Thursday, 29 June 2017

Play the Game

      I worked in the city of Stirling for several years and I used to love walking around the streets in my lunch-hour. Some of the streets are paved with cobble-stones which aren't particularly kind to your feet when wearing a pair of high-heels. But, the sights that surround you, are worth the blisters and pain.

    One building that I used to pass regularly was, the Boys Club, on St John Street. Previously an old butter and poultry market, the building was renovated and extended in the late 1920's. Concerns had been raised in the city about the rise in youth crime and ex-chief Scout for Scotland, Major F. M Crum, having an interest in youth welfare, founded the club.

    The Major having fought in the Second Boer War and the First World War created a youth movement for boys who were not in the Boys Brigade, or Scouts. Having founded Scout groups previously, Major Crum knew that young boys needed an interest. Somewhere they could go to meet-up with other boys,  burn off their excess steam and develop leadership skills amongst them.

    The club initially offered them a place to play billiards, bagatelle, ping-pong and draughts. With activities such as football, cricket, boxing and gymnastics being added at a later time. As Major Crum had hoped, the numbers in youth crime did decrease and by 1944 the club had 164 members.

    The Major himself was a recognised hero in the wars he served in, serving in the Mounted Infantry in the Second Boer and a sniper in the First World War. Additionally he was a hero amongst the Scottish Scout movement. He wrote both his memoirs that were initially published in pamphlet form and a book titled, Camp and Character training, published in 1927.



Monday, 26 June 2017

Whistling my Tune

    He sounded his fife in the streets, but this time it wasn’t rats and mice that came to him, but rather children...In total, one hundred thirty were lost. Two, as some say, had lagged behind and came back. One of them was blind and the other mute. One little boy in shirtsleeves had gone along with the others, but had turned back to fetch his jacket and thus escaped the tragedy.                                                                                   The Pied Piper of Hamelin
                                by Brothers Grimm

    There are so many things that stimulate the mind and as writers we hope that our words do just that. Sights, sounds, smells, pictures, can also take our minds anywhere, at any time. The other week while in the Canary Islands, one particular sound took me back a long number of years. I'm not going to tell you how many to be exact, as it's rude to ask a lady's age.
    The sound was of a tin whistle, which tells the residents of the village that the knife-sharpener is in the vicinity. He'll sharpen knives, tools, implements even lawn-mower blades by hand, travelling from street to street by bicycle.
    It was the shrill, untuneful sound of his whistle that for some reason brought back the memory of the touring theatre company that used to visit my infant school. Each year just before school broke up for summer, the actors would come along and perform plays, usually folklore and fairy tales.
    On one occasion, an actor dressed colourfully, playing his fife, encouraged us little-ones to rise to our feet and follow him around the small school assembly hall, as he played his role of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. It was something that every kid enjoyed, something that didn't appear to be school work. But, of course, the music, song and interaction was playing an all important part in our education.





Friday, 23 June 2017

A Year of Enchantment


    Nowadays, there are more young men and women taking a year out, before moving onto college and university. Some even take a break from regular employment to travel the world, all wanting to experience different cultures, customs and sights, broadening their horizons.

    Everything they need to know about taking a gap-year is obtainable instantly via the web and the extensive range of well-written travel guide books that are now available.

    However, wanderlust is nothing new, there have been many travel adventurers. Many that we read about historically are predominantly male, but one female I came across very recently was, Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming from Altyre, Morayshire, Scotland.

    Constance's lust for travel came at the age of thirty-one after a visit to her sister's home in India. You could say that there is nothing unusual about this.But the year was 1868, when women did not have a vote, were expected to be barefoot, pregnant and chained to the kitchen sink. While she didn't class herself as an adventurer, she most certainly had an adventurous spirit.

    Travelling thousands of miles by ship, at times never setting ashore for weeks at a time, Constance wrote in journal form about her experiences and observations. Her detailed guides were published and also contained copies of her sketches and paintings, illustrating her travels in the absence of photographs.

    Each trip she took in as much of the country as was possible and when in India she visited the Himalayas, this she said was her 'year of enchantment.'   If she had written nothing else about her travels, those three words to me say everything about the time she had.

Books by Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming

In the Hebrides
In the Himalayas and on India Plains
A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War
Granite Crags of California




Monday, 19 June 2017

A Dream in June

    Summer solstice is this week and I wanted to share part of a poem by children's author and poet, Andrew Lang, which I came across very recently.
  Lang was born in Selkirk, in the Scottish Borders and in the main is known for his folk and fairy tales. The town of Selkirk itself is where renowned wordsmith Sir Walter Scott was sheriff from 1803 until 1832.
    The two border's men both have links to University of St Andrews, Andrew Lang having a series of lectures named after him and Scott being elected as the rector there which however, was rendered null later.
        I hope you enjoy it, as I did and Happy Summer Solstice to one and all.

The University of St Andrews

A Dream in June (Extract)
by Andrew Lang (1844-1912)

In twilight of the longest day
I lingered over Lucian
Till ere the dawn a dreamy way
My spirit found, untrod of man
Between the green sky and the grey
Amid the soft dusk suddenly
More light than air I seemed to sail 
Afloat upon the ocean sky 
While through the faint blue, clear and pale
I saw the mountain clouds go by 
My barque had thought for helm and sail
And one mist wreath for canopy
Like torches on a marble floor Reflected, so the wild stars shone Within the abysmal hyaline Till the day widened more and more And sank to sunset, and was gone And then, as burning beacons shine On summits of a mountain isle A light to folk on sea that fare So the sky's beacons for a while
Burned in these islands of the air
Then from a starry island set
Where one swift tide of wind there flows
Came scent of lily and violet
Narcissus, hyacinth, and rose
Laurel, and myrtle buds, and vine
So delicate is the air and fine
And forests of all fragrant trees
Sloped seaward from the central hill
And ever clamorous were these

'None rival either the popularity, or the inclusiveness, or the general merits of the twelve books of twelve colours which we owe to Andrew Lang and to his wife'

J. R. R. Tolkein

Friday, 16 June 2017

In the Face of Adversity

    The Salvation Army, a Christian charity organisation was established in London in 1865. Its founder, William Booth and his family had concerns about the amount of homelessness in London and decided to take action.

    Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor and needy of London firstly, then taking their message around the UK  they encouraged and supported those in need to help themselves.

    In June 1880 they launched themselves in Australia, United States and Ireland. Now, a world-wide organisation they continue to do a great job helping individuals and communities get back on their feet when faced with disaster.

    When we see the latest tragedy that London has had to face over the last few weeks with the fire in Grenfell Tower, we see that humanity becomes stronger in the face of adversity. Disregarding political and ethnic differences, people pull together whatever misfortune they are confronted with.


Monday, 12 June 2017

The Moon is Made of Cream Cheese?

    Kids don't think about where the food inside their packed-lunch box comes from, or  the reason why they should include a minimum of 5-a-day of fruit and vegetables in their daily intake of food. That's the boring stuff that adults talk about and part of the rules that are imposed upon them.

    A child will be satisfied that they have a full tummy at the end of lunch-break. They either don't know, or care why it is necessary for them to have a nutritional diet. The importance, is something that both parents and school has to take responsibility for. Education arms them with options, something that we know is very important in all aspects of life.

    The British Nutrition Foundation is 50 years old this week, and as part of, Healthy Eating Week, they want to get the message out that balanced, healthy eating isn't just about the here and now, it's also about the child's future health.

    The BNF did a survey of 5040  kids ranging between the ages of five to sixteen, asking them about the origins of their food. The answers were somewhat surprising. Fruit pastels and strawberry jam they believed could be included in their 5-a-day. Tomatoes grow underground, cheese and other dairy products come from plants. As well as, fish fingers being made of chicken.

    Yes, the replies do make you smile, but on the other hand are worrying and show that we can't sit back when it comes to educating our future generation in the significance of healthy choices.

    Of course, I do know that poverty can restrict the food that is put in a child's mouth, but I'll leave that sad point to another day.

There was a man lived in the moon, lived in the moon, lived in the moon,
There was a man lived in the moon,
And his name was Aiken Drum.

And he played upon a ladle, a ladle, a ladle,
And he played upon a ladle,
and his name was Aiken Drum.

And his hat was made of good cream cheese, of good cream cheese, of good cream cheese,
And his hat was made of good cream cheese,
And his name was Aiken Drum.

And his coat was made of good roast beef, of good roast beef, of good roast beef,
And his coat was made of good roast beef,
And his name was Aiken Drum.

And his buttons made of penny loaves, of penny loaves, of penny loaves,
And his buttons made of penny loaves,
And his name was Aiken Drum.

And his waistcoat was made of crust pies, of crust pies, of crust pies,
And his waistcoat was made of crust pies,
And his name was Aiken Drum.

And his breeches made of haggis bags, of haggis bags, of haggis bags,
And his breeches made of haggis bags,
And his name was Aiken Drum.

                                                            Author Unknown

Friday, 9 June 2017

Paul's Story (Book Extract)

Paul’s Story

     Paul knew if he was going to come face to face with his adversaries it would be around the next corner. Paul’s breathing is shallow, he’s overwhelmed with fear. Beads of sweat form on his forehead and top lip. He walks at a steady pace, treating every noise he hears with suspicion.
    “Meow, meow, meo…ow.” A screeching black cat darts behind him and leaps over a garden fence and vanishes from sight. Paul is so startled that his heart is now thumping; every beat reverberates through his body. He turns right after Henry’s Pharmacy, the street is quiet. He decides to quicken his pace, around the next corner will be East Orange and he’ll be on the home run.
    “You’re out late tonight nerd,” a voice speaks from the cover of the shadows. A voice that Paul instantly recognizes.Two young men step out from behind a parked pick-up and stop the young man in his tracks.
    “Kurt, I don’t want any trouble.” Paul takes a sharp intake of breath when he catches sight of the stiletto Kurt’s holding.
    “Trouble. Why would there be any trouble between you an’me nerd?” Kurt Hills scrapes the edge of the blade frighteningly along Paul’s chin. Both he and his lackey, Robbie Dillon, are smaller in stature than Paul, but unlike them, he never carries a weapon. Paul tries to walk on, but Robbie quickly stamps on his foot with force, causing the fearful young man to stagger into Kurt.
    “Why are you pushing me out of the way nerd? If I wasn’t a forgivin’ kind of guy, I’d think you were trying to start some kind of a fight.” Kurt pushes Paul with force, turns towards his friend and says to him, “Aren’t I a forgivin’ kind of guy,Robbie?”
    “You are, Kurt, you are.” Robbie smirks.
    “I ne, ne…, never pushed you deliberately Kurt. It was an accident. I must have lost my footing.” Paul is scared, he’s unsure of what to do.
    “Do you hear that Robbie? The nerd lost his footing.” Kurt laughs sinisterly.
    “A bit clumsy if you ask me, Kurt.” Robbie forces a laugh.
Kurt takes a step forward and walks straight into Paul, using his full body weight as he does so. Paul loses his balance and falls backwards onto the parked car his two attackers had previously hidden behind. His back slams down onto the hard metal, winding him momentarily.
    In the event that Paul might fight back, Robbie takes no chances and kicks Paul’s legs away from him, leaving the young victim lying over the hood. Gravity takes over and Paul thuds to the ground. Kurt sneers and kicks Paul hard in the gut, causing Paul to coil in pain. A laughing Robbie is eager to inflict further harm and poises his foot over a prostrated Paul’s head.
    Dread fills Paul in anticipation of Robbie’s foot making contact with him. He tries to shield his face from the foot he can see coming towards him. He feels as if everything is taking place in slow motion. He takes a deep breath, to ready his body for the pain, then, beep, beep, beep. The vehicle’s horn sounds loudly and its lights begin flashing intermittently. The unexpected bursts of orange lights illuminate the victim’s anguish.
    “Get away from my truck, you little… Get away, I’ve called 911,” a man’s voice shouts angrily from one of the nearby houses.
    The aggressors scatter into opposite directions, leaving Paul on the ground like a great oak that has just been felled. Paul picks himself up with some urgency, as he can hear a police siren in the distance. His body aches but he wants to make himself scarce before the police arrive.There would be too many questions in need of answers.
    He hurries the short distance before turning the corner into the relative safety of East Orange. He was home, battered and bruised, but home.

The End of extract from Salvation No Kissing Required

Friday, 2 June 2017

The World is Your Oyster

    Shellfish, are a particular favourite of mine and in Scotland  we produce some fanatstic specimens. However for the last one hundred years, Oysters have been a stranger to our rivers and lochs, due to over fishing.

    Hopefully, though in a few years they will be back filtering the water in the Dornoch Firth. Due to an experiment by, Herriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, as part of a water purification project, 300 native oysters are bein reintroduced to the firth. The university hope that a reef of over four-hectares can be created. Funded by the Glenmorangie Distillery, who pumps cleaned waste back into the inlet, they believe that the oysters who store carbon will create an ideal location for marine life to flourish.

    Nature, can take care of itself if given a chance. Therefore I hope the oysters can make a come-back with a little help from their friends.