Monday, December 09, 2013

A change of view

For too many years now I have concentrated on my ancestry to the East.  This became most intense while my mother was living with us, and I seemed to be spending the majority of my time remembering my childhood in Greece.  I had not realised just how firmly my compass had been stuck in that direction until our trip to Edinburgh and the East coast in Autumn.
It's interesting how accumulations of bits of ideas come together to become something thoroughly compelling.  In the best holiday read review pages this summer I found Alexander McCall Smith recommending Distance and Memory by Peter Davidson.  The former is a great favourite of mine as an author, especially his series of books set in Edinburgh, so I was alerted to the possibilities - especially as Distance and Memory is a book of essays.  The essay, like the short story is a form I very much enjoy.  I was also curious in that the setting is Aberdeenshire.
Dunnideer Fort (from here) - possibly the earliest tower-house on the Scottish mainland
I was born in Insch, Aberdeenshire, the village at the foot of Dunnideer hill. I left when a baby, but returned for Easter holidays while my grandparents were alive.
A sunny day in January 1949, with Grandma
My father and I used to go on walks up Dunideer, an easy hill, and used to sing '... whaur the Gadie rins, At the back o' Bennachie' (words and music here).  There were not many holidays there, however, and I never returned.  Holidays to Scotland have been either to Edinburgh or the the West coast since.
Relatively recently I learned that not only was Dunideer a Pictish fort, but that there are many Pictish remains around.  I have decided that I will dedicate my end of year hibernation reading to finding out more about the area around where I was born, and to learning about the Picts.  I am also reading a book about the farming year in Aberdeenshire, because my grandmother was from farming stock, and my father's cousins still farmed when I was a child.  We have since lost touch with that side of the family.
My reading list is as follows:
Asterix and the Picts (great fun, and another brilliant translation by Anthea Bell, who did a splendid translation of Le Petit Nicolas for one of the publishing houses where I worked.  Too little deserved glory goes to translators!)
Wirds an' Wark 'E Seasons Roon (Words and work, the seasons round)
The Art of the Picts and In the Shadow of Bennachie: A Field Archaeology of Donside, Aberdeenshire as well as Distance and Memory, which I am halfway through, and enjoying greatly.  I, like McCall Smith am reading it slowly at bedtime in order to keep it going until Peter Davidson's The Idea of North arrives.
And a coincidence is that Peter Davidson is married to Jane Stevenson who wrote the excellent biography of Edward Burra which informed and delighted me, and the collections Several Deceptions and Good women - both also much enjoyed.


  1. I have a great fondness for Aberdeenshire - especially the Dee valley west of Banchory. It is always beautiful.
    We visit several times a year as my husband has strong family roots in the area - and we've climbed Bennachie. He has read many books about the life in Aberdeenshire and especially the old ways of farming as his ancestors were tenant farmers.

  2. Although it has been too long since I paid attention to that part of Scotland, it is now a new delight for me to immerse myself in finding out about it.

  3. This is just not a part of Scotland I know. But I love Scotland and must go and explore some more.

  4. Interesting to learn more about your roots, Olga. We have some commonality in our roots with farming stock.

    After my parents passed away, too young, I found myself becoming ever more deeply interested in learning about the very ancient history of the Finns and Finno-Ugrics and thus going even farther back to the origins of all humans. Similar to your search, I think.

  5. Living to work, there are many interesting areas in Scotland. Aberdeenshire is certainly one of them.

    Marja-Leena, I do like researching (in a casual way), and am certainly curious about the Picts. I find it surprising how little we were taught about them at school in Scotland, and what little interest there seemed to be in their art in Aberdeenshire when we were surrounded by it. But, as you found concerning the First Nations, attitudes do change.