Monday, February 25, 2008


Now there's a good Glasgow word for you - though it's virtually untranslatable. It means daring, mischievous, cocky, self confident, iconoclastic, all of the above, and more. Often coupled with 'dead' as a suitable intensifier. A story to illustrate: when my son was first living in Glasgow, he and a friend were walking home late one night. They met a man coming the other way, slightly the worse (or better) for drink. He brandished a couple of broken bottles at them and as they recoiled in horror he grinned and said 'Only joking!' and went on his way. That's gallus. In fact it's probably dead gallus.
I've been writing a piece about Glasgow, and the word has been much in my mind. But I was thinking about it even more today, when I posted what I thought was a faintly humorous observation about something on a professional website, to be met with a series of what can only be described as spiky responses. And it struck me that I have been living in Scotland for so long (we moved up here when I was twelve - it's my country, my home) that I now take ironic self deprecation coupled with a certain gallus sense of mischief completely for granted. It never occurred to me that somebody might actually take me seriously. The Scots I know and love regularly puncture pomposity with a few well chosen words. I'm used to it. It's a baseline for all interactions. But I had forgotten that not everyone understands or approves and I do sometimes wonder if this isn't one more symptom of the chasm which seems to be slowly but surely opening between our countries.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Painting Scotland

My husband, Alan Lees, who has spent many years working as a woodcarver and sculptor, is doing more and more paintings these days - although he's working on some carved 'waymarkers' for a woodland walk at Straiton in South Ayrshire, even as I type this. However, it's hard and dirty work, with - as usual for craftsmen and women of all kinds - poor remuneration for the effort put in, never mind the actual artistic skills involved. Increasingly then, he is turning to paintings, and increasingly he's working in acrylics, liking the speed and vivid, 'primitive' colours. The pictures too have a primitive, folk art quality about them, and other people seem to like them too. One of his recent feedbacks, in our online shop, The Scottish Home says that he will be 'famous' one day. We certainly hope so! He's quite famous already for his carvings - people are forever coming up to him and shaking his hand when they find out what he does - but I think at the moment, he would rather be painting, and the vivid, graphic and very Scottish quality of some of these makes them ideal as interior design pieces, as well as for people who may want to be reminded of Scotland - industrial Glasgow, as well as the landscapes of the west.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Burns Supper an Amazing Damask and a Spooky Observation

A few weeks ago, we hosted a Burns Supper for a group of sixteen friends. The table took a bit of time and trouble to get right - what with candles, Burns napkins (had to scour Glasgow for those - couldn't find any in Ayrshire, though doubtless there were some, just not where I was looking!) tartan ribbons for the whisky bottles and heather from the garden - there is always heather of some sort in bloom in the garden even in February. I used one of the Scottish Home's tablecloths, an enormous banqueting cloth which has been sitting in my 'stock cupboard' for a couple of years, and which I have not yet brought myself to sell, partly because I always suspected it would come in handy one day. It is a lovely, lovely old damask, with a stunning design of game birds, stags and so on woven into it, and I reckon it probably came from a hunting lodge somewhere, and was used for those mammoth dinners that people would once have had after a day out on the hills. It is truly enormous - you can see just how big, from the picture on the left: 12 feet long by just under 8 feet wide. Unfortunately it does have a little damage, mostly along the edges, one or two worn places, and a few very small cuts, but nothing that anybody noticed while it was in use.
We provided the venue, the cock a leekie soup (traditional, with prunes) home made oat bread, potatoes and cheese. The rest of the meal was brought by assorted friends, including haggis, home made steak pie, and three spectacular trifles, all different. As we sat there over coffee, there was a sudden power cut, but since we had a great many candles already lit, nobody much cared. There is a sense in which this old house comes to life when the electricity goes off. I always feel it, and it seemed peculiarly powerful that night. When our guests had left, I pottered about by candlelight, gathering up glasses and dishes. I paused in the sitting room, listening - and as always, felt that there are people living here still who prefer candlelight. The next day, I wrote a poem about it.