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
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.

New year, new season, new month – phew!

English: Portree, Isle of Skye (Scotland)
English: Portree, Isle of Skye (Scotland) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apologies for the absence of a post last Tuesday. It was my birthday and Mr Writeanne took me out for my dinner. We went to the Bosville Hotel restaurant in Portree and as usual, it didn’t disappoint. It was especially nice to be out on a school night and made the day feel special. I’m glad we didn’t wait until the weekend.

So another year older – eek! But getting older sure beats the alternative – something I try not to let myself forget. I am still grateful to be here and in remission from the dreaded cancer. And the upside of being this age is I’m now a grandmother. I have a nine-month-old granddaughter and it’s indescribably good. I can highly recommend moving up a generation.

In the last year as well as becoming a grandmother, I attended my daughter’s wedding, moved house, went to Israel and finished writing a children’s novel – oh and I worked full time at the day job as well.

The last month alone has been pretty full on. School went back three weeks ago and has been manic from the off.

The husband and me went to see Scottish comedian, Kevin Bridges, doing his sell out show here on Skye. He was brilliant! And it’s just so cool to see such a famous person perform here on our small island.

I’ve also attended two talks by artists in the last month. These have been part of the wonderful organisation ATLAS’s ‘Talking Art’ series. The first of the two was a talk by Frances Priest, a ceramic artist who spoke about various community projects that she was involved in. She told how she liked that her way of working on these projects took art out of galleries and let people interact with and influence the works.

Frances Priest
Frances Priest (Photo credit: Craft Scotland)

The second talk was by Chris Dooks, an artist who describes himself as a polymash. He’s an audio-visual artist – highly original and quite different to any other artist I’ve come across. He was an engrossing speaker and like Frances encouraged the audience to keep open minds when viewing or engaging with art.

Another thing I did in August was sign up to Pinterest. I’m not sure how I’ll use the site and I haven’t made time to really think about it. But something about the site just grabbed me – I love all these pictures – and I will get around to dipping my toe in. I think I may use it to ‘pin’ story ideas in pictorial form. For example I may put together a board consisting of images of possible settings for future novels and/or homes of characters.

And suddenly, it’s September. Our island is becoming less busy as the tourists depart for another season. We’ve had our first Atlantic storm of the autumn over the last couple of days – wild, wild wind and lashing rain. All the garden furniture has been put away and all loose objects secured. But as well as the wildness, there’s the mellowness. The hills and hedgerows are awash with purple heather and the light is softening. Autumn is definitely my favourite season.

For my blog of the month I have chosen Alison Wells ‘Head Above Water’ which is here on wordpress http://alisonwells.wordpress.com

Below is her own introduction to her blog:

Hello my name is Alison Wells. I’m a writer of literary fiction, some science inspired and some with a dash of comedy. I’m also a mum of four kids age 11 and under.

I’ve been shortlisted in the Hennessy New Irish Writing, Bridport & Fish awards for short stories and am a resident blogger with the Irish National Writing Website http://www.writing.ie

Here I blog about writing and headspace and do interviews with busy people who write. I also post my short fiction.

My favourite mode of transport is the TARDIS.

I recently won The Big Book of Hope Ebook Fiction Prize.

I read Alison’s book ‘Housewife with a Half Life’ recently. It’s a clever and funny piece of science fiction. And her blog is a great one for writers – especially for those of us who write in our ‘spare’ time.

And I leave you with a quote from a board on Pinterest ‘If you’re lucky enough to be different, don’t ever change. Nice one.

The Best Laid Schemes…

‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley’ so said Rabbie Burns in his poem ‘To a Mouse‘. And for me and the husband our plans went awry on Friday. As I said in my last post, we were planning to go away on holiday to Ireland. Bags were packed, fridge emptied, washing up to date, house all clean and tidy. Then the horrid lurgy that Mr Write Enough had been battling for a fortnight came back – bigger and nastier than before. Half the village have had this yukky virus and it leaves its victims with a hacking cough and feeling generally low. There was no way he could travel – so we had to cancel. Of course this was very disappointing for both of us but it was the right decision.

The good news is he’s on the mend (touch wood) and we plan to  go to the big metropolis 🙂 of Inverness  (200 miles away on the Scottish mainland and our nearest city) tomorrow for a bit of shopping and R&R. Even better, we’ve booked into our favourite hotel in the town for the night – the Best Western’s Lochardil House – a lovely, comfortable place with excellent breakfasts.

So, here’s hoping that the snow and the artificial-UK government-created petrol shortages don’t cast our latest getaway plan into disarray…

This week’s photos were taken this morning when I took my constitutional meander through the village. The wind was a fierce, razor-sharp north-easterly, but it was a beautiful day. I walked up the small hill known locally as the Lump, where rabbits scampered at my feet as I took in the view of the snow-covered Cuillin ridge and the bay at low tide.

 

The Craic from Packing Cases to a Housewarming Turbot…

English: The North Cuillin ridge from Portree.
Image via Wikipedia

So, where was I? Ah, yes, moving house. It’s done. Hurrah! We’re exhausted, but it’s done. It was quite a bourrach for a while there. But now the boxes are unpacked and it’s good to be reunited with all our stuff that’s been in storage for the last seven months. It’s also good to bring our nomadic existence to an end. Once more we have a home of our own. There’s still all the pictures to put up and some new curtains to be made – but mostly everything is in place.

We have surplus furniture in the garage, but I’ve already managed to sell some of it by advertising on the local free ads page on Facebook. Still got a couple of wardrobes to go and then there will be space for the ‘Big Beamer’ – otherwise known as the husband’s motorbike. Needless to say there will never be space for the car to go inside.

We have had a great incentive to get on and get the house organised as our daughter, her husband and our gorgeous eleven-week-old granddaughter are coming to stay on Thursday for a long weekend. It’s hard being three hundred miles away from them, so I’ll be making the most of the visit.

I still can’t quite get over the fact that I’m a granny but I absolutely love this new status. The love you feel for a grandchild is as, if not more, intense as you feel for your child – but it’s also different – in an (for me) inexplicable way. We’re also very glad that my very dear father-in-law got to meet his wee great-granddaughter before he passed away so suddenly in January. His passing has left a large gap in our family life, but his children carried out a most poignant and fitting funeral service for him where we felt his presence more than his absence.

My new study is very comfy. I’ve commandeered the fourth and smallest bedroom as my lair. It looks south over the garden to the Portree hills and the Cuillin ridge beyond. I think I’ll be very content to write in this room and I’m so grateful to have a room of my own. My writing has been so disrupted over the last few months – with one thing and another – that it will be good to finally get back some rhythm and momentum. My children’s novel is ‘finished’ (first draft) and is fermenting quietly in the background. My second novel for adults is almost finished the first draft stage and that is my priority. Then it will be back to the children’s book to start the rewriting process.

I still write for Words with Jam – the bi-monthly writers’ mag – haven’t missed an issue and am so proud to be associated with Jane Dixon-Smith’s most marvellous creation. Next edition is out in April (available both in e-format and paper copy) and the theme is storytelling. After my visitors leave, I must get  on and write my next piece.

The island continues to be almost permanently swathed in grey. It’s hard for us Hebrideans to believe that there’s a drought in parts of England. We have had almost unrelenting rain, wind and dreichness for many weeks now. The bairns at the school are hardy though. We make sure they’re well wrapped up and out they go in all but the most foul of weathers. But the children – and the rest of us – desperately need to see some sun. It would be nice to go for a walk without all the waterproof gear on.

The current main concerns for many islanders are – lambing in a few weeks time, the Co-op’s plans for expansion in Portree, the possible arrival of one of the ‘big boy’ supermarkets, the continued practice of some companies to charge outrageously for delivery to the island – we have had a fixed road connection to the mainland, i.e. a bridge, for many years now – and the change over from the Crofters’ Commission to the Crofting Commission – yeah, spot the difference?! We can only hope the new governing body for crofting is less bureaucratic and more efficient and crofter friendly than its predecessor.

Oh – just been interrupted by a knock at the door. Scuse me.

Windowpane flounder

Aw, our next door neighbour is a fisherman and he’s just handed in a humungous turbot. He told me there’ll be plenty more. The kitchen smells of the sea – incredibly fresh fare – Mr T was swimming in a loch this afternoon. Right must go – have to look up turbot recipes on interweb.

Oidhche Mhath/Night Night.

PS if you’ve spotted/been puzzled by the muckle amount o’ guid Scots words in this post – that’s because I watched a braw wee programme on BBC2 Scotland the nicht a’ aboot the Scots language. It was called Scots Scuil and followed six Scottish bairns who spent a week at a special residential Scots school and developed their abilities to talk, sing and write in the language. I was fair ta’en wi’ it, so I was.

 

Woman cannot live by view alone

Map showing the Hebrides: Orkney and Shetland,...
Image via Wikipedia

No regrets. Me and Mr Anne lived in a lovely, spacious and
comfortable house. We’d spent a fair bit of money getting it up to 21st
century standards and put in hours of work creating a wonderful, wildlife
friendly garden.

The view was truly stunning. A panorama ranging from the
mountains of Harris in the Outer Hebrides across the Minch to the north; the
entire Trotternish ridge across Loch Snizort to the east; and to the south the conical
peak of Ben Tianavaig.

 

First time visitors often panicked as they drove ever
northwards to try and find us. They’d arrive grumbling about us living in the
back of the back of beyond. And then they’d walk into the living room and see
the view from the large window. Then, silence. We learned not to expect any
sensible conversation from our first-timers for quite a few minutes as they
just stood and gawped. Then they’d say, “Now I understand why you live here.”
The utter beauty of our location really defied description. The crofting
township where we lived is small. Around thirty houses sitting on the
characteristic long narrow strips of land known as crofts. Each croft providing
the ground for subsistence farming. Our crofting neighbours kept sheep, goats,
highland cattle and hens.

Sea eagles, golden eagles, and hen harriers could all
be spotted soaring above the loch and dolphins, porpoises and minkes regularly
swam in its waters. Roe deer would run along the bottom of the crofts as dusk
fell – making light work of the deer fencing.

And the winter skies – were big
and bright with stars. No street lighting meant the Milky Way, the
constellations and the planets were clearly visible. What’s not to like?

Being there wasn’t a problem. It was at times idyllic and, even
in the worst of Atlantic gales and storms, it could be exhilarating. No, being
there was fine – but the trouble was we couldn’t always be there. We work in
the main town (population 2500) which is a 30 mile drive – 10 of them on single
track road – from where we lived. The nearest supermarket is in the town along
with all the other necessities of modern life. The winter drive on unlit,
ungritted, narrow twisty roads was a challenge – especially when tired after a
long day at work. And the monthly petrol bill was around £250.

So we’ve moved to town. And we’re loving it. We can walk to
the shops, to work, to the pub. I have a social life. I can relax at work and
not fret about what the weather’s going to be like for the journey home.

Great Britain, Skye, Portree
Image via Wikipedia

No, we don’t have a house yet. We’ve moved 4 times in 4
months – short let to short let – lived with the minimum of stuff and lived out
of bags and boxes. And you know what – it wasn’t as stressful as it sounds.

I was quite proud of myself – that I could make a home out
of only the most basic stuff – and live in relatively small spaces – and be
perfectly happy. In some ways it was quite liberating to realise that if some
catastrophe took away everything I owned, I’m capable of surviving – even without
the internet.

But, yes, now it is nice to be in a bigger rental place, to
know we’re settled for six months and to have some of our stuff out of storage.
And yes, it would be nice to once more have a place of our own. But in the
meantime I know I can cope.

Portree by Night
Image via Wikipedia

I love being here. The decision to move was difficult – but it
was right. I’m not missing the old place at all – much as I loved it at times.
But woman cannot live by view alone. So no – no regrets.