Last night a drama event was held at Rosyth library as part of Scottish Book Week. Five teenage girls performed a short show in two parts, which they had devised from work with old people in two Fife care homes. The first was ‘At the School’ and the second, ‘At the Dancing’. The show was choreographed with a lively look back at music of the forties and fifties; the audience got to join in the dancing, and were served fairy cakes at half time. As a standalone piece, the show was very successful and you could see that with further rehearsal it would be a winner round the reminiscence circuit.
However it was much more than just a show. I spoke to the girls afterwards and they told me they had visited the old people, many of whom had dementia, in their care homes, and carefully noted the words they used for the memories that remained with them. One lady gave them a poem she’d written when she was at school, and this was incorporated into the routine, along with various other poems the residents remembered learning from their school days. Another lady , who had been admitted to the home for end-of-life care, had sat silent and withdrawn throughout; but when she heard a poem she recognised she started to focus, and eventually joined in reciting it.
This is wonderful, skilled, meaningful work and I applaud the girls for their sensitivity, patience and grace in achieving it.
Yesterday I went to Curry’s to swap my printer… I’d paid £12 for the risk that the first one might come a cropper and sure enough, it did. I have to confess I was a little irritable. However my malaise was as nothing compared to the man in front of me in the queue. He was absolutely bawling at the store manager, who was remaining calm, keeping his voice down, adopting a very non-threatening posture as they teach you in all those challenging behaviour courses. Meantime Mr Angry was having a field day, playing to the gallery and clearly not to be appeased, no matter what the manager might say to him in reply. His telly wasn’t working boy, was someone going to suffer for it.
His wife stood by, pale-faced and silent, and I wondered if she’d ever had that treatment directed at her.
My own irritation melted like ‘snaw aff a dyke’, especially as the assistant now dealing with me was being utterly helpful. I raised my eyebrows at him and he muttered ‘happens every day.’
Often these days, in post offices and railway stations for instance, you see signs reminding people that their staff are not to be abused. Quite right too. Maybe they should have called the police. Just standing in the same queue was upsetting, goodness knows what the state of the manager’s health is, having to deal with such an assault. Stomach ulcers? Migraines? Panic attacks?
I’d have liked to knee Mr Angry in a sore place; but of course that wouldn’t have sorted things out. A better, and more seasonal, solution would be to cast him as the new Scrooge, and visit him with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. You get the idea; he’s whirled back to his grandparent’s day when the milk horse is sick, there are no deliveries, and his grandfather has to walk five miles through the snow to get milk to feed six hungry children… He’s taken to visit the homeless unit in his own town, in the present day, where the youngsters are trying to make something cheery to eat that can be heated up in a microwave oven and costs less than 75p… he’s taken to late November 2023 to hear his own child, now grown up, vowing to be a better parent than his own father… and then he’s given a chance to think again whether his malfunctioning telly was really worth all that fuss. I think I’ve just invented my new novella! But meantime – let’s hear it for courtesy and a sense of perspective.
My first labyrinth was in my friend Harriet’s garden, near Beauly. Small, friendly, perched on a gentle hillside. Walking round it made me think how beautiful Scotland is.
My second labyrinth was at St James the Great in Dollar. This one is a nice two-circle design built between the trees in the church grounds. When we went there it was early summer and a calm, warm evening with the Ochils smiling gently in the background. Very peaceful. Walking round it made me think about how life throws up some unexpected turns; but if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you eventually come home.
My third labyrinth hasn’t been built yet; but I believe it will be, because my friend Valerie has dreamed about it, and what she dreams about has a way of coming to be. She has two possible sites – neither of which she owns or has any control over. But she has found out who does. Then by apparent chance last month, she met a man who designs labyrinths, and has just moved into the village. She has an eye on the local quarry for stones which, she thinks, could be personalised by the builders – i.e. local men, women and children. She has been told that to get planning permission, she’ll need to appeal to some sense of heritage; and then today she found out, from a friend I took for tea, that the village has 6th century links to St Brigid and Iona, traces of which can be seen in the Abbey ruins. And when you walk along the river and pause by the site, its thinness palpably shimmers. Yes, it’s all coming together. The spirit is moving.
Just over a year ago I attended the launch of a creative writing competition, in my home town, hosted by no less a luminary than Iain Banks (‘The Crow Road’, and ‘Whit’ to name but my favourites, and also of lots of Sci Fi, writing as Iain M Banks).
I didn’t really know what the event was about but it turned out that Iain Banks was a patron of an organisation that provides counselling support to young survivors of sexual abuse. At that time I was working in a fostering organisation, and daily handling referrals on children who had been sexually abused and were as a result completely mixed up. So I decided to enter the competition and get some sponsorship.
All my working life I’ve had dealings with people who have been through this particular kind of hell. It takes a lot of courage to face up to those demons and try to re-make your life. Safe Space offers young people skilled support and, perhaps, love, to help them do just that.
Anyway, I won the competition with my ‘Tales of the Auld Grey Toun’ and there was an award ceremony tonight at East End Park. That was very nice for me. However Safe Space has also held a class in which a number of women have put down their experiences in writing, and a number of them read out their work tonight. To call it moving would be an understatement and I applaud them all. And also Safe Space for carrying on the work.
Soon after that launch event, Iain Banks was diagnosed with a virulent strain of cancer, and died earlier this year. He is a great loss to the literary world and also, I understand, to Safe Space. Mac Logan, hosting tonight’s event, paid tribute to Iain Banks and his commitment to doing the right thing.
So that’s my takeaway message, friends: Let’s do the right thing. Amen.
Some friends and I decided to view some films that had been created from short fiction, first reading the book then meeting to view and watch the film together. Tonight was the first night and by complete coincidence we chose a film that featured Armistice – or to be more precise, a story set just after the first world war, with the main character and supporting character being young soldiers just back from the trenches.
The film was made in 1989 from a beautiful little novella by JL Carr, and stars a very young Colin Firth as Birkin, with Kenneth Branagh as Moon and Natasha Richardson as Alice, the vicar’s wife. It tells the story of Birkin’s recovery from the worst of his war-induced twitch, stammer and night terrors, as he spends a month in the country uncovering an old wall painting in the church. The work itself absorbs and speaks to him, as do the villagers who give him a warm and practical welcome. There’s nothing sentimental about the story, either in the book or the film; but it’s beautiful and hopeful, and makes a lovely counterpoint to all the more formal Armistice events we have reflected on today.
Sadly I’m having trouble with my graphics tonight so can’t include a picture for you to enjoy. Sorry. Do read the book, though, it’s only 80 pages and we all loved it. And get the film if you can. It’s a faithful adaptation. Very inspiring for those of us who write short stories.