First Breath

The cries of curlews
hang silver in the morning
light my heart glides

Each year we have curlews nesting on the ground in the back field where cattle graze. Each year chicks are lost to predators including cats, buzzards, foxes and owls. One year the farmer ploughed up the field nest and chicks and all. The parent birds work so hard to protect their offspring. Night and day they circle around emitting a raucous warning cry. Sometimes they dive bomb me in the garden but I don’t mind although those long sharp beaks look a little scary! I worry about those chicks. But some must survive and in the spring when I first hear the beautiful curlew call I am filled with joy.

The Wall

This weekend I discovered the most marvellous novel that I’d never heard of before. Its called The Wall by the Austrian writer Marlen Haushofer, first published in 1968. Although classified as science fiction and ecofeminist it is really a profound philosophical meditation on solitude and the relationship between humans and the natural world. It contains beautifully intense descriptions of the close bonds that we can form with animals without being sentimental. The story is set in the Alps and recounts in diary format one woman’s struggle to survive in total isolation. The mysterious transparent wall that appears over night is a metaphor for the divisions between us all in a time when we interact with screens more than other living beings. The book was ahead of its time in anticipating many social and environmental issues we struggle with today. The Wall is one of the most powerful novels I have ever read and I would absolutely recommend it particularly if you are a person with a love for animals and nature.

Photo by the author


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.


The Roots Issue


a bijou creative arts e-zine named after the Scottish sea mist

Photograph of Cromarty by Martin Russell

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

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 power by 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?

Photograph and sculpture by Ursula Troche

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!

Photograph and sculpture by Ursula Troche

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 (

A Firm Rootball by 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.

Portrait by Shanya Hussey

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 and @grimalkingerry on Twitter.

Keighley Gala by 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.

Photograph by Lydia Popowich

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 Flowers available from Amazon.

Inside Out – interview with artist Geoff Weston by Nikita Shackleton

Geoff at age 7

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.

Messenger by Geoff Weston

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.

One of Geoff Weston’s early works, now part of the permanent collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

G:- So when 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.

Image from Bad Taste by Geoff Weston

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.

Image of diseased miner’s lung from When the Dust Settles by Geoff Weston. The black areas are coal dust.

More of Geoff Weston’s work can be found on his website at

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)

Photograph by Alan Thorburn

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:

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.

Photograph by Nikita Shackleton

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Whisperings by Ellen Forkin

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. 

Photo by Lydia Popowich

Cycle of Life by 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.

Photograph by Rita Bradd

Origin by 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.

I can pull up my roots
let them flap
in the breeze.
I can shake off the dust.
Plant me.

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.

Rita Bradd is author of Clipper Ship City of Adelaide : Beneath The Southern Cross, The Three Craws plays, in Scots, are performed live and on radio. Poems are published in :-
Salt & Soil (2017); anthologies; on a banner; complement a sculpture.

Roots by Moira Weir

“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” ( 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. 

Video about Mary Webb made by Duncan Harley, Charlie Abel and Kenny Wilkinson

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.

Photo by Nikita Shackleton

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 make it into Lydia’s latest collection, The Rush of Lava Flowers which explores the subject of hereditary trauma and is available on Amazon.

Photograph by Lydia Popowich

Rootless in Caithness by John Crofts

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
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.

Mentality drawing by Kammo

Kammo is a first year art student at Hostos Community College, South Bronx, New York, USA.

soul waiting to be born by 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
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.

Mother Nature – Photograph by Ursula Troche

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 😊

The Hill O’ Many Stanes

My third and final guest poet is Mandy Beattie. Here is her mysterious poem inspired by a local Scottish landmark of standing stones.

A pantry of organic nettle tea
and skeins of wild raspberries
tumble through the turnstile
between times
of concrete & standing-stanes
where sky sits
a duck-egg blue ceiling
on the Hill O’ Many Stanes

The Land O’ The Cat
where Hairy-Brottachs hatch
into Louded Yellow and
Green-Veined White butterflies
and dandelion clocks puff
among mosaics of standing-stanes

Kneeling at a silver stane-pew
palming ley-lines with my life-lines
I am litmus among lichen
waking-dreaming of way-back-when
the Wee Folk jigged
in amethyst heather and fairy rings
in The Land O’ the Cat
where the veil’s still thin between worlds.

Poem Copyright of Mandy Beattie

Note:- The Hill o’ Many Stanes consists of about 200 small stones arranged in rows running down a low hill in East Caithness, Northern Scotland. They were erected about 4,000 years ago, possibly for gatherings and religious ceremonies. Caithness was once known as the Land of the Cat People, a reference to an ancient legendary tribe of Picts who inhabited the area.

Mandy Beattie, is a feminist from Caithness, with an MA in Social Work Practice & Research. Her poetry is a tapestry of stories and imagery, rooted in people, place & the natural environment, set at home and abroad. 

Image created by Mandy Beattie

Flower Power

Like many others stuck at home since the start of the Covid Pandemic I have taken comfort from my garden. There’s a special healing energy in the natural world which we all need at the moment. Just a few minutes outdoors can reset my mood. Today was a particularly grim British October day with non-stop rain and dark overcast skies. So it was lovely to look through some of my flower photos to remind myself how beautiful life can be. Here’s my favourite one of a white hydrangea like a cascade of starlight.

Photo by the author