Last week, I went to a talk at our local history society on “The Bondagers – the system, their work and the dispute” given by Dinah Iredale who has conducted impressive research and written an illustrated book on this topic. A bondager was a woman farmworker , mainly in the early to mid 19th century but also later, and this research covers Northumberland and south east Scotland. What was peculiar about bondager women was that they were hired as part of a deal between the farmer and the hind – a married ploughman. The bondage system could be onerous for the hind who had to provide a bondager to work during the harvest and for occasional labour, as he would not get the job otherwise. For some hinds, their wives or other female relatives could do the work but for young hinds with families, it meant employing someone outside the family. For the bondagers themselves, this was also an onerous system as they were at the beck and call of the farmer, via the hind, and also had to live with the hind’s family in often very cramped conditions. An interesting local dimension for me is that in and around Dunbar, the term “hind” was used more generally for someone from the countryside. There was a rather derogatory reference to a man from the country, as he was described as “A hind fae (from) the country. Come doon (down) fae the hills and canny soom (can’t swim). Dinah has kindly given me permission to download the book cover and a photograph from her excellent book.
The latest exhibition at Waterston House in Aberlady is by the well-known wildlife artist Keith Brockie. Keith Brockie has a local connection, being born in Haddington which is 11 miles (18K) from Dunbar. I bought his book Return to One Man’s Island (includes many examples of Keith’s work) a few years ago, so I was intrigued to see in what directions his work had progressed. We went to the exhibition expecting to see more excellent painting of birds but in this exhibition, there are several superb paintings by Keith of hares, seals and a range of birds. I emailed Keith and he generously sent me photos of some of his paintings for this blog. The first is entitled Brown Hare at Rest and you can see the amazing detail of the animal’s fur, as well as the grass which is green in colour but also looks like hair. The brown hare’s eye has a peaceful look and the body is relaxed, perhaps enjoying a sunny afternoon.
The second painting is also of a hare but this time, it is a white mountain hare with a background of heather and snow. As in the first photo, the detail is outstanding in its delineation of the hare’s whiskers and fur, as well as the heather. This hare looks well fed and well content in the winter sunshine.
The third painting has a very close connection for me, as it shows a kittiwake adult and chick on the walls of Dunbar Castle (good photos). The kittiwakes are very well drawn and the adult’s yellow beak stands out. For me, it is the painting of the rocks behind the birds which make this picture as it shows the effects of the weather on the rock (and of course the effect of the kittiwakes’ droppings!). As regular readers will know, I’ve tried to photograph the kittiwakes over many years, using my zoom lens. One of my photos is included below but it is certainly not meant to be anywhere near the standard of Brockie’s painting.
A new edition of Scottish Birds arrived in the post recently and I was very attracted to a superb photo of a goldfinch (includes short video). I contacted Harry Scott, who took the photo and he kindly sent me the photo shown below. This bird has outstanding colours and I love the variety of the colour shapes – the eye, the beak, the bands of red/orange, white, black, yellow and blue, all of which have an abstract quality. The goldfinch recently came to prominence in literature with Donna Tart’s extraordinary book. The title comes from a famous painting by Carel Fabritius and in the story, the boy protagonist walks off with the painting after an explosion at a museum.