I’m cheating a bit with this object as it wasn’t in my family until I bought it, new, in 2007. But it has family connotations, and a great family-related story attached to it. It is also one of the few pieces of jewellery to have survived the recent break-in at my home (see previous posts), on account of it being still attached to the coat I’d been wearing at a recent event for Burns Night. The object is a silver brooch in the shape of the islands of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides; my Grannie Lane came from Swainbost, Ness, on the western side of the topmost point of this map.
I have visited Lewis many times over the years on family holidays, but only once since my Mum died in 2001. In the summer of 2007 I had been through a relationship break-up and needed a holiday somewhere beautiful and peaceful. Knowing I always had a welcome waiting from my Hebridean cousins I took myself up there for a fortnight of proper rest and relaxation. Walking and cycling around Lewis’s exquisite beaches and moorlands, exploring the rocks and machair I had loved as child, it felt like coming home, and was just what I needed. The stillness and serenity of Callanish, the endless open space and golden light. And it was good to catch up with my cousins, not having seen them since I had last visited with my mother in the 1990s. One of my cousins is director of the An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway, where I bought this brooch. It’s the kind of gift I would have bought for my mother so on impulse decided to treat myself, and I love it. It was a wonderful holiday and I’m glad I still have this special souvenir.
Three years later this brooch brought me more surprises. In May 2010 I was coming to the end of 12 years managing a specialist academic library, and I went out on a high. The library served a university department that taught speech and language therapy. The students’ training included clinical work at the onsite clinic, attended by stroke and brain injury survivors as well as children with speech and language disorders. I loved the job in many ways but I was moving on to pursue other interests. My departure coincided with a special event celebrating the work of this department, and I was able to contribute something extra special to this occasion.
Some weeks before the event was due to take place, I attended a book signing by Grace Maxwell and Edwyn Collins, of whose music I was a big fan. Grace had written Falling and Laughing, a moving and tender account of their life together before and after the devastating stroke that had left Edwyn aphasic and paralysed. The book details his determined struggle to overcome his condition and regain his lost language and music – with the help of some equally determined speech and language therapists. At the book signing I managed to overcome my fan’s nerves and ask if they would be interested in a book signing, or perhaps even a performance, at the event. To my surprise and delight they agreed, and were true to their word. Edwyn and Grace duly turned up at the college with a band in tow, and Edwyn gave an incredibly moving and beautiful performance of some of his loveliest songs. Afterwards they signed copies of the book in the library, and chatted for hours to both the budding speech therapists and the clinic patients (one of whom, a lifelong fan, had brought along his original Orange Juice records for Edwyn to sign).
At one point Edwyn noticed my brooch and forced out the words “Scottish island”. I replied yes, that’s Lewis where my grandmother came from. Grace said they had been there recently as Edwyn had performed at the arts centre. “An Lanntair in Stornoway? My cousin runs that!” “Not Roddy Murray? We’ve known him since the ’80s!” It turned out that Edwyn and Roddy were close friends at Glasgow Art College back in the day, and remained good friends. I heard a lot about my cousin that evening – not least that he had once been in a post-punk band called the Dream Boys with their friends Craig Ferguson and Peter Capaldi!
It was a wonderful occasion and one of my proudest moments, in both my personal and professional life, and an absolute joy and an honour to meet Edwyn and Grace. I presented them with a bottle of good malt whisky to thank them, and because of the Glasgow connection I also gave them a copy of my Dad’s memoirs. I hadn’t clue there would be a Hebridean connection as well. It really is a small world.