil tanks’.

Portree (Photo credit: stevecadman)

Beside the main road into the town from the south he has noted at one point ‘many rabbits’. Other labels include, ‘extreme danger of sudden and violent death’ this is beside the cliffs; ‘grassy knoll’, scrubby knoll,’ huge supermarket,’ ‘graveyard spend eternity,’  ‘ghost trail’, ‘marvellous walk’, ‘scrubby clearing’, ‘boats to Raasay, Rona and round the bay’.

Skye coast
Skye coast (Photo credit: Paul Albertella)

Initially Mole had done only the map of Portree, Skye’s main town. But then Atlas Arts and Portree Area Community Trust commissioned another map – this time of the whole of Skye and its neighbouring island of Raasay. The maps will be displayed in the centre of Portree as public art – and print copies will be available from April. They will be Mole’s personal response to the experience of driving and walking round the islands. Emma Nicolson, director of Atlas Arts, was quoted in the West Highland free Press as saying that what Mole has created is a ‘love song to Skye’.

By coincidence, while I was out walking last Saturday, my mind wandered back nearly fifty years to my childhood street. As I walked I made a metal map of the area where I played, got shopping for my mum – or ‘got the messages’ as it was described in the local vernacular, and rode my bike.

Tenement in Marchmont, Edinburgh built in 1882.
Tenement in Marchmont, Edinburgh built in 1882. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up in a typical Edinburgh tenement flat. There was me and my five wee sisters. It was a two bedroomed flat.  So we were outside a lot. There was no garden – but instead there was the drying green – where all the residents shared clothes drying space. Strictly speaking children weren’t allowed to play there. But of course we did. There were the ‘peever stones’ – that is a slabbed path where we played hopscotch. There was the ‘big wall’ which looked down to the ‘deep garden’ and from where, if you were brave enough to sit on top, you could see into Armstrong’s (the butcher) back shop and take in the gruesome sight of animal carcasses hanging on hooks. Then there was ‘over-the-wall’. This was a lower boundary wall that separated the drying green from the gardens at the back of the big Victorian houses in the next street. We would hop over ‘over-the-wall’ and play with the friendly – but definitely posher – private school kids.

English: Angel sculpture, Morningside Cemetery
English: Angel sculpture, Morningside Cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Out front was a busy street. Across the road was the local cemetery. Or ‘hide- and- seek land’. Its gates were directly opposite our front door and we were small enough to slip through the bars. We knew all the paths, headstones and statues and it was the perfect place for hiding. Up from the cemetery was the swing park which contained ‘the tree where John fell and broke his arm’ and the ‘swing which hit wee Lizzie on the head’. On the route from park to home was the spot where ‘the collie dog bit me as I cycled past’.

On the same side of the street as our flat were – ‘the ivy wall’, the newsagent, from where I did my paper round, Armstrong the butcher’s and the mysterious Masonic hall. Down from there was the cobbler’s – this was the ‘place I cleared my throat loudly to get the attention of the cobbler when I went to collect my dad’s shoes and he couldn’t see me over the high counter because I was so wee’. And then it was the hairdresser – where I had my first hairdo for the primary school ‘qualie’ (leavers) dance. On the corner was the bakers shop and across from that the grocer and greengrocer, the sweetshop – ‘the place whose existence means I have a mouth full of fillings’ – and ‘where the dead people go’  i.e.the undertaker.

Edinburgh City Hospital, Feb 1996
Edinburgh City Hospital, Feb 1996 (Photo credit: alljengi)

At the top of the street was the lunatic asylum – yes it was still called that in the sixties – and this was the only forbidden territory where we actually respected our parents instructions and never ventured near. And close by to there was the city’s fever hospital – which I would label on my memory map as the ‘place where my wee sister nearly died of bronchitis and where me and my granny sat outside on a bench while my parents kept vigil at the bedside’.

One day I might try to draw all that childhood street stuff out on a map. Maybe it’s something you could try and/or blog about. What would be the labels on your memory map? And where would be its location in time and space?


Atlas Arts exists to facilitate innovative arts projects in Skye and Lochalsh. It offers a platform for projects that are not fixed by or to a gallery.

Portree Area Community Trust aims to stimulate the economic, cultural and environmental regeneration of the Portree area in response to community-identified priorities.

I’m indebted to the report in February 1st 2013 edition of the West Highland Free Press for the information provided there that I have used in this post.

Motive, Means and Opportunity for a Mindful & Meaningful Year

Fireworks #1
Fireworks #1 (Photo credit: Camera Slayer)

So, it’s onwards and upwards in 2013. I have the motive, means and opportunity – as the cops say of criminal masterminds –to succeed. Only in my case, I don’t plan to commit a crime – but to commit myself to what really matters in life – and especially to my writing.

The blog pause is over and I promise I put my time away to good use.

I did get some writing done but, with the small matter of Christmas to organise, perhaps not as much as I’d hoped. However, I’m not going to be too hard on myself. Last year’s mantra was ‘now’ but this year’s is ‘mind/don’t mind.’ By that I mean I’m only going to be mindful of the important stuff – the stuff that is worth paying attention to. The other stuff – guilt, pointless worrying, and other unimportant wastes of time – I’m not going to pay any heed to them.

So, on that positive note, I’m not going to mind too much that a lot of time in 2012 had to be given over to family matters, health matters and moving house as well as to the ever-increasing demands of my fulltime teaching job. That was all as it should be.

And in spite of all that stuff I did get a reasonable amount of writing done last year. I made progress with both novels-in-progress – my second adult one and my first one for children. I submitted my bi-monthly articles to the writers’ magazine ‘Words with Jam’. I also blogged almost every week. I made a new personal best, record number of sales for my novel ‘Change of Life’ and made it into Amazon’s women’s fiction bestsellers list – albeit briefly.

Other good things from last year – I read some great books – many of them reviewed on here. I spent a lot of quality time with my wee granddaughter during her first year. In July I made my third visit to Israel and had an amazing time there – also recorded here on the blog. And the visit provided some valuable research for the grown-up novel.

Edinburgh, Scotland's capital and second-large...
Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital and second-largest city (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And 2013 has got off to a good start. I spent a few days at New Year in my home city of Edinburgh. It was a lovely break made up of family, fun and fireworks.

Edinburgh: New Year fireworks 2013
Edinburgh: New Year fireworks 2013 (Photo credit: kaysgeog)

The city’s Hogmanay fireworks, which I viewed from the street outside my son’s flat, were an awesome and a fitting start for ‘WriteEnough’s’ year of living mindfully. I stayed with my son and his lovely partner and was thoroughly spoiled by them. I met with my sisters for a good catch up and spent some time with  my elderly father and auntie.

2012-12-31 12.35.55

I spent a magical morning in Edinburgh’s Botanical Gardens, one of my favourite places in this city of many magical locations.  I said hallo to the grand old Figus Sylvatica – one of three specimens of this magnificent silver-barked tree situated at the top of the Gardens. It is under this tree, looking out over the town that I would like my ashes to be scattered – but not for many years yet! I spent some quiet time in the Chinese garden section, enjoying the sight and sound of the gentle waterfalls . And I sat on the bench where I used to go and sit when I was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer and needed to get my head round the fact that I was mortal after all.

2012-12-31 12.38.09

Another highlight of my visit to the capital was going to the John Bellany exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland. Wow! What an amazing artist he is. Three of my favourite paintings were ‘Eyemouth Boatyard’ because it reminded me of childhood holidays spent near there, ‘My Father’ because it was so alive with the artist’s father’s character and ‘The Obsession’ which was subtitled ‘Whence do we come? Who are we? Whither do we go?’ in which Bellany’s desire to know the meaning of life is grippingly portrayed. And there were so many other incredible pictures, from gorgeous Tuscan landscapes to gruesome Holocaust evocations – and some truly amazing ones done while the artist was recovering from a liver transplant and contemplating his mortality. Fabulous!

English: The National Gallery of Scotland on t...
English: The National Gallery of Scotland on the Mound in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo taken by Finlay McWalter on 7th August 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And now, I’m back at school and enjoying seeing all the children and hearing about their Christmases. Some have had lovely stories to tell about their near misses almost meeting Santa Claus, hearing him on the landing outside their bedroom door or being certain they saw him cross the bedroom floor. Magic!

And as to my writing motives, means and opportunities – well – I have the means – I have my little writing den back as the granddaughter and her parents have their own home once more; I have the opportunities – as long as I choose to take them and make time for them and I have the motives – two novels almost complete and ready for editing AND –

AND – what could be more motivating for an insecure writer who sometimes wonders if she’s kidding herself about being a writer at all – than to hear (today) that I was shortlisted in the story competition jointly run by the National Library of Scotland, the Scotsman newspaper and Scottish Ballet. The brief was to rework the Hansel and Gretel story for an adult audience and to end it at the part where Hansel and Gretel go into the forest. It seems the judges liked my version. I am smugly but quietly proud.

So here’s to 2013, thank you for reading my blog and happy new year to you all.

Slainte Mhath!

Unconditional Granny

I originally wrote this piece for the Scottish Book Trust‘s ( )  ‘Family Legends’ series. My husband reminded me about it the other day and I thought it would be nice to post it on the blog – especially since I now have the privilege of being a grandmother myself.

Granny Peggy

 She died two days after my eighth birthday. It was my first experience of bereavement. The last time I saw her was in the week before she died. It was a Thursday in August. On Thursdays she got the bus across Edinburgh from her home in the Boswall area of the capital and spent the day at our house on the south side. I could never wait to get home from school to see her.

On that last evening she left her cardigan behind when she set off for home. Mum told me to take it and go after her. I called out to her as I ran along the road. Eventually she heard me and turned to wait for me to catch up. I’ve never forgotten the hug she gave me for my trouble. For a long time after she died I often thought I saw her walking ahead of me in the street. I wasn’t allowed to go to her funeral and I found it hard to accept she was really dead.

My Granny had time for me.  I was the eldest of five girls and sometimes my mother needed a break. So in the school holidays I was often sent off to Granny’s to stay. The memory of the taste of her mince and tatties with HP sauce can still make my mouth water. Lunches such as this would be followed by watching ‘The One O’clock Gang’ on the television and then a trip to the ice-cream van for a vanilla cone with raspberry.

Granny was born in 1890 when Queen Victoria still ruled the Empire.  She was one of six children in a middle class Glaswegian family. Her intellect was sharp. In more modern times she would probably have been an academic or a writer.

In any event she should have lived a comfortable life. Two world wars meant that was not the case.  During the Great War she nursed wounded soldiers. My grandfather was one of these soldiers. They married in 1920 and settled in Edinburgh. She was 42 years old when, three months prematurely, she had my mother, the younger of her two daughters.

Everybody in the Boswall area knew Peggy. There are people in the area today who still remember her. She loved to write and she loved children.  In the 1930s and 40s she combined those two loves when she wrote and directed plays for the local children. One of her motivations for doing this, apart from a love of writing, was to give her extremely shy, younger daughter a chance to come out of herself.

At the beginning of the Second World War she took a party of evacuees, including her own two daughters, from the local primary school to rural Tayside. I still have the diary in which she recorded the fascinating account of their evacuation.

My grandfather died in 1942. In order to support herself and her girls, Granny had to get a job, her first job for thirty years, at the age of fifty two. She found work as a typist in Bruce Peebles, a local engineering company. From her modest salary she found the money to send my mother to a new school which opened in Edinburgh in the 1940s. This was the RudolfSteinerSchool, offering a very different form of education to the conventional model. Granny made a leap of faith, believing that the holistic and arts-based approach that the school offered would suit her withdrawn little daughter rather well.

All my earliest memories are permeated by the presence of this formidable but kind woman. I loved to get into bed beside her in the early morning and listen to the amazing stories she told. These were stories of feisty young girls, both princesses and commoners who triumphed over injustice, trouble and their own failings. I also loved when she got me ready for bed, washing my face while I sat on the draining board at the side of the kitchen sink, telling me I was her china doll. Afterwards I was allowed to put on a little of her special, Nulon hand cream.

The plays she wrote for my mother and her friends were revived for her grandchildren. My sisters, cousins and I, along with many of our peers at school and church, took part in several shows, pantomimes and concerts – all produced and directed by my grandmother.

One of my first memories of her, is of us sitting side by side on a bench outside the City Hospital in Edinburgh. I was only about four years old. My first little sister had acute bronchitis and was receiving treatment there. My parents were with her. I had insisted on going to the hospital too, but I wasn’t allowed in. So Granny and I kept vigil outside.

I also remember her barefoot on the beach, in her seventies, playing football with all the grandchildren during family holidays at Loch Long. I recall her nursing me and my little sisters through measles and chickenpox and the doses of some sort of tonic that she inflicted on us afterwards. I remember her administering poultices for my poisoned finger and her faith in herbal remedies.

Even now the smell of roses in a summer garden takes me right back to sitting on the seat at Granny’s back door, shelling peas into a basin, and listening to her talk.

She instilled in me her own values of self-reliance, independence and compassion; more than that, she showed me the power of unconditional love. And more than forty years after her death I still carry her in my heart.

I grew up to be a primary school teacher and have put on a few children’s plays myself during my thirty years in the job. My hobby is writing. Granny’s influence lives on.

Now, with grown up children of my own, I look forward to maybe being a granny myself one day. I would be proud to be even half as good at the job as she was.