26 Treasures

From 1st December 2011 - 29 January 2012 we are bringing Scotland's historical treasures to life at the National Museum of Scotland, telling stories from Scotland's geological roots to its technological future. Treasure indeed. 

 

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Westlothiana Lizziae, Aimee Chalmers

A wee bookie poems bi Marion Angus (1865 -1946) fell frae a library shelf, as if bi magic glamourie, at my feet. Her Scots tung heezed up ma hert. Her weirdfu, ghaistly verse, an her sparkie wit on the natur o time dirled ma heid.

 A thoosand years o clood and flame

An a’ thing’s the same and aye the same 

Whaun I read what some tattie scone had said aboot her: ‘no life could be less conspicuous’, I was scunnert. I did some delvin for masell, then wrote doon the richt wey o daen (the start o a selection o her work). That wasnae eneuch: I kent hoo she thocht aboot things frae whit she wrote and wantit mair o her spirit tae come though. Sae I traivelled her ‘Tinker’s Road’ wi her, for some five years. Gey chancie, spookie things happened (whiles gied me the cauld creeps), but in the end I ‘won ower the tap’. My wee story gets nearer the hert o her than onie ‘facts’ did.

But whit happens noo? What’ll I dae next? Will I ever be able tae move on, turn ma back on Marion?

Three weeks o gropin i the dark, then ‘26Treasures’ cam scootin intae my laptop – mair magic glamourie. I left Marion ahent wioot a glance ahent me. The National Museum o Scotland – ye would ken I’d jump at the chance! I’ve aye felt prood tae be a Scot, but michty, I was fair taen wi ma first visit tae whit was then an affa new museum – 650 million years o history!

I cannae think o Westlothiana lizziaeas my ‘object’. She’s a glisk o history – pre-history – agin a backdrop o cheenge (just like ane o thae lassies in Marion’s poems). She’s jimpie and little-buikit (but guid gear gaes in sma buik); her model’s strippit coat looks like it’s fashioned o teeny beads – sae bonnie and sae real I cannae imagine ither.

Naither can I think o 62 words that’ll dae her justice.

I winnae screive a tale o whit she did. There’s less facts aboot Lizzie than would fit a pin-heid, if facts are chiels that winna ding. But here’s whit I’ve gaithered, and ye can sort them oot yersel.

Westlothiana lizziae

Fossil discovered in limestane rock strippit wi black and pale broon layers (1988) bi Mr Stan Wood, at Kirkton Quarry, near Bathgate.

740 entries on the web, contradictin ane anither!

Fower cutty legs.

Lang tail.

Mrs Marjorie Macrae devised a Strathspey aifter her.

Represented in Spirit o West Lothian tartan as a black threid.

338 million years auld, gie or tak a puckle either side.

Habitat: tropical swamp, near a muddy loch (lake?) polluted bi volcanic springs.

Weather: storms an floodin.

Hazards: forest fires, scorpions, hungert amphibians. Bigger Lizzies. (Did I nae tell ye… cannibalism?)

Food: centipedes (pooshinous?), millipedes, mites an harvestmen. Wee Lizzies?

Ye micht get raivelled at this neist. Lizzie walked the swamps i’ the back-end o the Carboniferous years. So she cannae be a lizard. They didnae evolve til 180 million years aifter that. She could be a reptile, or an amphibian (reptiles lay eggs wi shells, on the grund, amphibians lay eggs in waater).

Let’s nae argie-bargie aboot the turn o her ankle, though some jalouse that maks her an amphibian. Let’s mak believe Lizzie is a reptile. The bad news: mibbe her particlar evolutionary line cam tae a sticky end lang ago.

Let’s mak believe it didnae.

Reptiles the day, an mammals, shared an ancestor awa back in time, so Lizzie micht be oor distant relative. But I’m nae even gaein tae try tae work that oot. I aye thocht a great-aunt was somebodie that gied ye a penny and I still get dottled wi second cousins twice removed. 

Mair mixter-maxter: Lizzie’s secret – the lassie could be a laddie. And if that’s richt  … she’s surely Jock Tamson and we’re her bairns.

Whit on earth can I scrieve?

 

            Westlothiana lizziae.

Westlothiana Lizzie

West-lothi-Ana-Lizzie.

Anna Lizzie

 

That’s braw. ‘Annie Lizzie’ in Scots. Annie Lizzie? Whaur hae I heard that afore?

The sands o time rin doondoon

The years turn blin’ and spare

Annie Lizzie’s gane and wi her

A’ that’s young and fair

But…

Hereawa or thereawa

On midsummer’s eve

Young Annie Lizzie’s

At her game o ‘Mak Belive’.

Midsummer’s eve? Mak believe? Spooky!

Whit wey did Marion Angus dae that?

 

References:

 ‘The Fox’s Skin’, ‘The Tinker’s Road’ and ‘Links o Lunan’ by Marion Angus inThe Singin Lass: Selected Work of Marion Angus(Poygon, 2006)

Westlothiana lizziae

A collection of poems by Marion Angus (1865 -1946) fell from a library shelf, as if by magic, at my feet. Her Scots tongue inspired me. Her mystical and ghostly poetry, and her enduring interest in the cyclical nature of time fascinated me.

A thoosand years o clood and flame

An a’ thing’s the same and aye the same

So, when I read in her obituary: ‘no life could be less conspicuous’, I was angry enough to do some research. I wrote a biography (introduction to a selection of her work). It wasn’t enough: I wanted a perspective more in tune with her spirit, as revealed through her attitudes and values. Uncanny coincidences made me shiver as I journeyed with her along her ‘Tinker’s Road’, but five years later, I ‘won ower the tap’, finished a novel, which gets nearer the truth than facts did.

What happens now? What do I do next? Will I be able to move on, turn my back on Marion?

Three weeks of uncertainty, then ‘26Treasures’ appeared – as if by magic – on my laptop screen. I left Marion behind without regret. The National Museum of Scotland… I jumped at the chance. I’ve always felt proud to be Scots, but my first visit to what was then a very new museum was quite emotional –  650 million years of Scottish history!

I can’t think of Westlothiana lizziaeas my ‘object’. She’s like a character in one of Marion’s poems, a moment of history – pre-history – preserved against a backdrop of change. She’s a dainty and precious fossil; her model wears a striped coat that looks as if it’s fashioned of tiny beads – I can’t imagine her in any other.

Neither can I imagine how 62 words will do her justice.

I certainly won’t write a biography.  There are fewer facts about Lizzie than there were about Marion.  Here’s what I’ve gathered, so far, facts verging on fiction.

Westlothiana lizziae

Fossil discovered in limestone rock striated with black and pale brown layers (1988) by Mr Stan Wood, at Kirkton Quarry, near Bathgate.

740 entries on the web, many contradictory!

Four short legs.

Long tail.

Mrs Marjorie Macrae devised a Strathspey named after her.

Represented in Spirit of West Lothian tartan as a black thread.

338 million years old, give or take a few either side.

Habitat: tropical swamp, near a muddy freshwater lake (loch?) polluted by volcanic springs.

Weather: storms and flooding.

Hazards: forest fires, scorpions, hungry fanged amphibians. Bigger Lizzies. (Did I mention cannibalism?)

Food: centipedes (venomous?), millipedes, mites and harvestmen. Smaller Lizzies?

Now it gets complicated. Lizzie walked the swamps in the late Carboniferous period. So she can’t be a lizard. They didn’t evolve until 180 million years later. She could be a reptile, or an amphibian (reptiles lay shelled eggs on land, amphibians lay eggs in water). I won’t mention the turn of her ankle – though some believe that makes her an amphibian. Let’s make believe Lizzie is a reptile.

The bad news: it’s possible her particular evolutionary line died out. Let’s make believe it didn’t.

Reptiles today, and mammals, shared an ancestor at some point back in time, so there’s a possibility Lizzie could be your distant relative. But I’m not going to try to work it out. I always thought a great-aunt was the one who gave you presents, and still get confused with second cousins twice removed.

Another complication: Lizzie’s secret – ‘she’ could be a ‘he’. And in that case … she might be Jock Tamson and we’re her bairns.

What on earth shall I write?

 

            Westlothiana lizziae.

Westlothiana Lizzie

West-lothi-Ana-Lizzie.

Anna Lizzie

I like that. ‘Annie Lizzie’ in Scots. Annie Lizzie? Where have I heard that name before?

The sands o time rin doon – doon

The years turn blin’ and spare

Annie Lizzie’s gane and wi her

A’ that’s young and fair

But…

Hereawa or thereawa

On midsummer’s eve

Young Annie Lizzie’s

At her game o ‘Mak Belive’.

Midsummer’s eve? Make believe? Weird!

How did Marion Angus do that?

 

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