Today I am handing over This Northern Gal to an old friend. Bryony has just started a blog of her own so if you like her post today, make sure that you head to Olann to see some more of her writing – say hello from me when you do!
When I think about it, wool has punctuated a lot of my life.
It seems a wee bit silly writing that because I am not sure how something like a sheep’s fleece can really come to define you. But wool has always been around at all those important moments, and is there in all my favourite memories.
I grew up in the countryside in Aberdeenshire, in a small, granite house which is always, always cold (even in the summer!) Because of this, my parent’s house is adorned with blankets – knitted shrugs, tweed patchwork quilts and some great crocheted masterpieces from my mum’s mum, my Nannie. As a child and a teenager, I would always be wrapped in a blanket, reading a book, at all times of year. I love that feeling of comfort and contentedness.
My mum and Nannie were queens of Hygge before it was cool. My nannie made me my own crotched masterpiece a few years ago, which she gave to me as Christmas present. I cried when I opened it, because somehow a gift that has been made with the hands and heart of someone you love means more – more thought, more feeling, more love.
I now covet blankets, much like my mum, and I have a pretty big selection. When my Nannie and my mum no longer walk this earth with me, wool will remind me of them and the happiness they brought to my life. The blankets that I have will be heirlooms that my children will be able to snuggle within, and my mum and Nannie will live on forever in our stories.
But, as a child, I did not spend all my time indoors. My dad is an avid fan of Sunday morning walk. We would assemble – mum, dad, me, brother, sister, dog, flask of tea, chocolate digestives, winegums – and head to our favourites woods in our wellies.
Wellies are a problematically cold set of shoes and wool socks were always necessary to prevent frostbite on a chilly, Scottish winter’s day. Wool is warmth for me, but it is also cold, the good kind that clears you head and makes your soul hungry. It is feet stomping through leaves and puddles, and slipping on hidden ice. It is the bond of family, and the feeling of being and belonging.
When I was eighteen, I moved to St Andrews – a tiny gem of a place on the East Fife coast – to study English and History. I left my family, and our walks and woolly traditions behind. I was sad for a very long time. I missed home as most people do.
The University of St Andrews is one of the last universities in Scotland where undergraduates still regularly wear an undergraduate gown. It is not compulsory by any means and undergraduate gowns really only get worn on special occasions – formal dinners, chapel service, pier walks and open days. My brother gave me the money for my gown (they’re bright red by way) and I can recall going to buy it in Freshers Week of my first year, full of those new town butterflies. A lovely lady in the student’s union measured my height and fitted me with a lovely new, bright red, woollen gown. I could not have been more excited.
Our lives often lead us down unexpected paths, and, little did I know it then, but my gown would play a huge part in my life in St Andrews. In first year, I got involved in a scheme at university called Ambassadors. Ambassadors either helped out on university visiting days, or went along to local schools to help children with attainment and choices for further education, or both! I started helping out in schools and in my third year in St Andrews, was selected to act as one of the Vice Principals for the Ambassador scheme. A Vice-Principal is essentially an ultra-ambassador who helps run the scheme, recruit students to volunteer within it, and help set up open days…which meant I was in my red woolly gown most days.
In my fourth year, I became the Principal Ambassador, the chief, which involved much more gown wearing. I toured prospective students around the town in my gown, I attended open days and college counsellor events in my gown, I even spoke to Hilary Clinton once in my gown! My gown has come to represent so much of my time in St Andrews, and it is there in all my cherished university memories. It has always struck me that it was incredibly apt that it is made of wool for in a way it suits me in so many more ways than garment itself can.
I am 24 now and university number one seems like a lifetime ago. I am now at university number two, studying for a Journalism masters and wool retains its place as my favourite fleece, fabric and textile. It is so perfectly me – I am seeker of constant cosiness and I never leave the house without a woolly hat.
Wool, for me then, is love and memory. It brings me joy and comforts me when I am sad. It reminds me of my family and of my past self, and gives me hope for my future whatever it may bring.
I know a blanket and book will always be there waiting for me.
Thanks for writing such a brilliant post Bryony!