Monday, January 28, 2008

Arran from Maidens Bay

Alan titled this recent picture 'Digging for Worms' and it reminds me of doing just that, years ago, when our son was a wee boy, and we spent a happy but hectic morning on the beach at Ardminish, on the Isle of Gigha, digging for worms in the sand to use as bait for fishing. Not, mind you, that they ever caught very much, he and his dad. My own father was a more successful fisherman and used to take his beloved grandson to local trout lochs, with the permission of various owners (my Polish dad used to be able to charm the birds out of the trees, as the saying goes, so getting permission to fish was a piece of cake. Or trout. ) But whenever Alan and our son went sea fishing they very seldom caught anything. They did enjoy the process. And digging for worms was peculiarly satisfying, though not - I suspect - for the worms. But most of them escaped as well. And at least our son liked to eat the fish that he did manage to catch - usually barbecued with herbs and lemon and black pepper.
Today feels like the first day of spring, although it is still January - but for once the rain has stopped, the sun came out (briefly) and the hedgerows seemed to be suddenly full of snowdrops. The colours in the picture above - although they look exaggerated - are, as anyone who has visited the West of Scotland will know - absolutely true to some days and times. Lovely!

Monday, January 21, 2008

New Scottish Artworks Available Online

Here at The Scottish Home we have decided to take the plunge and devote a section of our online shop to Alan's artworks. We've tried selling them this way with varying degrees of success but feel that we've never been wholehearted enough about it before. And besides, he's working in a new and interesting way. For the last six months or so, he has been painting in oils and acrylics rather more than he has been woodcarving - although he hasn't abandoned the carving altogether and is still available for commissions, here. He has worked his way through horses and cattle, tackled the odd illustration for Tam O' Shanter, painted a selection of boats and is now obsessively painting scenes from Clydeside and Glasgow - semi-industrial scenes, with various 'naive' figures going about their business. Of everything he has done, I find I like these pictures very much - there is a sort of primitive, folk art quality about them which seems quite original to me - most commercial Scottish art these days tackles a Scottish rural landscape, particularly that of the highlands and islands. But these are urban, full of life and interest and charm (like the picture of a football match in the snow above) and I suspect they might appeal to a worldwide audience, particularly of people with a Scottish ancestry - and there are a great many of them about!

The prices, at the moment, are exceedingly reasonable, mainly because we are aiming to build a market so have a look at them and let us know what you think.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Still January, Still Raining, Still Cold

But two signs of hope this morning. As we lay in bed, my husband and I, wondering which one of us would get up and make the tea - actually, I'm fibbing, because it is always him, but just very occasionally on Sundays I do it instead - we heard the unmistakable cadence of birdsong from the garden. It was thin and half hearted and it didn't go on for very long, but it is still a sign that spring is on the way. Yesterday, on my way to town, I drove past a few little drifts of snowdrops at the side of the road.
On the other hand, real snow without the drops is forecast for tomorrow, and I am writing this with a fan heater blowing on my feet, but my hands are still freezing. This is mostly because those of us who live in old houses and attempt to make a living from the creative industries can barely afford to heat our homes in the UK at the moment.
We have double glazing where we can. We could do with replacing the upstairs windows, with double glazed units, but since this is a listed building, they would have to be sliding sash windows and we can't afford them. Downstairs we have lovely old shutters, which we use as soon as night falls, and they are a godsend. We have put secondary glazing over the upstairs windows, but it is never as efficient.
We have insulated our loft. Cavity wall insulation is not an option, since our immensely thick stone walls do not have cavities. There is no gas in the village. We once lived with a multi fuel boiler for several years, but it had to be fed constantly, and the house still felt cold. Now we heat the place with a mixture of oil central heating, oil radiators run on electricity, a hugely efficient multi fuel burner in the living room, which we mostly feed with smokeless fuel - and the odd fan heater to keep the workers' toes from freezing off. The oil is so pricey that we can only afford to run the heating for a few hours morning and evening, and even then the bills are appalling. I scatter vintage blankets about the house and use them. I wear layers. I wear woolly socks. And some days I am still cold.
We are hardly souls in Scotland.
On New Year's Eve, we visited some friends in the village, who are living in a lovely new build house. It looks very like one of the old cottages, it is quite small, and exceedingly well insulated. All those of us who live in the more 'historic' properties were, within minutes, fanning ourselves and saying things like 'My God it's so hot!' Body temperatures adjust. But sometimes it does cross my mind that a nice, small, insulated city flat might be the answer...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

January in Scotland

Not a good time of year, on the whole. Also, I've been neglecting this blog, in favour of wordarts because I've decided to post a whole novel on there, a bit at a time. It's called The Corncrake, and I've only got as far as posting Chapter 4 (although the whole book is written). It's something of a Hebridean homage to Wuthering Heights so if you like that novel and/or if you love Scotland, you might enjoy it. I'm already working on something quite new, which I hope will be sent out by my agent in the usual way. But, for reasons too complicated to go into here, involving extensive rewrites, she can't really send this one out. I reckon it's a good commercial tale, and I've decided to post it and see what happens. But it will take a long time to get through it - midsummer by my reckoning! When, hopefully, the rain will have stopped.
Early in December a friend told us that the autumn had been the dryest for thirty years, here in Ayrshire. Since by that time the fields around the village were a sodden mess, he got fairly short shrift, while stoutly maintaining what his rain gauge was telling him. He may have been right, but the statistics were only an indication of the thankless task of judging the weather here in Scotland, because it hardly seems to have stopped raining since he first mentioned it. Predicting droughts from dry spells lasting a few weeks is impossible in this country. Right now, it is dark, wet and windy. In between times, it is cold. You would not want to be here.
Meanwhile, I have decided to broaden out the scope of this blog a bit, and post the odd reflective piece about what is going on in Scotland just now - socially and politically, as well as all the nice stuff about houses, gardens and antiques - in fact a little more about what it means to live and work in Scotland in the early years of the twenty first century.