Robert Burns – by Archibald Skirving

It’s a bit late on on Burns Night, but better late than never. Below is a photo of a facsimile of a drawing of Robert Burns by Archibald Skirving. I was born a Skirving and there aren’t that many of us about, so although I have never bothered to look up my family tree I just assume that any other Skirvings are related to me ‘through a drainpipe’ as they say in the north of England. As it happens Archibald looked very like one of my uncles, but I don’t think Archibald had any children himself.  Anyway, I think his drawing of Burns is really good.

Drawing of Robert Burns by Archibald Skirving

I managed to buy this from eBay in the form of a nice booklet.

Cover of 'Skirving Portrait of Burns'

Robert Burns Cottage, Alloway, Ayrshire

Robert Burns cottage, Alloway, Ayrshire

In October we spent a couple of nights away in Ayrshire, Jack had a football match to go to and we also wanted to visit Dumfries House, but we also managed to squeeze in a visit to Robert Burns’s Cottage, his birthplace in Alloway, the last time we were there it was shut so I had never been inside before. The photo above is the front of the house, right on the main road. Robert Burns was born here in 1759.

The photo below is the back of the cottage, the left hand side would have been where the animals were housed in the past.

Burns Cottage , Alloway, Ayrshire

I was shocked at how small the cottage is. It’s quite expensive to visit this place and I was thinking it was way overpriced, but I hadn’t realised that the entrance fee also included entry to a nearby Burns museum and it took us a long time to look around that, so it was well worth the cost – and the cafe was good!

Robert Burns,Inside Cottage 1

Inside Cottage, Burns Cottage, Alloway

Robert Burns, Inside Cottage

The three photos above are of the living/dining/ bedroom. It’s a very small room with a bed recess and the four wee gowns represent the children who shared the bed apparently, however there’s only one bed in the place so I suspect everyone piled in this, or some were on the floor, otherwise they must have had another bed in the other room in those days.

Below is the kitchen/living room.

Inside Cottage , Burns cottage, Alloway

Inside Cottage, Burns Cottage, Alloway

About three or four steps in either direction is the length and breadth of these rooms, I suppose they would have been cosy, especially with the heat from the animals who were housed in the other side of the cottage. This is a clay and thatch cottage which was built by his father in 1757. It took us about five minutes to look around this cottage, it’s so small and if anyone else is in a room you are in it’s crowded. I’m not sure about the pieces of his poetry which have been written on some of the walls and furniture, it sort of detracts from the historic feel of the place I think, no doubt others would disagree.

We didn’t have time to look around the area this time, but we did that on a previous visit, when the cottage was shut, it’s a really lovely area you can see a previous blogpost here.

A New Era – Modern Art Two – Edinburgh

We’ve been to the New Era exhibition at the Modern 2 Gallery in Edinburgh and I’ve blogged about our first visit here. This time I’m showing one of the sculptures. Below is a model of a brass head by J.D. Fergusson who is better known for his paintings. It’s called Eastre (Hymn to the Sun) and was created in 1924. It’s very much of its time I think, it looks very futuristic and reminds me of Princess Leia. You can read more about it here.

brass head

Below is The Hunt by Robert Burns, created around 1926. When I first saw this one I really didn’t like it, it seemed too gaudy, the gold paint really stands out, you can read about it here. This one originally decorated a wall in an Edinburgh tearoom in Princes Street. The artist was commissioned to design everything in the tearoom, including the cake stands.
the hunt This one really grew on me and the amount of detail in the painting is wonderful. Very un-Edinburgh especially for the 1920s, evidently it was a far more exciting place than I had imagined.

Finally, The Sensation of Crossing the Street by Stanley Cursiter.

the sensation of crossing the street

The Birks of Aberfeldy

The Birks  of Aberfeldy

One day last week we decided to drive up north of Perth to Aberfeldy, it’s definitely the Highlands. Well it was a lovely day, if a bit cold, but it was just so wonderful to see some blue sky and – no rain.

The Birks  of Aberfeldy

The Birks  of AberfeldyThe Birks  of Aberfeldy

I had been to Aberfeldy before but hadn’t been to The Birks of Aberfeldy, it’s a woodland walk, or maybe I should say climb as it is much steeper than I thought it would be. We walked up the right hand path, which turned out to be the correct decision as the walk is a big loop and on the way back down the other side it was a bit harder on the legs as there are a lot of steps which are really quite steep, I’m always happier going up than going down, you are much more in control on the way up anywhere I think. I had to hang on to handrails quite often as there was also quite a lot of snow and ice around. It was tougher going than I expected, but we’ll be going back in the spring or summer to see what it looks like then, with the deciduous trees doing their stuff, and it should be an easier walk then.
The Birks  of Aberfeldy
It’s a lovely area but to be honest there are lots of places in Scotland like this, trees, a steep hillside and rushing water and waterfalls, the difference with this one is that Robert Burns wrote a poem about it in 1787 and set it to a previous tune. He was a great collector of old Scottish tunes.

The Birks  of Aberfeldy

The Birks  of Aberfeldy and Robert Burns
Above is a grim photo of me, sitting beside a statue of Robert Burns, it was apparently his favourite spot.

Below is the view from that bench.

The Birks  of Aberfeldy

Below is the poem he wrote.

Now simmer blinks on flow’ry braes,
And o’er the crystal streamlet plays,
Come, let us spend the lightsome days
In the birks of Aberfeldie!
Bonnie lassie, will ye go,
Will ye go, will ye go,
Bonnie lassie, will ye go
To the birks of Aberfeldie?

The little birdies blithely sing,
While o’er their heads the hazels hing;
Or lightly flit on wanton wing
In the birks of Aberfeldie!
Bonnie lassie, will ye go…

The braes ascend like lofty wa’s,
The foaming stream, deep-roaring, fa’s,
O’er-hung wi’ fragrant spreading shaws,
The birks of Aberfeldie.
Bonnie lassie, will ye go…

The hoary cliffs are crown’d wi’ flowers,
White o’er the linns the burnie pours,
And, rising, weets wi’ misty showers
The birks of Aberfeldie.
Bonnie lassie, will ye go…

Let Fortune’s gifts at random flee,
They ne’er shall draw a wish frae me,
Supremely blest wi’ love and thee
In the birks of Aberfeldie.
Bonnie lassie, will ye go…

In case you don’t know and haven’t guessed birks are birch trees.

If you want more info on the Aberfeldy area have a look at My Voyage Scotland here. and here.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is one of those books that I was pretty certain I had read as a youngster, but recently realised that I hadn’t, so I rectified it fast. In fact my copy of the book is in a volume of Steinbeck which contains this one and Cannery Row. I got Cannery Row in the Classics Club spin, so more on that one early next month.

Of Mice and Men is a quick read, just a novella really, it was first published in 1937 and the setting is close to Soledad and the Salinas River, California. It’s the American Depression and is based on Steinbeck’s own experiences of being a bindlestiff in the 1920s, a sort of itinerant farm worker.

George and Lennie are travelling towards their next job on a farm, they’ve had to leave their previous one due to a misunderstanding involving Lennie and a young woman. Lennie is a big man who has the mind of a small and simple child and it gets him into trouble, especially as he doesn’t have any idea of just how strong he is.

George is really Lennie’s carer, trying to stop him from getting into trouble, no easy task. Lennie loves to feel soft things, and he had a piece of velvet which someone had given him to stroke, but sadly he lost it. A teeny mouse was fulfilling his tactile needs, but due to having no idea of the fragility of a mouse and what his manhandling it will do to it, it isn’t long before the mouse is dead. Lennie just can’t understand it.

When they reach the farm where they have some work, they’re looked on suspiciously, it’s unusual for men like them to travel around in pairs, they’re usually loners, and it’s thought that George might be taking advantage of Lennie and taking his pay from him. It’s not true of course, although they both share a dream to own some land and a home of their own. They have it all planned out. They begin to get to know the other workers and Lennie is ecstatic when he is given a pup from a newly born litter on the farm – oh dearie me!

This is a sad tale, you know it’s just not going to have a happy ending and Lennie ends up suffering the same fate as an ancient farm dog.

Of course, Steinbeck took the title Of Mice and Men from the Robert Burns poem – To a Mouse

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men gang aft agley. The best laid schemes of mice and men go often awry/askew.

Burns Night

How quickly Burns Night comes around nowadays, as usual it was a quiet one here but we did have the traditional haggis (veggie) neeps and tatties, which looked and tasted exactly like last year’s and as always tasted far better than it looked.

If you want to find out more about Robert Burns have a look here. That link is about one of his most famous songs, Ae Fond Kiss. Burns was one of those men who should have had dangerous to women stamped on his forehead, but as I’ve had experience of a few Nancys in my family I think that Agnes (Nancy) McElhone was probably one of the few women that gave Burns real grief!

There’s a list here of some of his most famous poems/songs and you can hear them being recited as they should be, in a Scottish accent.

Robert Burns, his parents and maiden names

Burns' parents' grave

The photo is of the grave of Robert Burns’s parents. It’s situated in the graveyard of Old Alloway Kirk, the place which inspired Robert Burns to write his poem Tam O’Shanter. If you want to see more of Alloway and the kirkyard have a look at a previous post here.

I was chatting with a friend recently about the Scottish tradition of women being known by their maiden names, particularly when they die. As you can see from the photo, the father of Robert Burns was William Burns and his spouse was Agnes Brown, Robert’s mother.

Officially I suppose married women are generally known as Mrs Married Name, but amongst old friends they’ll still be Somebody Maiden Name. In fact whenever I meet women for the first time I find that it takes on average about 10 minutes of chat before the words “of course, my own name is …whatever her maiden name is.”

Sadly I’ve noticed that the tradition seems to be dying out (pun probably intended). I’ve got to the stage in my life where the local newspaper hatches and matches announcements rarely come up with anyone I know. It’s the dispatches that I’m more likely to recognise, although happily those folks are often in their 80s and 90s. But I have noticed that the women’s announcements nowadays just have the name of their husband, with not a clue as to the woman’s real name. Let’s face it, some women have quite a series of surnames throughout their lives. I had a friend whose own name was rather unusual and began with ‘S’, then she married an unusual ‘H’, divorced him and married an unusual ‘D’. When her son asked why her names were always strange she told him that she was working her way down the alphabet of strange names. Husband ‘D’ gave her a poisonous look and not long after that he skedaddled! I wonder if she has reached ‘A’ yet!

Back to graves, on this Halloween – gravestones aren’t that common nowadays, my family has always gone for the ‘scattering’ option in recent generations, and in fact although I enjoy mooching around old graveyards reading the inscriptions, I wouldn’t be up for visiting family graves as I would find that quite depressing and pointless. It’s much better to have personal ways of remembering loved ones. But I’d hate to think that those who do opt for the more traditional burial in Scotland have somehow forgotten that if it’s a married woman then she should revert to her maiden name. Maybe it’s up to the stonemasons to educate them.

Scottish Pottery and Robert Burns

I can hardly believe that it’s that time of the year again – Burns Night that is. I’ll spare you the sight of my dinner this year, we’ll be having the less traditional vegetarian haggis, neeps (turnip) and tatties tonight. Not because we’re vegetarian but because it’s tastier than the offal/awful! version.

I thought it would be nicer to let you see some very old Scottish pottery, the sort which would have been recognised by Robert Burns when he was around and imbibing a fair quantity of whisky, which he seems to have been quite fond of.

toddy bowls 1

As you can see, it’s fairly chunky stuff, the large bowls are called toddy bowls and they measure about 10 inches across the top of them so they can hold a lot of toddy in them. Toddy is of course a mixture of whisky, sugar and hot water, for me it’s the only possible way of enjoying whisky, but I haven’t had it since I was a child when my dad used to make it for me if I had a bad cold or toothache.

I took this photo to try to show you that they are also decorated inside. The jugs are actually two different designs but they’re quite similar as you can see. One design is for wine and it has vine leaves on it, whilst the beer jug is decorated with hop leaves and flowers. The pottery is at least 150 years old but this sort of pottery was made for a long time, it could be a lot older, and the bowls would originally have been sold in pairs, people used to have one at each end of a long table or sideboard. The small two handled pewter drinking vessel is a quaich, the ‘ch’ pronounced the same as in the word ‘loch’. It’s a reproduction one.

Scottish pottery toddy bowls 2

The top left hand toddy bowl has very large pine cones in it which make the bowl seem really small. My favourite bowl is the bottom left hand one, I love the design but it has been in the family since it was new which makes it more precious to me.

Have a listen if you want to hear David Rintoul reciting the Burns poem: –

Scotch Drink

Well, are you any the wiser? Burns didn’t write many short poems, I know that because I looked for one when I had to choose one to memorise for reciting at a Burns competition when I was at primary school. The town’s Burns Society held a competition every year and all schoolchildren had to take part in it. I ended up reciting this one.

“John Anderson my jo, John”
By Robert Burns

John Anderson my jo, John,
When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw,
but blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo!

John Anderson my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither,
And monie a cantie day, John,
We’ve had wi’ ane anither;
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we’ll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo!

I didn’t win. Jack did win though, but he was in a different year from me and he recited To A Mouse. What did he win ? I hear you ask. A volume of the complete works of Robert Burns of course – he still has it.