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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I know Dave Borthwick almost entirely in a professional capacity. I have never shared a meal with him or even a coffee, other than in a meeting of some kind. Most of our conversations, warm and mutually respectful in character, have been rather brief, scattered among the ‘quotidian duties’ of the workplace.
We first met in the autumn of 2009, when I moved from Lancaster to the University of Glasgow, Dumfries Campus. Over the intervening years, albeit in episodic fragments, I have learned a great deal from him about the field in which he specialises: the intersections of literary writing, landscape, observations of nature, and connections to place.
I first got to know Clare and Simon Dawdry when as a family we attended a pottery workshop for children they organised in the Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries. I think it must have been around 2007. Their friendliness and enthusiasms were palpable, as was their love of clay.
Many years ago I came across a photogravure by the French-domiciled Syrian artist Ghayath Al-Akhras. The image was entitled Passage Quotidien. Structured in descending bands of sepia, from light to dark, it depicted a simple scene on a flat-roofed house, where some family members were handing jugs of water from one to the other as they tended to a group of large potted plants. At the time I had to look up the meaning of ‘quotidien’. I immediately warmed to the picture’s notion of daily life as a form of passage or journey – taking us through one state or task to another in ways that could enhance the meaning of each.
At my home in Dumfriesshire, I am fortunate to have a garden that is largely bounded by water. Below our house, a span of the Pennyland Burn sweeps round from a rocky outcrop to form a beautiful arc that straightens out just as it hits an ancient weir, where the water level drops a couple of metres. The sound of the burn is a constant accompaniment to our daily lives, from the lightest of tinkling when the water is lowest, to an urgent roar in times of heavy rain.