‘Wrapped in Rugby’ – a Scots Memoir of the Oval Ball Game

Douglas S. Bruce at the playing fields of Goldenacre, Edinburgh in 1959

Douglas S. Bruce at the playing fields of Goldenacre, Edinburgh in 1959

When my Uncle Douglas kindly asked if I would design the cover of his first book, a memoir of his life’s passion, the game of Rugby, it wasn’t long before I found the perfect image. During a visit to the beautiful Isle of Skye and chez Bruce, I discovered an old sepia photograph of my Uncle aged 10, oval ball under arm, standing on the playing fields of his Edinburgh school, anno 1959.  Catching sight of the Victorian ‘Red Pavilion’ in the background of the photograph, George Heriot’s cricket club, where the head groundsman and his wife who were friend’s of my father’s lived, pressed the play button in my head and played out a whirlwind of technicolour images of blue faced winged monkeys, beguiling ‘Ruby Slippers’ and dog ‘Toto’ accompanied by the rousing ‘Ride of the Valkyries’; memories of a Christmas visit when I was a child.  A peppering of pigeons flying through a dreich Edinburgh skyline echoed the garden scene through the Skye window, of woodpeckers and blackbirds fluttering around a creatively constructed firewood bird-table, under the shadows of the Red and Black Cuillins.  And the boy, that bonny blue-eyed, hoop shirted child who’s escapades my mother never ceased to amuse my sister and I with, grew into the wonderful uncle who stood beside me in 2012 making us toast.  Reading ‘Wrapped in Rugby’ informed missing generational times before I was born, because this is no ordinary sports book!

Back cover detail of 'Wrapped in Rugby'.

Back cover detail of ‘Wrapped in Rugby’.

I am a football and cricket girl, although would not normally choose to read sporting books of any sort, being most comfortable reading the likes of Roberto Bolano’s ‘2666’ or Maxim Gorky’s ‘My Childhood’.  But even the sections solely devoted to rugby are enlightening for us round ball game lovers, a converting education!  The recounting of a brutal rugby match in the 1960’s on a bleak hung-over Scottish New Year’s Day in the Borders town of Hawick, fought on a frozen pitch turn into literary hilarity,

“The playing surface was like concrete and worse, vehicles had been driven over the pitch when it was muddy.  The tyre impressions were now like a scattering of lumberjack’ hand saws.  It was a suicide mission for both teams if the game was to go ahead.  To go ahead it was (and) like the ANZACS at Gallipoli we did as we were bidden and prepared for suicide.’

There are so many beautiful turns of phrase, metaphors, so much `laugh out loud’ inherited Fife wit I needed a second copy of the book to annotate or the precious signed copy I was reading would have been graffitied all over!

Uncle Douglas and my beautiful late Auntie Rosemary, Wedding Day, 1973

Uncle Douglas and my beautiful late Auntie Rosemary’s Wedding Day, Edinburgh, 1971

Of course I am a wee bit biased, I’m reading a book by the best uncle in the world!  But I hope I’m fair also.   I found it an eloquently written social history of Edinburgh in the 50’s and 60’s, recounting hysterical life stories, stories I hadn’t heard before, relating tenderly and artfully moving tributes to the likes of my Grandfather, all whilst managing to successfully engage a sub-consciously reluctant niece to understand his enormous passion for rugby. Entwining a history of twentieth and early twenty-first century Scottish rugby throughout the book he reveals personal observations of the politically charged scrum from amateur to professional Scottish rugby. There are many people including my father who will remember fondly the game as it was and for them this book is a tribute to those selfless days when rugby was played for enjoyment, camaraderie and passion. For younger rugby loving generations this is a history of the game their forefathers played with carefree abandon, and unrestricted innocence. Also recorded are my uncle’s tireless efforts to bring rugby to smaller Scottish communities and their younger players as well as the Scottish community at large and it’s youngsters spurred by his passion for the game – it is an inspiration and revelation to me of someone I know well under different circumstances, giving back something they love to others. This is an epic memoir in my opinion, honest, affecting, beautifully written by a very humble, funny and passionate man, my uncle.

'Wrapped in Rugby', Douglas S. Bruce, 2013

‘Wrapped in Rugby’, Douglas S. Bruce, 2013

To order ‘Wrapped in Rugby’ please visit Amazon


From Moscow with Love

'The Russian Doll', red, blue, green and black Biro drawing, 2008 by Jane Lee McCracken

‘The Russian Doll’, red, blue, green and black Biro drawing, 2008 by Jane Lee McCracken

The Russian Doll… Back in my home town of Edinburgh in 2005, with money in my pocket and a premeditated mission to visit ‘The Russian Shop’, my target was a Russian doll and successful return to Northumberland the same day with my own matryoshka.

The little shop on St Mary’s Street just off the High Street was overflowing with an impressive array of magnificent Russian dolls, lacquer boxes and wooden toys.  I wanted a special doll, something unique.   All the dolls were wearing coats of glistening varnish, except one which had a matt finish – she had the prettiest face, and on her body was a representation of Ivan Shishkin’s painting ‘Morning in a Pine Forest’, 1889. All her children had Russian landscape paintings on their bodies too and the same pretty face as their mother.  This was my doll!

Russian doll and her four children on 'The Wolf's House', mixed media, 2012, by Jane Lee McCracken

Russian doll and her four children on “The Wolf’s House”, mixed media, 2012, by Jane Lee McCracken

I took her to the counter to pay and the shop owner pointed to a woman I had noticed earlier who was sitting at a small desk painting a lacquer box. “This is the artist who made your doll, she has just flown in from Moscow this morning to give a demonstration of her work”.  Such excitement, such a lovely, gentle woman, we spoke to one another about her art and like a child holding out an autograph book to a living legend, I held out my dolI and asked if she would sign a dedication. “To Jane, with Love, 2005” it says.

'All I have left', 2001

“All I have Left”, 2001

Found objects and my own possessions feature a lot in my work.  I love the simplicity of using what is close at hand, a Biro, my dog Lily, objects I find on Ebay.  Working on  a series of drawings from 2008 called ‘Tales from the East’, I wanted to employ the iconic image of the Russian doll and create my own doll.  I used my Russian/Scottish doll as inspiration and a photograph from 2001 of myself, that was made for a series of digital montages called ‘All I have Left’ .

"Red Riding", All I have left' 2002, digital montage

‘”Red Riding”, All I have Left Series’ 2002, by Jane Lee McCracken, digital montage using artist’s photograph of the Black Forest

Like all my work, the drawing of “The Russian Doll” made with red, blue, green and black Biro acts on several levels and is symbolic of issues relating to war.  The self-portrait layered over the doll’s face, represents ordinary women “like you and me”.

For further information about the symbolism of this piece please visit my website: :http://www.janeleemccracken.co.uk/photo_4657711.html

Luxury Archival Pigment Prints crafted by http://mrjacklowe.com/  are available from my shop:http://www.janeleemccracken.co.uk/photo_8181965.html

'The Russian Doll', Archival Pigment Print

“The Russian Doll”, Archival Pigment Print series