The Day I Bumped Into ‘Duncan’, One of the Hungry Generation!

Had a lovely trip across the Kessock Bridge to the Black Isle yesterday afternoon. It was a glorious autumn day, so after skirting the water’s edge on the south side as far as Rosemarkie, we then took the road that leads inland towards the Cromarty Firth on the north side. The plan was to visit the cemetery where Jane Duncan is buried and then head towards Jemimaville, where she lived for many years with Uncle George, in the house she built by the shore.

The gravestone behind her own, marks the place where her brother is buried. Their stones face directly across Udale Bay towards Jemimaville, and to the place on the hill that always remained her ‘spiritual home’ wherever else in the world she lived, the Reachfar of her novels.

We had just wandered down one of Jemimaville’s side lanes to visit Jane’s old house, when we spotted some people doing a spot of gardening, no doubt ‘the big tidy-up’ ahead of winter. Conscious of the fact travel restrictions are in place around the country at the moment, I wanted to reassure them we were local, so stopped for a wee chat. It turned out it was Neil, Jane’s nephew, who became immortalised in her books as one of ‘The Hungry Generation’. He and his lovely wife now live in the village, and were happy for me to take a picture.

Neil aka ‘Duncan’, with his wife

For someone who has a whole blog dedicated to Jane Duncan and her books, this was quite something, and an encounter I hadn’t expected when we headed off that fine day. Once home I revisited My Friends the Hungry Generation and remembered it had been signed by Neil and his siblings at the wonderful centenary event in 2010. Here is that book with its beautiful cover by Virginia Smith. I will also share the page from the booklet written for the event, which had pictures of the family, before finishing with an extract from the book, the scene when Janet meets the oldest three children for the first time when on a visit home from the Caribbean. Enjoy.

Pictures of The Hungry Generation in the booklet written to accompany the 2010 centenary event

On the occasion of Janet’s first meeting with Liz, Duncan and Gee, 1956.

(Extracted from My Friends the Hungry Generation by Jane Duncan)

‘Stand by for boarders,’ my brother said suddenly. ‘Here comes the Hungry Generation.’

In 1951, when I had last seen my niece, she had been an entrancing three-year-old who was just beginning to read and when the door opened now I was quite unprepared for the leggy coltish eight-year-old dressed in navy shorts and a very dirty white shirt. She had long, light brown pigtails and large eyes, shaped and darkly lashed like the eyes of her mother but, in colour, the brilliant blue of her father’s. The two boys, who stood on either side of her in the doorway, I had never seen before, of course. Duncan, called after my father, was five and seemed to have no connection with his mother at all, for he had bright red-gold curly hair and blue eyes and looked exactly as my bother had at that age, but George, aged four and called after his mother’s father, had been obliging enough to go entirely her side of the family and was, I was told, very like the grandfather whose name he bore, with his dark grey eyes and straight jet-black hair.

A Sunday Drive to Cromarty (aka Achcraggan)

This afternoon was dreich and drizzly but as I intend to start updating this blog more often, I decided we should have a casual drive through to Cromarty, the Achcraggan of the My Friend… series of books.

The firth is chock-a-block with oil rigs and platforms in the process of being decommissioned at the moment, but the town itself is the same as ever, the Fishertown houses gable end to the sea and the massive old town houses standing proud off the main streets.

Heading past the Old Brewery, we climbed the steep brae that leads out of town and spotted this strange creature in a field.

Once we got closer we realised it was a sculpture, and not the real thing, although many a child is probably convinced otherwise. It made more sense when we discovered it was standing in the grounds of a revamped stable block that now houses a Creative Arts hub. No horses nowadays but rather sculptors and printmakers. It seems they like to play fantastical tricks on unsuspecting passers-by!

Alyson

The Old Brewery, Cromarty

I have just returned from a Weekend Residential held in the village of Cromarty, the Achcraggan of the My Friend… series of books. For only the second time since I started my Creative Writing course at college last September, I met up with my classmates in a non-virtual fashion, so it was a great chance to catch up. Courses like ours are mainly done online nowadays, with lectures being given via Video Conference. ‘Tis the times, but the weekend was a resounding success so more will follow no doubt.

The centre where we stayed is an old brewery, so what better name for this quite fabulous centre for the arts than, The Old Brewery. I am local-ish, so know the village well, and my husband’s very first job was at the local pottery (it is a very artsy place), but for people who have never visited before, it really is quite something – Almost a time capsule from the 18th century when Cromarty was one of the most prosperous places in Scotland because of trade with Northern Europe, and because of the vast shoals of silver darlings (herring to you and I) that were caught off its shores.

I did say it was almost an 18th century time capsule however, and that would be because if you look west along the firth, the view is something like this. I went out for an evening walk amongst the quaint streets of the old fishertown, but when I joined the shore road, I was quite mesmerised by the scale of the lit-up structures attached to the oil fabrication yard on the north side of the firth.

Drilling rigs are parked up in the Cromarty Firth near Invergordon, Scotland

The Oil Fabrication Yard at Nigg

However, in the morning, I woke up to this – What a weird mix of old and new, but strangely alluring too, as it brings a modern-day sharpness to the quaint and slightly twee village.

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The quaint village of Cromarty

Over the course of the weekend, an invitation went out to give readings of either your own work, or that of a favourite author. Of course for me it was simple, as what better to read when in Cromarty, but a couple of excerpts from My Friends the Miss Boyds. The two I chose have already featured in this blog, The Freedom of the Individual and The Difference between Townsfolk and Countryfolk.

I think they both went down quite well.

Alyson

Pictures of The Old Store

I am very sorry, but I haven’t posted anything new on this blog for over a month. My poor mum is in hospital and won’t be able to go home, so I have to find a care home for her. This has been a massive challenge as there just don’t seem to be enough places for the number of old folk who require them.

The old folk of Reachfar of course would never have had to face that prospect as I doubt if care homes existed in the “Achcraggan” featured in the My Friend series. Families looked after their own and I know Jane Duncan herself looked after Uncle George at her house on the shore, until his death. I would have loved to be able to do the same for my mum but she needs 24 hour care so not really possible for modern day families who still have to work and have grown up children still living at home.

Whatever, all will sort itself out soon I’m sure, but in the meantime here are a few pictures of the house Jane Duncan converted from an old storehouse, down on the shore-line at Jemimaville. The people who live in it now are conscious of its history and we were lucky to be able to visit it a few years ago. I give you The Old Store (renamed Reachfar it seems).

Alyson

 

“Achcraggan” Church

The East Church in “Achcraggan”

Had a lovely visit to Cromarty earlier on this year with a friend who was over from Australia. Amongst other things, we paid a visit to the East Church, which was very probably the inspiration for the Reverend Roderick’s church in the My Friend... novels.

Alyson

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Inside the East Church

Autumnal Equinox

Well, it’s the day of the autumnal equinox, that pivot point in the year when there will now be more hours of darkness, than light. Makes me a bit sad, but on the upside, there will be all those lovely autumn colours to look forward to over the the next couple of months.

A good few years ago I took a picture of something from the natural world every day for a year, and built up a lovely set of 365 shots which documented all four seasons. Lets have a look back and find the photos from around this time.

Alyson

Taken in and around my neck of the woods, September the 21st to 25th, 2010.

Recipe for Cranachan

Yesterday I posted an extract from My Friends the Miss Boyds. Like most fans of the My Friend… series of books, I have a great fondness for the character Uncle George and admired his playfulness, his innate ability to read people and his understanding of the balanced path we need to tread through life. As he said in the extract, his illicit still was something employed for pleasure, in a quiet way, amongst cronies. They never got ambitious or made money from it, so although essentially illegal, not a crime that was ever likely to get him into bother.

Talking of illicit stills (and thus whisky), here is a recipe which I very much doubt would have ever appeared on the supper table at Reachfar, as Janet’s grandmother would never have allowed such a thing. I do suspect however, that this traditional Scottish dessert of oats, cream, honey, whisky and raspberries, might have appeared on the dining table at Poyntdale, the Big House. I made some recently for English friends who had come for dinner, as part of a Scottish themed menu, and very nice it was too.

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Cranachan

3 oz oatmeal
1 pint double cream
7 tbsps whisky
3 tbsps runny honey
1 lb raspberries

Toast the oatmeal (different from porridge oats) in a frying pan, taking care none of it burns. Keep some back for decoration.

Lightly whip the cream until it reaches the peak stage then fold in the whisky, honey, oatmeal and raspberries. Again keep some raspberries back.

Serve in glasses garnished with a few raspberries, a sprig of mint (optional) and a sprinkling of the toasted oatmeal.

Place in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Serve and enjoy!

Alyson

Cromarty Bridge

A short poem by Alyson

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Making out of town on the ancient lie
of a General Wade road

Looking down towards the pale blue ribbon
that is the shallow firth

Muted, mauve, autumnal willowherb
fringes the grey macadam

A curved causeway, chain-like in the distance,
appears to guide me home

Recipe for Girdle Scones

A few years ago I was in MacDonald’s Hardware in Dingwall (an excellent store for those of us who enjoy all things of an ironmongery nature) and spotted an old fashioned girdle, just like the one my granny used to have. Most mornings, especially during the long summer holidays when her grandchildren were around, she would mix together a few ingredients and make some pancakes or girdle scones. I absolutely had to buy one for myself, and soon found the perfect recipe, ironically on a website set up by a lady in Dunedin, New Zealand. Considering Dunedin (Dùn Èideann) is the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, and considering the fact that New Zealand is awash with the offspring of former Scottish immigrants, I thought it was quite fitting.

I know that in the kitchen at Reachfar, girdle scones would have been made daily. No doubt the young Janet would have helped out with the making of the  dough. In case you want to try them out for yourself (a heavy pan can be substituted for a girdle), here is the recipe. Very easy indeed, and quick to make. I took some pictures last time I made some and you must admit, they do look tasty, especially if spread with some homemade strawberry jam.

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Girdle scones

1 cup plain flour
2 tspns baking powder
1/2 oz butter
pinch of salt
1/2 cup currants
1/2 cup milk

Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl.

Rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Stir in the currants (or sultanas if you prefer) and then add just enough milk to make a soft dough. Don’t add all the milk at once though, in case you don’t need all of it. If your dough looks a little sticky don’t be afraid to add a little more flour.

Roll out to roughly 1/2 an inch thick and cut into six wedges.

Grease the girdle then place on a hob until hot. Carefully transfer the “snuggled up” wedges onto the girdle and wait until golden brown and cooked in the middle. Takes roughly 5 minutes on either side. When turning your wedges, be careful to place them gently on the hot surface, and try to turn them only once.

Transfer to a cooling rack and enjoy!

Alyson