Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Aye...that Ae Fond Kiss

Happy Burns Day! 

Since I was writing a post for another BLOG  today, on Burns Day, it seems very relevant, to me, to write a similar post for my own blog. I've written before on Nancy's Novels about Burns poetry and songs, HERE for example, but I don't think I've yet properly included the poem Ae Fond Kiss. 

One of a pair of inherited Burns plates. 
My dad was inclined to sing the songs of Robert Burns at any time, when the mood took him, but more so at New Year and around Burns Day. His very fine tenor voice contrasted so well with my mum’s equally fine contralto, their duets being highly popular during 'family and friends' gatherings. They each had their Burns favourites but it was Mum who remembered all of the words whereas Dad would hum till he got back on track. ( I definitely take after my father in that!)

Some Burns songs are lively and humorous but most of them are slow and heartrending—love songs and laments—mirroring Burns somewhat busy and very complicated love life as he fell in and out of love with one lass or another.

Burns was one who had an ‘eye for the ladies’ during his short life (he died in 1796 aged just 37) and some would probably be justified to say he couldn't 'keep his pants' zipped- this at a time when fashion didn't include a zipper! He had many relationships which resulted in a lot of children, some legitimate during his marriage to Jean Armour, though others were not. Yet, whether the relationship was fleeting, or long lasting, his praise of his lovers in poetry and song is legendary. 
My copy owned since 1970.

There are also many poems and songs which are said to be about non-consummated, wishful thinking relationships. Ae Fond Kiss is one the most famous of this category. It's about his passionate, said to be unrequited, relationship with a married woman named Agnes Craig MacLehose—known as Nancy to her friends—though separated from her husband by the time of their meeting.  Her life story is worth reading but in relation to Burns she met him in Dec 1787, when she was 29, he 28.

Having married the dissolute and mentally abusive James MacLehose when she was 17, Agnes produced four children in the four years after their marriage but had left him shortly before the birth of their fourth child. By 1787, when she met Robert Burns, she had been separated from James MacLehose for 7 years, though was no recluse. She was living in Edinburgh and reasonably well known in society when she heard of the fledgling poet Robert Burns. Burns had, in fact, been writing poetry for more than a decade by then but was becoming more renowned and feted in Edinburgh society after his first collection of poems was first published in 1786. Agnes was determined to meet this ‘talk of the town’ Robert Burns and organised, via a friend of hers, to be at a gathering which was attended by Robert Burns. (There are many sites on the internet with plentiful details of this first meeting.)
From my Burns edition -Collins publisher, ed. James Barke

When Burns met Agnes MacLehose, he was (technically) unmarried but had already seduced many women, had short term relationships and professed love for many others. Elizabeth Paton, his mother's servant at Mossgiel, gave birth to his first child (illegitimate), also named Elizabeth, in 1785. (As far as I know, this is the first documented bastard child) 

Shortly after his daughter Elizabeth's birth in May of 1785, Burns met Jean Armour, daughter of a local stonemason in nearby Mauchline. They had a complicated relationship from then on. Burns penned a statement attesting to a marriage with Jean Armour but her father tore it up- an unofficial marriage he would not acknowledge. The relationship was on a rocky footing from that point on but Jean Armour gave birth to twins in Sept. 1786 - named Robert and Jean.  

Being in and out of love continued to be the trend for Burns during the period between Sept. 1785 and 1787 and this brings us back to Agnes MacLehose. On Dec 4th 1787, he met her in Edinburgh. As well as having physical attributes that Burns was drawn to, ‘a comely bosom and big round eyes’, he also deeply admired that she was well-informed, could maintain a fine conversation and was said to also be skilled in penning poetry. For a woman to be so educated at this time was unusual. On December 7th 1787, Burns dislocated his knee during a carriage accident and could not get about as he might otherwise have done but not idle he took to penning a lot of letters.

During the ensuing three month period, Dec 1787- Feb 1788, Burns wrote some 50 letters to Agnes MacLehose but since she was still deemed to be married they chose to give themselves pseudonyms so he was Sylvander and she Clarinda. Ae Fond Kiss is about Clarinda. Consummated, or not, the relationship according to his letters and poems was a passionate one. 
Clarinda memorial -Wikimedia Commons 

You'll find a good article about them here: 

But all is not fair in love and war and Burns' relationship with Agnes MacLehose was also frustrating. It's thought that since Agnes would not allow the relationship to become physical, Burns turned some of his attention to her domestic servant Jenny Clow, who as a result bore him a son in Nov. 1788.

His love life already very complicated,  Burns reunited with Jean Armour in Feb 1788 and set up house with her, publicly testifying they were man and wife. Unsurprisingly Jean gave birth to twin girls on March 3rd, the babes having been conceived sometime the previous early summer though they only survived a short time. Over the years, Burns wrote beautiful songs and poems in praise of Jean Armour who bore him nine children, though only three survived into adulthood. 

But, again, back to Clarinda.

It got to me, every time, when my dad sang Ae Fond Kiss. At one particular point, his glance would seek me out wherever I was in the room and it’s a fatherly gesture I’ll never forget. If you read the lyrics below, you’ll guess at which point that was!

I think this is one of the best recent renditions. Robyn Stapleton has the most beautiful clear voice and my dad would have LOVED to hear this version.

Ae Fond Kiss by Robert Burns

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Ae farewell, and then forever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee.
Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerfu’ twinkle lights me,
Dark despair around benights me.

I’ll ne’er blame my partial fancy,
Naething could resist my Nancy!
But to see her was to love her,
Love but her, and love forever.
Had we never lo’vd sae kindly,
Had we never lo’vd sae blindly,
Never met—or never parted—
We had ne’er been broken hearted.

Fare-thee-weel, thou first and fairest!
Fare-thee-weel, thou best and dearest!
Thine be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure!
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Ae farewell, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee.

This one, by Andy Stewart,  is more like the versions I grew up with and I still have a vinyl copy of it in one of my cupboards.

Once again - Happy Burns Day!

P.S. Eddie Reader is pretty good, too!,_Canongate_Kirkyard.jpg

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Spelt -acular!


Last week I wrote an article about a local Aberdeenshire farmer growing a field of Spelt, a forerunner of wheat.(post of 15th January 2017). Yesterday, my husband acquired some of the Spelt stoneground flour from the Green Grocer's shop in Inverurie, our local county town.

The packet states: "Spelt...An ancient relative of modern wheat. A true 'Wholegrain' high in nutrients, protein, and vitamin B, our Spelt is grown on our Family Farm in Aberdeenshire and Stoneground at Golspie Mill (Sutherland), the only remaining traditional water powered mill in mainland Scotland.

Today, along with my little helper- as in my not quite 3 year old grandson - we made our first attempts to bake with it. Rather than plunging in immediately to make bread, I decided to make scones. I googled for a recipe but didn't have exactly the same ingredients so I invented/ adapted from a basic scone recipe..

The recipe I used-

280g spelt flour
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
100g soft butter (room temperature)
1tsp vanilla essence
1tbsp raw honey
150 ml milk
120g raisins (could be dates  or other dried fruit)
30 g extra flour (this could be oatmeal)

preheat oven to 200 deg centigrade
combine flour, baking powder ad cinnamon
rub in the soft butter
add the dried fruit
combine the vanilla, honey and milk and to dry ingredients to form a soft sticky dough
use half of the extra flour and heap on board
top this flour with the dough
add the remaining flour to the top of the dough and press down gently until dough is about 2.5 cm thick
cut into rounds (I managed 8)
place onto lined baking tray
bake for approx 20 mins till golden

And how did they do?
My scones didn't rise much and I added too much extra flour at the flattening stage. Next time I'll try it with oatmeal. However, they were very soft inside and very tasty with less of the dryness of some flours.

Since I had flour left on the board I decided to use it and not waste it: the easiest recipe being pancakes of the crepes type.

Total flour used was 125g; 4 fluid oz milk and 1 egg.

They looked a bit like chapattis when just cooked but tasted delicious when they were served warm with some butter (jam or honey), a sprinkling of icing sugar and a dollop of frozen vanilla yoghurt.

My granddaughter demolished them when she came home from school, so I'm guessing they were worth the effort!

They weren't our healthiest snack but just fine for a special occasion.


Thursday, 19 January 2017

Roadkill by Marcia Woolf

It's a beautiful frosty Thursday Morning in my part of the world. I hope there's something lovely where you are, too.  

I'm keeping to plan and trying to write a short review of books read because I know just how much it means to me when someone posts a review of any of my novels. The contemporary mystery I've just finished reading is by Marcia Woolf. Although Marcia is a +Crooked Cat Publishing  author I don't know much about her, but I can now say she writes some very witty turns of phrase. 

Roadkill by Marcia Woolf 

This was an exciting ‘cop’ novel full of interesting developments and themes that might, in other circumstances, be regarded as controversial. It’s a witty read that flows beautifully. The different points of view ( 1st person and, I think, omniscient) had me wondering at first but I got used to the switch between what was happening in the ‘cop shop’ in general as opposed to the room that ‘Cookie’ was inhabiting. The twists and turns of the story are numerous and it was a fun ride to the end.
BTW- I’m still a bit unclear of Jack Garrity’s dodgy involvements, though maybe that’s for another time?
I love the character of D.C.I Sullivan and want to read more of him.

I thoroughly recommend this novel and I gave it 5 * on Amazon and Goodreads. 


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Roadkill by Marcia Woolf

Another recently read book!

Roadkill by Marcia Woolf 

This was an exciting ‘cop’ novel full of interesting developments and themes that might, in other circumstances, be regarded as controversial. It’s a witty read that flows beautifully. The different points of view ( 1st person and, I think, omniscient) had me wondering at first but I got used to the switch between what was happening in the ‘cop shop’ in general as opposed to the room that ‘Cookie’ was inhabiting. The twists and turns of the story are numerous and it was a fun ride to the end.
BTW- I’m still a bit unclear of Jack Garrity’s dodgy  involvements,  though maybe that’s for another time?
I love the character of D.C.I Sullivan and want to read more of him.

I'll just go off and read a bit more, now.


The Ashentilly Letters by Yvonne Marjot

Wednesday Review Update!

I am slowly adding more to my current writing but I'm also managing to read some fiction in between the non-fiction researching that I find totally compulsive. I'm also a little preoccupied with politics just now but being from Scotland that means it's about Brexit rather than the incoming Trump administration in the U.S. 

So, to the first review of the most recent fiction that I've read.  It's contemporary and published by Crooked Cat, the author being Yvonne Marjot. 

The Ashentilly Letters. 

I looked forward to part 3 of Cas Longmore’s story, having really enjoyed reading Books 1 & 2 of the series. The author’s excellent use of description continues, the geographical setting changing from Mull, Scotland, to New Zealand. The ties of home and family are more complex at this stage of Cas’ life and, indeed, she has to decide where ‘home’ actually is. Her loyalty to her grandparents is admirable but it comes with some very sad aspects. The author’s portrayal of the issues that must be overcome regarding Cas’ frail and aging grandparents is very realistic and believable- the continuation of Cas’ character development very well done! I was glad to read on and find that happiness was also there in New Zealand for Cas- meeting the new character named Collie was a pleasure!

The archaeological connection is covered differently in Book 3 from Books 1 & 2. In the first two books, the characters—Sam and archaeologist Niall—are actively involved in the ‘digs’ and are sharing the developments with Cas as they unfold. In Book 3 Sam is sharing ‘dig’ information via his letters to Cas, sent to New Zealand. Much as I loved the information that the letters contained, the author’s inclusion of this mechanism slowed down the pace for me. I hope, though, that anyone interested in learning a bit about Roman Scotland history will enjoy the read.


I'll be posting the next book that I've read very soon - Roadkill by Marcia Woolf - and it's very different from TheAshentilly Letters. 


Sunday, 15 January 2017

#Spelt Ancient and Modern in #Scotland

What did the local tribes of north east Scotland eat that General Gnaeus Julius Agricola might have wanted?

My studies of Roman Scotland continue and for my current novel I’m interested in anything that might shed light on the natural resources which General Agricola might have wanted to acquire from northern Britannia to add to the massive stocks of the Roman Empire.

Every day, I pop in a Google search for some particular thing which leads on to other interesting snippets. Occasionally that happens when I read a newspaper article, though that doesn’t happen so often. Yesterday, was one of those moments when I’d covered the main news section of my local newspaper The Press and Journal and I flicked to the next, the farming section, which yesterday was substantial. Normally, I admit to not reading that section but the word spelt jumped out at me.
Wikimedia Commons

Spelt? The only time I’ve seen that word used has been in an archaeological setting. I know it as the name of a cereal crop that was grown by Late Iron Age/Celtic farmers of 2000 years ago.

The Press and Journal article is about that ancient grain!

Quote from the article written by Erika Hay - “An ancient grain grown in Scotland up to 9,000 years ago has made a reappearance on an Aberdeenshire farm.”

The spelt crop was grown by a farmer, John Sorrie, near Inverurie which is only about 5 miles from where I live. If I had known that he was growing that in 2016, I’d have been knocking on his door and asking to take some photographs. John Sorrie’s field of spelt was the only spelt grown in Scotland in 2016, him having sourced the seed from outwith the UK.

So, why did he choose to grow this crop? Spelt is a genetic precursor to wheat but it has some 16% protein and is high in water-soluble gluten, which makes it easier to digest that modern wheats. It grows well in harsher situations and is very drought resistant. The seed is protected by a hard outer husk which makes it naturally resistant to insect damage, so sprays were kept to a minimum.

The fact that the seed has a very hard shell is possibly why the type of wheat went out of favour with farmers because threshing is more difficult and more time consuming. Mr. Sorrie built a special machine to gently rub the seed against a mesh to knock off the husk. He particularly chose the only commercial water-powered mill at Golspie, Sutherland, for the milling process to grind his spelt into wholemeal flour. This method of milling between granite wheels powered by water does not pulverise the grains so more of the nutritional factor remains at the end of the process. Since the yield is high and there is virtually no waste Mr. Sorrie has enough ground spelt to last for a couple of years selling to a niche market in local outlets like his farm shop called ‘The Greengrocer’ in Inverurie.

Come autumn of 2017, he plans to use his own stored grain to sow a new crop for harvesting in 2018.

Wikimedia Commons
I believe that General Gnaeus Julius Agricola (the farmer) would have been very interested in every scrap of grain that could have been extracted from Aberdeenshire during his short occupation of the area back in approximately AD 84. Who he would have used to farm the spelt is an interesting question, though, since Tacitus (if he is to be believed) claims that after the battle he named as Mon Graupius the surviving tribesmen had fled to the mountains of the Caledons.

Tacitus wrote that Agricola was in the north east of Britannia 'late in the campaign season' . That sounds maybe too late to harvest the crop of that year, but would Agricola have used his own troops to till the fields, and sow new spelt seed? Would the troops have lingered long enough to scythe down the crop when it harvested the following summer? After which the husks would have needed to be separated by hand and the resulting seed ground between quern stones, probably made of granite as have been found in the area?

Or would any native tribesmen (later named as Taexali by Ptolemy around AD 130-150) have been encouraged to return to their farms under some sort of treaty arranged with Agricola and Rome?

I think we will never know those answers since we DO know that Agricola was recalled to Rome either in late AD 84 or, probably more likely, early AD 85. His troops were most likely withdrawn around the same time, or fairly soon after.

My quest is still to discover all other resources from north east Britannia which would have been lucrative enough for the Roman Empire to acquire.

I've used photos from Wikimedia Commons for the Spelt since I can't use those in The Press and Journal but if I go to the farm shop in Inverurie, tomorrow, I can find out if  Triticum Spelta is the correct type of seed.,_Spelt_(1).jpg


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Catching up on reviewing books read

Wednesday Waves!

It's one of those times again when I realise that I've read quite a few books from my kindle queue and haven't made a mention of whether I've enjoyed them, or not!

Time to address that since we're into January and some of the books I'm talking about, I read in 2016. 

Escort to Adventure by Angus MacVicar

The Scottish setting of this novel caught eye, as did the time frame of the novel. There’s a really nice chatty feel to the read even if, at times, I half despaired of Kenneth ever getting to grips with life outside of his work. The characters are well described with some quirky traits that made me like them even more since I could picture people around the fifties being just the same. The story is well structured and well edited making it a lovely read.

The Du Lac Chronicles -Book 1 

This was an entertaining YA historical fantasy romance with mostly likeable characters but, as intended by the author, the ones less to my taste were the baddies. Once I got used to the interspersion of modern phrases alongside more archaic speech patterns, which jars me out of the story immediately, I enjoyed the tale. However, I can see how that might appeal more to a younger audience. 
I don’t know all that much about this period in history but I certainly agree with the author that it’s very hard to research fact that hasn’t been put into writing. When tales and legends abound it’s an even harder task to separate what might be fact in order to give the reader a sense of the times. 
The setting of the story, the pace and character development all make the tale a very readable enjoyable escape into what was a turbulent past.

More reviews to follow when I find them- something has gone wrong with my filing system because I know I wrote some more even if I didn't have the internet connections to post them. 


Monday, 9 January 2017

Too long? Too short?

Monday Moments with....

Decisions. Decisions.

The morning was beautiful, not too cold with a blue, blue sky. For a little while anyway but that was fine because I had some guest posts to write. Two are now done and off to my hosts and I even managed a short walk in the fresh and crisp air.

Today sees me back to looking after my grand kids two days each week, squeezing in all my writing tasks whenever I can. I haven't done a resolutions blog this year since I never manage to stick to it much anyway, so all I'm going to say is that I aim to do more and more writing. That should mean I can eventually finish the my long awaited Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series. And get on to other planned work. I didn't do so well last year so it can only improve!

Am I out of the writing doldrums that I've been in for last couple of years- apart from writing copious blogs here and guest posts elsewhere? I certainly hope so. Last year I decided to ease back on having lots of authors invited here to guest post, the idea being that I'd not be spending time setting up those blog posts and could use it for new writing. Since it made no difference to my novel writing output I'm about to invite people to visit me again.

Look out for them soon.

Meanwhile, I've a little quandary to solve. I got a new tabletop screen (Christmas Pressie 2016) to use with my projector (Christmas pressie 2015) and laptop to give my author talks and presentations. The screen is really light and easy to use but there's a wee bit of operator error till I can work out how to get the image screen sizes correct.

At present, I'd have to be in an enormous auditorium to have the PowerPoint image 'slide show' slides just fit the screen.

If you're a whizz at this sort of thing - please enlighten me because my tinkering (and that of my OH who bought the screen) has meant that my saved PP presentations are now all stretched and wonky!


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

New 2017 Review for Monogamy Twist!

Picture this!

It was late last night, the 2nd January. I'd done some writing, some blog surfing, social media check-ins via my new phone, and surprisingly had started to watch a Neil Oliver  TV programme on the archaeology of Orkney, though a very welcome phone call interrupted this. 

After the call, I decided to go and re-watch the TV programme via IPlayer on my monitor but first had a quick look at my emails.

I was surprised but absolutely delighted to find this new review for Monogamy Twist. This was a fabulous start to 2017, a boost to this author's spirits. My thanks go the the Bookmaven book blogger for her review. 

Monogamy Twist has the drama of a Shakespearean play with the modern language. 

Luke has experienced a lot in his life.  What he doesn’t expect is getting a delapidated English estate from a woman he has never heard of before.  He also doesn’t expect the strange stipulations that are placed on him when it comes to getting his inheritance.  Wit the help of a Rhia, a lodger on the property, they will try to uncover the history of this estate, piece together why Luke inherited it and possibly find something with each other that they don’t expect.

I really liked this book.  It was incredibly well written and managed to tell both of the characters view points without getting lost in the story.  Luke and Rhia are great.  You really see them develop from being two individuals to the complicated the relationship between them.  The European setting will make anyone want to go explore.  The ambience of the English estate with all its secrets and stories behind closed doors really added depth to it.  In fact, that is what truly keeps this book moving.  The relationship between Luke and Rhia is an added bonus.  The research Rhia does really brought out the researcher in me and made me want to find the nearest English manor and investigate.  Overall, this was an imaginative book with a great story and set of characters.  This definitely started my year off on the right foot.

It's not too late to write a review if you've read any of my books. It's great to get feedback on my writing and even better if the review is popped on to Amazon. If the book has more than approx 10 reviews on Amazon, it means that I can do some paid marketing for it to boost it's chances in a very competitive ebook market.

It's only £1.99 on Amazon if you fancy reading it!


Sunday, 1 January 2017

A guid New Year tae yin and a'

Happy New Year!

Wishing my blog readers and contributors the very best wishes for 2017 from me in my part of Scotland.

A Guid New Year tae yin and a' and mony may ye see!