‘Return to WordPress’ Ramblings…

Wow, a blog post! Finally! Woo hoo! Yay!

Hi there everyone, I’ve been meaning to get back on here for WEEKS but finally managed to sit my a**e down and do it today. How are you all?

My last post was in August 2016?! I know I said I was going to take a break but even I wasn’t expecting it to be a year long. A bunch of important stuff happened, though. I’ll give you a brief rundown and then get on to cat pictures and Scottish scenery, which, let’s face it, is what everyone would much prefer… 😉

So, as it turned out I didn’t enjoy my new roles within the driver training industry as much as I thought I was going to. As 2016 wore on I was getting more and more unhappy, and wondering what to do about it. Then, I had a wake up call…

In December, hubby’s step-brother died of a sudden heart attack. He was 46 years old, the same age as myself.

I decided life is too short to be stuck doing things that make you unhappy, if there’s any way out of them. After a heartfelt discussion with hubby, I began to make some changes in the New Year. I left The AA, and became an independent driver trainer. I stopped training instructors, and went back to learners and a few qualified drivers. I also went part-time, and acquired another job for three days a week. I am now a Steward for Historic Environment Scotland, based at Inchmahome Priory on the Lake of Menteith. I’ll do a blog post just on this in due course, as there is LOTS to say about it: beautiful scenery, nature, and loads of history, of course!

Although I’m still ironing out a few life niggles (who isn’t?), I’m much happier in my work. It’s a juggling act balancing the two jobs, but I LOVE my Steward’s role. It gets me out of the enclosed environment of the car and into the fresh air, I get to chat Scottish history with lots of people, and – I get to sail a boat! 🙂

The upshot of these positive changes has meant that I actually feel like writing again. So here I am! Also, I need to get back into the way of writing, as I’ve enrolled for my third year with the Open University, continuing with my degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. That starts in October, so I’m getting prepared!

Whew! I think that’s pretty much everything. As promised, here are some photos of what I’ve been up to…

As you can see, the cats are all fine…

Inchmahome Priory

Inchmahome bluebells back in May

Ducks and my little boat in the background

Oh, and the keeping fit has been going pretty well, too. More on that in future. Here’s me looking sweaty after running round the Kelpies. 😀

So, that’s the (abridged) story so far. Hopefully, I’ve found my mojo again and I’ll be back on this blog more often. Tell me what you’ve been up to, readers! Has anyone else made big changes? Or small ones?

Karen xx

Advertisements

Social Media Friends Are Really Real!

About three years ago I met a lady on social media who has become one of my best friends. Coral McCallum is a fellow writer (among other things like fellow cat lady and fellow rock chick), and today she publishes her second book, Impossible Depths (Silver Lake series Book 2). (Find out more about Coral’s books at the end of this post). I am a proud friend, and plan to spend a great part of today reading said book! Just for fun, here’s the blog post I wrote after our first meeting in person. We have met many more times since then, for gigs, for shopping, and for lots of coffee. 😀

**********

I took a jaunt down the west coast of Scotland this weekend, to meet a friend. Namely, one Coral McCallum, who I’ve been chatting to on Facebook and Twitter for months. Coral is a writer, and decided at the beginning of the year to join in the blogging world. Do visit her blog for short stories, poetry, and mad anecdotes involving rock music and cats (do you see why we get on? 😉 )

Coral and I met online through our shared love of rock music, and in particular, Mr Myles Kennedy, lead singer extraordinaire with Alter Bridge and Slash. Once we got chatting properly, we discovered we also both liked cats, coffee, and carrot cake. As we are only about an hour’s drive from each other, we started talking about meeting up in person. I hadn’t visited Coral’s neck of the woods for many years and thought a wee road trip might be in order. Coral had also been bigging up her local coffee shop, so with the promise of caffeine and cake, I pointed my little car west on Saturday afternoon.

The morning had been very wet and windy, but by the time I set off it was just windy. The sun was even making an attempt to come out. It was a pleasant drive down the edge of the river Clyde, even if the view was still a bit obscured by cloud. I followed Coral’s very clear instructions to the coffee shop, and was rewarded by the sight of her waving at me as I approached (I have a very distinctive car, covered as it is with bright yellow AA stickers). After parking on the sea front and nearly being blown away, we dived inside and began chatting. It’s slightly weird meeting someone face to face after you’ve only spoken to them online. We’d had some pretty in depth chats but it’s different doing it in person. Fortunately neither of us decided we couldn’t stand the other, so over a delicious Latte for me and Americano for Coral, we talked cats, music, family, and more cats. We both had carrot cake and I have to say, the coffee shop lived up to expectations. Yum!

Coral had very kindly invited me for dinner, and had obviously decided during our coffee shop meeting that I wasn’t a nutter (well, not too much), and I was safe to invite to the house. After a quick tour of the town shops (during which I bought the first of this year’s Christmas presents – go me!) we made a small convoy to her home. I got to meet the human family and three out of four of the cat family. The missing one was off on an adventure and hadn’t been home for a few days, the scamp. (He has since returned safe and sound). Cue more coffee drinking, listening to said rock music, and general chit chat about everything under the sun. I admired Coral’s book collection. Unsurprisingly, very similar to mine, with classics, time slip/historical stuff, and fantasy – including Mr Tolkien, of course. After being fed lasagne and two helps of cheesecake for dinner (not in the same bowl), I set off home after a very enjoyable, cake-filled day.

I like to think of this as one of the good examples of using social media. It’s unlikely Coral and I would have met otherwise, and we’ve each discovered a new friend. We’ve both made friends overseas due to our shared interests, and it may be that more of us will meet up one day. Several of the friends want to visit Scotland, so no doubt there will be more coffee and dare I say, wine drinking, if that happens!

Strangely enough, the one thing we didn’t chat about as much as you might think was our rock star crush, the lovely Myles Kennedy. So we’ll have to rectify that on our next meeting. I also completely forgot to take any selfies of our day together, so people will just have to take our word for it that we did actually meet. We’re going to a rock gig in Glasgow together next month, to see the fantastic Halestorm. Must take some pics then. Roll on many more coffee shop visits together!

**********

Happy Book Birthday, Coral! xx

Impossible Depths (Silver Lake series Book 2):

After a successful tour, Jake, Lori and the rest of Silver Lake are busy making plans for the future – new arrivals, new business ventures, new music and a new tour.
An unexpected turn of events throws these plans into turmoil.
Life for Silver Lake will never be the same again.
Can Jake and Lori maintain their relationship, gruelling schedules and overcome tragic losses?
Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to find how strong you truly are.
Friendship, love, family and music dominate this contemporary romance as the Silver Lake family rise from seemingly Impossible Depths.

To purchase Impossible Depths (Silver Lake series Book 2), click here (UK), or here (US).

Some stock pics above from the west of Scotland, since I neglected to take any photos. 🙂

Robert Burns, Tam o’ Shanter, and Other Things…

Since today is the birthday of our famous bard, here’s a post I wrote originally for Mari Wells‘s blog. It was part of a series on Scottish Witches (read the others here), so of course Tam o’ Shanter had to feature…

**********

I can’t believe we’ve come to the end of this series of guest posts already. I couldn’t go without mentioning that famous son of Scotland, Robert Burns, and his epic poem, ‘Tam o’ Shanter’, written in 1791.

‘Tam o’ Shanter’ is set in Ayrshire, the area of Scotland where Burns was born and brought up. Tam is a hapless (okay, drunk) young man who comes across a coven of witches in Auld Kirk Alloway (an old kirk – surely not?), while riding home from Ayr one night. These witches are having a ceilidh, which basically means a party with music, dancing, and usually, fighting. One of them in particular catches Tam’s eye, being young and pretty – and because she’s dancing in her ‘cutty sark’, ie: short petticoat. Tam shouts words of encouragement at her from his spying place at the kirk’s window. He then gets his just desserts for this foolishness, and is chased by the witches to the bridge over the river Doon (Brig o’ Doon). As witches cannot cross running water, he escapes, but ‘Cutty Sark’ manages to pull the tail off his horse Maggie, just as she leaps across the bridge!

Moral of this tale: don’t get drunk and get distracted by ladies in short skirts. You may get more than you bargained for.

Auld Kirk Alloway

Auld Kirk Alloway

The poem is written in Scots, so can be a little hard to read for those not familiar with that language. It’s well worth a go, though. In it, Burns describes some extra-grisly trappings of a Black Mass: coffins standing open showing the dead within, and gruesome artefacts on the altar: murder weapons, and bodies of unchristened children. The Devil is also described as being present in the shape of a large black dog (he must like appearing in this form). Although at this gathering, ‘Auld Nick’ is providing the music by playing the bagpipes – a very talented dog indeed!

If you want to have a go at reading the poem, it can be found here: http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poems/tam-o-shanter-tale It might be handy to have a Scots dictionary open as well!

The places described in the poem are real. I’ve visited all of them. Auld Kirk Alloway is a little bit spooky. My husband has seen me cross Brig o’ Doon, so he thinks I’m not a witch (ha!) But unlike the stories in my previous posts, I can’t find any evidence that a coven did meet at this kirk, or chase any drunken young men to the bridge. It seems Burns did that writerly thing of taking facts from other places, and weaving them into a fantastic story set in his home. I’m glad he did, as it’s one of my favourite poems.

Brig o' Doon

Brig o’ Doon

In my last post, I mentioned the fact that most of the ‘witches’ executed in Scotland in the 16th and 17th centuries were probably not performing black masses and summoning the devil at all. Many of them would be what are now generally referred to as ‘Pagans’ – worshippers of the old, pre-Christian gods. I’m not going to go into Paganism and its many branches here – that would be a whole other series of posts! Suffice it to say that many of these women and men would know how to heal wounds and treat the sick using natural remedies, and possibly a chant or two – all things the authorities were very suspicious of. Others may have been gifted with ‘second sight’ – a talent particularly prevalent in the Highlands of Scotland.

Seers had to be careful in the 15 and 1600s, as their gift could be denounced by the church as being from the devil, although Highlanders generally believed second sight to be unconnected with witchcraft. This belief, however, did not help the most famous of all, the Brahan Seer. He naively told the Countess of Seaforth what her husband was really doing on a trip to Paris, ie: entertaining other ladies. If you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger. Although not tried and executed as a warlock, this did not stop the poor man being thrown into a barrel of burning tar. As his fiery end approached he accurately prophesied the fall of the house of Seaforth, and told the Countess that he would go to heaven, but she never would. So the Brahan Seer had the last word, although I don’t imagine this was much comfort as he went up in flames. Don’t tell people the truth; tell them what they want to hear – a trick most seaside clairvoyants have cottoned onto today!

I’ve really enjoyed doing this series of posts for the Witching Hour. Most of the stories have been from Central and Lowland Scotland. Talking about the Brahan Seer has made me realise how many tales of the supernatural there are from the North. So I may be back one day, with more spooky stuff from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland…

My Random Camera

I was recently asked to supply some photographs for a magazine. I was very flattered and started trawling through my collection for suitable pics (there was a theme). I was flabbergasted to discover I have over 4000 photos on my phone alone! For the more professional photographers among you, I’m sure that’s a mere drop in the ocean, but I was astounded. I was also surprised by the wide variety of things I take pics of. Basically, if I like it, I snap it.

I always use pics on my blog posts, and where possible I like to use my own. So you’ve seen images from my holidays, gigs I’ve been to, my cats (duh), spooky locations around my home…you name it. Here are a few random ones that haven’t fitted with any particular theme so far, but I found them when trawling and thought ‘I like these, let’s share them.’

I’ve also been practising using a programme that puts a watermark on photos. Thanks to my good friend Coral McCallum for reminding me of the name of the programme again. 😉 (Fotor, if anyone wants to know.) And check out Coral’s blog too, for some great photos from her part of Scotland. As I don’t make my living from my pics, I haven’t put my name across the image so it can’t be used. I just thought I should start putting my name on them somewhere, as they’re going out into the big wide internet world. I respectfully ask that if you use a photograph of mine, please don’t crop my name out of it. 🙂

The pics are all from Scotland, taken on random walks around the places featured.

Bank Street, Stirling. Too lovely a building not to photograph.

Bank Street, Stirling. Too lovely a building not to photograph.

Stirling chimneys, taken from Stirling Castle esplanade.

Stirling chimneys, taken from Stirling Castle esplanade.

These two photos were taken during the summer, when I was waiting for a tyre to be changed on my car. I walked up the steep hill to Stirling Castle, and then promptly ruined my calorie-burning efforts by having an enormous ice-cream!

I’m amazed I actually took the above photos, as the aforementioned Coral will testify to the fact that I was suffering horribly with a cold that day.

Edinburgh Moon

Edinburgh Moon

Scott Monument, Edinburgh

Scott Monument, Edinburgh

Taken in December when hubby and I were visiting Edinburgh for the Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens. The eerie light is actually coming from the Funfair.

Playing around with black and white for these last two. Airth is my home village, with lots of lovely walks and old markers, such as the Headless Cross. This is said to have been the Mercat Cross of High Airth, an older version of the village which was built on a slightly different site.

Hope you enjoyed this photographic wander with me! I’m sure we’ll be going on some more in future…

The Kelpies At Night

The Kelpies in silver

The Kelpies in silver

Hubby recently took part in a 5K run around Helix Park and The Kelpies. While obviously being there to support him *snort*, I mostly busied myself taking photos of these guys. I hadn’t yet visited at night, and they were every bit as spectacular as I’d imagined. While there are far more professional photos around, here are a selection of mine.

(My post Two Huge Horses And A Walk In The Park shows some daytime views of the area, and What Is A Kelpie, Anyway? explains the origin of these sculptures’ unusual name.)

Note: Duke and Baron are the names of the Clydesdale horses who were the models for the Kelpie sculptures.

I love the way Duke and the man are looking at each other!

I love the way Duke and the man are looking at each other!

The runners fly past. Duke wonders what they are doing. ;)

The runners fly past. Duke wonders what they are doing. 😉

Beautiful in blue. Goodnight, Kelpies.

Beautiful in blue. Goodnight, Kelpies.

What Is A Kelpie, Anyway?

The Kelpies

The Kelpies

Well, nowadays it’s one of these magnificent things. See my post Two Huge Horses And A Walk In The Park for more on these amazing sculptures, which were modelled on two Clydesdale horses. But where does the name ‘Kelpie’ come from?

The kelpie, or water horse, is a shape-changing aquatic spirit of Scottish legend. They are said to haunt rivers and streams. Not lochs, so that calls J.K. Rowling’s story that the Loch Ness Monster is a kelpie into question. (There is another water horse, the each uisge, which lurks in lochs. Maybe Nessie is one of those..?)

The kelpie is a malevolent spirit. It may appear as a tame pony beside a river, to attract children – but once on its back, its sticky magical hide will not allow them to dismount. The kelpie will drag the trapped child into the river and then eat him. Nice.

These water horses can also appear as human. They may materialize as a beautiful young woman, to lure young men (or, indeed, other young women) to their doom. There are stories from all over Scotland of them appearing in various human forms, young and old, fair and ugly, to wreak havoc on us mere mortals.

Kelpies can also use their magical powers to summon up a flood and sweep a traveller away to a watery grave.

The sound of a kelpie’s tail entering the water is said to resemble that of thunder. And if you are passing by a river and hear an unearthly wailing or howling, take care: it could be a kelpie warning of an approaching storm.

But there is some good news: a kelpie has a weak spot – its bridle. Anyone who can get hold of a kelpie’s bridle will have command over it and any other kelpie. A captive kelpie is said to have the strength of at least 10 horses and the stamina of many more, and is highly prized. It is rumoured that the MacGregor clan have a kelpie’s bridle, passed down through the generations and said to have come from an ancestor who took it from a kelpie near Slochd, in the Scottish Highlands.

One tale from the Hebridean island of Barra has the kelpie appear as a handsome young man, but his canny female victim steals his bridle and puts him to work in his equine form, on her farm. In the end, the kelpie chooses to remain as a mortal man if the lady agrees to be his wife, and they are married.

The offspring of a kelpie and a normal horse are impossible to drown, and therefore also highly prized.

There are legends all over the world of creatures similar to the kelpie: the Welsh ceffyl dŵr, the Germanic neck, and the wihwin of Central America.

So next time you are strolling by a pretty Scottish river or stream, be vigilant; you may be being watched from the water… 😉

Of Ravens

I love ravens.

I know, I know, I seem to love a lot of scary pointy things. Cats, dragons (yes they are real, shut up), birds of prey, and now ravens. Sue me. Cute and cuddly gets boring after a while. 😉

I first saw ravens at the Tower of London, when I was 14. I love the legend that the kingdom will fall if they ever leave. Of course, England cheats and keeps their wings clipped. There are signs everywhere advising tourists not to feed them. Some people try it. I think being pecked is a just reward for being stupid, myself.

Pic courtesy of hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon

Pic courtesy of hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon

Since then I’ve seen them in various locations in Scotland, where they are often a bit harder to find. One such place is Threave Castle. Its lonely island location and bloody history fit well with the croaking of the ravens who nest there. Of course, the bloody history part is true of most Scottish castles – several of which house ravens.

Pic courtesy of flickr.com

Pic courtesy of flickr.com

Ravens feature strongly in Scottish myth and legend. The Brahan Seer of the Highlands was purported to have found his ‘divining stone’, which he held up to his eye to see the future, in a raven’s nest. This seer met a horrible end, burned to death in a barrel of tar for telling the Countess of Seaforth things that she did not wish to hear. He prophecied that a raven and a dove would circle above the place where he was executed. If the raven landed, he was bound for hell, but if the dove landed, he would go to heaven. According to watchers, the dove landed and the raven flew away. Ravens also feature in many of his other prophecies.

Who doesn’t love Edgar Allan Poe? If you’re a fan of the creepy and macabre, that is. His poem ‘The Raven‘ has long been a favourite of mine. (Not to mention that a line from it is used in one of my favourite movies ‘The Crow’. Yes, okay, mixing up crows and ravens – I don’t care, the movie’s great.)
Anyhoo…I wrote a little micro fiction for Friday Phrases a few weeks ago. Friday Phrases, for those who don’t know, is a micro fiction party on Twitter every Friday (strangely enough). It’s great fun and good practice in being concise. There is a theme each week, although you don’t have to follow it. That week’s theme was ‘Never mind’. This is what I wrote:

‘Nevermind.’

‘It’s “Nevermore”, you stupid raven.’

Thanks, Edgar Allan Poe, I thought, as my eyes were summarily pecked out.

Sorry, Edgar! My tweeps seemed to like it though. 😉 I’ll finish with a great pic I found. Hope Mr Poe would approve.

Pic courtesy of Twisted Synapses

Pic courtesy of Twisted Synapses