Women of the World Unite

15 Feb

Despite my current self-inflicted obsession with my Great Twins Quilt Project ( see my recent blogs for evidence )  I have not forgotten  one of the original aims of the DRB’s to promote unsung heroines of history. Whilst on my travels I continue to look for statutes of women wherever I happen to be and where possible do a bit of research. It’s not so easy on the road to spend time in libraries, Paisley Boy and Lola feel a little neglected.  Internet connection has been spasmodic and very expensive. Unless I wanted to spend hours accessing free WiFi in MacDonald’s, whilst travelling through France, who would !!  I have had to be content with taking the odd pic whilst enjoying the gastronomic delights of French bars and  restaurants, which most certainly do not include Big Macs on their Plat de Jour.

When we arrived in Toulouse it was my duty as a travelling DRB to say hello to Joan of Arc, who aged 19 was buried at the stake for heresy and witchcraft on May 30th 1431.

Toulouse sculptor, Marius Jean Antonin Mercie (1845-1916) created the bronze equestrian statue on a granite plinth, to honour The Maid of Orleans (1412-1431), national heroine of France. She was beatified in 1906 and canonized in 1920. She led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years’ War.

Statue of Joan of Arc

Statue of Joan of Arc in Toulouse

Another statue worthy of mention was in the town of Draguignan in south-west France. The area experienced the worst flooding since 1827 in 2010 when many people were drowned.  This memorial stands proudly on a roundabout as you approach the town from the north.  Parking Lola at a suitable spot and crossing the busy road, dangerous though it may have been, I think was worth the effort.  What do you think?

Memorial to the flood victims in Draguignan

Memorial to the flood victims in Draguignan

Our final  photo opportunity on French soil was just outside Cannes, in the village of Theoule sur Mer.  We meandered our way along the narrow coastal road from St. Tropez heading for Italy. In desperate need of a coffee break, well that was for Paisley boy who was driving, I needed a real drink and this is where we met The Sphinxesse.  She is in the Parc e Salute and is by PoPoy a sculptor from Theoule.

The Sphinxesse

My history classes at school did cover Joan of Arc, but until I got to the city of Lucca our first stop in Italy, I was not aware that Napoleon Bonaparte had a sister, let alone that she ruled the city for a number of years. Elisa Bonaparte (1777-1820)  Princess of Lucca (1805-1814)  was a patron of Arts and Science and well-respected for the work she did to improve the lives of the people of Lucca.  It would be remiss of me not to mention, for the classical music lovers amongst you, that Puccini was born in Lucca.  Sadly we are unable to listen to any of his operas, or music of any kind, because we had the front of our radio stolen along with a camera and the spare lap-top.  Finding the police station and filing a report for the insurance company is a sad story for another time.  The good news is we still have our passports, credit cards and money.

Elisa Bonaparte Princess of Lucca 1805-1814

Elisa Bonaparte Princess of Lucca 1805-1814

Lastly the distribution of the Great Scott free books which we have taken with us as our calling card. The book was published to mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Waverley and 10th anniversary of Edinburgh’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature.

Station masters; teachers in small village schools in rural France; a waiter born in Kirkcaldy,working in  a restaurant in a small French town; supporters of Bath Rugby Team attending an away match in Toulouse, which incidentally they won; and an artist of fine watercolours, working on the steps of the Uffizi Museum, have been the willing recipients of the free gift from the Scots travelling abroad.

We still have a few hundred to distribute in Italy so watch this space.  Buona sera

Great Scott in Vaour Midi- Pyrenees

Great Scott in Vaour Midi- Pyrenees

The waiter from Kircaldy with Great Scott

The waiter from Kirkcaldy with Great Scott

 Great Scott in Toulouse with Bath Rugby supporters

Great Scott in Toulouse with Bath Rugby supporters

Travels with my quilts

14 Feb

Here we are in Florence on St. Valentine’s Day thinking of loved ones near and far and hoping that all is well in their world. I have to admit designing and making the hexagon rosettes for the quilts I am creating for the twins has made me realise how important it is to maintain connections with home when travelling. Transcend back in time 150 years and realise how very difficult it must have been to receive news from home. At the last DRB book club meeting before I left Edinburgh, we read: The Last Runaway by Tracey Chavalier (see previous post for details). Threaded between the main theme of runway slaves is the story of the lives of Quaker families living in Ohio. I was fascinated by the descriptions of the making of the wedding quilts, the link to home for people who realised they would possibly never see their family back home ever again.

How lucky we are to be able to use all the internet resources available today, yes there are frustrations, and in my case a certain phobia towards technology.  However, here I am sitting in my beautiful motor home, Lola, with a glass of Prosecco , making contact with my DRB family.

I have now completed 46 hexagon rosettes for the quilt and am awaiting the delivery of some more beautiful Liberty Tana Lawn fabric from Gabby my neighbour in Edinburgh, owner of Tinker & Belle  a handmade Children’s Wear design company. I have chosen one of Liberty’s new designs with an Alice in Wonderland theme,  A book to purchase for Gangster Granny’s library.  I loved it as a child, particularily the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

I thought you might like to know,  Random my bear , is essential to the Great Twins Quilt Project and is taking every opportunity to be photographed with the rosettes. See below pics as we travelled through France en route to Italy.

Random at lunch in the medieval city of Agues Morte

At lunch in the medieval city of Agues Morte

In Arles home of Vincent Van Gough

In Arles  at Cafe Van Gough


On the train to Avignon to dance on the bridge

On the train to Avignon to dance on the bridge

The Great Twins Quilt Project

22 Jan

Inspired at the last book club meeting of the DRB’s when we read The Last Runaway by Tracey Chavalier I have taken up the gentle art of quilting. Like the heroine of the tale Honor I am far away from home travelling round France and Italy in a 23-year-old motor-home called Lola. That’s where the comparison begins and ends, I’m certainly not the gifted seamstress Honor was and am not planning on becoming involved in the harbouring of runaway slaves.

The book is an inspiration at so many levels conveying the fervour surrounding abolition in America and the domestic details of Honor’s life far away from home and the drama she faced in her determination to help fugitive slaves.

Chevalier as always researches her subject meticulously, using for this novel on the Underground Railroad and abolition: The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom by Wilbur H. Siebert (1898) and on quilts and their fascinating history Quilts in Community: Ohio’s Traditions, edited by Ricky Clark (1991).  On my reading list when I return to Edinburgh after my travels.

The reason for my enthusiasm is because at long last I am going to be a grandmother. My son and daughter-in-law are expecting twins in June.  So Gangster Granny, I did take on her persona last year to raise money for charity during World Book Week, arriving at a DRB meeting at Tollcross complete with swag bag and gun (the potato variety}.

I heard the wonderful news just before leaving Edinburgh so decided to begin the Great Twins Quilt Project, not in the same league as the Great Scottish Tapestry but a labour of love none the less.  My neighbour in Edinburgh runs a company Tinker & Belle making children’s clothes from Liberty Tana Lawn fabric. I spent an evening over a glass of wine selecting designs from Gabby’s sample box what bliss.  I have now curt out 600 hexagons with a little help from Paisley Boy, maths is not my strong point, and am looking forward to a sample of this season’s Liberty children’s fabric based on Alice in Wonderland being sent to Florence for us when we arrive there in Feb.  Will keep you all posted of our adventures.

Next  DRB book club selection is Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Hariet Beecher Stowe, at end of Jan. check for date on our Facebook page. Happy reading.

Phase 1 of the Great Twins Quit Project

Phase 1 of the Great Twins Quit Project

Je Suis Charie

21 Jan

As we travel down through France on the first stage of our Grand Tour, this DRB and her travelling companion, Paisley Boy, who is so gallantly steering our 23-year-old mobile-home, Lola, into the sunset, we have nothing but admiration for the attitude of the French nation towards the recent horrific loss of lives in Paris. In every town and village we pass Je Suis Charlie posters are in evidence. A united dignified response to such a tragedy.

 A DRB on the raod with Lola

           A DRB on the road with Lola

Je Suis Charlie aside, we are continuing to look for statues of women as we travel south, heading for Italy on our Grand Tour.  One I particularly liked was the 19th century female mayor in the town of Caussades famous for hat making. Alas, not one to be purchased on the chilly Saturday in January we drove into town. They specialise in the straw variety, so not surprising.

Hats off to the Maire of Caussades

Next port of call was Montauban, birthplace of the prolific sculptor, Emile Antone Bourdelle (1861-1929). He won a scholarship, aged 24 years, to the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He was a pioneer of 20th century monumental sculpture and in 1893 he joined Rodin, who was a great admirer of his work, as his assistant.

I couldn’t resist saying hello to his statue of Penelope, wife of Odysseus in Greek mythology, who stands majestic outside the Tourist Office in the town.


Penelope was the daughter of Icarus, who went to fight in the Trojan War and didn’t return for 20 years.  She delayed marrying, one of her 108 suitors and has become a symbol of fidelity.

The story brings to mind a poem by Carol Ann Duffy, the first woman and first Scot to become a Poet Laureate in 2019 Mrs. Icarus from The World’s Wife:

“I’m not the first or the last to stand on a hillock,

Watching the man she married prove to the world

He’s a total, utter, absolute, Grade A pillock.”

My sincerest apologies to Penelope for being so disrespectful to her mother but I do so enjoy bringing attention to the world one of Scotland’s funniest poets.

When not precariously climbing up public monuments, Paisley Boy and his DRB companion are attempting to bring an appreciation of Sir Walter Scott to the French. We filled Lola with over 400 copies of Great Scott, the free booklet published to mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Waverley, and take every opportunity to give copies out.  So We will keep you posted as we meander towards Italy.

Great Scott delivered to free library in St. Aatinin-Noble-Val

Free library at St. Antonin-Noble=Val

Au Revoir until the next post  DRB on the road with Lola.

Season of Mists

26 Aug

For probably the first time in my life, I have made plans for the future and stuck to them.  Being away from  home  for six weeks this summer forced me to get organised. Not only did I schedule my blogs I also realised a little forward planning was necessary in order to be ready in the autumn to play my part in an exciting new project Breaking the Mould – Researching and Celebrating 100 years of Women’s History and Experiences in Scotland. I’m going for the mellow fruitfulness and not the season of mists, so set myself a few targets before I left.

breaking the mould

The DRBs  have joined forces with members of the Lothian  Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) Women’s Forum,  as part of a Heritage Lottery  funded project.

In Edinburgh we will be creating an Edinburgh Women’s Heritage Trail  to be completed by the spring of 2015.

The Call to Action, as mentioned in a previous blog on 21st. May states:

“We want to involve all sections of the community in this project; senior school pupils, members of community groups, political activists, historians, mothers, employed people and job-seekers.

We need to draw on your knowledge of the history of women in your community and  your enthusiasm for uncovering unsung heroines to bring this project to life.”

Carol Stobie

Carol Stobie

Our tutor Carol Stobie has organised a number of workshops in the autumn at  St. Augustine’s on George IV Bridge, to bring together the research materials and interviews  on which keen “mould breakers”  have been working during the summer.  No pressure there then for myself  who will not have access or support from my DRB colleagues for a few weeks.

 I will be attempting to find the odd internet cafe in the Greek Islands, but hope the work I did before I left, the continuation of which I have left in the capable hands of Lorraine Doig, will in some way compensate for my long indulgent holiday in the sun.

Our chosen field of research is Edinburgh female writers and artists from 1914 – 2014. We have set up a spread sheet divided into decades and in the autumn hopefully the real work will begin.

Nothing is achieved in my opinion without a little help from one’s friends.  And where best to start than The Glasgow Women’s Library

gwl logo

Before I left Edinburgh, I attended a number of events at Edinburgh Central Library Harpies, Fechters and Quines Festival  (9th – 21st. June).

The festival of talks, exhibitions and workshops is organised through a partnership between GWL, Edinburgh City Libraries and the Bonnie Fechters women’s history group.

For those of you who don’t know, a Bonnie Fechter is:  ” an intrepid fighter for a cause” ( The Concise Scots Dictionary Aberdeen University Press ). No coincidence that we are friends and all singing from the same hymn sheet.

When looking up Harpies and Quines, as a possible source of subject matter for our project, I found references to the feminist magazine founded by seven women living and working in Scotland, including the journalist and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch.  Harpies and Quines magazines were published in Scotland between  1992 and 1994.

Lesley Riddoch’s  book: Blossom – What Scotland Needs To Flourish  (Luath Press 2013), was stashed away in my ruck-sack as serious holiday reading, to help me make a more informed choice when voting on September 18th.

A David and Goliath  moment arose when the wee Scottish independent magazine hit the front page news when the glossy magazine  Harpers and Queen unsuccessfully sued  them because it objected to the name.


A couple of the talks of particular interest for the Breaking the Mould project were:  “No Wealth to Leave Us” A Matrilineal View of Scottish Women’s Writing,   by Scottish author and critic  Lesley McDowell  ( a full transcript of her talk can be found on her blog ).

Basically  the question Lesley was asking was: ” Where is the cannon of writing by women” ?

By looking at the past, the present and the future of Scottish women’s writing the talk gave a fascinating overview of what’s happened to our heritage.

Unsurprisingly, the Scottish tradition in literature has been both male generated and male fixated, particularly on Burns, Scott, Stephenson and MacDiarmid.

Speaking of our National Poet, I can never resist capturing an amusing or quirky take in my travels around the city. What caught my eye the other day was a very different looking Burns, staring down at me as I rushed  up the stairs in the  National Library of Scotland.


at the NLS 009

As part of The Hidden Library activities in June:  Knit the NLS  Kate Hendry,  resident artist at the library until August, gave the statue of Burns by John Tweed (1869-1933), a bit of a knit-over.  She also got her needles working on Thomas Carlyle (Boehm 1847).

Back to the subject in hand, Scottish women writers, and for my part, those with an Edinburgh connection in preparation for  our  Breaking the Mould:  Edinburgh Women’s Heritage Trail.

Thank you Lesley for giving me a starting point for my research, holiday reading.  The names of award winning writers in all genres, are now packed away in the filing cabinet of my brain, but also safely stored away electronically ready for action in the autumn . Some of  you wonderfully talented 20th century women must have lived, loved or worked in Edinburgh.

I would also have liked to pack Lesley’s :  ” Between the Sheets”  (Gerald Duckworth & C0.  2010)   but sadly no room so will have to wait until my return to find out if  she digs any dirt  about Edinburgh authors.

Between the Sheets

Also  120 Years  of Scottish Women Artists with Dr. Deborah Jackson, from Edinburgh College of Art, provided  food for thought in finding artists with a connection to Edinburgh for the Heritage Trail.  Her hugely enjoyable illustrated talk introduced students of Edinburgh College of Art including: Cecile Walton, Rachel McLean and Jessica Harrison. Jessica’s adaption of traditional female porcelain figures included this take on the meaning of  “coy”.

Coy by Jessica Harrison

Coy by Jessica Harrison

Finally, I met our colleagues at the National Library of Scotland from the Highlands WEA  ( 15th July 2014) when we were shown some of the suffrage archive material.

Our colleagues from the Highlands at the NLS

Our colleagues from the Highlands 

By sheer coincidence, it was the 150th birthday of  political activist Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the British Suffragette movement who campaigned to give women the right to vote.

 See  below Google’s birthday doodle  presented to the world on 15th July,  hooray.

Emmeline Pankhurst, suffragette leader, celebrated in Google doodle

The Bells are Ringing

12 Aug

After our Irish fling, we are now in Galloway for the wedding of Paisley Boy’s younger daughter, in the village of Parton on the banks of Loch Ken, so one of my preoccupations this week is weddings.

The Boy spent almost forty years in the area and the connection is historical. His Mother was a young Glasgow teacher during World War Two and during the height of the German bombing of Clydeside, all the city’s children were evacuated. She arrived in this quaint village with twenty Govan waifs and strays who were billeted in local homes. The school now had three teachers, so this then-unmarried Glaswegian taught all the infants, both evacuees and locals, in The Village Hall. Almost seventy five years later, this is the venue for the event.

In memory of their Mother, The Father of  The Bride and his brothers have presented an inscribed brass hand-bell to the Village Hall. The bell was possibly used by their Mother to summon the children into the hall. I may have to ring the bell to curtail the Father of  The Bride’s speech.


I hope back in  the city bells are ringing  for the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry currently on public display at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, in Edinburgh ( 6th August – 31st. August). I am taking this opportunity, a time of  personal celebration and joy, to share some of the tapestries which have been lovingly created by volunteer embroiders across the globe.


New Bride

New Bride


The words  of 21-year-old Alma Mir, written on a menu on the aeroplane that brought her to a new life in Glasgow state:

 “I am so full of enthusiasm at the thought of starting my new life facing challenges and experiences, and the love of Arif, who just three weeks ago was a stranger to me.”

Her husband was 30-year-old accounts clerk Arif Mir and as was the norm then, they met for the for the first time on their wedding day.

Happily the research carried out by relatives to work out if the two would be compatible proved to be spot on.   Four children later  Arif  still introduces his wife, who is a qualified teacher, as  “the most beautiful woman in the world.”

Continuing on the theme of the perfect match I’d like to share a German love story:

Necropolis Glasgow 095


During the Second  World War, Isabella from East Lothian fell in love with Helmut Joswig, a German prisoner of war. After his discharge in 1948 they married in Edinburgh moving to Germany in 1953.  At first a  life was difficult for them because nobody would rent a home to a former enemy, so Isabella and Helmut built their own, where Isabella still lives.  She has five children and seven grandchildren.

One of Scotland’s most famous couples, architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and artist Margaret McDonald, lived in the south of France at Port Vendres, towards the end of their lives.  A Mackintosh Trail celebrates his time and legacy in Roussillon.


The Mackintosh Trail

The Mackintosh Trail


Back home in Scotland, The Mackintosh Architecture exhibition at the Hunterian Art Gallery in Glasgow,  (from 18th July until 4th January 2015), charts the evolution of his iconic style and identifies previously unrecorded works.

The exhibition opened weeks after the fire at Glasgow School of Art which destroyed about 10 per cent of the building including the Mackintosh library.

On my return I will be interested to find out what a pair of ebonised oak chairs, dated from 1903, which Mackintosh made for Miss Cranston’s  Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow, went under the hammer for at auction in Edinburgh. They are valued at more than £10,000.

If a Mackintosh experience is what rocks your boat when saying:  ” I do ”   The House of an Art Lover  in Glasgow is the place for you.



As always I like to take every opportunity I can to remind my regular followers and to alert anybody reading this blog for the first time that the DRBs campaign to bring public awareness to four 19th century women whose campaigning bridged the gap between two world-changing protest movements: the emancipation of slaves and the fight for votes for women. ( download a free booklet: Women on the Platform from the sidebar).

Having spent the past year researching into the lives of our women, spending many hours looking at  personal letters and manuscripts in the  National Library of Scotland  I believe I am even more in awe of their many and varied achievements.

As weddings are this week’s theme, what may I ask were the marriage prospects for women in the 19th century?

Eliza Wigham never married, however, the other three all did, despite some opposition from the Society of Friends, the Quaker movement to which they all belonged.

What I had not realised, but now seems obvious, is that many women died in childbirth 150 years ago , so second and third marriages for the men was not unusual.

Jane Smeal married John Wigham after the death of his first wife. He was a prominent abolitionist and a leader of the Edinburgh Emancipation Society. She became step-mother to Eliza Wigham and they lived at 5 South Grey Street.

Pricialla Bright initially missed out on her own family life because she kept house for her brother, John . However when he remarried she accepted a suitor she had turned down before, the twice widowed  Duncan McLaren, Lord Provost of Edinburgh and then Liberal Member of Parliament in 1865.  She was disowned by the Society of Friends  for making this choice, although she still attended Quaker meetings.

They were considered by contemporaries as  “equal partners” working together on many campaigns.  They had three children and lived in Newington House in Edinburgh.

Elizabeth Pease also had to leave the Society of Friends because she married  Dr. John Pringle Nichol, a Professor of Astronomy at the University of Glasgow, who was a Presbyterian.

All strong minded women, who in all aspects of their lives, including who they chose to marry, are for me role models for future generations of women.  And that is precisely why as DRBs we feel passionate about making sure that these unsung heroines of Scottish history are remembered.

On a more frivolous note, I have rushed out to buy a copy of  Julia Donaldson’s latest children’s book:  The Scarecrow’s  Wedding  as an extra wedding present.

Julia, creator of the Gruffalo, who has recently moved from city life in Glasgow to village life in southern England, was at the Edinburgh Book Festival last week, performing some of her favourite picture books.  Sadly I was unable to be there to ask Julia to sign a copy for the newly weds.



The Scarecrow's wedding


The bride is a Norland-trained nanny, so I’m sure she will see the humour in the children’s story and not think I am implying that she is planning to spend the rest of her life with a scarecrow.


Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Darwell

Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Darwell















The Italian Job

5 Aug


Over forty years ago I came up from London to my native land to help set up Shelter Scotland, the housing charity, in Edinburgh. At that time, to my knowledge, there was only one pizza oven in the city at Valvona & Crolla on Elm Row, the Italian Deli we visited on pay-day to sample  their delicious take-away pizzas. Little did I imagine that I would return to a city awash with all things that Italians do best; ice-cream, fish suppers, pizza parlours, glorious restaurants, and bars selling  Peroni,  Prosecco, and Aperol cocktails.


Salute ... on Portobello Beach

Salute … on Portobello Beach


Suffice to say that my romance with Italy and, of course, Edinburgh  has had a long and eventful  history.

Retiring here two years ago, my first night was spent in Hotel Missoni on George IV Bridge. If you were given the choice of a double room in the youth hostel at the top of Leith Walk or a room in the elegant Hotel Missoni for almost the same price, what would you do?   We even got an upgrade because I just happened to be wearing a Missoni coat (second- hand, you understand).

It will  therefore be no surprise to learn that when visiting  the World Premier of the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry at the 3 Harbours Arts Festival, held in Prestonpans Community Centre  in June, my attention was immediately drawn to the Italian section. The exhibition comes to Edinburgh between 6th and 31st August at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, where you will be able to see, in all their stitched beauty, the Italian tapestries depicting Scotland’s historical links with Italy.


Barga the most Scottish town in Italy

Barga, the most Scottish town in Italy


Today, around two thirds of the population of this small community in Tuscany have relatives resident in Scotland.  The town is host to an annual Scotland Week, which includes a fish and chip festival and various music events which attract many Scottish visitors. Famous Italian-Scots descended from the town include classical violinist Nicola Benedetti who will be performing at the Queen’s Hall as part of  The Edinburgh International Festival. Born in West Kilbride in Ayrshire, she is proud of her Italian roots and supports a scholarship for postgraduate Italian studies in Scotland. Another is Paisley-born Paolo Nutini, on stage at Glastonbury 2014, who was awarded a St. Christopher Medal by the town of Barga for his work in raising its profile abroad.

The first emigrants in the 1860s from Barga were statue makers, travelling across Europe to Scotland with barrows of moulds, plaster and paint. This gave them the means to earn a living by casting religious statuettes.  Trade for such iconography was limited so some of the more enterprising workers painted the saints to look more like John Knox, or Giuseppe Garibaldi for the Protestants (though why, I do not understand) or St. Patrick for the Catholics.

Moving on in time  the workers became  ice cream or fish and chip sellers, with many family-run businesses still flourishing today. For a more detailed overview of  the Italian-Scots, and the part women played in keeping  family businesses thriving over the decades, go the the National Library of Scotland archives for information about their exhibition “A Century of the Italian Community in Scotland”  which was held in 1991.


Fish and Chip and Ice Cream Shops

Fish and Chips and Ice Cream 


The  brands that have survived are testaments to their family’s sacrifice, hard work and integrity.  In the Edinburgh area, the firms of S Luca  and Di Rollo in Musselburgh, and Valvona & Crolla with various urban outlets, are all worth visiting.

In fact, after taking American students from Wisconsin University, Megan and Sierra and their tutor Dr. Kathy Callaghan, who were based at Dalkeith Palace  this summer studying Scottish History, to see the tapestry, it would have been rude not to introduce them to  the delights of Italian-Scottish ice-cream at Luca’s.

DRBs  Lorraine Doig and myself  went to Dalkeith Palace recently to give a talk about our exhibition held at the Museum of  Edinburgh : Women on the Platform  ( a  free booklet can be downloaded from the sidebar) and share experiences with our sisters from across the pond.


An ice cream at S Luca's

An ice cream at Luca’s


The picture below was a late entry to the exhibition, relevant to this post, and illustrating the fact that there are still tapestries finding their way back to the homeland.


Just One Cornetto

Just One Cornetto


Despite not being particularly fond of ice-cream, a visit to Musselburgh on a cold and wet Sunday afternoon in February, during my first winter back in the old country, was full of surprises. Firstly, there was actually a queue of people outside Luca’s, obviously a Scottish Sunday afternoon tradition. Also I was persuaded to purchase a second ice-cream from Di Rollo,  to compare tastes and not because I was in desperately in need of more cold confectionery. However, I was  happy to be supporting a shop established in 1899 bearing a woman’s name on the shop front. Locals have split loyalties to each establishment and it would be partisan of me to reveal which product I preferred. Test them yourselves.


Di Rollo ice cream



Whilst I am away travelling this summer, I will be posting regular blogs using the Diaspora Tapestry as my theme, choosing a couple each week  which have inspired me to find out more about the rich and varied stories behind the beautiful tapestries.

For the past two years volunteers in twenty five countries around the world have been stitching their stories of their Scottish roots as part of Scotland’s Year of Homecoming 2014



As explained in the excellent exhibition booklet: “Understanding their Journey: What the Tapestry can teach us.”  by Fiona and Arran Johnston  (Prestoungrange University Press):

“This tapestry transcends national boundaries by celebrating and recording the heritage and achievements of individuals and communities of Scottish descent across the globe….. It reaches beyond the symbolic tartan trappings of visual identity and shines a light on personal experiences and human stories.”

Do take the opportunity to visit and form your own bond with this splendid living, breathing work of art.


edinburgh book Festival


Unable to attend  this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival (9th- 25th August), don’t feel too sorry for me; I’m island-hopping in Greece with my Kindle and an infamous Panama-hatted  Paisley Boy as companions.

Curious to know what I might be missing I sat up into the wee sma’ hours for several nights creating  my wish-list. I should however, have been  learning Greek  (How to Speak Greek in 6 weeks from the  Oxfam second-hand bookshop in Raeburn Place), or planning how to get shoes,books (just in case the Kindle dies on me) and the insect repellent into a rucksack that complies with budget airlines weight requirements.

I’d loved to have seen the groundbreaking theatre commission:  Letters Home – A verbal and musical journey around Charlotte Square. Working in partnership with the multi-award winning promenade theatre company Grid Iron, the festival has commissioned four writers to produce brand new pieces of  short fiction, each of which takes the form of letters.

The writers are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, best-selling author of ” Half of a Yellow Sun” , Kei Miller, the acclaimed Glasgow-based Jamacian-born poet, Kamila Shamsie, a Pakistani-British author, and Christos Tsiolkas, the Australian author of the best-selling novel: ” The Slap”.

Free events include:

Ten at Ten, a chance to join one of the Festival authors each morning for a reading.  Possibly worth getting out of bed early each morning  to soak in the atmosphere with a first cup of  coffee ?

Aminsty International   Amnesty  International  Imprisoned Writers Series –  Each day tribute will be paid to writers who have been persecuted for their words, thoughts and opinions.

I would not have been able to resist  (Saturday 9th)  Sue Lawrence – A Commonwealth of Cookery :

What does Scottish food have in common with baking in other Commonwealth countries ?   According to acclaimed cookery writer Sue Lawrence, coconutty shortbread in the Caribbean, Cape Brandy pudding in South Africa  and Homespun Pie in Canada are strikingly similar to Scottish favourites.

I’ll be  feasting on delicious Greek yogurt and honey and the Paisley Boy on baklava, as there  most certainly will not be room in the rucksack for Tunnocks caramel wafers, Jaffa Cakes, or Scottish shortbread.

I’m sure my fellow DRBs will be out and about enjoying Festival events and will keep me posted on my return.

     Buona Giornata!


Henry Dundas – lofty hero or lowlife crook?

2 Aug

Henry Dundas – lofty hero or lowlife crook?.

The Migration Quilt

29 Jul

Meet the multi-talented Catriona  Taylor and her magnificent  Migration Quilt.

I met her at a conference:  The Global Migration of the Scottish People since c. 1600, held at The National Museum of Scotland  in partnership with the Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies at Edinburgh University. ( 4th – 6th July).

A Diaspora Exhibition – Flow – on modern Polish immigration to Scotland was available throughout the conference. Catriona, who was Leverhulme Artist in Residence at the Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies from 2012-13 designed the exhibition which included  the  film Flow and  the  Migration Quilt.

The film is about movement, flow and journeys of people across Europe. Catriona  took her inspiration from an Art and Immigration group she ran as part of her research.  She also travelled across Europe by train visiting Warsaw, Krakow and to south west Poland to film some of the landscape.



Catriona Taylor with the Migration Quilt

Catriona Taylor with the Migration Quilt


The quilt with the theme of ” Home ” was created using pieces of cloth and keepsakesobjects that mainly Polish people had brought with them to remind them of home.

Catriona  asked everyone she interviewed  to give her an image for the quilt which have either been printed or sewn directly onto this truly remarkable quilt.

Her research  took her to a Polish Mass at one of the largest  churches in Edinburgh that conducts mass in Polish, where a priest read out a description of the quilt and she was able to talk to some of the congregation.

She also worked with pupils in a multi-cultural school in Edinburgh and a Polish school in the Borders.

Her travels led her to realise that she needed to include people from other ethnicities, therefore the  finished quilt has images from many countries.

Catriona graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2005 and gained an MFA from Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee in 2012.

She has had several solo exhibitions, was artist in residence at the National Library of Scotland, and has been commissioned to make a number of films including  Flow, which was shown during the conference.


Meet Saskia Tepe,  great grand-daughter of a  Holocaust survivor.


Saskia Tepe

Saskia Tepe


I was lucky enough to meet her in person when she was visiting the finished quilt for the first time, at the conference. We  got chatting and she was able to tell me the very moving  family story of how her mother, Brigitte, survived the holocaust.

The words printed on the quilt read:   “The brooch was originally bought in Czechoslovakia  for my great-great Grandmother’s trousseau. It was bestowed on her only daughter and then it in turn to her only son, my Grandfather Rudolf who gave it to his bride Paula. She died of Spanish flu in 1918. My mother sewed it into her coat lining before she managed to escape from the train that was taking her to Auschwitz. She survived another two years in a concentration camp before coming to Scotland.”


The precious brooch

The precious brooch


Saskia has recently published a book:  “Surviving Brigitte’s Secrets”  telling the  true story of how Saskia’s mother survived the holocaust, as well as her own experiences as the child of a holocaust survivor and as a refugee in a Displaced Persons Camp in post war Germany in circumstances that will intrigue and inspire. (available in Paperback from Amazon and also in e-book format) . She is also a fellow blogger Surviving Brigitte’s Secrets .

We exchanged cards and I’m sure Saskia will now be taking a keen interest in our campaign to commemorate our four 19th century female activists, ( for more information download our free booklet  from the sidebar ): Women on the Platform . 

I now have my very own signed copy of her book which I will be taking on holiday with me, so to hell with travelling light with only a  Kindle.


Meet  Dr. Myrasdlava Dzikovska –  The Cutlery and Pillowcase story: 


Myraslava views her story on the quilt

Myraslava views her story on the quilt


Myraslava is a Research Fellow at the School of Informatics, at The University of Edinburgh.  She originally comes from Luvi, Ukraine and came to Scotland in 2014.

She told Catronia that when her mother was moving to the USA, it was a time of real hardship in Ukraine. Her mother worked as a university tutor earning the equivalent of 70 dollars a month. She had to focus on the practical rather than the sentimental and so took pans and cutlery as she wasn’t sure that she would have enough money to buy them in America.

Maraslava also gave Catronia a pillow case which had been adapted by her Mother for her daughter to wear as a dress at her school ball.

This is one of the stories printed on the quilt.  Catriona  felt the pillow case itself seemed to have so much history that she:  ” didn’t feel I could print anything on it in case I ruined it, so I used it to decorate the quilt instead.”


The Pillowcase Story

The Pillowcase Story



Meet Isabella Brodzinka, Chairperson, for the last 16 years, of the Polish Scottish Association which was set up by Jean Davidson, a Polish soldier’s wife, 45 years ago.


Izabella Brodzinska

Izabella Brodzinka


Izabella came to Scotland after the Second World War to  join her father who came as a soldier in the Polish Army. General Maczek became a barman in The Learmonth Hotel and in Polish clubs.

She kindly posed for a photograph next to the Polish Folk Art  illustration which she gave to Catriona to decorate  the quilt.

I’d love to share all the stories on the quilt; however here are just couple more I found most evocative of the feelings and emotions that inhabit this artistic representation of Migration.


Jozef Grekoziak's Glasses

Jozef Grekoziak’s Glasses

Jozef Grekoziak was an officer in the Polish Army. After the war the occupying Russians shot all the officers. Josef managed to escape to England and stayed until the 1970’s. His wife who was pregnant and his other two children were taken to a prison in Siberia. His wife and baby son died  there.

Locket given by Piotr Kulski:

Piotr's locket

Piotr’s locket

Piotr  said: ” I got it from my mum when I went to Iraq and as a man I have never worn it, but I kept it in my wallet and carried it with me. My wife doesn’t understand why we took it with us here. Now it is hanging in our bedroom and reminds us about relatives we left in our homeland and determines our roots.”

This resonated with my own story in terms of  retiring to Scotland  two years ago and leaving my children and friends behind. I’ve returned to the country in which I was born, and what hangs in my Edinburgh bedroom are reminders of the life I’ve left behind.

If you are reading this, my lovely children, don’t worry that  I’m about to post incriminating photos of you on this blog; suffice to say, thanks for the memories.

One of the non-Polish contributions printed onto the  quilt was  from Scotland’s first black professor, Sir Geoff Palmer,  who was born in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica in 1940, joining his mother who had emigrated to London when he was 14 years old.

He supplied a receipt for a small annual tax which a member of his family paid for Marshalls Pen, in the parish of Manchester, Jamaica.  The small piece of red dirt family land was passed down from a slave called Henry, to Geoff’s family after the abolition of slavery.





A man of many talents, see my blog  12th June : Should auld acquaintence be forgot  ,  at the launch of  the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry at the 3 Harbours  Art Festival  in June,  the tapestries of Jamaica stitched by Geoff and his daughter were on display.


Sir Geoff Palmer stitched by his daughter Dr. Suzie Palmer Mitchell

Sir Geoff Palmer by his daughter Dr. Suzie Palmer Mitchell


If you haven’t yet seen the  Scottish Diaspora Tapestry it will in Edinburgh during the Festival  at  St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, (6th – 31st August ) and  thereafter  travelling to other venues in  Scotland .


Finally, in a few words, the image on the quilt that captures the heart of the matter:

“I brought to Scotland my bare hands to start all over again.”


global migration conference 027


This amazing piece of visual history should not be hidden away, like so many of the stories now brought alive, up front and personal, in the Migration Quilt. They  deserve a wider audience.

Let’s hope a public exhibition space can be found somewhere in Scotland, preferably near Edinburgh, so I can visit with my friends and DRB colleagues in the not-too-distant future.


 Home Wanted?

Home Wanted?

Drawing Support

22 Jul

My holiday plans have taken on a whole new meaning since I made the decision to keep in touch with you all by preparing my weekly blogs in advance, scheduled to be published over the summer as a way of saying Hi whilst I’m island-hopping in Greece. If I can cope with the technology and actually find an internet cafe I might even post the odd photo. Researching during the wee small hours I have found so many fascinating stories I’d like to share with you.


Anti- War mural in Belfast

Anti- War mural in Belfast based on Picasso’s Guernica 1939.

A trip to Northern Ireland at the end of July, prior to our Greek Odyssey,  prompted a kind neighbour, Irish by birth, to introduce us to  “Drawing Support“, a book by Bill Rolston about the Murals in the North of Ireland. Although I was aware of their existence and the powerful impact public art has both politically and culturally, I wasn’t aware just how explicit they have been in bringing to the attention of the world the troubles in Northern Ireland as seen by both sides. In the introduction Rolston explains that the murals act as a sort of barometer of political ideology. “Not only do they articulate what republicanism or loyalism stand for in general, but manifestly or otherwise, they reveal the current status of each of these political beliefs.” The Loyalist murals have a history from the  start of the 20th century; the authorities very quickly erased the nationalist murals prior to the 1980s.  However, their explosion in the 1980s exemplified a growing confidence in the nationalist community.


Early Loyalist mural depicting King Billy

Early Loyalist mural depicting King Billy


Humour in the face of adversity was used during the height of the bombing campaign when a Londonderry/Derry wag wrote:  “Buy early, while shops last.” Followers of this blog will be aware that visiting any new city, I attempt to find any form of public commemoration of women.   My search more often than not comes to the same conclusion: we are outnumbered by the guys. Belfast is no exception; however, it is worth taking a brief look back at the murals,  a few examples follow:


Resistance Brings Freedom


This Free Marian Price mural was unveiled  on the 40th anniversary of Marire Drunm (WP) and the women of Belfast breaking the British army curfew.


Holy Cross School


A mural in 2001-2002 remembering the Holy Cross dispute between parents of the Catholic primary school. And finally a picture taken on a black taxi tour of the murals. I am hoping to take a few of my own for the blog when visiting Belfast this summer. We also hope to take a open-top bus tour of the city but are told that on the way to Stormont, the route involves the bus speeding down the motorway at high speed. If Paisley Boy has taken to wearing a wig by then, I shall  encourage him to leave it at the Youth Hostel.


Black taxi Tour

Black taxi Tour


Belfast today paints a more positive and hopeful picture to the world :


Beacon of Hope

Beacon of Hope


This £300,000 public art work, sculpted by Andy Scott  (2007)  in Thanksgiving Square, has been given several nicknames –  Beacon of Hope,  Nuala with the Hula, the Belle on the Ball and the Thing with the Ring.

In terms of keeping our eye on the ball, the DRBs take every opportunity to gain public  support and funding in order to commemorate our four 19th century Edinburgh Quaker women, whose campaigning bridged the gap between two world-changing protest movements: the emancipation of slaves and the fight for votes for women. For more information download our free booklet: Women on the Platform from this blog. And if you have the odd £300.000 to spare give us a call.

Another  public art work I will be taking a look at is The Monument to the Unknown Worker (1992), in Great Victoria Street,  by Irish  sculptor Louise Walsh.


Monument to the unknown worker Belfast

Monument to the unknown worker Belfast


The original commission by the Department of the Environment was to reflect the nearby Amelia Street’s history as a Red-light district. Walsh disagreed and changed the focus to women’s rights issues and low-paid jobs and unpaid housework.  Well done Louise; glad you stuck to your principles in the face of opposition.

The question has often been posed in the press :  “Would you prefer to see a famous general on a plinth or a nurse? Should statues evoke British glories of the past or highlight the local heroes of the present day?

I think I will be forced to retreat to a recommended Irish bar, The Crown Liquor Saloon, with Paisley Boy to pass judgement over a pint or two of  Guinness.


Finally this week’s  wish list in the Festival bag :

festival bag


I’ve chosen from the  Edinburgh International Festival  programme: The World Premiere of  The  James Plays  by Rona Munro, from the National Theatre of Scotland and National Theatre of Great Britain.  (various dates from 10th August).

If you have the stamina to watch all three on the same day, I believe it adds a certain resonance to the experience.   I managed  Shakespeare’s  Henrys  at the National in London, with my hero Michael Gambon  playing Falstaff, many years ago, and despite a slightly stiff neck it was one of my most memorable theatrical experiences.

The  history of  the Stuart kings is of special significance to the DRBs  because the orginial Damned Rebel Bitches group  formed in the 1990s named themselves after the Duke of Cumberland’s description of female Jacobites.

James I: “The Key Shall Keep the Lock”, James II:” Day of the Innocents” and James III : ” The True Mirror”.

The programme  states:  “Each play stands alone as a unique vision of a country tussling with its past and its future; viewed together they create a complex and compelling narrative on Scottish culture and nationhood full of playful wit and boisterous theatricality.”





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