Monday, 5 September 2011

What I did on my holidays

Did we have a summer this year? Possibly not. Though my garden did produce a knee-high volume of grass, docks and buttercups so I guess we must have.

Craggy landscape, Northern Ireland, 2011
Now the new term is starting, I'm thinking back over what I did during the two months off. The good things included a trip to Ireland, which is where my dad's two grannies came from, and also where Keith's dad's family were from. We spent three days in Sligo and three based in Ballymena, so this was an all-Ireland trip and a very educational one for me, too, given it was my first visit to the island.

The biggest shock for me was seeing so many Union flags and NI flags with their 'red hand of Ulster', hanging from every lamppost in the main street as we drove off the ferry at Larne. There's clearly a strong desire to proclaim a nationality, there, and a separate one at that from the rest of the island. I think of the design for a new sculpture which is planned for the main road north from England to Scotland, with its shooting, revolving stars, and I guess the difference is that Scotland, now, doesn't feel under quite so much pressure of being overwhelmed and assimilated by its bigger neighbour.  Though I see that Belfast has its own significant piece of architectural and stellar sculpture planned, too, as this link shows. No one turned up for a public meeting about that so I guess the flags might be statement enough for many. Enough on that from me.

Carol looking awkward at Bellanurly, Co. Sligo
In Bellanurly, just outside Sligo, we tracked down the field where my grandmother was born in 1888. I hope there was a house there at the time! Sligo town and the area around it were beautiful. So, too, were the north and north east coast of Northern Ireland. We had a very blustery day at the Giant's Causeway, which was atmospheric, and then blissfully clear and calm weather for our trip south towards Glenarm, the village Keith's father's family were from. Sadly, I managed to delete half of my photos while they were still in my camera (don't ask) but Keith took some. Here are a few:
Turbulent Garavogue River, Sligo, Aug 2011
Yeats' Building, Sligo, August 2011

The river that flows through Sligo is very lively. Perhaps it's tidal?  There were plenty of swans on it, despite the currents.
The Glasshouse Hotel, Sligo, 2011
We also passed what might be Coole Park, setting for one of my favourite W. B. Yeats' poems, The Wild Swans at Coole. The building in the picture was donated by one of the banks to create a museum in recognition of the poet, who spent a lot of his childhood in Sligo.

Carol, near the Giant's Causeway, Aug 2011
Keith on a blustery day at Giant's Causeway, Aug 2011
One very good thing about my holiday was that I was able to take lots of notes and I've since written a 3000 word story set there. Lots of it is direct fact in that it uses real landscapes, weather and incidents, but it's fiction in that the characters are imagined and the central storyline is untrue.
Causeway flags

I really like the neatness of these 'flagstones'. 

I've called the story 'Flags' and have sent it off to a magazine already. Normally, I'd leave it a while and then read it over and over again during editing. Fallow time helps defamiliarise it so the writer can discover it as if for the first time, coming close to what the prospective reader will experience. However, I've sent it off already. If it comes back with a thanks but no thanks, fair enough: I'll work on it again.

Also during the summer, I took the decision to step down from the steering group of the Scottish Writers' Centre. I was involved there for about eighteen months and found it to be hugely fulfilling. I've really enjoyed my time working with the others on the committee but I needed a break. Being a volunteer can be so demanding! Full praise for those who devote so much time and effort to help realise the vision they have.

The Scottish Writers' Centre has a full programme for the months ahead and I recommend a visit to their website - and to their events, which are mostly held in the CCA at 350 Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. I certainly plan on going along to most of them.

So that was my summer 2011. As for the poor weather - better to have downpours and few sunny days than no rain at all.

The background to this summer is that famine has returned to East Africa. I've long been a supporter of the great work done by Oxfam, and urge everyone to consider making a regular donation to them, if at all possible. Many a mickle maks a muckle - lots of us giving a small amount adds up to a great deal.

Yet, surely, in these days, we should be able to do much more than emergency responses? Surely 'capital' should be able to see and seize financial opportunities to provide solar-powered desalination plants and pipelines and to provide valuable infrastructure in Somalia and Kenya? Labour there must be cheap just as Irish navvy labour was cheap one or two hundred years ago when Britain's canals and railways were built.

East Africa could be developed just as Ireland itself was and just as 'the wild west' of the USA was, with private capital funding massive construction projects like railways, roads, electricity, plumbing. It was do-able then. A few people got rich on it and millions benefitted in the process. Why is it not do-able in East Africa now?  

Carol and grand-daughter Mhairi enjoying the luxury of a lush garden, summer 2011.