Sunday, 26 June 2016

Fighting the horror

Rosa 'Albertine'

What has happened to my country?  Why have fear, racism, isolationism won?  Some golden vision of a Britain that never existed was sold, and is even now being reneged on.  "We didn't exactly say that there wouldn't be any immigration..."  I can't sleep and if I take stock of what I've eaten in the past 3 days it's been crisps, toast, beer and tea.  I am European.  I thought my children were going to grow up Europeans.  Worst of all, there will likely be a second Scottish independence referendum.  All I can do is cultivate my garden - including this rose with a fittingly French name - love my family, and be kind to other people.  Wherever they originate.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Knitting under protest

A protest knit on the Mound, Edinburgh

Protest knitting is well established in Edinburgh.  The pink scene above is from a few years ago now.  My daughter and I chanced upon this protest in action when we were in town one Saturday.  It was very striking, and an expression of soft power that made us stop and think.  My daughter thought from a safe distance while I took the standard embarrassing mum photos closer up.

Lamenting the failed appeal to save Canonmills Bridge from developers

And recently this sign appeared on a nearby bridge.  After a lengthy appeal process, local opposition to the forthcoming demolition of the current bridge and its hugely popular wholefood shop and restaurant has taken the form of a crocheted protest blanket.  I thought it was knitted, such is my ignorance, but I was kindly put right on Instagram that it is in fact crochet. 

Woolly creations are everywhere.  The floral panel below is on display currently in Braemar, having decorated a nearby bridge over the summer. 

Panels by Deeside Nitwits decorated the bridge in Braemar
 Sometimes I feel as if there's no escape from knitting.  It's even out there in sensible hillwalking sort of places like Braemar!  So many bloggers and Instagrammers knit!  And I don't.  I categorically don't -  I'm emotionally allergic to it.  The feel of knitting needles and wool in my hands drives me into a sort of fury.  There's a very good reason for this - the experience of being taught to knit in primary school.  In my small rural school, back in the 1960s, the girls were taught to knit in primary 3, at age 7.  I don't remember now what the boys got to do, lucky things.  Probably hammering nails into bits of wood.  The primary 3 teacher was stern, a noted disciplinarian.  It came as a shock after the two years of infant classes.  The same approach extended to the teaching of knitting.  You might think that the first attempt at this new skill would be something easy - a never-ending scarf, for example.  But we were launched straight away on a two colour tea cosy.  Five stitches one colour, five stitches the other colour.  We kept the balls of wool in jam jars, supposedly to stop them getting entangled.  Mine of course rushed together with a fatal attraction.  A dropped stitch was a major incident - of course I had many major incidents.  The result was that my tea cosy took shape very, very carefully, and very slowly.  Each stitch was pulled tight so that the whole tea cosy squeaked as I pushed it along the needles.  My slow purgatory continued all year, until a month before the end of the summer term when the teacher suddenly realised that if 3 terms = 1 side of tea cosy, 4 weeks was not going to = second side of tea cosy.  So my classmate Jane was deployed to knit side 2.  Jane was a very fast knitter.  Speed came at something of a cost, to my aesthetically critical eye, as her tension was very slack and loopy.  Those of you who are knitters (i.e. everyone) will know where this is going.  My inhibited, cowed half was somehow stitched together with a free and easy, letting-it-all-hang-out thing twice its size.  I'm not sure how it was displayed in the end of term 'show of work' in the classroom.  I remember that it kicked around in the bottom of the kitchen cupboard at home for a few years, along with the hot water bottles and dusters.  Oh, and it was blue and yellow.  Five stitches blue, five stitches yellow.

The following year I have no memory of what we had to knit, except that we had to knit something, and it was very boring and took me the whole year.  Towards the end of the summer term my mother suggested that I might bring it home and do some of it in the evenings (waste of time to my mind, when I could have been off up the hill with the dog, or reading).  This worked well for a few days, until the teacher asked how my knitting was coming along.  Naively I replied, 'Oh it's fine, I should be finished tomorrow night'.  For the sin of Taking My Knitting Home, I received 10 whacks on the hand with a ruler.

And so it continued.  Primary 5, 6, 7.  No memory of what was knitted.  All thankfully erased.  Sewing was a lesser torment at that point, as it involved stitching round and round a square of fawn cloth with holes in it. I'm sure my classmates were moved on to more interesting things - the apron that every 9 year old longs to wear, for example - but I was happy to be labelled 'remedial'.  From Primary 5 onwards I perfected having a book on my lap and reading while very occasionally jabbing the needle into the fawn square on my desk. Very risky, but worth it.

Age 12 and secondary school.  We knitted a polo neck inset.  Not a jersey, you understand, but a disembodied polo neck with a little placket.  This may have been 1971, but even that wasn't in fashion.  Surprisingly I managed it rather well, if slowly and still squeaking, but sewing now took over as the main torment.  We were started off on an A-line nightie.  I remained on the A-line nightie for the rest of the year, while classmates graduated onto the sewing machines and the mysteries of setting in collars.  The problem was the darts, sewn by hand.  I would sew my darts, take my work up to show the teacher, and be sent back to unpick the darts and re-do them.  Again and again. Of course by the end of the year the ghastly thing resembled broderie anglaise, there were so many holes in it.  It was also very, very grubby.  It too ended up with the dusters.  Meanwhile salvation came in the form of Latin the following year, and a timetable that was incompatible with domestic 'science'.  I daresay the domestic science department was relieved too.

So perhaps those of you who 'relax' by knitting will have some understanding of my violent hatred of wool and knitting needles.  I have a very long list of things I plan to do when I leave my workplace of 29 years shortly, and knitting is not one of them.  As to what is, that's for the next post.  And tell me - am I alone?  Are there any other knitting and sewing phobics out there?

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Looking forward

Another glorious Speyside sunrise, winter 2015

The impulse to blog has left me entirely over the winter.  I didn't set out to be an autobiographical blogger, although I love reading blogs which reveal their writer.  My initial purpose was to show my beautiful country through photos and perhaps a few words.  Many a time I have taken a photo which I wanted to share, but couldn't really construct a blog post around, and I have shied away from too many random collections on this blog, although again I love seeing other people's. And then there was time.  I work full time.  I am tired in the evening.  I had other commitments.  Then, further derailment,  I discovered Instagram, which gave me exactly what I wanted in my time-strapped state - a stand-alone photo and a few words.  So I've been treacherously Instagramming,  all the while neglecting this poor blog.

These have been ongoing minor problems, if they can be classed as problems at all.  But this winter has also been a period of sadness and retreat.  My father was in hospital from October until just before Christmas, but fell ill again shortly after coming home and died early in the New Year.  It's not something I feel like writing further about here, not because the illness, decline and loss of a parent hit less hard than those of a spouse, as I was deeply distressed to read one blogger suggest recently, but because I am a private Scot.

But today the Spring sun is reaching a certain spot in the garden that despite the frost makes me feel that life is moving forward very slowly.  And part of that sense of moving forward is a very big change coming up in my life that feels as if it's beginning to be within reach.  At the end of May I will take early retirement from 29 years with one employer, and embark on a process of career change.  I have several plans taking shape, among them going back to my first love, the subject of my degrees, and reconnecting with the French language.  There's still a lot to be got through at work before the end of May, so at the moment I'm at the 'quietly ecstatic' phase.

If I can work out how to transfer photos from my Android phone to my new Macbook there will be more photos on this blog, and I may have to steel myself to a few random collections if I can't drum up a coherent narrative.  My blog post writing muscle is all out of condition - it has felt very strange writing this post, and it may well read strangely too.  If it's too strange, there are always just photos on Instagram!

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Appreciating Edinburgh: shop windows

 Not whopping plate glass windows, with teams of professional window-dressers working to a corporate brief, but the windows of small independent shops which are fun and clever and artistic and enticing.  As part of my personal attempt to 'appreciate Edinburgh' after a long time as a reluctant city-dweller, here's a window from Concrete Wardrobe earlier this summer.  Concrete Wardrobe specialises in Scottish design-led craft, and often has fun with it in their window display.  This is 'I am the Passenger' by Charlotte Duffy.  All of her work is made from discarded cardboard.  You might think that she had honed her skills in art college, but she studied Philosophy at the University of St Andrews.

In this work Duffy was aiming to represent "the moments of fellow travellers waking from dropping off, panicking over missed stops, moments of awkwardness when being in close physical proximity to strangers and the knowing glances between passengers when someone is talking loudly on a phone".  And the bizarre world of train on-board catering.

Find more about Charlotte Duffy at her website, Waste of Paint Productions (well worth a read), and check the Concrete Wardrobe site for the latest designers featured.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Skywatch Friday - a batch of skies

Bus stop with sunrise

Lately with the shortening days I've seen a lot of sunrises on my way into work.  All the photos in this post have popped up on my Instagram (@occasionalscotland), which I continue to enjoy in my time-strapped state.  While I've been too exhausted in the evenings to open up my laptop, a 2 minute Instagram is just about do-able. 
Westering moon, early morning

Con trail noughts and crosses

Colour block sunrise

Winter clouds boiling up over the North Sea
 I'm not sure why Edinburgh appears to be gently leaning to the right in the shot above.  Perhaps it's the phone camera effect. 

The joy of clouds
More skies from across the world are at Skywatch Friday.  Lots of great photos of the 'super moon' there at the moment.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Wayfarers All

Illustration by Arthur Rackham for the chapter 'Wayfarers All', in 'The Wind in the Willows'

 "And you, you will come too, young brother; for the days pass and never return, and the South still waits for you.  Take the Adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes! 'Tis but a banging of the door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and you are out of the old life and into the new!" Wayfarers All, 'The Wind in the Willows'.

We are missing our young people here.  One back at university, and one just left for a year in New Zealand.  No more clutter of shoes in the hall.  So many things that tug at the parental heartstrings, but of course they have to leave and take that 'blithesome step'.

Still, they do leave some things behind - and quite large things at that. 

We are custodians of the harp in a university year that's going to be too busy for much playing.  I'll have to remember to dust it (very) occasionally, in line with my approach to dusting in general. 

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Instant Instagram appeal

It's time to admit it: I've been seduced by Instagram.  It was the last thing I expected.  It started slowly, I suppose like all seductions.  An account opened out of curiosity, then a few tentative photos posted over several months, but without hashtags so that I wasn't visible.  Needless to say my children found this hilarious - what was the point of being on social media if I wasn't being social?  

A big breakthrough was when my son explained, very gently, that the 'instant' part of Instagram didn't need to be taken literally.  I had thought that it all needed to be done live - take the photo, sort out your hashtags, publish.  Of course when I'm out and about I don't have my reading glasses on and it's always too much of a fangle to fish in my bag for them, so I was squinting at this tiny screen trying to get everything done instantly.  Discovering that it's possible to post photos that I'd taken previously made me very happy indeed.  

So why have I been Instagramming away this summer and neglecting my blog?  Well, I spend five days a week in front of a computer screen, choosing words very carefully.  An ever so slightly misjudged word can have huge consequences in my workplace, and I feel as if my days are spent leafing through a mental Roget's Thesaurus.  When I get home the last thing I feel like doing is crafting more words in front of a screen.  Instagram is also much faster technically than Blogger.  Most of all, it's made for the posting of a single photo that doesn't need to carry the weight of a narrative.  My camera and phone memory cards are full of photos like this.  Interesting (I hope), perhaps quirky, things I'd like to share, but not enough to support a blog post. And I am loving discovering glimpses of other people's visual worlds through hashtags, in a much more agile and pick up/put downable way than blog hopping. I still love reading other people's narrative blogs, and wish I had more time for it.  In a way I'm returning to how I started this blog back in 2008, which was with the photos foremost and minimal text.  I will probably continue blogging, but it's a bit of a relief not to feel dutiful about it, and I'll have to see how the balance goes. Coincidentally, I read Stephanie Donaldson in Country Living this month giving the same reasons for why she is enjoying Instagram.

After all of that, here are some of the escapee photos from this summer.  A day of lochs and historic houses in the Borders.  Above, Talla Reservoir in high summer, grasses that are now bleached by autumn, blowing in the soft wind.  Below, Megget Reservoir, beautifully remote-seeming and yet pretty close to Edinburgh.

Below, Traquair House near Innerleithen.  A fascinating house to visit, with lovely gardens.

Traquair House

From the house looking up the driveway

The maze, from an upstairs window

Next time I have a story to tell I'll be back here, but you can catch up with the instant side of things on @occasionalscotland on Instagram, or use the Instagram button on my sidebar.


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