Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Jubilee. No, not that one. The 1977 one.

1977: The Queen's Silver Jubilee. Here I am as Britannia (centre) with my sisters as Elizabeth I (right) and Elizabeth II (left). Elizabeth I's dress was made of gorgeous violet-coloured velvet and her curly red wig was a stocking cap with theatrical hair glued on! My mother made the costumes and my father made the fabulous royal coach that Elizabeth II rode in, out of an old pram.
The photo was taken in Manor Way, Chesham, England, on our way to a street party.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

This has nothing to do with writing, really...

...except inasmuch as any unfortunate experience undergone by a writer always ends up on the page somehow.
This weekend we went camping at Badaguish, near Aviemore, with the Strathearn Harriers running club. My husband and daughter (our "resident techie" on account to her near-surgical attachment to her computer) are both members of the club, hence the trip. Husband was very keen, so was small son, the resident techie less so. As for me, I have nothing against camping, and have in fact camped many times, including living in a tent for 17 weeks in 1992 during an Overland trip. All the same, it is one of those things a little like visiting an irascible relative, that seems a worthy idea in principle but somehow there is never a specific weekend when you really feel like doing it.
Husband had an appallingly busy week at work and was much later home on Friday night than planned, which probably goes to some way to explaining his oversight when it came to the packing. Having thrown everything into the car and left several hours later than we'd intended, we were about three quarters of the way to Aviemore when he slapped his forehead and said, "I've forgotten the sleeping bags."
I suppose I can't really complain too much about this because I am also a responsible adult and could perfectly well have checked what went into the boot and what didn't. However, since Hubs is one of those square-jawed keen-eyed outdoors types who loves nothing better than sorting through equipment and saying "Aha, I'd completely forgotten we had that spork/inflatable pillow/viciously sharp multi-tool" it never really entered my head that he would leave out something as fundamental as the sleeping bags. As we were already very late and it would have meant another three hour's driving to go back and get the bags, there was nothing for it but to go on.
Unfortunately, the resident techie, who had her ear-phones in and missed the exclamations of horror, happened to look up and see the forehead-slapping. "What's wrong?" she asked, ripping out the ear-phones. We did our best to make light of the situation but since she was not 100% thrilled with the prospect of a camping weekend in the first place, the discovery that her sleeping bag was still in the closet at home provoked a pyrotechnic display of hysterics. In vain did we try to persuade her that she would manage perfectly well if she went to sleep in all her clothes with her campfire blanket wrapped around her. To be fair, I wasn't entirely convinced of that myself, having half frozen a couple of years ago at a camp in Grobbendonk in spite of fleece trousers and a down sleeping bag.
When we arrived at Badaguish we were relieved to discover that there was a wooden "wigwam" free, so we abandoned the plan to use the tent and moved into that instead. Both kids had their campfire blankets with them, so they curled up in those in relative comfort. Husband and I, however, had to forage amongst the things he had remembered to pack, for something to wrap ourselves in. Eventually he came up with a "group shelter", which is basically an enormous orange nylon thing of no discernable shape. Outdoorsy types seem to be very keen on these group shelters, which are supposed to enable a group of people to huddle together out of the wind and rain. In my experience it is always a struggle to stop the thing being blown away altogether by the wind and the resident techie always takes more than her share of space, so everyone else has their bum hanging out. Whatever its merits as an outdoor shelter, it makes a rubbish duvet: it is thin and unpleasantly shiny and every tiny movement makes a loud rustling noise.
The resident techie was not amused by any of this and complained vociferously for a long time after lights out, in spite of repeated pleas for her to "stop gurning and let us go to sleep." At one point I happened to make an unconnected remark and she snapped, "That's not relevant to the gurning." I suppose we all fell asleep around 1am, and managed a mere three hours before the first person woke up at 4am and decided to trek the 300m to the loo, waking the rest of us up in the process. It seems to be a rule of camping that if you know the loo is 300m away on the other side of a stream you will inevitably have to get up twice in the night, even if you can normally sleep for 18 hours at a stretch...
The following morning we crawled out of the wigwam feeling and looking like death warmed up. Things could only improve, and I'm glad to say that they did. The kids spent the morning swinging over a pond on metal rings and dropping into the water in all their clothes, and I lazed around reading Flashman and Scotland's Best Churches. After lunch we all went to the beach at Loch Morlich and swam in the icy waters. It was a very hot sunny afternoon and it was quite strange to swim about looking at distant mountains with the winter snow still on top of them! This morning there was a run (well, it was a Harriers' weekend) and Husband took part. The rest of us went to see about ices. We found the cafeteria closed but a very nice man who was creosoting the outside wall let us in and sold us  a Fab each. By the time we left, the resident techie admitted to "quite enjoying it" and talked about "next time." I think there will be a next time, but I have learnt my lesson. Next time I will check the sleeping bags are in the boot!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

More creepy stuff from Perthshire

 Looking back, I seem to have posted about nothing but churches recently. So here's something different. Well, it does have a cross on top of it, but apart from that...
This monument is at the side of the road which runs between Dunning and Auchterarder. It's a monument to "Maggie Wall, burnt here 1657 as a witch."
I did a bit of ferreting around on the internet and it would appear that some people think Maggie Wall didn't exist at all. However, many people were executed as witches in 17th century Perthshire.
The thing I find a wee bit creepy is the little offerings (bottom picture) that people have left on the monument. As well as the coins there are candles, and apparently children's soft toys have also been spotted there, wedged between the stones. Why?

No glass demons, but glass angels.

On Thursday I finished the current round of edits of my new book Silent Saturday, so I decided I would award myself a morning off on Friday and drive over to Dunning. There is a very old church there, St. Serf's, which is only open for part of the year. Last time I went, it was still closed for the winter, but looked tantalisingly interesting, so I had been promising myself for ages that when I had time I would go back and see the interior. Simple pleasures...
St.Serf's is no longer a "living" church; it is managed by Historic Scotland because it houses the ancient Dupplin Cross, a Pictish carved cross dating to around 800AD. It has many intriguing features, not the least of which is the bizarre t-shaped layout of the church. Originally it was a more conventional rectangle but later in its history it was extended to accommodate more worshippers. Wooden galleries were added which make it quite difficult to make out the original lines of the architecture.
The church has a fine Romanesque bell-tower but sadly you cannot go up it! Not even the church guide is allowed to; it is unsafe. (I would have gone up anyway if allowed!!) The guide was however kind enough to unlock the door so that I could at least take a peep at the inside of the tower (bell-towers are a bit of a "thing" with me, since I started work on my current trilogy - they appear in several of the books). The stairs were extremely worn and narrow, with no hand-rail - although there are hand holds carved into the stone. The oddest thing was the roof of the staircase, which is very crude and unfinished. I had never seen that before.
One of the lovely features of the church is its Victorian stained glass windows by Ballantine & Gardiner. Normally I am not very fond of Victorian glass - I'm much more interested in the older stuff, when I can find it. But these windows are gorgeous. I've posted a couple of pics of one of them. This window shows an old warrior who has finally laid down his sword. The sword lies under the feet of the pictured angels, and his scabbard, which hands at his waist, is empty. I love the old man's very weary but calm face. I found this window very moving. Who knows? Perhaps I'll manage to weave him into a future book!

A big thank you to Mr. Garry Malcolm, who showed me round the church. If you want to see more pictures of St. Serf'S, there is a whole album on my Facebook churches page at  Note, this is a historical interest page, not a religious page.