Northern Soul

Portrait of a Wicker Man


Photo by the author


Note:- compared to the rest of the UK, the North of Scotland has a high level of social problems particularly affecting men.  Unemployment, alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and suicide are on the rise due to the decline of fishing, farming and the oil industries.  Men are feeling increasingly powerless as they lose their traditional roles.  So although it is a beautiful part of the world, the Highland region is a tough place to  survive.

I met the friendly guy in the photo while I was trying to photograph a window display in the tiny shopping precinct in Wick.  He offered to pose alongside the rather creepy mannequins.  He’d just bought cat food as he does voluntary work for a cat rescue charity.


My lady waits in the wall
papered over by skeletal hands.
She withers lilies with one eye
and blue ivy winds her hair.
Her holy cheeks crumble
like old plaster of Paris
but not her secret vows.
Restless but unseen, she stirs
death to do our parting.


Artwork by the author, collage, acrylic and household paint on canvas


She waits alone on a purple stage, cut
-out flat, white and black, lacking
a dimension. She waits for shape,
for music, for lightening to spark a pulse.
Her icy skin trussed in silk and lace,
satin pumps on lifeless feet.
There’s a feather in her hair,
twisted into careful curls. She’s cold
on center stage. Acid whispers
in the wings like sour dough rising.
Her fan flairs and she begins to dance.


Artwork (collage and household paint on canvas) by the author.

Alone but not lonely

The term ‘loner’ is rarely meant as a compliment. It carries negative connotations. Its what neighbours always say on the TV news about murderers….”he kept himself to himself, he was a loner’. It’s assumed there must be something wrong with a person who chooses not to run with the pack.  Someone who prefers solitude must be a psychopath, a potential serial killer, sex pervert or antisocial.  There is even more stigma attached to women who want to be alone.  They are seen as a threat to the natural order of things, called derogatory names such as ‘spinster’, ‘hag’, ‘selfish’ or ‘whore’.  Even in this supposed age of gender equality the perceived role of women is domestic, safely contained within a family group where their own needs are secondary to those of children, partners, and parents.  Women are seen as too weak and powerless to survive apart from the familiar, to stray into the unknown. Anyone who does so is labelled as ‘selfish’ or ‘crazy’. Single women are still presumed to be unattractive rejects, sterile and sexless.  Not that long ago women who lived apart from the mainstream were burned alive or drowned as witches. Today they are denigrated  in more subtle but equally damaging ways.

I’ll never forget the negative reactions I had from all my family and friends when I announced my intention to break from city life, to move to a remote area in the Far North and build my own home.  Not one person said, “wow, that’s so exciting and brave. Go for it while you can and good luck”.  The messages  I received from others were that I must be having a nervous breakdown, I didn’t know what I was doing, I was irresponsible and selfish for abandoning my elderly parents (parents who had, in reality, rejected and abused me my entire life). They all thought me delusional.  I must be “running away from something”. When I replied that I was running towards a more meaningful, peaceful life, to be closer to the landscape and nature  where I would be free to pursue my creativity, everyone scoffed.  My house build project was bound to be a disaster.  What did I know about house building, they said, after all I was just a foolish disabled woman.  Even when my lovely little home by the sea was complete and I sent photographs to my former critics not one of them said “congratulations” or “your house is fab”.  There was just an uncomfortable silence.

Unfortunately there was also a negative reaction to my single status in the small rural community I moved into.  This was something I had never anticipated.  I had hoped to be welcomed with open arms and home baking not viewed with suspicion and animosity.  I had wanted, in my own way,  to contribute to the community. I have many useful skills in art and education. The hostility I received was and still is, sadly, the worst from other women who continue to see me as a threat, competition for their husbands and jobs, an alien with her fancy clothes and strange ways.  Even after ten years I don’t feel welcomed by the locals.  During the first few years I experienced sexual harrassment from men who assumed I was easy meat and sexually available to all and sundry.  Now, they know better, they keep away.  I have few visitors.  I ignore the whispers in the Post Office and stay focussed on what is important to me. After all, I moved here to be alone, to be the real me.