WEATHER

As a Scot and a Brit, you’d expect me to like ‘weather’ – and I do. In Scotland, there is nearly always a wind blowing, which can vary from a light zephyr that just stirs the leaves, to a ferocious gale that whips the trees round in great circles. When we left Scotland, I kept wondering what I was missing until I figured out it was the sound of the wind. I used to love when we would be out on bicycle in Banffshire and would leave our bikes in the ditch and venture into a pine wood and sit there to eat our lunch, surrounded by the lovely pine scent, and the creaking of the trees as they were buffeted by the wind.

I like rain. There’s the refreshing smell when a shower falls on a parched and thirsty landscape – of dust and heat and then a green refreshment (all the lovelier because the necessary hot dry spell first is rare where I come from). There’s the washed clean feel of the landscape after rain. There’s the strange exhilaration when you’ve been caught in a downpour and you’re soaked to the skin, so you can’t possibly get any wetter, and you feel as if you’ve been set free. There are the beautiful rainbows that come after rain, sometimes doublers with strange light, that make you remember the scripture: ‘And I will set my bow in the clouds, and make an everlasting covenant with thee…’

I like mist and fog. The East Cast ‘haar’ – a cold, thick, grey fog that can linger all day – is not very pleasant, but the thin layer of cloud that will descend over a mountain can be like a bridal veil, concealing the treasures within. What had been a prosaic view becomes shadowy and mysterious -possibly slightly sinister, when previously its mood had been quite different.

I like snow. I love how when you look up into the dancing flakes you feel slightly drunk and disoriented. How silence falls swiftly, and the world is transformed into somewhere else, white, magical and beautiful.

I don’t like heat that makes entering a sunlit room feel like going into an oven. How you lie at night in a slick of sweat unable to breathe and how doing anything at all feels like far too much effort.

If you went out for a walk, and you sat down in the lea of a gorse bush so that you are sheltered from the wind, but the sun still shone on you and it was warm enough there that you thought: Maybe I should take my cardigan off – but decided against it – that’s the kind of warm day I like!

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LEOPARD SKIN SHOES

We woke this morning to a Towering Inferno incident where a high rise, heavily populated tower block in Notting Hill burned swiftly and fiercely. It is obvious that there will be heart rending tales of families trapped and dying on the upper floors, Somehow it seems to reflect our country’s present misfortunes. We watch while we burn but cannot help ourselves, except to salvage what we can and comfort one another.

Once again we were abroad when the General Election results were being called and listening to the outcome on our phones and laptops.

Looking at the mess and shambles left by the General Election, I wonder why political strategists (and politicians) get matters so horribly wrong. You would think they would understand the mindset of the public – it’s their profession to do so.

Firstly, one felt mild irritation that a General Election was called at all when the Prime Minister had said repeatedly that she would NOT call one. But, the British electorate being tolerant and reasonable, once it is called we resolve to play our part, to listen and decide.

Theresa May then takes that goodwill which she has been enjoying, which is extended to every in coming Prime Minister, and proceeds to throw it away more decisively and rapidly than I have seen any Prime Minister so far. She is arrogant and condescending. She employs the christian names of interviewers as if they were an unsatisfactory pupil and she the head-mistress. She does not bother to explain her Brexit strategy to us – we are too stupid to be involved in such weighty matters and we should be content to let her decide on our behalf. Indeed she does not seem to feel there is much need to persuade us, and on the Debate night, she does not deign to turn up. All she says is – repeated ad nauseum – that we have to choose between herself with strong and stable government, and Jeremy Corbyn, whom she rubbishes incessantly. Here is where I wonder about the intellectual capacity of her advisors. To my knowledge, whenever any politician has addressed the country saying, Who would you rather have running the country, Me or – (in Heath’s case The Miners), we have responded either by choosing the other party, or at the very least by stating, Not You. Also the British genuinely desire justice and fair play, and they do NOT like negative campaigning.

As for Corbyn, I found myself obliged to vote for him. I do not believe this election was about Brexit, the economy etc. I think in the end it came down to the moral stature of the candidates. Jeremy Corbyn had been threatened and humiliated by the Labour party’s disgraceful behaviour. Who did they think they were, to reject a leader who had been lawfully elected? Corbyn did not abandon his post; he did not give in to despair; he endured the isolation and rejection. He never lost his temper. He spoke his truth sincerely and I didn’t take exception to anything he said. In spite of the many nasty (and untrue) things she said about him, Jeremy Corbyn did not make any personal attacks on Theresa May. I am doubtful whether Corbyn would make a successful prime minister (though he is certainly more fit than those who opposed him.) It is quite likely that his policies would not be in my best interests. Yet I gave him my vote and could not in all consciousness have done anything else. It must have been a great comfort to him that in the latter part of the election every time he came out to speak, vast crowds had come to hear him.

As for personal integrity (or lack of same) consider George Osbourne. He was so ungentlemanly as to kick Theresa May when she was down and wounded; and he betrayed his party for a newspaper headline. We knew he was a shit; but we did not know to the full extent the kind of shit he actually was.

Theresa May does not appear to have learnt anything since the election. She only apologised to Tory MPs who have lost their seats when forced to, and she appears to see no necessity for apologising to us, for wasting our time and money on what was just a vanity and for being over taken up with her own image. As for going to bed with the DUP – that’s a dangerous game to play. She has returned Gove to her cabinet. Has she actually looked at him recently?

But I do not know why I am surprised that Theresa May has not exhibited more taste and judgement. This woman first came to our attention by wearing leopard skin shoes!

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CAROLYN HULATT

CAROLYN HULATT

Carolyn Hulatt left us on 6 December, 2016 after an illness of longer than a year, and our lives are immensely impoverished by her departure.

She was a woman taller than average, naturally blonde and very fair of skin. She was charming and elegant. She had the best colour sense of anyone I know – could recall a colour to its exact shade and her house, table and wardrobe always reflected her style and her artistic ability. Her skill and originality with colour, jewellery and scarves resulted in a harmonious elegance. She was a pretty woman, delicate and feminine, well-groomed. Her domestic skills were excellent and she was a gifted and imaginative cook.

She appeared out of the mists. She was modest in her behaviour so that the breadth of her abilities and talents only very gradually became apparent to you. I guessed that she would be able to write and asked her to prepare something for a meeting, but was still surprised by her cleverness, her word skill, but above all her ability to bring her reader to a tender response. Writing however was not her first love.

She was a singer, and into her singing she could pour all her passion and empathy. She had a powerful, golden, glorious voice and she could silence a room with her opening notes. Quite apart from her technical skill and the natural beauty of her voice, she had the gift, which not every performer does, of delivering her audience into a cathartic emotional release. She sang at the funeral of her close friend, Geraldine Lane; she sang at Elisabeth’s wedding. She accompanied a Nadfas group on a visit to some famous London theatre and their guide, as they stood on the stage enquired indulgently if anyone wanted to try out the acoustics. Carolyn sang, alone and unaccompanied, Ave Maria and the result was apparently spine tingling. I was not present but I heard accounts of this from a wide variety of people. She was a member of various prestigious choirs.

She was a loving and devoted wife and mother, and obtained great pleasure from her grandchildren.

She was a tender soul. She could fight in defence of family or friends, but she was no warrior queen. She lacked the ruthlessness and capacity to suspend emotion for the duration of the battle. She did not lack courage or opt out of any difficulty, but she sustained from such episodes more than the usual damage. Although she could certainly be irritated by people’s behaviour and take action, one never felt that she was truly enraged; rather one sensed her hurt and distress. However, she wasn’t goody-two-shoes either, and could entertain with a wickedly accurate description of someone who displeased her. (Miaow, we used to say to one another when one or other of us dished the dirt on someone who had exhausted our patience, which was both to excuse ourselves from making jokes that were scurrilous and deadly, and acknowledge we were being unkind. Then we would laugh.)

Although not conventionally religious, she had spiritual strengths. Her advice was worth having – sensible, courageous, wise – and she herself conformed to the highest standards in her behaviour. She had a praiseworthy capacity for forgiveness which I admired, having myself to work towards a result which she could produce spontaneously.

Although friendly and approachable, she was elusive and difficult to get to know well. I am conscious here of my inability to produce a description of Carolyn which does justice to her unexpected strengths and depths or to explain just how much or why those of us who cared about Carolyn, loved her.

Carolyn Hulatt was a complex, gifted and subtle woman. She was a tender and gentle lady. She was a delightful companion. She shared my life for nearly three decades and we had many adventures together. I count it a privilege that I knew her so intimately. She was one of the great gifts of my life. She died on my birthday. Godspeed, beloved Carolyn.

MOTHER’S LOVE

The fatigue caused by my painful back rendered me asleep in a chair during the day. I woke up, shaking violently and the sudden shift from immobility to movement was painful. I became aware of the strong presence of my mother in the room. In the years since her death, I have never dreamt of my mother, and of my father, only once. I rarely dream of real people.

I do not mean that I saw, heard or had any concrete experience of my mother. The most likely explanation is that I had indeed been dreaming of her and this had caused me to waken and shake. But this had never happened before, and in my post sleep confusion I was not thinking clearly. My initial thought was that I had died and my mother had come to meet me. I was disinclined to go. Besides (logic, thank God, cutting in) I was living and breathing. I thought, I am not dead yet.

With the resumption of my normal logical and sensible inner dialogue, I felt comfortable with my mother’s ‘presence’ and decided she could rest with me for as long as was necessary, but when I looked for her to advise her of this, all trace of her had completely vanished. I felt a sense of loss.

There are many writers in my family – my grandfather, mother, brother and cousin are or were all accomplished exponents of the art, with different subjects and style. My mother’s letters were a great pleasure to me, and I still miss them. She was a far better critic of a book or article than I will ever be. She could always find erudite points that I had overlooked, or spot references to other works of literature. Her article would establish some clever theme to work around, and it would all be produced with a dainty elegance and lightness of touch that I, quite frankly, envied. I knew she lacked my power, but she had refinement.

It was a source of great irritation to me that despite my mother being a clever, well-read and well-educated woman with skill, talent and nicety of purpose , and her capacity for graceful and well observed analysis, she had an incurable tendency to sympathise with what I would dismiss as knaves of dismal motivation. She had few companions and she liked me to read and discuss books which had struck her for one reason or another. This was a pleasure, but difficulties began to creep in over her enthusiasm for what I privately termed New Age Drivel. This proved to be a source of considerable friction between my mother and me. She enthused about Erich von Danachan (spacemen visited the earth and the desert drawings in South America were the runways for their space vehicles. ), David Icke (the Royals are descended from alien lizards), and theories that there were persons alive today who were descendants of a liaison between Christ and Mary Magdalene. When in response to the latter I pointed out that it could not be proved that they had ever actually existed so one could not prove that there were offspring, and even if it had been true, so what? – she became annoyed. As she grew older and increasingly retreated into this twaddle, I found myself in difficulties. I had no wish to distress her, but if I expressed any reservations, however mildly, she became offended; if I just listened and said ah-hah, she accused me of with-holding my powers of analysis; and if I declined to read it she said I was intellectually lazy. I found it impossible to do what she wanted, which was read the material, enthuse about it in conversation, and believe. (On reflection, her obsession with this subject (she had dozens of books to read) may have been the start of the loss of her mental powers in the last few years of her life.)

My mother at her best was a lively and stimulating companion, with a capacity to be comforting, welcoming and sympathetic. You could always go to her with your trouble (she was particularly good in her role as grandmother and gave sensible and balanced advice) and come away feeling comforted and supported. She was a good advisor for me because she could always see both sides of an argument.

She believed in the magic powers of crystals worn on one’s person. I did not, but when she rummaged in her pockets one day and presented me with a white crystal, I recognised that it was not just the mineral qualities that were being offered. The stone was a symbol of her mother’s love; her tendering caring, and her good wishes for me. I accepted the token with gratitude.

I reflect that I am fortunate in the generous support of my husband, children, family and friends. And that even calling up the memory of my mother is still a comfort to me. A weakness for works of fiction, masquerading as facts, is hardly a mortal sin. My mother loved me. I look at my daughters and daughter in law, with their tender love for their infants, and how their babies rejoice and flourish in the protection of their love, and I think this love and care, carried down from one generation to another is the only repayment we can offer to our own mothers for their care and cherishing of us.

My back is very slowly improving.

Love conquers all.

A HARRIS TWEED SKIRT

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I’ve been sewing this week.

I made a dress for my grand-daughter Erin, from two navy dresses of my own, cutting the bodice from plain navy and using the buttonholes and buttons, with a full skirt embroidered in navy on white cotton, trimmed with a red ribbon and a red ribbon belt.

But my main effort this week has been the production of a pale grey Harris Tweed skirt.

When John and I were on the island of Harris this summer, we came across a small shop selling beautiful knitted jackets and cardigans. I like to have a nice, comfortable, luxurious knitted jacket/cardigan to travel in, and my old faithful which I bought in Lake Taupo, New Zealand, of black possum merino trimmed with a camel patteRn and with a hood had given up the ghost. So I looked with interest at their jackets. Made of a mixture of Harris wool and cashmere these were by no means cheap (the one I bought cost £240) and I was trying them on under duress prepared to reject them, when I chanced upon one (the sales lady was very good at her job) which really suited me. It was a silver grey with black flecks, came to mid thigh, edged all round with a circular edge cable finish. While I was trying these on, a German woman came in and commandeered my sales lady, saying, I only want to ask one question, and then proceeded to ask seven. She was surprisingly put out when I pointed this out to her! But the sales lady promptly returned her attention to the sale in hand. So I bought it. I then wore it in the car every day until we returned to the beautiful (and warmer) south.

I always like to buy some Harris tweed when I am on Lewis/Harris . I looked at the outlets in Harris but nothing took my fancy. In Stornoway, Sheena and I had a ‘favourite shop’ – which she had found – where a vast stock lurked in extreme disorder in the shadowy recesses of the establishment and probably had been forgotten there since 1928. The owner greeted us like old friends – asked after our relatives, and we bought some black and white herringbone to make a waistcoat for John and some cream and brown houndstooth to make something for me. But later, in a proper ladies shop with beautiful Harris Tweed suits in it which looked however like you had been summoned to Balmoral, I found a plain tweed in the same silvery grey as the jacket. I bought a metre and a half of it.

This being the most Northernly point of our journey we turned our faces for home. In the Tourist Office in Tarbert I bought another vastly expensive wool/cashmere scarf in greys and beiges which matched the knitted jacket.

I’ve a close friend of many decades duration who has begun dress- making in her 70s, and I’ve been talking to her about the pitfalls of skirt making. So this week I went to Burgess Hill (our local haberdashery having closed) and bought for about £10 some pale grey lining, an 8” zip, and some grey thread. Buttons and interlining I already had. I used a pattern I’d drafted earlier for myself, for a straight skirt, l frontspiece, 2 backs, with waistband and back zip and pleat. This time I zigzagged right round the edges of all the pieces first. Then I tacked the back seam, and inserted the zip, and finished the pleat. I put in the darts, then sewed front to back. I cut an inch off the lining and sewed the parts together but did not sew the darts but simply gathered the lining and tacked it to the skirt inside, with the right side visible. I then attached the waistband and sewed the buttonhole ‘by hand’ with the machine – ie not automatically. All that was left to do was sew the hemline.

I saw that I had some material left so I made a simple tote bag in grey wool, lined with black cotton and trimmed with a grey black and rust coloured ribbon and an ‘A’ in black velvet. The two handles are made of the grey wool and black cotton.

I can wear this outfit with black leather boots, gloves and a bag I already have, and with a black polo neck and trousers, topped off with a black fur hat. It has cost me about £300, but as I shall wear it a great deal, I think the cost per wearing will be very low.

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ON NOT BEING ENGLISH

I’ve been reading (and enjoying) Watching the English by anthropologist Kate Fox.

I find myself in a slightly uncomfortable position. (She makes it clear she is discussing the English, not the British or other British nations.) It is perfectly obvious that there are enormous differences between Scots characteristics and English ones, yet I am surprised how many we hold in common.

She cites a pervasive humour that affects everything, an ever present but unspoken awareness of class, an overwhelming desire and respect for privacy, a frequently misunderstood habit of self deprecation and a desire for fair play as being the predominant English characteristics, and I would agree with her.

Humour is one of our methods of coping; it can also be a weapon. On the day of the London terrorist attacks, (which occurred one day after we won the 2012 Olympics, Paris being our main rivals,) the author records how in the silence that descended on an attacked train carriage, a lone male voice was heard to speculate, I had no idea the French were such bad losers. And in the carriage John was in, which was halted in darkness underground, but was undamaged, when a railway official arrived with his torch to lead them out of the carriage and tunnel to safety, he greeted them by saying, Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen; I am your tour guide for this morning. My favourite story on English humour is when a poll was conducted on who you would most like to banish from our shores into exile, the ‘winner’ was the Prince of Wales. I think foreign nations often don’t always grasp that every English person understands at once that these are jokes. There’s no question of the French being accused of causing the atrocity, nor is there any serious intention of exiling the Prince of Wales.

American films of English period drama almost invariably fall down because they don’t understand the subtlety of the English class system. We pretend it doesn’t exist or matter any more, we rarely speak of it, yet we make a judgement on class, without thinking about it, on everyone we meet. We know for example that David Cameron stands a notch or two higher than George Osborne in the class system, even though we never bother to analyse why. We know this even if we despise the English class system.

Our respect for privacy makes us unwilling to give our name with promiscuous abandon, nor do we want, on first acquaintance, to know yours. It makes us uncomfortable with emotional statements and is why we mock weeping acceptances of award speeches. It’s also why it’s completely unacceptable for politician’s to call for God to bless us.

As for our self deprecation, take it from me, we don’t mean it. It’s a form of boasting. It’s also why we’re accused of not being ‘patriotic’ because we don’t fly the flag all over the place. Nothing against those who do. We don’t need to. Attack us and you’ll soon see how loyal and patriotic we can be. There was an amusing incident in the premiership of Harold McMillan where the Russian president Khrushchev interrupts McMillan’s speech, shouting and banging his shoe on the table. McMillan mildly observes, I’d like it translated please, which makes the assembly laugh, but at the same time reduces Khrushchev’s speech to being a toddler’s tantrum.

As for fair play. Now that’s a serious business. On a jury once, feeling was rising against the defendant, who was an immigrant (possibly illegal though that was not the issue). When it was put to the jurors (who were from all walks of life) that they were an ENGLISH jury, and therefore wanted to deliver a fair and just verdict, such as we would hope would be delivered to one of their own sons, they agreed soberly and at once.

So, I agree with all these points. I could, in all those respects, be English.

Except when it comes to the leavetaking. According to the author (and she’s been right about everything else) English leavetakings are protracted and slow and therefore you should allow 15 – 2o minutes to leave a gathering. Good

God, I think, 15 – 20 minutes? Heaven preserve us. I think it should be no more than 5 minutes from when you make your first move until you finally depart.

Is it because I’m a Scot?

One final point on the English.   With their deadpan humour, their apparent modesty, their habit of self deprecation and their politeness, they could be mistaken for an effete and peaceful people of little threat.   This would be a mistake.   They held a world wide empire with an incredibly small army by comparison with the millions they controlled.   The English are dangerous and  deadly.   As Lord Byron (himself described as Mad, bad and dangerous to know) put it:

He was the mildest mannered man that ever scuttled ship or cut a throat, with such true breeding of a gentleman, you never could divine his thought.