God, Uncategorized

Factoid Friday: Taste and see

We weren’t allowed to be fussy eaters. Mum, who was an excellent and adventurous cook, used to say ‘You don’t know you don’t like it if you haven’t tasted it. Just take one bite. If you don’t like it then that’s ok.’ And of course, when we’d taken one bite, we loved it!

Her recipe book was well-used with lots of inserts and hand-written notes. It is a huge joy to me to have it and still use it.

Digital Image

There is a scientific reason (this Friday’s Factoid!) why children so often dislike things which later, as adults, they don’t have a problem with. They have many more taste-buds than adults, so the taste sensation is that much stronger, more intense. Adults have between 3,000 and 10,000 taste-buds. They regenerate every ten days or so, but that slows down with age so maybe it is true that food doesn’t taste quite so wonderful as it did when we were young. (And Mars bars are definitely smaller!)

I like my food spicy. This may be because of the years I spent in Northern Nigeria when everything we ate had a good spike of chilli pepper. The only veggies you could get were onions, tomatoes, yam or cassava, plantain, spinach, black-eyed beans, and peppers. They looked just like sweet peppers till you rubbed an eye or licked a finger! Fire lurked everywhere.

Hungarian friends we met in Nigeria introduced me to the delights – and varieties – of paprika. And so I always cook with spice. And for spicy interesting food, you need a good supply of fresh herbs and spices. I currently have a pot of basil on the windowsill but rely on dried herbs and spices for everything else.

Digital Image

The sharp-eyed among you will spot that my herbs and spices are arranged in alphabetical order, from top left through to bottom right! It makes it easier for me to grab what I want, without thinking!

I think I’m eating better during these days of lock-down than ever before. I’m enjoying cooking up a storm of something really delicious that I can then freeze for lazy days ahead. And I’m loving my new well-equipped kitchen! I always wanted a pull-out drawer for my pots and pans. (And there is a good reason for why I have two steamers!)

Digital Image

And yes, a fridge-freezer isn’t just for magnets!

Digital Image

But then came the day I ran out of biscuits to go with my cup of tea in the afternoon. Tragedy! Or not when you have the internet at your fingertips. BBC Good Food came to my rescue and provided the perfect recipe for a chocolate cake made in moments in the microwave! It is totally yummy, foolproof, and uses tablespoons to measure ingredients not scales. But you need a really large mug!!!

Digital Image

Just click for the link. Try  it and see.

Which reminds me of a text from the Bible: Psalm 34: 8 ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed are the people who take refuge in Him.’ That’s where I’m hunkering down during the lock-down. I hope you’ve found somewhere comforting and safe too!

 

 

 

Berriedale, Caithness, Cats, History, Perth, Scotland, Social history, Uncategorized

Factoid Friday: Caithness

Caithness has been Scottish for only a few short years of its history, and British even less. It began as a Pictish kingdom. The wild stretch of water to the north known nowadays as the Pentland Firth should more correctly be called the Pictland Fjord.Digital Image

The area was occupied by the Norwegians in around 800AD – and Norse it remained till the Treaty of Perth of 1266 when the Norwegians accepted it should now be Scottish. (The Treaty of Perth also decided the nationality of the Isle of Man.)

Caithness was Scottish then for another 400+ years till the 1707 Act of Union which brought Britain into being. It has therefore only been British for the very short period of around 300 years in over 2000 years of recorded historical existence.

The original Pictish tribe which inhabited this land were known as the People of the Catt – or Cattii – possibly after the wonderful wildcats who made their home in the county.

I remember as a child, tucked up in bed, hearing the wildcats scream in the woods behind my grandparents’ house in Berriedale.

Digital Image
The old smithy, Berriedale

The Norse tweaked the name to Katanes – the ‘ness’ meaning a headland, which Caithness is. It juts out into the sea like a cat’s inquiring nose.

Digital Image

The Norse influence on the county is strong with lots of the place names and surnames derived from  Norwegian. This is reflected in the county flag that was designed and registered in 2016. The galley with the raven on its sails is a familiar emblem of the county, and the gold and blue colours represent the golden beaches and ever-present sea.

Digital Image
Dunbeath

The Norse influence is still strong in the way we speak up here. The name for the local language – our form of Scots – is Norn. To the south – and from here everywhere is south! – they speak Doric or Lallans, while the Norse influence is even stronger further north in Orkney and Shetland.

In Scotland today, we are realising afresh the richness of our  heritage and what was maybe discouraged by our teachers – who set themselves up as our elders and betters – is now being rediscovered and encouraged. Children’s books are being ‘translated’ from the foreign southern tongue into the local languages by the wonderful publishing imprint, Itchy Coo and writers, poets and music-makers are working once again in their native tongue.

As an older poet, John Horne, declared:

‘O, southern lands hev richer fields,

Wi’ floorags, trees, an’ a’ that;

I wouldna gie a tattie bleem

O’ Kaitness soil for a’ that.’

 

art, Books, Caithness, Cats, Jesus Christ, Spring, Thurso, travel, Uncategorized, walk, Wick

One more step along the road

A while ago I wrote a book called One Day at a Time sharing my experience of caring at home for my husband who had dementia. One of the things I learnt in those years was the importance of making the most, the best, of what we had – and not fretting about all the stuff that doesn’t matter. That lesson is coming in useful these days. It’s amazing just how much stuff doesn’t matter! I am not bothered by a reduction of brands of pasta or tinned tomatoes – so long as there is some on the shelves (not to mention toilet roll!).

And I am discovering that the ‘permission’ to go out once a day to take some form of exercise has become a daily delight. I am someone who is, quite frankly, a couch potato who would usually rather stay home with cat and book, and looks forward to rain, snow etc as validation of her laziness!

When the self-isolating began, I started off with a daily twenty-minute circuit of the estate. But as unused muscles begin to flex and strengthen, my ambitions have increased. And with them, my sense of adventure and exploration. So instead of just circling the neighbourhood, I struck out today up the hill and was rewarded with stunning views over the town:

Digital Image

out to the Orkney Islands – you can just see the Old Man of Hoy poking up above the furthest landmass on the left:

Digital Image

across to Dunnet Head and that wonderful sweeping sandy beach:

Digital Image

I recalled childhood walks with my sister up Newton Hill in Wick when the challenge was to spot the earliest signs of spring. Today I spotted gorse in bloom, nestled beside the flagstones that edge the fields:

Digital Image

a cheerful cluster of daffodils (and another lovely view of the estate and the sea beyond):Digital Image

and some beautiful drumstick primula outside someone’s house:Digital Image

Finding beauty on our doorstep is a joy – and you don’t have to live close to the countryside like me to find it. There’s a suggestion that we put a picture of a rainbow in our windows for children on walks to spot.Digital Image

I noticed four or five on the two streets of our estate this morning and I’m planning to paint one and put it in my window.

Like the candle I light each evening to affirm that Jesus the Light of the World is still with us at this terrible time, maybe a rainbow will add a bit of brightness to someone else’s day.

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Tales of a mis-spent youth

Back in the you-can-have-it-all ’80s, when I thought I was soaring to the heady heights of my career in book publishing, I decided – as was the mantra of the day – that I should dress for success. Digital Image

In my world as a business books publisher, that meant sharp business suits with padded shoulders, silk blouses, Italian leather briefcase… and I decided I needed a signature perfume. (Bear with me., I was young and foolish!)

On holiday in Guernsey, I discovered an Aladdin’s cave of a perfume emporium selling duty-free perfumes – and with a wise and wily assistant. She ascertained we were there for a week’s walking holiday.

‘Come in each morning before you start your day,’ she advised. ‘I’ll have a different fragrance ready for you to spray on each day. By the end of the week you will know which perfume is perfect for you.’

And so that’s what I did. I was the most expensively perfumed hiker on the island in my Polyveldts and bright pink backpack, scruffy jeans and t-shirt.

There was only one problem. By the end of the week, I had discovered two favourites and could not choose between them. One was a fresh, green fragrance, the other a more sultry, orangey scent with a hint of spice.Digital Image

What to do? There was only one solution: have both – the fresh green one for daytime and work, the sultry spicy one for evenings out and other special occasions.

I seldom wear perfume nowadays – but perhaps in these strange days of self-isolating, a splash of perfume might lift the mood and bring back happy memories.

I’ve been thinking of getting my paints out, dusting off the guitar and piano to keep myself entertained, but… I like to do things well! I really don’t like to do things badly. I read this morning in Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance: ‘You can do anything you want to do.’ Well, yes, you can, and probably some of it quite badly! And that reminds me of Hernia, the heroine of one of the short stories in Ben MacGregor’s new collection, From Caithness to the Universe. Her story tells me that sometimes just having a go can be like a splash of perfume, a splash of delight that lingers through the day.

What splashes of delight can you add to these strange days?

 

Scotland, Social history, Thurso, travel, Uncategorized

FACTOID FRIDAY: 9 notable nuggets about Thurso

Just for fun and to brighten up the day, here are a few fascinating facts about my ‘new’ home town of Thurso!

Digital Image

  1.  The name is Norse, thanks to those lovely marauding Vikings who came to visit and leave some of their DNA! The name is Thorsa – Thor’s river. With its rolling waves and fabulous surf, it’s surprising it didn’t hold off the raiders!Digital Image
  2.  Thurso is the most northerly town on the mainland of the British Isles and has the most northern railway station, opened in 1874, and still fully functioning.
  3. At  59’5921, Thurso is on the same latitude as Juneau the capital of Alaska.
  4. The town tripled its population in one fell swoop  – from 3000 to 9000 – when Dounreay’s Atomic Power Station was built in the 1950s and lots of new housing was needed to house the workers. In the early 70s I did a research project for my MA at Aberdeen University on integration between the newcomers and the local folk. That dissertation is now lodged at the UKAEA nuclear archive, NUCLEUS, in Wick.

    Digital Image
    NUCLEUS
  5. Thurso has a strikingly youthful populace with around 80% under the age of 65. One reason might be North Highland College, one of the constituent campuses of the University of the Highlands and Islands. With around 3000 students, the Rural Studies Centre, Environmental Research Institute,  and the Engineering, Technology and Energy Centre, there’s a lot going on!
  6. And for families whose native tongue is Gaelic, education in that language is provided in Thurso from cradle through to graduation – from the Gaelic language nursery school and Mount Pleasant Primary School (just at the foot of the hill where I live) onwards!
  7. Sir William Alexander Smith, the founder of the Boys Brigade, was born in Thurso in 1854. There are memorials to him both in St Paul’s Cathedral in London and St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh.
  8.  The top Met police detective, Donald Swanson, who led the Jack the Ripper investigation, was born in Thurso in 1848. One of his descendants, Adam Wood, has written a fascinating biography – which I have just downloaded to my Kindle to add to the collection of lovely books awaiting lock-down time!
  9. There is another Thurso. It is 95% French-speaking and is in Quebec. Originally settled by folk from the Thurso area in 1807, it has a tiny population of around 2,000.

Frankly I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg – and today, with the sun shining brightly in a clear blue sky, there’s no sign of ice!

Caithness, Cats, church, Clearances, fiction, Mizpah Ring, Ring of Truth, Scotland, Thurso, Uncategorized, Writing

Where have you been?

I’m the girl who was holed up in a friend’s house studying for her finance exam and missed the outbreak of the Falklands War.  When I got to work on the Monday I thought my colleagues were kidding…

You’d have to go a lot further to miss this coronavirus pandemic and even way up here on the outer reaches of the mainland of Britain,it is affecting daily lives and creating anxieties. I got myself in a tizz yesterday about whether I should go to the hairdresser. (I’m in the over-70 stay-at-home as much as possible group.) In the end I decided on caution. Long hair on an older woman can look glam. My auntie had a very elegant French pleat…

And yes, I know I’ll probably just look as shaggy as a Highland cow!

Digital Image

Anyhow I’ve decided it’s time to dust off the blog and use my extra at-home time productively. I haven’t posted anything since September 30th and yet, lots has been happening!

I moved back home to my native Caithness in May 2019, first of all renting a delightful flat in Thurso, the most northerly town on the mainland of Britain. In mid-October, I purchased and moved into a semi-detached bungalow in the same street – just a few houses along, across the road. One of the easiest moves in my life!

I’m happily settled at Thurso United Reformed Church where I sing with the choir, lead worship once a month, and generally try to make myself useful. I’m an accredited Lay Preacher so have been able to help out at a number of Church of Scotland churches (7 so far!) and Thurso Salvation Army. In England, I was used to being out and about leading worship for the seven churches of the Waveney Valley Ecumenical Partnership so I’ve been delighted by the warm welcome I’ve received up here.

Only two other things were necessary to make my life complete: a work-in-progress, and a cat!

Like so many other writers, I carry baggage in the form of ideas, story beginnings, a few chapters here, a few chapters there. On paper, they boiled down to:

  • book one of a whole new historical series turning on the iniquity of the Sutherland Clearances;
  • book one of a slightly comic Scottish crime series;
  • a rather feminist fantasy novel;
  • and book four of the trilogy. The Mizpah Ring Trilogy. Which we all thought was done and dusted with publication of book three, Ring of Truth, in November 2018.

But. One of the characters niggled at me. I really didn’t feel she’d got a fair crack of the whip. Mandy, the black sheep. I’ve always had a soft spot for black sheep. (It takes one…)

And so that’s what I’m now working on. There’s going to be (we hope!!!) a book festival in Wick in early October which I’m invited to be part of – and that gives me a great deadline to aim at. I need deadlines!

And cat? Vicii came to live with three weeks ago. She is beautiful, sweet-natured and great company.

So yes, I can do this self-isolating thing… with a little help from cat, writing, Facebook, friends, daily walks in the beautiful Caithness countryside…

 

And maybe even find some silver linings! Go on. I dare you!

 

Caithness, church, Scotland, Uncategorized, walk, Wick, Worship, Writing

Who Dunnet?

Sometimes I am tempted to try my hand at writing crime novels. It seems an eminently respectable way to sublimate any murderous urges. But being a law-abiding citizen, I know nothing of police procedure and recoil from goriness, so the whodunit is probably not for me.

But Dunnet is another story! Dunnet beach is one of the world’s widest and most wonderful golden beaches, and lies only around six miles from where I am now living. I love it.

PICT0922.JPG

As children attending Wick Bridge Street Church Sunday School, we would pile on a coach and get taken to Dunnet beach for our annual Sunday School picnic outing. And now that I live near, it is a favourite place to walk and breathe in that wonderful fresh air.

Digital Image

Yesterday, I had the enormous treat of being invited to lead worship at Dunnet Church of Scotland. It is a lovely building set in a crammed graveyard.

Digital Image

I love graveyards: the stones tell so many stories. I was particularly delighted to find this one… although I know in his day ‘writer’ meant a solicitor. I hope someone will put ‘writer’ on my gravestone!

Digital Image

Inside the church, a warm welcome awaited me from friends old and new. I’ve encountered box pews before

Digital Image

but not the long-handled ladles for taking up the offering.

PICT1038.JPG

There is something very special about country churches. I think partly it’s the sense of faithful people worshipping there through the years, come what may – world wars and disasters of many kinds – but faith holding strong. I’m delighted these lovely churches continue their faithful worship and it is a great privilege to be allowed to play a small part in it.

 

 

Caithness, Cats, History, Scotland, Uncategorized, walk

September Sunday in Scotland

Sunday was a glorious, warm, sunny day and after morning church, the order of the day was definitely a walk. The main problem with this is choice: there seem to be endless possibilities! I was delighted that my sister and her friend chose a walk near to my side of the county so I could have a relaxing lunch and change into walking clothes after my service on Sunday morning.

In the 60s greedy-eyed investors (speculators?) cast their eyes on the vast expanse of un-farmed (apparently undeveloped) land that stretched from the fertile margins of coastal Caithness.

Digital Image

Aided and abetted by a government which seemed to support tax avoidance, these folk ploughed their money into schemes to plant conifer forests on the peat bogs – and make money out of them, money with tax advantages.

Nowadays we know better. Those non-native species conifer forests simply could not thrive – and quite frankly I hope the money-making schemes didn’t either! Wiser heads now manage the countryside (Coimisean na Coilltearachd/ Forestry Commission Scotland) and the hapless conifers are being chopped down and the land – peat bogs which have been growing and thriving for around 8,000 years – gradually allowed to revert to their crucial task of storing vast amounts of carbon (around 400 million tonnes of the stuff, more than three times the amount in all of Britain’s woodlands).

In carefully selected areas, native species broad-leaf trees are being planted – alder, beech, birch, oak and rowan – with plenty room for wildflowers and wildlife. There are two trails that wind through the young woodland with wonderful views across the county and down towards Scaraben and Morven.

We followed a figure-of-eight of gravelled paths alongside a peaty-brown burn. The spear-leaves of flag irises promise wonderful displays next year, and there was still plenty of rosebay willow-herb pink and cheerful along the way, and the red-brown of dock seedheads amongst the frondy long grass.

Digital Image

A side track took us to a waterfall rushing down rocky steps to a quiet pool.

Digital Image

For some reason we met more dogs on this walk than ever before – dogs of all shapes and sizes, and without exception friendly and well-behaved. I know I’m a cat-person but there are times I wonder would a dog be a better walk companion?!

And of course, after our walk, we needed a cup of tea so we took ourselves off to nearby Halkirk. This village is famed for the time in the thirteenth century, when the natives were not quite so friendly to the ecclesiastical powers that be. According to Calder’s seminal History of Caithness, “Adam, Bishop of Caithness, was barbarously put to death in his own palace in Halkirk by the people, on account of the rigour with which he exacted his tithes.” Margaret Thatcher obviously didn’t know about this possibility when she tried out her infamous poll tax on the folk of Scotland!

Tea was taken most sedately in the elegant Ulbster Arms Hotel on the main street of Halkirk. Sadly this was when the battery in my camera gave out. Suffice to say, the tea and delicious teabread were as good as ever!

 

Caithness, Cats, house-hunting, Novel, renting, Scotland, travel, Uncategorized

Time for some mellow fruitfulness

Here in the North Highlands, the last of the harvest is being brought in and autumn’s freshness crisps the air in the morning. The daylight is as bright and wonderful as ever, but the light is beginning to go sooner in the evening and the mornings are darker. Autumn, that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, is definitely on its way.

I’ve always loved autumn. In England, I loved the blaze of glory that came with the autumn leaves. Here I am discovering rich purples covering the hillsides as the heather blooms. Ripe barley cloaks the fields with the red-gold of Highland/Viking hair. And the sea that frames everything delights with a deepness of blue unsurpassed anywhere else.

PICT0994.JPG

I myself am now setting out on that season of late summer/early autumn as I move on into my seventies. Researching the next book, and delighting in fortnightly meetings of the Caithness Writers group, I am hoping for a season of fruitfulness before the winter of old age slow me down. As I meet lively, productive octogenarians in the churches round here, I am encouraged that there may be plenty of time for more adventures…

Digital Image

And the next one will be the move to my new home. Yes, I have found somewhere. Not far from where I am currently living, it will be a gentle easy move. (I hope!) I’ve enjoyed my rented flat but am ready to have my own things around me once again, and, hopefully, a four-footed feline companion

 

Clearances, England, harbour, Helmsdale, History, Perth, Scotland, Social history, travel, Uncategorized, walk

Closing credits

Back in England and hanging out three loads of washing, I’m wondering why I feel so tired. Then I check the mileage on the car and discover I’ve driven 1953 miles on this trip. Maybe that has something to do with it!

I haven’t blogged the past few days. The trip south is frankly boring once you get past Stirling and the only thing to do is turn on the radio, point the car south and hold on…

But the first part of the journey was delightful. I took the time to stop in Helmsdale for a walk round the harbour. I’ve been wanting to do this for ages. There was a fine swell on the sea!

Digital Image

The town reflects the impact of the Clearances, folk evicted from the farms they’d worked so efficiently for generations expected to suddenly transform into fisherfolk. Some did, other left for far-flung corners of the globe.

PICT0837.JPG

My base for the night was Perth and here I discovered that although it is a beautiful city, I much prefer countryside to town streets. And what came to my rescue was the fabulous gardens and walks situated along the riverside.

PICT0845 (1).JPG

The Heather Garden was a particular delight with many varieties I had never seen before.

PICT0844 (1).JPG

And there was a wolf hiding in the undergrowth! The white building in the background is the hotel where I stayed.

PICT0840.JPG

As I sit at my desk, back in Suffolk, I have so many wonderful memories. It was a great trip and I am so grateful. And yes, I’m longing to go back!