Friday, July 14, 2017

The Educated Woman: Dorothy L Sayers & Amy Marsland

I've been in a bit of a funk lately, since returning from my trip to the UK. Various thoughts and decisions that I'll have to make in the next little while have been troubling me. So I've been thinking about some of the women who inspire me, and wanted to write a few posts dedicated to them.

When I was about twenty years old, give or take, I discovered the BBC series of Lord Peter Wimsey starring the delightful and ineffable Ian Carmichael. I fell in love. Over the course of the next few years, I read several of the Peter Wimsey mysteries, a biography of Dorothy L Sayers, and her translations of Dante's 'Divine Comedy'.

Portrait of Dorothy L Sayers by Sir William Oliphant Hutchison
National Portrait Gallery

My favourite of her mysteries are those which introduce and feature Harriet Vane, and the evolution of her characters is masterful. I am always daydreaming that the BBC or ITV will do a new series (please?!), the last ones - starring Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter as Peter and Harriet - having been filmed in the late 1980s! Still waiting on that one.

The novel 'Gaudy Night' is a very moving and beautiful book. When I lived in upstate NY, I knew an incredible woman, Amy Marsland. When I met her, she was in her eighties. She wrote articles for the local paper, knitted and baked delicious shortbread cut in all different shapes. She was a bright, intelligent woman, and a joy to know. She was very well educated, receiving her MA and PhD at the university of Michigan. She wrote mysteries herself, as well as scholarly work, and she and her husband lived both in Europe and America throughout their lives.

Amy as a young woman in the early 1940s, when working on The Sheaf newspaper at the University of Saskatchewan. 

My sister ran a book club at Moore Memorial Library, in Greene, New York, and Amy was a member of this group. One month we read 'Gaudy Night', and it was incredible to hear her perspective on the novel, which she first read as a young woman in the 1940s.

As well as a puzzling mystery, 'Gaudy Night' deals with a lot of issues women faced in the early 20th century: education, academic integrity, and working, and/ or being a wife and mother. She told us that these were all issues she was dealing with and trying to sort out in her life, and that 'Gaudy Night' was a great inspiration to her.

The wisdom it contains is a continual inspiration to me, it's a novel I've read several times.

The book club at the library. My sister is on the far left, and I'm standing next to her. Amy is two over to the right, wearing a pink/ salmon outfit. 

My favourite quote from the novel is as follows:

"If one's genuinely interested one knows how to be patient, and let time pass...If you truly want a thing, you don't snatch; if you snatch, you don't really want it."

Thursday, June 22, 2017

St. Ninian's Point, Isle of Bute

The next day took us to The Isle of Bute, which, to me, is the perfect place. It is beautiful, quiet, you feel remote, and yet it's only a couple hours journey from Glasgow. It would be such a wonderful place to live. I think I further feel a connection as my great-great grandmother (whom my mother knew personally) was born in Bute. 

Again, I was on a quest to hunt down a couple of holy wells, this time at Ninian's Point, on the west coast of the island. 

On the walk out to Ninian's Point. 

"Big cloud tumbling high, the amazing flying sky..." Donovan songs are rather apt for describing 
island life. 

The remains of a chapel, with circular enclosure, are found on the western tip of the point, dated to the 12th century. In this area, between the chapel remains, and the shell of a much later kippering house, are the wells in question. Neither seems to have an associated name, but their close proximity to the church could mean they have a significant if not holy presence there. I found both, one of which had steps leading down into the well, and may have been used for baptisms. I brought my cup with me, but alas, the water in both these wells was still and scummy, and I did not attempt to drink it. 

The larger well, with steps. 

A close-up of the unappetising water! 

The smaller well. Perhaps one was holy, and one used just for water. It is possible, though, that they both had holy functions and were part of a complex involving the church. 

I'm so glad my friend Rachel was able to come with and share my adventures. I appreciate all the pictures she took of me too! 

It was a beautiful day, and the constant sound of water could be heard lapping the rocks. I felt like I was in Enchanted April. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Kilmory Oib: Part Two

The deserted village, and certainly the well did not disappoint at all, and I had been looking forward to seeing both for over three years. I had even included this village in a novel I recently finished writing (and am trying to get published. I know, a long process!).

Approaching the well and the carved stone which stands above it (seen to the left in the picture). 

I brought a special cup in order to drink from the well. Many thanks to Rachel for taking all these pictures of me!

The well and carved stone. 

A closer look at the stone.

I learned, in my research, that not all holy wells are created equal. Some are little more than springs in the middle of a field, or covered over entirely by modern roads and buildings (such as a holy well in Glasgow which once stood about where St. Enoch' shopping centre is). There used to be certain rituals attendant on wells, one of which was approaching it in silence. I'm afraid I wasn't completely silent myself, but the still beauty and remoteness of this village had a powerful effect on me. 

It is interesting to learn that though the buildings date from the 16th century, the carved stone by the well is probably a thousand years older. There must surely be earlier versions of this village lying beneath the stone ones. It also attests to the sacredness of both the well and the stone that they remained all those years, especially through the reformation. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Kilmory Oib: Part One

Standing in the ruins of the village 

Earlier this month I was able to return to the UK for a two-week trip. It has been almost three years since I graduated from the University of Glasgow, and I missed my home of four years, and all my friends.

I also took the opportunity to travel around to places I'd not managed to see whilst a student. In my last year of uni my father died and I needed to raise money in order to pay for the rest of the school year. I did a Go Fund Me campaign, but I didn't want to ask for too much, so was unable to travel around for research on my dissertation, and I've regretted that since.

My dissertation was on holy wells in Scotland, and one of the places I researched was the deserted village of Kilmory Oib in the lush and beautiful Argyll. There are some signposts, but it was somewhat difficult to find, and would have been impossible to visit without a car.

I was lucky, in my travels this month, that my good friend Rachel (who was my flat mate when I lived in Glasgow) was able to accompany me. The area around Kilmory Oib is so beautiful that I might save the well pictures for a second post!

We walked beside a loch on our way to finding the deserted village. Here I am posing in a kissing gate. Lovely!

There were bluebells everywhere


Approaching the village. 

The ruined 16th century houses

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

1930s Pyjamas

1930s pattern. Very similar to mine

This past weekend I visited a lovely vintage clothing shop in Salt Lake City called Decades. They have a stunning selection from the turn of the century up to the 1970s. There were several things I wanted to buy, but resisted. However, when I found these fabulous 1930s pyjama pants, scenes of Miss Fisher flashed through my head, and I couldn't resist them. I hunted about for a top or bed jacket that matched, and found a top that definitely matched. I'm surprised that they didn't sell it as a set!

A detail of the tag and the lovely scalloped detail. 

An advert for pyjamas and nightgowns. 

Look at those trousers!

Putting on my B├ęsame lipstick with my vintage mirror. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Live & Learn: Vest Pocket Camera

Trying out my Vest Pocket Kodak - in vain!

I'm not sure if I've said much about this on my blog, but I am a writer as well. I've written several novels, and several drafts of certain novels, and hope soon to get at least one of them published!

Whilst researching for one of them, I discovered the Vest Pocket Kodak, which was widely used by soldiers during the First World War. So, I found an affordable one online and, well, I bought it. I then asked my cousin (who is a photographer) if she knew where I could get obscure film, and she pointed me in the right direction. I also found an old manual PDF online, so that I could load the film properly. I carefully chose, over the course of a few months, the eight exposures I would take. In January I took the film in to be developed. Unfortunately, all the exposures turned out nearly black, and not even one could be developed.

This shows the date. Mine is from the early 1920s. 

An old advert I found. 

Isn't it a lovely thing?

I was very disappointed, but at the same time, a little relieved, as processing and developing would have cost nearly $50. Some day I may try to figure out what went wrong, but for now my handsome, wee camera will be used as a prop for special occasions.

No joy! Black as night! 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Fellow Historical Costume Blogger giveaway

There is a huge world out there of amazingly talented women (and men) who make stunning and accurate historical clothing. I still consider myself a novice among them. From my small online encounters with them, however, they are knowledgeable, friendly and very willing to share their knowledge.

One such lady is having a give-away, so I thought I'd enter that giveaway here. Please check out her lovely blog Beauty From Ashes.

That's all for now. Have a good day!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Joy, Health, Love and Peace

Christmas is a crazy time of year. There are always so many things I want to get done, that not even a portion of which is possible.

I really wanted to make a traditional British Christmas Pudding for dinner, and despite the requests for Sticky Toffee Pudding (which I also made from this amazing BBC Recipe), I also made the pudding, and it turned out quite well.

I used a recipe that a friend of mine posted online, and now I don't remember where I found it:

I made several changes to it, however. I used butter instead of suet (which is trickier to find in the States), and instead of raisins & candied peel, I just used currents and dates (which I had on hand to make Sticky Toffee Pudding).

I also made another change in the steaming method. I've tied up puddings in cloth before when making the Scottish 'Clootie Dumpling' for Robert Burns night, but I always burn the cloth. So this I just steamed in a greased pudding basin covered with tin-foil, which worked beautifully.

 It turned out really well. I love old-fashioned steamed puddings.