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A View Behind the Scenes – TRACS & SSC Staff on Lockdown Life

We love to share stories and to connect with our visitors and audiences across the traditional arts, so we thought we would ask TRACS and SSC staff to give you a sneak peek behind the scenes of their lockdown life and office spaces.

From attention-seeking pets, coded poetry, creative things like knitting and drawing, to lockdown fashion as well as book, music and film recommendations – we hope there’s something fun and inspiring for everyone.

Please stay at home and be safe, so we can all meet again to share our passion for the trad arts.

Your SSC and TRACS Team

David Francis, Director of TRACS

Before the Trad Music Forum was headquartered at the Storytelling Centre I had worked from home for years, so this doesn’t feel all that unfamiliar. The daily journey into the office is an important threshold between work life and home life, and without it negotiating the boundaries is a bit more difficult. We don’t have a dress code at work, so I’m wearing the same clothes I would anyway, and my usual approach to work is to occupy blocks of time rather than have set starting and finishing times, another way the lines are a bit blurry.

Instead of the commute to the Centre, I have the trip to the kettle and the closing of the door of the room in our smallish apartment that serves as office, study and music room. One of the chief distractions is Duster, the cat, mewling and scratching at the door, but I don’t let him in. Otherwise, he would be jumping on the computer keyboard, nudging my arm when I’m trying to type – all the attention-seeking devices these supposedly aloof creatures are noted for.

There has been a flood of online performances from musicians, often with the simple goal of cheering people up, and occasionally with the aim of earning a few bucks. One that has really taken off in a short space of time is Blazin Fiddles main man and BBC presenter, Bruce MacGregor’s #liveatfive from his bar in Inverness, featuring live music from Bruce and contributions from housebound musicians in other parts of the country. Also popular is Highland fiddler Duncan Chisholm who started the hashtag #CovidCeilidh, which has been adopted by many musicians.

For passing the time otherwise, a musical instrument, a library of still-to-be-read books and shelves of vinyl and CDs means that there’s always something to engage with. I’m deep into Game of Thrones, which I’ve never seen. One of my daughters is reading 1984 just now for the first time and is mindful of the resonances. I’m about two thirds of the way through E.E. Evans-Pritchard’s anthropological classic, Nuer Religion, a reminder that seemingly simple ways of life can be shot through with complexity.

Annalisa Salis, Scottish International Storytelling Festival Programme Manager

Working from home is not so unusual for me, but now that chances to go out have reduced and given the gloomy daily newsfeed, I decided to set up a new work space that allows for plenty of natural light and a view of the neighbourhood.

I purchased a garden table, which is not only nice and practical, but also came already assembled (thank you IKEA!). I placed it next to the window of my studio room. Being able to occasionally gaze at the sky and enjoy the changes in the light makes a big difference to my mood. Sometimes, when I look down the street and spot the neighbours going out for walks, I get a hint of peaceful normality, despite some runners going out more than once a day. The new workstation also features the colourful origami garland that I received from storyteller Heather Yule.

When I’m not working on the SISF programme, I carry on with my illustration practice. This has inevitably been affected by the current times and, after watching a very entertaining video where my 4-year-old niece warns us against “a coronavirus” lurking in the supermarket and jumping on people, I dedicated a little painting to her. You can see more of my work on Instagram @annalisasalis.art

What else keeps my spirits up? Apart from chats with friends and family, a good book such as The Decameron, an Italian collection of weird and wonderful tales told during the Florentine plague around 1350, as well as walks in the neighbourhood, Yoga with Adriene and the daily article of a silly Italian satirical newspaper.

drawing left: Annalisa Salis “A coronavirus at the supermarket”

Gordon Macnaughton, Box Office and Retail Assistant

For me, this period of working from home has coincided with a move to a new flat, and the priming, painting and varnishing which that entails. My workspace moves on a daily basis to wherever there is the least dust; today, I’ve fashioned a cosy wee corner in my hall.

Otherwise I’ve been batch cooking curries, chowders and pilafs, checking in with friends old and new, participating in many a Zoom quiz and refreshing my Twitter feed more than is healthy. I’ve also been reading, watching and listening to the gems below:

The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro

This is a beautiful, lyrical fantasy novel set in post-Arthurian England which follows an elderly couple seeking to re-connect with a son they barely remember. I’m not that far into it but I’m already gripped. It’s quite sombre, but the prose is stunning, and it has great warmth and humanity.

Mum

I’m re-watching this BBC comedy-drama written by Stefan Golaszewski. It’s one of my favourite shows of the past few years. It’s just so well written, extremely funny and moving, and anchored by the amazing Lesley Manville and Peter Mullan, both of whom are outstanding.

Designer, Aldous Harding

This is an exquisite and enchanting album of delicate folk-pop from the singular Aldous Harding. I saw her at Summerhall last year and have been slightly obsessed ever since. It’s such a terrific blend of poetry, eccentricity and achingly beautiful melody that I find myself not wanting to listen to anything else.

Tina Rees Membership & Development Officer for TMF

I’m based in Glasgow and the TRACS office is in Edinburgh, so I spend most of my time working remotely from my flat anyway. It’s a bit different now as my boyfriend has moved in for lockdown, he’s an accountant, and so we’re both working from my wee one room flat. We have survived week one ok though!

As well as working for the TMF, a big chunk of my work is teaching the piano to private students. These are all now video call lessons. They are working well and I’m so happy to be able to continue to teach at this time.

I’ve been trying to focus on the things we can still do during lockdown, rather than the things we can’t. Here are some things I’ve been enjoying:

Cooking – I am obsessed with all the Deliciously Ella recipes. Her app is amazing. My favourite recipe is the Simple Lentil Dahl – yum!

Exercise – A daily brisk walk/run, Yoga with Adrienne (fantastic YouTube videos), and I plan to get the skipping rope out at some point. We’ll see how well that goes…

Reading – I have nearly finished a book called Circe which is a powerful story of the mythological witch, Circe. Lined up after that I have Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine which I’m looking forward to starting.

TV – The thing we watch the most is The Chase. It’s so addictive. You can watch loads of episodes on the ITV player.

Knitting – I love knitting. Check out my Instagram page: @tinaknitsofficial

Wildlife Watching – I have a bird feeder in front of my window where my table is that I work from. As well as looking at all the lovely birds I have a number of squirrel visitors which are very dedicated to getting some seeds and provide daily entertainment (see photos).

Arianna Schardt, Marketing and Communications Assistant

For my own sanity, I’ve tried to keep my daily routine as similar as possible to before the lockdown took place. I’ve set up a cosy little workspace, bathed in light, by the window, and I like to start my day with a walk while listening to a podcast.

I usually listen to ‘The Daily’ by The New York Times, a daily update of all the key news, but I’ve given it a break since I need some distance from the constant stream of Coronavirus-related output. I’ve since switched to catching up on the ‘This American Life’ archives, which has been on the air since 1995, so there’s a lot to listen to. I’d recommend it if you like listening to people’s stories – the host, Ira Glass, interviews eclectic figures on everything from coincidence and superpowers to how to talk about difficult subjects. No two episodes are the same, and I’ve found myself interested in subjects I wouldn’t have otherwise considered. Here’s what else I’ve been getting up to:

I just finished Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi, a wonderfully bizarre novel about family and the power of gingerbread in children’s stories. A good read and interesting take on a fairy tale, if you’re looking for a distraction and to travel somewhere not quite like home.

Last week, I started a free online course in Python, the programming language. A big challenge, but a lot of fun and a welcome distraction from the outside world. I managed to code the promising beginnings of a limerick that I will let you finish!

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

I love Jackman

Rory Docherty, Box Office and Retail Assistant

I’ve been forcing myself into a routine so my days have a little structure. I’ve started writing a novel, I’ve mainly been a scriptwriter but focusing on prose right now is a great way of challenging myself and keeping myself active. I’m writing 1,000 words a day, every day, and it’s fun to have a project I can see developing bit by bit.

I’ve been spending a lot of time entertaining my friends on social media, adopting ridiculous characters on Instagram and putting on all the hats in my house for my Twitter audience. I’ve started a sketch web series where I act every part just to give me some creative work and help me improve technical skills like editing while I’m in lockdown.

My entire family is back in the house, and we’re trying not to annoy each other too much. I’ve started watching different TV shows with different relatives and friends, and each day I’ll make time to watch the next episode with each person.

I work as a film contributor for an Edinburgh blog, but since all the cinemas have closed I’ve written a round-up review of about 10 shows you can watch on various streaming services, and it feels good to still be recommending things even when we don’t have access to cinemas.

Check out my channels:

SketchesReviews

Annemarie Froemke, Marketing and Communications Development Officer

To correct Dolly Parton on her famous observation of 9 to 5 working life, these days I: “Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen, make my own coffee and then shift into the living room where I’ve set up my home office. Jeans, and anything too constricting, have long been abandoned and exchanged for surprisingly all-round appropriate workout wear, I guess I’ve finally joined the athleisure trend.

The recent unsettling events have significantly changed the way we live, and I realise that there are lots of little things that I take for granted, like seeing my friends, family and colleagues, my daily commute, or being able to buy pasta and loo roll there and then. I miss the coffee from the Centre’s Café, as I am now my own barista and I accidentally bought coffee beans, without owning a grinder.

But it’s not all bad here in lockdown, because I’ve finally found some time to do some drawing, pick up French on Duolingo – very addictive and I’ve sort of been playing it as if it’s Mario Kart – and of course I’ve got more time to read.

After hearing so many beautiful stories from First Nation storytellers during SISF 2019, I dug out my copy of Two Old Women by Velma Wallis, an Alaskan legend of betrayal, courage and survival. The story is set during the harsh Alaskan winter, food is scarce, and the tribe decides to abandon two old ladies who have been deemed ‘lazy and useless’ in the forest. Today when we often hear: “only old people have died of Covid-19, or people with underlying conditions”, the story is a great reminder that everyone has something unique to offer and that we shouldn’t turn our back on anyone.

Finally, a wee shout-out to my new colleague (the fluffball in the picture) who often falls asleep on the job and sometimes walks all over my work, but hey nobody is purrfect.

Cordelia Toennies, Retail and Box Office Officer

As someone who orders most of the books for the Centre’s independent bookshop, I thought I would share with you my #QuarentineReadingList, which I hope will offer up some inspiration and add to your own. Enjoy!

What I just finished:

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

The story of a girl in Germany during WWII narrated by Death. Interesting how life carries on nearly unaffected for the individual during world changing events.

Wain: LGBT Reimagining’s of Scottish Folklore – Rachel Plumber

Book of LGBT poems aimed at teens. Beautifully illustrated and imaginative take on classic Scottish folktales.

Currently Reading

Severance – Ling Ma

Epidemic of Shen Fever sweeps the world leaving only the ‘fevered’ and a small group of survivors behind. Apocalyptic and very apt – perhaps life imitating art!

No Matter the Wreckage – Sarah Kay

Debut collection of poetry by spoken word artist Sarah Kay. Check out her Ted talk performance ‘If I should ever have a daughter…’.

Next Up

The Scent of Death – Simon Becket & The Restless Dead – Simon Beckett

Simons Beckett’s ‘The Chemistry of Death’ got me started into the Crime/Thriller Genre. These two are number 5 & 6 in the David Hunter series.

Sunset Song – Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Classic I have never read!

Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood (Translated into German by Barbara Lüdemann)

Read this back in school for English and thought I would reread it, then somehow managed to accidentally purchase it in German. Luckily, I am German.

I’ve also done a wee drawing of my new living room space.

Ella Bendall Administration and Development Officer

This whole #lockdown situation doesn’t half feel a bit odd sometimes, but it’s certainly been very interesting finding a new groove, and settling into a pattern with slightly different colleagues than I’m used to…

I’ve actually found the enforced down time useful for some of my work projects that have been gathering dust on my to-do list, and it’ll be nice to get back into the building and put some of them into action once we’re up and running again. One of my usual tasks at the SSC is set up for events which often involves moving furniture around, so in lieu of being able to do that I’ve managed to build some new flat pack furniture for my spare room so my skills aren’t going to waste!

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into a new book this week, The Five by Hallie Rubenhold, which is all about the untold stories of the five women killed by Jack the Ripper. I’m a fan of creepy history stories, and this book will shine a light on the women that had their voices taken from them.

On a slightly less gruesome note, I’ve also been using this time to attempt to do something different, so this week’s task included some easy baking! I made some fruity flapjacks which turned out great.

Joanne Urwin, Traditional Dance Development Officer

I’ve been working from home for a couple of weeks now so here’s some of the things I’ve been doing to break up my day – gardening, hair dye, dog snuggles!

Gardening! For Christmas I got my husband a woodworking course at a local college and he’s really loved it. He made a veggie planter for me from some reclaimed pallets using his new skills. Together we planted strawberries, onions, carrots and we’re having a go at cucumbers too.

Hair dye! So normally I visit my hairdresser every eight weeks to get a cut and colour but disaster struck and my appointment was cancelled as we all went into lockdown. No problem I though, I’ll have a go at dying it myself. I was quite pleased with the results until I read a post from my hairdresser on social media asking clients to “step away from the box dye” – oops!

Dog! My little Jack Russell Terrier is called Sawyer. He is 15 ½ and this year has gone totally deaf. We love him dearly though and he loves to get out for walks with us. He has been both pleased and puzzled to have me at home all day every day but is very much enjoying the extra snuggles 🙂

Fiona MacDougall, Storytelling Development Officer

The last day I was at the Storytelling Centre was World Storytelling Day on Friday 20 March, I recorded our very own Donald Smith and Dave Francis telling stories to share with everyone. Tune in on the Scottish Storytelling Forum (SSF) FB Group.

There was a lot of online activity for World Storytelling Day with many of our storytellers embracing technology and live streaming telling stories from their homes.  One of our Directory storytellers from Aberdeenshire, Pauline Cordiner, created a new Facebook group called ‘Tag Team Tales’. The group is very active with new stories appearing every day, if you’re interested in contributing a couple of stories please get in touch via Facebook.

Mrs Mash, Lizzie McDougall, Claire Hewitt, Sheila Kinninmonth and many others have held several live storytelling sessions online, some especially tailored for children who are learning from home just now, while others have shared stories especially for adults after the watershed.

I’ve also been busy baking and cooking – lots of soup, bread and pancakes so far and I’m especially excited about trying out a new recipe for honey bread tomorrow. I’m hoping to start reading Jess Smith’s Tales from the Tent, as I’ve really enjoyed some of her other work. Lockdown is also giving me the chance finally attend to my neglected aloe veras, who are in desperate need of bigger pots. Hoping to rehome them all this week!