Posted by: christinelaennec | June 26, 2015

The Glasgow Necropolis

I began writing this post nearly two months ago, but have hesitated to post it because I’ve felt there’s been such a lot of sad news, close to home and far away.  I know from previous posts that I’m not the only one who finds graveyards fascinating and thought-provoking.  They make me aware of how precious my life is, problems and all.  But if you really don’t need a post about cemeteries, come back in a couple of days for a cheerful post about a crochet baby blanket!

At the beginning of May, I had the chance to visit the Glasgow Necropolis with a friend.  It’s a fascinating place, and even a couple of dozen photographs don’t begin to do it justice.  I have quoted from Ronnie Scott’s book Death by Design:  The True Story of the Glasgow Necropolis.  I’ll try to keep text to a minimum as I share with you what I saw:

Entrance gate

Entrance gate. Notice the Glasgow City coat of arms in the middle of the globe.

The Glasgow Necropolis was opened in 1833.  The Greek name “necropolis” (City of the Dead) reflects the Greek Revival fashion that was all the rage at the time.  Once through the entrance gates, you walk down a path past the Cathedral.

Walking down the path, past the Cathedral.

Walking down the path, past the Cathedral.  They cut the stone wall open in places so that those going to the cemetery would have a visual link “to the heritage and values of the ancient High Church”. (Ronnie Scott, Death by Design, p. 35)

The path takes you across a bridge.  The bridge now crosses a road, but in former times the Molendinar Burn ran down the valley (very similarly to the Denburn Valley next to Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen).   Scott writes:  “The journey over the Molendinar reminded many Christians of the River Jordan, which separates the wilderness of the world from the Promised Land.” (p. 36)

Glasgow Cathedral on the right, the bridge leading across to the hill where the Necropolis is situated.

Glasgow Cathedral on the right, and if you look closely you can see the bridge leading across to the steep hill where the Necropolis is situated.  Trees are planted either side of the bridge.

The hill the Necropolis is on is very steep indeed.  Looking up:

Wending our way up the hill.

Wending our way up the hill.

We walked past the grave of the man who composed “Wee Willie Winkie”.  He died penniless but his friends and admirers raised this monument to him (Scott, p. 49):

Gravestone of the writer of "Wee Willie Winkie".

Gravestone of William Miller (1810-72), the writer of “Wee Willie Winkie”.  The harp carved on the top of the memorial signifies that he was a poet.

Looking across to the side of the Cathedral.

Looking across to the side of the Cathedral.  You can see the road that lies over where the Molendinar Burn once flowed (or perhaps still flows underground).

The very first grave was that of Joseph Levi, who was buried in the Jewish part of the cemetery in 1832.  The Jewish community had bought this part of the cemetery in 1830. The Necropolis was designed from the beginning to accommodate those of all faiths, but its layout “can be seen to mirror the social or class distinction of the city in the nineteenth century.  Only the truly elite were allowed to be buried on the summit of the hill, near to the monument of John Knox.” (Scott, p. 6)  It is significant that the Jewish plot is at the very bottom of the hill.

Looking down towards the Jewish part of the cemetery.

Looking down towards the Jewish part of the cemetery.

We came to an amazing and famous grave, that of the Queen of the Gipsies:

Gravestone of Corinna Lee, Queen of the Gipsies.

Gravestone of Corlinda Lee, Queen of the Gipsies.


The bronze plaque has been stolen from the monument.  The inscription reads:  Corlinda Lee, Queen of the Gipsies, Beloved Wife of George Smith, who died at 42 New City Road, Glasgow on the 28th March 1900 aged 68 years, and lies here beside her beloved son Ernest.  Her love for her children was great, and she was charitable to the poor.  Wherever she pitched her tent, she was loved and respected by all.”

Scott says nothing more is known about her.  He also doesn’t mention or explain the many coins shoved into the cracks of her monument:

Coins placed in the cracks of the monument to the Queen of the Gipsies.

Coins placed in the cracks of the monument to the Queen of the Gipsies.

Not all the coins are old, or British.  A few shiny 5 p pieces.

Not all the coins are old, or British. A few shiny 5 p pieces.

I would be very curious to know what that is all about!

Looking towards the statue of John Knox at the top of the hill; ivy.

Looking towards the statue of John Knox at the top of the hill; ivy.

Going further up the hill, you reach a kind of avenue of family crypts.  People were understandably worried about grave-diggers and robbers, and wealthy families could afford to build locked crypts for their deceased loved ones:

Starting to walk up an avenue of family crypts.

Starting to walk up an avenue of family crypts.

Some of these have been restored, and the ironwork repainted:

Beautifully painted grillwork on a Neo-classical crypt.

Beautifully painted grillwork on a Neo-classical crypt.

More interesting ironwork.

More interesting ironwork.

My friend and I peered into one; you can see us reflected in the granite.  It reminded me of the scene in The Sound of Music where the Von Trapps hide in a crypt!

Looking into one of the crypts.

Looking into one of the crypts.

I really liked this monument to an actor.  It depicts a theatre in the middle, with Comedy on the left (though the statue has been taken away) and Tragedy on the right:

Monument to an actor.

Monument to John Henry Alexander, actor and theatre manager.

The inscription is touching, and I think reflects what we often say now when a public person dies, namely that their most important role was as a friend and family member:


Inscription on the monument of John Henry Alexander.

The views from the Necropolis are pretty stunning.  You can see in almost all directions:

Amazing views out across the south side of Glasgow.

Amazing views out across the south side of Glasgow.


Necropolis, looking west again (green roof the Cathedral and its spire visible).

My friend explained to me some of the symbols that the Victorians – so fond of symbolism! – used on graves. A broken column and an upside-down torch both signified that the person had died before their time:

An upside-down torch apparently signified a life cut short too soon.

An upside-down torch apparently signified a life cut short too soon.

Most of the large monuments were to men, but this one to Agnes Shaw caught my attention, because I didn’t see any others with the likeness of a woman on it:

A woman's gravestone with her likeness - I didn't see any other likenesses of women on my walk.

Agnes Shaw’s gravestone with her likeness.

As is usual in Scottish graveyards, women are identified by their maiden names.  I’m told that a few generations back, women were known to each other by their maiden names long after marriage.

Vandalism was in evidence in some sad ways throughout the Necropolis, as in all cemeteries.  Neglect and vegetation are taking their toll.  Ronnie Scott describes the various agendas that people have concerning cemeteries, from the family history buffs who come to read the names and inscriptions, to the nature-lovers who want to make sure habitats are protected. “People with an overriding interest in health and safety would like to see all the monuments laid flat so that no one can be injured by falling stones.” (p. 27)  This may sound ridiculous, but very sadly a boy was killed recently by a toppled gravestone here in Glasgow (albeit not in the Necropolis).

I don’t know what the answer is, and I’m glad it isn’t my responsibility!  But I was amused by this graffiti:

Appropriate graffiti:  "And life goes on."

Appropriate graffiti: “And life goes on.”

When I’m wandering around a graveyard, I often think of a story told by Norman Vincent Peale, the author of The Power of Positive Thinking.  A very unhappy man came to see him, convinced that his troubles were insurmountable and the worst in the world.  To give him some perspective, Peale asked if he would like to go to a place where no-one had problems.  He said indeed he would!  Well, of course that place was the cemetery.

I will end with a quote from Ronnie Scott’s book that involves graffiti.  On a gravestone is carved:  “Remember, man, as you pass by, / As you are now, so once was I: / As I am now, so you must be / Therefore prepare to follow me”.  Beneath, in chalk, someone had written:  “To follow you, I’m not content / Until I know which way you went.” (p. ix)  Typical Glasgwegian banter!

References are to Ronnie Scott, Death by Design:  The True Story of the Glasgow Necropolis, Black and White Publishing, 2005.

Posted by: christinelaennec | June 22, 2015

Summer solstice, and Father’s Day

We had a lovely week in April, and a lovely week earlier this month (by lovely, I mean temperatures reaching the low 70sF / 22C – nice and warm for here).  But the past week has been very chilly, cloudy and damp.  I made the mistake last Thursday (June 18) of wearing mid-calf jeans to go on an errand across town.  I had shoes and socks on, about two inches of bare leg exposed, a wool cardigan, a wool/silk scarf, and my hooded jacket. By the time I got home I was so chilled that I had to warm up with plenty of blankets and a hot water bottle!  So everyone has been complaining about the autumnal weather.

Yesterday was the summer solstice, which, given the swings of light that we have here in Scotland, is very meaningful to people.  “Soon the days will be on the turn again” you hear.  Many people have been feeling a bit cheated of our mid-summer, as we have had very few summer nights where the sky is clear and you can sit outside.

The back garden is flowering despite chilly weather.  21 June 2015.  Photo taken about 9 pm I think.

The back garden is flowering despite chilly weather. 21 June 2015. Photo taken about 9 pm I think.

Of course it has been light late, but because of the clouds it hasn’t been light as late as we would like, or with that magical quality of light that is so special here.  However, we can’t have it all our way, and if every summer solstice were reliably bright, we would never appreciate it when that does happen.

About 20 years ago there was a Midsummer celebration in Abriachan.  Katharine Stewart writes about young people from Scandinavia building “the christianised version of the maypole”.  (p. 82, A Garden in the Hills)  She writes, “I remember how wise the early chistianisers were to take over pre-christian customs – the veneration of wells, for instance – and this, the acknowledgement of the power of the sun to bring out life in everything on earth – humans, animals, plants.  In northern lands in particular the warmth and light of the sun are valued above all else.  …

Now… the light is at its zenith.  In the Scottish Highlands the sun was venerated well into Christian times.  It is said that, even barely a hundred years ago, old men in the Islands would uncover their heads when they first saw the sun in the morning.  In the evening, at sunset, they would again remove their head-covering and bow their heads to the ground, and say a prayer –

I am in hope, in its proper time,
That the great and gracious God
Will not put out for me the light of grace
Even as thou dost leave me this night.

… [that evening] To the music of fiddle and pipe we dance round the garlanded pole, holding hands and singing.  The words may be Swedish or Danish, Norwegian or Scots.  We all follow the gist and the tune.  Some of the children do an action song. … Song after song and dance after dance we do, till the sky miraculously clears and the sun gives us a farewell gleam, almost as though on cue.  The western sky will scarcely have faded when the east will begin to shine.” (p 82-83)

Father's Day bouquet, 21 June 2015.

Father’s Day bouquet, 21 June 2015.

As well as being the summer solstice, it was Father’s Day.  I was able to make a nice bouquet for Michael, with our roses, some catmint and astrantia.  He enjoyed his cards and presents, and we were glad to thank him for all he does.  Later he and the Dafter went on a bike ride!  She is at school this morning, with achey legs but at least achey in a good way rather than from ME pain.  School finishes this week, for six weeks.  And then, regardless of the weather, it really will be summer!

I wish you all a good start to your week.

Posted by: christinelaennec | June 15, 2015

For the love of bees

Katharine Stewart began her June 15th essay by remarking:  “Another summer day to celebrate!”  And we have been doing the same.  Last week was really glorious, til about Friday lunchtime when it got a bit chilly again.  But we have had lovely hours of summer weather over the weekend, and certainly the warmth has brought things into bloom.  Even with a chilly spring, Glasgow is ahead of Aberdeen.  I don’t think I ever had a rose bloom before the very end of June in Aberdeen.

"A Shropshire Lad" rose, Glasgow,14 June 2015.

“A Shropshire Lad” rose, Glasgow, 14 June 2015.

Most of her June 15th essay Stewart devotes to bees, and how precious they are to her.  She wrote:  “Every day I walk up … to inspect the hive.  Every day I hope to find the happy, busy flying of bees in and out.  There are bees flying, but not in the numbers expected at this time.  They won’t be swarming, that’s one thing sure.  A swarm in June is ‘worth a silver spoon,’ the old saying goes.” (A Garden in the Hills, p. 81)

A busy bee!  14 June 2015, Glasgow.

A busy bee! 14 June 2015, Glasgow.  (I’m not sure what kind of bee this is.  Not a bumblebee I don’t think?)

She writes, “Some years ago I had several hives and could happily give swarms to neighbours.  Today the important thing is to keep my few precius bees alive.  I remember the time when they died, unbelievably, in early summer.  To work about the garden with no humming of bees brought such a sense of unreality and loss that I scoured the countryside looking for someone’s surplus hive, begging for a swarm.  Eventually I found a beekeeper with a nucleus for sale. … They’ve adapted and built themselves into a resonable colony now and are a most precious asset.  I’ll slip another chunk of last year’s honey into the hive to make sure they don’t starve.  It seems absurd to be feeding bees in the summer, but the weather has been so unpredictable – snow in May and gales and heavy bursts of rain – that the good has been largely washed out of the flowers.  The late flowering plants may have escaped and the heather is still to come.  So we still hope there may be a little surplus honey for our winter toast.” (p. 81)

"Guinée" rose, Glasgow, 15 June 2015.

“Guinée” rose, Glasgow, 15 June 2015.

I do garden with the bees in mind, although my English roses are not much use to them.  But I encourage the foxglove, and other open-petalled blossoms such as the native calendula.  I’ve planted a cotoneaster, which is still small but which bees love.  And of course, we’ve planted clover in our lawn for them.

The Dafter and Michael have become interested in bees.  A few years ago in Aberdeen, when I was tending the church garden, there was a nest of bumblebees inside the tool shed.  The Bumblebee Conservation Trust told us how to move them to a place that was safer for them and us.  Michael did the job, as I was too nervous.  We didn’t have any specialist equipment, we just tucked his jeans into his socks and covered him as well as we could.  He picked up their nest with a shovel, oh so gently, and transported it to a safer spot.  The bees were all around, but never stung him.  He just loved it!  He said – and he is not one given to using New Agey phrases – that they had “a lovely energy”.

The Dafter has been wanting to get a bee house for the garden, possibly one for solitary bees.  We will have to find out a bit more about it – where to put such a thing, for example.  Do share your expertise with us! (Carin!)

Guinée indoors.

Guinée indoors.

In my garden in Glasgow, I have planted eight English roses, kept two old tea roses, and I planted one old climbing rose, Guinée.  This deep red rose has a scent that is just out of this world.  I wish I could make a smell file for you!  It was bred in 1938 in France, and apparently is attractive to bees.  Why did I choose this rose?  Because there is one in a garden I’ve known for years in Aberdeen, the much-loved garden of a dear friend.  So it’s a little bit of Aberdeen in my garden, a link to a part of my life that has continued on, in different ways, in this new place.

I wish you all a good start to the week.  And I wish a Happy Birthday to my Granny tomorrow, bless her.

Posted by: christinelaennec | June 11, 2015

A lovely afternoon in Pollok Park

Thank you for the kind comments on my St. Columba’s Day post.  It is bedtime and I ought not to be blogging, but I just couldn’t resist showing you what a gorgeous afternoon it was today here in Glasgow.  After so much cold weather, we have been favoured with several days of sun and warmth.  It made the news this evening in fact!  They said the top temperature in Glasgow was 22C/72F but our car said 24C.

The Dafter didn’t have school today, a welcome rest for her.  In the afternoon we visited the enormous Pollok Country Park.  It is so big (361 acres) that, although you are right in the middle of the city, you can’t tell.  We walked along the river that flows behind Pollok House:

The Dafter taking photos of the river.  Pollok Park, Glasgow, 11 June 2015.

The Dafter taking photos of the river. Pollok Park, Glasgow, 11 June 2015.

It was great to see her able to enjoy the cool shade of the trees and the beautiful river, without the wheelchair or the walking stick:

Photographer at work.

Photographer at work.

A weir, Pollok Park, Glasgow.  11 June 2015.

A weir, Pollok Park, Glasgow. 11 June 2015.

Such clear water!

Such clear water!

We both find old graffiti very touching:

Names carved in trees along the path.

Names carved in trees along the path.

Everyone was out enjoying the weather – babies and grannies and all in between:

River running through Pollok Park, just beyond the end of Pollok House garden.  Glasgow, 11 June 2015.

River running through Pollok Park, just beyond the end of Pollok House garden. Glasgow, 11 June 2015.

The house, which belongs to the National Trust for Scotland, was built in 1752:

Pollok House, Pollok Park, Glasgow.  11 June 2015.

Pollok House, Pollok Park, Glasgow. 11 June 2015.

If you walk down these steps, you are just by the river and the bridge.  Beyond lie acres of land:

The Dafter standing on the bridge you see two photos up.

The Dafter standing on the bridge you see two photos up.

Before we left to come home, the Dafter suggested we take a selfie together:

Mother-daughter selfie in front of a wall of clematis.  Pollok House, Pollok Park, Glasgow.  11 June 2015.

Mother-daughter selfie in front of a wall of clematis. Pollok House, Pollok Park, Glasgow. 11 June 2015.

She is still quite pale compared to her weather-beaten old mother, but not as pale as she was when she was mostly bedbound and housebound just over a year ago.  We both reflected on how the silver lining to the cloud of her illness has been the happy times that we get to spend together.  She has a much better balance in her life these days, because she has friends and activities of her own now, but we still enjoy our jaunts and chats together.

Posted by: christinelaennec | June 9, 2015

Happy St. Columba’s Day

Following along with Katharine Stewart’s A Garden in the Hills, she wrote essays on the 8th and 9th of June.  She began with the comment:  “A June day at last!  They have to be counted in ones, or at the most, twos.”  (p. 77)  She was experiencing a very cold spring and early summer, and it has been the same with us this year.  Not only has it been cold (most days in the 40s / under 10C) but very stormy and windy:

After the storms...

A morning after a stormy night…

On her warm June day, Stewart mentioned the inconvenience of the Highland midge:  “[Lotion] is not totally effective.  Gardening friends have invested in masks which, though expensive, do seem to keep the creatures at bay.  I have tried my bee-veil, but the mesh is not fine enough [to keep midges out].” (p. 77)

Pink chestnut, early June, Glasgow, 2015

Pink chestnut, early June, Glasgow, 2015

There are midges in Glasgow, and I have already been bitten by one.  But our Lowland Midge isn’t nearly as much of a menace as its Highland cousin.

The spring has been cold, but the blossom has been just magnificent.  I don’t know if there is a causal link.  I walked past this hawthorn on one of the rare occasions that I had no way of taking its photo.  The blossoms were very pink, with many pink dots on the ends of the tiny pistils (if that is the right term).  When I went back a few days later, much of the pink had faded:

Hawthorn tree, early June, Glasgow 2015.

Hawthorn tree, early June, Glasgow 2015.

Oh well, something to look out for next year!

Yesterday we had a lovely sunny afternoon.  I had the distinct feeling that in the course of a few hours, flowers were blossoming:

A lupin colouring up.

A lupin colouring up.

Today, June 9th, is St. Columba’s feast-day.  (I wrote a bit about St. Columba / Colmcille here.) Stewart devoted much of her essay that day to him:  “He passed this way some 1,400 years ago and has left his mark in the remains of his settlement down by the big loch [Loch Ness – not sure what the settlement is she refers to, though].  The sanctified ground extended well beyond the initial boundaries.  At one time the whole area was considered a sanctuary, though it is not marked out, as it was in Applecross.  A sanctuary meant safety in a place beyond the reach of the law or the sword.  It is said that in this place some MacDonalds sought refuge after the [1692] massacre in Glencoe.  It is certain that the name MacDonald is still the oldest here…” (p. 78)

Quaking grass.

Quaking grass.

She continues:  “Columba’s island, Iona, is a magic place even today. … I understand his love of the place, for an island gives one a sense of wholeness, of circumscription.  One is held by the surrounding sea, but not limited by it.  It bathes one round in reassurance, yet it beckons, too.  It carries pictures, visions, of boundless, unnamed possibilities, not outwith one’s grasp…

It is sometimes difficult to remain whole on the mainland.  I try to visit an island every summer.  I come home wearing what my friends call my ‘island smile’.” (p.78)  I know just what she means:  ever since we came to Scotland nearly 23 years ago, islands have been our choice of retreat.  (See my posts about Scalpay, and our trip to Lindisfarne.)

Violas, astrantia, columbine.  Early June, Glsgo, 2015.

Violas, astrantia, columbine. 8 June 2015, Glasgow.

The end of her June 9th essay is taken up with one of her favourite topics, the medicinal uses of common plants.

More violas.

More violas – they have survived over the winter from last summer! – and nigella seedlings.

She writes about the bog-plant meadowsweet, “that supreme provider of cures”.  Its city cousin is feathery astilbe.  She notes: “It deserves its name ‘queen of the meadows,’ for its properties are many.  Its fragrance made it a ‘strewing herb’ in older times… It has anti-inflammatory properties, so is helpful to sufferers of rheumatism.  Its tannin content can cure cases of diarrhoea.  It has an antiseptic action and also contains vitamin C.  It really is a miniature ‘pharmacopeia’.” (p. 79)

I should say here that I am not advocating that you rush out and start medicating yourself with meadowsweet, or any other plant.  However, I don’t think we should discount the wisdom that our ancestors gained.  Stewart continues, “Often, as I walk around the garden, going from job to job, I pick a handful of feverfew, leaf and flower, to chew on, though I’m lucky enough not to suffer from bad headaches.  Thinking about it now, perhaps this habit is the reason why!” (p. 80)

Apricot foxglove.

Apricot foxglove.

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you not to eat foxglove, which can be poisonous because it contains digitalis.  Like so many plants, it can also heal (heart maladies, in particular) if administered properly.

Most of the days of June so far have left us all shaking our heads and wondering at the weather:  “It’s just like March!” I hear people say.  We have had the fire going for guests, and the heating on to dry their soaking wet coats and shoes as they’ve come dripping and windblown through the door.

But, on those few fine June evenings, we’ve been reminded that it is indeed summer, and indeed not all that far from the longest day:

Nearly 10 pm in early June, Glasgow, 2015.

10 pm in early June, Glasgow, 2015.

These Scottish summer skies are such a treat to experience.  I leave you to imagine, perched on one of those antennas, a blackbird singing its melodious song.

Katharine Stewart says that St. Columba’s day is the “best day for making a start to anything” (p. 77)  The Dafter began sixth year (very part-time) yesterday, so that’s good to know.  Whatever you are making a start on, I wish you well with it!

Posted by: christinelaennec | June 4, 2015

Twa shawls

(My silly post title is a nod to the Scottish children’s song, “Twa craws, sittin’ on a wa’… ” [Two crows sitting on a wall]…)  This spring, I made two shawls.  One of them is yet another Holden Shawlette (I’ve made this pattern twice before, for gifts).  I made it from the beautiful Skein Queen rainbow yarn that generous Roobeedoo gave me for Christmas.  You might have glimpsed me knitting it at the lighthouse on Scalpay.  Here it is finished (full Ravelry details here):

Rainbow shawl:  Holden Shawlette pattern by Mindy Wilkes, from Skein Queen Lustrous yarn (wool and silk).

Rainbow shawl: Holden Shawlette pattern by Mindy Wilkes, from Skein Queen Lustrous yarn (wool and silk).

Rainbow shawl.

Rainbow shawl.

The other shawl I made this spring was in remembrance of my father.  When I was in Portland on that sad trip home after he died in November, towards the end of my stay I had a few hours in town.  Surprise, surprise, I ended up at a yarn shop, Knit Purl.  There I found some very interesting locally spun and dyed yarn:

Alpha B yarn, Single B

Alpha B yarn, Single B

I liked the kinkiness of the yarn, and the beautiful colours.  But I was particularly drawn to the names of the colours.  The green is “Columbia Gorge” and the blue is “Mighty Columbia”.  Now, the Columbia River was an important part of my childhood.  Partly because we used to sing Woody Guthrie’s “Roll on Columbia, Roll On” in school, and I loved the idea of the powerful river “turning darkness to dawn” (via the hydroelectric dams on the river).  The river itself was a part of my childhood because my Dad loved the Columbia.  He loved boats and the sea and rivers, and the Columbia River is indeed mighty where it opens into the Pacific Ocean just northwest of Portland.

Our family often went to the waterfalls along the Columbia Gorge.  (Gracie’s posts here and here have lovely photos of the area.)  I remember once being at Multnomah Falls at the same time as Ladybird Johnson was visiting, and my mother explaining to me that people were booing her because of the Vietnam War.  I hated the war, which dominated all our family dinnertimes and distressed me, but I also felt sorry for this small lady in a blue suit and matching pillbox hat.

We would hike up around the different waterfalls, or go to Crown Point to see the stunning views along the Gorge, or sometimes we would just “scrounge” along the beaches of the river, poking through driftwood for treasures such as the rare Japanese glass fishing float.  For a couple of years, my father had a small aluminium rowboat, and we all had a few hair-raising afternoons on the Columbia in that tiny boat, caught in the wakes of the huge container vessels headed out to sea!  I can’t say I was heartbroken when someone stole it from our carport.

So I bought the wool, and brought it home and thought about what to make out of it.  And the Cladonia Shawl by Kristen Kapur came to mind:

Cladonia shawl by Kirsten Kapur, knit from Alpha B Single B yarn.

Cladonia shawl by Kirsten Kapur, knit from Alpha B Single B yarn.

It’s a great project if you have two colours you want to combine.  And it’s the perfect size for these chilly days, either to wear around the house or to tuck in under your coat or jacket:

"The River's Wild Flight," shawl in memory of my Dad and celebrating the Columbia River.

“The River’s Wild Flight,” shawl in memory of my Dad and celebrating the Columbia River.  (Not my favourite photo of myself – I look very haughty!  I was absolutely exhausted that day.)

I thought for a long time about what name to give it, and decided on a phrase from one of the last verses of Woody Guthrie’s ballad:

“These mighty men labored by day and by night / Matching their strength ‘gainst the river’s wild flight / Through rapids and falls they won the hard fight / Roll on, Columbia, roll on.”

When I arrived in Portland, I was relieved and delighted to learn that my Dad arranged to have his ashes scattered at sea.  That wouldn’t have occurred to me, and I feel the sea is the perfect resting place for him.  “The River’s Wild Flight” to me symbolises the idea that his spirit is free and reunited with that aspect of nature he loved so much, flowing water.

Posted by: christinelaennec | June 1, 2015

June! Anticipation…

Katharine Stewart’s essay for June 1st begins:  “A dry day, but a cold one.”  (p. 74)  Today in Glasgow has been a wet day, but a cold one.  In fact, this has been a very cold spring all told.  My garden had 5″ of rain in the month of May, but the high temperatures in the day lately have been between 8 and 12 C / 46 and 54 F.  The result is that many plants in the garden have been waiting to flower:

Peony bud.  Photo taken 31st May during a rare moment of sunshine.

Peony bud. Photo taken 31st May during a rare afternoon of sunshine.

Stewart wrote, “This is a time of waxing moon, a propitious time for planting.”  It’s the same with us this year: the moon is full tomorrow.  She continued, “Older Highland people still watch the moon closely, in all its phases, for weather predictions, days appropriate for certain activities and so on.  The waning moon is good for ploughing and peat-cutting, for the ‘sap’ is going, leaving everything dry.  An old lady will still walk clockwise three times round the house at the first appearance of the new moon.  People don’t like to see the half moon ‘lying on her back’.  This is a bad omen.” (p. 74)

Back garden, Glasgow, 31st May 2015.

Back garden, Glasgow, 31st May 2015.

I don’t take on new superstitions, so I won’t be walking around the house at the new moon, or worrying about the half moon on her back (though I have a Highland friend who will comment on such a sight: “seall, a’ghealach air a cùl”).  But I try, where possible, to plant at the time of the new moon, because this does seem to be a sound and time-honoured principle of gardening.  The lupins that I grew from seed collected in Aberdeen are doing pretty well, in their second summer.

Lupin coming into bloom, slowly.  31 May 2015.

Lupin coming into bloom, slowly. 31 May 2015.  The columbine behind and to the right is interesting:  the blooms below are purply but the ones near the top of the plant are a deep red.

The garden probably looks like a sea of green to most people, but to me it is brimming with possibility:

Rose buds on Constance Spry, Glasgow, 31 May 2015.

Rose buds on Constance Spry climbing rose, Glasgow, 31 May 2015.

And the cosmos (planted inside the porch at the time of the new moon) are doing pretty well.  I am just hoping the snails keep away from them…

Cosmos seedlings, 31st May 2015.

Cosmos seedlings, 31st May 2015.

Katharine Stewart writes about something called “Gudeman’s Croft”:  “a small piece of land dedicated to the ‘Gudeman,’ a kind of earth spirit, which was sacrosanct and not to be touched by plough or spade.  There are one or two such spots up my way!  I call it Permaculture!” (p. 75)

I want most of my garden to be “permaculture,” the same plants left undisturbed to flower year after year, or plants like foxglove that self-seed in profusion so I can choose which ones to keep and where I want them.  But I have also planted some annuals, besides the cosmos.  The sweet peas went in yesterday, and I bought lobelia to put along the edges.  The poppies, nigella and marigolds that I planted as seed are all up, but not putting on a lot of growth just because it has been so cold.

As I write, the rain is lashing the back of the house.  But it’s now light until after 11:00 pm in the western sky (unless the clouds are particularly thick), so it does, despite the weather, feel like June.

Happy June, everyone!

Posted by: christinelaennec | May 27, 2015

Travelling Companions

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about my trip to Harris last month was observing and talking to other travellers along the way.  The first leg of my journey there was the train from Glasgow to Inverness, about a three-hour journey.  As we were leaving Glasgow, a mother and about 8-year-old daughter were talking to the train conductor. The mother wasn’t an experienced train traveller and hadn’t reserved seats; the daughter was very tired and grumpy.  I welcomed them to sit across from me, as the people who had reserved the seats hadn’t shown up.  The mother told me her daughter was very tired as they’d just been sleeping on a sofa the last few nights.  The girl glared at me but was also interested in my knitting.  As we went along, the mother relaxed and bit by bit the daughter also unwound.  I asked the girl, had she ever played Treasure Hunt?  I said that was a travel game my own kids had always liked.  This got her attention.

Near Blair Atholl, Perthshire.  April 2014.

Near Blair Atholl, Perthshire. April 2015.

I drew up a list of things we might be likely (or less likely) to see on our way:  sheep, cows, a house, a river, a castle [thinking of Stirling], a crow, a stop sign.  The daughter and her mother played this game for quite a while, and I was really happy when the daughter started smiling and laughing.  At Perth we were joined by a woman who knew a lot about the countryside we were travelling through, and explained to me where the highest points were along the journey.  She and the mother talked for quite a while about living near Inverness, and about musical opportunities for young people, such as the Fèis movement for learning traditional music.

From Inverness I took a bus to Ullapool, a journey of about an hour and a half.  I sat next to a very interesting woman from India.  She told me about her work with children, and asked what I did.  I said I used to be a lecturer, but am now a full-time carer for my teenage daughter.  She then told me a fascinating story:  in her early twenties she became paralysed down one side, and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  One doctor told her that she might die from it.  Despite (or because?) of this terrible diagnosis, she and her husband decided to have a child.  And during her pregnancy, she healed completely.  I told her that two separate people have said to me, “The cure for ME is to get pregnant,” which clearly isn’t a realistic option for the Dafter.  This woman told me that in pregnancy, the body heals itself, in order to support the baby.  When we parted ways, she said she would keep me and our family in her prayers.  I think I will never forget her, she was a very special person.

The next leg of my journey was to cross the Minch.  I did so on the new ferry, M V Loch Seaforth. (M V means Motor Vessel – not quite as poetic as “His Majesty’s Ship”!) The crossing time is now down to two and a half hours, instead of three.  As you can see from the photo below, the new ferry is a lot bigger than the old ferry:

The old ferry (Isle of Lewis) on the left; the new ferry (Loch Seaforth) on the right.  Stornoway ferry terminal, April 2015.

The old ferry ( the Isle of Lewis) on the left; the new ferry (Loch Seaforth) on the right. Stornoway ferry terminal, April 2015.

The Loch Seaforth had only been running a few weeks when I travelled on her.  I sat in the dining room, across from a family with a very sweet little baby.  As it so happened, the following Sunday I was present at that baby’s baptism.

In a way, the ferry itself was one of my travelling companions.  Let me show you around:

Dining area, Loch Seaforth, April 2015.

Dining area, M V Loch Seaforth, April 2015.  Foot passengers boarded before vehicles that week, so I had my choice of seats!

I like the retro styling.  Here’s the staircase to go up on deck:

Stairwell, Loch Seaforth.  April 2015.

Stairwell, M V Loch Seaforth. April 2015.

Even the smokestack has that Art Deco streamlined aesthetic:

Smokestack, Loch Seaforth, April 2015.

Smokestack, M V Loch Seaforth, April 2015.

There was a lovely sunset, although let me tell you the breeze coming at me was very stiff!

Sunset over Harris and Lewis, from the ferry between Stornoway and Ullapool.  April 2014.

Sunset over Harris and Lewis, from the ferry between Stornoway and Ullapool. April 2015.

The ferry was about 40 minutes late but the kind car hire man was waiting for me, and showed no sign of impatience.  After an hour and a quarter’s drive, encountering only mist and some sheep, I was in Scalpay at the B&B.

On my return journey, I sat up in the observation lounge.

Observation lounge of the Loch Seaforth, April 2015.

Observation lounge of M V Loch Seaforth, April 2015.  My trusty blue backpack!

Next to me, in that front row of seats, was a lovely couple.  They were probably in their 70s, and spoke Gaelic to each other.  They didn’t have a Lewis accent, but I couldn’t quite identify what part of the Gaeltacht they were from.  What struck me the most was how loving they were with each other.  They had that easiness with each other that comes after years of jogging along side by side, but also they seemed really to delight in each other’s company.  In their very understated way, they laughed a lot at each other’s jokes.  It was really nice to be in close proximity to that atmosphere of quiet happiness.

Stornoway, seen from the observation deck of the Loch Seaforth.  April 2014.

Stornoway, seen from the observation deck of M V Loch Seaforth. April 2014.

The sea was stirred up from the storms of the previous day, but the new ferry rolled less in the waves than the old ferry would, being so much bigger.  Downstairs, I ran into a former colleague from Aberdeen, and we had a chance to catch up on family news, and exchange email addresses.

A wet but smooth crossing back to Ullapool.  April 2014.

A wet but smooth crossing back to Ullapool. April 2014.

On the bus from Ullapool to Inverness, I sat across from an interesting family.  There was an exhausted mother, a father, and two young children.  They had North American accents but the father also spoke French to the children.  His French didn’t have a French-Canadian accent to it, however, so I was left a bit mystified as to where they were from.  The mother fell into a much-needed sleep and the father managed to keep the children entertained.  He certainly had an extensive French vocabulary, because as we went past forests he played a game with them, looking for various wild animals:  “Tu vois un écureuil? Squirrel?  Do you see a wild boar? Un sanglier?  Any deer? Des cerfs?” and so forth.  In Inverness they told the children it would only be an hour’s wait until the next bus, and they seemed to be upbeat and relaxed.  Very experienced travellers, I thought.

The very last leg of my journey was the train back to Glasgow.  I sat across from a table of extremely entertaining women.  They were in party mode, but very elegantly so.  They set their table with plastic stemware, plates, napkins, and brought out a cheese platter.  They were very funny with the conductor, offering him a Prosecco, “or we have soft drinks if you prefer”.  He kept up amusing banter with them throughout the journey:  “Let me know when you get to the dessert course, I’ll be back then.”  They were obviously old friends, celebrating something or other together.

Their conversation was very witty, and although they made no attempt not to be heard, I wished I could have laughed out loud at some of their quips.  I knitted and kept quiet.  After their meal they brought out a trivia game, and that made it even more challenging for me to keep my mouth shut.  “She’s a singer, North American.  From a fundamentalist Christian family.  Initials A. L.  Her name in French means The Vine”….  I wanted to raise my hand:  I know this one!  I know this one!  (Avril Lavigne)

As with so many of my other travelling companions on that trip, just being nearby their party and the glow of their friendship was a lovely feeling.  Really the world, and all the precious and unique lives here, is extraordinary!


Posted by: christinelaennec | May 23, 2015

Late spring or early summer?

I’ve missed the May 19th entry in Katharine Stewart’s A Garden in the Hills, so I’m going to combine the 19th and the 23rd.

She began her essay of the 19th with: “If April is the cruellest month, May, so far this year, is not much kinder.” (p. 70)  It had been a long cold spring in Abriachan that year.  While we had frost on May Day here in Glasgow, this last week has seen a distinct warming, although it’s been wet.  We’ve had four inches of rain this month so far. But the combination of warm and damp makes the garden grow very quickly.  At the moment there are various shades of green and not a lot of colour:

Marigold seedlings, catmint/catnip, roses, peony.

Marigold seedlings, catmint/catnip, roses, winter jasmin, peony.

Almost all the spring bulbs are finished, but the camassia are lovely:

Camassia spires in front of the summerhouse.

Camassia spires in front of the summerhouse.

The columbines are flowering, and also the little heartsease that I planted from seed last spring:

roses, foxgloves, pinky columbine, lupin, and heartsease in front.

roses, foxgloves, pinky columbine, lupin, and heartsease in front.

Katharine Stewart describes going for a walk:  “The houses are fewer now, for they are bigger, the people in them not depending on their surroundings for a living.  But some of the little abandoned gardens can still be seen.  The little old houses would have had a few flowers growing near the door, but the word ‘garden’ would have meant a small plot, walled with stone for protection from the wind and predators, on the edge of the ground cultivated for the main crops of the croft- oats, hay, turnips, potatoes.  In the garden would be grown ingredients for the soup-pot – carrots and kale and some soft fruit for puddings [desserts] and preserves.

Some years ago… I came on one such garden, a long narrow stretch beside the burn.  Rhubarb plants had grown to the size of small trees, there were blackcurrant bushes drastically overgrown, but alive, and gooseberries still bearing yellow fruit.  I took cuttings of these and now have half a dozen good bushes fruiting happily.  Gooseberries and blackcurrants were always part of the summer diet and made valued winter preserves.  Raspberries were gathered wild, for puddings [desserts] also and for jam.  Wild mint and wild garlic were everywhere.  This little garden must have had a really devoted gardener, for in one corner was a lilac and in another a gean [sweet cherry tree]….  my thoughts went out and back, through the years, to the crofter’s wife who cherished this plot.” (p. 70-71)

This past week, I had a very special afternoon at a very grand estate with a grand garden, Ross Priory.

Ross Priory, on the shores of Loch Lomond

Ross Priory, on the shores of Loch Lomond

The weather was alternating heavy showers and bursts of sun, so we sat inside where it was dry and warm, having our lunch and looking out onto splendid views.  In one direction, massive rhododendrons in bloom, and in the other, a stunning prospect towards Ben Lomond:

View from Ross Priory up to Ben Lomond.  May 2015.

View from Ross Priory up to Ben Lomond. May 2015.

You can’t easily see it in the photograph, but there was still snow on the top of highest peaks.

On the 23rd of May, Katharine Stewart wrote about the “garden’s own secret flowering” – the plants and flowers that come along unbidden to surprise us.  I showed you a lovely surprise primrose that has similarly come along into my garden.  She writes, “Now, over the last few years, there have been some really astonishing surprises.  The sudden appearance of poppies, enormous poppies, in great profusion, and of all shades of mauve and pink, brought neighbours to admire and to beg for seed.  How they came is a mystery.  We accept their presence with great joy.” (p. 72).  A friend of mine had one such mystery poppy appear, and she sent me seeds from it.  The seeds have now germinated, and I’ve been very carefully tending them.  Fingers crossed there will be some beautiful poppies in my garden this summer too!

Katharine Stewart concludes: “Even with vicious east winds and cold mist, May is still the season of forward-looking days.  Everything will right itself in the end, we feel.” (p. 72)  Yes indeed.

A reader asked me if I would post photos of our young rowan tree, as she had wondered what rowans look like.  Rowan is the Scottish name for mountain ash.  Our wee tree has blossomed now:

Young rowan in blossom, Glasgow, end of May 2015.

Young rowan in blossom, Glasgow, end of May 2015.

Rowan blossom, Glasgow, end of May 2015.

Rowan blossom, Glasgow, end of May 2015.

Sorry the photos aren’t better quality, but that gives you some idea if you were wondering.

I’ve been pondering the question of when spring ends and summer begins.  I remember years ago being puzzled when a Gaelic-speaker referred to August as the “autumn”.  They explained, “if May-June-July are the summer, then August is the autumn”.  This year, at least, May has not felt like summer.  When frost is still a possibility, I don’t think in terms of summer.  It was forecast to get down to 4C/39F last night.  But we are definitely on the cusp of summer.  It’s still light out at 10 pm, for one thing.  And it’s less than a month now until the summer solstice.

I wish everyone a very good weekend.  It’s a Holiday Weekend on both sides of the Atlantic.  In America, Monday is Memorial Day; in Britain it’s a Bank Holiday, which means that some people in Scotland have the day off, but many do not.  The high school pupils have exams on Monday, so they don’t get a break.  But there are lots of sales in the shops, and a general air of festivity.

Posted by: christinelaennec | May 18, 2015

We have a winner!

Thank you everyone who entered my giveaway.  I wish I could give you each a Harris tote bag.  I wrote names on slips of paper, as usual:

Who will it be?

Who will it be?

The Dafter was very dramatic about picking one at random, and killing me with suspense once she had done so:

Drum roll.....

Drum roll…..

Before finally revealing that the winner is:

giveaway_3Congratulations, Charlotte!  I hope this will perk you up as you recover from your eye surgery.  I’ll be in touch to find out your address.

My No-Knit Week ended yesterday morning.  What bliss it was to be able to knit again!

The delights of a picot-edge bind-off!

The delights of a picot-edge bind-off!

I am usually a bit lazy on Sunday and don’t have time for much besides practising the hymns before choir rehearsal and then the service.  This Sunday, I made time to knit.  Now once more every day can be a knitting day!  It was harder than I’d thought to forego knitting for a week, but I raised £520 for AYME, which is way beyond my wildest imaginings.  My friends are very generous and obviously they appreciated what a sacrifice it was for my tiny mind!

I wish you all a good week ahead.

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