Spring Fling

Adrian was standing at the back of a metal-worker’s forge. A demonstration of decorative ironmongery skills had just ended and as the heat of the fire died down, the large crowd was still murmuring its admiration. Suddenly, a voice tinged with irony filled the space. ‘We are soon going to take some photographs for publicity use by Visit Scotland. So if by chance you are with someone you perhaps shouldn’t be, then you might want to leave now’.

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Science and sustainability: Dr Emily Taylor

In the early Summer of 2009 I was preparing a move from Lancaster University to take up the position of Head of Campus for the University of Glasgow in Dumfries. I was fulfilling a long held ambition to make Dumfries and Galloway my home, after years of spending time here in the holidays and at weekends. On a bright June morning I couldn’t believe my luck that I was driving west towards the Galloway Hills to attend an ‘away day’ with a group of people involved in the Crichton Carbon Centre, one of our partner organisations on Campus.

It was billed as a ‘green skies’ meeting and these enthusiastic folk welcomed me into a territory that was relatively outside my comfort zone for a specialist in medical sociology and end of life care: climate change, carbon capture, and the vast range of mitigations that might be adopted to influence global warming. In the years that followed I worked closely with the ‘CCC’ team, as I came to know them. From my point of view the jewel in the crown was a ground breaking Master’s degree in Carbon Management, which we ran jointly and which paved the way later for a much bigger environmental studies development at the Dumfries Campus.

So it was with great pleasure last summer when, newly freed from full time academic duties, I received an invitation to join the three-person board of this dynamic and innovative local charity. I took up my Trustee duties in November 2020 and my first meeting was with Dr Emily Taylor, the CCC General Manager and a graduate of that self-same Carbon Management degree. Our paths had briefly crossed in my first year at the University of Glasgow.

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Responding to loss in the time of COVID: the Shoreline to Shoreline project

A few months after my father died in the spring of 1993, I was in north east Scotland, visiting friends. One afternoon, some of us took a walk along the banks of the River Deveron. Lingering with my younger son, we stood just where the waters become tidal, fossicking among beautiful pebbles and bits and pieces on the river bank. Then wordlessly, and in a moment of ‘timeless now’, we chose a couple of boat-like pieces of driftwood and pushed them onto the water. Slowly they left us in the shallows, were picked up by the current and drawn out into the waters of the cold North Sea, gradually disappearing from our view. I remember well that strange moment when they could no longer be seen.

It was a small and spontaneous ritual that came back to me when I encountered a project called Shoreline to Shoreline, the creation of artists, Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman. Working as part of a team in the Dumfries and Galloway based Atlas Pandemica initiative, they have been exploring experiences of loss in the early phases of the pandemic. Along with others in the team, they want to understand some of the manifold ways in which COVID-19 has been shaping social experience and to look for creative responses that might be supportive, and perhaps point to a kinder world as a result.

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Emma Dove: through the lens and beyond

A person in the American palliative world that I much admire, once told me she never ignored an enquiry from someone who wanted to make a connection with her work. For who knows what may come of it? The approach is one I have tried to emulate over the years, though it seems somewhat at odds with the instrumental ‘work smart’ ethos that pervades so many organisations today and is unsympathetic to serendipity. So when out of the blue I received an email in autumn 2018 from a person interested in a new project I was developing with colleagues in Japan, we arranged to meet at short notice, just before she was due to fly out to Tokyo. The person was Emma Dove. The meeting place was Thomas Tosh, already featured in these interviews.

Over coffee and scones and with my nine year old daughter listening-in attentively, I learned something of Emma’s background, skills and interests. Trained in film and with a strong interest in photography, she had been drawn to a concern with end of life issues as a result of her personal experience. Working on an arts project with collaborators in Scotland and Japan, she was interested in death cafes, cultural representations of dying and death and the ways in which art might contribute to debate and understanding.

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A good lunch

The meal had undoubtedly been a pleasure. Five friends gathered together in late Winter for a traditional Sunday meal, accompanied by a first rate Rioja and rounded out by dessert and good coffee. Emerging from the hotel, and with the exception of the driver, they each had the recognizable glow that results when wine and hot food come together in the middle of a cold day.

They were an unlikely quintet, the physician, sociologist, philosopher, anthropologist and surgeon who were now strolling from the hostelry and into the nearby side-streets of a picturesque Scottish fishing town.

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Caring for children – Lynne Murdoch

Our daughter started sessions in nursery pre-school some years ago. We were lucky at the time to also find a place for her at the childcare service provided by Lynne Murdoch, from her Nithsdale home, in the village of Thornhill. Over the years Lynne’s team has been a great resource for our family – providing support when needed either before or after school, during the school holidays, and even occasionally at weekends.

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The Transporter

Sean was always caught on the ebb tide. Here he was now, barrelling across the grammar school quadrangle with his characteristic rolling but sad gait. A shock of red hair falling down in a long spiky fringe concealing his sorrowful brown eyes and pale, pensive face. 

I caught up with him just as we entered the physics lab. We sat together on tall stools along the fourth bench from the front. The seating arrangement made it easy to leave a sizable gap without being unkind. This was 1965, long before social distancing, but it was prudent, nonetheless. 

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Introducing a journal of April 2020

An intermittent diarist throughout most of my life, I began keeping a journal from the start of the March 2020 Coronavirus lockdown. Like many others, I sensed the important intersection that was about to take place between what the American sociologist C Wright Mills called ‘private troubles and public issues’. I maintained my journal until mid-August. Then, as on past occasions, it gradually petered out, perhaps this time due to the (false) sense of relief that was by then beginning to wash over us.

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The unfolding story of Thomas Tosh

For over a decade the village of Thornhill in Nithsdale has been blessed with one of the best attractions in south west Scotland. Cafe, gallery, bookstore and purveyor of all manner of household and personal indulgences, Thomas Tosh has become an institution – in the very best sense. It is the inspiration of David Cripps and Paul O’Keeffe, who have kindly agreed to tell their story here.

Thomas Tosh has been woven into the fabric of my own life over the last dozen years. Enigmatically named and hidden up a side street, for me and my family, as these pictures show, it has been all of the following things, and much more.

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Down where the drumlins roll

In the early summer of 1969 and as soon as the dust had settled on my O level exams, I hitch-hiked out from my home in North Yorkshire and headed for Galloway. Unlike Richard Hannay,  the fugitive hero of John Buchan’s Thirty-Nine Steps, I was not using this corner of south west Scotland to hide from pursuers, but instead going there to observe at first hand its distinctive topography.

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