Saturday, 23 October 2010


I wouldn't have thought cutting my hair would take me back to a magical forest so much visited by my family in my childhood - but it did!

Generally, I've had long hair since I was young, when outdoors it is easy to tie back and when cold it's nice to have it down. Still, it is never a bad thing to try something new and scissors easily achieved that!

Afterwards, I was thinking about my earliest memories and a lot of wonderful times were had at a loch I used to visit with my family and our much loved wee dog. It's a 'secret' place which can't be seen from any road and to reach it, the path begins as a dark muddy track which passes under tall trees.

Exploring through this shady wonderland - when the woodland path turns upwards, the track is no longer muddy but opens out to pass through a beautiful forest. Given over to nature, if ever there was an enchanted forest lived in by fairy folk - then this is the place. Not having visited for ten years, I made my way back and (even in the rain) I found the woods and loch to be as beautiful as I had remembered, if maybe a little quieter...

Now without - songs sung whilst walking, young voices raised in excitment and without the sound of family laughter.  Plus, the odd bark from my Jack Russell dog - just to let the Rabbits and Roe Deer know that he was visiting their home for a few magical hours, as we would do in all weathers, across the seasons.

Our day out, quickly prepared for with plastic boxes filled with tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches, some bottles of made up juice, a flask of tea for mum and dad and of course, the dog too was never forgotten! Fresh drinking water (tho' when hot, he would ocassionally drink from puddles and always be chased for that!).

Most importantly, an old towel would go with us for the dog (which so often would return absolutely filfthy!) And us? Well, dad always tried to keep the car clean and each trip he'd tell us we'd brought back all the mud in the place or half the beach. Quite probably he was right but we'd all just laugh - these 'adventures' were far too exciting to bother about a bit of mud or sand (and dad would have agreed). 

[Thanks mum and dad!]
Looking back at my recent photographs, naming one "The Enchanted Forest" - I saw this poem just flow out of me to write itself. But then, although the years can rush by us, our strongest and most treasured childhood memories are never forgotten for it is these which set us off on our journey thro' life.  

Remembering our last trip there in 2000, when I graduated with a MBA and we were looking for somewhere scenic and family orientated to take photos - I had stopped our walk that day to take another picture. The sun had been streaming through the trees creating a beautiful warm light. Me and mum were blethering away as usual and dad had wandered on a bit ahead but we called him back. Not being the 'openly romantic' type this was only a few of the shots I ever got of mum and dad together and it was at this place, in 2010, I stopped again. The summer was long gone, the reddy brown leaves from the beech trees lay scattered on the ground and I thought how much my folks would have loved to have seen this Autumnal scene. For me, I took a photo to be able to remember the magical feeling I had again in that special place. Perhaps, just a feeling reflected back from so many happy family memories created in this 'enchanted forest'.

Enchanted Forest

Enchanted forest of memories,
As a child I knew you first.
In Spring, I’d gather Snowdrops,
When through the snow they burst.
In Summer, bright yellow Daffodils,
Spread out across the forest floor.
And air, with Bluebells scented,
Violets, Rhododendrons and more.

 Hot summer days, playing by the loch,
Gave way to Autumn's glory.
Cygnets flew off. Grey lag geese flew in,
Mother nature’s changing story.
Then Winter days, at last arrived,
Jack Frost painted your frozen canvas.
Enchanted forest, it’s then you slept,
In the cycle, of Life and Harvest.

Childhood memories, they warm the heart,
Those days, that will never be forgotten.
Muddy boots, that messed the car,
Mum’s laughter at poor Dad’s complaining.
Weekend trips, to coast and country,
Running free, my dog with me for company.
So many outings, that all blur to be,
The childhood days which did make me.

                                             23.10.10, Shona McMillan ©

How seldom we can ever judge the final value to be placed on a photograph, at the time that we take it. For, it is only through the passage of time and the ouctome of life's events that something as simple as an ordinary day on a happy family walk through a woodland can later become one of our most treasured memories.

All Words and Images,
Shona McMillan © All Rights Reserved
In 'my enchanted forest' - perhaps I can make a wish that all people would not turn away from being photographed. Because, when we look back on a life that is gone, it is ALL the photographs of loved ones which become our most treasured possessions. When people turn away from a camera (and say they don't like getting their photo taken) then a large part of a memory has forever just been lost...

Saturday, 16 October 2010


It's a cold, Autumnal day in Scotland and I've been preparing for winter. I had planned to be out painting my porch. Yet, other than it IS cold and I don't feel like climbing ladders today, for whatever reasons I've found myself reflecting and thinking -

"At what point do personal memories become of shared value? And I've found myself wondering - "At what point should you consider telling your own account eg: Shona's story?"

When my mum was in her seventies, I remember hearing about a local history project and suggesting she should take part “Och no” was her almost embarrassed, response, “what would I have to say that anyone would want to hear”. 

Yet ten years on, in the last chapter of her life, mum saw the full extent of the 'need' to create a community legacy to preserve people's stories for the future.

Realising the importance, the need to preserve a person's story of their life need not be about them but that their life is just another part in a bigger picture, the desire to create a record, a snap shot of life caught in time so future generations can look back to experiences of life from a time now forever gone.

Starting with my mum's fishing family stories, and continuing on to gather more stories and photos from the wider community (from Edinburgh, East Lothian to Eyemouth) – when all that mass of information was summarised and presented by me (with photos and subtitles in my free People and Songs of the Sea exhibitions), as many as 12,000 people came to see the 300+ photos and text. 

Measuring the reaction of those people who viewed my exhibitions, the numbers tell me unequivocally that personal stories (of ordinary people) no one person is 'ordinary' - everyone has a unique story to tell and shared stories are of a GREAT value to others.

Through today's media, you could think that unless a person is a CELEBRITY (for whatever reasons) then a person's story has no worth. BUT NO! I think that every single person's life is of value and, as my mum would say, "every family, every person has a story to tell". So, whether it is that we relate to the tales of other people because we see something in them that reflects in our own life, or that, their stories simply spark of personal memories, perhaps even hidden deeply within us and forgotten – stories have value.

We do not grow up in life or pass through this world alone. So too the memories stored in us can touch and influence others. BUT, at what point should we start to recollect? I find myself uncomfortable in asking that question to myself? Maybe with a blog there is no fixed ‘start point’ – maybe we just need to talk and the stories will arrive!

In the way I build my regular Celtic Reflections Photoblogs on Facebook, maybe I don’t need to plan everything out here with a beginning, middle and end – maybe I just need to start to talk and to share! To write down my recollections and illustrate my stories with the photos which come to mind. Sharing even small things that make me smile, like getting caught in the rain yesterday at sunset. And, even although I was drenched - telling others later of how wonderful it felt to be outdoors in the middle of such a scenic downpour!

Duddingston Loch, Edinburgh in a downpour at sunset
© Shona McMillan. All Rights Reserved

In my project work (People and Songs of the Sea) for over four years I have been completely focussed on gathering together the memories of other people. Indeed, I would feel quite horrified to think of myself as being old enough to share my life stories, my memories with others. I feel as young and full of life as I did when I was 18 but then, when my mum passed away at 80, that was one of the last things she said to me “strange to be nearing the end of my life when I still feel as young and full of life as I ever did”.

Stay young and full of life! :-D
I think it is great when people retain a positive outlook on life (being happy should be irrelevant to age). So, to use how we feel as an indication when to start, is to risk that appropriate day never arriving. So for me, it's today! 

In thinking to write out stories from my life, it is NOT about writing things down to say that 'my life is more remarkable than any other persons and so it should be shared' - I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT believe that. But, just as I have been interested in other peoples stories, maybe some day, people will be interested in mine. I grew up before mobile phones, computers, colour TV - WOW, even for me to think back on a world without all these norms seems unimaginable. Yet, I did experience life without these things. Therefore, my stories may one day touch those who never saw the world as it was then - just as happy a place and maybe sometimes even happier because it wasn't cluttered up with so many distractions from what is trully important in life which is simply to live, laugh and love.

Arthur Seat, Edinburgh
© Shona McMillan
For whatever reasons to write -

If I have prompted others to share their stories with me, maybe it is time I share some of my own.

My recollections would be formed around my life in Edinburgh, my connections to East Lothian and the coast, my love for the Highlands.

And of course, my equally strong feelings for Ireland and all the other lovely countries I've got to know on my travels: Canada, America, Italy - goodness, the list can go on and on...

In setting out to write any story, I want to look for a beginning, a middle and an end. Writing about myself there is an obvious problem – I am not looking back at a life which has been completed and therefore, one that has been all nicely organised into a natural story telling order. So, I need to come up with another way to organise these accounts. Accordingly, I think it easiest to pick topics and write about these. It would be good if they were ordered (my logical mind prefers that). However, people's recollections can and usually do just tend to spill out in a random fashion. In making this process as easy on myself as possible, it seems then my plan is to 'go with the flow’.

If you are sitting comfortably?
Then I will begin...

Over the coming weeks, months - the time ahead, I will look back and share stories on topics including: Family, Friends, School, Childhood, Holidays, Sayings, Music, Travel and so on. Chapters filled with daily events which build to form stories from a life.

Welcome to "Shona's story".

Bathed in sunshine, Yellow Craigs beach, East Lothian
All Text and Images © Shona McMillan. All Rights Reserved