Do you ever wonder why some people seem to lead charmed lives whereas others, no matter how hard they try have nothing but bad luck? Some say we make our own luck. I think this is true only up to a point. The truth is shit happens to good people. And what about the expression, to have the luck of the devil? Or the good die young? Many of the most beautiful, intelligent and kindest people still end up getting cancer or being killed in a car crash by a drunk driver. In fact the most terrifying things are beyond our control and that is why humans have invented religion. For protection.
The ripple effect takes place when one massive disaster befalls a person, eg. a serious illness, war, an abusive parent, and this leads to other negative consequences. More and more bad luck follows like a chain reaction, eg. illness – loss of job – loss of income – loss of home – loss of friends or partner who don’t want to associate with someone they label as a loser – loss of self esteem which leads to bad decision making, depression and even more bad luck.
Too often in our therapy obsessed world we end up blaming the victim. Therapists may suggest we are the ones who need to change, we have distorted perception, wrong attitudes, etc. Is this necessarily true? Or were we in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person? We employ this weird magical thinking…..did your house flood because you are a negative person or because it was built on a flood plain by an unscrupulous builder. Yes, we must take responsibility for our own lives but we are not to blame for everything. I was once told by a so-called friend that my disability must be due to my evil actions in a previous life! You’ve got to laugh! And this woman was a teacher working with disabled children!
So yes, let’s be positive and try our very best to live an honourable life but we are not responsible for all the sins of the world. Call it Fate, call it Luck or God but there are forces beyond our control.
I am always astounded by the strength of life force in nature if unhindered by human activity, the pollution of drugs and chemicals. A few weeks ago I cut a couple of branches from my Woolly Willow tree (yes, it’s really called that or Salix Lanata if you want to be formal). They were covered in gorgeous catkins and made a stunning statement in a vase in my hallway. When I decided to throw them out I was surprised to see they had grown roots so now they are destined for a new life in the garden next to their mother tree. Happy trees! I have many different willow trees; scarlet, golden, black, purple, Swiss, a ground cover variety, one that has spectacular black catkins in the spring. It is a wild, windy and wet location and yet they thrive. Branches may break off in a storm but they go on undaunted. If only we humans could do the same.
Easter is my favourite festival. As a natural born pagan I love the nature symbolism and message of renewal and rebirth. Those of us lucky enough to be not living in a war zone are able to celebrate with flowers and chocolate. In the UK the weather has been kind and we see signs of new growth and green shoots in the gardens. The Russian Orthodox Easter is not till next weekend. I have many lovely memories of Easter rituals growing up in a Ukrainian family. Easter is a big event in the Orthodox Calendar. Special food is prepared in a basket including hand painted boiled eggs, cold meats and a sweet bread called Paska and then taken to the church to be blessed by the priest in a midnight ceremony. It is later eaten for breakfast on Easter Sunday. This year I am having a peaceful and joyful time although separated from loved ones and have enjoyed painting eggs for the first time in years! Also having fun with my new rainbow lantern, (really cool!) eating cake decorated with bluebells and bumble bees and delicious chocolates in the shape of butterflies.
For the last few nights I have jolted awake every hour or so in panic and anxiety about the situation in Ukraine. My parents were Ukrainian refugees during the second World War and I grew up in England. Throughout my childhood I heard horror stories from my family about what they endured when they fled their home at short notice during the Nazi invasion not knowing where they would end up and carrying only the few belongings they could gather. Today I wept upon seeing footage of Ukrainian families having to run for their lives just like my own family did seventy years ago. I still have cousins living in Ukraine and God knows what is happening to them. I feel powerless to help. My mother’s home city of Dnipro was bombed today by Russia. I am glad she is no longer with us and spared the knowledge of this atrocity. She died three years ago. As a gesture of support and solidarity for the Ukrainians who are now homeless and terrified I am posting my poem ‘Heartland’. It is based on my mother’s story and is one of the poems in my recent book, The Rush of Lava Flowers available on Amazon.
The train is leaving but I am here in a yellow room with curtains of sky. The door is chained from the inside, the lock and the mirror are broken.
The train is leaving and you’re not here. The prints of army boots have scarred the wood I once polished on my hands and knees with melting candle wax.
The train is leaving, I can hear it’s wail. On the sunlit balcony above treetops where the birds have fallen silent, a young boy hangs from a rope.
The train is leaving to I know not where but my cat is hungry, my roses wilt, poor Mishka waits on the window sill and they will not fit in my suitcase.
Will I find you arched across wild waters? Will I see you in the sparks of burning pines? Will you shimmer like an island in an ocean of wheat? Will I smell you in the northerly like the promise of snow or grass that is limpid green? Will I meet you in the white lines in the middle of the road? Will I catch you like a ghost in a speaking mirror? Will I taste you in buttermilk pancakes or tea sweetened with cherry jam? Will I feel you in the blue fur of a cat? Will I discover you folded inside yourself like a secret at the back of my wardrobe? Will I fear you in my dreams of showers without water or scroll you on my screen as a drone follows the River Dnieper Mama once swam? Will I hear you in the trains as they scream through the night?
God is the fizz/pop of a failing light bulb. God is Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. God is a warning sign on a sharp bend. God is a shoe salesman in a designer shop or an invisible splinter in the sole of your foot. God is the knot in your umbilical cord. God is one segment of a chocolate orange or an ice cube in a shaken not stirred. God is a teaspoon of honey in your hot toddy. God is butter melting on toasted crumpet or an onion on the chopping board. God is a sandwich cut into tiny squares. God is the steady drip of a leaking tap or a pair of curtains that gape in the middle. God is an old phone in the back of a drawer or a set of cookie cutters in fancy shapes. God is a dandelion clock on a windy day, the scent of wet earth in a forest. God is a daub of yellow paint on blank canvas. God is a game of truth or dare. God is a broken windscreen in the fast lane or a hit and run on a dark street. God is the black rain of Chernobyl, a lone wolf in the Carpathian Mountains. God is a white feather on your path, the gardener who prunes hard every winter.
a bijou creative arts e-zine named after the Scottish sea mist
Martin Russell writes:-
Cromarty was always a popular place to go for our family, but my best memory is of The QE2 heading towards the Soutars, all lit up like a Christmas tree. Photography is a sideline for me, though I upload one picture and some speil onto Blipfoto every day, under the name: martinski. I’m not very arty, I just look for beauty where I can find it.
Roots connect. Healthy tree roots may grow far beyond the base of the mother tree. They provide water, nourishment and security. They also form invisible mycorrhizal fungal networks that link with other trees in the forest and share information. Just like people they are part of a wider community who need each other to survive. Trees talk to each other via their own Wood Wide Web! So I’m proud to announce that this autumn issue of The Haar, like growing tree roots, now extends further afield than ever before. The e-zine began with one woman in a small village in Caithness but now it has contributors and readers from Newcastle, Perth, Aberdeen, London, Orkney, New York, Finland, Argentina, Canada…The Haar is thriving and connecting creative people all over the world. This Roots issue of The Haar has attracted diverse types of work including music videos, portraits, provocative conceptual art, poems that celebrate family, history and nature, stories that will tug at your heart strings or stop you getting to sleep! There’s an in-depth interview with renown visual artist Geoff Weston and amazing tree sculpture from Ursula Troche. I hope there will be something challenging and enjoyable for everyone.
Please keep on scrolling down to the very end and don’t miss any of the treats in store. Feedback is appreciated and may be left at the bottom by clicking the ‘comment’ link or on The Haar’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/thepurplehermit/
Contents in Order of Appearance:-
Photograph of Cromarty by Martin Russell
Root Power by Ursula Troche
Up To the Roots by Ursula Troche
A Firm Rootball by Finola Scott
Natural History by Finola Scott
Loose-Leaves by Ian Tallach
Portrait by Shanya Hussey
Great, Great, Ever So Great Grandmother by Gerry Stewart
Growing Up Iowa by Gerry Stewart
Keighley Gala by Lydia Popowich
Inside Out – interview with artist Geoff Weston by Nikita Shackleton
Sometimes, a Reminder by Grahaeme Barrasford Young
Untitled Photograph by Alan Thorburn
Special Baby by Lydia Popowich
Whisperings by Ellen Forkin
Cycle of Life by Rita Bradd
Origin by Rita Bradd
Roots by Moira Weir
Dora in Lockdown by Kevin Crowe
The Quilt on my Bed by Jay Wilson
Mary Webb video by Duncan Harley and friends
If I Were, Would I Be? by Mandy Beattie
Dear Babushka by Lydia Popowich
Rootless by John Crofts
Portrait by Kammo
Soul Waiting to be Born by Meg Macleod
Root powerby Ursula Troche
Recently I have been doing a lot of ‘tree sculptures’ – that is, I have been layering wool around trees, around their trunks, branches, or between trees. This idea developed out of a desire to show connections between trees under the ground which we cannot see. Trees that appear to be different ‘individuals; as far as our eye can see, are often connected below the earth’s surface. They connect with their roots and they have lots of them. There are at least as many roots as there are branches, and usually there are more roots. The network of connection is so big that it’s easy to underestimate. We now know it’s a mychorrzal network, and it’s referred to as the wood wide web. Roots are powerful, and far-reaching! So the wool I put on trees – for a day or a week, at art events, festivals and so on – is a colourful representation of imagining these connections. The tree roots are a good example of us as well I think: we may look like individuals, but we are really connected to one another in many different ways. Underneath we are all one, and one origin. It’s not surprising then, that trees are used to show the generations of a family. And who might be at the root of it all? Somewhere, Africa will appear for all of us, if we go far enough, this is where roots are. And here are all of us! Can we see the wood for the trees? And can we see the roots too?
Up to the Roots by Ursula Troche
It’s difficult to distinguish Between the sound of wind and the sound of water In the forest and its surroundings Open country, open-ended grass- and earth-land
Sing a song sister, brother, worker, try! Forest feels like warm womb-enclosure Open country as wide expanded land Going side by side together to form a unity
With the river as the flowing element, running wild Into the wild, making river-scape Layers of elements appearing together Encourage useful illusions
Mirror-images appearing in unexpected places Such as the outline of a tree in a leaf The formation of clouds like islands and continents Fallen branches resembling snake-shapes on forest floor
Forest flower arrangements finding echoes elsewhere Echoes gathering, and multiplying into symphonies Outlining underlying wonders, of and in the earth Forest, fauna, river, fantasy: on land and in the sea
Trees carry life, nourishment and growth, and they House amongst them same-selves dead trees too, now posing Like grand obelisks or some sort of made-up sculptures To enrich the awesome aesthetics of the woodland
Constituting treasures of this old land As much as the trees are disappearing So do the original structures they represent The lines they make, the shapes they take
Earth must be here to stay, have a look! It’s still singing its incantations with the birds Still singing, and spinning around for us To our delight, relief and survival
Three-dimensional circle of earth We need you, to have a leg to stand on Your forests to fully breathe in And your countrysides and seasides
Side by side with us within Womb-like dwelling places that we have Surrounded by soft song, gentle tunes If we can hear the sounds, distinguished
forest incantation the ends and the beginning up to the fingertips and roots!
Ursula Troche, writer, artist, and double migrant on the Irish Sea Coast in West Cumbria. Inspired by space and (translation) places and the in-between, inner lives and hidden stories. She has work published in English and German, and a collection is being translated into French. More details at: About | ColourCirclesite (wordpress.com)
A Firm Rootballby Finola Scott
I could say I recall our first rowan but it wouldn’t be true. I know the story of its tiny baby, roots tucked in a tin, taken to the house, that was to be my parents’ forever home.
Years on it overtook us, blessing with summer shade. My brother and I inhaled Spring from frothy blooms. We stole from birds those bright berries, sweet explosions of scarlet autumn.
When we in turns left, saplings came with us to each new garden. As trees spread city wide, I dreamed I heard the rowan bid its little ones well. I lost count of those staying behind in move after move. No going back.
Mummy tucked Dad’s ashes deep in its roots. I think of him there, nurturing as always.
Natural History by Finola Scott
We walk through grass turned bronze and hear the clamouring boasts of early geese rowdy returning to their always winter place My grandchildren count the fungi blossoming at woodland’s edge I talk of their roots spread invisible as hand in hand home we walk.
After a lifetime at the chalk face, Finola Scott escapes into words. Her poems are on posters, tapestries and postcards and published widely, including in The High Window, Fenland Reed, Lighthouse. When not tickling her grandchildren, she gardens and dances in the kitchen. Red Squirrel Press published her pamphlet Much left unsaid. She’d love to see you on Facebook at Finola Scott Poems,
Loose-Leaves by Ian Tallach
To my right, Al Pacino is holding a Colt AR-15, complete with grenade launcher, not a trace of tension on his face. Instead, he exudes an air of supreme confidence– the impression, at least, that he owns everything he sees and can do with it as he wills. And who am I to argue? The weapon is a heavy one and normally you’d see at least a vein stand out on someone’s forehead or a muscle under strain somewhere, but not with Al– AKA Tony Montana– ‘Scarface’ to his enemies, though no-one dares use that one to his face. Of course, there is that incidental ball of fire that’s aimed in my direction, vaguely, like a sort of routine devastation. Thankfully, it’s just a picture, though I must admit I did feel momentarily immersed in it and therefore menaced. Deep breaths.
The sounds of crockery and cutlery, of conversation, laughter from the other patrons, engines revving angrily outside (what do they expect? – this is Shoreditch – London E2- life sped up so much, it’s slowed right down again) … where was I?… SOUNDS… yeah, there’s a lot of voices here and I can’t understand a single language… only, I’m inclined to think the shouting from the kitchen, like the opera compilation, is Italian. Next to that framed black and white from what I still consider one of Al Pacino’s poorer films, there is a map of Europe and a number plate. (I can’t wait for him to play King Lear.)
I look around. Across the aisle, a family (they look and sound, to me, like Nepalis, although I might be wrong) are synchronously picking through deserts. They nod at me in unison. Their smiles have in them deference and shyness– self-deprecation, much in contrast to that photograph. I feel pleasantly dizzy. The wall behind them is painted greenishbrown, like ditch-water. Somehow, though, it forms a charming backdrop to the maps and artefacts, the random stamps, postcards, bunches of plastic flowers, one solitary passport, train tickets, bottle-tops- all-sorts, nailed incongruously, here and there, at jaunty angles, like a sort of frozen spontaneity. This place is just so wrong, it’s right again! It’s just occurred to me– this isn’t kitsch at all– it’s jumped right over kitsch and looks back at it, from a more ironic place.
‘I’m sorry to be a pain, but I asked for a pot of tea.’ The voice is delicate, but somehow strong. The speaker is invisible to me, although she can’t be far away. Her accent is unplaceable.
‘Yes, ma’am! That IS a pot of tea. Lapsang Souchong, right? You ordered Lapsang Souchong?’ (I take it this waiter was the target of the outburst in the kitchen; he seems unfairly harsh.)
‘Yes, this is a pot… with tea in it… but, for reasons much too complicated to explain…’ she tails off, but only to draw breath, apparently. ‘LOOK– this is a teabag! When I was here before, your tea was excellent– the best in town.’ Her voice is fragile, yes, but something tells me it would be the only one still audible if some disaster were to strike… if, for example, Scarface were to burst in with his Colt machine gun.
‘A teabag? Yes. A teabag… tea… Lapsang Sou… I’LL SHOW YOU THE BOX!’ He sounds positively exasperated, now. I think he might be from Australia.
‘Look… it’s been a long day. No-doubt for you as well.’ (Empathy… she’s showing empathy. I think I like this woman.) ‘Loose-leaf tea,’ she says. ‘Contrary to your assumption, sir, I’m not, in fact, a prima donna. It’s just… very important… that the tea is…’ Her voice begins to break,but comes back stronger- ‘…as before- loose-leaf.’
‘Lapsang-Souchong tea for the l-a-d-y– Loose-leaf! Remember that– LOOSE-LEAF!’ he yells, presumably to someone in the kitchen.
‘Thank-you!’ she says.
Now, most people I know would have slipped away by now;the prospect of enjoying a cup of tea, with all eyes focused on the pictures just above your head (because it would be rude, of course, to look you squarely in the eye) would be too much.
I have to see this woman for myself. So, I’m thinking that I’ll use the toilet, or pretend to do so, anyway, and catch a glimpse of her in passing. But, as I stand, I realise I reallyhave to go. In fact, I’m desperate for a slash.
She smiles at me, as if she knew I’d pass her booth exactly at this time- as if she had anticipated my arrival in her life precisely… now. Anyway, she has me frozen to the spot. Her hair is everywhere– it takes up all the space available, with jet-black curls, tight ringlets, strands that reach out like astonishment itself. But at the centre of it all, her face is perfectly at peace– warm dark-brown eyes, generous lips and skin that would suggest, perhaps, a North African origin. Her arms are delicate. She rests her hands in front. I take in bracelets, rings, impossibly long fingers and lapis nail-varnish. I’m shocked to notice that I’ve noticed all this in a fraction of a second. And at this point I wet myself.
It’s not a deluge, though. At least her eyes remain there, on my face- that’s a relief.
‘May I sit here?’ I hear my voice before I’ve consciously engaged it.
‘You didn’t really decide to ask that, did you?!’ Her laughter is a long, delicate trill.
‘No… I did… not.’ I’m laughing too. I sit down opposite her, knowing somehow that she won’t refuse, or even be surprised.
‘Would you like some tea?’ she asks.
‘Yes.’ The monosyllabic response is not like me at all, but her expression tells me words might be superfluous, or even inappropriate.
Just then, the pot of tea arrives. The waiter drops it on the table with a thud. Neither of us deign to look at him. She pours a golden stream (I’d forgotten what Lapsang-Souchong looks like), swills it round the cup and pours it on the floor. Then she fills the cup and takes it to her lips. It occurs to me that there’s a certain rudeness here- offering tea, then drinking first, but then I realise the exact opposite is true of her; having taken just a sip, she holds it out to me, using both hands. I wonder if I’m dreaming. It must be fine bone china: there is hardly any weight to it. I don’t want to wake from this. I look across at her.
‘Loose-leaf tea,’ she says.
‘It’s wonderful,’ I blurt.
‘Takes one loose-leaf to know another.’
‘What did you mean by that?’ I ask, although I know exactly what she means.
‘How many countries have you lived in?’ Her question is intuitive.
I try to look the opposite of smug. ‘Sixteen, I think.’
‘You win!’ She nods and rolls her eyes. ‘One more than me.’
‘Where you bound for?’ I ask, knowing well there couldn’t be a crueller question. (Why? WHY am I compelled to say things like that?! THE most stupid things!)
She winces. I cringe, realising that I’ve killed something. ‘I don’t know.’ She sighs and rolls her eyes the other way.
The pause is long. We pass the cup in silence. Eventually, I speak. ‘You first, or me?’
‘I’ll go: you pay.’
She knows that I’d insist on doing so, anyway. ‘Thank you.’ I mumble.
She stands and when she does, a scent wafts in the space between us – something like sandalwood. She touches my gnarled and weathered hand and then is gone. I breathe out. Keep breathing out. That ache is back– that exquisite, tragic ache that no one understands– only the loose-leaves of this world.
Ian Tallach worked as a paediatric doctor for seventeen years. He became medically retired with Multiple Sclerosis in 2015. The two positives arising from this have been time for his children and the opportunity to explore writing. He also loves Toucans.
Shanya Hussey is a first year art student at Hostos Community College, South Bronx, New York, USA.
Great, Great, Ever so Great Grandmother by Gerry Stewart
Traced on lifeless documents from five years old until your death, everything beyond dates is conjecture.
An internet cousin’s unknown Aunt Lizzie connected dots with a sepia-pixelated print. Flamboyant ribbon at your neck while your sisters sat in stiffened black, already distanced, a married woman.
He took you away with smooth words, inked his flexible truths, dodging the record keepers. You remain steadfast to your limited female facts, your parents’ names and place of birth, fourteen years wife and mother.
You see the century turn on another rented Illinois farm until death in childbirth with your seventh makes you another footnote.
They welcomed you home, space in the prairie plot for your son and even your husband, all forgiven and then forgotten until there is only yellowed paper.
Growing Up Iowa by Gerry Stewart
Crumpling heat, clothes sticking, tar melting between our toes.
Eating dust and corndogs at T-ball games, powwows and truck-rusted rodeos.
Riding the Wapsipinicon and the muddy Mississip, old words and rivers rattling on, fishing for blue gills, sunfish living in shorts with farmer’s tans.
Building forts In the ditches’ deep shade, starting clubs to keep out brothers.
We shucked bags of corn, trying to be entertained by husk dolls. Corn on the cob, creamed corn, corn casserole, corn bread and three types of baked beans at every picnic.
Riding in the VW Bug without air condition, fighting who gets to sit in its doghouse.
Mom telling stories of long lines of kings and family trees, us listening, soaking it all in before laughing it off.
Before the changes, the upheaval, white-washing why I left.
Gerry Stewart is a poet, creative writing tutor and editor based in Finland. Her poetry collection Post-Holiday Blues was published by Flambard Press, UK. Totems is to be published by Hedgehog Poetry Press in 2021. Her writing blog can be found at http://thistlewren.blogspot.fi/ and @grimalkingerry on Twitter.
Keighley Galaby Lydia Popowich
I’m seven feet high astride your shoulders bombing through electric crowds in Victoria Park. The air
dynamites with diesel, sweat and sugar. I’m assaulted by neon fantasy, a vertigo of blue and orange. Your hands
grip my calves, fingers laced with scars. The cloying scent of Brylcreem like candy floss wafts from your hair.
There’s a rumour of Hell’s Angels, a tremor in the summer night. Families are leaving early. I’m the only child riding
gilded ponies. You don’t see me waving as you inhale another Players. Six pence a turn at Hook a Duck, goldfish
beaming from bubbles. You hand over a shilling, wait for change that never comes. He mutters, bloody foreigner.
On the long walk home I feel a dribble down my thigh. Goldie’s little mouth opens, closes and then stills.
Lydia Popowich is a writer based in Caithness. Her work has appeared in anthologies and journals including Ambit,Magma, Northwords Now, The Interpreter’s House and Under the Radar. Keighley Gala is one of the poems in her latest collection The Rush of Lava Flowersavailable from Amazon.
Inside Out – interview with artist Geoff Weston by Nikita Shackleton
N:- Hello Geoff. Thank you for Zooming with me today across borders… 400 miles or so between Caithness and Newcastle! It would be great if we could start with you telling us about your childhood.
G:- I grew up in a mining village in Derbyshire. My dad’s dad was a miner. My mum’s dad worked at Denby pottery. My dad was a centre lathe turner making different objects for industry. My mum, like many women during the war, worked on aeroplanes in a skilled job. After the war she went back into the home as women were encouraged to do and later became a cleaner.
N:- Was she around a lot for you?
G:- She was. I don’t ever remember a time when she wasn’t.
N:- At what point did photography start to feature in your life. Was it a family tradition to take photographs?
G:- I remember my dad developing films in the pantry but I don’t recall too much about it. I didn’t do well at school but the one subject I was good at was art. I left school at sixteen with two GCEs, did one or two dead end jobs and at eighteen I joined the RAF. My older brother had joined the Royal Navy and he was writing to me from different parts of the world. I didn’t fancy the navy but I knew I wanted to get away. I didn’t have the confidence to go off on my own even though it was 1968, a time when many young people were breaking free. The RAF was a way to see a bit of the world. My dad had been in the RAF for National Service and he encouraged me. I was only in it for five years, doing a trade that I was in no way suited to, but I’m glad I did it. When I came out I was far more worldly and confident.
N:- Did you travel much when you were with the RAF?
G:- I spent three years in this country and two years in Germany where I bought my first good camera. I worked as an airframe mechanic and while in Germany I joined the gliding club and learned to fly gliders. When I left I didn’t have any transferable skills such as electrics or radar to equip me for civvy street. But looking back now I can see that lack pointed me eventually to a career in art and teaching, which became so important in my life. After leaving the RAF I worked in various selling jobs, cigarettes, insurance, packaging. I was living in Bristol and doing well, company car, promotions were promised, but I just couldn’t see myself in selling for the rest of my life, meeting sales targets week after week. So I decided to become a photographer and did a two year commercial photography course in Reading which led to a job taking pictures of packaging for catalogues. I hated that, it was even more boring than being a salesman!
N:- So how did you gravitate from commercial photography to Fine Art, to an understanding of photography as metaphor?
G:- While I was living in Bristol I visited the Arnolfini Gallery and saw an exhibition called Stand Before the World by John Blakemore, black and white photographs of landscape. I was really taken with this show and found out that John Blakemore was teaching at Derby College so I applied there and got a place in the second year. It was John who suggested I go into teaching afterwards, something I’d never considered, given my own difficulties with education. In the meantime I got a job flying in helicopters taking pictures that someone else would try to sell. When that ended I was offered a part-time teaching job at my former college in Reading. That was in 1980. In 1985 I applied for a full time post at Newcastle School of Art and Design on the Foundation course and was successful. In 1987 I had the chance to do a Masters Degree at Newcastle Poly and I’m so glad I did it. It was a turning point. I learned a great deal about art, about class, about culture. For the first time it enabled me to bring my own class history into my work. It really opened my eyes to many things that then fed back into my practise and teaching.
N:- So you became a better role model for your students, a better teacher as well as a better artist?
G:- A Foundation Course is primarily about ideas, not just skills. I was making work and getting it shown. I was very active in the art world. I hope that rubbed off on the students!
N:- Do you think of yourself as an artist, a photographer, a Fine Art Photographer? How do you like to be referred to?
G:- I’ve never been comfortable with the word ‘artist’. But once I started doing video, sound recordings, text based work I couldn’t call myself a photographer anymore. Jo Spence, a hero of mine, called herself a cultural producer and I like that term.
N:- One of my favourite pieces of yours Geoff is the video, Canary about the old man at The Rising Sun Country Park. I found it poignant and powerful. How did that work come about?
G:- I was photographing that park for a long time, primarily because it used to be the site of a coal mine which closed back in 1969. I wanted to find some way of working with that history. I took a lot of what I thought were interesting photographs but they never got to the core of what I was trying to deal with. And then I took the pictures of the man with the model aeroplane. I had them for a long time, partly because I was trying to track him down. I didn’t want to use the pictures without his consent. I tried all sorts of ways to find him again but I never did. So after more than ten years I made that video. And that’s the one piece of work that for me suggests the multiple histories I wanted to explore,
N:- And it also ties in with your personal history. So it works on a lot of levels.
G:- It does.
N:- The sky, flying, working class culture were also themes in your popular exhibition about pigeons back in the nineties. I loved that show!
G:- Yes, the overall title of the show was Pigeon but the individual photographs of the birds were called Messenger. Around that time Anthony Gormley was starting to work on the Angel of the North and I was irritated because his first pronouncements were that he would change the space where it was located into an art space, ignoring the heritage of the region. It seemed like arrogance to me. After he was criticised for this he began to talk about paying homage to the industries of the northeast. A Messenger is another word for an angel and by calling my pigeons Messengers I was referencing both the use of carrier pigeons and another type of winged being that had more relevance to the area.
N:- Did you have any direct experience as a boy of pigeon keeping?
G:- Yeah, yeah. My school friend from three doors down had pigeons and so did my next door neighbour. I remember sitting with him on a Saturday afternoon, looking up at the sky and waiting for the pigeons to return. That is a very pleasurable memory.
N:- One of the things that seems to unite your work is that you play around with scale. You make people look at objects in a different way by changing the scale. Like the pigeons for example, by making them so big you turn them into magnificent beasts. Yet they are a bird some people despise, even label as vermin which is sad because they’re so beautiful. But you make them into regal creatures and by removing the background we see them in a different context.
G:- The other thing I was trying to do was reference not just the birds but the people who kept the birds. Paying homage to an important part of working class culture. Changing the scale made people look at them differently.
N:- Do you think you’ve ever set out to deliberately shock people, eg the close-up vomit photos in Bad Taste?
G:- Not sure ‘shock’ is the right word. When I finished at Derby and moved to Reading I started using colour and a large format camera. Serious Fine Art photography was usually black and white at that time. I wanted to use colour to say something about the landscape. In the early 1980s the area around Reading and Swindon was becoming Britain’s Silicon Valley and I was recording that but even though I thought they were interesting images they didn’t seem to provoke much reaction when I exhibited them. That wasn’t surprising because I didn’t feel much connection with them myself.
G:- Sowhen I moved to Newcastle in 1985 I was shocked by how much Thatcher’s policies had devastated the northeast. I’d been living in the generally more prosperous south and although I thought I was aware of what had been happening I realised that I really wasn’t. And then when I started doing my MA I got annoyed that many of my fellow students were making abstract paintings that didn’t have any social relevance. In a sense the vomit pictures were a comment on that. But I don’t think the pictures are just about that, they’re about a lot more but that’s how they started. I noticed a similarity between the surface of vomit and abstract expressionist paintings. There’s a heavy drinking culture in Newcastle so I went into the city centre early on Sunday mornings looking for pools of vomit.
N:- The vomit photos certainly make people think twice about what they’re looking at and can cause quite a visceral reaction,
G:- The other thing was I had to re-evaluate my class position, another effect the MA had on me. I had a working class background but now I was part of the middle class art world. Working class people don’t generally go to art galleries. So I needed to announce my presence in those sort of spaces. I didn’t want to just add wallpaper. I wanted to make work, for good or bad, that raised questions about class, about galleries, about art. Perhaps I’m making big claims here but that’s what I set out to do.
N:- You seem to be fascinated with the inside of the body…vomit, the raw meat photos, your images of a diseased miner’s lung, road kill in America…
G:- I’m interested in the abject, the lowly. I’m interested in so called low cultural activity. I think that’s as valid and important as high culture. One of the things I’ve tried to do in my work is use low cultural activities to raise questions about high culture.
N: I’m hoping things have changed and that we no longer have such a strong divide between high and low culture, what do you think? Do the traditional elitist standards persist?
G:- Given this government is telling museums and theatres what they should be collecting, showing and producing, I don’t think it is changing. We can’t be innocent about what’s going on. Of course all governments have an agenda but this is the first one I can remember that wants to directly determine what we should be engaging with.
N:- It’s this idea that all art should be beautiful, I really don’t buy into that. The whole concept of beauty and what is beautiful when the truth is that beauty is relative, cultural. It’s a dangerous ideology because it denies reality. Life is not always pretty.
G:- It denies a lot of people’s experience. Experiences that are just as valid. Of course dealing with the abject is not to everyone’s taste. When I had a retrospective show at the Stills in Edinburgh in 1998 the local newspaper headline was ‘sickest show in town’.
N:- Finally Geoff could we talk about your lung piece, perhaps your most important work,
G:- As I said, my dad’s dad was a miner. He died of pneumoconiosis, black lung. When I was teaching, one of my students had access to the labs in the RVI hospital in Newcastle so I was able to photograph preserved diseased miners’ lungs. Later I was invited to be in a show in Atlanta, USA. When I was teaching in America people would ask where I was from and when I said Newcastle, they’d say, ‘is that like coals to Newcastle?’ So I had the idea of sending coal over there, but in a different form. I made a series of photographs and joined them together to make a seam of coal on the gallery wall. It was 18 inches high which is the height of many coal seams in the region. I placed it low on the wall so the implicitly middle class viewer had to bend down to look at it. I left the space above it where normally art would be hung empty. That was my way of saying that there would be no art if it wasn’t for the labour of miners, factory workers and all the other working people who maintain our society and enable the cultural elite to produce art. The title – When the Dust Settles – referenced not just coal dust on lungs but also the fight between miners and the State which had occurred not long before during the miner’s strike.
N:- I think you’re clever in your use of language with your titles Geoff. Not all artists do that so successfully. They always add an extra dimension to your artwork. And it’s so true what you say – it’s the labour of the working class creating the physical world which we enjoy that gives us the time, comfort and space to make art.
G:- Yes, it’s been important for me to value and comment on that through my work. We can’t ignore class, we can’t ignore our roots, our early experiences and how they influence our ways of seeing and understanding the world.
Sometimes, a Reminder by Grahaeme Barrasford Young
After magnificence, out-walk glen dreich without rain, sullen in summer; slopedown humped peat and dead deer, menacing with not-quartz white; path slumped to deer dead in water, pain in bypassing, stab-tight, crawl-speed through antithesis of sky encompassing stride-up.
Sometimes, Place Must be Dream
A mountain’s magma root, sea-trenches’ compressing ooze, are forever barred to us. Dream can see one day a mountain stub shadowed by a shaley upturned peak. No ammonites to please with shuttered spirals, just plastic motes: even the most spaced-out mind cannot tell what patterns they might form.
What Comes After
indifferent storm spawns, seed-snow caresses cove, corrie, cwm, accumulates: ice births, grows massy, squats over sea, squashes land, grumbles down, rips eon-gathered soil from rifts, grinds it out to plains, retreats, parents fertility to feed ape, ass, men, hibernates until next need
Grahaeme Barrasford Young’s most recent collection is Starspin (Stairwell Books, 2021)
Alan Thoburn is a documentary photographer based in Tyneside who aims to take a ‘conceptual’ approach to his work. The work is intended to be metaphorical to some extent. He is currently exploring other ways to make art. Website: https://alanthoburn.com/
Please keep scrolling to see more wonderful writing and artwork…the best is yet to come!
Special Baby by Lydia Popowich
Good weather for planting, thought Eva. There was a sudden chill in the air as a haar drifted up from the sea like a dream. Eva straightened up to admire the deep square holes she’d dug. She was an expert at this now. It was the seventh month of the seventh year since Mother passed. Every summer she’d planted two more roses gradually transforming the path to her front door into an aromatic avenue. Roald Dahl, Gabriel Oak, The Lady of Shallot, The Ancient Mariner, Emily Bronte and Desdemona would soon be joined by Belle Isis. Fourteen roses to welcome her home like family after another soulless stint at the bank. Belle Isis bore blooms of the purest pink, Mother’s favourite colour.
A half-empty glass of strawberry protein shake tips over, pooling a viscous pink slime on the polished wood of the bedside cabinet, dripping down onto the cream shag pile. The bendy straw waves like a flag of surrender while plastic teeth grin from a beaker. Mother’s gummy mouth twisting, pleading. The pillow frilled with pink lace is speckled with blood. My heart beats hard, loud, thrashing like a trapped bird.
Eva sank down to her hands and knees, raking her fingers through the soil, removing sharp stones into an old paint can. She never used gardening gloves, she liked to feel the life of the earth, see the dirt gather under her fingernails and in the grooves of her palms; life line, head line, heart line, fate line tracing an inscrutable map. She didn’t mind the occasional worm or leatherback, letting them slither over her skin unharmed. The two Belle Isis roses were soaking in buckets of water, ready for their new life. Eva sprinkled a generous quantity of John Innes No 3 into the bottom of the holes. Now she just needed to fetch her special bone fertiliser from the shed at the far end of the garden, hidden behind the clump of willow trees.
She makes me promise. She makes me promise. I promise. How can I? Too much. I don’t have to do it. I don’t have to do it. But I do it. Will you miss me? she asks. I bet you won’t even miss miss miss me, she says. Too much. She makes me promise. She makes me promise. Together forever, she says. In pieces. Fourteen to be precise.
Eva retrieved the last two packages from the freezer in the shed. She’d forgotten to defrost them first so she made a detour into the kitchen and gave them a five minute spin in the microwave, still wrapped tightly in brown paper and string. She didn’t want Belle Isis getting frost bite. A flash, crackle zapped the oven. A loud bang! OMG! She’d forgotten about the wedding ring still circling that arthritic finger. She didn’t have the guts to remove it at the time. What an idiot she was, just like Mother always said. Always cocking things up no matter how hard she tried to be perfect. There was a smell of burning so she unplugged the microwave at the socket. Never mind, it was an old appliance, easily replaced.
The packages were still partially frozen so Eva popped them in a zip-lock bag and then into a bowl of hot water. That should do it. In the meantime she made herself a mug of tea with a couple of apricot and almond cookies. She preferred her tea strong, no sugar. She drank with noisy slurps and scoffed the biscuits almost without chewing. Then she burped twice. No one to complain anymore. Mother liked her tea weak and sweet from a small porcelain cup edged with rosebuds. It was almost impossible to make the tea just right for Mother. Too strong, too milky, too hot, too cold, or else it had a chemical aftertaste a bit like sucking on a car tyre, apparently. If Mother didn’t enjoy her first cup of tea in the morning, Eva would have no peace for the rest of the day.
Eva looked out at the back garden. Crows were circling over the lawn, swooping and arcing in an unusual way. Perhaps there was a hawk nearby. A predator. The haar concealed all manner of things. The willow trees hovered like misshapen ghosts at the bottom of the garden and beyond there was nothing but a grey void. The mist seemed to seep into Eva’s brain. She found it difficult to think clearly, to remember.
The water in the bowl had cooled so she replaced it with hot from the kettle. Another ten minutes and the packages had a delightful squishy consistency. Ready or not, here I come, she thought. Belle Isis was waiting. Mother was waiting. Eva found the meat tenderiser she used to prepare steak and placed the packages on the chopping board. She smashed down on them again and again and again. This was the fun part. She heard the snapping and crunching of fine finger bones. And then the phone rang. Who the fuck could this be on a Saturday? No one ever called at the weekend. Janice was the nearest thing she had to a friend. She was another cashier at the bank but she was always busy at weekends; four children, a husband, a dog. The screen on the cordless phone displayed a number Eva didn’t recognise so she answered gruffly. ‘Who’s this?’ No one spoke. White noise on the line, a strange vibration seemed to emanate from the handset travelling up her arm, shoulder, neck and then a swirling sensation in her head. Like vertigo. Eva dropped the phone on the table and stared at it for a long minute. The image of Edvard Munich’s The Scream flashed into her mind’s eye.
Time for some music. Eva chose Paulo Nutini’s Sunny Side Up CD with the volume turned high. Fuck the neighbours. She went outside carrying the defrosted fertiliser, leaving the door wide open so she could hear Paulo’s warbling vocals. Pale sunlight was starting to disperse the mist and the roses glowed like celestial beings. Eva pranced a funky jig up and down the path, waving the two brown parcels above her head as Paulo sang 10/10. By the time he’d started on Growing up Beside You she had tipped the contents into each hole. She tried not to look closely but couldn’t resist a quick glance. The pulverised hands sprawled in the dark earth like monstrous crabs. The gold wedding ring glistened. She covered them with compost and gently planted the Belle Isis roses in the centre, backfilling with more soil, smoothing and firming with her hands. A good watering and the job was done; complete, all the pieces back together again. The pink flower heads nodded and bowed in the breeze, perfectly at home.
She says she loves me. Her baby, her special baby. No one else will love me. No one else could ever love me. I am stupid but I am her baby. I am ugly but I am hers. She loves me. Loves me to bits. No matter what. Always. No one loves like a mother. Forever a mother.
That night Eva couldn’t sleep. Before going to bed she rinsed and dried Mother’s favourite tea cup and saucer, matching milk jug and sugar bowl, arranging them on a tray lined with a lace doily. She added a crystal glass containing a single pink rose. She filled the kettle with fresh water and lifted the best teapot down from the top of the dresser. Everything was ready. Eva had no idea how long she would need to wait for the return. The resurrection. The version of the Osiris story she’d read on the Internet failed to mention that particular detail. Eva prayed it would be soon. When she heard the doorbell chime at 3.33am her heart trembled like a trapped bird.
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We have no bones to creak, yet creak we do. We moan with the wind and whisper with the mice. We are a sudden chill. A flicker of movement, just out of sight.
We watched from the windows, smudged and grimy, as you stood by the old rowan tree. You stroked the fronds of leaves, made them shiver. Squished a berry, red and plump, between finger and thumb. One of us planted the rowan by the door. To ward away witches. The door that groaned, as we groaned, when it fell shut behind you.
You frowned in the dark kitchen, while we deepened the shadows. You did not notice the quernstone in the corner. The dust was thick, choking, the cobwebs blotted with flies. The quernstone has a dip, where we left a spoonful of porridge, a mouthful of ale. You will do no such thing. And no guardian, small and ancient, will lap up the drop of milk, thick with cream, in the darkness of night.
You moved to the bedroom, fusty with damp. We clung to the combed ceiling; our ether tickling your hair, your head, the tips of your ears. A draught, you thought. You stopped at the cot, small and wooden. Stroked its crudely carved hood. You bent down to gather up the blanket, moth-eaten. Stood up sharply to see a knife, blunt iron, placed beneath the mouldering pillow. You did not notice the hook. The hook where we hung the scissors, also iron, over the sleeping baby. Safe from thieving fairies.
You heard us scuttle and scratch as you entered the dim, dark loft. Not rats. Nor nesting birds. Your mouth was grim, your eyes blinking in the dust-mote murk. The beam of your torch lit up the corner of the trunk. Half collapsed, woodworm weakening it to dust. You did not know, could not know, the stories. How we talked about the sealskin, once tucked safely inside it. A sealskin belonging to a woman, seal no longer. Her husband stole it. He kept the trunk tightly locked. Until shefound the key. The woman, the wife, slipped on her sealskin, velvet soft. She plunged herself into the sea. A selkie once more.
Back down the ladder, into the belly of the house, you eyed the chimney. Your mind was still on birds and their nests. We howled, a choir of wailing. Still, you crouched in the fireplace, cobwebs in your hair, your face, your eyes. You reached up and found the shoe, snug in its hiding place, and brought it into the light. Wrinkled, dull black leather. Small and pointed in your hand. Witches. We were never sure, any of us, how one might try to sneak into our home. Sometimes we filled the shoe with sharpness, pins and nail clippings, but mostly we were comforted that the footsteps of our past would ward away any evil. Would ward away evil still. So we howled. And screeched. And raised our voices to roar with the wind.
You burnt the trunk; its stories a pile of lumpen ash. The quernstone is propped up in front of the house, pretty, its uses forgotten. The cot, polished and empty, you sold to an antique’s shop. You threw away the iron knife. The shoe is in a local museum. It stands, brightly lit, in a box of glass and keeps away no one. Yet you never visit it. And the old rowan tree by the door, the one that cast gloomy shadows in the kitchen window…
Its tangle of roots tremble in the cold, pale sunlight, its leaves mingling with grass. We tremble with it. We have not one finger and thumb between us to squish a berry, red and plump. Instead we shiver as it shivers. We whisper as the breeze catches our souls. And we are chilled, as we fade, chilled and creakingand whispering, while we watch still. We watch you standing, smiling, as the sunlight turns golden. The sunlight warming your new home.
Ellen Forkin is a chronically ill writer and artist who lives in Orkney with a love of all things folklore. She recently had a piece published for the ‘Words Into Music’ project which was part of the George Mackay Brown Fellowship’s celebrations for his centenary.
Cycle of Lifeby Rita Bradd
It begins again, a small casket filled with life. Just a germ, useless without the elements. Fire. Water. Earth. Air.
Wind lifts this seed. Carries it. Slams it into receptive soil where it rests until rain comes, falls. Drums it out from dormancy. Hydrates. Expands. Feeds.
A head breaks ground, worships the sun. Below, roots thrust down. An anchor.
A new network leaves the past, spreads, makes the future. Joins the path.
Originby Rita Bradd
Don’t ask me where I’m from. I just know I am here and here is now.
But tomorrow I may go. Elsewhere.
I can pull up my roots let them flap in the breeze. I can shake off the dust. Plant me. Anywhere.
I won’t settle too long or there will be seeds. No I won’t do that. I won’t spread. I won’t be held back.
I want to be free. I won’t seek where I came from. I’ll never find the real answer. The truth is too far gone.
“Roots are not in landscapes or a country, or a people, they are within you.” Isabel Allende
Within each of us is a sense, a feeling, an understanding, an awareness, whatever you wish to call it, we all possess it. Some of us will be more aware of it than others but one thing is sure we all have roots. It’s something deep inside, perhaps connected to our soul, that deep rooted anomaly that shares our lives. Experiencing everything we feel, storing those experiences to mould and shape the person we eventually become.
Our roots stretch way back to others that have walked before, those people connected to us, our ancestors. Have you ever walked through woods, or entered a building, in a place you’ve just visited and it all seems familiar? Or had a conversation and instinctively know the next words that are going to be spoken? Some call it “Deja vu” or is it connected to past lives, I believe it’s connected to your roots. There is a strong sense of belonging within us, most want to feel that we belong to something, somewhere. This sense can bring comfort when we most need it and a feeling of being safe and coddled. Some may say the person who feels comfortable in their own skin and at ease with themselves are lucky and have that sense of belonging. We have many sayings that all ultimately infer the presence of our roots.
Our roots can shape the qualities we possess, strength in difficult situations, compassion, empathy all these qualities that we call upon depending on what we are experiencing at any given time. It’s lifelong learning that continues on and on, each day. Imagine a library; we have different sections with different headings for different situations. Our roots allow us to check through the back catalogue and draw on the experience and help us react to the new situation.
Do we inherit these qualities? Are we moulded from our ancestors? I would like to think that all the diverse and wonderful people who may appear on our family tree have left behind small pieces of themselves to linger on in us, our roots. To walk in their footsteps, to hold objects they have touched and treasured makes your mind and soul connect to them. When wearing a wedding ring that belonged to my grandmother it made me think about her as a young woman, and not the elderly lady I knew. Her hopes for the future going forward together with my grandfather and how their lives weaved together, their children, work, home and the private moments they shared. My roots belong there too because ultimately without them I would not exist and similarly, it goes on, to my children and grandchildren.
Our roots are constantly growing, just like the roots of trees and their very presence will always exist within ourselves and others close to us.
Moira Weir has been a lecturer for many years and has a great love of words and art. She paints, draws, felts and designs jewellery. She stays in the Central Belt but enjoys visiting Orkney which is her soul place
Dora in Lockdown by Kevin Crowe
“They’re wrong.” She didn’t know whether she’d actually spoken the words or just thought them, and being on her own she couldn’t ask anyone.
She knew they were wrong. “They” were all those politicians, journalists and commentators who kept comparing Coronavirus to the 2nd world war, calling on people to emulate the spirit of the Blitz.
She knew better. She’d been almost fifteen when the war began, and she’d seen some incredibly selfish and anti-social behaviour, as well as criminals taking advantage of the chaos. The only comparison she could see was that back then, as now, the politicians had said we were all in it together, but the wealthy had been able to bypass rationing, just as now they were able to alleviate the worst aspects of lockdown.
She made her breakfast last as long as she could, but there’s only so much time you can take over eating a boiled egg and toast. She did the washing-up and put everything away in the right place, just as she had done all her life, back when she had helped her mum even though she was too small to reach the handle to the larder door, when she was raising four children of her own and during the past ten years as a widow. She believed in a tidy mind, body and home.
She hated the use of military metaphors when talking about ill health. All this nonsense about fighting disease was inaccurate and gave the wrong impression. Thirty years ago she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and she hadn’t had the energy to do any fighting. She did what the doctors told her, had her George and her children to support her and was one of the lucky ones who recovered. Some friends of hers with cancer weren’t so lucky and died, sometimes in pain despite the drugs they were pumped with. Just like her George had from prostrate cancer.
Fed up with all the talk about Coronavirus, she switched off the radio. She picked up her newspaper, flicked through it and seeing nothing but Corona this and Covid that, threw it on the sofa. She immediately picked it back up, folded it properly and put it in the magazine rack. Everything in its place, that was one of her mottoes.
Even though the house was spotless, she decided to give each room a thorough clean. It was something to do.
Living on a quiet road in a quiet town, she didn’t expect to see anyone, not that any visitors could have come in, anyway. Yesterday, one of her granddaughters had delivered her shopping and collected her prescription. She had rung the bell, then stepped back to allow Dora to collect the bags from the front step. Social distancing they called it, but Dora couldn’t see what was social about not being able to hug your granddaughter. They’d had a bit of a chat at a safe distance, then she had left.
She missed church, and she missed her visits to George’s grave. She knew some people who went to church on the internet, but she didn’t have a computer and if she had, she wouldn’t know how to get online anyway. She had her phone and people rang her regularly, but once she put the phone down, the loneliness could be even worse for a while.
She made herself some lunch, just a sandwich and a pot of tea, and switched on the TV. She let it drone on while she ate, afterwards falling asleep. She woke up with a start when the phone rang. It was someone trying to sell something she neither needed nor wanted, but she talked to them for a while, anyway. It passed a bit more time.
She tried reading, but her failing sight made it an effort. She knew she needed new glasses, but her appointment at the opticians had been cancelled. Besides, she had read the few books in the house more than once already and the library was closed.
She fetched her photograph albums and began to look through them. Some of them were faded and discoloured, particularly the few taken before she had married George. She wished she had more, but back in those days cameras were expensive, as was getting the films developed.
They were all in strict chronological order and as she turned each page of each album, the story of her life and those of George and their children spread out before her.
She recalled the day they met. Her father had forgotten to take his sandwiches to work, so her mother told her to take them to him. When she got to the mill with its blackened smoking chimneys and rusty iron gates, she saw a young lad heaving pallets from the yard into the factory and was immediately transfixed, unable to move or speak.
When he saw her, he asked if he could help. She blushed, and then he blushed. As she gave him her father’s sandwiches, their hands touched for a few moments. He looked like a young Errol Flynn to her.
He was even more dashing in his uniform when he was called up. The years he was away in the army were among the worst of her life: she missed him so much, she cried herself to sleep most nights and the occasional periods of leave were always over far too quickly. As soon as he was demobbed at the end of the war, they were married and within a year she had given birth to a son, followed in later years by three daughters.
She only realised she was crying when her tears fell on the photograph she was holding.
She longed for the day she would be reunited with her George.
Kevin Crowe is the author of the short story collection “No Home In This World” (2020, Fly-on-the-wall Press), is editor of the Highland LGBT+ magazine “UnDividingLines” (https://undividinglines.wordpress.com/) and has read at the Scottish Parliament, Glasgow’s Aye Write Festival, John O’Groats Book Festival and Highland Pride.
The Quilt on my Bed by Jay Wilson
The quilt on my bed is not an heirloom, yet it spreads like a forest floor in autumn’s seasoned rust and green, gold and brown. It was made when secrets were shared word by word in letters. Sentence by sentence.
The quilt on my bed is not an heirloom, yet we’d meet in grey dust below a grey gum, my accent pulled her in, she said, just like dad’s. Our girls were wee, with more to come, as we shared time in the shade of bark splitting sun.
The quilt on my bed is not an heirloom, yet it treasures memories cut and tacked at the heart of her sewing room. Unasked for, a present of our past, patched and shaped to embrace dreams. Stitch by stitch.
Each night, as her sun dawns down under, I curl up and sleep beneath the quilt on my bed that’s not an heirloom yet.
Jay Wilson is a Banff based dog walker and allotmenteer who forages stories from the shire and grows them into poems, fiction and non-fiction.
In 2020 the Doric Film Festival asked people to make a film on the theme “Jist far I Bide”. Scripted by Duncan Harley this is the tale of Mary Webb, the writer of the iconic Aberdeen anthem ‘The Northern lights of Old Aberdeen’. She died a pauper and to this day there’s no blue plaque or official recognition of her in Aberdeen or indeed anywhere in the UK.’
If I Were, Would I Be? by Mandy Beattie
If I were a barefoot fisher-lassie zigzagging down the stone-stairway would I have soles of pumice and scuffing hem, or would my wren gown be tucked up and under? Would I watch molly mokes revel in mackerel sky, as blushing thrift of sea pink kneel in cracks? If I were a barefoot sorority sister would I hoist men-fowk like peat-stooks onto The Saucy Jack to keep their soles dry? Souse barrel-baskets with rollmops of silver darlings while gutting knives glint? Would rhymes and rhythms become waulking without wool? If I were a barefoot fisher-lassie zigzagging up, zigzagging down with splayed phalanges would my barrel-basket become turban, plaid or sporran? On the seven mile quick-step to Wick Harbour there’d be no dilly-dallying with witches thimbles at Whaligoe Steps
Mandy Beattie’s poetry is a tapestry of stories and images rooted in people and place, often with a dash of otherworldliness. Her poems have been published in Poet’s Republic, Dreich, The Haar, Wordpeace, Wordgathering, The Clearance Collection and Spilling Cocoa.
Dear Babushka by Lydia Popowich
Did you sense the jeopardy of porcelain as you buried two cups and saucers deep in your suitcase? Your hands trembled folding children’s clothes, cocooning memories. Sirens echoed in darkened boulevards and tanks circled Kiev like wolves. Germans are a civilised race. Remember Bach, Brahms, said Dedushka as you were herded west to a secret destination.
Lying awake in the twilight hut shared with strangers, did you unwrap your treasure while they slept? Did you inhale the crisp scent of pine and snow, see yourself inside the perfect dacha? Did your fingers stroke the cool porcelain like a lover? How gentle was your first sip from this cup on your wedding morn, warmly risen from white sheets? Dedushka was the joker, the poet, coughing up stones.
Stones can roll many miles, mossy or not. Hanover, Dover, Yorkshire and a terraced in Aireworth Road. Two cups, two saucers. Four parts to the whole; your family buried in your heart. Memories died within a nest of mirrors guarded by ghosts as you slowly faded. Your prize has found a new home; a northland never reached. I am the last rolling stone. My dusting hands tremble with the weight of porcelain.
This poem didn’t quite makeit into Lydia’s latest collection, The Rush of Lava Flowers which explores the subject of hereditary trauma and is available on Amazon.
Rootless in Caithness by John Crofts
You Rooted deep in time Countless layers of rock Endless seas skies bogs Held fast in the comforting web of generations Disappearing back into only mouth told stories Smoothed round by the telling and retelling You The safely rooted Spare a thought for a wandering soldier’s son Born on a fleeting posting A man of many addresses happinesses memories stories But a man with no roots Nowhere he came from Nowhere to go back to Clinging now in old age to these gale swept Caithness cliffs by only his fingers As tenuous as the sea rocket on the high tide of the Dunnet Dunes Soon to be washed away by any winter storm No history of me in this northern bleakness No ancient family croft Deserted stumbles of stones No lineage of grandfathers grandmothers uncles aunts No wifies manies lassies loons countless cousins countlessly removed No well worn songs and stories of storms weathered Loves found loves lost Boggles selkies spirits of the bog Told again and again and again And loved anew each time An Incomer still after 40 years With my atomic accent From everywhere and nowhere Let me listen to your stories Let me listen to your songs Let me put down just some small roots That at least my children may cling to.
Kammo is a first year art student at Hostos Community College, South Bronx, New York, USA.
soul waiting to be bornby Meg Macleod
set me down gently amongst those fair hills where the female sigh of the sea forms the womb and tomb of existence
set me down gently where sweet myrtle and thyme mischief of raven and plainsong of gull are gathered yet beneath the curve of one rainbow
set me down gently where the sun and the moon in sacred half light mix their glowing and where they still rise from the natural hollow of a windswept hill
set me down gently oh, set me dowm gently there or not at all.
Meg Macleod was born in 1945 in England. She lived in America and Canada before moving to Scotland in 1974 where she now resides on the north coast in a house looking out over the sea towards Orkney Islands. Meg has a BA in Fine Arts. Her beautifully illustrated book of poems entitled Raven Songs is available to buy from Amazon.
Well, that’s all for now folks. Thank you for reading this Autumn issue of The Haar. I do hope you found much to enjoy. As we plummet into a long, dark winter may your roots sustain you. Till next time…Nikita Shackleton 😊