Dear Mother …….

With the recent passing of my mom, my sisters and I went through her boxes, bags and kists and found some incredible memories, one of them being these letters from my dad’s dad to his mother during the first world war. My grandfather Andrew to my great grand mother who lived in Dumfriesshire. (We think her name as Henrietta – will need to do a family search) My grandfather was born on 1 January 1899 so was all of 19 years of age when these letters were written.

19 March 1918 from an address which looks like The Base – France

Still busy doing nothing under orders for the time now and ready to move off at a moments notice. Don’t worry I won’t be in the danger zone for a long time while yet. This is a very nice place – comfortable billets, good food, little to do and some magnificent weather. There is absolutely nothing to write about except that I am well + cheery. Will let you have an address to write to as soon as possible as I’m dying to hear from you. It’s a fed up job writing letters without being able to expect a reply. Keep your pecker up. I’m all right. Andrew.

With the current wars going on around the world with access to instant communication I can only imagine what my great grandmother was going through just over 100 years ago.

24 August 1918 – things must have been quite dire as all he was allowed to send was a Field Postcard with instructions ‘NOTHING is to be written on this side except the date and signature of the sender. Sentences not required may be erased. If anything else is added the postcard will be destroyed.

He left

I am quite well.

I have received your letter.

Letter follows at first opportunity.

A Cowan 24/8/18

I have googled the date of the first world war as my recollection of exact dates is not that good 28 July 1914 – 11 November 1918. So this letter is post war but still refers to fighting. * is when I have been unable to decipher his handwriting

Dear Mother 24/11/18 from Swanage

I’ve been rather busy this weekend and haven’t been able to write sooner. I was battery orderly office on Friday and had quite an exciting time. In the early morning I had to inspect a draft of horses leaving for France at 6am and see that they had all been fed, groomed and properly rugged up. I had then to ‘superintend’* the stable house from 6.30 to 8.30. In the morning I had to go round the camp inspecting the huts, canteens, workhouses and so on. Then I had to ride into town and draw the money to pay the men. I felt very self conscious riding into town with my groom riding a respectful two horse lengths behind me but I quite enjoyed the experience. I drew £114 mostly in silver and coppers and it was quite a responsible job to get it all conveyed back into camp. The mare which I ride is awfully nervous and she created quite a scene in the street when I was mounting her on the way home. The beast is very comfortable to ride but she has a very bad reputation as she used to be the majors horse and he had to give her up and take another one. The reason of course is that she has been badly ridden at one time or another. I have ridden her for the last three weeks and I think if I had her another three weeks she would be as tame as kitten.

On Monday last I had the honour to be chosen to command the battery on a field day on which the colonel was coming out to inspect and criticise the work of his young officers. Things passed off quite well for a good job and I think the old boy was favourably impressed. At any rate he didn’t pass any adverse criticisms on my work. Everybody gets at least one big job like that to do when staying here and I’m thankful to know that my stint passed off so successfully.

Doubtless father will be pleased that learn that I am keeping up the family reputation in the line of shooting as I am already a notorious shot with the revolver. Strange to say I shoot much better with my left hand than with my right. The first time I was out shooting was shortly after I came. The older fellows off course didn’t know me at all and accordingly they expected their particular crack to win the 1/- we had up on the shoot. When he produced his target with three bulls out of twelve shots they began handing over the praise to him until I showed my target with eight bulls on it. I have a very good revolver of the Government type with a long barrel which makes it very accurate. I don’t suppose I’ll ever have occasion to use it at the front, but it is a good thing to have in case the Huns should break through again as they did in Cambrai.

The major told us the other day how an officer who left here two months ago escaped being a prisoner in Germany by having his revolver with him. He was taken prisoner at Cambrai but succeeded in concealing his revolver while he was being led away through the village of Gouceaucourt he pulled out his revolver, shot the two Huns who were escorting him and hid among the ruins of the village until it was retaken when the Guards counterattacked. Of course we hope that the Huns will never break through again but things like that may possible happen when the expected big attack takes place.

Nothing has been said about the telephone course, but I haven’t given up hope yet. It may turn up just before I go overseas and so may delay my departure considerably. Even if I went overseas next week I shouldn’t go up the line for a while as all the batteries are overstrength just now. I should probably spend a short while at the base or even in an army school to get accustomed to the way of working things in trench warfare. I rather believe that when the bog attack comes off it will be the ‘Cillus’* who attack and not the Germans and for this reason all the training I have had here has been for open warfare and not for trench warfare. We are constantly reminded of that fact and whenever we do anything as it would be done in engaging enemy trenches, we promptly get jumped on on told that this is not the way it should be done on a moving war. It is rather significant too that we are trained horse and full artillery and that we practise running into action at a gallop, very quickly shelling a target for a short time and moving off again at full speed to shell shell the same target again from a different position. I think moving warfare would be much preferable to trench warfare and personally I believe that we will see it before this year is out.

In spite of what has happened in Russia I think we will bring this to a finish this year, at least so far as actual hostilities are concerned although no doubt negotiations will take a considerable time. However we must wait and see. Perhaps the Huns are nearer than we anticipate.


The broken vase

Once upon a time, not that too many years ago, two wonderful beings created this perfectly unspoilt vase, it was created with love and care and each curve was nurtured and the vase knew it was loved unconditionally.

The vase trustingly allowed a variety of flowers of all shapes, size and colours to be arranged lovingly in it, glowing with pride and would be sad when some of the flowers it cared for tenderly,  would wither and die, but the vase knew that this was the natural course of life and cherished each new arrangement trustingly placed in its care. Learning along the way how best to nurture these precious fragile flowers.

The vase knew that it could be trusted and one day it received the largest and what it thought was the most perfect bouquet it had ever seen and knew that this could be one of its hardest tasks and was being put to the test to ensure that this bouquet did not wither and went above and beyond in caring for these seemingly precious flowers. In focusing all its attention in keeping the flowers alive and looking healthy, the vase forgot to tend to itself and became negligent and the vase would get bumped continually with the occasional little chip appearing and tiny little cracks criss crossing its once smooth happy appearance, until one precarious day, the vase was knocked off the shelf and shattered into hundreds of pieces with fragments flying off in every direction and the flowers flung off into the wind.

The vase lay on the ground, wondering what to do next.  It only knew one thing in life and that was to care for the flowers in its care, how was it to do that now when in pieces.  It realised that in order to fulfil its purpose and recapture its strength, it would need to find these shattered pieces and put itself back together.

The vase travelled far and wide to find all its pieces and as each one was found, it carefully started to reassemble itself until one day it took a long look at itself and thought,  “Yes, I’ve done it.  I may not look like I used to and the cracks are still there, but the glue holding me together is strong” It remembered its earlier happy days and knew that it could care again.

A story about a heart by my heart.

Painting by Alfred Henry O’Keeffe

Once a Catholic, always a Catholic??

The only sound is the twang of a violin string being tuned. Otherwise it is a hushed silence and the silence even more muted by the ancient heavy tapestries adorning the wooden clad walls. Filtered subdued Scottish light makes it way through the ornate stained glass windows showing heraldic badges of Scottish Kings and Queens associated with Falkland Palace . I look up at the inlaid wooden ceiling making up the Royal coat or arms. I am at mass at the Chapel Royal which dates back to 1540. The place exudes mystery and intrigue.

But I am here for a different reason this morning – a personal one – I need to say goodbye somehow to my mom, herself a devout catholic. I am a fallen one who has not been inside a church to worship for many years. I feel a little hypocritical as I question the beliefs that I was indoctrinated with, but then why do I feel I can get close to mom by coming to a Sunday mass. The never ending conundrum? I know she is with dad, with my Nigel, who I talk to. Ironically the sermon today was about eternal life. “Whoever Eats My Flesh and Drinks My Blood Has Eternal Life – John 6:51-59”

As the small congregation filter into the chapel, all masked and sitting 2 meters apart, I feel a tap on my shoulder. There is a roster and they need my name and contact details – I am a stranger to this little village. I can walk into any Tesco’s and mingle with people going about their daily grocery shopping, but cannot sit quietly in a church without being tracked and traced. The only time I got close enough anyone is when I was tapped on my shoulder. The world has gone crazy.

The lay minister is setting up a small camera – they film the mass for those not able to attend. I know that mom attended mass given by the pope during lockdown and wonder if she ever logged onto this particular location.

The service starts and I automatically by rote know the words and procedures and find myself reciting the well worn prayers. I am grateful for the mask, as I find myself stopping mid sentence and my questioning non believing mind kicks in to what I am actually saying. But then why am I here if I don’t believe in something that is being said. Mom was the epitome of a good person and believed without any doubt and I am here today for her. Not to question. I think today is the first time in all the thousands of times I have attended a catholic mass that I actually listened to every single word being said.

My mom would have loved the service – not too much pomp and ceremony – simple and succinct. Her beliefs got her through life, through many a hardship and she never came up wanting. Mom who told me that she often went to mass on a Wednesday to pray for me, her “fallen” daughter. I did not fall Mom, I only stopped and questioned. But the indoctrination is there and still lingers in the back of my mind when I find myself automatically silently sending up a prayer asking for help.

I did not come out of this historic little chapel feeling lighter of spirit. I just know that it would have made mom happy knowing that she got me to go back to church at least for one more time.

Photo courtesy Falkland Palace twitter page


I cannot remember when I last just took the time out to lie flat on my back and watch the clouds scudding across the sky, forming and reforming and letting my imagination follow the ever evolving shapes. I can remember the first time, during a PE class at school- must be way back in the early 70’s, when we were waiting for our turn to be included in the team to play netball. A few of my classmates and I lay back on the grass and just watched the clouds, each seeing different objects – time somehow stood still.

And I now find myself 50 odd years later feeling the same sense of timelessness, just taking time out from the world, flat on my back, on the soft green lawn of someone else’s garden in the middle of Scotland, watching the clouds, seeing birds surf the thermals (wow they can soar fast when they catch them). The shapes move, disappear and then miraculously reappear again. Nothing constant – a bit like life. The outside elements effecting their journey but in their own time just reforming. Time stands still.

So if you find yourself with a moment to spare I would highly recommend you check out of the days stresses and lie back and just watch the sky – that moment of flying with the birds makes you feel grounded and once again at one with the world.

The word cloud comes from the Old English word ‘clud’ meaning ‘rock mass, hill’. The word emerged sometime in the 1300s to describe the visible masses of evaporated water seen in the sky because these masses looked a lot like rock formations

Two sides to a coin

Currently there are lots of comments of how what we see on social media pages is not a true reflection of what peoples lives are actually like.

And a truer word cannot be said and I stand guilty as charged. It was a comment from a friend saying “Wow Cath, you are really living the life, I envy you”, that brought this fact home to me. None of my posts show the internal struggle I have with my own mind, my personal demons, the loneliness, the insecurity, the uncertainty. And covid doesn’t help. I just show the good, happy smiley emoji stuff and at times the good stuff is hard to find.

I started this blog 4 years ago almost as a sort of therapy, but have honestly found it really hard to mind the motivation lately to put pen to paper. I have even found myself googling symptoms of depression as at times I find myself in dark places. And then I dwell and worry and can feel myself spiraling downwards and can almost understand how my Nige couldn’t pull himself out of the abyss.

Yesterday I just sat and cried – it was one of those days. So have decided that as this is my “diary” to write about the good and the bad. If anyone reads it so be it – and if they don’t – so be it. My world is not all bright colours and at times it can be very grey. With social media my mantra has been – my life is an open book – I have nothing to hide. But that isn’t true as I hide the angst and turmoil that I have been going through. And when I get comments “Cath, you are so brave to do what you are doing”, if they only knew. At times I am so far out of my comfort zone and scared shitless and wish there was someone else who could make a decision for me.

I have however been blessed with a positive mind, and amazingly enough, just be putting this down to paper and “owning” it has lifted my mood today. I will continue posting all the happy stuff as just by looking for it, is good for the soul. Also thank you for indulging me as I share this with you.

So when scrolling through someone’s timeline, sometimes we just need to be able to read between the lines.

The Scream

Scream  – verb

to cry or say something loudly and usually on a high note, especially because of strong emotions such as fear, excitement, or anger

The wind is howling

Whistling furiously through all it came in contact with


I join in

Open my mouth as wide as it can go

The scream leaving my body

Whipped away by the wind

There is no one for miles

Does the scream carry?

Take a deep breath

And scream again

Louder this time

All emotions swept away like dust in a sand storm

The gulls above

Also have their say and join in the chorus

But all sound is swallowed up

No one can hear

Take a deep breath

And scream again

Till no breath left

The placid sheep stand by

Not even raising their heads

Maybe they have heard it all before

Peacefully munching on the new spring sweet grass

Oblivious to the tearing emotions surrounding them


Wound up like a spring

But as the next breath is taken in

The spring uncoils

Tension disappears

Scream turns to a laugh

Laughing at myself

Standing screaming into the wind

So good for the soul

I turn

Thank the wind for its patience

And allowing me in.

Picture – Adobe stock

Is cynicism a side effect of ageing?

I have always considered myself a positive, glass half full type of person, and someone who can empathize, but have lately found myself getting more and more cynical.

Not sure if it is due to the fact that over the past 7 years of not really watching TV and now during this interminable lockdowns, with the more enforced indoor hours, the TV is on with the daily news reports which can only make one a tad jaded. These lockdowns definitely have a negative effect and it takes an almost physical effort to keep the positivity going. Even the desire to sit down and type a blog has become what seems like a chore. This I can understand and can analyse and realise it is not forever, but the cynical, negative thoughts are disturbing.

This first realization was seeing a charity appeal for the Donkey Sanctuary, maybe it was the tone of the narrator’s pseudo sad voice appealing “SMS to donate to help us work towards a world where donkeys and mules live free from suffering, and their contribution to humanity is fully valued.” My first thought was “come on how many donkeys are out there that need an advert on prime time TV” and really doubted that the £2 donated actually got to the poor suffering creatures. Same mans voice for the starving children in Africa. Don’t get me wrong – I know there must be donkeys out there suffering and there are starving children in Africa, all who desperately need money, buy my cynical side kicked in about where the funds were actually going.

Ditto now with all the hero stories coming out with covid – the young mentally challenged 5 year old who decided he was going to run 2 miles everyday during lockdown to raise funds for the NHS – parents standing to the side prompting them in their 5 minutes of fame. Cynic brain – he didn’t decide to do this – his parents did and to me that is exploitation. Even typing this makes my cringe – and how can my brain function in such a negative soul destroying manner. Is this the side effect of ageing and not seeing the world through my rose tinted glasses – I preferred it when I did.

When and where along the road did I lose those glasses and my quest/new years resolution is to find them again. In my quest there are 2 pages that I need to read and follow more than the negativity and that is “The Good in People” and “The Good Things Guy”.

I have subsequently been on line and found the Donkey Sanctuary webpage – which is real and work hand in hand with the RSPCA and are doing amazing things.

A, B C … go

I find things continually popping into my head and I think “Oh –  I should blog about this”, but lately this virus seems to have taken root and control of my brain cells.  And I am so over it and bored with it all. So hopefully to banish it all to the deepest part of my mind (and sometimes I wonder how dark and deep that can go!), decided to put it all in alphabetical order with hopefully more positives than negatives about the cursed thing.  I am a little bored so this could be similar to reading the telephone directory. Would love to hear others lists.

A – apathetic attitude and acceptance

B – benefits of making people slow down life a little and enjoy the simpler things in life

C – conspiracy theories abound

D – depression

E – empty roads, towns and beaches

F – friends re-connecting and furlough (thank god for furlough)

G – gratitude

H – health, it is only when we lose our health is threatened that we truly appreciate it

I – ignorance of people believing everything they read on social media

J – jubilation when the first lock down ended

K – kindness of people

L – likeminded people are the best to follow on twitter otherwise it is a rabbit hole of anger

M – mental illness which unfortunately has been more prevalent with the forced isolation

N – nowhere to hide, no chance of running away from it all and nature taking a breath

O – outdoors, being forced to meet outdoors is not necessarily a bad thing, get some much needed fresh air

P – politicians, would hate to be in their shoes as they are damned if that do and damned if they don’t

Q – questions, lots of them

R – respect for all the essential workers

S – sadness for all the loved ones that have passed on during this time

T – tears of which there have been many all across the globe and of course Trump

U – understanding

V – vaccine, a little sceptical but keeping my mind open

W – weight, and we all know about that

X – eXhaustion of the never-ending bombardment on all news fronts

Y – year 2020 is a bit of a write off

Z – zoom – say no more

Nature taking a breath

Make the most of every day.

It is sad that sometimes it takes a tragedy to make us realise that each day is a privilege.

Three recent events that have touched my life have once again brought this to the fore. A time when we are all wrapped up in what we can and what we cannot due and I find myself being quite introspective. I decided to ride this craziness out and not travel home to see family for Christmas. The days are short and the nights long and dark and the sun seldom manages to break through the clouds, and when it does it is watery and not very effective in creating any heat. But maybe it is the novelty of it that I am loving, as this is the first time in the 60 years of my life, that I have not been in the southern hemisphere for Christmas.

But there are days that the dark heaviness weighs you down. The body’s bio rhythms are always a little out of kilter. And the mind turns inward. When you wake at 8am and it is still pitch black outside, with the wind howling and the rain lashing, it takes a lot of willpower to get up, lace on some running shoes and start the day, although knowing that once out there it is well worth it.

Almost seven years ago, life as I knew it, took an about turn and I found myself sinking into a bit of an abyss and it took the sudden death of a friend to snap me out of my “Oh woe is me” attitude. That was the day I signed up for my first adventure of planting trees for Greenpeace and then went off to Costa Rica to teach art.

Last week an old friend passed away after falling into a diabetic coma – she had survived cancer and the death of her spouse. Another friend has just been discharged from hospital after 3 weeks after contracting this dreaded virus – his words “Be careful out there – take it seriously”, and then this morning I heard of the death of a young friend (38) who I worked with at Morgan Bay, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in October.

All this somehow puts things in perspective – so what if you aren’t allowed to go to the beach right now, or if there will be no all fall down New Years Eve parties this year, or if we are required to wear a mask, or holiday plans need to be put on hold. We are alive and well. Another dear friend sent me a link to a clip about the cartoonist Charlie Mackesy, whose message at the end of the day is “Don’t give up, the storm ends”. Make the most of each and every single day, regardless of what it is – just doing what you want to do at that specific moment instead of focusing on how unfair the world is perceived to be.

“Don’t give up, the storm ends” – Charlie Mackesy

A good day to go to the beach…

“Today is a good day to visit the beach” I am told when discussing plans for the day with some local guests.

I stop in my tracks and take a surreptitious look outside and try to remove the incredulous look from my face when turning back to them. Outside the loch is being churned by the wind, clouds are scudding across sky, with occasional glimpses of a watery blue trying hard to make itself seen. I am wearing thick thermal socks, boots and a warm woolen scarf, as maximum temperatures today will be in the single figures. I reply with a sage nod of my head “Ah yes it’s not raining”.

Coming from South Africa, this is a totally alien concept. To spend the day at the beach requires a cooler box filled with ice cold refreshments, sun umbrellas, beach towels, sunglasses, a good book and copious amounts of sunscreen. Where at the end of the day, the skin is feeling the tingle of maybe a touch too much sun and the prickle of sea salt, beach sand in your hair and the permanent scent of coconut oil. Mission accomplished.

In Scotland – a trip to the beach takes on a whole new meaning. It does not entail lazing on the smooth sand (or small pebbles depending on where you go – South African landscaping shops could have a field day here with a seemingly never ending supply of stones for flower beds), it requires a good set of boots, all weather gear and the desire to get out there and experience the elements. To go to the beach is to go to feel the cold north wind on your face, to smell the sea spray, to find shells and unusual pieces of drift wood, to walk. It is a totally different mind set. There are the odd days that allow for the removal of shoes to feel the sand under the soles of your feet and a dip in the icy waters, but they are a rarity

Today it is predicted to be 4 degrees, and a slight breeze so I’m off to the beach! A good day to go to the beach.