J’habitè à Dundee en Ècosse

Dundee’s French Quarter is situated in the west end of the city. Stretching from Dudhope Castle through to Balgay Park. Start at Blackness Road and head north until Ancrum Road.

I proudly reside in the heart of the French Quarter, just off Petit Four Street and on the corner of the infamous Bènviè Road.

I can’t think of one person in the area who talks French, few even speak English and many like to communicate through snarled slurs or grotesque grunts but I once saw Angie Claire in a beret and a striped breton so that’s French enough for me. Once described by Jackson Craigie as a throughway of Dundee, Cleghorn Street is full of hustle and bustle, predominately of dark behaviour. A cultural shock of families of every ethnic origin, students, junkies, alcoholics and allegedly women of the night. The bins are rarely emptied, staffies run wild and free short of their leads and bereft of owners and the one-eyed fat alley cat affectionately named gypsy sneaks in the back doors of houses filling her boots with soured milk and tinned tuna.

Round the corner you will find the Friary, a beautiful church, grand in stature and once home of Catholic ceremonies, dance classes and fabulously drunken summer fetes until priest in residence Father Eugene disbanded from the faith and jumped ship to Spain with his congregational mistress whom was twenty years his junior. Across the road you will find the Johnstones, newlyweds just fresh from their honeymoon and in the first flush of romance. Their mature years serve them well and both enjoy curling up on the sofa with separate copies of ‘The Tully’ rarely conversing a single word. In the same small flat, festering away in a room which can only be described as half way between an uber cool antique shop and Beirut sleeps Ruadhan Scanlan, a budding artist, opinionated beyond reason and possibly the coolest cat I have ever set my eyes on. Ruadhan loathes work and relishes in partying. Heavy in her beliefs, she is a prolific agitator and antagonist and one day I hope she runs for president. Her twin sister Ellie recently moved from the area to a classier suburb just off the Perth Road. Ellie at the tender age of nineteen finds self sufficiency difficult and often comes back to the nest to eat ham rolls and her body weight in pickled onion crisps. I can’t imagine she washes her own clothes either and Mrs Johnstone’s parlour often resembles a 1950’s washhoose.

A minute’s walk will take you to Kat and Nessie’s flat, a beautifully cosy abode they share with Bramble and Ralph their fluffy rag doll cats. Kat is a champion childminder and lovingly looks after three of the Scanlan rascals Freddie, Oscar and Ruby. The kids dote on Kat as do their parents and if you ever need a shot of positivity then her benign personality will give you just that.

A hop, skip and a jump brings you to the Craigie household where Jackson lives alone. If you ever decide to visit him then be sure to take a torch as the closey light is never on and it’s inevitable you will trip and fall over the black bags and empty pizza boxes that crowd his front door. More often than not you will find Jackson along with Chaz, Dylan and Jon in a plume of smoke surrounded by more than two dozen empty space raider packets, playing FIFA or discussing the five states of sleep and consciousness including delirium and REM whilst skilfully strumming the guitar and scraggly writing down lyrics. A radiant bunch of boys with welcoming presence and thoughtful manners. Many wild parties have been thrown at this dwelling and often result in me swinging from the light fitting or jumping through the sofa bed.

Stroll a hundred yards along Petit Four Street and you come to the Rattray’s where Evan and Kathryn live with their two curious kids Daisy and Jacob. The Rattray’s home is the social hub of the district and if you ever visit you will find a cosy group of mums gossiping whilst drinking Kathryn’s homemade herb tea or more than likely a bottle of Cairn o’ Mohr. The kids enjoyably fend for themselves and love making mischief in the middle park or patiently painting on the kitchen table. Eclectic furnishings, high pitched laughter and chat full of conspiracy theories. It’s a well known fact that Kathryn Rattray may well be a member of the CIA. If only walls could talk…

Right next door is Studio 51, run by Mrs Rattray who, amongst her many other talents, is a pro photographer and anyone who is anyone has had a profile taken at this well known establishment.

A wee march down City Road will take you past The Queen Anne, a cheery wee public house where The Poley Mad Squad like to congregate, specifically on a Sunday when the karaoke is in full swing. Many characters can be found in the scraggy tavern including Jimmy Buble, Dundee’s famous singing taxi driver. Jimmy is always up first with renditions of Frank Sinatra classics. By the end of the evening everyone is riotously dancing on bar stools, pouring their own pints and there was once an incident where I ended up with Newcastle Don’s false teeth not only in my mouth but also in my handbag.

We have local celebrities here too. Fashion designer Hayley Scanlan resides just next door with her twin boys. Her plush apartment bringing an air of suave to the unsophisticated area. I’m almost certain the mere mention of her well known name will push house prices up.

Artist and musical theatre connoisseur Titi Finlay stays just across the road and you are sure to hear her roaring, operatic chanting float down Glenagnes Street. Titi lives with two remarkably caring boys, Robbie and Craig who take great consideration in looking after their petite friend. Making sure she’s ok by cooking pleasant meals, rolling her cigarettes and picking her up from the club when she has had too many espresso martinis. Always keen to pull her weight, she in return keeps the house animated with her vivid paintings, child-like carefree nature and intelligent mind. You will more than likely find Titi making skilful yet frantic instagram videos in a pair of Calvin Klein pants.

Many other friends reside in these parts, including Louise Wilson who lives just on the cusp. I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting Louise’s place but with an active social life you’re sure to catch her out and about. Auntie Jean can often be seen at Balgay Park, taking her dog Charlie for long leisurely walks. Joy Gansh is another playful resident, parties are sure to be found at the stylish student’s pad and I often hear Joy screeching happily at six in the morning outside my bedroom window whilst I’m tucked up in bed. Sir Ryan ‘Herc’ Ireland lives only a few doors down, a fantastic chef and a quiet chap I often forget is there until he makes a witty joke on facebook or i bump into him at the shops. I’m still patiently waiting for my invite round to his for tea.

The Poley Penthouse is where Ruby and I call home and with prolific views of the city’s Law Hill and River Tay I can only dream of a better location. I am predominately found in the VEF headquarters (kitchen) cooking baked ouefs on Gary my 1970s electric cooker or writing comfortably at the kitchen table wearing a cowl neck fleece and socks with my Birkenstocks, Etta James or 1894 overture blasting out the radio. Give me a penthouse apartment looking over Central Park in Manhattan and I’ll take it, a condo on Miami Beach and I’ll grab it, a chateaux in the South of France and it’s mine but in Dundee, there is no place I’d rather be. The quirky flat kitted out with our favourite things and comfy surroundings is more than we will ever need. The door is always open and friends are more than welcome. We have never felt more comfortable in the place we call home.

You can buy your wares from Cleggie News or Cleggie Booze who are always there to lend a hand. Have a quick trim up at Cara’s Barbers or head to Mr Singh’s for homemade samosas, I’ve heard from a reputable source that Mya’s vindaloo is the best and the hottest in the toon.

Most important and best of all, even though we may not be French, everyone who communes in the french quarter cares and looks out for each other. We stick together and share the load to make our life easier, as well as trying to make a difference to our loveable but challenging surroundings.

Lets make Bènviè Road brighter.

Long live the VEF and The Queen Anne, where everybody knows your name.

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“Fame is rot; daughters are the thing”- J M Barrie

“Picture yourself in a boat on a river

With tangerine trees and marmalade skies

Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly

 A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.”- Lucy in the sky with diamonds (The Beatles)

My life began in 2006. On the 18th of November at 21.43pm to be precise. Even in my body and mind’s state of exhaustion, discomfort and shock the overwhelming feeling of the deepest love penetrated through me and this beautiful little creature which had been placed on my chest. I instantly realised everything I’d achieved previously in my life would now be null and void, after the accomplishment of creating, growing, delivering and now nurturing a tiny wee masterpiece. Gifted to me to teach me the greater meaning of life. Giving me a clearer consciousness of wellbeing and a positive outlook on the value of the human race.

Ruby Muir Scanlan was an angelic baby, I can’t think of a time in her short years where she has caused me too much discomfort or when I’d questioned the way of her behaviour and attitude. I find her captivating to be around, with an astonishingly mature sense of humour. I often stare at her in wonderment, does she realise just how much power of attention she brings upon people? Drawing them in with her beautiful charisma then holding on to them with her hilarious wit and refreshing temperament. If anything, unfortunately Ruby has had to put up with me, my intensity, my stubbornness, my acute mood swings and our huge change in circumstance which she has boldly approached in a commendable manner.

Ruby is a creative kid with the most wicked imagination. She spends her time reading books, writing stories, creating skilful pieces of artwork, taking pictures, making short films, practising guitar and getting lost in her favourite movies which include Matilda, Home Alone and Annie. She spends weekends out playing with friends on what I can only imagine to be exciting adventures, creating tales and memories that will last a lifetime. To my delight Ruby shares my interests in fashion and music and we love nothing more than to put the radio on and dance frantically around our kitchen, killing ourselves with high pitched laughter. Not once did she complain when I decided we could live without television and she easily found other ways to keep herself entertained.

“The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set —
Or better still, just don’t install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we’ve been,
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone’s place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they’re hypnotised by it,
Until they’re absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don’t climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink —
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
IT ROTS THE SENSE IN THE HEAD!
IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!
IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND!
IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND
HE CAN NO LONGER UNDERSTAND
A FANTASY, A FAIRYLAND!
HIS BRAIN BECOMES AS SOFT AS CHEESE!
HIS POWERS OF THINKING RUST AND FREEZE!
HE CANNOT THINK — HE ONLY SEES!
‘All right!’ you’ll cry. ‘All right!’ you’ll say,
‘But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!’
We’ll answer this by asking you,
‘What used the darling ones to do?
‘How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?’
Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?
We’ll say it very loud and slow:
THEY … USED … TO … READ! They’d READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed.
― Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

The pressures of parenthood can be overwhelming, high expectations are cast and we all feel the need to ensure our child participates in every club available and has an educated grasp of their studies over and above assigned coursework or homework. They must have the perfect routine, polished shoes and big massive bows in their vellus hair as well as the latest console, tablet or gadget. We oversee all this whilst working full time, keeping a house, an intoxicating social life and bouts at the gym. We buy our kids. Love them through gifts and treats and educate them with military force. I blame consumerism, consumption and greed. We pursue the ‘good life’ through the idealisms of status symbols and social stratification.

I too am guilty of all of the above but I’m also conscious that in pursuing these idealistic ideas, I’m taking away from myself and my child the real ‘good life’. I often forget Ruby teaches me more than I can ever teach her, opens my eyes as much as I open hers. Ruby reminds me of the time when my mind was empty of materialism and full of imagination.

“All the reading she had done had given her a view of life that they had never seen. If only they would read a little Dickens or Kipling they would soon discover there was more to life than cheating people and watching television.”
― Roald Dahl, Matilda

Last week I had five separate inbox messages, sharing a link to a picture of a young girl who was deemed the most beautiful girl in the world. Astonishingly it was Ruby’s doppelgänger. It made me a little angry and fearful. I am under no illusion my daughter is aesthetically beautiful but who cares! It’s irrelevant the shape of her face or the blue of her eyes when she has an inquisitive mind and a yearning of exploration in her heart. Ruby is yet to learn of her beauty and I want to keep it that way. A young girl who cares for the world and for those around her with fire in her belly and a satisfying streak of independence will find it unnecessary anyway.

Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying, and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault.”
― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Already Ruby has found a gusto for helping others. Last year she incredibly set up a small business from our kitchen affectionately named ‘Ruby’s Cookies’. She enthusiastically baked over 600 cookies and raised over £350 for a local children’s charity. This year she has eagerly confronted me about pursuing other ways of contributing her time in making others feel good. I can see this through her patient manner around her younger cousins and family friends. She is the smallest kid with the biggest, warmest heart.

Tomorrow sees Ruby’s 8th birthday. A celebration with family and friends and a trip to the theatre to see Wicked is what we have planned. Whilst ruby will indulge in gifts and cakes, I’ll sit back and reflect at how awesome this little human has turned out to be.

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right’. Here comes the sun (George Harrison).

Long live the VEF and thank you Ruby, you will always be my Queen.

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IN TRYING TO PLEASE ALL, HE HAD PLEASED NONE.

‘I have Social Disease. I have to go out every night. If I stay home one night I start spreading rumours to my dogs.’ – Andy Warhol.

I wakened in the morning with sore butt cheeks, an open wound running down my spine and a slight bald patch at my crown, a result of spending the majority of the night practicing my Dandy Pike head balance. My mind felt like mince and I can barely recall the taxi ride home.

How the hell did this happen again? I’d pledged a vow of sobriety. A vow that lasted approximately three and a half hours.

The silliness started in the ladies room at Dukes Corner. Titi and I gave overwhelmed onlookers a rendition of ‘Hard Knock Life’ and ‘Little Girls’ after downing two espresso martinis and a shot of tequila each. Snapping my favourite Vivienne Westwood shoes while attempting to break dance with a bunch of B-boys who had taken over the dance floor. Titi and I throwing around shapes trying to keep up with the talented bunch.

I’d taken the car, I’d even parked it in a restricted area, my poor attempt at having a well-behaved evening. I’d been asked along by Titi to The Onion Club, a noir cabaret performed by Pauline M Hynd, an absolute star and my latest ‘Wumin Crush’.

The show was dark, deep and mysterious. Songs about love provocatively performed in body hugging slips under printed kimonos and a long black over coat. Feminist poems recited in French accompanied by skillful musicians hypnotically rattling piano keys, completing the jazz vibe with a magnetic brass section. Pauline kept the crowd engaged in between numbers with witty one liners and hilarious costume changes. A cover of Surabaya Johnny made my night, Titi and I chanting the lyrics throughout the rest of our eventful evening. Slugging from a bottle of whiskey on stage, Pauline’s black bob perfectly swinging through the melodic chanting. Love, world issues and politics with an uplifting hint of sarcasm, Pauline reminded me of myself and her performance felt as though it had been imagined in my head and put on stage in pursuit of trying to clear my mind of the slight turmoil I’d been feeling through the pervious week.

‘I never said it would be easy… I only said it would be worth it…’ – Mae West.

So my mum posted an uncompromising photo and it hurt…..

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We aim to please. It’s only natural to have the urge to impress and there is no one we aim to please more than our parents. We have an inbuilt mechanism that encourages us to attempt anything plausible to make our parents proud, we try with subconscious might not to disappoint the people we love most.

I, unfortunately, have always been a disappointment.

As a young kid I ran away from primary school, ripping up my coursework and throwing my reading book in the burn. My teenage years saw me smash windows in my family home, kick through walls and doors and get brought home from the police on numerous occasions. As a young adult I squatted on various friends couches, not allowing my parents to know too much information about my location. I fell pregnant at 21. I have formidably and with no doubt regrettably done everything possible to make my parents feel quite the opposite of pride. I turn 30 next month and I still continue to disappoint them. To their dismay, I ended my ten year relationship over a year ago and I can still sense, see and hear the dissatisfaction anytime the subject arises.

Too bad. As selfish as it may sound I’ve learned to realise and to understand that if I want to live a happy life and have a positive outlook of myself then the only person I should aim to please is me. I’m not perfect and I like it that way, I refuse to succumb to the pressures of popular culture or become embroiled in any sort of competitive rat race. I’m confident in what I have become and aim to pursue the things that make me thrive in life. I know in time my parents will be proud, if they allow me to be myself with fewer expectations.

For in the way you judge, you will be judged.

‘For two extraordinary years I have been working on it – but mostly learning how to tell the truth. At first it is quite impossible. You make yourself better than anybody, then worse than anybody, and when you finally come to see you are “like” everybody – that is the bitterest blow of all to the ego. But in the end it is only the truth, no matter how ugly or shameful, that is right, that fits together, that makes real people, and strangely enough – beauty…’― Louise Brooks.

Long live the VEF and be yourself, become your own Queen.imageimageimageimageimageimageimage

DOUBLE DOUBLE, TOIL AND TROUBLE…

To get through life, which can be incoherent, relentless and tough, I sincerely believe that comfort is key. Humans can function with only their basic needs recognised but most people who have control of their own lives live it on a level which is comfortable to themselves. Some people gain comfort in lavish belongings such as plush carpets, movie screen televisions, the latest pair of Ugg boots or a brand new 4×4. Whereas I discover comfort in people and experience on a physical or spiritual level. It’s vital for me to be surrounded by people with whom I am comfortable: my daughter, my immediate family and my friends. I call for little else for comfort but perhaps a good book and some nice herbal tea.

The clocks go back.

This starts to make me feel uncomfortable. I’ve never really understood the concept of the change of time. I believe it may be the hierarchy’s way of fucking with our body clock in what is by no doubt the most formidable season of the year. If they really wanted to help us get through the winter then surely they should pin a massive blanket in the sky which generates heat and light. October through to March could be like sitting on the rug by your gran’s fire place, our pale faces beaming gratified radiance with an extra boost of vitamin D in our bloodstreams. Unfortunately, I can’t envisage this proceeding any time soon. I therefore struggle on with my self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and I try to supplement my comfort by protecting myself with the people I love most.

I reflect over the summer months and the memories they brought me, I think of times when my psyche was positive and proceed to make plans to mimic those experiences that lifted my spirit and placed me in an affirmative mind space. There are too many to mention, most surrounding the same group of friends. The friends that can trudge me through these long cold months.

It was Friday 13th.

A few weeks previous Kathryn, Hayley and I had been to see a spiritualist. I’m always skeptical and uncertain by the term ‘spiritualist’. I often associate it with a money-making scam or an unforgiving way of toiling with vulnerable emotions. I saw it through nonetheless and I wasn’t shocked, just pleasantly surprised by what was unearthed. A feeling of confirmation as to what I’d already known. I was told I had the gift of the divine, and through a source of wicker or witch craft I could hone my spiritual aid. Hurriedly I sifted through books of the ancient occult. I already delved in the art of tarot reading and numerology so it was an easy subject for me to relish. I studied the lunar cycle and moon phase and couldn’t wait to try my first spell or offering.
As an initiation into the craft I decided to honour the Pagan goddess Brigid.

The moon was full.

Kathryn, Jackson and I made our way to a secret location. Bags filled with accoutrements for our Druid offering. We set the alter in preparation. An offering of bread, nectarine and cinnamon surrounded by candles. Music set the scene as we cast a pentacle circle of protection and repeated the following prayer.

I honour you magnificent Goddess.
I am your daughter and walk in your path.
I love you and thank you for all you have done for me.
Please continue your precious presence in my life.
I offer you this small token, as recognition and appreciation of your love and guidance.
Please accept my offering.

The ambience changed dramatically and a sense of peace swept the room. Three friends sat quietly for at least half an hour, focusing on the words that still echoed around the concrete walls. Concentration penetrating our third eye chakra. Giving back to the goddess and the world through transmission meditation. Connected not only by interlocking hands. Opening the circle of protection we had a right good laugh at how we felt through the process and made a promise to continue our spiritual path, something which we all uphold today. Continuing our meditation with Auntie Jean and frequently reading my tarot cards for enlightenment in our daily lives.

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We also get blind drunk sometimes instead of our spiritual capers and this is exactly what we did this Halloween.

Duke’s corner was the meeting point, espresso martini was the drink of choice and our debut Velvet Elvis Foundation interview was the topic of conversation. Titi and I had been asked along by textiles student Caitlin Miller to answer a few questions in line with her final year dissertation. Titi discussed her paintings and I discussed my blog. Being Halloween, I’d previously raided Ruby’s dressing up box and the three of us sat happily in crowns, a witch’s hat and comedy glasses. Mid interview saw a disruption in the form of Jackson Craigie and a ripple of fear crossed my body as I instantly knew it would lead into a chaotic night. Effortlessly throwing back the drinks, it seemed face painting might be a promising idea so we left our mugs in Titi’s artistic hands and were transformed into the full line up of Kiss and Jackson sporting a Mike Tyson facial tattoo. I flippantly decided on a change of mask, this time sporting tattoos reminiscent of Valli Myers an Australian artist, dancer and bohemian muse. We met with Kathryn and made our way to Boudoir to continue our ghastly behaviour.

The party finished off in The Tin Smith where no spooky stone had been unturned. A dj played Halloween classics and the bar staff had all been dramatically transformed into the tin man from The Wizard of Oz. The modern venue had been decorated with fake spiders webs, autumnal leaves and was even complete with working popcorn machine, candy apples and cauldrons full of sweet treats. Louise Wilson joined the gang and we all consumed the demonic atmosphere, dancing dramatically with other revellers dressed in impressive costumes. At one point Jackson and I tried to sell the popcorn to the unwilling punters from cast iron urns we’d found lying around. Impressed with our merriment it was time to call it a night, a short trip back to the Poley Penthouse and retirement to bed more than satisfied with the uplifting effect spending time with your group of friends can bring.

Forbidding the seasonal change and drop in climate or light to affect my otherwise upbeat demeanour, I’m ready to kick winter in the vampire teeth.

Long live the VEF and dook for apples like a Queen.

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