With thanks to everyone who joined me at the Castle Garden of Water to Beyond in 2014.
As the year winds down towards the shortest day. I’m joined by Alice, Grazyna, and Alexander, and their daughter Marcelina; plus the dogs, Ness and Holly.
There are a few cars in the car-park but their drivers must be at whatever’s happening in the house as we have the garden to ourselves. After recent frosts and sleet the weather has calmed down, but it’s cold and occasionally we’re threatened by rain.
I ask Alice about something she was working on when I last saw her back in the spring, and she says it went well, but it’s poignant thinking back to it, as it took place in Glasgow School of Art just before the fire, in the ‘hen run’, the corridor originally used by the female students which was completely destroyed. Alexander recalls we spoke about Bernat Klein earlier in the year, and that he has since died.
Those losses, the brown leaves slowly turning to mush, the weak midwinter light and the fact I’m aware this is the last of these monthly vists all make it feel like an afternoon of endings. But as a counterbalance this is Marcelina’s first visit to the garden, so it’s a beginning too. To warm us against the cold I hand round a small bottle of Croatian plum brandy my older daughter brought back from her summer holidays, a welcome reminder of summer and the south.
A visit to the garden at the end of November with Nicole and Stefan, aka ~in the fields, who are in Edinburgh to install their work Ink at the Royal Scottish Academy, part of the Society of Scottish Artists Annual Exhibition 2014. It’s Saturday morning, and there aren’t many people around. There’s no wind, and the clouds refract an unusually even light, with no trace of any shadows – undramatic, as nothing is highlighted. Even the winter blossom blends in rather than stands out. Several birds catch our eye – a heron which comes and goes, a robin hopping very close, a raptor in a treetop, a single crow, a single magpie.
We talk about the centenary of World War One; they’ve been asked to work on a remembrance project in Argyll which lists the names of local men who were killed, including their rank and regiment, but they feel the latter is a diminution of the person, as for many it formed such a brief part of an otherwise richer life. We would honour them better by recalling their pre-war lives rather than by – literally – regimenting them in military categories.
For the first time I cycle here, along the cycle path until it hits the main road at Davidson’s Mains.
From the car park I walk down the side path near the road and take the long way round to reach the bottom gate, that nearest the shore; but it seems wrong, a breach of etiquette, to enter here, so I continue to the side gate and follow the path which leads me over the bridge into the garden.
Drinking tea and listening to the wind, in the distance I see a group of oystercatchers rise from the field near the shore. There are four girls in the garden, playing hide-and-seek – after some complex counting the seeking pair shout “ready or not!” and move down the steps.
It’s the day of the referendum on Scottish independence. I’ve already voted by the time I pick up my daughter, Isobel, and head out to Lauriston Castle.
We go inside for the first time, for a lecture on ‘Women in Scottish Education from 1850 to the present’, delivered by Dr David Dick, a sprightly 85 year-old who spent a career as an engineer before devoting himself to history.
He says he became interested in the reputation abroad of Scotland’s ‘intellectual democracy’ in the 18th and 19th century’s: the country’s education system was recognised as one of the most progressive in the world, in terms of access to and participation in higher education. But only for men: women were almost entirely excluded. That’s gradually been changed, to the extent that today women make up almost 60% of the student body (and a new problem is how to attract more men into higher education); but still only 20% of professors in Scottish universities are women.
It’s good to have a sense of the long view – what has been changed, and what’s still to do – on a day when it feels like everything could change overnight. Yes, it could, but whatever happens is part of a much longer process of change initiated decades go and will continue to play out over the rest of my lifetime, and beyond.
In the garden it’s not raining, but there’s a mist over the water: Cramond Island is just about visible, Fife isn’t. There are signs of autumn: sweet brambles and some leaves turning, but the chestnut-trees seem to have been badly hit by the recent dry spell, their leaves going straight to brown without any livelier tints.
Back home I switch on the lunchtime news, and the trenchant Yes / No views are remarkable by their absence. It’s an odd lull just for polling day, between the frenetic campaigning of recent days and whatever comes next which won’t, whatever else it will be, be business-as-usual.