A Coronavirus Birthday

By now about a third of the population will have had a birthday under lockdown and it was my turn at the weekend. I wondered how it would go and in the event, it went very well with flowers and food and plenty of chat. In fact, there was a simultaneous rendition of Happy Birthday from London and Toronto which was almost in unison!

birthday 2020

On top of everything else, what should thump through the letterbox but the latest edition of the Highlander magazine, containing not one but two of my articles, along with articles by a couple of my writer friends, Rosemary Gemmell and Anne-Mary Paterson.

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My articles were on two local subjects, Cockenzie House and Tantallon Castle, both of which we had visited before lockdown.

cockenzie p1  Tantallon

Also in the mail was a cheque for another of my articles on the history of knitting in Scotland which will appear in a later issue. This was a fascinating topic to research, initially triggered by Rosie Thorpe, an archivist with Historic Environment Scotland,who, on taking up knitting during lockdown, decided to see what her archives held on the subject. My own searches uncovered a murder and two hangings associated with knitting – who knew it was such a bloodthirsty subject!

I’ve also had a blog tour for Festival Fireworks which I just may have mentioned previously! I’d never had one before so it was quite a learning curve for me but very enjoyable. Thanks to Kelly Lacey for organising it all.

Festival Fireworkds

Coronavirus Cycling

We are pleased that our house overlooks what is unfortunately known as the Suds Basin but which has a circular cinder path around the so-called basin. As the playpark for the kids has been shut due to lockdown, this has become a popular area for the children to ride their bikes round.

suds basin

And round and round they go; some are super confident and have races with each other, the smaller siblings trying desperately to keep up with the older ones. But it’s the toddlers on their balance bikes that I love watching, from their first tentative attempts at pushing them along to eventually whizzing down the slope just as fast as the older brothers and sisters. These bikes apparently teach them how to balance quicker than  ones with stabilisers so that they can graduate to pedal bikes at a younger age.

balance bike

The first bikes at the start of the nineteenth century were like that, and known as hobbyhorses, with the young gentlemen scooting along the highways just like today’s toddlers. But as they were heavy on the shoe leather, Doc Martins being unknown then, they did not prove popular. Then in the 1830’s the pedal bike was invented; some claim that Kirkpartick Macmillan from Dumfries was the one who should be credited, and cycling really took off with women also learning to ride.

veolicpede

My own experiences of learning to ride a bike were rather fraught. My parents rode a tandem so in order that I did not curtail their outings, my father acquired an old sidecar from a motor bike and affixed it to the tandem. I did not enjoy the view, six inches from the ground, of two pairs of muscly legs, one decorated with immense  varicose veins, going like the clappers. Looking back, it’s a wonder the sidecar did not separate from the tandem as they rounded bends or rode across Glasgow’s tram lines.

tandem + sidecar c1948

I graduated eventually to a red tricycle, second-hand of course, which I had for many years until I eventually mastered the art of riding a two-wheeler. My method was to prop the bike against a wall and try to climb on putting both feet on the pedals before actually moving. If I had been able to do that, I’d have joined the circus!

jeep

Today’s children are so much more confident and it’s a great way to use their hour of exercise this way. Their parents are also joining in so maybe after lockdown eases, we’ll have many more bikes on the road and a lot less cars.

If you’re interested in what it was like growing up after World War Two, then read A Scottish Childhood, a compilation of the articles I wrote for the magazine, Scottish Memories.

Coronavirus: Pandemics in the Past

This is an article I wrote on the history of pandemics in Scotland.

Scotland and its Pandemics

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As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the world, we are controlled by government restrictions as to what we may do. All schools and non-essential shops and businesses are closed, all places of entertainment and leisure are shut, while leaving our home is restricted to once a day for fresh air and exercise, and vulnerable people are to stay isolated for anything up to 12 weeks and perhaps beyond. All social gatherings are banned. Those who do not obey are fined.

Nurses and doctors wear protective equipment and patients are isolated. Curbs are put on panic buying and foreign travel is heavily restricted. 

And yet, this is not a modern way of coping with an epidemic. A 16th century Scot would be only too familiar with such clamp downs on personal freedoms. These type of restrictions in the face of a pandemic are centuries old.

One of the first recorded reports of a pandemic was by a monk by the name of Bower, from the monastery at Inchcolm. Plague had entered Scotland in 1349 from trade with Asia via Mediterranean countries and killed two-thirds of the population, including 24 canons in St Andrews who were infected from attending the dying.  In 1361, it struck again, killing one-third of the population.

1498-99 saw the plague revisit Edinburgh and the Lothians and restrictions were put in place. All taverns and schools were closed and there was a 10pm curfew. All residents had to take a turn guarding the town gates to prevent the entry of food and goods from infected areas. Any English cloth brought in had to be burnt. Punishments for disobeying those rules were banishment or death. 

In Haddington in East Lothian, dogs and pigs had to be kept in a yard rather than roaming the streets. Children found out and about were put in stocks and whipped, a teacher running a school would be banished while all shops and stalls were closed.

The need to cleanse contaminated places was recognised. Cleaners were employed at the rate of 12p a day to wash and smoke out infected houses.

In Edinburgh in 1500, more restrictions were introduced. The main market in the Lawnmarket was closed and anyone bringing in goods without permission was punished; women were branded on the cheek and men had a hand cut off.

All members of a household with a plague victim had to avoid contact with anyone for 12 days.

1505 saw further regulations. Illness must be reported within 12 hours and each close had to have two people in charge of identifying those who were ill and organising the cleansing of their abode.

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Plague Doctor

Plague continued to be a problem until 1514 with even stricter rules coming into force. Clearing of rubbish was instigated and all beggars and indigents were driven out of the city.

But by 1530, the plague had returned and continued to do so until the early 17th century. Punishments were still harsh, branding being a popular choice though a man who attended church, knowing his wife had the plague, was hanged.

The importance of cleansing the homes and goods of those infected was recognised and in Edinburgh in 1574, John Forrest was appointed to be in charge on pain of execution if his efforts at containing the plague were not successful. Apparently he succeeded,  as in 1585 he was again in charge of cleansing houses and homes deemed to be infected.

Those with plague were taken out to the Burgh Muir as were their contacts, where they were kept separately. Others were kept shut in their homes with food and drink being supplied until they either died or recovered. The townspeople were not to congregate around the close mouths and the muck and ordure was to be removed from the streets.

The Great Plague of 1665 in England did not reach Scotland though sporadic outbreaks occurred over the next two hundred years.

The last instance of bubonic plague happened in August 1900 in Glasgow in the Gorbals. Situated down by the River Clyde where ships from abroad were docking and foreign sailors coming ashore, it was no wonder that the plague was brought there from the many other overseas ports infected with it. At first it was thought to be typhoid which was much more common then, especially in the overcrowded and unsanitary houses in the Gorbals area. But a doctor recognised the symptoms of plague and measures were immediately introduced.

Rats were suspected of being the carriers and an army of rat-catchers was sent out to try to eradicate the creatures. Glasgow at that time, was well used to outbreaks of infectious diseases and its hospital system, although pre-dating the National Health Service by almost 50 years, was prepared and ready to deal with the outbreak. Its quick response meant that, in all, the plague was confined to a few streets in the area with 35 people infected and 16 dying. 

1n 1898, it had been shown that it was the fleas on rats which were responsible for spreading the disease, but the Glasgow public health authorities suspected that human contact was transmitting it. With the overcrowded conditions in the Gorbals at that time, the rate of spread suggested just that. The Medical Officer for Health immediately set up an investigation and identified Mrs B, a fish hawker as being the first person to fall ill along with her grand-daughter. They then identified anyone who had attended her wake and quarantined them. In support, the Catholic Church banned wakes of those who had succumbed to the plague. The plague was then successfully contained and quickly eliminated.

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Spread of the plague, Glasgow 1900

Recent research in 2019 by the University of Oslo found that indeed, the authorities were correct in suspecting human contact to be the means of transmission and that the killing of rats did very little to control the plague. Had the authorities not responded so quickly in identifying and quarantining those infected as well as their contacts, the plague could have spread beyond those few streets.

We have become complacent over the years with the advent of antibiotics and other medicines but now we are faced with a pandemic that is out of control and which does not respond to the medicines we have. We have reduced our medical facilities to a bare minimum, now inadequate and unable to cope with such a spread of disease. So we are having to fall back on to the old ways, used for centuries and effective if strictly applied and endorsed with severe punishments. 

We have a long way to go before Covid 19 is eradicated – for the time being. Let’s hope the lessons from history will be learnt.

Publication Days

Publication days come like buses – nothing for ages then two come at once.

Not only is this publication day of  Festival Fireworks in ebook format – paperback following soon!annburnett 1

 

– but, as I discovered when the post arrived this morning, my article on the Traprain Law silver is also published in the latest edition of the Highlander magazine.

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The hoard of Roman silver was found locally and can now be seen in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

A double whammy for the city as my novel is also set in Edinburgh!

 

The Times They are A-Changin’

For almost two years now, we’ve had nothing but change in our lives and it will continue.   Some changes are good and invigorating, others less so and difficult to get our heads round. But we persevere and take the good with the not so great. One result is that blog pieces and posts have diminished somewhat as time and energy have been taken up by other responsibilities.

Another result is that my writing has changed too. At the moment, I’m publishing short pieces, articles on the history which our new area is steeped in, and which are being published in a variety of magazines and online.

magazine cover

The American magazine, The Highlander, popped through my door and I was delighted to find I had two articles in it. One, Orkney’s Ancient Palaces, was the very first piece I sent several years ago and which gave me a fillip when it was accepted, and the other, on Christian Maclagan, was a more recent one that I wrote. Christian who? I hear you say. Scotland’s first female archaeologist, no less, and a redoubtable woman to boot. Like many other intelligent and learned Victorian women, she was ignored and her researches and findings were disregarded.  She was also denied full membership of the Society of Antiquaries, a situation she was extremely angry about.

Recently, Scottish Field magazine published a piece about Susan Ferrier, another clever Victorian lady writer, now almost unheard of, and online, a piece on the Cadell family of Cockenzie House, a few miles away from where we now live.

What’s in a name – the history of the Cadell family

The men of the family were an interesting lot, entrepreneurs, artists, publishers and actors, and of course the inevitable black sheep who made a name for himself in Australia and who came to a sticky end.

Cockenzie ladies

The unknown women of the Cadell family  (c) Cockenzie House

But what of the women of the family? More Victorian women who live on only in the photographs left behind and in a slim volume of writing penned by one of them? It is hoped that funding will be available to allow research into their hidden lives, through hopefully, diaries, household accounts and letters.

On another front, I have bought back my rights to my two ebooks and will republish them myself at a later date with revisions and new covers. Watch this space!

And a new tack – I have written a song! A singing group we attend is run by a very talented musician who has composed a piece just for our group and who asked if I would write the words. It will be premiered at the Gathering, a getting together of the many groups around East Lothian supporting those with dementia at which we will be singing. I hope they like Morning, Mrs Magpie!

Morning Mrs Magpie,
Here comes the day!
You bring a fresh start to life and living again
Good times are on their way.
Laughter and sunshine
Embracing me.
Voices uniting in music,
Friendship and harmony.

Gathering in the Harvest

The field outside my house has been shorn of its golden rapeseed and the harvest sent to the local rapeseed oil producing plant. Soon we’ll be able to buy a bottle of it to use for cooking. I’ve watched the crop grow and change from green to startling yellow and then to bronze and now reduced to a field of stubble. I wonder what the farmer will grow there next.

As for my own writing harvest, articles written over the long winter days are now surfacing. The Highlander magazine in the USA, taking articles on all things historical and Scottish, has just published The First Nursery School in the World, which Robert Owen set up in New Lanark in the early years of the nineteenth century. The ideas he put into practice about the education of young children are now standard but were revolutionary in his day.cover highlander

article R owenAnd my writing buddy, Sheila Grant, also has an article in the magazine, a powerful piece on The Killing Times, the struggle the Covenanters in Ayrshire had to worship in the way they wished.

September’s Scottish Field carries my piece on Susan Ferrier, Scotland’s Own Austen, and her best-selling books published in the first half of the nineteenth century. She was a great friend of Sir Walter Scott, and although she was, in her time, more successful than him, she only has a small blue plaque on the outside of her Edinburgh home whereas the Scott Monument dominates Princes Street.book cover 2

But the most successful harvest of all must be my potatoes. Regular readers of my blog will have followed their progress from seed potatoes chitting on my window ledge through to their breaking through the soil of their beds and burgeoning in the sun. I am almost tempted to say that I have too many. Certainly friends, family and neighbours have all been presented with some and we have been manfully eating our way through them. Fortunately, YouTube enlightened me on the method of freezing them so I have bags of frozen chips and roasties ready to see us through the winter.pots

At the moment, writing articles suits me best. It gets us out and about and meeting people as I research my latest topic. This afternoon, I hope to meet up with some metal detectorists and amateur archaeologists who have been excavating the lost palace of the Setons, burned down in 1715 after the first Jacobite Rebellion. Who knows what I shall harvest from the meeting!

The Edinburgh 7 Awarded Degrees After 150 Years

My article on the Edinburgh 7 was published recently in the Highlander magazine as The Edinburgh 7 and Their Fight to Become Doctors. It told how, in 1869, seven women applied to study medicine at Edinburgh University. They were accepted but with various restrictions and were the first women to register for a degree at any university in the UK.

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After many difficulties, including a riot when they tried to sit an anatomy exam and male students pelted them with mud and shouted obscenities,  they completed four years study but were prevented from taking their exams. This meant that they could not graduate and they were forced to complete their degrees abroad. However, their leader, Sophia Jex-Blake, qualified in Dublin and returned to Edinburgh in 1878 where she was the first female doctor in the city.

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Now Edinburgh University has decided to right a wrong and on Saturday July 6th 2019, 150 years after they matriculated, it will award them posthumous MBChB degrees.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-47814747

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The Plaque at Surgeon’s Hall

Dundee – Books, Ships and More Ships


Last weekend saw us head to Dundee for a Book Fair, wonderfully well organised by Wendy Jones. 32 authors and their partners/friends/minders congregated at the Friary and set out a most tempting display of goodies – books, sweets, more books, more sweets -and cakes!

My stall at the Dundee Book Fair

I met many friends there as well as making many more new ones and had some great conversations with them all. In between I even sold some books. All sorts of genres were represented – from Children and Young Adult to Romance and Crime, Fantasy and Horror. Add to that mix some Short Stories, Memoir and How To books and you have the makings of a successful day.

The Book Fair in full swing

To book-end the Book Fair, we had come to Dundee a day earlier and were leaving a day later to make the most of what is on offer in the city. So first to the new V&A museum, down at the waterfront. It’s a stunning building sitting  proud over the water and just as impressive inside. 

The V&A Museum Dundee

The museum showcases the best of design and the processes behind them and also had an exhibition about the ocean-going liners of former days, famed for their luxury.  Some of the clothing worn by the richest passengers, (including royalty) was quite exquisite and beautifully made, and obviously very expensive. They even brought their tiaras with them!

The stunning interior of the V&A

Next door to the museum, sits the ship, the Discovery, built in Dundee especially to sail to the Antarctic for exploring this great unknown continent as it was at the beginning of the twentieth century. Robert Falcon Scott was the leader of the 1901-04 expedition which included Ernest Shackleton, also to achieve fame as an Antarctic explorer. 

The Discovery in dock next to the V&A

They achieved many scientific goals and learned much about the geology, biology and weather of Antarctica which would help later expeditions in their turn. The hardships they endured until they returned safely four years later was graphically depicted in the exhibition. The ship itself has been restored and is docked next its new companion, the V&A, both fitting jewels in Dundee’s crown.

The Crow’s Nest on the Discovery
Carrying out scientific experiments in Antarctica wasn’t easy

A great time was had by all, as they say, and material for some more articles? I hope so!

Articles Galore!

Recently I’ve been writing articles for an American magazine, The Highlander. The magazine focusses on Scotland before the 20th century and takes all sorts of interesting stories about people and places and events.

So far this year, they have published two of mine, both on the town of Haddington; one about Bruce’s Charter which he gave to the town in 1318 and which is kept in the John Gray Centre in the town, and another on the street where we lived temporarily while waiting for our new home to be ready. There aren’t many streets that can claim  to have a Custom Stone at one end and the site of a battle at the other with John Knox’s school in the middle for good measure!

They are also publishing my article on Susan Ferrier, known as ‘Scotland’s Jane Austen’  who lived in Edinburgh, was a great friend of Sir Walter Scott and was a very successful writer in her day, with a caustic wit and wonderful characters in her books.

So now I’m researching more stories to write up. Yesterday we visited Dunbar and John Muir’s Birthplace. John Muir is revered in the United States for his work in setting up the first National Parks there, particularly Yosemite, so I want to find a different angle to write about as I’m sure the magazine will have published many articles about him.

I’m also trying to find out more about Vaclav Jicha, a much decorated World War II Czech pilot who was killed near Soutra Hill just south of here when his plane crashed in a snowstorm. He is buried in Haddington and now has a street named after him here.

And then of course, there are the competitions for the Scottish Association of Writers conference to enter…..

I think I’m going to be busy!

Back to Work!

Now that we are settled in our temporary home – an old town house set over three floors with one room on each and doing wonders for our calf muscles as we trundle up and down – I have no excuse for not getting on with writing tasks.

The edits for my next novel for Tirgearr Publishing, Love Begins at 40, have arrived so I’m working my way through them. I have a great editor, Christine, who picks up on all sorts of details that I miss, like commas and other punctuation marks. I assume that in the heat of creation, I tend to miss them out but in reality, I’m not entirely sure when and what to use. And anyway, each publishing house has its own style so what is acceptable for one is a no-no in another.

Love Begins at 40 will be out in August, about the time when we finally move into our new home so a double celebration will be in order.

And in another success, I’ve just heard that an article I wrote on the Palaces in Kirkwall, Orkney has been accepted for an American magazine, the Highlander. I’ve sent loads of photos for it as well so I’m looking forward to seeing it in print.

Summer appears to be here at last, at least for a few days, and it’s brought everyone out into the sunshine. Long may it continue!

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Down by the River