Mavis's Shoe

Author of two novels and a creative memoir.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Hutters Rally

Last weekend I spent half a day in the lovely Maryhill Burgh Halls in Glasgow at the Hutters Rally. The second half of the day was a trip to the huts at Carbeth, somewhere I’ve been many times and therefore didn’t tag along to. I’ve owned a hut in the past and have spent lots of time there researching for Mavis’s Shoe and Rue End Street, both of which spend a substantial amount of time there. The ‘rally’ was part of the Thousand Huts Campaign which is run by Reforesting Scotland, an organisation whose tagline is ‘restoring the land and the people’. Who could fault such a philosophy? And to be honest I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room where so much consistently good sense was spoken by so many people. I don’t know the true numbers but we were certainly well in excess of 100.

Here is the new definition of hutting on which laws can now be built:

"A Hut: a simple building used intermittently as recreational accommodation (i.e. not as principle residence) having an internal floor area of no more than 30 square metres;constructed from low impact materials; generally not connected to mains water, electricity or sewerage; built in such a way that it is removable with little trace at the end of its life."

I’m writing this from the Tak Me Doon road over the hills between Kilsyth and Carron Bridge, a view which is impossible to catch on camera because of its sheer size so I won’t bore you with a picture. Actually yes I will.
Here is the view west along a tiny bit of track beside the road. It certainly gives a sense of the enormity of the sky and reminds me of the ancient Gaulish chiefs whose greatest fear was that the sky would fall on their heads. (Remember Vitalstatistix of the Asterix novels?) More on that another time.

Go up Tak Me Doon with a good pair of binoculars and you can spend the afternoon spotting familiar places, or simply gazing out in wonder. Suffice to say all life is out there, Falkirk and Grangemouth Refinery; the Firth of Forth and the Forth Railway Bridge; wind turbines dotted in the middle distance and rows of them over to the West on the hilltops; also in rows, little houses in estates and high rises in a ring; field upon field, perfect cultivated and perfectly wild; thick dark bushy trees too distant to distinguish size let alone type; marsh reeds in the foreground along with the obligatory barbed wire and rusting sheets of corrugated iron: lots of space, lots of nooks and crannies and as far as I can see, no lack of opportunity for putting up huts, hideaways from the grit and grind of ordinary life, of individual travails in spirit-breaking environments; places for families to congregate, extended and nuclear. Room for all without really causing each other any harm, surely.

So what are we afraid of?

If you’re a hutter or a hut enthusiast, or if you’re just vaguely interested, you’re probably afraid of spending time, effort and money on building a hut, including the building of the relationship with the person who ‘owns’ the land, building your knowledge of how all this works, this living close to nature, and so on. The hutters movement is not about who can build the fanciest hut ie who can pay for the best. It’s about the land being available to everyone including people with not particularly good incomes, and it’s about living in such a way that little or no trace is left behind. In other words preserving what is around us, being respectful of our world. And all that stuff. But at the centre of it is family and community, which according to the research is the most popular reason for having a hut: getting together with kith and kin.

Hutting is an egalitarian sort of concept. Egalitarianism is by its nature counter-capitalist, and seeing as there’s a largely accepted norm now that capitalism is the only way (despite evidence to the contrary) it’s no wonder that most people feel some level of anxiety when they consider acting against those norms. Those who think they have a lot to gain from capitalism, and therefore much to lose, seem to oppose hutting the most. But really there’s more than enough to go round, even for some people to have a little more than others, if that’s what they want, just not the whole lot. So why not break out and have a little piece of the earth to sit on and call home-from-home?

Friday, 11 July 2014

Rue End Street

Rue End Street, the sequel to Mavis’s Shoe, is published and out there on the shelves waiting to be picked up. It is September 1943 and Lenny Gillespie, our heroine, is 12 years old, but growing up fast. The tides of war are turning and Britain is gaining confidence as Germany weakens. But disaster strikes Lenny's life again, propelling her the length of the great Clyde estuary, to the ports of Helensburgh and Greenock.

Known as 'Port Number One' during WW2, Greenock was a hive of activity, the main assembly point for the Atlantic convoys and the re-entry point for returning convoys carrying vital goods for the survival of Britain. Over two million US servicemen and many more from other Allied countries also landed there as well as the survivors of sinkings including the Arandora Star. Many of these various groups were herded immediately onto trains at Princes Pier Station (now gone) while others were stationed in and around the Lower Clyde Basin for lengthy periods. As is only natural with so many men in one place, trouble occurred, and Rue End Street was said to be the epicentre of such trouble. Hence the title of the book.

The people of Greenock have reason to be proud of what they gave and the hard work put in for the survival of the country. Winston Churchill himself said: 'the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war' was the U-boat peril'.

Publication of Rue End Street has followed several weeks of frantic activity which culminated in two launch events, one in Waterstones Argyle Street Glasgow, the other in Clydebank Library. Both included two short dramatisations of sections of the book. Those of you who came to the launch of Mavis’s Shoe at the aye Write! book festival in Glasgow may remember the dramatisation of that came with lots of bells and whistles, or at least explosions and sirens, and actors from STaG theatre company, or Student Theatre at Glasgow under the direction of the wonderful John May. For Rue End Street we were mostly in-house:

This is Liz Small, MD of Waverley Books, as the Leeds lass manning (womanning?) the desk of the Army Office in Greenock in September 1943. Liz sported a spectacular, if slightly exaggerated Leeds accent. Oh, and a rather attractive wig. Liz is actually naturally blond.

We also had these two, Ron Grosset (left), the other MD of Waverley Books, and Drew Campbell (right), President of Scottish PEN, playing sextons. That’s sexton as in grave attendant, not as in relatives of mine.

For our second launch we had Mark Mechan, the designer of the wonderful covers of both books, as gravedigger #2, a world debut performance of the same outstanding quality as the covers. A wonderful time was had by all.