Coronavirus: Jigsaw Joys

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Halfway there!

These strange days, jigsaws are enjoying a surge in popularity. They’re a cheap way of passing the time, engaging the mind and achieving a feeling of fulfilment on their completion. I find it very relaxing to rummle* through a box of jigsaw pieces until I find a piece I’m looking for. It is so satisfying to click it into place and make a little more of the picture appear.

Here are 5 facts about Jigsaws you may not have known:

1)    The first jigsaw was made by an English cartographer, John Spilsbury in 1767. He painted a map on to a flat piece of wood and cut round the boundaries of the countries.  He called them Dissected Maps and used them to teach children geography.

2)   They weren’t called jigsaws until around 1900, after the tool used to cut them out  and even then it was a misnomer – they were cut with a fretsaw. But the term ‘fretsaw’ doesn’t quite have that ring to it.

3)    At the start of the twentieth century, jigsaws looked very different to today’s. They were cut around blocks of colour with no transferring of detail across pieces so there was no way of knowing which piece went where. Neither did the pieces interlock so a hasty move could upset the whole thing and spoil hours of effort. On top of which, puzzles didn’t come with a picture, although they were given a title which could be misleading, so there was no way of knowing what you were creating. In fact, having a picture of the completed puzzle was regarded as cheating.

4)   During the Great Depression in the 1930’s, jigsaws were very popular as a cheap form of entertainment. They were now made from cardboard and could be mass produced and hence inexpensive. Companies used them as giveaways promoting their products and as advertisements.

5)   Jigsaws are now laser-cut and can range in size from 4 pieces to over 50,000. The largest jigsaw (though it is debated) was constructed in Vietnam in 2018  by the University of Economics in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The puzzle (an image of a lotus flower) was 48 feet by 76 feet and contained 551,232 pieces.

6)   Ok, I can’t count! In March 2020, the jigsaw manufacturer, Ravensburger, reported a 370% increase in sales. There are a lot of us out there in isolation, rummling through a box of pieces looking for the right one.

*  rummle: a Scots word meaning to search through a pile of stuff eg your underwear drawer, a box of jigsaw pieces, looking for something that you can use.

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Finished!

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.

Do You Remember That Spring?

A wee poem looking ahead perhaps.

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Do you remember that spring
When the sea waters chilled and the ice stayed hard?
When polar bears marched across firmer ground
Sniffed fresh, clear air and hunted for seal?
Do you remember that spring?

Do you remember that spring
When dawn birds chorussed to the silent world
And rookeries exploded with noise and news?
When skylarks soared in startling blue?
Do you remember that spring?

Do you remember that spring
When the sparrow-hawk watched while far below
Rabbit prey romped in empty roads,
And ducks dog-paddled in city fountains?
Do you remember that spring?

Do you remember that spring
When insects thrummed and hummed
In daisy spreads and buttercup blankets,
And an urban fox strolled through a mall?
Do you remember that spring?

Do you remember that spring
When Gaia shook off her dusty skirts,
Quaffed draughts of pure invigorating air
Arose and kissed the burgeoning earth?
And the healing began
That spring.

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Putting Up with Coronavirus 3: Books for Kids

So the kids are at home for the duration. And you have to entertain and educate them all day, every day for the next 12 weeks or however long it takes to get rid of the Covid 19 epidemic. Here’s a selection of a few of the books from my bookshelves that would help to keep them occupied while you have a coffee/tea/G&T/meltdown.

For younger children, Linda Strachan’s What Colour is Love? follows a baby elephant as he asks that question of lots of other animals till he gets the perfect answer. The kids can listen to it being read here by Linda:

For kids who are learning to read, then The Loch Ness Monster Spotters is for them. The McFee family are desperate to spot Nessie but do they?

My book, A Drop of Rainbow Magic  is a collection of stories and poems I wrote for the BBC’s Children’s programmes on radio and TV. But it has no pictures to  go with them. There are spaces left for the kids to use their imaginations and draw their own pictures to accompany the stories. And give you a break as well!

Pirates are always popular and The Jolley-Rogers and the Monster’s Gold is a swash-buckling tale of a monster who eats those who come in search of gold. Can they defeat the monster and find the treasure?

For older kids (and not just girls) Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse is a beautiful, funny and intriguing book with a secret book hidden in the back of it. Ada Goth has no friends but Ishmael, a mouse ghost, and together they set out to find what is going on in their spooky home.

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Putting up With Coronavirus Part 2

Having settled into your restricted lifestyle while outside, all hell seems to be raging, here’s another selection of books to keep you occupied. I’ve read and enjoyed them all, some I’ve bought, others are courtesy of my local library. I enjoy going to the library as I can make a random selection of titles to borrow and find out new authors to try. I often choose a book that the librarians have set out apart from the rows of books on the shelves or a book that has been recently returned. Or I simply reach out my hand and grab one from a shelf. It makes for an interesting reading selection.

A bookshop is a different matter; a long browse is essential unless I know specifically what I’m looking for. Often an assistant will approach clutching a book and saying that I must read it. That can be a good choice though I have had some that I didn’t really enjoy, usually because it’s not a genre I read much of. Or appreciate.

And Amazon? Mixed feelings. Yes, my books are on sale there but often their prices mean that the author’s cut of the profits is minuscule. But it’s convenient for the buyers and it does send my books out to a much wider audience.

Anyway, to my next selection:

The Memory Tree by Linda Gillard features a beech tree which holds secrets. Ann finds a box hidden in the trunk after the tree is brought down in a storm. What is in the box leads her on a quest to find out more about the family who lived there, antecedents of Connor who comes to help her. What were the family secrets that his grandmother tried to destroy and what part did the First World War play in events?

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd. A Victorian detective, Bridie Devine, is tasked with recovering a stolen child. But this is no ordinary child but a freak of nature, destined to be put on show for the delectation of the public. Kidd mixes Irish myths and the macabre and even romance in an entertaining story difficult to put down.

Bill Bryson’s The Body: a Guide for Occupants is just what you need to read at present. It’s an entertaining and informative trip around the body and its constituent parts starting at the outside and working its way in. What stands out through, is the body’s amazing capability to recover from all we throw at it as well as its complex and ingenious systems which are built in. I was left amazed that we can function as well as we do, given the many things that could potentially go wrong. Written in his usual unique style, the amount of research he has done is impressive.

The Binding by Bridget Collins is about books and the power they have. Except in this story, they are used as repositories for unhappy, difficult memories that you would wish to forget. These books with their secrets must be kept hidden but are they? Emmett Farmer is an apprentice bookbinder learning his trade only to discover that one of the books is about him. But why? What is it that he has chosen to forget?

And something completely different. Wendy Mitchell was diagnosed with early dementia which changed her life. She had to give up work and became dependent on her daughters for help. But she persisted and through her difficulties became a spokesperson for dementia sufferers everywhere. Somebody I Used to Know tells her story and her fight to have dementia better understood and treated. There is life after such a devastating diagnosis. She blogs most days at https://whichmeamitoday.wordpress.com/

Enjoy your reading! What books would you like to recommend?

How to Cope With Coronavirus!

So you’ve stocked up on toilet paper, packets of which are decorating every available space, you’ve got your tissues to hand and the fridge is full of ready meals. You’re ready to self-isolate for as long as it takes for this latest plague to go away. But wait! Haven’t you forgotten the most important item?

Books! How else are you going to while away the hours and days until you can surface like a mole blinking in the daylight? You don’t want to dwell on the awful updates on news channels and social media; instead you want to be able to escape into other worlds, far away from reality. And what better than to curl up in a comfy seat with a book, a cuppa and hours of uninterrupted reading. Bliss!

Here are some of the books that I can recommend for you to enjoy. This selection are all set in Scotland:

Catherine Czerkawska’s The Posy Ring is set on an imaginary Hebridean island but the atmosphere rings true. Daisy Graham, an antiques dealer, has inherited an old house on the island, filled with old furniture and items of interest to her. Cal Galbraith is also interested but are his motives what they seem? Their story runs in parallel with that of two cousins who are survivors from the Spanish Armada and who end up on the island. The Posy Ring links their stories,

Motherwell by Deborah Orr is a memoir of growing up in Motherwell, a former steel town in Central Scotland. She became an award-winning Guardian columnist before dying prematurely from cancer in 2019. She was renowned for outspokenness and she writes frankly about her family and early life and the lasting effects their views and values had on her. It’s a great read.

Something completely different from Ambrose Parry, aka Christopher Brookmyre and his wife, Dr Maris Haetzman, The Way of All Flesh. Medicine meets crime in 19th century Edinburgh with anaesthetics just being introduced to ease the pains of childbirth as well as other nefarious uses. Just be grateful medicine has improved since then.

The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating by Nina Kaye is an ebook again set in Edinburgh, but this time it’s very up to date, full of laughs and sighs as we follow Liv in her quest for a job, a man and gin, not necessarily in that order. A light-hearted tale to enjoy.

And I couldn’t not mention my own novel, Festival Fireworks, also set in Edinburgh but with a visit to Australia in it as well. Jill and Andrew get off to a very bad start and it doesn’t seem to improve as he’s not only her boss but her next-door neighbour as well and Jill somehow can’t get things right.

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So sit down, switch off all your devices, and enjoy some peaceful escapism.

I’ll post another selection in my next blog so you won’t run short of reading material. And keep well!

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!

 

Festival Fireworks – New Edition

Those of you who follow my author page on Facebook will have read that I am re-issuing my contemporary Scottish romance, Festival Fireworks, under my own imprint, Ladybug Publications.      Ladybug_clip_art_smallLadybug_clip_art_smallLadybug_clip_art_small

It will not only be published as an ebook but also a paperback with a new cover. The story is mainly set in Edinburgh with a trip to Australia as well, as Jill and Andrew try to keep their romantic fireworks from blowing up in their faces, helped or hindered by agony auntie Linda. annburnett 1

So save your Christmas Book tokens for the New Year and watch this space for when it becomes available.

In the meantime, enjoy the festive season however you choose to spend it and may your stocking be filled with lots of books to read!

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.

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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.

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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.