Another place I have yet to get to: the Falls of Foyers

32972The Falls of Foyers near by Loch Ness was a popular tourist destination in the late eighteenth century. It had romantic grandeur, the splendours of nature, it was remote from cities with their expanding smoke and industries. Ah! the romance of nature. Oh Caledonia stern and wild!

Samuel Johnson clambered over rugged crags to see the waterfall in 1773 but due a spell of dry weather, found only a disappointingly small trickle of water. He and Boswell then continued on to Fort Augustus where he was welcomed by the long-serving governor of the fort, Alexander Trapaud.
Robert Burns visited the falls in 1787 on his tour of the Highlands and indeed reached for paper and pencil to compose a poem ‘Written with a Pencil, standing by the Fall of Fyers, near Loch Ness’. The University of Glasgow has put an interactive map of Burns’ highland tour online as part of its Editing Burns for the 21st Century project (http://burnsc21.glasgow.ac.uk/highland-tour-interactive/). This will also help to envisage the jolly summer daytrip described below.
It would seem that Johnson and Burns reached the falls by land. However I first came across an early account of them in a letter, written roughly ten years after Burns’ visit, by the daughter of one of the officers serving at Fort Augustus. On 1 July 1778, Anne MacVicar wrote to her friend Miss Jane Ewing describing a ‘grand party of pleasure’ up Loch Ness.

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Fort Augustus: note the galley at top right

“There was the Governor [this was still the Alexander Trapaud who had welcomed Johnson] and his new espoused love, who, by the bye is very well considering, frank and cheerful, and so forth; and there were the two Misses Campbell, Duntroon, blithe bonny lasses; and there was the noble Admiral of the lake, and his fair sister; and the Doctor, and another beau, whom you have not had the honour to know. We went on board our galley, which is a fine little vessel, with a commodious and elegant cabin.
“The day was charming, the scene around was in itself sublime and cheerful, enlivened by sunshine and the music of the birds, that answered each other loudly from the woody mountains on either side of the Loch. On leaving the fort we fired out swivels, and displayed our colours. On our arrival opposite Glenmoriston, we repeated this ceremony, and sent out our boat for as many of the family as chose to come on board. The Laird himself, his beautiful daughter, and her admirer, obeyed the summons: they dined with us, and then we proceeded to the celebrated fall of Fyres.
“I had seen this wonder before, but never to such advantage. Strangers generally come from the high road, and look down upon it; but the true sublime and beautiful is to be attained by going from the lake by Fyers house, as we did, to look up to it. We landed at the river’s mouth, and had to walk up near a mile, through picturesque openings, in a grove of weeping birch, so fresh with the spray of the fall, that its odours exhale constantly. At the foot of the rock over which the river falls, is a small circular bottom, in which rises, as it were, a little verdant hillock of a triangular form, which one might imagine an altar erected to the impetuous Naiad of this overwhelming stream: this rustic shrine, and the verdant sanctuary in which it stands, are adorned by the hand of nature with a rich profusion of beautiful flowers and luxuriant hernage…”

Miss MacVicar’s account goes on to mix reference to … this sacred solitude … the showery prism bending its splendid arch … with a matter of fact explanation of how the torrent in winter probably brought down rocks and sediment on which the plants have grown. Then she comes back to the river being tamed: from thundering and raging above, ‘rolling rapidly over steep rocks, like steps of stairs, till at last it winds quietly through the sweet peaceful scene at Fyres House, and loses itself in Loch Ness.”
She ends by asking, ‘Now to what purpose have I taken up my own time and yours with this tedious descrition?’ And readers might ask the same of me. What I like about this letter is the account of the ‘pleasure’ party as a whole. Admiring the splendour of the waterfall, Burns’ ‘roaring Fyers’ pouring his mossy floods, was the sublime highpoint of the outing. It descended into farce as the party returned home.

“When we returned on board, our spirits, being by this time exhausted with walking and wonder, and talking and thunder, and so forth, began to flag. One lady, always delicate and nervous, was seized with a fit, a hysterical one, that frightened us all. I cut her laces, suppressed her struggles, and supported her in my arms during the paroxysm, which lasted near two hours. What you must allow to be very generous in the company, not one of them seemed to envy my place, or made the smallest effort to supplant me. We drank tea most sociably, however; landed our Glenmoriston friends, and tried to proceed homeward, but adverse fate had determined we should sup there too, and so arrested us with a dead calm four miles from home. Now midnight approached, and with it gloomy discontent and drowsy insipidity. Our chief took a fit of the fidgets, and began to cry Poh, Poh! his lady took a fit of yawning; his little grandson took a fit of anger; the Doctor took a fit of snoring; even the good-natured Admiral took a fit of fretting, because the sailors had taken a fit of drinking. All of a sudden the Misses C. took a fit of singing, to the great annoyance of the unharmonious groupe; when I went to the deck, fell into a fit of meditation, and began to say, ‘How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank.’ Indeed nothing could be more inspiring; now silvery calmness slumbered on the deep, the moonbeams quivered on the surface of the water, and shed a mild radiance on the trees; the sky was unclouded, and the sound of the distant waterfall alone disturbed the universal stillness. But the general ill humour disturbed my rising rapture, for it was now two o’clock, and nobody cared for poetry or moonlight but myself. Well, we saw the wind would not rise, and so we put out the boat, some growling, other vapid, and the rest half asleep. The gentlemen, however, rowed us home, and left the galley to the drunken sailors. You may judge how gaily we arrived.”

I have known happy days gone sour but nothing like this. How much more hysterical the participants would have been had they known of Nessie. And good for Anne MacVicar Grant for making such a lively tale so that these people of the past return from the shades. Her friends must have looked forward to hearing from her.


[Grant, Anne] Letters from The Mountains; being the real Correspondence of a lady, between the years 1773 and 1807. Vol 1. 5th edition. London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, & Orme, Paternoster-row; Letter 27: To Miss Ewing, Glasgow; Fort Augustus, June 5th, 1778, pp210-216. Online via Hathi Trust Digital Library
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February 12, 2017 · 4:34 pm

Crazed visions…

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See below…

On Sunday 12 June 2011 I seem to have created a blog on a site I never revisited. I hadn’t remembered doing it but the evidence is up and out there in the ether, rediscovered when I chanced to trip a link while tidying up my computer desktop. I called that blog, ‘Crazed visions’, subtitle: ‘thoughts and words as they occur’. It consisted of a list in which I jotted down what came to my mind about my great-aunt. I may never get round to writing more about her, but this may trigger memories in members of the family (if so, please send them to me). For other readers it may stimulate thoughts and feelings (inherited or not) about the people who existed on the fringes of the family nucleus.

Dedae (1886-1975)

What do I know about Dedae?

  1. She was my great-aunt, unmarried youngest sister of my mother’s father William Gibb Chisholm.
  1. Her full name was Agnes Edith Chisholm (Agnes was her mother’s name, no idea where Edith came from).
  1. She made my mother a doll’s house out of orange boxes during WW1; it has a stair case and I still have it. A detached house with a balcony, nothing like the house she lived in.
  1. In her last years she lived in Belgrave Crescent, as did her unmarried slightly older doctor (gynaecologist) brother Uncle Ernie.
  1. It was a ground and basement flat with a hideous and large painting of St Sebastian in the hall (presumably this was a family possession? is there an inventory for AWC in 1921, or AHC in 1936?)
  1. Otherwise the front room is all I can remember, facing on to the communal garden over the street (that would be south), a heavy feeling of Victorian clutter, oil paintings and plants.
  1. I last remember meeting her at my grandfather’s cremation at Warriston the year I married (1966). She asked me whether I would like a practical or useful wedding gift. I said useful (which I have always thought was the wrong answer) and she gave me a set of pyrex casseroles decorated with flowers.
  1. I don’t think she liked my mother much (probably mutual) and she did not mention her in her will.
  1. Her executor was mother’s cousin Ralph Darling (son of her elder sister Annie) who disposed of many of the family artifacts, which meant little to him, without consulting his cousins.
  1. Ralph, who came back from South Africa after an unsuccessful marriage to live with his aunt, had to conceal his long-term partner Diana from her. Diana was banned from the house. (After Ralph’s death, years later, Diana would meet my mother for coffee, having travelled across England to hand over small items of silver which she said must go back to the family).
  1. Mother said Dedae was a snob who would refer to people as not being out of the top drawer.
  1. Dedae was the unmarried daughter who lived at home taking care of her parents.
  1. Somewhere there is a photo of her in perhaps a VAD uniform during WW1.
  1. She would have been one of the generation whose hope of marriage went with The Great War.
  1. There are a couple of photos of her as a teenager but none later (she would have inherited the family possessions, did she destroy them?)
  1. She was very involved with the Clan Chisholm Society.
  1. She commissioned a researcher to examine her ancestory (I have the report).
  1. In her later years she would take elderly people out for runs in her car round Warriston. She was not a good driver and disliked the introduction of traffic lights.
  1. There are questions: how and where was she educated? Is there an inventory of her estate which presumably included the Robert Scott Lauder family picture of his sister?
  1. Born 1886, died 1975.
  1. Her mother (Agnes Helen Gibb) died in 1936, her father (Alexander Wyse Chisholm) in 1921.
  1. Despite living in Edinburgh she was not a person we saw or visited much; not a warm relationship…

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Once she was a gawky girl balancing frothy puff-balls of white lace.

What was life like for her?

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The first reason I am going to Shetland

 

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In a couple of months I will be making a long-anticipated trip to Shetland. I have three main reasons for wanting to go, none of them immediately relating to DI Jimmy Perez as portrayed in the recent television dramas based on Ann Cleves’ novels.

Shetland seems such a long way when you look at an atlas, exactly how far is left rather vague since mapmakers have tended to tuck it into a box which they float somewhere in the Moray Firth. Now I find that it is only just over an hour by plane, or will be, but my mind is back in the first decades of the 1800s, before steam ships, before planes, before phones, before the internet. Almost back in the days of here be dragons, or at least sea monsters, and certainly of the likelihood of rather rough water… However I decided to skip any attempt at replication. I will fly.

My first reason is curiosity about the life of one of my maternal ancestors who spent a brief and ultimately  unhappy time there. Ann Wyse went as a bride and returned about eighteen months later as a widow with infant twin daughters. These infants do not appear in the family tree copied out on shelf paper by my grandfather:

  • What happened to the twins? (early death I imagined, aware of infant mortality at the time).
  • What can it have been like for a young woman raised in 1820s Glasgow to find herself living so far from family in a part of Scotland so remote?
  • How did she get there?
  • and how might she have got back to central Scotland where some ten years later she married my Edinburgh-based ancestor and produced the further progeny from one of whom I am derived?

Nothing like a quest!

I have prowled through family documents, summoned up information from the internet and visited archives. Now I am now booked up to go. And what better time to find my jottings and begin pulling the past together.

Find a marriage

Nineteenth century novels often end with a marriage. Ancestral quests can start from one. Ann Wyse’s marriages took place before registration began in 1855 so off to the newspapers, or at least to British Newspapers Online. There she is, her second marriage reported in the Caledonian Mercury, Edinburgh, Thursday June 23rd 1842.

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“At 25 Gayfield Square, on the 21st current, Robert Chisholm, Esq. jeweller, Edinburgh, to Ann Wyse, relict of the late Rev. Colin Bogle, Walls.”

I am rather intrigued by the Georgette Heyerish union which appears below of ‘the Hon and Reverend Edward Harbottle Grimstone, second son of the Earl and Countess of Verulam, to Frances Horatia, eldest daughter of John Morier, Esq’ – was she born in 1805? but I must not be distracted.

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25 Gayfield Square: a staging post in my family history

25 Gayfield Square is not as grand as its neighbours, no fanlight above the doorway which appears to lead to a stair. It is on the east side of Gayfield Square, standing 4 stories at the front and six at the rear (owing to Edinburgh’s rolling hillsides).

She was married at No 25, so who lived at there?

Nine names are given in the 1842/43 Edinburgh Post Office Directory, including Mrs Browning who kept lodgings, and a hatter and: Edwin Millidge, jeweller. A connection there. It turns out that Edwin had married Sarah, Ann’s elder sister, in Edinburgh in 1820.

The description of the bride as “relict of the late Rev Colin Bogle, Walls” took me straight to the Fasti.

Ah, the groom was a Minister of the Kirk

Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae: the succession of ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation is an invaluable tool for those, such as I, who are fortunate to have been blessed with a minister ancestor. There, in volume seven, they and the twins were.

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Not quite accurate, Ann and Robert were married on 21st June 1842 (once again she had an older groom, tho probably not as old as the Rev Colin, Robert being born in 1799). I haven’t established Colin’s date of birth but if he was licenced in 1810, almost a year before Ann was born on 14 May 1811, he must have been at least twenty years older than she was. There is a long gap before he obtained his church. A stickit minister.

 

Walls is on the west coast of the mainland of Shetland. I am looking forward to seeing how it looks today. It is not my impression that the parish of Walls was a well-doing place during the time Ann Wyse lived there. I hope at least that the Rev Colin Bogle managed to get his manse fixed up before he brought his bride home. On the 17th of November 1830, that is less than a year before he married, he ‘represented [to the Lerwick Presbytery] that the repairs which the Presbytery had ordered on his Manse in April last had not been executed with the diligence which the Presbytery had enjoined – that in consequence of there not being even one habitable room in the house, he had been obliged to remove to lodgings at a distance from the manse…’ [CH2/1071/8/10]

By the time of the events of December 1832 and January 1833 the family were living in the manse. Birth and death reported in the same issue of the Aberdeen Journal on Wednesday 6th February 1833:

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There appears to be neither note of burial nor gravestone for the Rev Colin Bogle. Nor is there any record of a baptism for the twins Colina and Jessie. Surely it would have been possible for some colleague to have travelled the twenty odd miles from Lerwick and officiated?

Ann was married (in Glasgow) on 18th August 1831, age 20

She gave birth to twins (in Shetland) on 29 December 1832

Her husband died (in Shetland) on 16 January 1833.

She returned south for she appeared in Edinburgh in relation to her husband’s will  in September 1833.

There is a sad postscript…

Colina and Jessie were  buried together in Edinburgh on 30 December 1833, their interments shown in St Cuthbert’s Parish Register, the head of family given as the late Rev Colin Bogle of Walls, Shetland. Both died of Hooping Cough, Colina on 24th December and Jessie on the 29th, one just before and one after her first birthday.

So now I know what happened to the twins. My lost great-great-aunts if I have counted aright. Perhaps the archives in Lerwick will enable me to get some feeling for conditions in Shetland in the 1830s and some idea of the roads and packet boats which carried my great-great-grandmother to and from the islands.

I hope Ann had some sunny days before all these terrible events. I’m glad she at least survived to settle in more comfortable surroundings. I found a bit more detail of that second wedding in the OPRs:

Untitled copy-1 (dragged)

More of what happened next anon (though some of the outcomes can be found in my ‘Walking back into the past’ posting last year).

And I hope for sunshine, fair winds and no demons for myself when I survey Ultima Thule.

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I should like to put on record my gratitude to all those  who transcribe and organise and share records, whether as part of the job, for the benefit of family and friends, or just for the fun of it. Doing history now is a great collaborative enterprise, thank you all.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tin saucepans: a brief rumination at the bus-stop

P1060172I had an old (price 95p) copy of 1984 in my bag before meeting newspeaks (or maybe duckspeaks?) ‘mumbod’ and ‘dadbod’ made me realise that it was time to enter Orwell’s distopia again, this time with brain engaged.

Why had I been carrying it about? Simply because one day it had come to hand as a slim (therefore light in weight) alternative to those copies of Saga and Hello which accompany a wait for the attentions of doctor, dentist or hair-stylist. I am one who can’t be without a book and who curses any guest who wantonly carries off my reading matter from the lavatory.

This morning at the bus stop I found that previous sittings had taken me to page 59 of the Penguin edition which, according to the book-plate at the front, came from the library of my elder daughter. (Way back that must have been since it was before she changed the spelling of her name.)

To recap: Winston works in the Ministery of Truth (‘Minitrue’) ‘rectifying’ malreports and malquotes so that they fit in with ‘the thing which had actually happened’. He hardly dares to think for fear of the Thought Police. He wonders, as he reworks events and speeches, if he is the only one who remembers the past, a past which is being rewritten out of history. He has just begun, in great secrecy to entrust his thoughts to a diary…

…..

If there is hope, wrote Winston, it lies in the proles

   If there was hope, it must lie in the proles, because only there in those swarming disregarded masses… could the force to destroy the Party ever be generated. The Party could not be overthrown from within. … But the proles, if only they could somehow become conscious of their own strength, would have no need to conspire. They needed only to rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies. If they chose they could blow the Party to pieces tomorrow morning. Surely sooner or later it must occur to them to do it? And yet–!

He remembered how once he had been walking down a crowded street when a tremendous shout of hundreds of voices – women’s voices – had burst from a side-street a little way ahead. It was a great formidable cry of anger and despair, a deep, long ‘Oh-o-o-o-oh!’ that went humming on like the reverberation of a bell. His heart had leapt. It’s started he had thought. A riot! The proles are breaking loose at last! When he had reached the spot it was to see a mob of two or three hundred women crowding round the stalls of a street market… But at this monent the general despair broke down into a multitude of individual quarrels. It appeared that one of the stalls had been selling tin saucepans. They were wretched, flimsy things, but cooking-pots of any kind were always difficult to get. Now the supply had unexpectedly given out. The successful women, bumped and jostled by the rest, were trying to make off with their saucepans while dozens of others clamoured round the stall, accusing the stall-keeper of favouritism and of having more saucepans somewhere in reserve. There was a fresh outburst of yells. Two bloated women, one of them with her hair coming down, had got hold of the same saucepan and were trying to tear it out of one another’s hands. For a moment they were both tugging, and then the handle came off. Winston watched them disgustedly. And yet, just for a moment, what almost frightening power had sounded in that cry from only a few hundred throats! Why was it that they could never shout like that about anything that mattered?

He wrote:

   Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.

……

Orwell continues to elaborate on how the despised proles are managed (‘Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer, and above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds’).

……

To keep them in control was not difficult. A few agents of the Thought Police moved always among them, spreading false rumours and marking down and eliminating the few individuals who were judged capable of becoming dangerous; but no attempt was made to indoctrinate them with the ideology of the Party. It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations. …..

Now I am certainly not labelling the mass of my compatriots (however defined) as proles but Orwell should not be remembered only for Big Brother (aka Facebook which persists in suggesting I make a friend of people whom I have reason to believe are no friend to me or my perceived interests). Texts, Twitter and Newspeak? The Two-Minute Hate and the election orgies we have just gone through?

Just ruminating. MaybP1060173 - Version 2e things are changing? The book was published almost 70 years ago, indeed Winston, who thought he was born in 1944 or 1945, would be 70ish today. Anyway I have moved 1984 from my bag to the pile by the bed. Timely to read on from page 61. In hope.

And perhaps put Animal Farm in my good-for-your-back bag? I suspect this thought is not unconnected by the bunnies on my daughter’s book-plate.

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Walking back into the past

A friend was nagging me to up my getting-up-and-going rate to at least one hour a day so that is what I’ve been aiming at in the past week. But a purpose other than health is needed to drive me on, preferably not always with the hope of a view attached. Views, in an urban setting at least, tend to require going up hills.

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The Harrison Arch

I did that last Sunday peching my way beyond my least favourite archway (just avoided it once when the car’s clutch failed on a downward run). So, while I am grateful for his part in Edinburgh Corporation’s acquisition of Blackford Hill, I wish the friends and admirers of George Harrison (1812[perhaps 1811]-1885) once Lord Provost of Edinburgh and very very briefly elected MP for Edinburgh South, had chosen some other way to mark his works and character.

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Topical reference to the constituency at the start of my walk: the office of the Last Labour MP following the general election…

Onward and upward I was rewarded with magnificent views over the city. Blackford Hill was once a regular stomping ground. Together with a crocodile of other beret-topped small girls I was marched up and round it on most of those days when hockey or lacrosse was not forced on me. Not all these outings were carefree: my time as a boarder must have been not only the year when Blackford Pond froze sufficiently for skating but also that of rabbits blighted by myxomatosis…

DSCF1989One illicit and pleasurable memory however: the school had a flu epidemic and myself and a fellow ten-year-old convalescent were sent for a walk. I clawed my way, gymslip and  dutifully polished day-shoes, up the steep muddy bank opposite the pond as my companion wailed well below. A rare breakout by a child conditioned always to set a good example. Still joy in the memory. What on earth was the school thinking of to send us out on our own.

However that was last week. Today, inspired by a miscellany of unplanned pre-birthday treats: my very first Edinburgh tram rides (slow and grinding trip to Ingliston and back), a stroll round Greyfriars graveyard, and some ancestral monogrammed spoons, I set out grave hunting. Aim: to locate some ancestors not on my Irish father’s side but belonging to my mother’s Edinburgh and the Borders line. I knew where they lay, in the graveyard of St Cuthbert’s parish at the west end of Princes Street. Refinding the stone was not as easy as I thought however but I was pleased to find that walking there then zigzagging St John’s and St Cuthbert’s burial grounds piled up paces sufficiently  to evade a blustery May shower and bus home.

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Long neglected by the family, indeed by me. I removed bits of branches, plucked out groundsel and wondered what seeds I might strew. Crocuses would not be a good idea– too many squirrels

The stone marks the grave of my great-great grandfather, his wife and several of his sons:

1847

The Burying Ground of Robert Chishom Jeweller Edinburgh

Sacred

To the Memory of

Robert Ainslie, who died 7th Oct. 1847 aged six weeks also

Robert Peattie Chisholm who died 25th Augt 1858 aged 9 years and 10 months

Robert Chisholm, Goldsmith who died 7th June 1874 aged 75 years

Ann Wyse, widow of Robert Chisholm, who died 1st Sept 1875 aged 64 years

John Fleming Chisholm who died 15th August 1885 in his 29th year

Edwin Millidge Chisholm, MB CM who died 8th September 1885 in his 32nd year

On a side panel: In Memory of John Thomson who died 28th April 1890 aged 64. The other side panel is illegible.

Ann Wyse, born in Glasgow in 1811, was already a widow by the time she married Robert Chisholm in 1842. Her first husband, a minister in Shetland, had died a month after she had given birth to twin daughters, both of whom died as they reached their first birthday. In Shetland? I doubt it. In Edinburgh? Glasgow? The death notice in the Scotsman does not say.

There, achieved my 10,000 paces. And at last started to add words to pictures. So walking back into the past works on more than one level! More on the family to come.

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And did those feet…

I don’t have a thing about shoes, either for or against.  There are lots at the bottom of the wardrobe, most differing only in wear, and, yes, most are Ecco lace-ups, nothing to get excited about. I don’t know which ancestor donated me broad feet with a high instep but I’m not grateful.

It was therefore a surprise to me when on my recent visit to the Naples Museum I became obsessed with footwear. Part of this interest was pragmatic. I had already explored the upper galleries and marvelled at the mosaics brought in from Pompeii and Herculaneum. I had looked with wonder, and tried to snap through their glass cases, small figurines, silver beakers and glass portraits. I had strolled round the Secret Rooms with their dangling phalluses and faint, faintly erotic paintings. I had established that the room with the frescos I really wanted to see was closed. I had had coffee. Done the shop. There was over an hour until it was time to get back to the bus. Daunted by the thought of the marble staircase once again, the ground floor was where I decided to be.

This floor was predominately statues of Roman and Greek chaps and deities. Many sported togas, though one, the embodiment of an old head on young shoulders, wore only a cloth on his left arm and seemed to be enquiring, who, by Jove, had nicked his gear from the pool locker. Most had bare feet. I set out to look for those who did not.

Still trapped in the error that life was pretty basic in ancient times, I had assumed that shoes or sandals were a base of leather lashed together with thongs. Well yes, and no.

A statue labelled Apollo (seated with a lyre in porphory 2nd century AD) though I have my doubts (perhaps he’s in drag for a party?) ran little risk of corns, and I admired the sculpted sole.

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I made a note on my handy little hotel-supplied pad to revisit Greek and Roman myths when I got home. I was particularly concerned about a statue  of goatish Pan, of whom one could believe anything, dallying with a well-set-up young man, allegedly ‘Daphne’. I had always taken Daphne to be female…

Asclepius, on the left below, (late 2nd AD of Greek original of beginning of 4th BC) had sensible sandals with plenty of room for the toes.

Dionysius (1st BC), as you might expect, was decked out in elaborate party boots.

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A kneeling and abject barbarian had opted for trainers. Not at all the thing…

On the other hand, the military, as evidenced by the statues which caught my eye, knew what was needed. They hoped to take on the properties of the lion (“I am Sir Bryan, bold as a lion…”). A lion’s head topped the boots, even if on dress occasions flowers and twiddly bits were permitted.

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At the entrance to a side room there’s a pair of statues which make a poignant statement of attitudes.

On the right as you enter a warrior whoops, brandishing his sword, he is a winner no doubt about it. By the opposite wall an Amazon, of the race of warrior women, is tumbling, breast exposed, from her horse. Both warriors have lion-head tops to their boots but each of hers seems decorated also with a heart.

 Admired as a warrior but perhaps just a bit girly?

But enough of footwear and so finally to my favourite of all the statues. An old woman, Agrippina (1st century, school of Phidias) sits with her ankles crossed, waiting.

PS why all these tumtumtetumtums? These are my best at present way of getting images approximately where I want them.

PPS I wish I could have sandals like these; and I salute their creators, those workers in leather, yes, but most of all those artists and craftsmen who envisaged and formed them from stone for me to wonder at.

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Just do it!

When it comes to doing family history I prefer the thrill of the chase.

I am not good at getting round to collating and filing bits of information, especially if they come in various formats such as computer files, photos, certificates, notes and thoughts on the backs of envelopes. Paper can be tucked into a file (if big enough) but how to integrate this with what’s on the computer? Scan all the paper and concentrate on identifying and bringing together all this electronic mass (and buy a big screen on which to view it)? Or, print out all the stuff on the computer and commandeer the sitting room floor? But even this is a way of avoiding getting down to making sense of the material and thinking about what might be missing, about the things unsaid, unrecorded.

Photo of section of a very large OS map

For the past few months I’ve been attending a writing workshop entitled ‘Blood Lines: Creative Memoir’. It’s been an experience I have approached with caution. Having poor recall of past events I am keen to hang on to what I do have and am reluctant to create false memories. Dredging our memories for matter to write about is also a trifle unsettling for all participants in that it stirs up feelings, not all, indeed it would appear very few, happy.

One of the premises of the course is that ‘each family has its fund of tales’  which further implies that these are passed on, often by grandparents, and that the recipients listen. Would this were so.

I have no memory of one grandmother who lived in another part of the country and who died when I was six. Fortunately the grandfather on that side was part of a female-dominated line who hung on to scraps of paper which enable some reconstruction of the family’s history. He was also interested in family trees. My mother, moreover, did a sterling job, collecting information and writing about her relations once she realised that not only were there years of family life and background of which her own children were ignorant but that her younger sisters were also strangers to much of it. Among the things she discovered was that one of her grandfathers had abandoned his children after the death of his wife and later died in a poorhouse. The children were rescued from threat of the orphanage by an uncle, brother of the absconding parent, who took them in. Mother had not known any of this before the researcher located death and census records; her own mother had never mentioned it. Nor were the younger sisters happy that my mother made public family information.

The other, Irish, side of my ancestry, is The Challenge. My father’s knowledge of his ancestors seemed to stop

Helpful Blackrock taxi driver tries but fails to find an ancestral site via a snip of a 19th century OS map

with his grandparents, and of them he chiefly recounted that his grandfather, Zeno Sloan, had introduced the tonic sol-fa into Ireland and that his grandmother ran a school and continued to do so with the assistance of her daughters until retirement age. Father and all his brothers bar one moved away from Ireland, seas and oceans then separating us grandchildren from grandparents who might have told us that fund of tales. Our visits were brief and not occasions for bonding or story-telling. I have spent the last couple of years trying to track down members of the family to see if I could get further back but even our combined memories and delvings into archives have not got very far, or gone very far… Photos and emails on the computer. Letters and photocopies in a file. Maps? Clippings? Must make a start on bringing some of it together.

This is not a new thought.Once of the reasons I signed up to the Creative Blood Lines course was to force myself to write regularly. Write what? Well anything, at least anything readable.  Same reason I started these blogs and it is evident from how few I have published that solo creation is not one of my strengths.

Also in the pursuit of, or let’s face it as a diversion from, my first novel I have put in time reading lists of tips provided by various authors. This was not the result of googling ‘top tips’. I do google the names of authors whose work I enjoy. Sneaking up on Rose Tremain online produced the first of these lists.

I have also been reading my way through Muriel Spark, first her short stories and then the novels, most recently The Abbess of Crewe, in the hope that some of her vivid style will rub off on me. And because her books are a joy to read as she is a brilliantly inventive writer with a lashing acerbic wit.

One of these lists produced from Muriel Spark the following advice:

“For concentration you need a cat…And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give you back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence is enough.” 

I have made a start on improving my concentration. He looks like this (but if he steps across in front of me, where his eyes are pointing, he becomes a writer’s block):

The Aide-Memoire waiting for food

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