Monday, 14 April 2014

The Dream - 'Auguries of Innocence'

God as an Architect, illustration from The Ancient of Days 1794 by William Blake

"Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.”
* Excerpt from 'Auguries of Innocence' by William Blake

My third short story 'The Dream' started to form in my mind, as stories are prone to do, just as I was about to go to sleep one night, having been working on some family research. I have centred the story around the life of my Great Grandfather Alexander Stewart born 1869 in Banff. Alexander has always been a mystery to me. Alex grew up in Marnoch, married young and first joined the Police force at Nigg. As a young constable he moved to Inveravon and the Police house at Ballindalloch. Finally moving with his young family to Aberdeen. He did indeed die a mysterious death; a life cut short, although the story I have told is my own work of creative fiction. The records don't record what happened to Alexander. It is a mystery to this day. He disappeared one dark December night, in reality the 26th of December 1908, having gone to visit some friends. He was off duty, just walking home. He was never seen alive again. The local Police in Aberdeen, his fellow colleagues searched for Alex for many months.

The story was covered over the coming months in the local press and searching through the archives of the newspaper records I found one of the reports. Reading it I could imagine both the fears and hopes of my Great Grandmother, and the local men who had joined the search for their fellow Officer. I learned that he was wearing a 'dark blue tweed suit' and it is the little things like this that touch home with me. The details of an ancestor I never knew. That it was near Christmas touched me also. All the details I was glad they had recorded. The locals and Alex's Police colleagues never gave up in their search for him, and for this, those officers from the past will always have my family's thanks. Alex was not forgotten and he was missed.

“Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.”

* Excerpt from 'Auguries of Innocence' by William Blake

At home Alex left a young wife and 7 children. His last son would be born just after his body was found in Aberdeen harbour, 6 months after Alex vanished. A bittersweet time for his family and his wife. His death recorded as accidental drowning, not certified by the coroner. His actual end a mystery. A sad end to a good man, sorely missed by his family and his wife. His wife carried on; a strong single woman, and raised their family accepting no one's help along the way. She died well into her 90's. A woman I look up to and wished that I had met. When young I listened eagerly to my Nan, their daughter, speak of her Father and all she remembered of him. All of these memories of the past had a huge impact on me. They led me to my studies of the past, it's people, and my fascination with history in all it's forms.

"Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee,
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice, Making all the vales rejoice?"
* Excerpt from 'The Lamb' by William Blake

* “The best doctor in the world is the veterinarian. He can't ask his patients ‘what's the matter?’ - he's got to just know” - Will Rogers

* Stained glass Venetian window with memorial to William Dick (1793 - 1866), founder of the Edinburgh Veterinary School, entrance hall.

Whenever I have been researching my family, though we all hail from the far north, I kept finding connections to Edinburgh. My G Grandfather's history was no exception. I found that his Father had lived here while studying to be a vet at the Royal Dick Vet School which was in his day situated in Clyde Street in Edinburgh’s New Town (where the bus station now stands) and was the first in
Scotland and second in the UK to the London College.

* "The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man."
 - Charles Darwin

In the story I mention that Alex had grown up on a farm, and this is true. His Father was Alexander Stewart MRCVS, a veterinary surgeon, as was his brother George Stewart MRCVS. Both Alexander and his Wife's family managed farms in the north east, and it must have been difficult for his Father to send both his sons off to Veterinary School at this time. A costly but worthwhile investment for the future of the area, and for his son's.

Alexander Stewart (grad Dick Vet 25th April 1866) and his brother George Stewart (grad Dick Vet 27th April 1864).

* The staff at the Clyde Street college in Alex and George’s time were;
Professor William Dick (the founder) who taught Veterinary Medicine and Surgery who died in the same year as Alex graduated.
Prof Thomas Strangeways - Anatomy,
Dr Allan Dalzell - Chemistry, Materia Medica and Pharmacy,
Dr Peter Young - Physiology and Histology,
Professor Dick assisted by Mr William Worthington - Practical Pharmacy and
Clinical Instruction.

Staff and Student Class in the Courtyard at Clyde Street, Edinburgh, early 1860's

The fee for attending all the classes was £16:16/- and the course covered 2
years. On top of this of course Alexander and George along with their fellow students would have to pay boarding fees and buy their books for study.

William Dick the founder of the school was born in the Canongate in May 1793. He was the second child of Jean and John Dick, a young farrier who had moved south from Aberdeen to Edinburgh and into lodgings at the foot of the Canongate, in Whitehorse Close. By 1815 the family had moved to the New Town of Edinburgh, into 15 Clyde Street.

William trained as a farrier at his father’s forge in the stable courtyard that was behind numbers 8 and 10 Clyde Street, situated diagonally across the road from his home.

In late 1817, aged 24, William Dick travelled to London to attend the lectures of Professor Edward Coleman at the Veterinary College in Camden. After three months of study he passed his examination and received his diploma in the January of 1818. Back in Edinburgh he then set about establishing his own veterinary school. In 1819 four students attended his class; in 1820 nine students came for his month-long series of free lectures, and from this his class numbers became popular.

By 1833 William had become a successful veterinary practitioner and teacher. He paid for the building of purpose-built accommodation, near the site of his father’s forge in a Clyde Street courtyard. This was the base for his vets school until it moved to a site at Summerhall in 1916. By 1839 his school officially became a College and William Dick held the title Professor. When he died in 1866 he had taught over 2000 students who continued his work throughout the world.

Gradually more farmers turned to the vet for help. Mostly this would be for horses, a valuable and essential part of farming and everyday life. Cattle were treated too, since much depended on healthy animals and good market prices. Cattle plague, as it was called, or Rinderpest, struck Britain in the mid part of the 1860's and few counties, were spared the ravages of this awful disease. It threatened many farmers livelihoods across Europe.

* "Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go." - T.S. Eliot

William Dick himself had said of Rinderpest *“A disease that veterinary surgeons do not understand.” My Great Uncle George Stewart seems to have been a man who did understand, he was well trained. He is commemorated locally by a plaque, and was much lauded in the North east for the work he did in stopping this disease. He contained it and brought the 'plague' in the area to a halt. George was something of a pioneer in veterinary work.

George & Alexander's work as veterinary surgeon's would have been concerned, predominantly, with horses and with cattle and They would have deployed the services of a farrier for many of their equine patients. George was also a farmer of 2½ acres in Rothiemay.

The Dick Vet library holds the Veterinary Register (an annual list of graduate veterinary surgeons) from the year 1889 onwards but also has a few odd earlier volumes. Checking the first one, 1869 the brothers are both given as being at Rothiemay, Banffshire.

Looking at consequent available volumes until 1874 they were both at Rothiemay, Banffshire. By 1878 only Alex shows up at the same address. By 1880 Alexander is in Aberchirder, Banffshire. Then by 1888 Alexander was in Turriff, Aberdeenshire where he remained until 1901, which is the last entry for Alexander in the register. George Stewart himself died in 1874 in Rothiemay, single aged 56. His work had been his life.

Alexander the veterinary surgeon was still working up until his sudden death one day on his farm in 1901. My Great Grandfather chose a different path. He began his life helping his Father on his farm and with his work. His father wanted him to be a vet; to have a calling, and Alex did. He spoke to my Nan of lying on the grass on his breaks looking up at the sky, and at night to the stars above. I think he dreamed, dreamed of a life beyond the farm.

Under a tall old tree in Moray Alex sat one day and proposed to Christina. He carved his name and hers onto the tree. My Father took me for a walk one bright summer day when I was 10, never saying where we were going. He led me over a stream, through the forest until we came to that old tree. When I saw the names I understood. The past came to meet me that day. I reached out my hand to touch where Alex had carved so long ago. It will be forever etched in my mind.

* With thanks to Colin M Warwick, MBE, Honorary Fellow, University of Edinburgh, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies for his help with my research.

Friday, 7 March 2014

It is Sweet and Right - Dulce et Decorum Est

You shall not hear their mirth:
You shall not come to think them well content
By any jest of mine. These men are worth
Your tears: You are not worth their merriment.” - Wilfred Owen

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.” - excerpt from Dulce et Decorum Est

My first short story 'The Playground', is about one man's psychological and emotional journey through WW1. Not an easy subject, but a worthy one, and something that has affected us all; one way or another.

The week before I was fifteen I was talking to my Mother and excited to write out the beginnings of a family tree. My parents were two generations older than me. I was a late addition. Family was especially important to my Mum as she had lost her Mother at age seven. Her Father a veteran WW1 soldier had fought to keep the family together, under threat of them being placed in a home. Times were very different in the 1930's. How could a man bring up a family of five? And so they had adapted, packed up and moved in with their Grandparents. This made for a lively house, her Aunt and family lived there too. Mum would smile as she recounted the stories and adventures and marvel at the way her Grandmother had coped with nine young children.

The four sisters had shared one bed, her brother had shared his Dad's. My Mum's sister Flora was the complainer, always arguing, and in typical childhood response my Mum's eldest sister, aged nine would bite Floras big toe in the bed, as they slept, head to...toe!

I sketched out the family tree, adding the many people and as many details as my parents could remember. I gazed at the names, tried to imagine their life's. Grandparents have been a bit of a mystery to me. I only knew one, my Nan and I had her love in my life for seven years. She was a beautiful person, my Paternal Grandmother. I cherish her still.

I wanted to try and get closer to my other Grandparents, to know them as best as I could. Stories and talking, questions and listening was my way to them. And on my journey I started to feel that I knew them better, started to get to know many of their siblings too. Everyone has a story.

The following week at school my english teacher introduced the class to Wilfred Owen. My journey into war poetry had begun. And it coincided with the study of WW1 in history class.

*The Battle of the Somme, 1916 - the beginning

The Battle of the Somme was the main Allied attack on the Western Front during 1916, famous chiefly for the loss of 58,000 British troops, one third of that number killed on the first day of the battle. The statistics and reality of war are all shocking, but the war poetry brings it home in a very real, and emotional way.

The first poem I read was by Wilfred Owen 'Dulce et Decorum est'. It had a profound effect. History to me is about people, the ordinary man, and war poetry was written by the very men who saw the horror of war. Thanks to them we learn about the men, not just harsh and cold statistics.

I had up, until this point, been reading novels, the classics and social history books. But this poem screamed out to me...shocked me...upset me and made me question. Made me really understand the war we were studying in history. WW1 was a brutal war. The War disrupted life, tore apart families, and yet in the midst of it all people found hope. On the front and at home. Everyone suffered. But they carried on, carved a life and some sense of normality in amidst the madness and the pain.

I thought about the the uncertainty of life, the fragility, their never knowing when it would end. When they could get their lives back. The poem helped me get closer to the men and women and my ancestors. Brought sickening emotion to my heart and mind.

I have perceived much beauty
In the hoarse oaths that kept our courage straight;
Heard music in the silentness of duty;
Found peace where shell-storms spouted reddest spate.” - Wilfred Owen

Many questions tumbled round my head. We are eager when we are young.

My Dad had been a Naval Officer in WW2, his war was fought in Italy; a lifelong connection for him and our family. He learned to admire and respect the Italian people and their resilience in the midst of war. He'd talk about Italy but not of the war. I got to understand that that door he wanted to leave shut. I understood.

*18 November 1916 – The Somme

During the attack the British and French gained 12 kilometres of ground, the taking of which resulted in 420,000 estimated British casualties, including many of the volunteer battalions, plus a further 200,000 French casualties. German casualties were estimated at around 500,000.

                                          (John Singer Sargent's 1918 painting Gassed 
                                                  Imperial War Museum, London)

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys-An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the mist panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.” - Excerpt from 'Dulce et Decorum Est.'

My Grandparents had fought in WW1. And along my journey I discovered many connections. My Maternal Grandfather was at the Somme, he was in the Argyll and Sutherland Regiment. My Paternal Grandfather had also been there. As a teenager this had seemed puzzling that our families could be so close but not yet connected. Perhaps their paths crossed in fleeting moments. Between the gunfire and the shells.

My Maternal Grandfather survived the war but he was invalided out in 1917. He was lucky though and he always said so. His war had been harsh. He was the only survivor out of a group of fellow soldiers. The cause of their deaths was mustard gas.

*'There's a sort of greenish, yellow cloud rolling along the ground out in front, it's coming ---'

'Gas travels quietly, so you must not lose any time; you generally have about eighteen or twenty seconds.' - Guy Empey 1917

My Grandfather James survived the gas only because he had been at the back of the line and someone had grabbed his foot and pulled him out. As he said he was lucky. But his life was never the same. His lungs were burned and he couldn't breathe properly, and this was compounded by the shell shock. He would suffer debilitating panic attacks, loud noises were always a trigger. This is the reality of war. Even the lucky are never the same again.

My Paternal Grandfather Alexander signed up with his younger brother John; and with his best friend George Morrison. They served in the Gordon Highlander Regiment. He was lucky too. John's war ended in 1917 at Ypres; he was 19 years old. When I heard this I was numb. He was a teenager, had signed up straight after finishing Robert Gordon's School in Aberdeen. He had a life not yet lived. My Grandad consequently, like so many others carried the guilt with him forever. Alexander had been at the front when he became ill and collapsed. He was rushed to the medics and to their camp hospital. And they fought to save his life from a burst appendix. He spent over a year in a French Military hospital. Afterwards he learned that George had been killed in action also.

My Nan's Uncle William Innes Stewart had left for Canada twelve years before the war. He served in the Canadian Infantry and his war ended too in 1917. He is remembered at Ypres Menin Gate Memorial. He left Scotland to start a new life and raise a family. But through him we are forever connected to Canada and family over there.

*'Do you know what I want to do now?' he said. 'I'd like to get on one of those little horse-drawn canal boats in southern France and lie in the sun the rest of my life.' - a soldiers account from "Armistice - The End of World War I, 1918,"

Official Radio from Paris - 6:01 A.M., Nov. 11, 1918. Marshal Foch to the Commander-in-Chief.
1. Hostilities will be stopped on the entire front beginning at 11 o'clock, November 11th (French hour).
2. The Allied troops will not go beyond the line reached at that hour on that date until further orders.
5:45 A.M.

The information that there was to be a ceasefire was only communicated to the front line at 10:20 a.m. 11,000 soldiers on both sides died between the signing of the Armistice Treaty at 5:00 a.m. and cessation of hostilities at 11:00 a.m.

Suddenly in the echoing silence there was peace. All over the world people celebrated, danced in the streets, hailed the armistice that meant the end of the war. For those at the front there must have been shock, numbness. They had lived under intense strain, for many long months, a life of mortal danger. They were physically drained, emotionally spent. The past consumed their consciousness. The present did not exist, and the future must have seemed inconceivable.

And in his eyes
The cold stars lighting, very old and bleak,
In different skies.” - Wilfred Owen

The soldier stands as tall as he can.
Raises his hand and wipes the warm
red stream flowing freely down his cheek. The side of his head stings. His battle is over; and it is uncomfortably silent. All has ceased...the gunfire has stopped! No more need to fight, the soldier is at ease with the world, if not himself.” - Excerpt from 'The Playground' – © Karen Bain 2014

The fact is that five years ago I was, as near as possible, a different person to what I am tonight. I, as I am now, didn't exist at all. Will the same thing happen in the next five years? I hope so.” - Siegfried Sassoon

Dedicated to and in memory of all who have died in war, wherever they may be. And to :
Private John Morrison Forbes Bain 5th Battalion Gordon Highlanders, remembered with honour Brown's Copse Cemetry, Roeux
Lance Corporal William Innes Stewart 1st Battalion Canadian Infantry, remembered with honour Ypres Menin Gate Memorial
Alexander Bain 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders died 1949
James Bethel 3rd Division British Expeditionary Force, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, died 1949
James Bain Chief Petty Officer R.N. Deployed as part of 'operation husky', died 2001.

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Sunday, 2 March 2014

My Writing Muse - Nico

My baby cat Nico! Grrrr NaThisChairBeMine DeskBedBeMineToo ComPewtysMas IseGuarding

My constant companion through all my endeavors in the office is my cat Nico. Not that she appreciates the time I have to devote to my work, as naturally as a human I may be her ma, but I am here to worship her! 

Consequently she has the odd argument with a sheet of paper containing my scribbles or runs off with my pens and my paintbrushes. Unfortunately paper is no match for a cat. I used to like writing on paper! She has even been known to take the odd step into the artistic world with her paws, in my paint palette and kitty paw print all over the place.

I have suggested that she could be my editor, give her something to do while I write. An idea we shared over a tea & biscuit break. The look I got back was pure kitty disdain. But she appreciates that no work means no kitty treats. Currently 'Treats' are the word. 

Nico curls up beside me while I work.  And I get a chance to write my 5,000 words or so; some work on my novel, some on short stories and a poem. The time I have before the keyboard cat protest begins, which usually signals kitty tea-time. Nico keeps an excellent clock!

While she sleeps, perhaps she dreams of becoming an armchair writer herself. Sitting cozily beside the fireplace. Writing great works on the adventures of a cat, with her pet human.

“If man could be crossed with a cat, it would improve man but deteriorate the cat.” 
- Mark Twain

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Karen Bain - About Me

Bio: i am a writer & artist with a lifelong love of all things literature, history, writing, painting & photography. i studied a bachelors (Hons) degree in english literature, history & media studies at Uni. later attending art college, getting sidetracked by graphic art, & training in exhibition design. that yearning to write grew & grew, the more i tried to ignore it.

i was a lifelong runner & an athlete at uni, but i have a long term neurological problem & unfortunately i had to give running up, following a life path altering appointment with my brain surgeon. i am also an epilepsy warrior. mood disorder wise, running was always a necessary. we face challenges, we find new ways. life is precious, & for me, writing became my path back to some form of recovery, after my op. 

there has been much darkness along the way, & the depression i nearly lost to as a teen has moved back in. i recognise it, know its face, all its movements. i know that writing helps. but i am uncomfortable with depressions presence. as mental illness warriors, we fight on. 

i have been writing since a child, typewriter on desk 4 year old. and my first rejection on my poetry was delivered from my P3 teacher, who deemed my gothic poem on owls, gore included, unacceptable for reading out to the class. i would like to hereby state,that i was not impressed, with the quality of daisy / flower poems that were read out, that day either.

i had poetry published in my 20's in different anthologies. i then made the curious decision that, i wasn't a writer. my writing hand itched & itched. writers i have since found out, can only be writers. poetry is a medium that i love as it is so free, & expressive. since then i have been published in different magazines, but haven't sought to publish actively as my focus has been on my continuing health battles & mental health battles. my writing fights with me. 

currently i am writing a serial short, and writing & getting happily lost in my novel, which walks between my characters lives & dilemmas in time & space within an 1880's gothic / modern interlocked story. i hope to release a book of poetry (once i get the poem order to behave) early 2018. there are some wonderful writers & poets out there, their work & words help me every day. they add to my life & i am thankful to be part of that creative community. 

‘That the borders of our memories are as shifting, and that our memories are a part of one great memory, the memory of Nature herself.’ ~ William Butler Yeats