Burns Supper Time

Haggis, Whisky and a Toast Tae the Lassies


  (image via shutterstock.com)

Robert Burns (1759- 1796)

Yes, it really is a year since I last wittered on about Burns’ Night. Said night is nothing to do with standing too close to a bonfire and ending up in Accident and Emergency. Rather, it’s the night when Scots and Scotophiles, both in Scotland and around the world, commemorate the life and work of Scottish poet Robert Burns.

A Burns’ supper is held annually on the 25th January to commemorate his birth. Haggis is eaten and whisky, along with some of the guests by the end of the evening, is drunk. Speeches are made, Burns’ songs are sung, and his poetry recited.

I’ve blogged about the traditions involved in the supper and given examples of some of the best known of Rabbie’s songs and poems in previous posts. If you’re attending a supper and you aren’t sure what to expect, or have to a speech to make, you might find it helpful to read those earlier posts.

Let’s hear it for women

In my 2014 post there is my own version of a Toast to the Lassies. This is a speech usually made by a man in honour of women. Burns had a romantic view of the world and of women, but he was also an unfaithful husband and womaniser. Of course times have changed since Burns’ day. Women have made progress in terms of equality with men, but even now in 2016 women have a way to go to attain full equality of earnings, opportunity  and respect. So if I was proposing a toast to the lassies today it would involve asking for a concerted effort on the part of everyone to improve the lot of women worldwide. Here endeth the politics.

Burns’ poetry and what’s involved in a supper

In 2015’s post I described the format that’s usually followed at a Burns’ supper and I also wrote about the man and his work. He wrote romantic, philosophical and political poems and songs.

He also wrote an epic thriller of a poem, Tam O’Shanter, which is one of favourite pieces of his work. My other favourites are the romantic song Ae Fond Kiss and the political and, satirical poem A Parcel of Rogues about the pre-United Kingdom, Scottish parliament.

A Toast

So, in honour of Scotland’s – so far unsurpassed –  national bard, I raise a wee dram of whisky to all of you who drop in here to read my scribblings. Here’s tae ye all Lassies and Laddies. Slainte Mhath, Your Good Health! and Thank You.

Do let me know in the comments if you’re going to a Burns’ Supper this year. Will you be proposing one of the toasts? And do you have any favourites among his poems and songs?

Displacement: From the Hebrides to the Middle East and back

The reasons behind the plot and settings of my second novel

Displacement Cover MEDIUM WEB - Copy

When I wrote Displacement, I wanted to explore what knocks people’s lives off course, what pushes them out of their normal place and space. I also wanted to examine the consequences of both physical and emotional displacement. In other words i wanted to look at what happens when people are forced by circumstances to change their location – both external and internal.

At the emotional level, I wanted to explore the displacement caused by grief, betrayal, illness and ageing and I’ll share more of the background to this in a subsequent post. But I also wanted to explore the long term consequences of physical displacement, of what happens when people are forced to abandon their home and culture in order to stay alive – and that’s what I’m looking at in this post.

When I came to write Displacement, three examples of the forced movement of people were in my mind – two from the relatively recent past, and one that has existed since the 1940s and continues to the present day. The first was the forced eviction of people from their land in the north of Scotland. The evidence of the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries is still visible today. And this, combined with the earlier punitive measures put in place by the victorious Hanoverian side following the Battle of Culloden, meant that Gaelic culture came close to being eliminated. The wearing of tartan was outlawed as was speaking Gaelic. The organisation of Highland society by the clan system came to an end and thousands of Scots were forced to emigrate to Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand.

The second example of the forced displacement of people that I had in mind was the much deadlier clearance of a whole culture that was wrought in Nazi Germany. I saw an item on Scottish television marking the 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport that took place just before the second world war. This happened when Great Britain agreed to accept 10,000 Jewish refugee children from Germany and Austria. The children were taken in by British families and most never saw their parents again as they died in the Holocaust. Some survivors of the Kindertransport were interviewed about their experiences of arriving in and growing up in Scotland in their adoptive families. Their stories of stoicism and survival made quite an impression on me.

And the third example is that of the plight of the Palestinian people displaced from their homes by the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948 following on from the end of the Second World War.

I brought the three together in Displacement by making the late mother of the main female character, Rachel, a Kindertransport survivor who was taken in by a family in Glasgow and who later married a native of the Isle of Skye (in the Scottish highlands) and settled there. Rachel lives on Skye, but her brother has followed his Jewish heritage and emigrated to Israel-Palestine.

And because of the significant emotional upheavals in Rachel’s life, she decides to visit her brother in his adopted homeland and see if she too can find a renewed sense of home by being there.

Hence the action in the novel moves between these two very different places and addresses many layers and levels of displacement as Rachel tries to decide where in the world her future lies.

And I was able to describe both settings from experience.

I’m a Scot and I live in the Scottish Hebrides so I’m steeped in that environment and its history. The wild and often challenging landscape, the resilience and resourcefulness needed to survive here, and the still visible evidence of whole townships abandoned and left to crumble when the inhabitants were forced off their land – all lend themselves to the exploration of the themes of upheaval and displacement .

I’ve also been to Israel-Palestine several times. It’s a country that fascinates me and it’s certainly no stranger to upheaval.

My link with the Middle East dates back to when I was fourteen and to my high school days in Edinburgh. A new girl joined the class and I was the one who volunteered to look after her. The new girl was Revital and she was an Israeli. Her father was doing a PhD at Edinburgh university and had brought his family with him for the duration. Revital and I quickly became friends. So much so that after she and her family returned home we kept in touch and in 1975 during my long summer holidays from university I travelled to Israel to visit her. As she was doing her national service at the time we could only meet up at certain times, so I worked on a kibbutz for a bit and did a bit of travelling. The kibbutz was on the Golan Heights – something I didn’t tell my mother who was worried enough about me visiting what she saw as a very dangerous country. I wasn’t worried though; I had the invincibility of youth. And I was smitten by the place – its beauty, its ancient landscape and its vitality.

I’ve revisited since then. One trip was in 1993 and coincided with the optimism which followed the signing of the Oslo Accord. The Palestinian flag flew from balconies, houses and cars – something that would have been illegal before the Accord. The atmosphere was relaxed, peace seemed to have been established. Revital and her husband were activists for the peace settlement and knew there was still a lot of work to be done, but were hopeful that they could now live and bring up their children in a new, constructive and co-operative society with all their neighbours regardless of background, religion, or race. Fast forward to my most recent visit in 2012 and the situation had deteriorated to worse than before 1993. All optimism for a peaceful and fair settlement was gone. Revital and her husband continued to work for a peaceful solution, trying to raise awareness amongst their Israeli friends of the true plight of the Palestinians. Her husband, an academic has written several books on the subject and speaks on it all over the world. You can view one of his many talks here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qblO4u0pF9M And Revital is part of Machsom Watch – who in their own words are

a volunteer organization of Israeli women who are peace activists from all sectors of society. We oppose the Israeli occupation in the area known as the West Bank, we oppose the appropriation of Palestinian land and the denial of Palestinian human rights.  We support the right of Palestinians to move freely in their land and oppose the checkpoints which severely restrict Palestinian daily life.

 And amongst other things they, ‘conduct daily observations of Israel Defense Force checkpoints in the West Bank and the hamlets in the Jordan Valley.’ (taken from the Machsom website at http://www.machsomwatch.org/en/about-us)

When I visited in 2012 I accompanied Revital on one of these checkpoint observations. It was a bit scary – I’ve not been that close to a soldier on active duty before or to an automatic weapon – but it was an interesting and enlightening experience. Palestinians, including the elderly, the sick, and the pregnant are given a lot of hassle while just trying to go about their ordinary daily business such as visiting family or attending hospital appointments.

So all of the above was in my head as I wrote the novel and I incorporated some of my own experiences into the story – from Rachel’s life as a crofter to the realities of life in the Middle East.

Footnote re current refugees:

I’m not a historian, a politician or an activist, so I wrote simply as a human being reflecting on the plight of other human beings and on the injustices of enforced displacement inflicted by some of us on those we perceive as ‘other’.

But, as I mentioned above, I’m only too aware of the plight of refugees from Syria right now as they try to get Europe. I’ve donated to charities and written to my MP – as I’m sure many of you will have – and I will continue to do whatever else I can to help, albeit in a small way. I’m particularly proud that my relatively small and remote community is, as I write this, collecting desperately needed items for those refugees and as soon as there’s enough to fill the articulated lorry that is on standby, these items will be driven to Greece for delivery to those who need them.

So by way of acknowledging displacement as an ever-present and often devastating fact in human life, I thought I’d end by including the cartoon below. It has been shared a lot on social media recently in relation to the recent deaths in the Mediterranean and to the refugee crisis in general. (The cartoon is actually from 2014 and was created Australian cartoonist and fellow wordpress blogger Simon Kneebone, in response to the time when boatloads of people were trying to reach Australia from Indonesia.)

Refugees-pic-edited

 

The Silver Locket: – 21st century schoolgirl meets Bonnie Prince Charlie and he needs her help.

The Silver Locket

Out now paperback and e-book. Online and in bookshops
Out now paperback and e-book. Online and in bookshops. Published by Rowan Russell Books

The Anne you know from this blog had a previous life. Oh yes, I’ve not always been Anne Stormont, old bat and writer. I had an earlier incarnation, pre-wifehood, as Anne McAlpine.

So it seemed fitting, when I was looking for an author name to go by when writing for children, that I resurrect my younger self. And guess what? She’s only gone and written her first novel for children.

Cue fanfare and skirl of bagpipes-

‘Bagpipes? Why Bagpipes?’ you say. Well that’s because I guess you could describe the novel as a sort of modern day Alice in Outlander Land – only it’s Caitlin not Alice and it’s suitable for children and––oh, anyway you get my drift––or you will if you read on.

Yes, The Silver Locket is published and available for sale in paperback and as an e-Book.

I wrote it mainly for nine to twelve-year-olds, however, I hope anyone who likes a story with a bit of history, danger and time-travel in it will enjoy it.

It’s set in Scotland and tells the story of three twelve-year-old friends from the 21st century who travel back in time to 1746 and the Battle of Culloden.

Battle of Culloden monument
Battle of Culloden monument

Blurb alert – try reading it in the voice of that bloke who voices the film trailers––it’ll get you in the mood and you’ll not be able to resist the urge to read the book––

The Battle of Culloden, 1746, and Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite cause are defeated. Can three young friends from the 21st century ensure he escapes and that history stays on track?

It’s the last week of the school holidays and twelve year old Caitlin Cameron is bored. But when her new childminder turns out to be the eccentric Bella Blawearie, otherwise known as Scary Lady, everything changes.

Scary Lady lives up to her name. She seems able to read Caitlin’s mind. She sees visions in a snow globe and tells the time from a patchwork clock.

And things get even weirder when Caitlin and her two best friends, Lynette and Edward, accidentally open a time portal in an old tree and are hurled back through time to the eighteenth century.

They find themselves caught up in the blood-soaked aftermath of the Jacobite defeat at the battle of Culloden, and discover they’re there for a reason. A reason Scary Lady knows all about.

But all the friends have is questions. What is the significance of the silver locket passed to Caitlin by her grandmother? Can the locket help them ensure Bonnie Prince Charlie makes the right decision about his future?

And if they fail, will Scotland’s history books rewrite themselves, meaning  Caitlin and her friends will not even be born?

Join them in their 18th century adventure as they make new friends, encounter great danger and strive to carry out their mission.

Now before you dash off to your local bookshop to buy it, or fire up your tablet to get it online, just wait a minute and I’ll give you a bit of the background to how I came to write it.

First of all of course, as for many of my fellow Scots, the chapter of  Scottish history headed The Jacobites, sub-heading Bonnie Prince Charlie, is one of my favourites. What’s not to like?  A stirring cause, a handsome prince, gruesome and bloody battles, a stunning and dramatic backdrop… Need I go on?

Culloden Visitor Centre, Inverness, Scotland
Culloden Visitor Centre, Inverness, Scotland

Then  a couple of years ago, when I was still a teacher, I went with a class of Primary 6 children to the amazing Culloden Visitor Centre  in Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. It’s a wonderful museum built at the site of the battle – do visit it if you get the chance. It also has an excellent education unit. There, me and the  children got to dress up as Jacobites and Redcoats, and we re-enacted parts of this important battle on the actual battlefield. And inspiration struck. I had one of those ‘what if’ moments and I thought, ‘what if we were all suddenly transported back to the time of the real battle?’ And that was it.

Yes, the rest truly is history.

 

The Silver Locket by Anne McAlpine is available from your local bookshop – just ask them to order it if it’s not in stock. It’s also available online from Amazon (click on image of book above to be taken to it in the Amazon UK store), both as a paperback and as an e-book. It is published by Rowan Russell Books.

 

 

 

 

Timeout Tuesday – Pictures from Mossyard and Gatehouse of Fleet

Gatehouse 025

As I said in the post previous to this one, the Open Book was quiet yesterday and the weather was good so we closed the shop early yesterday and went for a walk.

We headed for the pretty town of Gatehouse of Fleet and walked in the Cally forest there.

Gatehouse 005

On our way to Gatehouse we stopped off at Mossyard beach. It is one of the smallest but prettiest beaches I’ve ever been on. And it had the most amazing assortment of rocks. Geologists look away now as I’m about to describe said rocks and I know nothing of geology. There were what I think was large piles of basalt, chunks of marbly granite and pieces of sandstone. There were rocks with layers, with marbling, with folds; some were smooth, some were jagged; there were grey ones, black ones, pink ones and creamy ones.

Gatehouse 010

Gatehouse 006 Gatehouse 004

In the Cally forest the ground was carpeted in snowdrops, the river was running high and the trees were just beginning to bud.

Gatehouse 024

Cally Forest Walk
Cally Forest Walk

Gatehouse 017

Three Cheers for Burns’ Night

Robert Burns image via shutterstock.com
Robert Burns
image via shutterstock.com

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Sunday the 25th of January will be Burns’ night. This is the occasion when many Scots, at home and abroad, plus a fair number of non-Scots, celebrate the life and work of the Scottish bard and poet, Robert Burns, by hosting or attending a Burns Supper.

I blogged about Burns previously in 2013 and 2014, where amongst other things I wrote my own toast to some of the lassies in my life.  But this year, I thought I’d do a post for those of you who don’t know about Burns and give you a flavour of his work and also give you the lowdown on what on happens at a Burns Supper.

The man and his poetry:

Robert Burns was born in Ayrshire in Scotland on the 25th of January 1759. He worked firstly as a farmer and then later as an excise man, collecting government taxes. But of, course it is as a poet that he is known and remembered. He was well known in his own life time and had he lived now I reckon he’d have enjoyed the celebrity life, appeared on the chat show circuit and been part of the line-up on satirical, comedy panel shows. He certainly had what we think of now as  rock-star qualities. He was both a hard drinker and a womaniser. And it’s thought that drink played a part in his early death aged only thirty-seven.

 

My grandmother's book of Burns poems, now mine, from circa 1900. Rebound in leather by my father, a bookbinder, circa 1965
My grandmother’s book of Burns poems, now mine, from circa 1900. Rebound in leather by my father, a bookbinder, circa 1965

 

His large collection of wonderful and memorable poems and songs whose subjects include the romantic, political, satirical and fanciful ensured his place in Scottish literature as the Bard. He wrote both in Lowland Scots and in English. Some of his poems were based on older Scottish folk songs and others were later set to music. So his work is both recited and sung.

As I said above his poems and songs cover a wide range of subjects.

He wrote beautiful, poignant and heart-rending love songs to the women and places in his life including: A Red, Red Rose, Afton Water, Ae Fond Kiss and My Heart’s in the Highlands.

He also produced  harder and sharper verses that were critical of the hypocrisy, inequality and pretentiousness he saw in church and politics and amongst the wealthy.  Holy Willie’s Prayer is one example where the sanctimonious Willie confesses all sorts of sins that he’s sure will be forgiven, and begs for all sorts of punishment on his neighbours. There’s To a Louse where the poet pays tribute to the lowly wee bug that has crept out of the bonnet of a well-to-do lady seated in front of Burns in church and in the poem he also asks that some higher power would grant people the power ‘to see oursels as others see us’ thereby making everyone a lot more humble.

Front pages of the above book
Front pages of the above book

He himself displays some humility in the poem To a Mouse where he apologises to a little mouse that he has startled while ploughing. He laments the destruction of the mouse’s carefully constructed home and its imminent exposure to the harsh weather. He laments too that Man interferes with and spoils Nature. But then he seems to turn more to his own situation and, in a very famous quote, rues the fact that ‘the best laid schemes o’ Mice and Men gang aft agley’ (meaning the most careful plans often go wrong). And he finishes by suggesting it’s actually all right for the mouse because, being a mouse, the creature only lives in the present, whereas Burns must look back on a sad and dreary past and look forward in fear to an uncertain future.

Burns’ more bleak side is also on display in his patriotic poetry. In Scots Wha Hae, where the poet takes on the persona of Scots king, Robert the Bruce, rallying his troops as they prepare to fight the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Burns presents the gruesome reality of battle as a price worth paying. As a song it’s certainly stirring stuff.

And then, in the angry Such a Parcel of Rogues, he makes a scathing attack on the Scots politicians who in his view sold Scotland’s independence and future to England in the  1707 Act of Union which saw the end of Scotland’s parliament.

In a further display of versatility Burns also wrote the fantastical thriller of an epic poem entitled Tam O’Shanter. The eponymous hero is riding home rather drunk on his trusty horse, Maggie when he comes upon a ghastly scene unfolding in a graveyard. The graves have been disturbed and the coffins stand open with the bodies on display. There are warlocks and witches dancing, and even the devil himself is in attendance. Laid out on a table are all sorts of murder weapons. Tam horribly fascinated conceals himself and watches the ghastly but wonderfully described scenes. Then he gives himself away. Having been rather taken by an unusually young and pretty witch, he shouts out to her and is then pursued by the whole gruesome and terrifying horde. He only escapes when he rides Maggie over the river and the witches cannot follow. Though poor Maggie pays the price with her tail, which is torn off as she and Tam approach the bridge and their final escape.

One of the illustrations from the above book. This shows 'Cutty Sark' (meaning short shirt) the name Burns gave to the young witch in Tam O'Shanter poem. Note the devil in the background.
One of the illustrations from the above book. This shows ‘Cutty Sark’ (meaning short shirt) the name Burns gave to the young witch in Tam O’Shanter poem. Note the devil in the background.

But my personal favourite, spoken or sung, is A Man’s a Man for A’ That. In this poem Burns appeals for equality. His assertion is that a person is a person is a person, regardless of creed, social class or whatever. The final plea ‘That man to man the world o’er shall brithers be for a’ that’ has rarely had more relevance than it does today.

The Burns Supper:

The Burns Supper takes place on the poet’s birthday on the 25th January. It is always a convivial occasion, but it will depend upon the age range of the guests just how raucous proceedings might become. It’s one of the nice things about Burns Suppers that they can include a whole range of ages from school child to adult. Indeed the Burns Supper is often a fixture of both Primary and High school calendars. Sometimes it’s just children and teaching staff who attend but often it’s pupils, teachers, parents and other members of the school’s local adult community. Other hosting bodies might be sports or social clubs and of course many people host a Burns supper in their home for family and friends to attend.

It involves a traditional Scottish meal, some drinking of toasts, lots of recitation and singing, some speeches and will often end with some good old traditional Scottish Country dancing. It’s a great Lowland version of the Highland ceilidh.

But it’s not just thrown together. A Burns Supper follows a set pattern although the atmosphere can be anywhere on the spectrum between convivial and riotous. The meal itself will usually be soup, such as Scotch broth, followed by **haggis, neeps (mashed swede) and tatties (mashed potatoes). Liberal amounts of whisky and ale will also be available. The format is usually as follows:

Order of Events

image ©spline_x via shutterstock.com
image ©spline_x via shutterstock.com
  • Everyone gathers and the Master of Ceremonies (MC) makes a welcoming speech and invites everyone to be seated at their tables.
  • The MC says the *Selkirk Grace.
  • Soup is served.
  • Parade of the haggis – chef brings in the haggis accompanied by bagpipe player playing ‘Brose and Butter or another traditional tune.
  • Pre-chosen speaker reads/recites the ‘Address to the Haggis’ and then splits open the haggis with a dirk or large knife. Offer of a whisky to the piper, chef and the ‘haggis reciter’.
  • Main course served and eaten.
  • Pre-designated speaker makes a speech dedicated to ‘The Immortal Memory’. Thi speech usually references Burns’ life and work and his continuing relevance to contemporary issues. Toast to Rabbie.
  • Pre-designated speaker gives toast ‘To the Lassies’. This is a light-hearted, sometimes teasing, but ultimately appreciative speech about women in general followed by a toast to the women present and to women in general.
  • Pre-designated speaker gives the reply to the Toast to the Lassies. Nowadays this will be most often done by a women and will include some humorous ripostes to the preceding toast.
  • Interval and clearing away of the tables before everyone regathers.
  • A recitation by pre-designated reciter of one of Burns’ classic poems e.g. Tam O’ Shanter
  • Invitations to ‘the floor’ to recite or sing a Burns poem or song – often done by children.
  • Scottish Country Dancing
  • Closing remarks by MC
  • All sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’

 

If you’re attending a Burns supper this year, do enjoy it. If you’re organising one – well done – and try to enjoy it.

Slainte Mhath!

 

* Words for the Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat, and some wad eat that want it, but we hae meat and we can eat, and sae the Lord be thankit

**Haggis is the national dish of Scotland. It’s very tasty,  but best not to dwell on what’s in it, just go with ‘King of Sausages’. It also comes in very tasty vegetarian form too.

Useful websites for more information:

Scottish Poetry Library

Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

Burns Scotland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A subversive old bat looks at the thistle…

 

©Martin Fowler/Shutterstock.com
©Martin Fowler/Shutterstock.com

 

(with apologies to poet Hugh MacDiarmid for the misquote above)

I prefer emblems to flags and patriotism to nationalism…

Thistles grow in the wild and in gardens. And like her emblem, Scotland is strong and adaptable. Life persists in the economic wastelands as well as the richer business districts. Last week Scotland’s people, rich and poor, young and old, voted. Regardless of how they voted, theirs was a vote for change.

It has now been a week since the declaration of the result of the referendum on Scottish independence. It has been a week of celebration for some, but of grief for others. The question asked was ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ Those who voted no, 55% of those who voted, were the ones reaching for the champagne, delighted that Scotland would be remaining part of the United Kingdom. Those who voted yes, who wanted Scotland to be independent of the UK and to have complete self-determination were gutted.

But is it now business as usual for Scotland? Will the status quo of the pre-referendum campaign era return?

I would answer no to both questions. It must be no, has to be no, regardless of the outcome of the vote. Why? Because the very act of having the referendum, of the unprecedented level of engagement with the questions raised, of the inclusion of 16 and 17 year olds in the voting process, of having a record 85% turnout of people placing their cross on the ballot paper–– has changed us, has changed Scotland. And I believe it has changed Scotland for the better. I even dare to hope it will change the whole of the UK for the better too. I hope people power, the grassroots, bottom-up approach to policy making and to politics that was reignited by the referendum, catches on throughout the UK . I hope all of us get a fairer, less centralised deal.

And besides that there’s the matter of the last minute promises made by the Better Together campaign. The major devolutionary measures (or Devo Max) promised to Scotland, including full tax-raising and spending powers have to be delivered if the three UK political parties who made the promises are to maintain any credibility. And I suspect it’s not just in Scotland that their credibility will be questioned if they fail to deliver. Who could ever trust them again?

Lots has been written and spoken about the above by wiser more qualified people than me. I’ve been particularly impressed by two of Scotland’s newspapers in their coverage pre and post referendum. The no-supporting Scotsman and the yes-supporting Herald offered fair, insightful and informative journalism throughout.

All I can offer is a personal reflection on the process. Like her emblem the thistle, Scotland now stands straight and tall. The well- documented Scottish cringe is nowhere in sight. My overwhelming emotion when I consider the referendum is pride. But it’s pride mixed with humility and gratitude.

I’m proud that the debate prior to the vote was largely carried out in a civilised and respectful manner. I’m proud and grateful that not only such a large proportion of voters turned up to vote, but that we live in a country where it’s possible to do so. And that’s the most humbling thing. Scotland (and the rest of the UK) gave a great show of democracy in action just by having the referendum. Not only were the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democratic politicians of the UK given a sharp, panic-inducing reminder of what people power means and what it can do, but other countries such as China could only watch open-mouthed at our demonstration of what it is to be free.

©Volina/Shutterstock.com
©Volina/Shutterstock.com

Yes, it’s all relative and Scotland seeks even more freedom from within the UK setting. Yes, there seems to be a feeling throughout the UK that federalisation and decentralisation of power from Westminster to the regions is the way forward. And yes, UK politics needs to be less about the vested, maybe even sinister and hidden interests of those who fund the main parties, and more about the interests of the people. Bottom up has to be the way to go.

But looking out at the rest of the world, how can we not be proud, grateful and humble.

Looking out at the Ukraine, Gaza, Syria, Iraq or South Sudan–– to name only a few–– is to gaze on a chilling prospect.

©spline_x/Shutterstock.com
©spline_x/Shutterstock.com

That’s why I believe the Scottish and the British have a lot to be grateful for and have something very precious that we must never take for granted. I think the main legacy of the referendum for all Scottish voters is the reminder it has given us about those very things. So let’s hold onto that, let’s keep working to make things better whatever side we were on, better for us and better for the rest of the world. Let’s not allow our politicians off the hook. Let’s not be cowed and return to the status quo. We have ability, power and freedom. Let’s cherish them, extend them and use them for the good of all.

 

 

 

 

Tae the Lassies – or – Let’s Hear it for the Ladies

This is a supplementary post to the usual monthly magazine in honour of Scotland’s national bard or poet Robert Burns

Robert Burns

 

This year Burns’ suppers will be held on Saturday 25th January all over Scotland and the wider world wherever ex-pat Scots are to be found. It’s a time when the Scottish people  traditionally hold a special dinner of haggis, *neeps and tatties* and drink a wee dram or two of **uisige beatha** to remember our greatest poet, Robert Burns and his work.

Burns was a ladies’ man, a philanderer and would nowadays be given short shrift by any sensible woman. But he was a romantic and a charmer and he did seem to genuinely like women, so I can kind of forgive his lack of fidelity. His were different times. And nowadays it can often be boys and men who find it hard to work out where their place is in society – certainly in settings other than the workplace. Feminists quite rightly have made their mark. I count myself as one of their number – as a child of the sixties, and one of five daughters, how could I be anything else? And we continue to push to improve the lot and treatment of women. My fervent hope for my granddaughter’s generation is that by the time they’re grown-up, if not before,  there will no longer be a need for feminism as a political movement, that all of us male and female, will be judged by who and what we are and not by our class, age or gender. I hope the two sexes can share a truly mutual respect and friendship for and with one another. I think my toast this year  is to the lassies and the laddies. Lets hear it for humanity. Cheers/Slainte! 

 

Below is my post about Burns and the ladies from January last year:

In this week’s post I’ve decided to verbally toast all the most important women in my life. Why? Well, because this week sees the commemoration of a poet who was very fond of the female of the species. Let me explain…

On Friday it will be Burns night. No nothing will be on fire.  Friday the 25th January 1759 is the birth date of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. So popular and successful was he as a poet that every 25th January his life and work are remembered and celebrated. He is Scotland’s national Bard. But it’s not just in Scotland that he’s known. There are Burns clubs all over the world. And there can be very few people who have never at least heard, if not sung, his most well known song, Auld Lang Syne’.

Burns was from Ayrshire and he was a farmer and excise-man. He was fond of drink and women. He died aged 37 and left a large body of work of poems and songs in both Scots and English.

On Friday night there will be Burns suppers held in schools, hotels, clubs and homes. The menu will be haggis, neeps and tatties (neeps=turnip of the large yellow variety, tatties=potatoes) washed down with whisky in many cases. The proceedings will follow a set pattern. There will be speeches and toasts – one to the haggis, one to Burns’ Immortal Memory and one Tae the Lassies (to the ladies).

And that last one has got me thinking about which particular lassies I would want to mention if I was proposing the toast.

First would be my maternal grandmother, Peggy who I wrote about here. She was such a positive influence on my early life and made up for my rather distracted and weary mother’s lack of time for her children. She instilled in me a love of words, storytelling and writing that has never left me and she made me feel very special.

My mother though not especially maternal in her child-rearing, instilled a work ethic and stoicism in me that has stood me in very good stead over the years. She raised a large family with very little money. She had a paid job – long before it was the done thing for mothers to work outside the home. And she was an amazing role model for independent and self-sufficient womanhood.

Next would have to be my four sisters. All are amazing, strong, loving women.

Sister number one was, after thirty years working in business, made redundant just once too often and she changed tack completely to become a personal carer. She earns a pittance working for her local authority but by providing care to elderly, sick and vulnerable people she makes it possible for these people to stay in their own homes. She has never been happier at her work.

Sister number two had to face early and tragic widowhood, but she rebuilt her life and has raised two fine young men. She is a pre-school teacher and she too loves her work.

Sister number three left school with no qualifications but didn’t let divorce and single motherhood prevent her from gaining a degree in nursing and building a successful career in that profession, in one of Scotland’s busiest and biggest hospitals.

And sister number four has also had to cope with redundancy – her husband’s and her own –whilst raising her sons on an, at times, very tight budget. She also spends a huge amount of her time looking after our elderly and extremely difficult father – for which she deserves sainthood and a medal.

Next there is my feisty daughter. Born with cerebral palsy and a steely determination, she grew up to become a veterinary nurse, wife and mother. She doesn’t think of herself as disabled and has always met every challenge head on.

And of course there’s my one-year-old granddaughter – who is of course the most beautiful, most intelligent and most adorable baby ever born 🙂 

And then there are all my most fabulous friends – my support network of very different and very amazing women. I’ve come to know them across every phase and location of my life – school, university, work, motherhood and neighbourhoods. They’re intelligent loving and loyal. I couldn’t live without them and I hope they know who they are.

My grandmother was born in the 1890s, I was born in the 1950s and my granddaughter was born in 2012. From Granny’s time to now, women’s lives have changed out of all recognition. I can’t imagination how life will be for my granddaughter’s generation of women. But there’s one thing I hope doesn’t change – and that’s the wonderful, life-enhancing support that  the lassies offer one another.

So here’s to us all. Here’s tae the lassies. Cheers, ladies.

* mashed swede and potatoes. ** whisky.

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.

Tae the Lassies – or – Let’s Hear it for the Ladies!

Champagne!
Champagne! (Photo credit: f-l-e-x)

In this week’s post I’ve decided to verbally toast all the most important women in my life. Why? Well, because this week sees the commemoration of a poet who was very fond of the female of the species. Let me explain…

Robert Burns inspired many vernacular writers ...

photo credit – wikipedia

On Friday it will be Burns night. No nothing will be on fire.  Friday the 25th January 1759 is the birth date of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. So popular and successful was he as a poet that every 25th January his life and work are remembered and celebrated. He is Scotland’s national Bard. But it’s not just in Scotland that he’s known. There are Burns clubs all over the world. And there can be very few people who have never at least heard, if not sung, his most well known song, ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

Burns was from Ayrshire and he was a farmer and excise-man. He was fond of drink and women. He died aged 37 and left a large body of work of poems and songs in both Scots and English.

On Friday night there will be Burns suppers held in schools, hotels, clubs and homes. The menu will be haggis, neeps and tatties (neeps=turnip of the large yellow variety, tatties=potatoes) washed down with whisky in many cases. The proceedings will follow a set pattern. There will be speeches and toasts – one to the haggis, one to Burns’ Immortal Memory and one Tae the Lassies (to the ladies).

And that last one has got me thinking about which particular lassies I would want to mention if I was proposing the toast.

First would be my maternal grandmother, Peggy who I wrote about here. She was such a positive influence on my early life and made up for my rather distracted and weary mother’s lack of time for her children. She instilled in me a love of words, storytelling and writing that has never left me and she made me feel very special.

My mother though not especially maternal in her child-rearing, instilled a work ethic and stoicism in me that has stood me in very good stead over the years. She raised a large family with very little money. She had a paid job – long before it was the done thing for mothers to work outside the home. And she was an amazing role model for independent and self-sufficient womanhood.

Next would have to be my four sisters. All are amazing, strong, loving women.

Sister number one was, after thirty years working in business, made redundant just once too often and she changed tack completely to become a personal carer. She earns a pittance working for her local authority but by providing care to elderly, sick and vulnerable people she makes it possible for these people to stay in their own homes. She has never been happier at her work.

Sister number two had to face early and tragic widowhood, but she rebuilt her life and has raised two fine young men. She is a pre-school teacher and she too loves her work.

Sister number three left school with no qualifications but didn’t let divorce and single motherhood prevent her from gaining a degree in nursing and building a successful career in that profession, in one of Scotland’s busiest and biggest hospitals.

And sister number four has also had to cope with redundancy – her husband’s and her own –whilst raising her sons on an, at times, very tight budget. She also spends a huge amount of her time looking after our elderly and extremely difficult father – for which she deserves sainthood and a medal.

Next there is my feisty daughter. Born with cerebral palsy and a steely determination, she grew up to become a veterinary nurse, wife and mother. She doesn’t think of herself as disabled and has always met every challenge head on.

I also have a lovely daughter-not-in-law – my son’s partner of several years. If you could design a perfect partner for your son – then she’s what you’d come up with – sweet, loving and just right for him.

And of course there’s my one-year-old granddaughter – who is of course the most beautiful, most intelligent and most adorable baby ever born

And then there are all my  fabulous friends – my support network of very different and very amazing women. I’ve come to know them across every phase and location of my life – school, university, work, motherhood and neighbourhoods. They’re intelligent loving and loyal. I couldn’t live without them and I hope they know who they are.

My grandmother was born in the 1890s, I was born in the 1950s and my granddaughter was born in 2012. From Granny’s time to now, women’s lives have changed out of all recognition. I can’t imagination how life will be for my granddaughter’s generation of women. But there’s one thing I hope doesn’t change – and that’s the wonderful, life-enhancing support that  the lassies offer one another.

Champagne Mumm
Champagne Mumm (Photo credit: e_calamar)

So here’s to us all. Here’s tae the lassies. Cheers, ladies!

Subversive rants and grateful raves

It’s the second Tuesday of the month so it’s whine and whoop time. I’ll start with my gripes and save the goodies till later.

The grumpy, cynical and subversive bits of my old bat personality are well and truly stirred up this month. I hardly know where to start. So deep breath, focus and here goes…

Politics – or rather UK politicians – when did they stop being political? Was it in the 1980s? Did Thatcher strangle the passion out of them? And by naming the blessed Margaret, I’m not trying to be party political. I’m getting at the whole blooming lot of them, regardless of affiliation.

Being a politician is now, more than ever before, a career. Politicians are no longer driven by a passionate commitment to change or preserve things for the greater good – whatever their perception of that greater good might be. Now it seems to be about personal ambition, promotion, power and fame. Of course these ‘perks’ have always been part of the motivation and reward for success in politics – but it seems to me that they’re now the sole motivation. Posh boys dominate on all sides and it’s all more X-Factor than solid apprenticeship and hard slog. All of them take the short-term view, basing decisions on what will work for them during their short tenure – and to hang with the long view of what will be best for their constituents in the long run.

As for Scottish politics – good grief! It’s embarrassing. There’s wee Eck Salmond’s vanity project a.k.a. the campaign for independence. In Scotland we are subjected to a cynically controlled trundle towards the 2014 referendum. Meanwhile almost one in four Scottish children live in poverty. Yes, it’s relative poverty and not the absolute poverty of a child in famine hit country in Africa. But that doesn’t make it acceptable. Some of our youngsters eat only one meal a day i.e. their free school lunch – with some having nothing between the Friday one and the Monday one. Some parents are going without food themselves in order to feed their children.

And local politics are no better. I live in the local government area with the most scattered population in the UK i.e. the Highland Council area. The council is currently holding a series of budget consultation meetings which the public are invited to attend.  However these meetings have been poorly advertised and held in the evenings at a wet and windy time of year in places with no public transport during the day, never mind in the evening. They have also been held on only one evening in each location. Oh, and in an area where the council is a major employer, employees like myself aren’t allowed to express an opinion in public about council business. So I can’t comment personally on what is up for discussion but I’m told that’s what’s causing the most consternation is the proposal to save money by cutting the school day for primary children. Draw your own conclusions on this one.

And breathe…

So to the good bits – my wee granddaughter continues to be a joy. Nine months old already and what a privilege it is to see her every day. She and her Ma and Pa are living with me and Mr Writeanne as they’ve relocated to Skye and are awaiting the sale of their flat before they can get a place of their own here. It’s so fascinating watch her develop – something new every day. I wonder anew at the amazingness of the human brain and its capacity to learn and develop.

This weekend me and Seanair (Grandad) will be in sole charge of the grandbaby as her parents are away for the weekend to celebrate their anniversary. Can’t wait.

In other good news stuff – On the writing front – I got my entry sent off for the Mslexia magazine children’s novel competition. I feel a great sense of achievement just to have got it to this point. I’ll know in November if it’s got to the shortlist. I’ve also completed my contribution to the October issue of Words with Jam, the writers’ magazine. I’m proud to have contributed to every issue of this magazine since its inception. I also just received my second royalty cheque for the kindle version of my novel. That’s quite a buzz. And now the competition deadline for the children’s novel is past, I can leave it to one side for a while and get back to my second adult novel. My writing keeps me sane and is my anti-stress drug of choice. I love my day job teaching children with special needs but it is exhausting at times. However, I always find the energy to write no matter how tired I am.

Another positive is that autumn is my favourite season and I am enjoying the softer light, the turning of the leaves, the nip in the air. This year the heather is particularly magnificent with all the hills sporting a gorgeous purple blanket. And a wee robin has taken to visiting the garden feeder on a regular basis – so that and the selection boxes in the co-op gives an intimation of end of year festivities.

And that’s it. Gosh that feels better. Thanks for listening.

Tioraidh till next week!