Thursday, 19 May 2016

across the fields for afternoon tea - stories from my grandma's photo album

Darvel, Aug. 1933

"That was taken at my grandmother's house. She was Jean --Jeanie. Mum's name was Annie, and she hated it, she hated the Annie, so she changed it to Anne and it stuck. She was called after her Aunt Annie." 

"Grannie had a wee greenhouse at the back, you know - a wee lean-to against the wall at the lane. Oh, I used to go up the hill at Darvel, what we called the Pond Brae --there was two ponds for curling and skating right up the top-- I used to go up to get tomato plants for my grannie. There was a nursery up there -- little thinking of my future with greenhouses and tomato plants!"

"These two were my mum and dad. That's when they were on their world tour -- they were away for about six months. I stayed with grannie."

"Now that was Prestwick shore. We came down to there for a month in the summer. We stayed in a hotel beside the station, near the golfcourse. That's me walking down the golfcourse side with an ice-cream. Now that doll came from Japan. It had a wee stand. And those dresses were from when we had dancing displays [at school]."

"We had picnics at Loudon Hill. Can you see my wee dog there? A wee black scotty dog called Exya. I called her that because she was born on the day of the Glasgow Exhibition opening. She was a lovely dog."

"That's Dickie - she was the head girl of the school --Great Moreton. Her cat was called Tito, after the Yugoslav president at the time. That's Mirelle, Jessie and myself --we were all around sixteen. I was wearing my winter coat from Great Moreton. It was a big country house. It had been made into a school. I went there from Wellington in 1944; I was there for two years. It was a nice school. But shortly after I'd left, Mrs Butterworth moved the school to Robie Hall. There's a big picture upstairs of the whole school. There was a tower, and the last year, four of us slept in the tower, and nobody bothered us because there was quite a narrow stair to come up. There was an empty room above us, and we would sit up there and smoke --and the odd glass of sherry!"

"Old Moreton Hall is a National Trust building now. On a sunday the prefects were allowed to walk across the fields to have afternoon tea in the dining room. When the rising bell went we had to get up and ring a bell around the dormitories to get all the other little horrors up. It was an actual bell --a handbell."

"Once we had a 'spider dance' --don't ask me why it was called that-- in a part of the building round the corner from the entrance, and the headmistress was asked, probably the last term we were there. We were all walking back round the path...this bedroom window went up and Ms Paton the maths teacher, she called out: "Girls! What are you doing up at this time of the night?" And a small voice was raised from the middle of the crowd: "It's alright, Ms Paton. I am with the girls." It was Ms Butterworth [the headmistress]. And SLAM, down went the window. She cracked the glass! I don't think we were very popular with Ms Paton after that..."

"That's Margaret Macfarlane and me, and Ms Jeffrey from Wellington. She was an awful clever girl. Anything she touched, she was good. That must have been before I left Wellington. We were doing our Saturday shopping in Ayr, but we had to have a teacher with us."

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

granny came to meet us - stories from my grandma's photo album

"Mum started that [photo] album for me when I was knee high to a grasshopper. I don't know who that first one is, on the beach. I never got around to asking gran...your great gran."

"That's Lizzie the maid, and me. That's me and my grandmother - at grannie's back door. I still have that pram cover; used by all of our three, and you. These were all taken at grannie's back door in Darvel. We stayed with granny for a while. I don't know much more about Lizzie. We had her with us for quite some time. She came to help more or less with me. She was a maid and she was my nanny. Maids in those days all wore uniforms, like that. If you were a maid in a house, that was your uniform."

"I never knew my grandfathers: my grandfather or my step-grandfather. That's granny had two names...she was Mrs More, and then she was Watthews. He came from Nottingham actually, from the lace industry. And in those days...I think he wanted my grandmother as a sort of housekeeper to live in, and in those days a lady didn't stay with a gentleman unless they were married - so they got married!"

"This one's in Hendon, 1929. I was one then. I can still remember the name of the house in St Albans - that's it there: Tregenna. That's a clothespole with a kangaroo tied to it - a plastic kangaroo. I don't know why - probably my toy. I couldn't tell you how long we stayed there for, probably about a year."

"That's on the beach in San Francisco. We had to wear sunhats, oh yes, everyone wore hats. The girl is June Prince - she was the daughter of some friends' of my parents in San Francisco. She looked after me, oh she was a good bit older than me obviously."

"That's the patio of the house in Sausalito. And that was the garden. Yes, I had a [peddle] motorcar! That was my motorcar. I think it was green. That was a lovely pram, the wicker one. Dimples was an American doll. I must have been about two years old when I got her. When we came back from America, we got off the train at Kilmarnock...Granny came to meet us. The porter handed Dimples out the train and granny was quoted as saying, "Annie never telt me about this yin!" She thought there was another [child] she didn't know about."

"That was when we were coming home on a boat called the Annie Johnson, crossing the carribean sea. And that was me in the swimming pool on board. Not like the posh ones you have nowadays. There's a picture of me with two sharks in the background, which the captain said had to be overboard by the following morning. I don't know who caught them - one of the crew probably. That's the purser with me. I'm chewing a sweetie in my cheek -probably he gave me a chewy caramel."

"I'll tell you something. I loved that pool. They would come to get me out, and I'd paddle over to the other side - I was naughty! The pool was about 6 feet deep, I couldn't touch the bottom. I don't know where my mother was, but probably the purser came and got me out - eventually!"

"That's the garden at granny's house, and that's the factory behind the greenhouse, the lace factory. My grandfather was a lace designer. I used to go into the factory, nip up the stairs to his room -he had his own office- and he would fling me a bit of the special squared paper saying, "Draw me a design, Jean." And I had a great time colouring." [Jean McCallum, March 2016]

Sunday, 18 October 2015

a mad god's dream

"But Edinburgh is a mad god’s dream 
Fitful and dark," - Hugh MacDiarmid (1892–1978): “Edinburgh”

So I travelled to Edinburgh. Every time I visit my capital city, I step up out of Waverley Station and think all this is only two hours away from me, and people travel halfway across the world to see it...

I love Edinburgh, and I particularly love the quote above by Hugh MacDiarmid. It describes Edinburgh perfectly, and I like to tramp about the city, the words curling around in my head, imagining myself walking through some marvellous and bewildering landscape. Despite it being October, the main streets were still full of tourists, and I was glad to escape to Leith, where the doors are guarded by lions and foxes, and ghostly tailors still advertise their wares above modern shops. I soon found my destination, about half-way down Leith Walk, and I was welcomed into the flat by Hope, and a large, white, wolf-like dog. I was offered a glass of beer by Hope's flatmate, Anouk, and sat down to rest my feet and admire the kitchen. There was a big black stove, a window looking out onto the garden, a rocking chair AND a rocking horse. Yes, a proper rocking horse, with real horse-hair, leather straps, and bright paint.  I'm so jealous.

Artistic, imaginative, and more than a little quirky, the flat decor suits both its occupants down to the ground. Hope is a journalist and writer, who is currently working on her first novel, and Anouk crafts fantastically beautiful fabric dolls. I've linked to both their blogs so you can go and see their work for yourself. It was lovely to sit chatting about art, books and creative things, while listening to music and eating plates full of spaghetti, slowly getting sleepier and sleepier. The next morning, (which was lazy and full of croissants, honey and tea) I headed off to a photography exhibition at NMS. On the way, I found this chap setting up the stall for the Edinburgh Tool Library. They can be found at the Leith Walk Police Box on Croall Place, every Saturday, from 9am -1pm.

The idea is that instead of buying expensive tools that will maybe only get used once or twice, groups or individuals can join the library and borrrow the equipment they need. The organisation will also provide training. After a quick chat and a photo, I continued on my way. Entry to "Photography: A Victorian Sensation" cost me £10 and I could go in and out as I pleased from 10am-5pm. Although  (ironically) photography was not allowed in the exhibition, they did have 'selfie spots' where visitors where encouraged to take photos of themselves and tweet them. Despite not having a twitter account, I made FULL use of the dressing-up facilities and spent rather a lot of time posing in front of the mirror. Funnily enough, after removing the heavy Victorian-style skirt, I felt practically undressed going about in my normal clothes. I'd discovered the exhibition through Joan Lennon's post on The History Girls blog. You should go and read her brief review of the exhibition, and see if it inspires you to go too! I studied the history of photography at uni, making the first part of the exhibition an excellent exercise in what I'd remembered...or forgotten. The part I liked best, however, was looking through all the old photos. Cleverly, although the actual photos were on display in the cases as well, the exhibition designers had provided viewing boxes with the digital images, allowing you to zoom in and out of the photos at your leisure.

 Later, I met up with my younger brother,who is studying at Edinburgh, and he took me to Teviot, his student union. Safe to say, it was far better than MY student union, which was a sixties monstrosity. This one has a restaurant in the old library, with all the books still safely behind the original glass cases. There were leather chairs, and nice corners to sit in, and a twisting staircase that looked like something out of Harry Potter. The food to be expected. Cheap and filling, but nothing to write home about. I had pasta - my brother had 'The Balmoral Burger' (which is a venison and haggis burger to the uninitiated...) After lunch, I marched him along to the museum, on discovering that -despite being in Edinburgh for two years- he'd never been. 

Back at the flat, preparations were under way for a 'Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness' autumnal party. Hope made chocolate brownies, measuring ingredients out in bowls; Anouk made a spicy chorizo stew. We started on the wine. Guests arrived, two little children included, who fell on the rocking horse with glee (the youngest one poking at the horse in confusion, saying 'button...button?' to her mummy. It was gently explained that this toy didn't have a button to make it go.) 

I'm not really a party person, but everyone was so friendly, and I found myself talking to illustrator Joanna Robson and doll-artist Crystal, while tucked in a corner beside the music. It was great to eat good food, relax and chat - but my busy day and walking around the city caught up with me, and I crept away to my cosy little bedroom under the stairs. 

Next morning, I had time for a quick wander around the Out of the Blue Drill Hall, which was running an eco-fair that day. It was full of people: some manning stalls, some enjoying the food at the award-winning cafe, and others standing around chatting - a real buzz in the atmosphere. I particularly liked the selection of locally made artwork available: the drill hall offers studio space, as well as training courses and running a whole hosts of shows and events like this eco-fair. The wall outside was brightly painted too - with these fantastic, shamanic-style murals.

My final stop before catching the train was to grab some refreshments at Artisan Roast on Broughton Street, recommended by barista Anouk, although she wasn't working that day. I ordered a rose petal and black pepper hot chocolate, a blueberry and coconut cake, and headed through to 'the mooch', which is the comfy retreat at the back of the coffee house, with a wood-burning stove (alas, unlit), leather cushioned couches lining the walls, and a guitar hanging up, just in case anyone wanted to play a little music. I found it was easier to write and eat at the same time by sitting on the floor with my back against the couch. No one batted an eyelid. A girl was asleep at the other side of the room. My fellow 'moochers' were a real mix - students, young parents, gently ageing hippies...

In this atmosphere, I managed to write another 500 words of Northspell (which will be appearing soon), demolish the beautifully light and fruit-stuffed cake, and finish ALL of my hot chocolate. I couldn't taste the black pepper as much as I had thought I would, but perhaps it subtly combined with the rose-petal to mellow the richness of the chocolate. All in all - a perfect place to relax, with great sweet treats and hot drinks. I'll definitely be back.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

[Northspell 11] a friend of thieves

They arrived at an unassuming wooden door set deep into the cliff wall. Despite being out of breath, Gia rapped a complicated series of knocks on the rough wooden surface. Almost immediately, the door swung open and all three children tumbled inside. The first thing Irena noticed was the fact that it was deliciously cool away from the heat and dust outside. As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she began to see strange shapes appearing out of the corner of her eye. Baskets of all types and sizes hung from the low roof, and guttering oil lamps swung from iron hooks or sat in stone niches carved into the wall. They cast more shadows than actual light.

"Who's this then?"

One of the large shapes unfolded itself from the darkness and siezed a nearby lamp, bringing it close to Irena's face. She wrinkled her nose at the strange smell.

"Oh, we stashed the dibs on her and the guards thought she was one of us." Gia explained, turning round from looking out of a spyhole in the door.

"We brought her down on the bales." Arkel added, shoving an elbow into Irena's ribs in a conspiratorial manner. She pulled away and put her hands up to cover her face briefly, pressing her fingers to her eyes.

"I want to go back. Take me back." She said, in a small tight voice.

The big woman laughed, but not unkindly, and a heavy arm was placed around her shoulders. "You can't go back now, not that the guards have marked you out. Why, they'd have your hand off as soon as look at you. Best to lie low for a while until they forget your face, chicken."

Irena wanted to cry but remembered just in time about behaving like a princess should, and choked back her tears. Instead, she was sick at the feet of the woman in front of her.

Arkel leant over with interest. "I've never seen anyone spew purple before...are you ill? Is it infectious?"

The woman cuffed him away and wiped Irena's mouth with a small cloth that had been tucked into her belt. "Feel better now?"

Irena, shivering, nodded her head slowly. Now that she'd adjusted to the temparature inside, it didn't feel so nice, and she had little raised bumps all over the skin on her arms and legs.

The woman covered the mess on the floor with sand from a bucket and shovelled it into a big woven basket by the door. "You been eating anything you shouldn't?"

"A boy gave me some bread. And I had some fruit in the square. The man was angry."

"Angry, eh? What did you do?" She took the bucket of sand and passed it to Irena, "Here, put that over the floor for me."

Irena dipped a hand into the bucket and scattered a handful of the dry sand. "I didn't do anything. At least...I was hungry, so I ate some berries. He said I was a thief, but I'm not a thief. A thief is..." she turned to look at Gia and Arkel, both of whom were staring at her. Gia had her fists on her hips, and Arkel had his arms folded.

"Did you pay?"

"You ARE a thief!"

Gia and Arkel spoke at the same time, Gia with her lip curled scornfully, and Arkel with something like delight in his voice.

Irena dropped the bucket, the sand spilling out onto the stone floor. "I'm not a thief, or a northwitch, or a gutter-rat or a...a... a chicken."

The woman's laughter filled the whole room. "Now that's more like it. But you're wasting my good clean sand, girl. You sweep the rest of that up and I'll fix the three of you something to eat, how's about that?"

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

[Northspell 10] Not quite the very best thieves in all of Astia

(Ok, next part of the novel-writing challenge. I'm trying to do at least 500 words a day, but I didn't manage yesterday so here's 1000 instead. Warning - unedited inkvomit ahead.] 

It turned out that Arkel, as well as being a thief, could also be economical with the truth at times.

"Wait until you see where we live," he'd boasted to Irena as she followed him and Gia out of the courtyard and down a flight of steps. " Just you wait - it's the best hideout this side of the river."

Gia made a rude sound, like a horse snorting. "I'm not so sure about that."

"It is too." Arkel shouted back, running on ahead, "C'mon, hurry up or we'll miss it."

Irena looked at Gia. "Miss what?"

Gia started to run as well, and Irena was forced into a trot to keep up, her bare feet stumbling in the sandy dirt. She turned a corner and ran straight into the back of Gia, who grabbed hold of her sleeve and pulled her down into a crouch behind some stacked bales of fabric. Just in front of them, the street surface dropped away, with only small wooden platforms and a shaky staircase filling the gap. Hundreds of feet below, the river was like a strip of ragged grey silk, flecked with white. The wooden slats of the staircase were old and worn, and the only handrail was a sagging rope attached at intervals to the wall with rusty metal fixings.

Irena scrambled back from the dizzying sight. "I'm not going down there on that! It doesn't look safe at all," she cried out.

Gia jumped on her, and shoved a hand over her mouth to keep her quiet. Arkel smirked, "Don't worry, we're not going down on the shakeway."

There was a rumbling sound, followed by creaking. He pointed up over his head, "We're going on THAT."

Above them, a last great bale of fabric was being loaded onto a large wooden platform. It began to descend, slowly at first, but gathering more speed as the momentum built up. Arkel got up from the ground and turned to grin at Irena. "Ready?" He eyed up the platform, and tensed his muscles in readiness for the jump. Just before the bale drew level with their ledge, he sprang forward and grasped hold of the network of ropes lashing the fabric bundles to the wooden base. He waved one hand triumphantly to the girls. One of his feet slipped and he quickly brought his hand back, "Oops..."

Gia stood up, looked around, and gave Irena a quick push forward. "Your turn now."

Irena gazed in horror at the swaying platform in front of her. It lurched from side to side even with only Arkel's slight weight as he wriggled onto the top. She took a step backward and Gia shoved a hand at the base of her spine. "You need to be quick. Jump."

The top of the bale platform was now level with them. Irena took a deep breath and a running jump forward, clutched at the rope and promptly shut her eyes tight. Arkel slapped her on the back and crowed in delight.

"Move over!" Gia called down. She shimmied down the rope and hopped off beside them. The bale had sped up slightly with their combined weight. Irena squealed and slid down the rope to sit on the bale, while Arkel sat on the edge and dangled his legs over the side.

"You can open your eyes now, " said Gia.

Irena opened one eye a crack and immediately closed it again. The ground had swung about far below them as the bale rocked back and forth perilously close to the cliff wall. It was better to keep your eyes shut.

"Our stop's coming up soon." Arkel said, hanging off the side of the bale by his hands.

"Show off, " muttered Gia, with a look at Irena. "She's not even looking at you, you know."

Arkel scrambled back up. He nudged Irena with his foot. "Go on, open your eyes, scaredy. Bet you don't dare, bet you."

It occured to Irena that it wasn't very princess-like to clutch at the rope quite so tightly. And it certainly wasn't dignified to be prodded and poked at and made fun of by a dirty little boy with no manners. She opened her eyes. "I'm NOT scared," she said defiantly, carefully loosening her grip on the rope, "I just didn't want to get dust in my eyes. That would be painful." And that wasn't an out and out lie, because no one wanted to get dust in their eyes. It just wasn't the only reason.

"Oh, you just blink that away," Arkel reassured her, as Gia gave a short burst of laughter.

Trying to ignore the lurching in her empty stomach, Irena peered cautiously over the side, her fingers still curled tightly around the rope.

"See?" said Arkel, appearing over her shoulder. "It's quite impressive, really."

The steep cliffs of the river gorge now towered above them on both sides. Wooden platforms, stairways and houses clung to natural stone projections, linked by flimsy looking bridges that drooped in the middle as if flagging in the heat of the day. But the sunlight only reached so far down the cliffs - the rest of the journey was cast in shadow as the sun slowly disappeared out of sight. There was something mesmerising in the swiftly passing scenery, and Irena almost relaxed her grip a little - at least until Arkel broke the silence.

"Here's where it really slows down, just before it goes into the dyehouse, see?" He pointed to one of the thin wooden platforms that jutted out from the cliff. The rough-hewn beams supporting the platform projected out beyond the surface, and Arkel hopped off easily, followed by Gia, with Irena clutching tightly to the back of her shirt.

As the bale passed the beams, it rang a small metal bell.

"Time to go," said Gia, skidding across the platform. There was the bang of a wooden door from below, and a voice called out, "Hey, Inran - those brats are riding the bales again. Want me to grab 'em for you?"

"Run." Arkel said, grabbing Irena's wrist and pulling her along after him.

Monday, 14 September 2015

[glory brats] moving day

(Gah. Think of this as the writer's equivalent of preliminary sketches. I have a terrible problem with editing as I write, and then taking half an hour to write one sentence, so with this I tried really hard to just let the words stay as they are, constantly chanting to myself: adverbs are shorthand for 'I will fix this in the re-draft, not now, I will fix this later, not now, Tell in the first draft, Show in the re-draft...' -- I'm just messing around with the characters and seeing how they work together for now. But I'm not even supposed to be working on this story; I'm meant to be writing the first draft of Northspell, which I actually have a full plot worked out for. *sigh* Anyway, my new challenge is 500 words a day, so here goes. Which character is your favourite? I'm feeling a bit like Tekla at the moment, to be honest...)

Sparrow kicked a tin can out of the way and watched it roll to the opposite wall. "We're gonna have to move. M'fed up tripping over your stuff, Zed."

Zed was behind the counter, instructing Adee on his latest project. "But I need it all!"

"Didn't say you had to get rid of it, did I? I said we need to move. Get a bigger place." Sparrow waved an arm at the mess. Blankets spilled out from Tekla's corner, now grudgingly shared with Emmy. Zed's scavenged cans, hooks, and bits of wire were scattered over every surface as he tried to spot just the right bit for Adee to add to the contraption. The only bit that could be described as tidy in any way was the food box, which Bee guarded jealously from the others. She spent ages running her fingers over and through the different compartments, reciting the names to herself in a singsong voice "...driedpeas and rosemary and gardenpotatoes and tinnedcherries and oatmeal..."

"What, what was that?" Tekla emerged from her blanket fort, pushing the sleeping lump that was Emmy out of the way.

"We're moving." Adee's voice was muffled as he did a forward roll out from behind the counter, "I'm moving, you're moving, we're all moving all the time!"

"We're moving." Sparrow said firmly.

Tekla groaned, "Don't want to move. I like it here." But she said the words automatically, because you couldn't just agree with everything that big sisters said.


The move was planned carefully. Sparrow took Zed out on a scouting mission, while Bee took over the task of packing, 'helped' by Adee, who was forced to stay inside by the sun. Adee gathered all their things on the floor, and Bee patiently dissected the haphazard piles into manageable bundles. The next task was to remove Tekla from her bed for long enough to shake and fold the blankets. Emmy retreated to the corner with a spoon and happily babbled away to her reflection, but Tekla hunched the blankets over her head and refused to budge.

Bee sighed and tried to find Tekla by patting the top of the blanket. It lunged forward and snapped, "Grrr, I'm a wild Outsider fighting dog and I'm going to bite you."

"No you're not," said Bee. "You're a four year old girl called Tekla."

Tekla peered out from under the blankets and made a face, "Now I'm baring my teeth at you. You're supposed to scream and run away," she added helpfully. "And then I can chase you."

"But I'm not scared of you," Bee said, drawing her hand back in confusion.

It was Tekla's turn to sigh. "It's a GAME, silly."


Sparrow and Zed returned full of enthusiasm for the new place.

"We need to leave soon, though, before it gets too dark. Oh good, you've got all our stuff."

Adee, Tekla and Emmy all had packs of decreasing sizes securely fastened to their backs. Bee had the canvas rucksack slung over both shoulders, and hugged her arms protectively around the food box. Sparrow eyed her doubtfully.  "Won't...won't you need your hands free to feel your way around?"

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

[glory brats] sparrow crumbs

A handful of scattered writing crumbs for you to peck at...

The Sparrow looked down on the city from the rooftops. It had rained in the night, leaving pools of water everywhere that were slowly shrinking in the sun. The empty streets lay out before her like a school-book map. She put a hand over one eye and traced the route with an outstretched finger of her free hand. She talked quietly to herself.

'There. That's the way we want to go.'

Tekla crawled out from under their makeshift shelter and rubbed her eyes. 'Don't wanna go anywhere. Food first.'

The Sparrow hopped down from the wall, landing on both feet with a bump. 'Nup. Not happening.'

'Foooood.' Tekla made a face. 'Food, food, food...'

'Shut UP. We haven't got any food, right? So we need to go someplace that does have food.'

It was quiet. Zed was used to silence, but this was too quiet. He lay on his bunk staring at the white ceiling, counting all the cracks in the paint before he realised what was missing. The hum was gone. Now that he'd noticed, the emptiness seemed to fill his ears. He propped himself up on his elbow and shifted his legs to hang over the side of the bed, his feet hovering just above the floor. He slid off, using his hand to steady himself. Something about the door was wrong, like the silence was wrong. He went over to investigate, sliding his feet across the tiles and putting out his hand to stop himself crashing into the door. Under his weight, the door swung open and he fell into the corridor, sprawling across the floor at the feet of a tall dark-haired girl with a wrap across her eyes. He kept quiet, because that was what you did when you met new people, and he was good at that. She kicked him in the side, not hard, but he rolled away onto his stomach and scrambled to his feet, pulling himself up by the door handle.

'What did you do that for?'

She turned her head in the direction of his voice, 'Where are you?'

He held his breath and edged slowly backwards. She followed him along the corridor, feeling her way with her hands. He backed into a door and reached for the handle, but it wouldn't open.

Bett cleared the table and took two cups from a shelf at the back of the room. They were fragile looking things, with a thin, wavering rim and a pattern of painted flowers under the network of cracks that spread across the glaze. Mirren picked one up while the Outsider woman was busy at the stove. It was chipped and uneven in form, the pattern worn down by years of use and cleaning. The base was criss-crossed with scratches and marks. She tapped it with her fingernail. It gave a dull ‘ting’ that ended abruptly as she set it down on the table.