Friday, 10 April 2015

Carrou Mor Vignettes: The Flower Show

Memoirs of a Kirriemarian: The Flower Show

raided bed vegetable garden
Raised vegetable bed By Srl
via Wikimedia Commons
The next installment in my Scottish Memoir series brings us a visit to the annual Kirriemuir Flower Show. 
If there was one area of contention in my home town, it was gardening.  

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Vegetarian Clootie Dumpling: My take on a traditional Scottish Dessert Recipe

How to Make a Vegetarian Clootie Dumpling

British silver threepence piece
A silver threepence piece via Wiki commons
Here's my recipe for a vegetarian clootie dumpling. This was one of my familiy's favourite pudding served up on special occasions. In case you don't know, clootie dumpling is a traditional Scottish steamed fruit pudding and named for the cloth or cloot it was steamed in. Lucky coins, (usually silver three-penny-pieces my father saved and duly exchanged for a half-crown), were wrapped in grease-proof paper and included in the pudding before cooking: giving the pudding a stir was thought to guarantee every child a lucky coin.
It is traditionally cooked with beef suet but thankfully you can now get vegetarian suet - failing that use butter instead, this will make a lighter pudding.
It is best served hot with double cream but you can also use custard or ice-cream. It can be eaten cold, much like a rich fruit cake. The most famous clootie dumplings were made my Ma Broon, of the cartoon Broons family, who liked it fried with bacon!
Today you can buy them on line if you don't make them yourself and they interesting and unique gifts. If you make your own, wrap the dumpling in a pretty clean dry cloth or muslin and tie with a tartan bow.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Carrou Mor Vignettes: Of School Days

Of School Days in Kirriemuir

Bellies Brae Kirriemuir
Bellies Brae Kirriemuir by Gwen and James Andersonunder Wiki commons 
There were two primary schools in Kirrie, ours, the Southmuir Primary School part of Webster’s Seminary and the Reform Street Primary up the town which might as well have been another country for all the contact we had with it we definitely felt superior since ours was attached to the high school, proudly the only non-Catholic Seminary in Scotland at that time.
The Southmuir primary was a pretty red stone building that stood at the top of Bellies Brae and had served countless generations before becoming too small to service the growing population. From our side it was on the level but anyone coming from the town had a long climb from the Gairie Burn and Bellies Brae up to it. Those old steps were uneven rough stone of undetermined age.  Everyone and their granny used those steps and the playground as a short cut from one side of the town to the other, much to the annoyance of Mr McIntosh the school janitor.
 When I was little I thought McIntosh owned the school, living as he did in a small house in the grounds; it took a while before it clicked that he was the caretaker and groundsman.  A great brute of a man, he looked like a giant to our five year old eyes, much like Hagrid before Rowling created him.  Not as soft as that giant though.  McIntosh – I never knew his first name - took everything personally within his well kept grounds.  Gruff and dour, he glowered at everyone from under heavy black eyebrows skimmed by his old army bunnet. 
Young and old alike ran the gauntlet of his wrath in taking the short cut.  Many arguments would drift in through the windows while little ears flapped listening to McIntosh tearing strips off some old lady who had just panted her way up one hundred steps.   In response, people either ignored him, or gave back as good as they got,
‘If ye think...’ pant, ‘I’m gawing back doon they steps McIntosh...’ pant, ‘ye can think agin.  I pay my taxes like abody else.’
Some people even he wouldn’t challenge; specifically, Mrs Elder.  The sight of her tartan headscarf coming into view above the parapet of stone wall would see McIntosh disappearing in the opposite direction.  Sometimes he didn’t quite make it round the corner of a building before she topped the steps and Mrs Elder would catch a glimpse of him,
‘Aye, ye scurry awa ye wee rodent ye,’ would drift through the windows and she would mutter her way down passed primary’s four, five and seven.  Mrs Elder stood five foot nothing in her stocking soles to McIntosh’s six foot four, proving size didn’t matter when it came to dealing with bullies.
Inside, we didn’t actually see any of this; the windows, great arched things with impressive stone lintels, were high off the ground, presumably to prevent distraction from our chanted times tables. The general layout was simple; classrooms on each side and a square in the middle lined with gym benches, for PE, assembly, choir practice and the odd play.   
You started with entry through the left-hand side door progressing annually from primary one to two to three down the left of the building, let’s skip over the boy and girls toilets that formed the top of the square, then on the other side, down to four and five - one big room divided in two by a glass and wood screen.  There was a brief side step into primary six at the front beside the office, then back to primary seven, the last class room before you exited the right hand side door and up to the BIG school. 
When we were five, Gracie Bruce and I went eagerly to this familiar building.  We had been inseparable since we were two years old, and together, we could do anything.  There is a photograph somewhere of that first day, of the pair of us in cotton dresses, school bags on backs and grinning manically into the camera at the door of Grace’s house, our introduction to the world delayed by the necessity of recording it. 
Besides having each other, it also helped that the school was at the end of our road, familiar territory and well within our comfort zone.   Not so for Lesley Cameron, this was her first extended absence from her mum and she spent the whole day hanging onto the door knob, howling.  I can remember being puzzled that anyone would be so reluctant to leave home.  Maybe she had the right of it after all, to clinging as long as possible to childhood.  Miss Petrie, by that time Primary One teacher for three decades, let her stay by the door, obviously watching to see she didn’t harm herself, and simply raising her voice above the noise.   Next day Lesley came and sat behind Gracie and I, and that was that.       
Behind me also, and for the next seven years, sat the Thomson twins, Peter and Andrew, the same pair who shared my baptism day.  For some reason, I have carried that tenuous connection to the twins with me throughout my life.  Everything twin-like got my complete attention, and I thought nothing would have pleased me more than to be the mother of twins.  Not to be, but later as a midwife I did delivery a couple of pairs of twins to my great delight, and that must serve.  But I digress.
Memories of primary school days are scanty.  I remember the old oak tree that dominated the playground at the top of the steps.  That tree was used for everything; it formed shelter from rain and sun, around its raised roots we created our own games, swarmed in its branches, and, later on, it became a trysting place for our first romantic encounters.  That tree was solid.   I always imagined the roots grew down inside the whole of that hill, a huge anchor that kept us earthed to Scottish soil.
For those years, the school was the centre of our universe, the spot from which we surveyed the rest of town life.  From its grounds on one side and down the brae was the Commonty, the jute factories and the old gas tanks, empty but still stinking.   
Waterfall at the top of the Gairie Burn, Kirriemuir

Waterfall at the top of the Gairie Burn, Kirriemuir

Wiki Commons

The Commonty was common land, a swathe of green, a path along the top, another down the far side going toward the factory.  At the bottom, another path and then the burn.  It’s important to remember that the burn was at the other side of the path in winter.  When the snow came, at every playtime and lunchtime there was a scramble to find a cardboard box to slide down the Commonty.  If you timed it wrong, you hit the bottom of the slope, flew over the path and into the burn.  Shrieking kids, who normally hated being wet, were willing to forego comfort and were content to spend afternoon classes steaming gently in classrooms whose perfume then became wet wool and leather.   
Funny -  the scents and smells that take you back.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Memories of Mum

Margaret Mackie Buick Reid

Memories of Mum on Mother's Day

As we reach Mother's day it is natural my mind turns to memories of my mum. Margaret Mackie Buick Reid.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Kellie Castle Fife Scotland

Photos and Info on Kellie Castle Pittenweem Fife Scotland

Kellie Castle Fife Scotland
As part of the St Andrews Poetry Festival this year I was lucky enough to spend a day at Kellie Castle in a workshop led by Sandy - I thought you might enjoy seeing some of my photographs in and around the castle.

There has been a dwelling on this site for somethink like 600 years though not in its present form. The first would have been a typical Scottish tower house, a simple tower with thick walls, narrow windows, winding stone stairs and tiny rooms. There was probably a 'great hall' the largest room with two fireplaces to heat. Everyone from Laird down would dine there before the top table retired to the 'withdrawing room'. The tiny rooms remain as do the uneven stone stairs.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Visiting Scotland: St Andrews The Home of Golf

St Andrews, Fife, Scotland

St Andrews Castle Fife Scotland
St Andrews Castle Fife Scotland
I went to university in St Andrews (many years before Prince William and Kate Middleton), so perhaps I am bias, but to me St Andrew is one of the places in Scotland everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. Find out what to do, where to stay and where to eat in St Andrews. The British Open Golf Championship return to St Andrews for 2015.

Memoir: Carrou Mor Vignettes

Carrou Mor Vignettes: Memories of Kirriemuir

Monday, 12 January 2015

National Gallery of Scotland and Queens Gardens Edinburgh

The National Gallery of Scotland Edinburgh                          

The National Gallery of Scotland is a must-see for everyone visiting Edinburgh. It sits on The Mound at one end of Queen's Gardens - which incidentally was a lake many years ago. Today it runs the length of Princes Street and is well-loved and well-used by visitors and residents.  

National Gallery of Scotland Edinburgh
National Gallery of Scotland Edinburgh
The Gallery houses not only many famous Scottish artists but many of the old masters - my two favourites being contrasting Van Gogh paintings that sit on either side of a doorway. On one side the trees he paints are pastels and peaceful, the other was painted while he was in a sanitorium and is vivid slashes of colour. Maybe they stick in my mind because I can relate to the contrasting moods. 
National Gallery of Scotland Edinburgh
National Gallery of Scotland Edinburgh
There is a nice cafe on the lower level which is actually the start of the Gardens.

steps in Queens gardens down to National Gallery of Scotland Edinburgh Cafe
Steps in Queeens Gardens leading down to the Gallery Cafe

Queens Gardens Edinburgh
Queens Gardens Edinburgh

Friday, 9 January 2015

A Scottish Poem: Hame by annmackiemiller

Poetry by Ann Miller

stove and hearth
by the fire
Yer asking me whit hame is?
Well, haud yer wheest a mo and let me think.
Weel then -
Hame is whaur the hert is -
is it no?
and once upon a time
twas whaur wallie dugs graced the mantle
and 3 geese traversed the wa'
in endless flight.
Hame was faither's pipe and the coloured cleaners
I bought him every year - you mind the kind.
He'd duly mak them intae wee men fer me,
He'd say 'here ye go bonny lass',
faithful pipe clenched tight in teeth
wi groove long worn.
Hame was couerieing in by the fire
tartan legs and cauld lugs.
It was a tully lamp in power cuts
and lightning visits tae the lavie.
It was a box foo o half pennies
we used when playing cards.
It was listening to the radio
while mum knitted socks
and dad mended shoes,
or tinkered wi his clocks,
ye mind? the anes he'd
be winding up to tell fowk
was time to leave when visiting;
'Here's yer hat and whit's yer hurry'
we'd laugh and joke
but that was him,
and his bedtime ritual.
Hame was sing-a-longs
when mum played piano;
it was books and music,
friends and fowk comin rund
for tea and sugary pancakes,
for help, or crack and telling jokes.
Hame was an open door
Mum's baking and dad's gerden.
Ye want mair?
Och weel
let's just say
Maste o' a' -
Hame is in the past.

Poetry copyright to AnnMackIeMiller

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Clunie Bridge Pitlochry Perthshire Scotland

The Clunie Bridge Pitlochry

Cluny Bridge Pitlochry Perthshire Scotland
Cluny Bridge Pitlochry Perthshire Scotland
Misty Morning
I took this picture on a misty Sunday morning while I was attending Dougie MacLean's Perthshire Amber Folk Festival.

The footbridge crosses the River Tummel and was built about 1950 - it replaced an old road bridge that was lost when Hydro Electric built the reserviour and dam here. It is a suspension bridge so will sway while you cross - not great for those of us affected by balance issues.

If you are wondering about the name - it seems to relate to the land ownership at the time the first bridge was built in the 18th century. Clunie itself can date back to a pictish clan. 

Saturday, 3 January 2015

A Scottish Poem: Mum's Wool Winder

Mum's Wool Winder

Sheltand Wool Winder and Hearth
A Poem by AnnMackieMiller

When wool came in hanks

Mum would use whoever handy

to hold their arms straight

so she could wind hank to ball.

There was a trick to holding it,

a rhythm that shifted you

from right and from left

with a subtle release of the thumb

at just the right time.

Then dad make her the wool winder.

First seen in Shetland I believe

it was just a simple design,

two reels and a ladder

crafted in a workshop haunted by kids.

A quiet man, my father never voiced his love

letting instead the shaping of the wood

and each tender plane and polish

speak for him.

The wool winder sits on my hearth now,

beside a fading photograph

and every day it reminds me

of that other fireside in a family warmed.

All poetry is copyright to AnnMackieMiller

Memoir: My Father: Biography of a Gentle Scotsman

James Hall Reid

My Father - A Memoir and a Tribute

When I was set the challenge "The Person You Most Admire" I discarded a lot of people: William Wallace, Mother Theresa, Ghandi, JFK, Martin Luther, Grace Kelly and on and on. But the one person I just could not get out on my mind was my father. Life threw more than its fair share of problems his way but he emerged a gentle, quiet, well educated man that I miss every day of my life. He was my hero.
This is my tribute to him in poetry and prose. Some of the poetry is in the language of my land, Scotland. Old Scots rich in the cadence that is Scotland.


As you can see, the photos are from my family album, duly scanned into digital form. All the pictures and the poetry here are my own.
Please respect my copyright to them and do not copy or reproduce.
Many thanks

Dad with Uncle Bob and 'Meggie' the car

James Hall Reid


Born in Huntly, now Morayshire, Scotland James Hall Reid was the eldest of three. His mother was a nurse at Aberdeen Sick Children's Hospital before she married, and his father had a plumbing business. When Dad was 10, his sister 6 and his brother only 1 year old, their mother died of tuberculous. His father had returned from the Boer War (1902) minus several fingers so found it difficult to work as a plumber. With the death of his wife, he took to drink, lost his business and left most of the care of the children to James, his eldest son. James senior became a postman in Auchinblae a cute little town in The Mearns - now Kincardinshire. I am told he liked that as there were lots of illegal stills in the area who were very generous to their posties. My father never talked about him but my uncle once told me he remembered Hallie (my dad's family name) bringing his father home in a wheelbarrow. What a burden for a child. My father was a confirmed tee-totaller his whole life and I suspect he was afraid he would be like his father if he ever gave into it.
He worked where ever he could to bring some money into the household, and taught himself to read, to do carpentry, plumbing, shoe making, even sewing for his siblings. My uncle spoke often of how Hallie brought him up and despite the constant banter between the pair of them, through all their lives there was a strong bond, immense respect from my uncle to my dad and quiet dignity by my father. My uncle called him The Flower Man because of his love of gardening for Uncle Bob could not see the point in growing anything that couldn't eat.
The photo here is of my father in front with Uncle Bob and 'Meggie' the car.

The Army Life

two Gordon Highlanders

A Highlander in India

It is little wonder that at 15 or 16 he faked his age and joined the Gordon Highlanders to get away. In the army he was a corporal, he played drums in the band, and danced as a Highland dancer at Gatherings. He worked a lot with horses and travelled to Egypt and spent a long time in India. One of my treasures are the photographs he took, processed and printed while he was in India. The backs are a wonderful vignette of life in the army in India in the 1920s. He sent them all back to his father, and still show just how much he loved the man despite all his faults.
Dad left the army in 1930 with an ulcer, a bad chest and a gamey leg from when a horse fell on him.

poetry by AnnMackieMiller

Gordon Highlanders in India
My father was a drummer
in a Highland regiment.
Fancy that, my father!
Strange to think of him marching
and twirling drum sticks,
but I have the photographs to prove it.
He was a Highland dancer too
- and a singer;
I only knew him as my dad;
the soldier in the photo
a stranger with my dad's face.
Mum and Dad on their engagement day
at Turretville Brechin

The Gentle Man

Dad with Micky the dog
Home again in the 1930s Dad worked on various country estates as a gardener. I still love enclosed walled gardens and see him working in them ever time I visit one. He met my mother at Strathcathro Hospital where she was a nurse. She was 18 years younger than him. One tale we heard every time we passed Stracathro was when, while they were courting, Dad threw her lipstick away into the field, saying she didn't need anything like that. I spent years trying to see the lipstick tree.
They moved all over Scotland losing two babies but ending with a family of three, my sister Greta, my brother and me, the after-thought.
Before I was born my mother had tired of the constant moving and they moved into the town of Kirriemuir, a market town in Angus Scotland. He could turn his hand to anything and Dad had a variety of jobs from a cemetery worker, a motor mechanic, a factory jute inspector and finally a boilerman in a jute factory. He hated being indoors and he missed the gardens, so gardening became one of his greatest loves.
His family was the most important thing in his life. He wouldn't have a television in the house until we were quite grown believing it ruined family life. As a family we sang songs round the piano. My mother was a wonderful pianist and Dad a great singer. He used to perform in amateur operas and it was a joy to stand beside him in church, We also played card and board games and made things. We read constantly and listened to the radio - long before modern technology, when I was a teenager he rigged up a speaker in my bedroom to let me listen to Radio Luxemburg, so he could switch it off when he thought I should be asleep.
He loved to tinker with clocks and we had an abundance of them, all lovingly restored. Mum always knew what would come home from a 'roup'. He made rag rugs out of old clothes so the rugs that graced our floors told a story all their own. Dad taught us so many things, it was my dad that taught me to knit (he learned on the ship to India when the sailors taught the army men to pass the time). I was only sorry he didn't teach me the woodworking he taught my brother. On Sundays after church and lunch he and my mother would take us walking, teaching us the names of the trees and flowers. Pity I don't remember them now.
He had the most wonderful child-like love of Christmas perhaps because they had been so few in his own childhood. Some of my most precious memories are of Christmas at home, all celebrated without a drop of alcohol. He would squeeze every present, even those that were not his own and loved squirrelling away little surprises for us all. Many of his presents were hand made or renovated, like the bike he gave me on my 12th birthday. They had had a terrible time keeping me away from his workshop and I can remember sulking when I wasn't allowed near it. The year he won some money on the 'Football Pools' he kept it secret but so proud when he presented us each with a BOUGHT present. My sister got a powder compact, my brother a cigarette lighter and me... a book of course.
He also loved cars. When he got his first car he swelled with pride. 'Meggie' named after my mother is the car shown here. She was dark green - the car not my mother though I suspect mum's love of the colour green had a lot to do with the choice of car.

a poem by annmackiemiller
I hae but twa, maybe three, photos of me and Dad
Ain, snapped in a Dundee street
With me between them, Mum and Dad
But looking back for brither an' sister.
And ain, high in faither's airms
Aged 2 or so I think.
The last?
On my wedding day
still his Bonny Lass
he handed tae anither.
Oh wid I had mair tae mind
his dear face though
it be scoored deep with life's
hard tale and sorrows.

Poetry is copyright to AnnMackieMiller
Mum and Dad on my wedding day

The Funeral by annmackiemiller

Poetry for my father by Ann Miller

I wrote a series of three poems for three funerals, this is my Dad's
I couldn't sing.
Not today, not for my dad.
I wanted him to hear my voice one last time
but the words wouldn't pass choking chords
I tried - and failed
Just as I failed to be there before he died
and now the one thing I wanted to do
I couldn't sing for my daddy.
Perhaps he hears me now.

Poetry is copyright to AnnMackieMiller, please do not copy
his last Christmas

A Poem in Venacular Scots: MY FAITHER AIRMS

A Scottish Poem by AnnMackieMiller



I mind my faithers airms,
strong and chisled flesh
walnut brown
with lines painted,
a map of life-blood
that mark time, place and burdens.
They wer'nae muscley strong mind
but stringy strong, whittled strong
by years o shovelling coal
intae yon great burning monster
that made the jaite.
Tons o coal broocht in big lorries
frae the coal-fields where ither faithers
howked it oot the grund in dark profusion then.
I mind the smell, the heat,
and black stained haunds
adjusting dials and funny wheels.
I mind his laugh ain dae
I asked tae ply the shovel
and couldnae lift the loads
he threw aroon,
muckle heaps o coal piled ceiling high
that dwindled tae noucht alooe his haunds.
I mind his airms pruning roses and turning wood
I mind his hand haundling faithful pipe
and stroking mither's hair
where she sat at his feet by fire.
Aye I mind,
And mindin', miss him still.
Poetry copyright to AnnMackieMiller: Please do not copy