25. February 2019 · Comments Off on When PW becomes part of your life · Categories: Proprioceptive Writing, Uncategorized

Proprioceptive Writing became part of my life in Japan in 2005. Having started classes that included right-brain exercises to trick students into opening up creatively when they thought they could not, felt blocked or quite the opposite, overwhelmed emotionally, I searched for a technique that I could incorporate into classes to help place this journey safely in their own hands, literally.

WRITING THE MIND ALIVE- The Proprioceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice, is available online: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-Alive-Linda-Trichter-Metcalf/dp/0345438582


Finding the book Writing the Mind Alive proved miraculous, and it has been a part of my writing programme, Drawing on the Writer Within, ever since. Every class concludes with a WRITE, and here in Scotland I also offer a PW session locally on the first Saturday of the month.

A WRITE is the piece of meditative writing produced in 25 minutes, to Baroque music and in candlelight, and which uses the question What do I mean by… to dig ever deeper into the words being written on the page.


A candle, for illumination  (because it’s the loveliest meditative light), three sheets of plain paper, and something to write with; most use pencil. Baroque music is the same beat as the human heart, so helps calm and let go…If you become unaware of it, you can be said to be in the zone…


Introducing PW: one of the earliest courses at RBR (Right Brain Research) in central Tokyo in 2005… 

PW (as called for short) dates from the 1970s, and is going stronger than ever in the USA, where it is based at The Proprioceptive Writing Center, 1001 53rd Street, Oakland, CA 94608), but taught and facilitated all over the USA.

Some students find PW too personally intrusive and resist. Some can get angry, aggressive even, flounce out of the room, cast blame… The large majority, however, acknowledge that it helps towards authenticity, increased self-awareness, happiness and success. And a few take to it like ducks to water, making the practice part of their every day. I remember Helen in Tokyo, for example, doing several hundred.

Brendon, who learned PW as part of the two-day first-level DOTWW course he did in Zushi, in 2010. He now lives in Ireland. 








Lauren, who went on to do all four 8-class courses of DOTWW and has at the very least, 32 WRITES to her name. She still lives in Tokyo.





Heera, at work on our dining table at what I thought to be the last PW workshop in Japan; it was in Zushi in autumn 2012… She is now returned to Cumbria in the UK.










As for Gordon, here in Scotland, he just passed the 500 mark.

Gordon grew up in Glasgow, where he learned three survival techniques: Learn to fight; learn to climb a tree; and learn to light a fire so you can, in retaliatory fashion, burn down someone’s house. (He laughs at this, but back then it was not funny. The area where he grew up was as tough as they come.)

At our last PW session – he was one of two who travelled a fair distance and braved ice and snow – Gordon had done 461 WRITES, and has them now sitting in piles around his flat under headings like Family, Career, Recreation, Spirituality, Health and Happiness.


The first PW session in Clunie Hall after our move to Scotland in late 2012. Those who came had mostly completed level one of DOTWW over eight weeks at the Birnam Arts Institute in early 2013. Others were simply curious. 


After a PW workshop in Tokyo, 2014, organised by graduate DOTWW students: L to R: Robyn, Efrot, Kathryn, Etsuko, Angela, Jacinta, Petya, Ruthie, Sarah and Yumiko.

“And your father?” I asked, remembering this particular difficulty. (His father had died when he was ten.)

“Done. Finished. I remember you saying that at some point we would get bored of writing the same old stuff, and simply accept that journeys are different. He had his. I have mine. )

WRITES are now part of Gordon’s daily routine. He gets up at 6.30 every morning and nowadays spends 45 minutes at the kitchen table. He still starts with three sheets of paper, but does now often reach for more. He has worn out three CDs of music, and burned any number of candles. But it’s not an addiction, he says.

It’s a ritual that takes him into a quiet place, from where his WRITE flows. He goes so quickly and easily into the zone of listening instead of thinking these days that he doesn’t even hear the music. But he knows it’s doing its job.

“I look back and can see clearly how the last 18 months have transformed my life. PW is now simply a part of each and every day.”

Gordon and Marion on February 2, 2018, after their PW session. All the snow had gone, melted perhaps by happy smiles in tandem with winter sunshine? Asked why she comes on a regular basis, Marion replied: “Because I always learn something new about myself.”

He moved town, has a new home, and work is blossoming. A good part of his week is now spent taking plants into care homes for the residents to nurture and enjoy. He also accompanies dementia patients into woodland and forest. Families report they come back so much happier, so much calmer.

For myself, nowadays, PW is the practice I turn to when disturbed or lack clarity. When I first read Writing the Mind Alive, I found it totally inspiring. While not an officially accredited teacher of PW, I know Linda and Toby have always been aware I am using their teachings. Indeed I did an online course with Toby from Japan quite early on to make sure I was on the right track. While not believing any methodology of doing anything is set in stone, I have never deviated from the prescribed elements of ritual. Why? Because they work.

Of course, as I wrote at the beginning, no practice works for everyone. It can only work with people on their different levels of need and understanding in any particular timeline. But on a basic level, as psychotherapist Susan Gutwill wrote in her praise of the book when first published in 2002: “Proprioceptive Writing has helped me write, think, feel and most important, live more fully in the world and in myself.”




01. November 2018 · Comments Off on Re(a)d as a seasonal pointer · Categories: Uncategorized


The summer slipped away last month, with no apology for brevity and intensity, and suddenly the autumn equinox was upon us.

It was the day I drove to Aberfeldy, for a shiatsu with Netherlands-born Anneke who has the most wondrously sensitive healing hands (http://www.hielanhands.co.uk/therapist.php?show=14). It was also the day after Day 1 of my writing course, so I was both tired and inspired: I love the work, and this time especially interesting as an equal number of men and women and, in the main, slightly older than usual.

Add to this fact that it was the most beautiful day – clear and sunny, bright and breezy – and to say I felt high after the treatment (as in an uplifted altered state kind of way) is an understatement.

Before leaving home, I had taken a few photographs around the house: colour-changing leaves, ripening berries, blushing fruit. Also one of something – a pot stand – hanging in our kitchen, which is what no doubt inspired the rest of the day…

My grandmother Irene’s favourite clock. For decades time stood still. When passed to me, I found a key through a friend whose husband tinkered in his spare time, and now rewind it every 24 hours for perfect timekeeping. 

Trees planted four years ago are now bearing fruit








Transitioning – falling leaves


Hedgerows laced with rosehips

Later, taking back roads to avoid traffic and the dreaded A9, I found myself stopping and starting, stopping and starting, drawn by an endless range of hues, tints and shades..



A fallen gate with its own story

In the community owned store in Strathtay, the volunteer on duty told me that when she and her family went on trips to town and country, they always chose a theme to photograph. “It could be concrete, or steps, or triangles, or a colour. It makes us really look and see.”










Enjoy and use this historic postbox while you can. Post offices are closing all over Scotland!


At the back of the shop, brightly painted garage doors with knobs on…

At the front, baskets of apples donated by locals glutted out with fruit. And yes, there were fresh veg inside…



















I did, avoiding several young ones scampering from one side of the road to the other. Have their parents taught them nothing?













So many beautiful houses along the route… here Virginia creeper creeps ever onwards. And who is in the tower? Another story here…



In Grantully, a sculptural wild cat keeps an eye on passing traffic… 



…while the Highland Chocolatier offers love in every shape and form. Irresistible.












Now of course, on Samhain/All Hallows Eve/Halloween, the landscape is much changed towards winter and warming autumnal shades almost gone.

Only the pot is still red, and a few other things…

(Read more about Sunfield [read the caption below] in my book Chasing Shooting Stars (2013), available on Amazon.com)

I made this in 1948, when I was seven. My parents took my sister and I on a regular basis to the place where I was born: Sunfield, a residential home run according to the principles of Rudolf Steiner, at Clent Grove, near Bromsgrove in Worcestershire. It was as sustainable as possible, with a biodynamic farm, theatre, weaving sheds and a pottery. Why did I choose red? No idea, but maybe to reflect left-wing leanings, even from such an early age… Always concerned with fairness and justice.

31. July 2018 · Comments Off on Midsummer synchronicities · Categories: Uncategorized

Is it my imagination, or is my life turning full circle? Is the universe conspiring with my soul to tie up a thousand and one loose ends in readiness for moving on? And where do Ibiza potatoes fit into the scheme of things?

Silage being cut in the far meadow on June 21st

With a predicted long hot summer snapping at our heels, it seemed a meeting in London’s Notting Hill (http://www.lifelines-uk.org.uk/) provided a good excuse for extending it into a midsummer break.

My now Canadian daughter and grandson were here for the solstice. On the afternoon of the 21st, they paddled around Clunie Loch with Piotr Gudan who just a few weeks before, had been addressing the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh about the need to conserve this country’s unique environment through responsible tourism rather than slapdash and ruinous development. (https://www.outdoorexplore.org.uk/lochsriverssea)

Buffy, Piotr and Max paddling off to outdoor explore; note the lifejackets!

Seems we had to have a man in charge back then also: my father. If he had known I took the leaky boat out alone, he would have been very cross; no health and safety measures back then, so I guess he had a point!

As I watched them dip and splash off into the distance, I remembered how on my first visit to Forneth House in 1951 (my aunt had just married the laird), I had explored the loch by rowboat. I was eleven, my grandson Max (67 years later) just one year older. At that time there was no-one to tell me about the local wildlife, and the remarkable history of the area. Thankyou Piotr for two and a half hours of informative fun; apparently it was a high spot.

The next day, the three of us travelled to Edinburgh, while Akii stayed home to cat sit. I took the train onwards to Kings Cross (four and half hours of scenic bliss) while Buffy and Max signed into the Haymarket Hub Hotel; they had an early flight back to Toronto the next morning.

London is always a shock of the system these days. Funny to think I lived and raised my family there for 20 years and took so much for granted. Now it seems crowded, fast and very young. Maybe it always was, but then such things are always relative.

Very conscious of a new knee and far-too-large-a wheelie case (note: must buy something that is inbetween a weekender and six-week round-the-worlder) I arrived in Brixton and exited the station into chaos. In the 1960s and 70s, the population was largely Caribbean (where the Windrush generation had settled). Now it’s mixed beyond measure, and so loud. Very friendly though, and everywhere so helpful. Towards the end of my trip, I counted up half a dozen young-ish men who had carried my case up stairs at different points north and south of the river, each one saying “If I hadn’t, my mother would never have forgiven me.” (Still trying to work this out…)

Jack has spent the last couple of years collating memorambilia to donate to various organisations and institutions. Much her mother’s ‘stuff’ is now lodged with the Fife Archives in Kirkaldy. The Issey Miyake outfit (with provenance), made from fabric that she painted and helped design in the 1960s, was bought at auction by the Manchester City Galley. Such clearances have allowed her and Tony to move into a minimalist phase of lifestyle that is both easy to care for and live in (and refreshing for someone who lives amid clutter!)

I stayed three comfortable and relaxed nights with Tony (https://tonyrickaby.co.uk/) and Jack (http://jacqui-mclennan.com/) in the terrace house they have lived for over 40 years. I have known Jack since 1960, when she was a student at Coventry Art School, along with Roger Jeffs (who I subsequently married) and John Bowstead (who initially married Jack but [after she moved in with one of his students, Tony] I later lived with for near on a decade.)

Time for Jack and I to share memories and fill in the gaps in timelines … (and another trio for Sunday breakfast, with their friend Judy!)

It was a tangled web we wove in our youth, but amazingly we are all still in touch, and remain very fond. Jack and I spent many hours trying to fill in the gaps in our memories. For example, who was the Canadian student, a painter called Gary-something, whom they brought along to my 21st birthday party in Cheylesmore, Coventry, in May 1961? Gary Nairn, Jack recalled.

On the Sunday, after breakfast at Borough market, Tony drove me to Battersea, where I visited a friend from my Queen’s Park days. Maggie was one of several women I knew there, who all – including me – married their lodgers. Now nearing 80, she has Alzheimer’s, and Andy (20 years younger) is her self-appointed carer. While not remembering exactly who I was, she took my hand when we walked to the bus stop three hours later, so allowing me to believe there was a recognition on some level.

When I went to Japan in 1986, Maggie was my most loyal correspondent. I still have all her letters, those being the not-so-long-ago days when people still put pen to paper. She wrote in a tiny but beautifully clear hand, describing her day-to-day in minute detail… It’s a cruel condition that disallows such activities and memories…

On the fourth day I crossed London to Euston to take the train to Coventry. This is where I grew up (in what was then more a bomb site than a city), and after completing the required probationary year as an accredited teacher, was so relieved to leave in 1962. More recently though it won the bid for City of Culture in 2021 (https://coventry2021.co.uk/) so there is a quite a buzz.

I took a taxi to St James church in Styvechale. This in itself was a huge time-slip, passing Cheylesmore’s Quinton Pool, which in my childhood was a puddle around which rubbish was tipped. Now it’s a place of beauty, with waterbirds, and fringed with mature willows. I was driven past roads where primary school friends had once lived… past the end of the road to the croft where I grew up… past John’s own childhood home…

No-one is there of course; rituals are for the living, not the dead…

At the church, closed but basking in sunlight, I spent some time at the stone – a piece of granite, chosen by my mother to cover my father’s ashes after his death in 1962. Now she is there too, together with my sister; both died in 2007 within months of one another. I had carried a miniature rose bush from Euston, along with my case and shoulder bag, but decided to plant it in the garden of remembrance rather than close by the stone; no room among the leaf litter.

Place names so often take me back…

Then a bus to Pool Meadow, where the bus station always was, and still is, if much improved. There was even a very welcome gelateria outside one entrance! (It was so hot.) Waiting for the bus to Stratford-upon-Avon, another passed by heading for Nuneaton via Bulkington. This is where Roger grew up, with memories of his mother saving scrupulously all rubber bands and bits of string, and his father in the garden, teaching me about fruit and veg.

The route to Stratford was disappointing. I had hoped the bus would follow the route to school I took morning and evening, along the Warwick Road (past King Henry V111 grammar school where John, Mike and Rick went), past the stables where I learned to ride, past the convent where my sister was sent to school, past Canley Woods (birthday picnics) and on through Kenilworth, and so to Warwick. Instead it seemed mostly to hurtle along a motorway.

We did get to Warwick, but via Leamington Spa, looking very spruced up and smart: the Jephson Gardens, where my parents took us every summer to see the illuminations, preceded by an iced bun at the tearoom, and the bridge over the River Avon were so much smaller than remembered, but then they would be, wouldn’t they.

Crossing the bridge over the same river into Warwick again transported me into the past, and one that I could remember rather more clearly. So much of my early days are blurred beyond belief, with huge gaps in recollection.

There was the castle. There was my school (http://www.kingshighwarwick.co.uk/).

And not so much time after, there was Sarah. Crossing the road from her car (four door, with a clutch!) as I waited on the steps of the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre.

Sarah was one of my best friends at school. Others thought her whacky, eccentric… to me she was heroic, brave and subversive. She pinned up copies of Old Masters over sports fixtures, stayed behind after hours to take up floorboards and crawl under the hall floor to rescue a cat that our headmistress, Miss Hare, had decreed would find its own way out or meet a deserving natural end. Being a rather shy and fearful child, which is probably why I liked acting, putting on masks to hide insecurities, I thought her wonderful. And still do…(https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/jun/09/charity-writers-room-of-ones-own-woolf)

Her parents and my own were also very much known to one another. While her mother was a sculptor, her father, Hugh Hosking, was head of Coventry Art School. Not only did he give my own mother a job at Hillcrest, a facility in a different part of the city, teaching fashion and dressmaking, but he was also in charge when Jack, John and Roger (and Gary Nairn) were students, seeing them off to the Slade and Royal College of Art in London with some old-school bemusement, scepticism even; were they really all so good? It was the time when Pop Art ruled rather than classicism.

It was Hugh Hosking who, having seen me onstage in various school plays, told my parents that they ought to send me to stage school. Sarah remembers me in ‘Matilda” as being “utterly charming”. Maybe he saw me instead in ‘The Winter’s Tale’? I rather hope so. As a seventeen-year-old, the role of Paulina would have been far more challenging.

Sarah and I each remembered meeting one another just once since 1957. I recalled visiting her in a cottage with a lot of cats (she still lives in a cottage with lots of cats, but in a different part of the country), with a pale callow youth lingering behind her chair. “Aha,” she guffahed, “that must have been when I was thinking to marry a curate.” (She never did, never married anyone.)

She then asked if I remembered bumping into her on north London’s Kilburn High Road in the 1970s. She was doing a course with the Arts Council. I was a young mum but also working for an American syndication company, Transworld Feature Syndicate inc. of NY, in Holborn: “You were wearing a long dark brown PVC mac, tightly cinched at the waist. “(Good to know that after two babies I still had a waist!)

Her studies at the Arts Council stood her in good stead when she set up a charity to help older women writers. (She’s had quite a career: academic, author, property developer and now philanthropist.) While I was in Japan, she was giving time, space and money to over 100 women to work on the widest array of literary projects imaginable. So impressive. (https://hoskinghouses.co.uk/wp/)

Walking back from dinner in town – a splendid vegan restaurant that looked after us very well, she being a well-known local figure – we passed the cottage where the current tenant (a poet) was watering the garden…. We then strolled down a path into the dusk, past Sarah’s chickens, to the River Slough, where a small rowboat was moored: another facility to be enjoyed by scribers seeking inspiration or simply relaxation.

Elemental dear Sarah…

Sitting out in Sarah’s lovely tangled garden as the moon rose above the roof of 22 Duck Lane, with dog Daisy at our feet, the cats strolling around, and more than a hint of Shakespearean magic in the air, I thought it the perfect end to an extraordinary day.








Travelling to Somerset the next day was a doddle until the train got to Westbury, where it decided to go into meltdown. Yes, the track and points ahead had so expanded in the heat that we could go no further. Staff were apologetic and after much hand-wringing got taxis organized for the nine of us bound for the stop ahead: Castle Carey. Here poor Sandy had been waiting for me for over an hour…

I stayed four nights with her and John (a demographer about to leave for India) in their beautiful home – a sixteen-century manor house with five acres in the Vale of Avalon – purchased a decade before with the proceeds of the sale of a terrace house in Shepherd’s Bush, West London.

Another haven of calm and peacefulness… I feel truly blessed to have have such good friends in                     such lovely places…

My time there culminated with a lunch party for nine at which I found myself sitting next to Delia da Silva whose husband Peter Allen was chief technician at the RCA at the same time Jack had been there studying textiles and print. The poor man had just been told he could no longer drive, as his eyesight failing, so that burden also falling onto his already stressed-out wife.

It was a jolly bunch in the main. Swiss-Peruvian jeweller Solange Zamora I had met before, at the dinner party she had thrown a few nights earlier in her garden, with a distant view of Glastonbury Tor in moonlight under a starry sky.

Another local, American artist Candace Bahouth, was sharing an exhibition in Bath with the designer Kaffe Fassett. When Sandy and I knew him in the mid-1970s, working together on the book Wild Knitting, he was a knitwear and (like Candace) tapestry designer. (Sandy subsequently edited his most famous knitwear book.) Now he has a 101 creative fingers in as many creative pies, with a multitude of makers to support and implement his interests and talents. By contrast Candace works mostly alone, showing in this instance some of her marvellous mirrors with intricate mosaic surrounds. (mosaicbahouth.com)

Frances and Jamie Howard have a bookshop in Glastonbury. (Sandy and I had popped into The Gothic Image the previous day while shopping, but she had been elsewhere.) He organises tours of ancient sacred sites, largely in Scotland, so providing us with the possibility of much to talk about. But they all knew one another very well, and were much enjoying catching up. I was the outsider, and quite tired after a morning of helping prep the occasion. But it was fine; I was quite happy to sit back and speak only when spoken to.

No wailing women here, only Delia, Sandy and Solange, happily at lunch…


Fifty six years ago… I wonder whatever happened to Trevor, whose body stocking and fig leaf fitted him rather better than my own fitted me…

It was on hearing the word Coventry at some point that Delia sat up and announced: “Oh yes, I was in the Coventry Mystery Plays in 1962, when the new cathedral was inaugurated. I played one of the wailing women.”

“Good heavens,” I replied, “I was in it to, I played Eve, (in a pale pink body-stocking loaned from the RSC’s wardrobe in Stratford).”

We could not remember one another (in the cast of hundreds), but she easily recalled the name of the director, Neil Stair (whose surname was another I had forgotten), while I have always been able to summon up that of his partner Rex Chell. What an amazing coincidence, she remarked, quite astonished. To which I stayed quiet, believing there is no such thing as coincidence, only synchronicity.

Much more truly amazing was the river view from the apartment in Canary Wharf, back in London, where I spent my last night.

Another dear Sarah, waiting for the phone to ring to get her own new knee…

Sarah – another Sarah, known since our babies were small in Kilburn, and who had also married a lodger – had only recently sold her house in Queen’s Park and now divides her time between the Isle of Dogs and a casita and orange grove in Spain. Adrian was back there while she waited for a knee replacement operation in London. (We are all at an age when our bodies are complaining, even giving up on us…) Obviously in a lot of pain, the misery of which I could remember all too well, time was passing slowly…

There’s a knack to knowing the right time to leave any party…

I’m not surprised however they felt no need for a TV! There was a fairground at Greenwich, and watching the river traffic kept us amused until late… tourist boats bustling to and fro, commuters heading home on river busses, a beautifully restored barge, and after dusk, a convoy of corporate party boats, with video screens, pulsing lights and synchronized reggae beats, accompanied by screams of laughter and (presumably) enjoyment. We were even able to swiftly report a fire – billows of dense black smoke – on the south side, and hear engines racing to the rescue; the remembrance of Grenfell Tower was too painful to do otherwise.

On the back north I say beside a woman travelling to Inverness with her husband. They were potato farmers on Ibiza.

“Is Ibiza big enough for potato farming?” I asked in a state ignorance, prejudiced by media reports of hen parties, stag dos, and partying as if there is no tomorrow.

“Oh yes,” I was told. “The mahem is pretty localized. Of course the island is more built up than it used to be, but there are still pockets of agriculture. Like the Jersey potato, the Ibiza potato is much prized.”

(Ibiza, pronounced by British tourists as Ibitha, was originally Catalan Eivissa, from the Arabic yabisa, from the Latin erebus, from Phoenician and meaning ‘dedicated to the gods’.)

It was amazing, we agreed, that earlier that morning she and her husband had been mucking out and feeding the animals before heading for the airport for the flight to Edinburgh. How small the world was. How crazy – how rooted in fantasy – the concept of Brexit; what was the UK thinking? How breathtaking it was for them to see such open vistas, such expansive landscapes. How beautiful was Scotland.

I had a lot to think about when I finally arrived home, having dedicated my journeying and safe return to the gods.

I am still thinking about it.







09. July 2018 · Comments Off on Incidental wisps of summer · Categories: Uncategorized

The Egyptian born and raised Italian-American writer and academic Andre Aciman, once wrote: “Rituals are the buildings blocks of life, my way of cobbling an entire summer together from incidental wisps.”

 What follows could be described as incidental wisps of my own as this summer cobbles itself together in unexpected but welcome fashion.


I took John’s advice (from my previous blog). Crossed the new bridge that Akii had built (an old ladder laid to rest). Sat under the newly planted willow by the burn side on an upturned log. Invited my mother and sister to join me, moved mind, body and spirit into spi-ritual mode.

I touched my face with sage, placed sprigs between my toes.The sun shone thin but clear. A breeze blew, gentle and comforting. Water ran over pebbles and around rocks, creating music of a kind.

I told my dears how much I missed them (in a way). Asked their forgiveness for not being kinder and more supportive throughout their troubled lives. Prayed for us all to move on, leaving behind all blame and resentment, relinquishing my sadness and guilt.

I waited, breathing in the aroma of the herbs as I dabbled my toes in the water. Then, throwing the sage into the burn, to be carried away on the current, their voices came on the wind.

NO NEED, I heard.



So I did. Let them go to continue their journeying in other worldly states, while I more freely and lightly continue my own in this…

Later I walked the labyrinth in beautiful evening light, stopping occasionally to pick up branches and twigs blown from overhanging trees during the gale of the night before. And what did I hear? CLEARING THE PATH. To what I am now wondering… To editing my new book, for sure. But maybe the new and unexpected? After months of slow recovery, you have no idea how good such words sound.


03. May 2018 · Comments Off on The spiral staircase · Categories: Uncategorized

This famed spiral staircase, designed by Gustave Eiffel, now restored to its   full breathtaking beauty. St Pancras Rennaisance Hotel/ Railway Station,                          London

Not my own title, I must quickly admit. Rather lifted with respect from Karen Armstrong’s second book, which memoirs her journey from seeking God via the Catholic church (which broke her as a novitiate nun) to writing her way back to health, a belief in God and the freely unstructured rewards of an active spiritual life. These in turn became the underpinnings of her career.

I first read The Spiral Staircase in Japan. Thinking my copy had got lost in the move to Scotland, I was surprised and delighted to be handed it back by a new friend made here in 2014, to whom I had apparently lent it. Liz had subsequently become ill and disappeared from my life until this month, when she resurfaced, much better, and with a pile of books and DVDs to be returned with thanks.

She had found this title especially very moving, the symbolism of T.S. Elliot’s poem, Ash Wednesday, published as a foreword, offering great comfort. So I have taken a second look at Karen Armstrong’s memoir, and found an interesting connection. A message, if you like.

The concluding paragraph of my last blog (www.angelajeffs.co.uk) reads as follows: Basically, I’m ready to go… but not necessarily eastwards, rather onward and upwards. Or even sideways, preferably putting one word in front of another towards completion. Then – my latest manuscript having been drafted in 2012   – I can really move on.

But could I? How? And then I made the connection. Or rather a connection that seemed helpful.

Eliot’s poem is both clever and moving, spiralling upwards from one state of mind (depressed, stuck) to another (purposeful, hopeful). But he had stairs. He was climbing a spiral staircase: a symbolic spiral staircase that enables the reader, without really realising it, to move around and around ever upwards into the light of recovery mode.

In my last home in Japan I had stairs with sharp turns, up and down. The photograph on page 65 of Household Stories/Katei        Monogatari, print to order from     Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk

In my last home in Japan I had stairs with sharp turns, up and down. They kept me fit and lively, helped sharpen my mind, kept me on my toes. Here I have none. The croft is single storey, which I thought a good thing initially, but now I am wondering…

I have the labyrinth – that’s a spiral like no other – but being described in turf, it’s on the flat.

Now I know why having to negotiate stairs in the outside world – shops, restaurants, anywhere with flights of stairs to negotiate – I am so troubled. My new knee especially does not like them; it’s unpractised.

So yes, I need to do something about this, on both a physical and creative level. And quickly. With another birthday looming, there’s no time to waste.

I have become unpractised in my spiritual journey. I read articles written for Jacinta’s website (www.embracetransition.com) between 2011 and 2016, and am astonished at the speed at which I was travelling, not only going forwards, but upwards -spiralling skywards –  and downwards, ever deeper. What happened? Why did I stop?

No point in blaming our home for not having stairs. Time to get fit some other way…

I think the health of my physical body suddenly took precedence. As mobility decreased, my focus shifted. My concerns were more mundane and everyday: at the most basic level, getting from point A to B without falling over. But however careful I tried to be, I still found balance immensely challenging.

I fell three weeks before surgery in December last year. Then I fell again six weeks after. My confidence fell to an all time low: I was less my Self than I had been in many years.

Time then to reclaim my Self, which has been relegated to misery and fear. Time to stand up for my Self, dust it down and give it a good polish, so that I can see clearly again.

Needing some tools (other than a good clean cloth and some muscle power) I messaged John Black, who facilitates Celtic medicine, makes Celtae drums and manages a Sacred Stone retreat in Portugal. With John’s work is nature based, could he, would he suggest any shamanic rituals I could practise towards making apology.

My feet had become bad towards the end of April, making walking very painful, excruciating even. Having been making such great progress with my knee, this really brought me down again. Was I never even going to get back to normal, normal meaning being able to work in the garden, walk down the road to see neighbours, complete my exercise programme, etc.

What it raised from the past was memories of my mother’s own problems with her feet. I remembered pushing her hard in Japan to walk ever farther because I so wanted her to see everything, while knowing at the time that she was in agony. She tried to please me, but I gave little to nothing back. Some 80th birthday present! Where was my sympathy, let alone empathy?

It was the same with my sister. How did I respond to her severe disability, her life severely challenged from the age of 16 by rheumatoid arthritis, and wheelchair-bound for years at a time? I was irritated. Why could I not have had a normal sister? The childishness, even nastiness of this does not escape me. Simply makes me feel terrible, sad, and very very sorry indeed.

The beauty and power of water: A wonderful         photograph from 1950s Japan...

Celtic John replied: In making any apology, it is always our own feelings of guilt and shame we are dealing with. No-one is perfect; nobody can always say and do the right thing. Also, karmically speaking, maybe what we have said and done is actually the right thing, enabling the situation to move on. What I find best is to sit
next to water – water is the cleanser. Bless your Self with natural water, allow your feelings to express themselves. Take sage with you. Breathe this in too, allowing whatever words that come from the depths of your being to rise to your lips… Feel the forgiveness for your Self, and send it to whoever it is, or whatever the situation is that you are apologising to. The best ritual arises from within; it’s not fixed but flows free from the heart. Hope this helps. 

Leila, who is a herbalist in Kirkmichael and studying to be a shaman, also offered advice in the form of two useful online links (I have no problem in asking for help): http://www.shamanic.net/on-forgiveness/
If you feel that you need a guiding hand then you may be interested to contact Brian Anderson in Methven: http://www.oakenleaf.co.uk/

I feel blessed to once again have so much wisdom made available, and now sense many kindly hands leading me forward. I shall start this weekend. Limp down to the burn. And sit on the bridge that Akii built. (Not bad for a Tokyo city boy who with woodworking skills limited to what he learned in school over 50 years ago, has never made anything practical in his life.) Then with a bunch of freshly picked sage in hand, I shall dangle my feet in the cooling water and wait for whatever bubbles up.

12. April 2018 · Comments Off on A long hard winter · Categories: Uncategorized

Mid-March: Akii grimaced this morning, as he read that it was 4 degrees celsius in Tokyo, and not a petal of pink in sight. Tourists are pouring in from the world over for hanami (cherry blossom viewing time) and shivering from head to foot, poor things. They had packed for Spring, and Japan is not the only place where this lovely season is far behind.

February into March the snow just came coming… Being in a valley we are protected to some degree; not so far away roads were impassable and neighbours and friends snowed in for days. And not only in Scotland!

This time last year our land was awash with golden daffodils. This year the buds are just above ground, and the snowdrops still hard to tell from the white stuff that until just a day or so ago continued to fall from ominous clouds from the east. Weather people say the jet stream is returning to flow from the West, and they ought to know. Note that I use the word ‘ought’ rather than ‘should’; the latter is a word I am attempting to banish from my vocabulary. There are no ‘shoulds’…

Thanks to Barbara Bayer, who posted this beautiful shot of a famed shidare-zakura (weeping cherry) from where she lives north of Tokyo. The sakura map that appears on Japanese TV throughout the cherry season, shows buds opening in Tohoku, northern Honshu. But this fine specimen is at its peak of perfection, with petals just beginning to fall… Japan’s best-loved symbol of impermanence.

Mid-April: Not that much has changed, except that Japan is now awash in pink. Here the snowdrops are fading but still looking fresh in hidden pockets of garden. As for daffoldils, they are about to pop. But when?

Time to move on from weather, because Nature does its thing in its own good time. Let’s look to the positive in this moment.

I’m feeling better. Stronger. More grounded. This after a fall in late February that left me looking like a zombie from The Living Dead.

I am shocked by how much my confidence has been rocked by this most recent fall. Whatever next, I wonder, which makes me tentative as never before.

What happened? I was trying to get back to normal, whatever ‘normal’ is, or was back then, recovering from the knee surgery in mid-December last year. Hard to remember now, and why bother, except to clarify. I know I was reaching to water an indoor plant and lost my balance, twisting as I fell to save the knee, and so crashing into the hearth, fire-irons and wood-burning stove. I found some blood on the corner of the wall the other day, so am guessing I hit that too.

What else? After two spouse visas of two and a half years each, Akii being granted residency in the UK, six weeks after putting in his application to the Home Office. (He was told it might take six months!)

Once again it was stressful beyond belief, for him that is. I had reached a point of accepting that if denied – and he would have just four weeks to leave – we would return to Japan. He would go first and I stay to sort out and pack up, the opposite of how we left Japan. Judging by my reaction when the letter arrived, there had been a part of me hoping that it would be bad news … though not for him, because he loves being here: no stress, he claims. Now we have choices, I wrote on Facebook. But the truth is I’m not good with choices; it’s why I hate shopping. Having the choice to go back to Japan is different from having to. What a surprise to learn after so long that I prefer things to be more cut and dried.

What was the plan if we had no choice but to return to Japan? Maybe to live in Wakayama Prefecture, where there is an Ueda-family house we could potentially move into on Koyasan, a sacred mountain with some 60 Buddhist temples. Akii get a job as a tour guide; his English is certainly good enough after five years in the UK, with life in Scotland enriching his language skills with words like burn, and bonnie, and cringe-worthy colloquialisms like lang may your lum reek, literally meaning ‘long may your chimney smoke, but the best way to wish fellow Scots a long and happy life. I say ‘fellow’, because as Abby (who grew up locally but now lives and works near Aberdeen) commented on Facebook: “This is fantastic news? You must be all so relieved. Akii: our new and permanent resident Scot!”

Me in Japan? Do what I do here, but in a renewed mindset. Beyond that, maybe simply be.

Anyway, here we are, with no plans beyond today:

The burn running with snow melt to sweep away winter detrius, and our septic tank appearing to begin naturally unblocking. (Crossed fingers on this one.)

Healing. My knee, that is, so feeling more grounded, and more mobile.

Rowan (from Edinburgh), Kelly (Essendy), Jane (Spittlefield), Fiona (Glasgow) and Marion (Meigle) met to write their minds alive (Proprioceptive Writing) on February 3.

With March 3 cancelled due to snow, three chose to meet on Easter Saturday, with Anneke travelling from Grantully, Wendy from Balbeggie and Gordon, Crieff. All three found their WRITES covered very similar areas of interest and concern.

My published book and monthly writing meets are moving along nicely. As for my new book, it’s in its own blocked pipeline: first draft done but progress halted by I know not what! But I know that I shall get back to it when the time is right, which will also come in its own good time. In the meantime, I busy about with this and that, trying not to fret.

Basically, I’m ready to go… but not necessarily eastwards, rather onward and upwards. Or even sideways, preferably putting one word in front of another towards completion. Then – this manuscript having been drafted in 2012 – I can really move on.

01. February 2018 · Comments Off on GOOD LUCK! · Categories: Uncategorized


They are an odd collection. An accumulation of small objects grouped together in no particular order on the base of my Muji lamp to the right of my computer. This in turn stands on the old headmaster’s desk (rescued from a private school being demolished in London’s NW2 in the 1970s) that I write on.

Some of the objects are relatively new. A few have been here quite a while, having made the journey from Japan to Scotland in 2013.

All, I suppose, are associated with luck. The good kind of luck, not the bad, which I would not wish on anyone.

It’s a phrase we use without too much thought, a kind of useful tool to help others on their way, in the everyday, in life itself: Good luck!

Every culture has its own form of similar encouragement. In France, a near literal interpretation: Bonne chance.

In Spanish-speaking countries, Bueno suerte.

In Swahili, Bahati njema.

In Japan, it’s more complicated. (Most things are.) Never use the phrase Kouhn wo oinori shimasu face-to-face, and only when addressing a stranger or acquaintance; it’s too polite for common usage. People would laugh, I’m told.

Address a friend about to take an exam, Gambatte kudasai. If calling to a parent off to start a new job, Gambaryro! Neither imply luck of any kind, but rather are an encouragement to endure difficulty. Typical Asian pragmatism.

The English word luck is defined as fortune, good or bad. Not physical fortune (ie a pile of gold coins), but one rooted in the metaphysical. It’s connected to fate, destiny. We reach out into the unknown and, touching wood (something I do near instinctively), pray for the best. (I’m trying to keep hope out of my vocabulary, having a dubious and even negative context.)

I will never know who FS was, initials carved into the desk long before it came to me. I used their ‘appearance’ as the basis of a short horror story back in October last year, a project set for members of The Clunie Roses, a private writing group on Facebook founded after my last course. 

I asked my Japanese husband if he believed in luck and he said no.


“Because it’s silly.”

But Japan is a very superstitious country…

“Yes, but only because we learn to be, from education, from our family…”

His mother, aunt, uncle, grandmother were all superstitious, he said, wasting so much time and money on palm-readings, clairvoyants, talismans and charms.

“They relied on them in life. None of them took responsibility for their own good fortune, made something of their lives. They were all disappointed.”

An extreme? Maybe. But with a good point. That maybe we need to make our own good luck, rather than expecting it to manifest via unknown, unseen forces.

Or maybe there is a balance to be found: that middle-ground again.

It has taken a while to find my own. I grew up with a mother who was so other-worldy that she found it hard to ground herself in reality. My father was the opposite: by staying in the safe zone of practicality, he missed out on swathes of possibility. Yet he was the one who wanted to take advantage of the government’s £10 passage scheme to Australia in the 1950s; she was the one who said no, fearful of risk and losing the little security they had. They were a complicated couple.

When my father wanted to cut down a rowan tree, planted as a sapling in the back garden, my mother went berserk. Rowans protected against witchcraft and enchantment, she insisted. Cutting one down would be bad luck.

I wonder if she also knew (on some level) that in Nordic mythology, it was the tree from which the first woman was created. (https://treesforlife.org.uk/forest/mythology-folklore/rowan2/)

Siding with my father through childhood, as daughters often do, I put aside such thoughts and raised my own children not to be superstitious. Or so my own daughter told me the night I flew to Buenos Aires from Toronto in 1999. It was Halloween, which Canada (having jumped on America’s pumpkin train) celebrates big time.

I was freaked, spooked, not liking flying very much anyway, and embarking on a trip that was as much about chasing my grandfather’s ghost as being rooted in any sensible rhyme or reason. I write about this experience in Chasing Shooting Stars (Amazon.co.uk), published in 2013.

But back to my desk, which has always served me well. I wonder if the initials carved into it have made their creative mark over the years? Or is it simply that I have always tried to put the desk to good use. Respected it. Loved it. Good energy is – and creates – good energy.

As for the objects, let me remind myself of how they came to be here, where they came from, how they help, if that is what they do – or I choose to believe they do.

The black ammonite – the fossilized spiral shell of an extinct sea creature – has (by far) the longest history… Azzah gave it to me years ago, after one of her visits to our house in Zushi.

(You can read about her in Chasing Shooting Stars, and Household Stories/Katei Monogatari (www.amazon.co.uk) published late last year via Amazon’s print-to-order self-publishing facility, Create Space. If in the USA, order from www.amazon.com; if in Japan, www.amazon.co.jp

If there are other links being used, it would be good to hear of them – Europe, the Antipodes, etc.)

Quite often when beginning to write, I hold this cool object in the palm of my hand to bring me, what? Luck, I suppose. As in a positive connection of some kind that will encourage my words forward…

Often I add the grey stone bearing the image of a raven, sent me to me by my Aunt Jo for Christmas one year. It was such an unlikely gift for a pragmatist; she despised superstition and dismissed mysticism as fanciful. (The exact opposite to her sister, my mother.) The following year she sent a similar stone bearing an insect. How I wish I knew her mindset at that time.

There is a smooth crystal that I think James gave me. An equally smooth blue stone heart from Julia, with a small blemish that sparkles. (Julia often brought me bits and pieces she picked up around the house, on the beach.)

Where the pale pink and pale blue stones came from I have no idea. Very un-me. And yet, here they sit, claiming their space.

There is a piece of stucco, picked up from a pathway winding its way around the Temple of the Sun just outside Mexico City. I would never have pulled away a piece from the actual structure, but it was just lying there… inviting me, I like to think: (http://guanajuatomexicocity.com/mexico-city/Pyramid-sun-teotihuacan.html)

The tiny flying duck is from a broken brooch. (I have three 1930s ceramics on the wall above the doorway, all broken, all glued back toegther.)

The pill box and ceramic Mandarin duck were gifted by Akii at Christmas 2016. He gave me a whole box of things, all related, and as he he explained), to help inspire me to return to the story I had drafted before leaving Japan.

In late 2017, Cassie made me these fingerless gloves, all from recycled materials, and on request, added a heart, a CND peace sign (down near the wrists) and towards my fingertips, these mandarin duck heads. She said the birds on my hands would encourage my fingers to fly forward in my story-telling… 

The most recent token is a small metal hand holding what I assume to be a crystal ball. I was in Dunkeld last autumn, parked, when a woman rapped on the window. She was in her sixties, with wiry hair and a weather-beaten face. I don’t know why I knew instinctively she was Roma, which she was, and proud to be.

She knew a few things. That I had a daughter across the water. That my son had been ill as a child. That I had lived in the ‘Orient’. That I had never really every had a proper job (that’s very true!) but made my own way.

“You have had a great life”, she said. “You have been brave, made many changes, been very lucky. I see even greater years ahead, lady, so keep challenging…” And so saying, she placed the hand in my own.

My belief in talismans and omens as such, is not to be tested too deeply.  But I do believe in signs, in part because twenty-six years in Japan did leave me more open to possibility than I had been in the UK. Actually I think I was open, very open, but often found it difficult to defend myself against my father’s scepticism and dismissal of anything that could not be proven by science.

Rooted in Shinto-ism – Japan’s animist nature-based religion – its culture and people are deeply superstitious. Most shrines and Buddhist temple have a kiosk or shop selling good luck charms and talismans, and the largest and most popular are hugely affluent as a result. I know, because my husband used to have a major shrine as a customer, and reports vast sums being processed, especially at New Year – priests running to and from bearing sacks of cash.

New Year (O-shogatsu) is when you buy arrows to symbolize shooting into the future for good fortune. You tie white papers inscribed with wishes and hopes onto the branches of trees or specially erected frames. You draw numbered sticks to discover how the year ahead is going to pan out. And you throw in a few fervent prayers, just in case…

So deep is the Japanese belief in the occult, that there blessing ceremonies for just about everything, from babies to new cars. And if you don’t believe me, just watch this:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hf6B-_tp6gM

All this I saw as fun rather than to be taken too seriously. In the main it did no harm, except empty personal coffers. But there is always a dark side: for many people, it was serious and tended to affect future actions, reactions, hopes and fears.

Reading my pack of Angel Cards at the turn of the year, the word OBEDIENCE challenged my natural inclination to break rules and ignore advice. In this situation, however, it was just what I needed.

On December 11, 2017, my left knee joint was replaced at Perth Royal Infirmary, and while the operation itself successful, there were subsequent complications that that left me weak as a newborn…

So (once allowed home just ahead of Christmas) I needed to obey the instructions of the nursing staff: eat, drink, rest, medicate. I needed to do the physio exercises that would get me back on my feet. I needed to unscramble my brain, affected by a whole battery of drugs. Most of all I needed to listen to my own body, and rebalance in sensible fashion.

I returned home on December 20, and pretty much stayed quiet until the new year…

This has taken awhile, and why I am late in wishing you a happy new year, and – of course – the very best of luck…

But now here I am. At my lucky desk. With my lucky charms needing a dust but at the ready to do their job.

When I get started, that is.

09. November 2017 · Comments Off on At last, a new book · Categories: Uncategorized

It was clear on the proof copy that the cover needed rejigging; missing the top of the toppermost character(kanji). A new PDF was supplied, and now all is well. PS It’s quite interesting, seeing a design sideways…

I began writing my latest book in 2010, finished the first draft in 2011, and then moved to Scotland the year after. The ‘manuscript’ then stayed in my computer until this year, when I felt ready to move on.

For four years, completing a book about my life in Japan was the last thing I could handle; remembering our home and the life we led within its walls was just too painful, too sad. Every time I opened it up and began to read, I began to cry.

Being a book written in the present in the past (or is that in the past in the present?) it took much of the earlier part of this year trying to sort out the timeline.

Our home in Japan, 2002-2012. The house in the background and, upfront, Kobayashi-san pruning the trees on his annual visit…there’s a close up of him at work on page 205. 

But now here it is in my hand, the first copy of Household Stories/Katei Monogatari (in Japanese) courtesy of Amazon’s CreateSpace, the site that allows independent authors to publish their books print-to-order.

The upside of CreateSpace is that it’s free. But only if a writer is prepared to design and layout a book’s interior and cover; since I am a writer and not a designer, I paid for help. Or rather I allowed an old friend  who happens to be a graphic designer (we worked together in publishing in London in the 1980s) and now lives in Canada, to pay off a debt by utilising his creative skills.

Also since personally I find it hard to edit my own work, I sought assistance there too. A friend made in Japan in or around 1989 – we met a wedding, I seem to recall – she is now moved back to her native New Zealand.

Having published my first book in 2013, I knew the drill. But as I replied to a contact in Tokyo asking whether the process was easy, it’s easy – or easier – when you know how! Basically you need to supply a PDF for the cover art, and another for the interior. A matter of going step-by-step… and it has to be said, the staff at the other end are terrific, answering any enquiry within 24 hours.

The last hurdle that I needed help with was in pricing my work. This is difficult in any activity that requires creativity and craft to be costed in the same way one might cost the manufacture of a biscuit. Sending out mails to all four corners of the earth, asking how much friends tended to pay for books, was no help at all. Some refused to pay anything above £7.99; others were happy to go up to $30 for a book they really coveted. So, the middle-ground…

From my perspective, the main downside of this new print-to-order system is that once Amazon has posted availability online, authors are on their own in terms of mainstream distribution and promotion. And since most writers are more interested in moving on to their next project – I include myself here – this is tough.

Mostly I rely on platforms like this, Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media. So be a pal, will you? Order online and share links with your own networks.



Back cover text

Love, life, loss … most of us experience it all. Yet this is not a relationship between two lovers; nor even two people. “A love story with a difference” is about an intense relation ship … with a house. A house in Japan. 

Here the author describes in intricate and loving detail the years she spent in the Eastern-Western-style house that she made her home. She leads you on a fascinating and increasingly urgent journey through the interior, and the life lived within its four walls. 

“Because we may not be here much longer, and even if we stay in Japan, life is shifting, the world in transition, and I want to remember. Remember it all.” 

12. September 2017 · Comments Off on The meaning of things · Categories: Uncategorized

After words (http://www.angelajeffs.co.uk/whats-in-a-word/), things. But what do I mean by things?

An open antique market in Essex, where things include a vintage train carriage, garden furniture and great skyscapes. But is sky – the sky – a thing?

A few weeks ago, nearing the completion of a book I had been working on since New Year, I was on call in my local charity shop. As usual, I checked the book shelves, and once again a title jumped out at me: A.C Grayling’s The Meaning of Things.

 It was the word ‘things’ that caught my eye. Because my own book is also essentially about things. But as I was to discover, one person’s idea of things is not necessarily the same as another’s definition and understanding of the word. (Or maybe it’s even more complicated than that.)

Household Stories/ Katei Monogatari is about a house, and the things (with all their associated tales) that our house in Japan contains, or rather contained. (We left in late 2012 to move here.) So a book largely about material objects that could be regarded as relatively unimportant: possessions, furniture, books, plants, etc.

Grayling’s book (Applying Philosophy to Life) is about how life is enriched by things that ‘matter’: “values, aims, society, the characteristic vicissitudes of the human condition, desiderata” (Latin, desired things) “both personal and public, the enemies of human flourishing, and the meanings of life.” (An impressive paragraph in itself.)

Always interested in how a book is constructed, he offers short essays under three main headings (as in three parts): Virtues and Attributes, Foes and Fallacies, and Amenities and Goods.

It was under this final heading that I found writings most relevant to Household Stories: Art. Leisure. Peace. Reading. Memory. History. Travel. Privacy. Family. Age. Gifts. Trifles.

I suppose this is because HHS (as it has been headed in my documents file since 2011, when I completed the first draft) describes a fair amount of art, quite a few gifts, and to what a reader may appear to be any number of trifles.

And here I have to laugh. Because compared to a book on philosophy, I suppose my book is trifling in its concerns.

But that is for the reader to decide, and those concerned in its production have found it quite the opposite. So I am comforted.

Yes, HHS is a book about things. But it is also a physical and spiritual journey through time and space to the point of accepting the relative unimportance of physical things. Which leaves us with the spiritual, which is of course what Grayling’s book is mostly about.

But wait. While the Foes and fallacies of Part 2 initially left me cool to cold, I do now find Faith, Miracles, Prophecy and Paganism more than a little interesting. And some of the Virtues and Attributes of Part 1 move to warm the cockles of my heart, because HHS is also about Love, Happiness, Hope, Courage, Sorrow, Tolerance, Civility, Perseverance …  so much more than mere ‘trifles’.

Lee and Sue’s garden in Basildon, Essex. Also full of things: plants in pots, mirrored washing on the line, and Buddha. A statue of Buddha is a thing for sure, but Buddha himself?

Now I am not only comforted. I am encouraged.

By the time I next blog, Household Stories/ Katei Monogatari will be available via Amazon.com. So expect an enthusiastic and 100% unashamed sell.


05. July 2017 · Comments Off on A garden with burgeoning personality · Categories: Uncategorized

In memory of Gwendoline Edna Loader (nee  Price), September 1910 – July 2007. 

When my mother moved here in the early 1960s, the cottage was a newly renovated croft sited on a roadside amid a sea of rubble, a derelict landscape.

Once it had thatch, a tenant in the barn (now our bedroom), a cow in the byre (in my mother’s day the coal shed but now a utility room), and water was collected twice daily from a spring down at the burn. It must have been a tough life.

I know all this because soon after moving in in late 2012, I was working outside when a car halted on the road, drove on, backed, drove on again, backed again, and finally came to a halt.

A man emerged and, introducing himself as Peter Symon from Errol, shyly asked if he could take a photograph of Burnside, as it has been called for at least a century, if not – as old maps indicate – far longer.

Of course, I replied, but why?

It turned out that his aunt, Agnes Smith, had lived here until 1950.  She used to make pancakes and large scones on the range, and relatives would set up a bell tent outside in summer for holidays. Also bee hives were transported to and fro.

It seems there were Smiths at Burnside for well over half a century…

Agnes in front of a very different-looking Burnside. In the 1901 census, it was described as a croft with – excluding the byre – four rooms and windows. A decade later, the census of 1911 counted three rooms and windows. Very odd. Today it has seven (some very small) rooms and eight windows. This archival photograph, from the personal collection of John (Jack) Joiner of Errol Village, Perthshire, was scanned and mailed to me in 2012, which in part explains the quality. 

After Agnes died, the building stood empty on Forneth Estate until my uncle Charles Speid and his wife, my aunt Jo, decided to make it a home for her widowed sister, my mother Gwen. (So the two sisters, separated as youngsters by the death of their parents, could be reunited in middle age.)

But they only redesigned and fitted out the croft. The ground outside, rolling down towards the burn and with open views across the Lunan Valley, was for my mother to make her mark.

In the beginning… her view from the front door: Lunan Valley in the wild

Then came a bird table, some standard roses and shrubs, and to the right, the beginning of a rockery… Beyond, wild grasses wait in innocent bliss to be tamed for a lawn…

Early days for my mother, transplanted from city life into the most rural location imaginable, where she had to start anew in her mid-50s. I know she was lonely, felt isolated. But she never gave up. 

And she did indeed make her mark over the years, planting first rambling roses around the door, and then in borders, choosing plants and shrubs that were equally as scratchy and painfully punative.

Winters must have been so hard. With only wire to protect her plantings from ravenous deer…

I could never work out why she made such choices? Was she trying to barricade and protect herself against the world, like the Sleeping Beauty of folklore, or was it a childlike mean streak? Knowing what I know now about her internal confusions, a bit of both I suspect.

She created a lawn, fenced against rabbits and deer, and called this her ‘garden’.

Down below the fence, the land was left to do its own thing…

To the side lies a triangle of land along the roadside that is still planted with ancient but once again magnificently fruiting redcurrant bushes. She tried to raise vegetables, but everything was against her: the wildlife, which ate just about everything, and the bogginess of the ground, flooding as it did back then on a regular basis.

At some point in the late 1980s, an enthusiastic neighbour came down and planted trees: rowans, elder, oaks, hazel and wild cherry. He insists to this day that he asked her and she agreed. She insisted to her dying day that he went ahead without agreement, that he “just did it”. Nowadays there is a limited view to the other side of the valley in winter, and none at all in summer.

Another huge change was the demise of the raspberry field.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, mother rented the tract of land across the burn (that had been gifted to her for her lifetime) to a local farmer. The area around here is famed for soft fruit, and he planted canes and cropped the fruit through the summer.

Shot from the top of the raspberry field, with staked canes and the hut down by the burn very much still in business. See the small evergreen to the right of the cottage? That was one of my mother’s Christmas trees. It is now higher than the oak tree seen behind, and still growing…

As he and my mother grew older together, to the point he could no longer work, the field returned to the wild, and is now a mature copse of mostly sycamore, nettles and willow herb.

My children remember running up and down the lines of canes in the 1970s, and in later years making a bonfire of the derelict hut on the burn side that had once stored equipment. Now my son harvests the copse, a tree at a time, to feed our log house and – once dried out – our wood burning stove.

By the time my mother died in 2007, ten years ago almost to the day, her ‘garden’ was a mound of weeds (plants in the wrong place at the wrong time), and her land reclaimed by nature. I had done my best every time I returned to see her from Japan, but really it was a losing battle.

Since moving here, we have worked hard and now the three parts of the ‘garden’ all are gaining and regaining their own identities. Nearer the cottage, the borders are slowly filling out, and the roses healthily under control.

She coped by coping… love the hat!

Along the fence that separates us from neighbours, a hedge is slowly becoming a wind break, alive with colour, texture and birdsong; how my mother coped with bitter winters and ferocious gales I cannot even begin to imagine!

Along internal fences, shrubs and flowering perennials mix with soft fruit – gooseberries, blackcurrants, goli berries, raspberries, blackberries… We have apple trees, hardy Scottish varieties.  Even green tea bushes. And a lot of herbs.

Through 2014, we turned the boggy triangle into a labryrinth, for quiet reflective walks. The rest is planted with a crab apple, walnut, and most recently, a fig. In January it is a sea of snowdrops. Then come the daffodils. And in May, bluebells. (Currently, it’s nettle pulling time!)

This year, we have turned our attention to the field below the anti-rabbit fence. It’s a work in progress, obviously, and will be for some time. But already there are more fruit trees (Victoria plum, damson, nashi or Asian pear), mown paths (as there are around the labyrinth), a huge mown circle, with a bright pink ornamental cherry planted in the centre, and some rhododendrons finding their place around the edge…

We also have two benches. And a small pond.

This is located at the far end, towards the slate bridge over the burn, and where we erected a lintel from my aunt’s cottage, during its own renovation. (You can read about this in a blog from 2015: http://www.angelajeffs.co.uk/the-old-and-the-new/)

Alongside Akii planted a Yoshino cherry, to remind him of Japan, and several varieties of iris. Ironically he was in Japan this Spring when they all flowered.

The burn, running the length of the long side of an isosceles triangle? Almost invisible in mid-summer, overhung with ferns and brambles, with only the music of its coursing after rain to remind us that it’s there. It needs clearing again, but that’s a job for autumn into winter, so soon enough. (http://embrace-transition.com/2013/12/07/east-and-west-clearing-the-burn/)

Because the septic tank and lie of the land mean drainage, and intractable sedge grass, we decided to try and make a feature of its damp nature. Liam, who mows the lawn, slope and paths for us, offered us a small pond liner that he had “kicking around”, and dug it in for us at the backend of last year.

Now it looks thoroughly at home, overhung with ferns, with pond plants for aeration, a water lily, and more than a few baby frogs.

All very satisfying.

Now we are eyeing a far larger area, and thinking big. Liam is quite excited, it seems, and so are we.

The sycamore off centre to the right will be coming down in August, to open up this side of the burn even more.

The whole area of what we loosely term ‘the garden’ (about one and a third acres in total) is now green, healthy and blossoming. Even the copse is opening up, with a circle of cut log seating, a circle of stones for a bonfire, and deer as regular visitors.

It’s not easy to keep on top of, and I feel great frustration at not being able to work in it as I used to. How long we can hold on, I have no idea.

For the moment, however, it is pure joy to see its personality developing and broadening. Responding so positively to care and attention and love, it is full of birds, bees and even butterflies. (Initially there were very few.)

I choose to believe my mother is very pleased.


And yes, I have always loved red geraniums…