Sharing things

Transcript for 2.4 Peter and Christine

Transcript for Sharing things 2.4 Peter and Christine

Amalie: Hi, I'm Amalie, I'm a current student and I'm the host of Sharing things. Sharing things is a conversation between two people who have just met but who share a connection to the University. We start with a meaningful object that they've brought to the studio and we take it from there. In this episode you will meet Peter Mathieson and Christine De Luca. Peter is a kidney medicine specialist and the Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University and Christine is a poet and writer from Shetland. Let's see where this takes us.

[Sharing Things theme music]

Peter: I'm much better in the evenings than I am in the mornings and so I quite often-- I've always had this idea that I'll maximise the amount of time in bed and then I'll get up and go straight to work with no fuss in between. No delay! I usually don't have coffee at home, so I usually leave the house having had nothing, clean my teeth and go, and then if I have a cup of coffee it's usually when I get to work. So I know it sounds like I'm really self-disciplined about not eating but I'm really not! It's just purely a pattern that I've sort of fallen into and I've got a daughter who’s-- I always say has got more common sense than the rest of the family put together and she's always said to me, you know, it's nuts; you've got medical knowledge, you know that you should eat during the day and then burn the calories as you go about your business, but you don't do that you eat nothing all day and then eat in the evening. Why? Why?

Christine: Does your brain work in the morning? It must do presumably, I mean my brain it would just collapse if I didn't eat.

Peter: This is why I say I'm on very, very thin ice physiologically because I can't make a medical argument for the way I live my life, it's just the facts.

Amalie: It's a very efficient way of living, I guess, just getting up and going straight to work.

Peter: I get up, shave, clean my teeth and then go to work.

 Amalie: Should we start with talking about our objects, do you want to start?

 Christine: Yea, okay, well I've brought a wooden sewing box which, is rather battered now. I've had it for almost 70 years and it is the thing that I would save in the case of a fire, which is rather bizarre really.

I think it's almost like a talisman to me, maybe because it's the first object I remember receiving. I was about three and we moved to this house and across the burn, this is in Shetland, in a little old cottage lived two very elderly ladies - Lizzie and Ellen - and I can remember them playing with us. My sister and I, we would go across to see them and I'm sure we were an absolute nuisance but they were very patient and they would play roaring lions with us and hide and seek. They wore black and hid behind things and came out and shocked us and everything. But we liked that! They had an old shop at the end of the cottage which had been long, long closed up and they let us play in there and there were things in it, you know, left over from the shop. Scales you could put stuff on, it was very exciting. Then when they died, I can remember when their nephew came, they were unmarried, he came with two workboxes and I can still see him, this tall man, coming up our path, up behind the wall and coming in and he brought these two workboxes - this one and the slightly bigger one for my sister who was a year and a bit older than me. And they were for us and they had belonged to these two old ladies and it was just mine. Everything else in the house was shared and so, I think it became very special from an early age really, and has kept its treasures and I never really changed them you know it's just rubbish in there really.

Peter: Oh so you don't use it as a sewing box?

Christine: Yes, I do, I do, I mean I use the threads and the needles.

Peter: Was it a sewing box when it was given to you, or was it a box?

Christine: It was a box, just an empty box. My mother would have told me it's a sewing box and actually this tray with the threads was divided. It had balsa wood sort of divisions and everything, but you know with children to get a bit knocked about, and lovely velvet inlay here in the lid.

Amalie: It's really beautiful.

Christine: Then this lifts out and you could store your sewing things. But my sister's one was bigger and slightly shinier so of course I was a little bit jealous of that. And also she had an envelope in it with Tom's lucky penny written on it and a penny inside. And mine didn't have that! [laughter] But anyway that was beside-- beside the point altogether. I can tell you about some of the stuff inside later on if you want but that's what I've brought.

Amalie: Please tell us about the stuff.

Christine: The stuff! Well this tape measure belonged to my grand-aunt. I don't use it now because it's in inches. And I was this morning looking for the silver thimble my mother had and in a recent move I must have laid it up safely and there was another silver thimble that she gave me with my initial C on it. So they must-- I couldn't find them. There's an old JP Coats thread there and they've been long, long closed in Paisley. And actually many years later that end paper, I found out that the person who designed those end papers was the guy who designed three books for me.

Amalie: Ahh.

Christine:  Yep. And there's things like a little sewing bag that I made at school, a little gingham draw string bag and it has bias binding in it and all the different colours of the bias binding. I used to use that making things, I used to make lots of things but I make nothing now!

Amalie: What was the first thing you used it for?

Christine: Oh, probably things like this, you know, that we made at school. I think probably little mats like that.

Amalie: Oh, that's cute. She's holding up a, what is that called?

Christine: It's a soft canvas and you could learn your stitches on it and you did edging stitches and you did running stitches and so on.

This is the cuff of a dress, the day that I came home from hospital with my son I was wearing this dress with this little belt. I managed to get it around my midriff, believe it or not! And you know you get to the point where you can't keep everything so I just cut off a cuff.

This is the cuff from the blouse I wore when I got married.

Amalie: Oh wow, so it's also a memory box.

Christine: Yeah, it's more of a memory box now but below that I do not go and this piece of cotton that lines the tray, it's a sort of Chinese lanterns if you can see it. It's just full of rubbish!

Amalie: Ohh.

Christine: That was from a skirt my mother made for me when I was about seven

Amalie: Ohh!

Christine:  So it's been there for a long, long time.

Amalie: Yeah!

Christine:  And I just can't somehow bring myself to clear it out and say well let's use it for jewellery you know or something else.

Amalie: No, why would you.

Christine: Why would you? I don't really know what is down at the bottom. It's just rubbish.

So that's my treasure. It's a kind of a talisman as it's seen me through thick and thin. I've taken it with me, you know once I had a really bad experience and left home and I took my work things, a suitcase of clothes and that workbox. That's the kind of level for which it has a meaning for me.

Amalie: Okay, yeah.

Peter: Can I make a couple of observations?

Christine: Yes, please do.

Peter: When you when you produced it just now it reminded me of a box we have at home which we've always had. We've always had this thing called the wooden box and the wooden box is where really important things such as documents, so passports or birth certificates, or something where you really want to know where it is.

Christine: Yes.

Peter: That always gets kept in the wooden box and so my wife will sometimes say to me, 'Where's such and such now?' and I always say, 'Probably in the wooden box.' And if you go to the wooden box and it's there then you feel good and if you go to the wooden box and it's not there you have absolutely no idea where it is. [laughter]

Our wooden box is not unlike that, not as well preserved as that beautiful box. The other observation I make is I'm really struck by the fact that you have such clarity of memory of something that happened when you were three. Because I don't think I have any memories of when I was three and I've often asked myself what my earliest memories are. For me, it's partly my father died when I was seven and I've got some memories of him. So obviously I was less than seven, but I don't know what age I was but I don't think I've got any memories of when I was three and yet when you described the man walking down with the wooden boxes, it's clearly a very strong memory.

Christine: It's a very strong memory and there's a website I could look up when these ladies died so I knew that was when it happened and I remember them quite clearly.

Amalie: It's nice that they wanted you to have this box.

Christine: It's very sweet, see they had no children. I think they were widows of war, the First World War, as were so many women of that era. They didn't marry as their boyfriends didn't come back from the war and so they were the last few of a big family of 12 and they probably looked after the old people and looked after the shop and they had a bakery. All in this little long house, which incidentally my parents bought when they retired, and so they had that little long house which had a bakery at one end, a cottage and a half and then this little shop extension. So that it kind of completed the circle somehow when that happened.

Amalie: Do you take it out and look at it often now?

Christine: It sits prominently in our living room, but it's much more sensible to keep passports and things like that in it. Much more sensible, this is just silly.

Peter: Yours is much more interesting because it's almost a bit of your life story.

Christine: Yes, I wrote a little poem about it, which if you'd like to hear, it's quite short.

Amalie: Yes, please.

Christine: I wrote it in English first of all and then I kind of put it into my own Shetland dialect but I think I'll just read it in English to be honest because I haven't really checked the dialect. It’s called ‘Sisters’, because there is the two pairs of sisters.


Two pre-school sisters, we’d skip across the bridge

to visit the spinsters.  The shop in their cottage was


long shut.  Below a counter, deep drawers balanced

precariously, held last messages: knitting needles;


mothballs that bagatelled on the brassy scales;

black-edged note-paper our brother trimmed.


The old sisters were bundles of gentleness,

essences, tiny fortitudes. Blinds were pulled


first for one, then for the other.  Their nephew

came with their workboxes brought home by a


sailor brother; one had a lucky penny in an envelope.

Time brings its errands full circle.  My box holds me:


it’s the object I’d save in case of fire – a rattle

of useless treasures, full of courage and chuckles.


Amalie: Oh, I love that.

Peter: It's nice, well done.

Amalie: [Clapping] So that’s a little clap, I don’t know. That’s good.

Peter: It’s making me feel really inadequate now.

Christine: Noo!

Amalie: It's so beautiful, I'm interested in the Shetland dialect though. I'm from Norway.

Christine: Ohh, you're from Norway?

Amalie: Yeah, so I don't really know what the Shetland dialect sounds like.

Christine: It's not a polished one but I could do it quickly?

Amalie: Ok.


Twa peerie sisters, we’d skyip across da brig

ta veesit da spinsters.  Da shop i der ben-end wis


lang vod.  Below a bunker, deep draawers waaveled

hüld hidmist messages: makkin needles;


mochbaas dat bagatelled roond brassy scales;

black-aedged nott-paper wir bridder trimmed.


Da aald sisters wis bundles of blydeness,

essences, mintie fortitudes. Blinnds wis pooed


first fur een, dan fur da tidder.  Der nephew

cam wi der wirkboxes browt haem bi a


sailor bridder; een hed a lucky penny ithin a envelope.

Time brings hits aerrands foo circle.  Mi box hadds me:


hit’s da thing I’d save in case o fire – a reesel

o ösless traesures, foo o sneesters an smeddum.


Amalie: Oh wow. That’s--

Peter: Very good.

Amalie: That's so cool, I've never heard that before.

Christine: It's kind of a-- an in between Old Scots and sort of Faroese or Old Norwegian, that kind of...

Peter: I was going to say, I mean you'd be able to answer this, there are one or two words which sounded a bit Norwegian or Swedish.

Amalie: Yeah I mean it sounded like what I would imagine Old Norwegian to sound like.

Christine: Yeah, well we were part of Norway / Denmark ‘til the 15th century.

Amalie: Yeah like Shetland in particular has a lot of ties to Norway.

Christine: Yeah it does.

Amalie: Kind of cool.

[Sharing things theme music]

Amalie: Peter, would you want to tell us about your object?

Peter: My object is small enough to be concealed in my glasses case and it's much more prosaic than Christine's wooden box with 100 years of history. [laughter]. So, so I brought something which is of no monetary value but is of great personal value, so this is a—it’s actually the hospital name tag that was on my grandson's leg when he was discharged from hospital, leg or wrist, I can't remember which. So he's now coming up to three years old and was our first grandchild and there are a couple of things about him that are really significant but I like the name tag because it reminds me of what was an amazing day in our life as a family, which is the arrival of the first grandchild.

But the other reason I like it is that my son and his wife – so it’s my son’s baby and my daughter-in-law - they gave it to me when he was discharged from hospital, because they knew that it would mean something to me and it was actually almost more important because of the gesture of thinking that it would matter to me and giving it to me than the actual thing itself.

Christine: It's a very loving thing to do really.

Peter: Actually your point about something you'd rescue in the-- if there was a fire, that’s an interesting point because I worry about losing this and so I keep it in the wooden box. Naturally! Everything that is important gets kept in the wooden box. But I worry about losing it because it’s sort of a trivial worthless thing in terms of its monetary value but it is irreplaceable in terms of its personal significance and so I constantly fret about whether-- I sometimes open the wooden box and check that it is still in there. Although if I haven't taken it out no one else is going to! Anyway, that's what I've brought and I have a second grandchild that is due in two weeks.

Amalie: That is so exciting.

Peter: So I could add to my collection.

Christine: Yes, indeed. The first one will always be the special one because it was probably a surprise that they gave it to you.

Peter: So it was a surprise that they gave it to me and also the other thing it says, it says: 'Mathieson, boy'. Because at that stage that's what he was because he hadn't been named at that stage, because my son and his wife had chosen not to know the sex of the baby before the birth. I was actually living in Hong Kong at the time, we came over intending to be here when the baby was born. When I turned on my phone when we arrived at Heathrow, there was a message from my son saying get to the hospital as quickly as you can because she's in labour. So baby arrived a little bit early! Erm and so I was actually there, I got there just in time and I was there just when the baby was born. It was a boy and it hadn't occurred to me to ask them if they had planned names or anything. Leanne, my daughter-in-law, said of course we're going to call him William. Because William's my favourite boy's name and for me that was really significant because William was my father's name.

Christine: Lovely!

Peter: And it was 100 years since his birth, but now there was another William Mathieson on the planet. I'd like it much more if it said 'Mathieson, William' but at that stage he hadn’t been-- he'd only just been born and they hadn't named him. For me, the fact that he was William Mathieson and it was a 100 years since my father William Mathieson had been born was kind of magical.

Christine: Lovely, lovely story.

Amalie: So you know the sleeve that you pulled out…

Christine: Yeah.

Amalie:  You also brought that back from hospital…

Christine: Yeah, that’s from hospital, that's right.

Amalie:  From when your son was born.

Christine: Yep. I mean, yeah, there's a kind of baby box thing that I will give to him, but there's no point giving it to him now because probably when he has a family of his own he'll understand the meaning of it. It has things like his tag in it, but I can understand you as grandparent being gifted that would be very special.

Amalie: How does it feel to be a grandparent?

Peter: It's really interesting, I was working in Hong Kong when my daughter-in-law was expecting William and I'd often talk to people about my family or about my feelings and whatnot. And if I'd ever talk to Hong Kong businessmen, and it was really men, about the fact that I was about to have a grandchild they would all say it's going to completely change the way you see the world, it's completely magical, you can't experience anything else like it and I always used to think that won't be big old tough me. I'm not going to be affected like that! [laughter].

But actually it's all true, there's something incredible about the relationship with a grandchild. I think for me it's partly guilt in that when my own children were small, I was never there, you know, I was always at work. So I don't feel as if I played a great role in the early years of my two children - I've got a son and a daughter. We had a baby before we originally intended to and we were still students when we had a baby, so I saw a bit of my son in the first year of his life because I was a student. Once I then qualified with my medical degree, I started working 120 hours a week because that's what doctors did in those days. I did that for three years. And in that time I hardly ever saw him, so if I wanted to see him, my wife had to sort of come to the hospital with him at the weekends to sort of see us. I spent virtually my entire life working at the hospital. I was absent in the early years of his life and I’ve actually probably had—even though I was 6000 miles away in Hong Kong for the first year or so of William’s life, and one of the reasons that we came back was for family reasons. And they're in London so we're still not exactly close to them but I see a bit more of him that than I would have done if I were still in Hong Kong and I feel as if I've got more of a relationship with him now than I probably had with my own children at a comparable age because, I just was, I was never there. So some of it is guilt, some of it is the magic of thinking that this is a new William Mathieson, you know he's two and a bit years old and he'll continue the sort of the family lineage. That's also quite powerful for me.

Christine: It knocks the cynicism out of us, I think, a little baby coming into the world.

Peter: The other thing to tell you, I don't know why I'm telling you all of these personal details but that is basically the idea here! The other thing about this child is that he speaks Swahili. He only speaks one word of Swahili but he speaks Swahili. My daughter-in-law has got an older sibling who already has two children so her parents are already grandparents. They'd sort of already got the copyright, if you like, on being called grandad and grandma because they are already identified as such.

So when this baby was expected, my wife and I and my son and his wife had a bit of discussion about what are we going to be called? What are we going to get the baby to call us? I didn't really care that much to be honest, I was going to get him to call me Peter. I like everyone to call me Peter as I don't like being called by anything else other than my name. So I said as far as I'm concerned he or she can call me Peter they said 'Oh no, we can't have that that's disrespectful, we've got to think of something else'. And my daughter said 'Well you’ve spent a lot of time teaching in Uganda and the Swahili word for Grandad is babu', and babu is obviously easy for babies to say. A bit like mummy or daddy, it's very easy for babies to say when their speech is developing. He calls me babu, so when I walk into the house he says 'oh babu' and I really like that fact that it's Swahili as it has African connotations for me but also means that it is quite unique. We had a big debate about whether that was appropriate or not but anyway, whether it's appropriate or not he now calls me babu and I quite like that.

Amalie: Yeah, that is nice. It's so tiny.

Peter: Well he was a tiny baby.

Amalie: You kind of forget how small…

Christine: What age is he now?

Peter: He's three in April.

Christine:  So he's properly, talking and running around chap now. That's lovely.

Peter: Oh yeah.

Amalie: Also you were three when you got this [box].

Christine: Yes yes, it's weird to think of that little boy getting something that in 70 years’ time that he will bring to a podcast!

Peter: At this point, their memory is kind of interesting as well, I was really struck by the clarity of your memory about that particular episode and I've got very strong memories about certain things that have happened in my life. I think there must be something chemical about putting that-- making that memory very strong so that you can recall it.

Christine: It's visual, I think. These are visual memories, little snapshots that I have. The other one that I have from, again, I must be that same age because this lady, the one the measuring tape belonged to, my grandaunt she died much about the same time and I remember Christmas in their little house. It seemed very bright and she was a little-- quite a plump little lady, quite short and plump and she had a presents in a tea chest. In those days, do you remember there were tea chests?

Peter: I remember tea chests, yes.

Christine: I remember her going head down into this tea chest, I saw her bottom you know, right down into this tea chest and up she came with a parcel for my sister and one for me. She must have had one for my elder brother but I can't remember what he got. My sister got a beautiful little dress, which I eventually got when my sister outgrew it, so that was good, but I got a little jumper which I think she'd made. It was maroon with golden butterflies around the basque. I mean I remember those gifts very clearly so that again is the same era and they’re visual memories, in colour. But of course as you get older the memory is not so good, but some of these early memories are still very strong.

Peter: I was thinking about my almost-three-year-old grandson, what will he remember? Will he remember anything that's happened to him so far, if I was to drop dead tomorrow would he remember me?

Christine: I know.

Peter: I mean it's quite an interesting idea. I don't think that early memories, unless they are really really strong they, probably don't persist.

Christine: I think you don't know which ones you're going to remember though, you don't think that's something I'll remember. It's something that happens intuitively without the conscious brain saying ‘store that’, so he possibly will remember something quite bizarre, some moment with you.

Amalie: Peter do you remember the first gift that you received?

Peter: I don't. The only memories I can classify in time relate to my father because I know what age I was when he died. Memories related to my mother or to anything else that happened are a bit more difficult for me to sort of precisely date, you said you looked up when these two sisters died?

Christine: Yes.

Peter: So you can date them in time. So a lot of my early memories I would equate with the very small number of memories I have of my father. I must have been five or six when those things happened and I remember, he was a merchant naval seaman with an organisation called Trinity House, so my father was not an educated man he left school at 15 and went to sea. And erm, Trinity House we used to put men on and off of lighthouses in the days when light houses were manned and you're too young to remember this!

Christine: Was that a Trinity House other than the one in Leith? Were there other Trinity Houses?

Peter: Interestingly, there was. I've been to the Trinity House in Leith because I wanted to answer that question, is it the same Trinity House that my father used to work for? So my father was a Scot, born and brought up in Edinburgh, but Trinity House is an English organisation.

Christine: Ah right, it's a rather lovely building.

Peter: It is, they had an open day and we went there just to have a look around.

Christine: And in the bit upstairs they have a lot of trappings from when Leith was a separate town and has its own borough council and its town hall.

Peter: It was a very important port wasn't it?

Christine: It was a very important port and lots of Shetland seamen stopped off in Leith because they could get a berth there. In Shetland, so many men went to sea - thousands! In any village you'd have several sea-captains or several able seamen.

Amalie: Did that apply to you, ever?

Christine: Some of my older relatives, my great grandfather was a ship's carpenter and my father when he was at school he wanted to go to sea but luckily his teacher said to him, 'No, you've got to sit the exams and try and go on'. So he came to Edinburgh University, yep. And I put a tile in his name in McEwan Hall.

Amalie: That's cool, I like that.

Peter: One of the things that I remember about my father is him saying, so I have one brother who is older than me, and I remember him saying that he didn't want his sons to go to sea because he'd gone to sea. There's a difference when you're talking about the navy, there’s a difference between in shore and deep sea.

My father went deep sea so he would be away for weeks at a time and always said that he never had any personal life as he was always away at sea. And then later in life when he worked for Trinity House, which is basically a coastal organisation rather than a deep sea organisation then he would do day trips or maybe be away for two or three days but he wouldn't be away for weeks on end. He used to say, and again I don't know what circumstances he would use to say this in, but I remember him saying to my brother and I, 'Find a career that doesn't involve you being away from home for weeks at a time because it destroys your personal life’.

Christine: It's very hard. Then you took up medicine and you were away from home for weeks on end!

Peter: I wasn't at sea at least - they could come and see me! Certainly, the early years of a medical career are not great for your personal life.

[Sharing things theme music]

Amalie: So I wanted to ask because neither of you are from Edinburgh but you came here at some point in your life.

Christine: I came as a student.

Amalie: Oh and then you stayed. I was wondering where is home, or what does that mean for you guys?

Christine: That's difficult, isn't it?

Peter: Do you want me to go first?

Amalie: Sure, sure.

Peter: For me it's quite a difficult question to answer because of my father's work which was as I said with Trinity House so he moved every two or three years. So in the first seven years of my life we moved three times. So I was born in Colchester and then we moved when I was about eight months old to Wales, I lived in Swansea for three years, and then we moved from Swansea to Penzance, which is right on the very tip of Cornwall.

And we were moving to these places because these are coastal stations for Trinity House and then because he died we stayed in Cornwall. So I sort of grew up in Cornwall, if he hadn't died I would have carried on moving and I don't know where we would have gone next. So the closest I can answer is that I'm from Cornwall but I'm not really from Cornwall because I wasn't born there. My father was a Scot, my mother was English and so we didn't really belong anywhere.

I sort of identify with Cornwall because that's where I went to school and that's where my childhood was. Then I went to university in London, then I moved to Cambridge, then I moved to Bristol, then I moved to Hong Kong and then I moved to Edinburgh. So I've moved around a fair amount. None of the places I've lived feels like where I'm from and I would say home is where I currently am. My wife and I have been married for more years than either of us care to remember and we tend to think that we would be perfectly alright on a desert island somewhere because that would be home. I've got a few objects that matter to me, photographs, you know, I'm a photographer and I've got lots of photographs which mean a lot to me. But it's very much about family for me and about where I currently am.

It's also about pets, when we moved to Hong Kong we emigrated so we sold everything and I didn't think we'd ever come back. I thought we would go and stay in Hong Kong for the rest of our lives probably. We have a dog and a cat and when we first went the animals didn't come with us because there were some issues around exporting them and importing them into Hong Kong. But after about three weeks there the dog and the cat arrived and I remember one day coming down in the morning and seeing the dog and thinking ‘Wow, the dog’s here. That really does mean that we emigrated'. So suddenly for me it was almost the presence of the dog that made me think, ‘Cor, she's here now, so we really we really have done it.’

Amalie: That's nice.


Peter: Before that it felt a little bit as if we might be just visiting somewhere as we've travelled a bit around different places but the fact that the dog was in my house really brought it home. I've been in Edinburgh only just over two years so I've only been here for a short time but I'm quite comfortable living in Edinburgh we've been made to feel very welcome. I've got a great job in a fabulous university and so currently Edinburgh is home.

Christine: You've got a Scottish name - that helps too!

Peter: People say that I've got a surname that my accent doesn't deserve!

Christine: That's terrible!

Peter: I also have Nordic origins and the only reason I know that is when I worked in Cambridge I volunteered to be tissue typed for the bone marrow donation registry. I've presumably got some Icelandic blood, anyway the Mathiesons were-- 650-odd years ago when the clan Mathieson was active, they probably would have been Viking in origin. So with a bit of DNA analysis I could probably find out a bit more about my origin.

Christine: We might related!

Amalie: That’s cool, yea.

Peter: We might be related.

Amalie: If we go way, way back.

Christine: All three of us might be related.

Amalie: Yeah, yeah, sure.

Christine: Well I suppose where I come from, Shetland, it's a very strong identity. But I came to Edinburgh as a student and I always thought I would go back and work in Shetland and settle down there but I did a Geography degree and I wanted to be a teacher and really there weren't any openings. There were just probably one or two geography teachers at that time. So I couldn't work there really and so I ended up settling down here but I'm very comfortable in Edinburgh and I feel—yeah I feel that's a big part of my life now. Of course, it's been the bigger part of my life now by far but the early years I think are very formative.

Amalie: Definitely. It's interesting. Yeah, Shetland is interesting to me.

Peter: Have you ever been there?

Amalie: No.

Peter: I've never been either and it's very much on my bucket list to go.

Christine: You have to go.

Peter: One of my senior team at the University is from Shetland and often describes the rather different approach to life that he attributes to his origins.

Christine: Right, well several approaches to life I mean I was brought up in a rural part of Shetland.

Peter: You mean there are some urban parts of Shetland? [laughter]

Christine: Well believe it or not urbanisation is everywhere and Lerwick is now half the population of Shetland. When I was a child it had a quarter. That has a big effect, especially linguistically because the rich areas for language are generally the rural areas. But one thing about the way of life in a rural community was that you really had to pull together, you did have to, you know, pull your weight and get involved in things and if you didn't have practical skills, it didn't matter if you had two degrees, if you didn't have some practical skills you were handless and bandless. You were without much worth. You were without the ability to make things. So lots of people would do their own building, their own construction work and even now my brother—my elder brother who's in his seventies he does all his own electrical work and plumbing work. My brother-in-law built his house, you know that kind of level of skill was a way of life because you were 25 miles from a plumber or an electrician or a vet. You had to be able to deal with a sick animal or a piece of equipment that wasn't working.

Amalie: Do you have practical skills?

Christine: I had a lot of practical skills but as I get older and don't use them I feel that's a great pity. But I mean as a child we learnt to knit quite effectively to make our own clothes and to cook, we were involved in agricultural work. My father was the headmaster of a junior secondary school and that school called ‘Happy Hansel’ had a croft and it was for the use of the headmaster in perpetuity and it must be the only school in Britain, I would think, with a croft. It was the first legal school in Shetland and that was why it's sort of endowed with this as that was how they were paid. My dad was very keen that we work this croft so we had some sheep and hens and grew crops and grain and vegetables and whatever. And there was a huge school garden which of course needed the most attention when the school was on holiday, so we had to do the school garden as well and then we had a big house garden and I made peats. We had a boat, which we painted. So there was practical skills you had to be able to do and we were just brought up with that. I think that is maybe something that's a wee bit unusual.

Peter: I was going to ask a very similar question, the idea that-- so you've lived a lot of your life in the city do you think your approach to city life is different from someone that didn't start here? Because it sounds to me as if in Shetland you basically have to solve your own problems because there's nobody else around to help.

Christine: Yes. I've become more and more enculturated and think if I need something done, I think well who can do it? Who can I pay to do it because they'll do a better job? I think you eventually lose a lot of that but certainly it was very useful in the early years when you didn't have much money and to be able to cover chairs and make curtains, blinds, bed covers, cushions and clothes. You know, I wouldn't have dreamt of going and buying them.

Amalie: Interesting. I think we're running out of time so we usually end each conversation by asking the same question so we start and end the same way. The question is: If you could associate your object with one word what would it be?

Christine: Beyond precious really, it's a talisman.

Amalie: A talisman, yeah.

Peter: I think for me it would be ‘generosity’. I felt that my son and his wife showed quite a lot of understanding of the kind of things that matter to me, that thinking giving me some trivial object like this would mean a lot to me and they were right.

Amalie: It's a sort of a talisman too.

Peter: Sort of yeah, I hadn't thought of it in those terms but yeah it is. It is an item which has significance way beyond its actual sort of physical presence or value.

Amalie: Yeah, great. Thank you for being on Sharing things, that was that.

Peter: Thank you for finding someone so interesting for me to be on with.

Christine: It's quite bizarre how things cross over.

Amalie: I know! Wow!

Peter: Wow.

Amalie: The connections!

[Sharing things theme music]

Amalie: Thank you for listening to Sharing things, make sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Spotify or your favourite podcast platform to catch our next episode. See you next time!


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