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  • Light and Airy

    a clump of speedwell

    If you’re used to seeing flowers growing in lawns where they are cut down to size every time the mower comes out, seeing them growing in open ground is quite a revelation. We have buttercups waving their yellow heads on knee-high stems along the footpath, self heal more than 20 centimetres tall, and these speedwells, which I thought were short stemmed, creeping at ground cover level, coming up light and airy, and creating a sea of blue in some places that I almost mistook for bluebells. This gives a feeling of lightness and movement to the understorey of the trees, and adds to the sense of exuberance I’m getting this spring. We are in peak hawthorn time now, with elder and rowan just beginning, and the place looks like Fat Sam’s at the end of Bugsy Malone, sprayed with foam everywhere.

    I wrote about the blossom last time, because it was the first thing that impressed me about the new territory, but this year I have been struck by the number of lime trees. They are everywhere, sheltering the Kirk, lining avenues in the park, ornamentals on the mowed verges, but in the older parts of the Lang Toon, they were used to demarcate the boundaries of front gardens, and many of them are still there. Some of them have been allowed to grow

    a tall lime tree in full leaf

    some are cut back to the bare minimum

    pollarded lime stumps

    but this one gives you the idea of the look the original planners must have been going for in the days when a pleached lime avenue was the must-have for the professional owners of the new suburban villas.

    lime trees in full leaf, pruned into arches

    In a small diversion that isn’t as devious as it first appeared, I’ve been reading this essay from my friend and fellow geopoetician, the ethnologist and activist Mairi McFadyen. https://www.mairimcfadyen.scot/fragile-correspondence/2023/essay dealing with the clearances and the consequences of the community buyout of Abriachan Forest. She talks about how the loss of language leads to the loss of local knowledge, the exploitation and degradation of the land, and in this case, the removal of the local people. It’s a wonderful essay, raising many of the issues and preoccupations that inform my poetry, and I can’t recommend it warmly enough.

    But the point I’m working towards is that the Lang Toon doesn’t really have those problems. On the contrary, throughout its very long history, people have been brought here to serve whatever needs the ruling classes felt were important at the time, and abandoned. These houses were built for the managers of the mines, all gone, and later of the electrical industry, all gone, and now we are mostly a commuter town with people living here and working in Glasgow or East Kilbride. This too has consequences for land use, local knowledge, and community building, and though I feel there are grounds for optimism, I realise there are a lot assumptions I’m going to have to unpick as I go into the next poems, the next book.

    This may be a slower process than I like. One of the long-standing medical conditions that plague this family has struck again, and we have someone in hospital. He’s getting good care, but not being able to drive makes things very complicated! There may be very little activity on this account for the next few weeks.


  • the new novel

    We went to the Crannog on Loch Tay on Saturday to do some research for the new novel. What you can see is a reproduction of a real Iron Age Crannog further up the loch, and there is a chance to see the building,and learn about the methods of construction and try out some Iron Age skills like spinning or making a fire or turning a lathe. They hold festivals and story-telling sessions there and it was really interesting in spite of the very patronising guide. And the weather was fabulous. Even more remarkable considering the appalling rain and wind we’ve had before and after. I have not seen such wonderful leaf colours in years. I love Perthshire. If it wasn’t such a long commute to Kilsyth I would up sticks and go there now.
    All this made a very welcome break in the major tidying up that has been going on in this house. Naomi has been sorting and organising all the stuff she brought home from university, and I’ve been doing a clear-out of surplus books, clothes I’ll never wear and hobbies I’m not up to any more. It as very dusty but the house is fit to live in again. Meanwhile Katherine has been doing the same in her house, as Lucy is just on the point of becoming mobile, and now I am houseworked out. It is good to be back at work, and thinking about the aesthetics of traditional singing, and the authenticity of reconstructive archaeology.


  • sunny morning

    Today is sunny again after yesterdays heavy rain, which is good, because this afternoon a man is going to go up on our roof to see why our chimney liner bangs in the wind. he wanted to go up last night at ten o’clock (in the rain, in the wind, with a torch that wasn’t working)and I think invoking the dreaded health and safety was for once quite in order. If all goes well we will be able to light a fire for the first time this year on Friday when the hearth cement dries out. Only a month later than the firm originally promised. And I will be able to get all the books back in the sitting room, and roll back the carpet and take off all the dust-sheets. Winter can start.

    Of course all this dealing with tradesmen takes a toll on the work, which is heading nicely towards the concept stage (ie no actual words written yet)and so does family history.

    This photo is of Grace Dieu House, which has figured in family history since my great-grandmother’s time.
    I discovered last week that my great-great-grandfather, who features in The Green cliffs of Moher was on the White Star Line ship The Atlantic which went down in March 1873, with the biggest loss of life at sea right up until the Titanic.And I’m still digesting the profound impact of seeing where I came from – both country and people. It explains so much, fills in so many gaps, makes sense of so many anomalies. It would be too much to say I felt I’d come home – I didn’t. But it showed me the sub-conscious bench-mark I’ve carried with me for what home should be like.



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