Thursday, January 19, 2006

Due South
By Mark Entwistle
The Southern Reporter
Selkirk, The Borders
Scotland

Shall we learn Gaelic or stick dressing?

The period after the New Year celebrations is always the most popular time for people trying out new hobbies and past-times here in the Borders.

This usually has a lot to do with making New Year resolutions, the most common of which normally revolve around losing weight, getting fitter or stopping smoking.

But plenty of folk also take the opportunity of the start of a new year to take up a new interest.

Here in the Borders local clubs, organisations and teachers of evening classes will tell you there is always something of an upsurge in the number of their members at this stage of the year.

The pages of The Southern Reporter are currently littered with adverts and articles about new sessions starting up for everything from yoga and learning Gaelic to classes in kung fu and stick dressing.

By the way, for those of you who don’t know what stick dressing is, this is the craft of making shepherd’s crooks - the long walking sticks with a special bend in the neck for grabbing sheep with.

Many a Borders craftsman whittles away the long winter nights making the sticks, with their ornate carved heads in the shape of birds and animals.

One thing that is popular in the Borders among women are what are called ‘rurals’. This is short for Women’s Rural Institutes.

Every village and remote area in the Borders tends to have its own WRI.

They were set up decades ago as a way of giving the wives of mainly farmers, but also the wives of others who worked in the country, the chance to get out during the long winter nights once a month to meet like-minded folk for a social gathering.

Many of these WRI nights involve some sort of craft such as making jams and preserves or home baking and flower arranging and awarding points for the best.

In the columns of the district news page in The Southern, you will find many reports from these ‘rurals’ and their competition results.

My favourite competitions have always been the ones for ‘best polished shoe’, or ‘best folded teabag’ and, of course, ‘best miniature garden in a Swiss roll tin.’

That is one of the great things about life in the Borders - there is always something happening somewhere. never a night goes by, especially in the autumn and winter when there is not some club or association holding a meeting, or a talk, or a slide show, or a cheese and wine event.

They are great ways of meeting your friends and neighbours as well as others interested in the same sort of thing you are and that all helps foster a sense of community and belonging.

It is that sense of community, which I imagine to be just as strong and important in Holly Springs as it is here, which makes our respective parts of the world such good places to live, work and bring up families. Long may it continue.

Now what am I going to try tonight? Salsa dancing or Italian cookery?


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