Monday, August 24, 2009

Millport, Bicycles and Art at the Garrison

Just back from a weekend spent at Millport, on the Isle of Cumbrae where Alan was demonstrating painting in the newly refurbished Garrison. We were staying with our old friends the Mapes - of bicycle rental fame. Over the years, it seemed impossible to visit this lovely little Clyde island without hiring a bike and cycling round - always from Mapes of Millport. They had the toy and joke shop too - and it was always a favourite with the kids who visited - still is, I'm sure. The business is now run by Frank and Anne's son. When our son was little, we generally found ourselves doing this on the last day of the summer holidays - ice creams, fish and chips, the crocodile rock and a long but mercifully flat cycle ride ten miles round the perimeter of the island. It was a special treat and now, visits to the island are imbued with a kind of nostalgia that has, I'm sure, a lot to do with those long, lost and lovely summers. I was never glad to see the end of the summer holidays - they always came much too soon for me! And I can never hear Abba's wonderful 'Slipping Through My Fingers'
What happened to those wonderful adventures
The places I had planned for us to go
Well some of that we did but most we didn't
And why, I just don't know
without thinking of Cumbrae - which was, at least, one of the things we did.

Alan had a good weekend too - considering that on sunday the weather was as appalling as a wild day in December - and consequently visitors were few and far between - the people who did make it to the Garrison were certainly appreciative of his slightly strange, vividly naive works of art - lots of praise, which is certainly welcome, especially when the reception from the art establishment is sometimes less than congratulatory.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Vintage Fashion: a Touch of Deja Vu

Not quite Scottish this - but certainly relevant to all things vintage! I was clearing out some old papers the other day and came across a wonderful (and pristine) issue of Honey and Vanity Fair magazine from 1972. It makes fascinating reading, not least for how similar media obsessions are then, and now. ('For lovelier nails, smooth away ugly cuticles.' 'We don't promise any overnight miracle cures for spots and pimples.' 'Soften yourself all over with baby oil' ...)

Even more interesting to me, though - since I'm pretty obsessive myself, where vintage fashion is concerned - is the undoubted fact that you could take just about all the clothes and (if you were young enough!) wear them without anyone batting an eyelid. This row of coloured tights and shoes for instance. Did I topple off shoes like that? Well I'm pretty sure I did. But do they look particularly dated? Don't think so. As for the coats, the wonderful 'coats Garbo would be proud to wear' - I'd be quite happy to find them in my wardrobe even now.
Actually, I've got two even older pieces in my wardrobe and I do wear them quite often. One is a Dereta tweed coat from the sixties which would have looked impossibly middle aged to me back then, when I was a girl, but now just looks stylish and slightly quirky. The other - also from the sixties - is my favourite: a beautifully cut, pale, pure wool coat with a curly lamb collar. It looks exactly like something Samantha would wear in those later episodes of Bewitched. It fascinates me to watch how the fashions change through the episodes of that series - since it spans that time during the sixties when everything, including fashion, underwent such profound changes. I paid about £10.00 for it in a charity shop and whenever I wear it people ask me where I managed to find it.

The other thing that interests me about this old issue of Honey is the amount of text it contains. There are wonderful images, for sure, but there is also a great deal of reading in it: blocks of text that editors of magazines aimed at young women - which Honey undoubtedly was - would almost certainly shun nowadays, on the grounds that their readers couldn't cope with it. And perhaps they couldn't. There are two decent pieces of fiction as well - a short story and a serial. It is, though, the ephemeral things that take you back with heartrending clarity: the ads for everything from Christy's lanolin facepacks to Mary Quant astringent. Nostalgia, thy name is surely advertising!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Wonderful visit to Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfries and Galloway a few days ago. Hard to say which was more beautiful - the house or the gardens. The house is open only during the summer although I believe tours can be arranged at other times. The house is full of unexpected delights - like the ancient leather wallcovering, and the needlework said to have been done by Mary Queen of Scots. Mind you - if all the pieces of needlework said to have been done by the unfortunate Queen of Scots were to be laid end to end, they would stretch a considerable distance! - however, this one is fabulously authentic and the castle is a likely enough home for it, with all the family's royal associations.
Drumlanrig is also full of fine artworks, the most renowned of which is probably Rembrandt's 'Old Woman Reading' which is well displayed and lit. You can see it here. According to the guide, opinion divides as to whether she looks faintly sinister or marvellously restful. I'm of the latter opinion - there is something soothing and reassuring about this old lady, so absorbed in her book - a picture that you want to stand and gaze at for a very long time. One other thing that struck me: it was so lovely to see this picture in a domestic setting, however grand! It was a reminder that such artworks were not, in the main, intended to be hung in galleries, surrounded by other pictures, and certainly not surrounded by labels telling us what we ought to think about them. The castle tour was excellent value for money - the gardens were beautiful, so were the little craft and food shops in the courtyard, there were plenty of picnic tables (but if you're taking a picnic, do buy your fresh sausage rolls in the food shop at the castle!) and as a bonus, the cycle museum was unexpectedly enthralling - who would have thought that bicycles could be so fascinating?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Expanding the Scottish Home

For some time now I've been writing two blogs: Wordarts is all about the business of writing and The Scottish Home is loosely linked with my online store of the same name, mainly dealing in the antique textiles I love, but also with other items including artworks and antiquarian books, many of them with a Scottish or Irish provenance. I've also been making the occasional contribution to a fascinating magazine blog about video games: passion4games .

Over the past few months, however, it has become clear that I'm spreading myself much too thinly and the result is - inevitably - that I'm not doing anything very well. And that includes blogging! Perhaps even more importantly, I find that I'm spending far too much time writing about writing, and not half enough time doing the actual creating - and that's not good for somebody who, first and foremost, likes to think of herself as a writer of fiction.

I've spent a few days taking stock, making notes but above all thinking. And the results of all that thinking are that I'm planning to cut down, consolidate and organise my time better.
I'll be taking a break from Wordarts for a little while, although I'll still be making the occasional contribution to passion4games, because that whole area of video game development, with all its implications for creativity, interests me enormously.
For roughly half the week, I'll be working on The Scottish Home, expanding my antiques business in various new directions. I have a few fledgling plans for sourcing interior design statement pieces, and tackling the newly fashionable idea of 'upcycling' - i.e. recycling with style. The freelance life being what it is, we've been doing that in this particular Scottish home for years!
This blog will be expanded to reflect these new interests, although most of my posts will retain a very definite sense of Scotland. I don't write much about Golf and Whisky (neither of which I have any aversion to, especially not a good island malt!) but I also think there is more to Scotland than those two attractions. And more to textiles than tartan. And more even to tartan than you might believe!
When I'm not working in, for and with the Scottish Home, for the other half of the week, I'll be finishing a new collection of short stories and writing a new piece of historical fiction. Not all my creative writing is set in Scotland of course, but even when it isn't, I often find that artefacts, things which people have possessed and loved, things which people have perhaps even made or embellished themselves, can play an important part in the stories I tell. I find myself weaving them in, just as fascinating designs can be woven into - or printed on - the old paisley shawls that are another of my passions!