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TITLE
'The Heart is Highland' (3)
EXTERNAL ID
AB_LL_MAISIE_STEVEN_03
DATE OF RECORDING
2010
PERIOD
2010s
CREATOR
Maisie Steven
SOURCE
Maisie Steven
ASSET ID
40982
KEYWORDS
audio
Literary Landscapes

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This audio extract is from 'The Heart is Highland' by Maisie Steven, first published in 2001.

'Snow! Could there possibly be a more suitable or exciting way to start the month traditionally known as 'February-fill-the-dykes'? None, certainly, that Nan and I could have wished for. Snow was always a delight. The only thing we couldn't agree on was which we loved more - to stand at the window watching the big flakes fall (our hearts would always sink if our parents assured each other that the ground was too wet and it wouldn't lie) or wake up in the morning to that strange kind of light, and a white world? Perhaps, just slightly, we favoured the latter with its element of surprise. The beauty of the trees, especially, always bowled us over; in the accepted cliché of the day, we would tell each other that they were 'like fairy lacework'. In the glen, clichés were an unselfconscious part of everyone's speech; it was as invariably 'as good as gold', or 'as happy as a sandboy' - whatever that may have meant. But in school, when writing an essay, we would not have dared to use such expressions.

In an area where serious consequences could follow heavy snowstorms, our delight would often be tinged with guilt; we would hear our father telling of somebody's sheep having to be dug out of a deep drift, or of remote farms or crofts cut off. Deep down, though, we would simply be wishing it had been us - the joy of being cut off from school! In all our schooldays, it never did happen. And in school as geared to academic effort and sheer hard slog as ours, I scarcely recall ever being sent home an hour early because of snow.

Whatever the depth of the snow, suffice it to say we would be desperate to be out, to make the most of it - this being largely determined by the consistency of the snow. It if was of the kind that packed easily, our mother must have learned to expect us home late, liberally caked with the stuff, having sustained a battering from the boys on the way. Try as we might, we never did succeed in throwing straight; we were never anything like a match for them! Once, after school, a boy in my class sent a snowball (with a stone inside it, which was even worse) crashing through one of the school windows. The fact that he, poor soul, was related to the headmaster did nothing to save him from the inevitable belting - rather the reverse.

At one time we were given a proper sledge by family friends. Although this was a much-appreciated gift, the trouble was that it wouldn't always work; the snow might be too deep, or too wet and slushy, or there wasn't a sufficient covering. On those occasions the old tin tray that we had always used, and which was really our favourite, would come into its own again. With deep snow which 'stuck', we would set to work like a pair of navvies and beat it down until we had a smooth shining track that was wickedly fast. In the middle of 'our' field there was a kind of hummock, below which the ground fell away quite sharply. We would hurtle down the last bit, to crash into the fence backwards, helpless with laughter. Making a snowman in the garden was enjoyable, but tame in comparison.'

Maisie Steven wrote 'The Heart is Highland' in celebration of her childhood in Glen Urquhart near Loch Ness in the 1930s and 1940s - the kind of outdoor life sadly denied many children today - in a warm and lively month-by-month account which begins with the first snowdrops and ends with the holly-picking at Christmas.

At the same time the book offers the reader an insight into the community life of the glen with its emphasis on strong family values, and a moral and religious ethos which still left room for a great deal of enjoyment and fun. The book, with its evocation of simplicity and freedom from today's materialism, has brought a warm response from readers far and wide, and is now into its third edition. The author emphasises that it should not be regarded as mere nostalgia, although of course is that as well!

As a nutritionist concerned with Scotland's food habits, she also wrote 'The Good Scots Diet', a review of diet and health from earliest times. Introduced to 'The Old Statistical Account' by her late husband, Campbell Steve, a prolific writer on outdoors Scotland, she fell under its spell, and after many years of research produced 'Paris Life in 18th Century Scotland; (Scottish Cultural Press, 1995) which was short-listed for the Longman History Prize, and 'Gems of Old Scotland' (Argyll Publishing, 2008), aimed primarily at schools and colleges.

Maisie Steven is the mother of Dunkeld-based poet and writer, Kenneth Steven.

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'The Heart is Highland' (3)

2010s

audio; Literary Landscapes;

Maisie Steven

Literary Landscapes: Maisie Steven

This audio extract is from 'The Heart is Highland' by Maisie Steven, first published in 2001.<br /> <br /> 'Snow! Could there possibly be a more suitable or exciting way to start the month traditionally known as 'February-fill-the-dykes'? None, certainly, that Nan and I could have wished for. Snow was always a delight. The only thing we couldn't agree on was which we loved more - to stand at the window watching the big flakes fall (our hearts would always sink if our parents assured each other that the ground was too wet and it wouldn't lie) or wake up in the morning to that strange kind of light, and a white world? Perhaps, just slightly, we favoured the latter with its element of surprise. The beauty of the trees, especially, always bowled us over; in the accepted cliché of the day, we would tell each other that they were 'like fairy lacework'. In the glen, clichés were an unselfconscious part of everyone's speech; it was as invariably 'as good as gold', or 'as happy as a sandboy' - whatever that may have meant. But in school, when writing an essay, we would not have dared to use such expressions.<br /> <br /> In an area where serious consequences could follow heavy snowstorms, our delight would often be tinged with guilt; we would hear our father telling of somebody's sheep having to be dug out of a deep drift, or of remote farms or crofts cut off. Deep down, though, we would simply be wishing it had been us - the joy of being cut off from school! In all our schooldays, it never did happen. And in school as geared to academic effort and sheer hard slog as ours, I scarcely recall ever being sent home an hour early because of snow.<br /> <br /> Whatever the depth of the snow, suffice it to say we would be desperate to be out, to make the most of it - this being largely determined by the consistency of the snow. It if was of the kind that packed easily, our mother must have learned to expect us home late, liberally caked with the stuff, having sustained a battering from the boys on the way. Try as we might, we never did succeed in throwing straight; we were never anything like a match for them! Once, after school, a boy in my class sent a snowball (with a stone inside it, which was even worse) crashing through one of the school windows. The fact that he, poor soul, was related to the headmaster did nothing to save him from the inevitable belting - rather the reverse.<br /> <br /> At one time we were given a proper sledge by family friends. Although this was a much-appreciated gift, the trouble was that it wouldn't always work; the snow might be too deep, or too wet and slushy, or there wasn't a sufficient covering. On those occasions the old tin tray that we had always used, and which was really our favourite, would come into its own again. With deep snow which 'stuck', we would set to work like a pair of navvies and beat it down until we had a smooth shining track that was wickedly fast. In the middle of 'our' field there was a kind of hummock, below which the ground fell away quite sharply. We would hurtle down the last bit, to crash into the fence backwards, helpless with laughter. Making a snowman in the garden was enjoyable, but tame in comparison.'<br /> <br /> Maisie Steven wrote 'The Heart is Highland' in celebration of her childhood in Glen Urquhart near Loch Ness in the 1930s and 1940s - the kind of outdoor life sadly denied many children today - in a warm and lively month-by-month account which begins with the first snowdrops and ends with the holly-picking at Christmas.<br /> <br /> At the same time the book offers the reader an insight into the community life of the glen with its emphasis on strong family values, and a moral and religious ethos which still left room for a great deal of enjoyment and fun. The book, with its evocation of simplicity and freedom from today's materialism, has brought a warm response from readers far and wide, and is now into its third edition. The author emphasises that it should not be regarded as mere nostalgia, although of course is that as well!<br /> <br /> As a nutritionist concerned with Scotland's food habits, she also wrote 'The Good Scots Diet', a review of diet and health from earliest times. Introduced to 'The Old Statistical Account' by her late husband, Campbell Steve, a prolific writer on outdoors Scotland, she fell under its spell, and after many years of research produced 'Paris Life in 18th Century Scotland; (Scottish Cultural Press, 1995) which was short-listed for the Longman History Prize, and 'Gems of Old Scotland' (Argyll Publishing, 2008), aimed primarily at schools and colleges.<br /> <br /> Maisie Steven is the mother of Dunkeld-based poet and writer, Kenneth Steven.