(A short account of where we are today - Winter 2020/2021
You must be wondering how we are. Its so long since we last made contact and the years are overtaking us. The COVID-19 epidemic still rages on and here in our Grampian hideaway we no longer feel safe from the rest of the World. We read of frightening outbreaks of the disease in far flung places, even on the other side of the World. Australia has been featuring in recent news together with the fear, illness, unexpected and premature deaths in that normally robust and healthy population.
Having now lived for a retired lifetime in a remote, scenic, safe and comfortable environment we now have the epidemic knocking on our door. There is no escape and travel even to our nearest city and areas further north has been banned under the government rules for our survival. There is no exit at present and the majority of the population have "bedded down" to acceptance of these strict rules and we face the challenge until we are rescued and the law is eased. It is strange to think that we cannot drive across the border into England but some people have attempted that and have had to face the consequences.
Why have 90 or so neighbours and some close friends been so frightened by positive and negative test results ? Who can be blamed for bringing the virus so close to us. Who is a carrier for the virus and is totally unaware ? Is anyone really to blame in the close confines of an age group well in excess of 50 years old ? Most folk have obeyed the rules of cleanliness, social distancing and how to behave both singly and in groups and we remain with that discipline totally but where do we go from here ?
The local care and nursing team employed by Inchmarlo House (the centre of our retirement commune and a retirement and nursing home in its own right) so much admired by all of us have fought valiantly to keep the virus out but sadly without success. There was no relaxation on their part. We take such pride in our care home which has won so many commendations in the past for their success in looking after so many elderly folk. This with such pride and we remain supremely confident in in all of the team there. A number have died of the virus but this remains private and confidential to protect their families but those of us with friends and ex neighbours in Inchmarlo House have no knowledge. Very hard to cope with and it just doesn't seem fair !
Several vaccines have been produced and a massive vaccination campaign has begun with some one million Scots vaccinated to date and this accelerates rapidly. Most over 70s have already received their first dose and a second is scheduled within 12 weeks. Our continuing retirement future, together with relaxation and contentment still seems a long was off. Vaccination may continue for some time ahead, maybe even years, and we may eventually regard it as an annual feature like the influenca jab (or jag as we say here in Scotland).
It is odd to be at home and in lockdown when other issues overtake us. What a time for me to need a replacement hip operation together with all of the pain and discomfort of that condition. This was diagnosed in early November and my operation is scheduled for the 28th of February. The operation was postponed once to accommodate much more needy patients requiring urgent cancer surgery - they had been on a very long waiting lists - yet another crisis is this chaotic world in which we exist. The award of a Blue Badge enabled me to drive out before Christmas to make minimum purchases and have a little independence but the severity of the situation and my impending surgery resulted in a change of plan.
Shopping is now activated by remote control and trusted to the local supermarket who deliver on a weekly basis. An arrangement has also been made with a local butcher and an Aberdeen fish merchant and we no longer have to risk any interface with others in confined spaces. The act of mastering just how much food is required and to make almost daily adjustments has become a fun activity and has been a great success.
For the first time in our lives, we feel old ! There has been an overwhelming desire amongst our close friends, both young and old to come to our rescue and so may telephone chats have resulted in food and needy items arriving on the doorstep allowing us to remain safely at home. We have always offered similar assistance to our elderly friends but the tables turning on us has become a bit of a revelation. Maybe we are OLD now since both of us are in our seventies with me at the top end of the scale. Time has overtaken us and we have to come to terms with that and simply to lie back and enjoy the attention. With my promised new left hip, I will bounce back and be energetic and youthful again ?? I certainly did when the right hip was replaced some 9 years ago.
The telephone rings regularly with the voices of good caring folk, many from the Church and our estate; everyone joyful in the regular contact. E-mails flow in with enquiries about our health and stability and all wishing to remain close during this crisis. Photographs arrive to remind us of life outside, past holidays and fun occasions with family and others. We do miss face to face encounters, the occasional teas and coffees and the even more frequents glasses of wine and nibbles !! The need for others to be near us is overwhelming and their love and kindness will never be forgotten. Many folk have stated that the world will never be the same again after this crisis and no truer words have never been spoken.
We remain very optimistic, knowing what fine friends we have around us. This has eased my pain a great deal where the drugs have done little to reduce it. Friendships have been cemented for ever at this point was we look towards our future.
This odd period in history has had its unusual moments. One morning in December our beautiful and fairly new rowan tree appeared to have grown a red apple. It didn't receive much attention since odd things have been cropping up in the vicinity but on the following morning a second red apple (we think) appeared. This warranted investigation on day three with the arrival of the third apple and we discovered that the apples were bright red Christmas tree baubles. Having sometimes mischievous neighbours we telephoned them to make enquiries. Nothing was admitted and the apples continued to arrive overnight !! This small interlude in our atmosphere of worry and sadness made everyone laugh and truly relaxed the tension. We hadn't spoken to the culprits for some weeks and this was followed by two telephone discussions and more happy chat.
THIS IS A NOTE OF DEDICATION TO ALL OF THOSE LOVING FRIENDS WHO CARE ABOUT US. IT HAD TO BE WRITTEN.
BILL CUTHBERTSON 11TH FEBRUARY 2021
Like so many of the memories of childhood, I have never recaptured the taste of those curries, the nearest I have come being a Biryani. What I do remember is the care and attention given to the purchase, preparation and cooking of the rice (no question of a perforated bag being boiled for 10 minutes), something which is still seen today on the sub-continent and most of Asia.
We knew that my father had served with the Royal Artillery in Burma but he never talked about it. Unlike our grandfathers who happily prattled on to their grandsons about the trenches in WWI – it all seemed one long lark; no mention of the mud, the rotting bodies of horses and men or the vermin. All that we learned from history lessons.
Much later we learnt that my father, in the administrative chaos following the evacuation from Dunkirk, was attached to the 136th (1st West Lancashire) Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery. No matter that he had been born in Edinburgh, brought up in Aberdeen and had never set foot in Lancashire! The 136th became part of the 7th Indian Division in Bill Slim’s XIV Army and was sent to Rangoon via Madras.
There were, at moments, glimpses of Burma from my father. He was always obsessed with the family’s salt intake and once described how to deal with a bolting mule – not a normal part of a solicitor’s knowledge bank. I learnt much more from the Regimental History which is not the most approachable of texts but historically very important, if massively politically incorrect by today’s standards (the Japanese are referred to throughout as “the Japs”). Boring as the read may have been, I found there the names of my father’s men who had lost their lives and their place of burial.
I promised to myself that one day I would pay my respects to these men and I kept that promise in 2018.
We joined an organised trip which began in Rangoon/Yangon and ended in Mandalay after a trip up the Irrawaddy in some considerable luxury which contrasted somewhat with the poverty of the country we passed through. On our way from the capital to Pyay/Prome where we embarked, we stopped at the Rangoon War Cemetery. Like all War Cemeteries maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission the row upon row of memorial stones with brass plaques (not upright stones or crosses as in Flanders and northern France) were immaculately kept but, as ever, the peace of the place hid the tragic story of young lives sacrificed for a greater cause. I had had a special poppy wreath made by the Lady Haig Poppy Factory in Edinburgh which I carried with me to Myanmar. The night before, in conversation with the group, it emerged that one of our fellow travellers was the daughter of one of my father’s fellow officers. We laid the wreath together the next day whilst the others of the group stood in respectful silence. It was hard for the dour Presbyterian Scot and the stiff-upper-lipped English naval wife (as she had now become) not to succumb to emotion faced with the graves of these young men so very far from home.
I had kept my promise.
Why then the unhappiness with the 2020 VE Day Celebrations? I do not, for a moment, minimise the importance of the defeat of the Nazis but I resent the emphasis put on the partial end of WWII (and if anyone says in my presence that WWII ended on the 8th of May 1945 they will swiftly be corrected!). “Since when has it been customary to celebrate victory half-way through a contest?”, asked the Sydney Morning Herald that day. On 8/5/1945 there were still hundreds of thousands of Allied men and women (not just from the UK but also from Australia, India, New Zealand and the United States) fighting in Burma, South-East Asia and the South Pacific. Many of them, indeed, from this part of the world (including my father). They faced an enemy more ruthless and determined in many ways than the other Axis powers. They fought until August 15th 1945 when Japan finally surrendered. That was the day WWII ended. Yet was there dancing in the streets, was there a public holiday? No. Fast forward 75 years. VE Day is celebrated with a public holiday (on a Friday would you believe?!) and the Monarch addressed us at night. Will 15/8/2020 be a public holiday? Will the Monarch address us that night? I suspect that the answer is “no”. Both Churchill in 1945 and the two Monarchs in 1945 and 2020 recognised that hostilities continued in Asia and we, the descendants of those who fought in the Far East, are grateful for that. But nothing can change the fact that my father and his comrades-in-arms went to their graves resenting the treatment meted out to them by a country they felt was ungrateful and which never appreciated their sacrifices and achievements. They were, indeed, the “Forgotten Army”.
Let me finish with a postscript. When I arrived at Cults Parish Church for my father’s funeral, on the church steps lay a bouquet of red roses – the red roses of Lancashire. The card read simply “From your comrades-in-arms”. Even at his end Burma was there.
This passed easily and our written declarations were examined and attracted no particular attention. A small number of passengers were individually escorted to a screened off area and it was not apparent whether they were allowed to board or not. It was expected that our itinerary might be changed to fit with the government health and immigration regulations of our destinations and that is what happened. Two ports of call were deleted, another was substituted and the order changed to arrive first at the Fiji Capital, Suva, before visiting another port. This was not a disappointment since we had paid for an Ocean Cruise with many sea days together with short visits to some very attractive Islands of the South Pacific and this is what we experienced. This was the prelude to what comes next and we happily disembarked in Sydney, two weeks later, with no reported cases of Arona Virus but news of one passenger suffering from shingles!
Grant's 70th Birthday was celebrated when we returned to Sydney where we spent two nights before journeying home. By this time the virus had hit the headlines and we were quite nervous about flying home on a direct flight with no stopovers. By this time the Australian Government were just about to ban all passengers originating in or transiting Singapore. On our outward flight we were in transit for 2 hours in Singapore, were subjected to a mass screening of body temperatures, but continued without a problem. The flight home to Aberdeen took some 28 hours altogether, was very tiring of course, but uneventful. Within days of arriving home the Australians banned most arriving foreign airlines, particularly those from China and the Far East and advised all foreign nationals to leave which caused a rush for bookings on the few remaining flights to Europe and elsewhere. It was also the final episode of Ocean Cruising in Australia as all arriving vessels were moored empty of passengers in the Sydney Harbour area.
It was reported some two weeks later that a flotilla of cruise liners was ordered by the Australian Government back to their home ports with all of their remaining crews on board. They sailed out of Sydney Harbour, one by one, watched by sad onlookers, their silhouettes eventually fading into the distant blue Pacific Horizon. Some of our Silversea Ships finally berthed near Marseille and Gibraltar with crews remaining on board, actually in quarantine. Five Scandinavian and other ships are moored for the time being at the entrance to the Forth Estuary by courtesy of the UK Government. Sadly, most of the devoted employees had no choice but to remain with their ships and were unable to return to their home destinations such as The Philippines, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, China and Europe. Most international flights at that point had been cancelled.
This is not a report of Ocean Voyaging but it, as a luxury holiday adored by millions, became the forerunner to the worst disaster, Arona, ever to be experienced by the cruising, holiday and leisure companies and their dedicated travellers. At time of writing the immediate outlook is zero for those eagerly awaiting their planned delights to come. This short report is part of a much longer ESSAY or Write-Up on the Corona Virus and how we have been affected. I was encouraged to submit it following the Culshaw's interesting Blog on the Islands of Scotland and started wondering how holidays might be spent beyond this point.
BILL CUTHBERTSON 7.06.20
A reminder to be thankful. A reminder that amongst all the pain and sadness life can still endure. Life feels more like a balancing act than it has ever done before. I am blessed that part of my job cannot be done from home allowing me to be out every day. But that job demands high quantities of physical and emotional work. Our location and my job mean I can take my children to work with me sometimes. They love it, it means they too can come outside, but it increases the workload.
I am able to have my children at home; the older children help to care for the younger ones, and we all manage together. But it means we spend all the time together and nobody gets a break. The older children find the younger ones draining and battles ensue regularly. Its difficult to maintain peace in the home. Not to mention keeping them going with the home schooling.
How do we do it all? Work, home school, feed everyone, maintain a house and keep everyone sane and happy? How do we fit all of that in to twenty-four hours? It took me a long time to realise the answer to those questions. You can’t. Its not possible. I cannot do it all. I am but one person and all the jobs I need to do can only be done by two or even three people. Not by one. It is impossible for one person to maintain all that needs done every day. But I am the type of person who doesn’t accept defeat easily.
But what I have learned is not ok, is to make myself feel bad for my failings. Its impossible to do all I need to do. You can’t work full time, more than full time in my case, and home school and do everything else a parent needs to do. I didn’t sign up for home schooling. So, its ok that I don’t like it. I don’t have to enjoy maths. I don’t need to know what an oxymoron is. That’s what google is for. I can come to the end of a long day and realise I still have some blood on my face from lambing earlier in the day and I have just been into Tesco. That I sat down with a glass of wine before getting in the shower. All of that is ok too.I learned the slow way that all that matters is that I tried. I tried my hardest to do these things and it didn’t work out, so I sat down. I didn’t cry or shout at myself for not finishing the job. I just needed to be kind to myself. Human nature doesn’t allow us naturally to be kind to ourselves, well it doesn’t for me anyway. So, I had to work hard at being kind to me. Ignore the keyboard warriors and those who try hard to put you down. You are doing your best, that is all you can ask.
So, as I sit here with the scent of the honeysuckle filling the air and the beauty in the greenness all around me, it’s easy to see it’s all about kindness. God gave us this world to live in. He sent us his son to show us how to live. He gave us the path; he just asks for us to follow it. Its easy to see that right now, as I feel an abundance of patience falling upon me. I feel like a could rock the world, but I know all too well that there will be no world rocking when I go back inside.
So just remember, that’s our job for this week. Be kind. Not just to others but to ourselves too. Look around you for the life in God’s creation and let him remind you that He’s still there, weathering the storm with us. He’s only a prayer away.
Sarah Reid, Children's and families worker
During the week, I spend a lot of time on the phone at the moment and this week I was chatting to a member of the Banchory British legion who asked me if I'd lead a short service at the Gordon highlander memorial. It was a memorial service for those who were killed in a world war two battle at the little fishing town of St-Valéry-en-Caux.. A little research uncovered some information. I reproduce it below in the form that the Legion gave it to me..
At 10am on 12th June 2020, pipers up and down Scotland will take to their doorsteps and play the haunting pipers march, Heroes of St Valéry. To pay tribute to thousands of Scots who were killed or captured during “the forgotten Dunkirk” 80 years ago.
The first piper to sign up to play was Pipe Major Ben J Duncan, from The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Pipes & Drums, who previewed the Heroes of St Valéry from the doorstep of Edinburgh Castle. Ben, who is based at Leuchars and lives in Edinburgh, said: “As soon as I heard about the plans to mark the 80th anniversary of St Valéry I wanted to get involved. While the country may still be in lockdown, this is a great way for such a significant but little-remembered event in our history to be properly commemorated, while still staying safe at home.
Dr Claire Armstrong, Chief Executive of Legion Scotland, said: “It was incredibly moving to see the country join together to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of VE Day last week – particularly in such challenging circumstances. While this was a day to celebrate, it is vital that we also remember less triumphant periods of our history. The ‘Forgotten 51st’ should be forgotten no more.”
On the 12th June 1940, just days after the successful mass-evacuations at Dunkirk, thousands of British troops remained on continental Europe under French command. Largely comprised of men from the 51st Highland Division, they fought almost continuously for ten days against overwhelming odds until eventually surrounded at St Valéry.
However, a combination of fog and the proximity of German artillery above the town prevented the awaiting flotilla of ships from reaching shore. Those who were not killed in the fierce fighting, or fell to their deaths from the cliffs trying to escape, were captured and marched hundreds of miles to Prisoner of War camps in Eastern Europe, where they endured appalling conditions for five long years.
Brigadier Charles Grant, a retired British Army officer and historian of the 51st Highland Division website, said: “The 51st Highland Division – initially about 20,000 strong – comprised nine battalions of the Highland infantry regiments with supporting arms and services, including elements from England.
“They had been detached from the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and therefore managed to escape encirclement around Dunkirk. Instead, from 4th June they were conducting a fighting withdrawal west from the Somme under French command. The speed of the German advance was such that they, and part of the French army, were cut off, despite hopes that they would escape through Le Havre.
“Part of the Division did get to Le Harve to secure it for evacuation and escaped, but the remainder were cut off and surrounded at the little fishing town of St-Valéry-en-Caux. Not unlike Dunkirk, a flotilla of 67 Merchant ships and 140 small vessels were organised and despatched from British Ports, but the inclement weather and the German artillery overlooking the town meant any evacuation on the night of the 11th June was impossible.
“General Fortune commanding what remained of the Division considered all the options – a counterattack, further resistance, retaking the town, but, against this, there was no possibility of evacuation or support. The men had been fighting almost continuously for ten days against overwhelming odds. They were exhausted and virtually out of ammunition, with no artillery ammunition at all. Shortly before 1000hrs on the 12th June, General Fortune took the most difficult of decisions – to surrender.”
Brigadier Grant added: “There can hardly have been a town, village or hamlet in the Highlands and beyond which was not directly affected by the loss. While events such as Dunkirk, D-Day and VE Day are rightly commemorated, it is time that the memory of those who fought and fell at St Valéry are remembered in a national tribute for the first time.”
The public is being asked to support the St Valéry tribute through a fundraising campaign which will support the work of three charities. Poppyscotland that provides life-changing services in advice, employment, housing, mental health, mobility and respite. Legion Scotland which is the largest ex-Service membership charity in Scotland and provides services covering remembrance, comradeship and befriending and RCET, Scotland’s Armed Forces Children’s Charity. RCET funds services in family support, respite, education, youth participation, wellbeing and policy work to ensure that all Armed Forces children in Scotland can reach their full potential.
We have always had an interest in islands, particularly as we met on Arran back in 1969, but it is probably not until our later years that the peace, tranquility and lifestyle of the islands has had such an appeal. There are 94 inhabited Scottish islands, of which we have visited 39. It saddens us on our travels when we meet people who have made a day visit to an island, ticked it off their list and said “done that!”. We return to our favourite islands many times as there are always new places to explore, old places to revisit, and most of all the people we have made friends with to meet again. It is not just the scenery but the people that make the islands.
At the start of May we should have been making our fifth visit to Tiree. The small cottage we stay in looks out onto a patch of grass where there are often sheep, and then a small creek and the sea. What better way to start the morning! Last year, after cycling to church and on to a beach to have our lunch, we were on our way home when we stopped to let a small van pass. Instead it too stopped, opened its window and said “ You were at the kirk this morning. What did you make of it?”. It had been a visiting minister. After a lengthy discussion David noticed a car waiting patiently behind so we ended the conversation. Imagine having a discussion with a complete stranger in the High Street about the service at Banchory East while a line of cars waited patiently behind! That’s island life.
At the end of June we should be heading for Westray in the Orkneys. Our first visit to the Orkney Islands was in 2004 when we set off for three weeks with 2 bikes and a tent. The aim was to visit as many of the 20 inhabited islands as possible, which required some considerable advanced planning, especially as North Ronaldsay only had a ferry once a week but also an excursion ferry every 3 weeks. From that holiday we were able to chose which islands to spend more time on, and Westray is a favourite. Again the people make it. The Harcus family who run the campsite and self-catering accommodation are very musical as are many of the islanders and the weekly concert in The Grand Old Byre is something we always enjoy, and will miss it as it looks highly unlikely we will be there this summer.
Our third island holiday planned for this year is to Colonsay at the end of October and we are hopeful that this one might take place. Again it will be a return visit if it happens. We have been getting a weekly newsletter from Kevin, who owns the cottage we have booked, about how they are coping on the island with lockdown and the resilience of the island community shows through. When we first went to Colonsay church services were held in alternate weeks between the Baptist church and the Church of Scotland by a visiting minister who could be from any denomination. The Baptist building is now used for the Heritage society display. Kevin, the session clerk, is a Roman Catholic, so it is a truly universal church. There are 135 residents and fortunately they have remained covid free. As much as they would like visitors back for their economy they do not want the virus on the island so are content to wait, not that they have much choice as the Calmac ferry is freight only at the moment.
So for now we are just very thankful that we live in such a beautiful part of the world in a wonderful community.
They obey the rules faithfully and truly understand why the restrictions are there. It's not too apparent but maybe there is fear of the devastating illness to follow if one has contact with the virus.
The BBC News nightly shows film of sickly and dying patients and relatives of those who have not survived. This daily reminder is surely enough to persuade the viewer that the rules are to protect life, stop the virus from spreading further, and must be observed.
From a purely local observation point this is not the case for all and some deviation from the rules occurs. Observation continues during visits to the local supermarkets where the greatest care has been taken to ensure safe shopping and most customers obey the social distancing rules.
On occasions however people forget about or ignore the social distancing parameters and approach others within the two metres prescribed. Neighbours and friends have been observed, on a small number of occasions, to enter the houses of lockdown. Although socialising in groups is forbidden one or two groups have been meeting outside for walking together, maybe one group of about 15 or another group taking coffee together outside their home. This breaks the rules of socialising which is only permitted outside with members of your own household. Other individuals who live alone have been noted entering their similarly single friend's home for a meal and this has become a regular practice. There is some concern and a little anxiety in our area over these observations but it would appear that no one has complained and the situation continues. There may be an aftermath later since the majority of the residents are offended by these challenges to the Government Rulings, and find such behaviours unacceptable. This is a situation of pure challenge by those who object to the restrictions and try to build a rebel group. This has not succeeded and has only tarnished the reputation of the initiators.
Most people around us are fairly content with the lockdown rules, and expect them to continue. Some are tired of their own company if they live alone - one friend simply stated that she was "scunnered" by the isolation. No further explanation required! Reading, watching television, doing jigsaws, talking on the telephone, listening to the radio, music appreciation, spring cleaning are all pastimes being currently enjoyed to pass the time. Houses in some quarters have never looked cleaner! Others have taken on a "tatty" appearance awaiting the return of the faithful servant who takes care normally of such affairs. (Most regulars are expected and anticipated to return later).
Some fit and healthy volunteers offer to help less able people with their shopping and deliver it to their doors. This is much admired since it is at their own risk and much appreciated by the recipients.
One small boy from our Kids' Kirk at East Church designed a rainbow painting of the days of deliverance to follow and was requested to produce more and more for the residents of our estate at Inchmarlo. His older sister, between home study lessons, has taken time to speak to an elderly person, very much on her own, and make her aware that she had not been forgotten.
When out shopping it feels good to be trusted and welcomed as a regular customer. Even the local butcher was forgiving when I arrived for our weekly order without my wallet and cash cards. I chose what I wanted, thanked him most kindly, drove home fast and telephoned my credit card details in payment of my debt. Most people in this crisis are a delight to know and new lasting friendships are being made constantly!
THIS IS AN EXTRACT AND ONE CHAPTER OF A COMPLETE ESSAY ENTITLED "LIVING WITH THE MENACE OF CORONA" WHICH IS NOT YET COMPLETED.
BILL CUTHBERTSON 21ST MAY 2020
Can I tell you about my journey to the art pursuit, and subsequent diminution of worries and pressures I was under at the time.
I had never ever considered taking up painting. I didn’t think for a minute I would be able to draw anything, far less paint it. I don’t remember ever drawing or painting anything when I was young and at school. I attended Noblehill Primary, Dumfries, and Dumfries Academy, both prestigious schools and the various staff members worked real hard at trying to find out what made me tick, and injecting some knowledge into me. I have truly no recollections of ever lifting a paintbrush in anger. Maybe I did, but it is a while ago now and a few, nay, many of my brain cells have retired since then.
So, fast forward about forty years and I am in a caravan site where I have purchased a caravan, having just been ‘retired’ from my prestige job in ‘Strathclyde Police Serious Fraud Squad’ and was recovering from a major spine operation. I thought a caravan, away from the ‘rat race’, would be a good place to convalesce. I wasn’t in a good place at the time – I don’t mean the caravan site wasn’t a good place, I’m talking more about where my head was. Actually it was still on my shoulders but it probably thought it was somewhere else!
Anyway, I was walking through the site one day, trying to get some fresh air and clear my head a bit so that I could find some good thoughts, when a miracle happened. Well it probably wasn’t a miracle cause I met someone, and he didn’t have wings or a beard!
What happened was that I came across this little caravan sitting on the side of the roadway through the site and, not that I was doing my ‘peeping Tom’ act, or anything, but I happened to glance through the front window as I passed, and noticed a chap standing there. He was facing away from me or I might have been worried. No, he was standing at an easel, painting. I’d never seen an artist at work before so I blatantly stared through the window watching this chap. I can’t really explain what went through my mind but I felt so much at ease as I watched this chap produce a lovely colourful scene on the canvas – I can’t explain how it made me feel but it was a feeling I hadn’t felt for a long time, and it was a good one.
Well, I think the guy got so fed up being stared at while he was working that he invited me in for a coffee. Bob his name was and he came from Kilmarnock but had been thirty years in America and was staying in one of the caravans until such times as the purchase of his house in nearby Ballantrae was finalised. Bob had been painting most of his life and was renting this small van to use as a studio. He and his wife lived in a larger caravan elsewhere on the site.
After that first meet I was a regular visitor to Bobs studio , and, through time, Bob got me involved in the art of painting. He loaned me a few tubes of paint, some brushes and a couple of small blank canvases. With a bit of direction from Bob I eventually turned out a painting which I was quite pleased with. More to the point, Bob was pleased with it.
To say that I was painting at Bobs studio every day of that two week visit to the caravan site would not be an understatement. I was hooked, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I don’t know how to explain it but being involved in something that made me think, and something I was enjoying, was helping me to forget my troubles. Painting was helping me feel much better, relaxed, whatever, and was easing my tensions much better than any medication had ever been.
During the rest of the summer of 95’, when I had first met Bob, I was never away from his studio when I visited the caravan site for weekend breaks / holidays. Ray, my wife, said that it was worse than being a golf widow!
However, I was right into painting at the end of that summer and wanted to keep on going out-with the caravan season.
During the winter of 95’/96’ I enrolled in a night class course - ‘Basic Oil Painting’ it was called. I had tried various mediums in Bobs studio but really liked painting in oils. I had learned a lot from Bob but I wanted to be taught by a professional and as the course was being held in the renowned ‘Glasgow School of Art’ I felt it would be a good place to meet a professional artist. ‘Glasgow School of Art’ is no longer with us, having been burned to the ground a couple of years ago – for the second time! I am sure it will be rebuilt again very soon
Following being tutored at the Art School that winter I carried on painting at home until the spring of 96’ when the caravan site opened and I could get back into Bobs studio. I painted a lot that year and when the next winter arrived I enrolled in another course at the ‘Glasgow School of Art’. This time it was a course on Portrait painting, which I loved.
I’m afraid I didn’t really follow up with what I had learned about painting portraits but carried on painting in oils. My favourite painting subjects were Landscapes, Seascapes and Sunsets. You couldn’t get a better venue for a Seascape, or a Sunset, than at the caravan site. The site was right on the edge of the coast, with the sun in the evening going down over ‘Ailsa Craig’, or ‘Paddy’s Milestone’ as it is otherwise known as, or later in the year, over the Mull of Kintyre. Absolutely fabulous painting material.
From 1996 I painted right through to 2007 joining a local Cambuslang, Glasgow Art Club in one of the church halls where we had a ‘tutor’ who kept us right. We arranged the occasional Art Exhibition there, and where I sometimes managed to sell a painting or three. In those days we were asking for £30 to £50 for a painting, not the hundreds of pounds that’s asked nowadays.
During 2007 I moved to Banchory but still carried on with my painting. We sold the caravan as we couldn’t make the five hour journey very often. Occasionally I enrolled in a winter and / or spring art course which is held twice a year in the art room in Banchory Academy. That is, until a couple of years ago when I found myself out every night of the week through one thing or another that I was involved in – I still keep my hand in doing paintings, though not as much as I used to do. That is going to change very soon once I finish preparing my new studio area in the spare room, or in my office. I’m not sure where I’ve having it yet.
I would urge anyone to start painting. If you feel that you wouldn’t be very good at it remind yourself that you don’t have to be as good as those you admire as artists. It’s good to have artists to learn from and be inspired by. But, remember that they started out just the same as you. The main thing with them, and it could be with you, is that they did pick up that brush! The more you paint the more your style will evolve and confidence in your own abilities will become second nature.
As I said at the beginning, and it is worth repeating ‘At times like this, it is hugely important to stay busy. The stimulus of drawing and painting allows us to momentarily forget about the immediate reality, and provides us with a much-needed mental rest which lowers stress and generates relaxation and happy feelings’
Stay safe everyone.
Stan Thomson Editor, ‘The Ronnecht’
In my job I easily covered the 10,000 steps we are urged to do every day. Now, with lockdown in place, some days I was struggling to reach several hundred steps!Add in the fact that I am now cooking, baking and eating more and better than I think I ever have in my life before, then my daily exercise was absolutely required! So, what exercise was I going to do? I do love to walk and have been known to run even, but my toes have arthritis in them and are quite sore, so long walks were just not an option.
So, I started cycling, this is only possible just now because there are not as many cars on the road, as I am quite a nervous cyclist but oh my, I am enjoying it so much. Yes, I have fallen off. Yes, I have aching muscles. Yes, I have a bruised stomach from all my emergency stops into the handle bars, but for the good of my mental health this has been a life saver. We are all coping with getting through these difficult times in different ways and I have never liked being cooped up inside, I need to get out each day. I was becoming anxious as I watched the daily news and heard about the rising deaths due to Covid-19. I was not sleeping well during the night and then sleeping too late into the day. Then I felt down on myself if my day was totally unproductive. I was constantly worrying so much about all those I love and praying they would make it through this time safely.
There can be no doubt about the increased feel good factor of exercise, the endorphins being released boosting your mood and I can certainly vouch for that. If I miss a day out on my bike, my mood alters quite significantly. Add to that the bonus of the beauty of our surrounding area, which is totally awesome, and I thank God every day for his creation. On my cycle I have time to reflect and pray. This is my time alone with God and it is just so refreshing and so energising.
I feel blessed that I now have the time and the ability to get out and rediscover this wonderful countryside. I say rediscover as I used to ride around Banchory by horse when I was younger and again that was back in a time when it was safe to do so. This time in lockdown, is taking me back to when I was about 14/16 and spent a lot of time, all my free time in fact, riding around Banchory. There is hardly a country road in this area that I did not explore by horseback, back in the day, or that I am not enjoying now by bike. I feel like I am a teenager on an extended summer holiday when I am out on my bike. I have been from Banchory to Duthie Park and back, up to Aboyne and back, all on the Deeside way. (Please don’t tell on me, yes, it did take longer than my allocated hour!) Sadly I have not yet seen the Banchory Otters but I look out for them almost daily and if I do see them then I will be ecstatic. I have explored all the back roads from Raemoir, down to Hirn, to Flora’s, Hopton, and all the roads in between there and to Cullerlie. All these roads lead down to Culter or Drumoak depending on how far I have gone and I have even discovered the delight of the Park shoppe, having never been in before. A treat not to be missed and one I will enjoy even more when I can shop there bringing bags to take home my wonderful purchases, not just the wee backpack I take with me on the bike rides. In the other direction Torphins is a great distance to cycle, over to Kinker and home by Potarch. Within the trampoline club we are trying to exercise our way “around the world” together. I have cycled far enough now to have visited my brother in London and my next stop is Paris. So far I have cycled over 900km!
So, thank you Nicola, or Boris, or whoever it was that encouraged us to get out there and be active. This is something I really want to keep up in the future, hopefully one day soon I will be able to cycle and then have my swim. I am just wondering though, will I have the time to go back to work!
Just what do you do...
once you've deep cleaned your house?
If you have been watching our Sunday services online, and I sincerely hope you have, then you will have seen me taking part in those too.
In “Life before Lockdown” I am a trampoline coach. I also work 8 hours per week for Aberdeenshire council, teaching pre school gymnastics. I have been doing that for over 30 years and love it. So, on the 19th March, exactly 2 months ago, like many other people we stopped working. I say we, as my husband John, is a trampoline coach also. We had been due to go down to Telford the next day to a British competition but this was cancelled as all competitions have now been for the foreseeable future.
John and I had such busy lives, we worked Monday to Friday and then often spent whole weekends at competitions either in Scotland or around Britain. When you add in squad training dates and Performance Pathways for our gymnasts, we certainly had a pretty non- stop diary planned right up until July. Then, after the British Championships we had planned to take a week's holiday, followed by coaching summer camps for the rest of the holidays right up until the schools went back. Busy, busy, busy!
But like so many others, our lives have completely changed. Our pace of life has altered significantly, and we love it! Yes, we miss coaching and most especially we miss seeing our gymnasts. Normally I would see about 200 young people during my working week - now it is none, or at least not in person, that is. We had no choice in the Lockdown and I understand that it is for the very best reasons that we need to stay isolated, but I think it has also made it easier to accept that life had to change.
Like everyone else, deep cleaning of the house was my first task. Washing anything that even might have been dirty. Tidying, and clearing out cupboards - but with the tip and all charity shops closed we soon realised there is little point in clearing out with nowhere to take unwanted items. Gardening has been both joyful and endless and there are still jobs to be done! We have been so blessed with the weather. Then there has been the daily soup making, and the planning of our meals all now cooked from scratch as there is time to do that. Zero waste is absolutely paramount, and the sense of satisfaction in using up all leftovers is astounding. Baking - not something I normally do - is included several times a week now and along with that eating! I think I might have gained a few pounds during this time of lockdown, is anyone else with me in that?
Alan asking me if I would help with Church services was hugely welcome and I have really enjoyed being able to do so as it has been a real privilege to be able still to connect with my Church family in this way.
Missing seeing family and friends is probably the hardest part of this time but we are so grateful for all the many ways we can communicate with them and blessed that in this day and age we can see who we are talking to, not just hear them. My mother at nearly 89 years of age has discovered how to use Facetime and zoom which is just fantastic. She is going through this lockdown alone and knowing I can see her and we can talk whenever we want to is just so wonderful. My siblings and I share a catch up about our mum along with little snippets of our lives daily just now which is just so special. We have missed family weddings, 2 so far, birthdays and other special occasions but like every family in the land, plan a huge family get together when we are able to do so.
There are many horrendous sides to this lockdown and I do know how lucky I am. I know that this time has taught me to be more appreciative of so many different aspects of life. I hope I remember the excitement of being able to buy toilet paper, flour, pasta, sugar - to name just a few. I pray I remember to truly value the ability to see all my family and friends when I choose and plan to spend more quality time with those I love. I must remember to slow down in life, when the option is there once more to fill my diary with work, I hope that I won’t take it and that I carry on enjoying this slower paced but very rewarding way of life. We live in such a beautiful place and I am enjoying God’s creation immensely and seeing things anew with fresh eyes, each and every day. I feel truly blessed right now and I thank God for the kindness shown by so many to those in need. God's love is clearly seen in action and work every day, helping me and so many others through this extraordinary time in our lives.
Well just what did you do after you had deep cleaned your house?
I have not even got on to my daily exercise - I think I will leave that for another Blog - if Alan allows me back again, as that has actually helped me through this time more than I could ever have imagined.
Melanie Stewart Wills
Banchory East Church
A journal of the life of the East Church through the personal memories and opinions of our members.
We post on Tuesday and Thursdays. but not always every week.