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Posts from the ‘Family’ Category

Van with a View (1)

P1020783It took two years of deliberation, but finally the van is On The Road.

And the first camper adventure may have been brief but it was shared with my sons.

So on this momentous occasion my view from the back seat of the two co-drivers is the one I’ll treasure.

Happy days.

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Conscience free snow

There’s deep snow underfoot and fluffy flurries falling as I walk in late afternoon light. It’s Ontario in the midst of a freezing Canadian winter, and I’m shovelling to clear the driveway,  playing on skates, skis and snowshoes, taking endless photographs and piling on layer after layer to stay warm. I grab wool, down, boots, fleeces, gloves, hat, more down and sunglasses and am rewarded with whiteness, shadows, a glowing body, aching muscles and a warm dram at night. There’s no guilt.

Guilt? For enjoying winter?

We had snow too when I was little, growing up on a Scottish dairy farm which was perched at the top of a steep slippery brae. There was only one focus every snowy morning; the long farm track had to be ploughed and sanded for the daily visit of the milk tanker. The pot-bellied lorry had to power its way up the hill and manoeuvre round the bends to reverse into position outside the dairy, unhook its long pipe and suck the bulk tank dry because a herd of cows was already gearing up to fill it all over again . And they couldn’t wait.

It seemed the jeopardy was with us every morning. Would this be the day the snow and ice would prove to be  too much and we’d have to pour the hard-earned milk down the drain? We kids had the family farm work ethic; we knew it mattered.

My father and the men would spend the morning scraping and sanding the road then hook a tractor to pull the tanker up and up,  climbing round the dangerous slippery drops which fell to the river far below. We’d listen for the sound, willing the engine noise to slowly draw closer and roar outside the farmhouse window. Not until it was safely back down the hill  could we children make slides and throw snowballs, knowing that all was well with the world. Until the next day.

It’s a lifetime ago but carefree snow is still a novelty. This week I’m embracing it.

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A swirl of moss

A swirl of moss

Near my grandfather’s grave a swirl of moss on stone outlines a neighbour’s life.

Surviving the season with a blast from the past

Thermals… tick. Down jacket… tick. Gloves, scarf, hat… tick.  Boots, double socks…

The damp and darkness of a Scottish winter have driven me indoors to pore over my 2013 diary for a fiery blast of southern sunshine. This time last year I was in the goldfields of Kalgoorlie, Western Australia where the temperature was 46 degrees; unbreathable and unsleepable and the most extreme heat I’ve ever encountered.

On Hogmanay 2012 I’d caught the Prospector train from Perth for a seven hour journey east across barren land, the train track accompanied all the way by the essential water pipe from the coast that the sceptics said could never be built. And on New Year’s Day 2013 I joined my brother in the truck he drives for hundreds of miles every week, over ungraded red roads, all the way out to the remote gold mines.

We explored deserted settlements and abandoned mines where there’s nothing but a few sun-faded signs to hint at the P1030053gamble that went into the building of pioneering prospector towns like Kanowna, just an hour’s drive from Kalgoorlie.  I ventured out of the cab for a few minutes at a time to poke around the weather-beaten posts that marked ancient claims and to see how the props of solitary digs and the dreams of desperate men had crumbled to dust.

The unrealised expectations that had been invested in these harsh places just 100 years ago made me wistful. The prospect of riches had attracted an optimistic community of people who build homes and hotels, formed social clubs and a football team, a fire service and a Salvation Army. Children went to school here. Yet despite enduring the discomfort and sacrifices the dream ultimately failed to deliver. And now the inhospitable land that was once home to a town full of miners and their families has been returned to nature with only a few dents in the ground to show for all the expectation and effort.

P1020910By contrast, just a few miles away, the Kalgoorlie Super Pit still continues to yield gold, ever since  three Irishman stumbled across a huge nugget in 1893. Around 50 million ounces of gold have been mined here and the dumper trucks which look like worker ants in the huge scale of the pit still appear to work 24 hours a day.

Kalgoorlie-Boulder was once one of the biggest cities in Australia and home to the “richest mile on earth”. And some of the characters you meet on its streets even now look every bit as desperate and determined as the 19th century photographs of prospectors on display in the town’s museum.

There were a few of these men in the Broad Arrow Tavern too, an outback pub where we retreated indoors in the relative cool and drank pint after pint of iced water and I, the unacclimatised Scot, tried to stabilise my soaring body temperature.

P1030022 Maybe that cool dark Scottish rain pelting the window tonight isn’t such a problem after all.  I’ll just throw another log on the fire.

Home is … chocolate cake in the tin

It’s been two years since I baked a chocolate cake. And two years since my younger son left to travel around New Zealand.

But I’ve just finished decorating the cake I baked this morning because … he’s on his way back! Both my boys are coming home today – and what is home without a chocolate cake in the tin?

My mother baked every day when we were growing up. Like many Scottish families at the time we ate “High Tea” rather than dinner. Lunch was the main meal of the day and when we ate at 5.30pm, straight after the afternoon milking,  it was a savoury dish followed by a cup of tea and a selection of Mum’s scones, pancakes, “angel” cakes with sponge wings, sultana cake, and sometimes shortbread or Victoria sponge.

Occasionally there would be rich Sacher Torte or her pièce de resistance, an apricot tray bake which was in such demand at local  charity “Bring and Buy” sales, a black market formed amongst the local clientele and  it was auctioned and hidden before it ever reached the sale table! I have her (classified) shortbread and pastry recipes but I’ll never match her skill or lightness of touch.

I look back now and wonder a) how none of us became obese and b) how she found the time to bake on top of managing a large family and helping run a farm. The answer to a) is probably that we all did physical work on the farm and portions were small by today’s standards. And as for b),  I realise now that, in part at least, baking was her creative outlet. Mum never ate the cakes or sweet things herself and we took the home baked food for granted;  anything “shop bought” was regarded as inferior. Her delicious food was always devoured. But I wish we’d praised her more.

I’m living in a rented house at the moment with all my favourite dishes and utensils packed away in storage, so I’ve had to borrow the tins and the beaters today, and make do with strange bowls and tools. That’s my excuse for the cake not looking perfect.

But really, I doubt the boys will notice.

Following autumn paths

The river paths are a bit neglected these days; wooden bridges hang by a thread, fallen trees need to be scaled and the bracken and heather have started to encroach. But I’m drawn to that sense of decay, the knowledge that they’re slowly being reclaimed by nature.

There are no barriers, no signs, no people; just generations of history and memories.

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“Break a leg!” they said. And he did.

Three weeks ago it wasn’t looking good.

My artist son was in hospital in Germany, his leg badly broken and out of action for at least three months.

It was painful and inconvenient but his most pressing problem was that the theatrical installation that had been commissioned for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival had still to be built.

Professionally it was unmissable. But time was short and the welding, lifting, cable laying, ladder climbing, transporting and other heavy-duty work would be impossible for him.

P1000858Word got around. His friends pulled out the stops,  his girlfriend was a trouper and  Cryptic, the theatre company, paid for an assistant to work under his direction.

I flew back from Canada to provide the wheels and food and was allocated space for my sleeping bag in a Bohemian cupboard under the stairs!

The local supermarket became familiar, I negotiated my way round the industrial estates of Glasgow to find electrical warehouses, filled my car with the most fragile equipment, loaded vans, blacked out windows, crawled around moving cables (first time I’ve had “housemaid’s knee”)  and – with an hour to go before the preview opened – I even mopped the theatre floor.

Others contributed so much more. But Robbie’s the star; a talented artist who’s uncompromising about his work.

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The show  combines music, light, mechanical choreography with “found objects” and the lightening impact of a caged Tesla coil  to create the spectacular assault on the senses. It is dark and sinister, it makes you fear for the future but then, unexpectedly, it can make you laugh out loud. Some of the beats stay in your head for hours. It comes with no interpretation or explanation. It provokes.

His nocturnal lifestyle proved challenging (and the cupboard had its limitations) and apparently I did a bit too much “mothering” but it has been a privilege to help and be part of the team over the past three weeks . The memories will last a long time – not least a last exhausted evening we spent sipping curative Lagavoulins in an Edinburgh bar. His pals are great, we’ve had endless stops for beers and laughs, the preview night was emotional,  and the opening night on Friday …. a full house.

He did it. And now he needs to keep on hobbling in and doing it every day until the 25th of August.  Robbie Thomson. Ecstatic Arc. Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Summerhall Arts Centre. He broke a leg.  (And just look at that shiny floor!)

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