Playlist for Life Western Isles campervan tour blog by Andy Lowndes the Music Detective
Today I had a community engagement event at An Lanntair in Stornoway. Here I met Maggie Smith from the Arora project which focuses on the development of a dementia friendly community on the Islands.
Maggie and I discussed Playlist for Life and in particular the cultural relevance of music to the islanders.
Issie and I were delighted to be invited along to the Tuesday ceilidh at Clisham Ward. We helped out by making tea and coffee for everybody and distributing the cakes and biscuits that Ellie had provided, and we enjoyed a bit of a chinwag as everyone got themselves settled in and comfortable.
Issie and I took along lots of visual information from the Community Land Scotland oral history project exhibition. It all relates to the history or land ownership in North and West Harris and the community buyouts. As none of the men and women who came along to the ceilidh had any Harris connections, we didn’t spend much time talking about it. It seemed better to focus on things that interested the people who were there. Luckily Paula and Kate had arranged for us to borrow their crofting memory box as it links in with our own project insofar as much of North and West Harris are under crofting tenure. Issie wouldn’t let me open the box beforehand, so its contents were as much a surprise and moment of exploration for us as for anyone else.
One of the ladies was very keen to see what was inside the big yellow box that was sitting in the middle of the table. The first item out of the box was a huge bag…most of us didn’t have a clue what it was for, but Issie is a crofter from Assynt and she explained that the bag is used for collecting the sheep fleeces. The bag stirred lots of memories for Issie and we all enjoyed her sharing her memories of clipping the sheep.
All of the other items in the box were much smaller and easier to handle. One man liked the dried seaweed in a jar. We took it out of the jar and felt its textures and sniffed it to see if we could detect any smell. We passed it all around the table – some were more impressed with it than others!
There were lots of implements relating to butter and cream production. Everybody seemed to know what they were for except for me – I think I’m a bit too young to remember such things. It was lovely to hear people explain how they were used. One lady and one man in particular spent time showing us how these implements were used and sharing their memories of using them when they were growing up.
The crofting memory box proved a hit. There were so many interesting things in it that sparked memories for people that we barely began to explore the contents properly. As each item came out and was passed around, we invariably got caught up in it. There was plenty left in the box at the end of the session still to be looked at, but time ran away with us.
As well as being a thoroughly enjoyable session, using the crofting box helped Issie and I realise how helpful tactile items can be in sparking memories for people. We will need to think really hard about how to translate the contents of our exhibition, which are mainly visual and textual, into something that might be a bit more interactive and meaningful for people. I suppose an exhibition is actually very limited in who it can reach, so this will be an excellent challenge for us as we would love to reach as many people as possible.
Dr Louise Senior
IMAGES TO FOLLOW SHORTLY FROM DR ISSIE MCPHAIL
Tuesday Ceilidh at Western Isles Hospital today was a lively session with ten people from the wards coming along at one point, although some came and went as they needed for their own comfort levels.
Three NHS staff (plus staff members supporting people to and from the session) came along, Ellie from Alzheimer Scotland and myself, Paula from Arora. One of the NHS Dementia Champions were there.
I took along many harvest items, inspired by Kate’s Harvest film of the quernstone from Taigh Chearsabhagh and that lovely quern song. The veg was from my daughter’s allotment and it provided many familiar items to look at and hold, such as courgettes, beans, onions and marrow. There were also some fantastical oddly shaped, colourful new varieties of squash, gourd, and even some cucamelons!
We laughed at the weight and size of some of the vegetables, especially the mutant-huge yellow courgette.
I brought along some apples with pink flesh from my Dad’s trees. We passed them round for the fresh, fragrant smell of apple and the bright colours. Some were devoured immediately. No pesticides, no fertilisers, just fresh old English variety apples. We think they are called ‘Sops In Wine’ as a variety.
We talked about the Harris Tweed wedding dress in the Museum and one lady said ‘I remember her parents, both school teachers and I think her father was a counsellor.’
We talked with one gentleman about the joy in the skill of fishing ‘Pure pleasure, when you know what you’re doing’, he said, munching into a second piece of rhubarb and custard cake. ‘Can you come home and be my baker? she aked’
Another gentleman was more about farming than fishing, but he was really interested in the varieties of vegetables, the bright colours of the rainbow chard, the colours and knobbly shapes of the Turks Head Squash. He was also really interested in the Harris Tweed samples. ‘That’s beautiful’, he said at one pattern, in pale blues with a red stripe. I asked if he was a weaver – no, but his mother was. He really loved the image of North Uist that Ellie brought along but couldn’t place the cottage.
One lady with verbal communication difficulties managed a few words but really enjoyed holding the vegetables and weighing them in her hands. She enjoyed the fresh smell of the apples.
Another lady managed to smile and engage in conversation about veg and the village magazines for a little while before she needed to go back to the ward. She ate a pretty pink cake, too.
I spent some time with a lady who tried the Harris Tweed on for size as a skirt and imagined what that would be like. She didn’t like the post box red tweed but really loved the deeper cherry-maroon colour. This lady enjoyed reading some words from the pictures and village magazines on the table.
The student nurse had been on Clisham Ward for a fortnight and said ‘I’ve never seen her so engaged and reading in the past two weeks and I was surprised that (another lady) managed to engage and enjoy it for a little while.
It is proven time and time again that time together, new faces, the friendly buzz around the table at the Tuesday ceilidh is really priceless for supporting people’s social and communication needs. I managed to initiate a conversation across the table between the two gentlemen about fishing, albeit a brief one.
Another lovely opportunity today arose when a lady was preparing for her husband to return home tomorrow, and Ellie from Alzheimer Scotland was able to give her resources, plus I was able to offer Me Time sessions for carers, Art Ceilidhs for her husband and for them both together, through the pocket cinema sessions at An Lanntair.
The cakes were Great British Bake Off inspired with teacakes from this past week and with a fruity cake in the form of rhubarb and custard from week one.
Today, I had the wonderful opportunity of not only meeting up with lovely fellow awardees from cohort 1 of the Life Changes Trust Dementia Friendly Communities but meeting many of the new round of awardees as well.
The Station Hotel was so full, we had no room for tables!
I tweeted from the event from @dfclanntair so please go and have a look at our twitter feed and follow us.
My break out group was all about the islands, which was a brilliant opportunity to meet Libby from Tagsa Uibhist, who has been working with our lovely Kate plus the team from Orkney!
The AFC Aberdeen team mascots were in the house and posing for photographs, always great fun!
We heard wonderful talks from Tide carers, Alzheimer Scotland, MECOPP, see our Twitter for all speakers, plus an exciting update from Life Changes Trust, relating to future opportunities.
We are speaking at the next gathering on 11th December. See you there!
Today, at the Tuesday Ceilidh, we welcomed Gill Thompson, Printmaker, again, plus some Bake-off inspired cakes.
As is the nature of this weekly ceilidh in Western Isles Hospital, Stornoway, there is an ever changing gathering of people. Some recovering from surgery, stroke and falls, some having been there quite some time and waiting for a care placement or home care, some visiting, some NHS staff and some of the Alzheimer Scotland team.
We had spoken previously about the Great British Bake Off being back on our screens and I had promised some bakes from this week’s on-screen challenges. I brought a toffee-apple cake and some of the mini rolls.
Gill explained that she is working on the panels for the ward Memory Garden and that she has been working on birds from three themes – machair, shoreline and garden birds.
Today, being September, we focussed on the Guga, or Gannet image, creating it as a collagraph for later printing. The Guga hunters are back on dry land in Ness now, and it was a wonderful topic of conversation around the table. How it smells, how it tastes, how it anchors the season for the folk of Ness.
Gill also made a collagraph plate of a thrush for the garden birds panel.
Everyone was enthralled by Gill’s art expertise and very engaged with the process, although two people attending didn’t really want to have a go at creating a bird, they were really interested in the process nonetheless.
The cakes went down really well, too. The balance of tart apple against sweet toffee and the mint against the chocolate were topics of conversation, as well as the GBBO television connection.
We will be back in a fortnight – I am on the mainland on holiday next week.
Last week the theme was Harvest a follow on from the Toradh/Harvest Festival across Uist and Benbecula. First there was the quernstone milling event at Taigh Chearsabhagh where we all took turns to hand mill grain along to Linda Macleod’s beautiful singing of ‘Cronan Brathann’, an òran-bràthann/quern song. The lovely chorus ‘Hi hòi leagan’ has been spinning in my head ever since. During the evening I chatted with visitors to the event and started gathering ideas for a Harvest theme session at the Care Homes.
Clachan – bràth/ quernstone, saddle stone
Margaret Joan and I were leading the children’s Saturday Art club at Taigh Chearsabhagh and all the children were in agreement that the quernstone was harder work but more productive than the saddle stone.
The meditative spinning of the quernstone carried through to Trianaid where one lady was mesmerized and kept playing the video of the quernstone spinning on repeat. It has a very soothing and calming effect especially along with Linda’s singing.
Eòrna/Barley, Coirce Beag/Dwarf Oats and Seagal/Rye
I had taken a grain hand mill along with me to the Care Home and everyone took a turn of milling including all the carers. We all sang along or hummed as best we could to the milling song, some people milling in time and others just trying to mill as fast as possible for the amusement of the group! It definitely took out the competitive side in everyone! There were plenty whoops and cheers and claps.
Sitting around in the group people started to share stories, one man came out with his own version of Katie Bairdie;
Katie Mary had a coo
Black and White aboot the mou
When the coo began to moo
Dance Katie Mary
This sparked off another saying;
The whistle of a woman
The crow of a hen
Will surely take the devil
Out of his den
All the ladies in the room objected saying it wasn’t feminist but this was balanced out by stories that; ‘There was a woman in Heisgeir who smoked a pipe and would chew and spit the tobacco, she even inhaled the smoke’. A true independent lady who clearly paved the way for the next generations!
Home-made Harvest/Christmas Decorations:
We used to use the wrappers of sweets so they were all different colours. We would save the sweetie wrappers and then flatten them out and wrap them around the oats. We would keep them as Christmas decorations. They are very beautiful.
Clachan Speal (scythe sharpening stones)
Clach gorm (blue stone)
Clach bhàn (red stone)
Yes we had them, of course, I’ve still got them at home.
First you use the clach gorm, then the clach bhàn.
I remember those we called them ‘whetstones’ from when I used to make cars.
What could we make with the grained mill…
We would make brose – you would bake it in the oven. It takes a while though it would really just be when you had the time.
Let’s make some whisky!
There was a mill in Grimsay – well there must have been because the name of the loch is ‘Loch a Mhuillinn’ and then the stream is Alt A’Mhuillin.
There was one in Benbecula too, I don’t know when that closed down but it’s beautiful around there.
And at Howmore
And Gearran Mill.
And some sea stories…
I once heard it said that all the rats on Uist could be traced back to the shipwreck on Baleshare the James A Wright. They came off that ship.
There was a man that was drowned and he haunted Heisgeir – we would come back as a ghost in full highland dress. Yes my Uncle saw him.