A jeely piece? Or not?

Is it still a piece if it disna hae a lid? Image: Su Leslie 2019

I’ve mentioned here before (no more than a million or so times) that I was born, and spent my first few years, in Scotland — Kirkcaldy to be exact.

My parents emigrated to New Zealand with great enthusiasm and a strong desire to assimilate. But we came to an area already full of Scots — including a few we knew from “back home.” So although Mum and Dad fairly quickly developed their “visiting-Minister” voices to be understood by the non-Scots around us (particularly our Presbyterian Minister whom my parents felt they had to particularly impress), we generally spoke fairly broad Scots at home.

In fact for years, I could talk to a school-friend in my perfect Kiwi accent, with Kiwi idiom, and literally turn to Mum and sound like a different person. Over time that happened less and less, and one day I realised that I’d begun to think in Kiwi.

As an adult, I’ve returned many times to Scotland, though never to live, and have begun to use words and phrases of my mother tongue that express what I’m thinking or feeling better than English — in the same way that I use Maori.

So when I slapped some apricot jam on a bit of bread this morning, I found myself thinking “jeely piece”. That’s jam sandwich to you.

But. I’m not sure if it is a piece if it doesn’t have a lid, or top slice.

Hopefully Anabel at Glasgow Gallivanter can help me out.

Meantime, it was shot with a 100mm macro lens, so it does at least make the cut for Macro Monday.

In the presence of the past

kirkmichael kirkyard resting place of James Wallace and Ann Cunnison

The kirkyard, Kirkmichael Parish Church, Perthshire, Scotland. Image: Su Leslie 2013

Churchyards and cemeteries hold great fascination for family historians. Headstone inscriptions can provide invaluable clues to an ancestor’s life, and in the process of finding one person, it’s not uncommon to discover other family members buried nearby.

They are also places of contemplation.

The tiny village of Kirkmichael in rural Perthshire, is where my 4x great grandparents, James Wallace (1799-1874) and Ann Kinnison/Cunnison (1806-1882) lived and died.

They lie in the bottom corner of the kirkyard, down by the burn; their lives commemorated by a headstone bearing the following inscription:

Erected by
Greeley Colorado USA
in memory of his father
who died at Benauld, Kirkmichael
20th March 1874 aged 74
and his mother
who died at Blairgowrie
18 February 1882, aged 78.
The above Charles Wallace
died 16 May 1925
Interred in Greeley Cemetery Col. USA

I’ve visited the graves of quite a few ancestors now, but the Kirkmichael visit stays in my mind particularly. Partly because it was such an isolated place — I was totally alone there — and partly because James and Ann are the oldest links in the chain of my history whose physical resting place I’ve touched.

Posted to Ragtag Daily Prompt | Past


On narrow streets and the life to come

Looking up a cobbled wynd in the Scottish town of Falkland, Fife. Image: Su Leslie, 2013. Edited with Snapseed.

Cobbled wynd. Sharp’s Close, Falkland, Scotland. Image: Su Leslie, 2013.

In Scotland and northern England, a narrow street or alley is called a wynd or a close (/ˈkls/ pronounced with a soft ‘s’ rather than a ‘z’ at the end).

A few years ago, I stood at the entry to this wee street with its old cobbles worn slick, and saw, in the creamy stone and whitewashed houses, my family’s past.

My ancestors — overwhelmingly working class Fife men and women — lived not in Falkland but in Dysart, Auchtermuchty, Wemyss, Kinglassie, Abbotshall and Gallatown. In streets with names like Pittesdown Close and Watery Wynd; Coal Wynd and Dobie’s Close.

For some, their whole lives were lived in those narrow streets, moving from one rented dwelling to another in the same village or town. Others left Scotland altogether; sensing a wider future for themselves in Canada, the United States, Australia, southern Africa and, in my parents’ case, New Zealand.

I love the way this poem —Wynd, by fellow Fifer Andrew Greig — gives tangible, geographical form to the almost universal condition of being young and caught between the seemingly narrow world that is known, and the vaguely suspected vastness of a future to come.


It’s back again, the how of rain
pleating off leaky roans, binding
strands that curve down stanks, curl
by high-walled wynds and dreels,
past sweetie shops with one faint bulb,
bell faltering as the pinnied widow
shuffles through from her back room –
What can I do for you the day?
She hands me now
no Galaxy or Bounty Bar
but a kindly, weary face, smear
of lipstick for her public, the groove
tartan slippers wore in linoleum
from sitting-room to counter, over thirty years:
the lost fact of her existence.

Currents ravel past the draper’s
where Mr Duncan and his unspeaking sister
sort shirts by collar size, set out
Mason’s cuff links and next season’s vests;
on stiff white cards their flowing pens
price elastic, Brylcreem, dark tartan braces.

Floods tangle, splice, uncoil
down Rodger Street, past bank and tearoom,
the dodgy garage where they sold airguns to anyone,
the steamed-up window of the ‘Royal’
where fires warms the bums of men who like
to drink standing, bunnets jammed down tight.
At Shore Street the rain-river
leaps the pavement, scours a channel
through pongy weed behind the sea wall
where damp frocks shiver under umbrellas
by the market cross, waiting for their lucky day
or at least the bus to Leven –
which won’t come for ages, because it’s Sunday.

In the hours between Stingray and the evening meal,
when the strings of family, place and history
working us, are all too bleeding visible,
as gutters burst the adolescent wonders
whether to have a quick one or read French poetry.
Smouldering with solitude, the prince of boredom
stands at the window, watching rain,
wondering when life ends, or will finally begin.

Fall, flow ache.
By those cramped streets, the kenned wynds,
loans, closes, byways, dreels,
the dying shops, fishermen’s damp houses
with empty sail lofts, broken pantiles,
wash-houses not ready for witty conversion;
by the constricting, cherished dreichness of our town
whose high tide had ebbed before ours began;
by the draper with its yellow blinds pulled down,
the angle of a bent streetlamp,
the budgie cage in old Jeanie’s window;
by the secret path behind the allotment,
the steep slalom of Burial Brae,
the short-cuts, the dank kirks and graveyards –
by these details we did not know we loved,
we grew up provincial, in the heart of the world.

You are standing at the bedroom window
watching rain, homework abandoned on the desk.
The parents are somewhere unimportant,
wee brother plays keepie-uppie in the gloom –
time to belt the shorty raincoat, go
in search of nothing but the life to come.

Andrew Greig

— from the Scottish Poetry Library

A contribution to the Daily Post Photo Challenge, on the theme of narrow.

Travel theme: reading the stones

Three weeks of glorious autumn in the UK and my photo album is bursting with shots that would fulfill Ailsa’s Travel Theme brief this week.

Most of my time was spent in Scotland and the Northeast of England; much of it doing family history research.

That meant lots of wandering around cemeteries and churchyards in search of ancestors’ headstones. I found a few – including a couple in tiny, isolated places – and felt a sense of connectedness to my past that I really didn’t expect.

I also noticed that Scottish headstones (or perhaps just the Lowland Presbyterian headstones from the eras I was interested in) are quite different to those I’m used to seeing in New Zealand cemeteries. Perhaps because there are more “flavours” of Christianity in NZ, and our earliest headstones date from Victorian times, they are often much more elaborate and include angels, cherubs, and crosses. Those I saw in Fife, Perthshire and Edinburgh were Church of Scotland (or Free Church) and even those from the 19th century were often very plain, and usually carved of sandstone. Many have no epitaph, and in fact, very little information about those interred beneath. The most elaborate, and the largest, were in Canongate Kirkyard in Edinburgh, but from reading them, I think that is because they belonged to wealthier, more prominent citizens than those buried in the smaller, often rural churchyards.

I found myself photographing them, singly and in clusters. Not because they belonged to my past, but because I found a stark beauty in the jumbles of crooked, fallen and weathered stones in Auchtermuchty, Kinglassie, Dysart, Kirkmichael, Abbotshall and Canongate on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.

Headstone, Auchtermuchty churchyard. Su Leslie 2013

Headstone, Auchtermuchty churchyard. © Su Leslie 2013

The churchyard, Auchtermuchty. © Su Leslie 2013

The churchyard, Auchtermuchty. © Su Leslie 2013

Kinglassie cemetery. © Su Leslie 2013

Kinglassie cemetery. © Su Leslie 2013

Canongate Kirkyard, Edinburgh. © Su Leslie 2013

Canongate Kirkyard, Edinburgh. © Su Leslie 2013

Headstone, Canongate Kirkyard. © Su Leslie 2013

Headstone, Canongate Kirkyard. © Su Leslie 2013

Phoneography Challenge: fade to black (and white)

Four weeks ago I was in Scotland; in the Perthshire village of Kirkmichael to be precise.

I was there because I knew that a distant branch of my family had lived in the village for most of the nineteenth century (and most likely well back beyond that), and I wanted to see if I could find any trace of them.

It took a couple of attempts to find the local cemetery – signposts for the church took me to one long abandoned and apparently without a churchyard.

Abandoned church, Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland.

Abandoned church, Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland.

Abandoned church, Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland.

Abandoned church, Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland.

Eventually, back in the village I found what I was looking for. It’s not a large cemetery; but an old one full of the plain headstones apparently favoured by Scots Presbyterians. I spend quite a lot of time in cemeteries these days, and have noticed definite “fashions” (or at least trends) in headstones. Not only are the Scots’ headstones usually quite simple shapes and largely unadorned with carving; they also seemed to me to contain very straightforward epitaphs. Whilst in Scotland, I didn’t see any of the “fell asleep in the arms of Jesus”-type inscriptions that are quite common in New Zealand.

kirkmichael headstone not family

One of the few ornate headstones in Kirkmichael cemetery; a beautifully carved Celtic cross.

But back to Kirkmichael. It was a very wet, grey day and I wasn’t wearing particularly robust shoes, so I was briefly tempted not to explore the cemetery with it’s slightly abandoned, overgrown feel. Thankfully, the feeling was very short-lived, for at the very bottom of the graveyard, close to the boundary wall and alongside the River Ardle, I found the headstone of my 3x great grandparents James Wallace and Anne Cunnison. Born in 1801 and 1807 respectively, James and Anne represent the oldest of my ancestors I have found an actual physical connection to, and it was a very special moment for me to stand in that little churchyard and know that I was touching something so connected to me.

The churchyard of Kirkmichael, Perthshire. In the foreground, the headstone of my great, great, great grandparents James Wallace and Anne Cunnison. The Wallace family lived in Kirkmichael throughout the nineteenth century.

river kirkmichael

The river Ardle as it flows through Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland.

As far as I know James and Anne lived their entire lives in Kirkmichael. This stands in complete contrast to their grand-daughter, Isabella Wallace who was born in St Madoes – also in Perthshire, but moved to Dundee as a child when her father died. She married my great grandfather Stewart Cruden in Dundee, then lived in several Fife villages before ending up in Dysart for a time before emigrating to the United States. Stewart and Isabella lived for 10 years in New Jersey before returning to Dysart in the early 1930s.

I had hoped that there would still be family members in the village, but it was a bleak day and even the pub was closed. I did try the cafe/general store/petrol station, but found it owned by a family from Coleshill, near Birmingham. They were fairly recent “incomers” and weren’t much help on the family history front. They did however serve a decent cup of coffee and quite nice lemon drizzle cake. And we had a pleasant chat about Coleshill; a village I know well from having worked there in the early nineties.

Ironic really to travel half way around the world in search of ancestors only to find a piece of my own past in the most unexpected place.

All photos taken on iPhone 4 and edited with Aviary Ultimate Photo Editor.

The theme of this week’s Phonography Challenge from Sally and Lens and Pens by Sally is black and white.

Here are some more posts you might enjoy:

A Phoneographic Philm Noir

Phoneography Challenge: Black and White








Ten Things Tuesday: small unexpected pleasures

I’ve been away from home for two weeks now and have had some wonderful experiences; meeting my newest nieces and nephews, visiting friends and relatives, and discovering more about my family’s past. But there have also been many small pleasures; good coffee, interesting people, fine architecture and beautiful views.

So here, in no particular order, are ten of the little pleasures that have helped to make my days so enjoyable:

Twilight view of The Sage, Gateshead


Lunch at The Olive Branch Cafe, Alnwick; where the owner know how to make coffee the Kiwi way!


First sight of Edinburgh Castle on a crisp autumn morning


My wonderful room at the Seascape B&B; Lower Largo, Fife.


The Scottish National Portrait Gallery; fantastic building – never mind the art.


Bust of Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh.


Oak roasted salmon, orange, pomegranate and snow pea salad; Pizza Express, Edinburgh.


Sunrise; Lower Largo, Fife


Early morning on the stone bridge at Tyringham, Buckinghamshire.


The sanctuary knocker; north door, Durham Cathedral.