Digging into Family History: My Great Grandmother Anna Brudzewska


Over the past few weeks, I've started work on a new book, although I'm still very much at the ferreting about and following bits and pieces of information down the wonderful rabbit holes of family history stage. 

This is something I've been thinking about writing for a very long time - a piece of narrative non-fiction about my Polish grandfather who had what you might call an eventful life. I'll probably tackle it in the same way as I researched and wrote A Proper Person to be Detained. Except that you couldn't get much further from my forebears in that book if you tried.

Anyway, I thought I'd blog a bit about it here - not to pre-empt the book, because I'm still not quite sure where that will take me and it will be about more than just family history. Nevertheless, I'm happy to blog occasionally about the process of researching it and the feelings it inspires. I did quite a lot of research on this topic many years ago, long before the internet, and I have a big box full of paperwork: letters, pictures, notebooks and photocopies from that time. It's invaluable. But now, there's so much more online and I'm only just beginning to realise how much there is still to be discovered. 

Above is a picture of my Polish great grandmother Anna Brudzewska. 

She figures in a wonderful and very detailed Polish genealogy, worked on by one M J Minakowski. Her full name before her marriage into the Czerkawski family was Anna Brudzewska von Brause and she was born circa 1870. Her father was Edward Brudzewski von Brause, born in 1838, and her mother was Zofia Katarzyna (that's my own name - Catherine) Moraczewska. 

Edward is intriguingly described as 'landowner and insurgent'. 

He served in the ranks of the Prussian cavalry and took part in the January uprising against the Austrian authorities. He was exiled to France, as were so many insurrectionary Poles, but when things settled down, he returned to Poland and became a friend of the playwright, painter and poet Stanislaw Wyspianski. For those who know nothing about Polish literature and art, it's a bit like finding out that your great great grandfather was bosom buddies with Ibsen or Chekhov or - since he was a brilliant artist - Renoir or Manet. Edward apparently features in one of Wyspianski's dramas called Liberation. He lived near Krakow at a place called Korabniki where Wyspianski was a frequent visitor.  And here it is. The original house was built in the mid 16th century, oddly enough by a remote relative of a different branch of the family. Edward bought it in the 1880s, so Anna would have been a girl here. 

The Brudzewski Manor House at Korabniki 

When I stopped salivating over such a very beautiful house, I started thinking about my great grandmother, Anna. You look at that slightly prim and proper picture of her - it was included in a book that one of my father's cousins wrote about yet another branch of the family - and what do you see? What would you expect from that firm mouth, that neat hair, that slightly hostile stare and withdrawn expression? Or - as a friend said - somebody who was saying 'Don't tell me how to live my life!'

I find myself browsing through Wyspianski's paintings and wondering if he painted her. 

I'll tell you what you wouldn't quite expect. That she gave birth to my grandfather Wladyslaw in winter, in a sleigh. And that as a widow, she scandalously married her estate manager, much against the wishes of her family, and gave birth to a daughter. 

So there you go. Today, I've been thinking about that a lot. Aren't photographs deceptive? Or, when you dig deeper, informative. Are you intrigued yet? I know I am! 

The Textile

It crossed my mind today - perhaps because as well as writing, I still collect and occasionally deal in old textiles - that our relationship with the rest of the EU used to be like a large, complicated textile: a tapestry or an intricate shawl perhaps. It had taken forty five years of hard work and dedication to produce. It was beautiful in its own way, with many fine elements, something to cherish. Not that it was perfect, because no old and precious textile ever is. Some of it was worn and moth-eaten to be sure. There were little bits of invisible mending but there were still holes here and there. After all, something composed of so many disparate elements needs constant care. Some of it needed fixing. Some of it definitely needed renewing. 

But all of that was possible, especially with a certain expertise and a willingness to compromise over methods. On the whole it was still warm and serviceable and it sheltered us from a very cold world outside.

There were lots of these textiles: twenty eight in total. All in a similar style, but with variations to suit the needs of each owner. If you put them together, they would form a wonderful tapestry of differences and similarities.

Then, along came a bunch of people who suggested that this precious thing of ours was past it. If we'd looked closely at them, we might have seen that they were people with a destructive streak. Not artisans or artists at all. But we didn't look too closely. The truth was that most of us had hardly even thought about the textile for years. It was just there. Sometimes we complained that it wasn't fit for purpose. Mostly we hardly even noticed how beautiful it was. 

It would be so much better, these people told us, if we dismantled it and started again. Look at all that yarn, they said. Look at how much we'll have when we've unravelled it. It'll be the easiest project in human history, and once it's done, we'll be able to make something infinitely better because we're so clever and and we don't need any lessons in how it should be done. Everyone else will look at our great achievement - all twenty seven of them - and they'll follow our lead and dismantle theirs as well. Easy as pie. 

So that's what we did. We set out to unpick and unravel this wonderful thing, this thing that had sheltered and accommodated us for forty five years. We didn't even go about it carefully. What did we need with advice? We knew what we were doing.

We tore it apart, shredding and breaking it in pieces as we went. It was more difficult than we thought, and we kept losing patience and tugging at all the knots and tangles, but by then, it was easier to keep going than to lose face and admit that we'd been wrong. 

Now we're left with a pile of broken and useless threads. That big, beautiful textile that was ours has been systematically dismantled on the instructions of a group of people who didn't need it anyway. Too rich, too careless, they always knew that whatever problems might arise, they could throw money at them, and buy themselves a dozen new wraps to shelter themselves from the cold. 

And all those other people, with their own finely woven textiles - well, they've seen what we've done and they're appalled. They'll mend what was damaged and move on. 

Not us though. We're left out in the cold, with a heap of tangled threads, to sort ourselves out as best we can. 

Throwing It All Away

There was a time, back in 2012, watching the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, when many of us felt at least a stirring of pride in - or perhaps I mean genuine affection for - the island group that we call home. It was a production full of historical awareness, creativity and good humour. We liked to think it reflected the best of us.  

Yet here we are, eight years later, and many of us can't think about that time without a profound sense of regret and horror. Because in eight short years, we've been precipitated into the most divisive political situation of my life - although I know other parts of this now precarious union have been through worse times.

How on earth, we wonder, could a country that is supposedly part of a voluntary union, deliberately throw away all that goodwill, all that affection, in the pursuit of an unattainable, unrealistic and unworthy dream - one, moreover, that has turned into a nightmare for so many of us, based as it is on lies, greed and xenophobia. The sabre rattling we're now seeing at Westminster is terrifying. It takes an Irish writer, wise Fintan O'Toole, to call it out for what it is: England recasting itself as a victim of colonisation, emerging from the imaginary 'empire' of the EU. 

Somebody remarked to me today that - living in the EU - he always makes it clear that he is Scottish, not English, because so many of his friends, coming from many different nations, have admitted that they really don't much like the English now. They're very fond of Scotland though.

I'm glad for Scotland, but sad for England. After all, I was born there, albeit with an Irish grandmother and a Polish father. I spent the first eleven or twelve years of my life in England and I loved it deeply. Still do, in so many ways. But the cultural and ideological gap between Scotland and England is now a gaping chasm, one that can't be spanned - and certainly not by one of the PM's imaginary bridges.

As most of my friends know, last year, after thinking about it since 2016, and taking some time to gather together the various papers needed, I reclaimed the dual nationality I had when I was born. It was a fiddly but not particularly difficult or expensive procedure, largely down to helpful advice from the Polish vice consul in Edinburgh and the fact that I still had a number of my father's old documents squirrelled away.

I haven't yet applied for my passport. I had all my 'ducks in a row' but then Covid and lockdown and shielding (for my husband) intervened and I couldn't get to Edinburgh. I'm hoping to do so before the end of the year. 

What the process has done, though, is to highlight for me that the citizenship is more important to me than the passport. The passport, when I get it, will be a convenience. The rather beautiful and formal citizenship letter was what I craved. Let's face it, Poland too has its troubles. But I don't think it's ever going to be stupid enough to vote to leave the EU. So the letter symbolises something very important to me - not just Poland, but Poland in the heart of Europe - and the precious retention of my European citizenship that the Cummings government has tried and failed to take away from me.

I loathe the constant stream of tabloid insults to our European friends and relatives. Now the government intends to break international law, threatening the Good Friday Agreement in the process. I resent every lie, every implication that the EU is the enemy, every wretched inconvenience. I resent having to try to stockpile food and medication. I resent every smirking politician who invades my TV screen, disparaging the rest of the continent to which I belong, and which I love. 

But you know what I hate most of all? I hate the way the revulsion at what this government is inflicting on the rest of us fills my days and disturbs my nights. 

I've always been interested in politics. I can't call myself an activist, but I've done my bit. I campaigned to join the Common Market, back in the 70s. I've been a Labour party member and now I'm a member of the SNP. I've read and debated and I've always voted. 

I've also made big mistakes. Huge. Voting no at the last indyref was the biggest mistake of my life, and, hand on heart, I did it because I swallowed the lie that it was the only way of remaining in the EU. I've regretted it every day since. I didn't do my homework. I didn't look at countries like Finland - which I know well - and Denmark and Norway, and wonder why on earth we couldn't be like them. There's nothing I can do about that now except say sorry, and campaign for independence. And to be fair, I've been welcomed into the fold like the lost sheep in the bible. 

But it strikes me that although politics should be something we all engage with, it works best when we don't have to think about it every single day; the way so many things that are important to us in our lives go on working just well enough that - even the most proactive of us - don't have to consider them or be afraid of them all the time. I am careful what I buy, shop local as much as possible, read labels. But I don't spend my entire days worrying that the farm shop down the road is up to something nefarious behind my back. I trust them. I love the fact that the water that comes out of our taps here tastes pure and clean and I would be alarmed if it didn't. But I also pretty much trust Scottish Water to keep it that way, without worrying about it every time I drink a glass of water.

Throughout my life there were some governments who seemed to be doing their best, and some that I didn't trust. Some I voted for and some I didn't. I never believed that any of them would keep all those fine election promises. And there were some that I disliked intensely. But there has never been a government like this one. 

It was in 2016 that everything changed. At first, we thought it might be OK. Given the closeness of the referendum result, and the way in which Scotland voted to remain in the EU by an overwhelming majority, we actually thought that some sensible compromise might be reached. And you know, we would have gone along with it. Leaving the EU would have been bad and we wouldn't have liked it, but staying in the single market and customs union would have honoured the referendum result while accepting that just under half of the country disagreed. That would have been a way forward: a decent and honourable compromise. And it wouldn't have threatened the Good Friday Agreement in the way that it is under threat now.

There was no compromise. None whatsoever. There were people who predicted the way things would go and we thought they were exaggerating. We underestimated the xenophobia and carelessness and malice at the heart of the state. We underestimated their determination to placate the Brexit Ultras. They threw it all away: forty seven years of co-operation and collaboration. Almost all of my adult life. All that goodwill, all that regard, all that honour and honesty. All those - let's face it - special privileges England demanded and largely got. They threw it all away to placate a minority of delusional haters.


God alone knows. For money? Because they're disaster capitalists? To save an ageing Tory party? Because it was always the plan? Because some of them never really understood that blackmailers will always ask for more? Because they thought that if they were dishonest in very specific and limited ways, we would all be fooled into agreement? 

As I write this, the European press are increasingly bemused - but also amused - by our self destructive posturing. They still have each other and they can do without us. So long and thanks for all the fish.

Hunting around for some - any - words of wisdom, I'm reminded of an F Scott Fitzgerald observation: Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.

It doesn't help our despair, but it helps to explain their difference and their indifference. 

In last week's Brexit Blog post, The Descent Into Political Insanity, the usually measured and restrained Professor Chris Grey pulls no punches when he points out that the Brexit Ultras are now willing to sacrifice anything and everything to a cause that has long since ceased to bear any resemblance whatsoever to the promises they made. It has now become – and I don’t use this term lightly or carelessly – a form of political insanity, and it is an insanity which has spread to the entire government.

Precisely. Which is why Scotland must save itself. And soon. We must not allow ourselves to be dragged off the cliff with our neighbours. We've tried to talk sense into them, but it hasn't worked. We've been willing to compromise in all kinds of ways, but we've been ignored and our elected representatives insulted. We are rich in things that matter. And we have plenty of friends elsewhere in Europe who would be happy for us to cut the rope. When England comes to its senses, we can forgive, get on, heal our divisions, be better neighbours. But it doesn't look as though that's going to happen any time soon.

Meanwhile, how's your stockpile of imported goods coming along? 

Rewilding - A Free Novella


My weird little novella, Rewilding, is free on Kindle today and for a few days more, so if you like folklore, magic, Scottish myths and all kinds of things like that, give it a try. 

I wrote it last autumn, when we had been on a trip to the Isle of Skye to visit friends there. (People from the island will no doubt recognise the cover image!) But it isn't about Skye. It's love story of sorts. Possibly. A story about enchantment and the attraction of danger and false perception and all kinds of other things. 

When I was writing it, I was also inspired by this extraordinary song, sung by Julie Fowlis. The dangerous monster becomes something else entirely. But then the winners write the history, as a rule. 

It's not long - a short novella or a long short story. And there may or may not be a sequel, because I have an idea floating around somewhere, waiting to crystallise into a proper addition to the story.

Anyway - give it a try - and if you like it, please do give me a brief review. Every little helps! 

On the Beach at Culzean

This piece of writing is, if I had to define it, a prose poem. It was published under the title On the Beach at Culzean, in 2009, in the first edition of the Brownsbank Broadsheet. I don't know if there were any more editions, and soon after that, I stopped submitting small pieces of work unless I was directly asked for something, and concentrated on longer fiction and non-fiction instead. However, I came across this today while looking for something else, reread it and found that I liked it. More than that, it made me feel a little weepy. So I thought it would be nice to share it again on here. 


The black dog rushes ahead. She is more than ten years dead, but here she is, sniffing along the shoreline, her curly cockade of a tail held high. My son, in red wellies and padded jacket, is walking along the beach, squatting to examine a handful of minute golden shells, prising them up with his starfish fingers, toddler’s treasure.

The shore is a string of pebbly and sandy curves. Arran comes and goes: a grey space, a smudge, a real place, etched against the skyline, Goat Fell cloaked in snow. The sea is audible on all but the stillest of days but in winter it is a muted roar. Closer, you can distinguish the inward rush and outward tug of pebbles beneath the waves. Agates have tumbled in, eggs that shatter against the rocks to reveal a smooth world within a world, a blue and white landscape, sea and sky preserved in stone.

The effect of the cliffs, the woods, is to shield the beaches from change, cutting them off from the land. Up there are narrow paths, leading mysteriously out of sight. Some of them thread through frosted plants and naked trees to the sea. Some of them end in nothing, nowhere, oblivion. Take care.

One winter, a canon blew down from the castle and landed on the beach. On Boxing Day, we took coffee and Christmas cake and climbed down to the empty bay, to sit on the elephantine rocks and gaze at the sea. Grey on grey. We found it half submerged in a pool of water, an intruder in this wholly wild world.


My son has shed his wellies and hooded coat, casting his clouts before may is out. He slides and slithers, exclaiming over each find: fishing net, feathers, sea glass, his voice bouncing off rocks. What creature made these holes? What’s gribble worm? What? Why? How?

In the woods, snowdrops have given place to windflowers, then daffodils, ramsons, bluebells. On the fringes of the park, there are swathes of whin that smell of coconut and dazzle the eyes. During hard times farmers pulped this spiny crop and fed it to their cattle. The whin mill was an upended grindstone, trundled along a channel, hauled by a carthorse. You can see ghostly rings in the grass, to this day. And whin is still hard to handle. Stumble, put out a hand to save yourself and there will be tears.

Down here, the shore is edged by volcanic rocks, stretched and folded back on themselves, wrinkled, with seams of white quartz. There are caves too with ancient fortifications built across, as though the earlier castle had grown upwards, a living thing, rooted in the rocks beneath. Archaeologists have found human bones here. People were born in these caves, spent their lives, died and were buried among the giant spiders that also call this labyrinth home.

On the beach, the storms have left a litter of driftwood behind, sculptures on smooth sand. Out there the air is a mixture of salt and sweet. Ailsa Craig is a sugared cake.


Picnic time. From above, you can see reefs at low tide, with cormorants and shags perched on the teeth of them. They teem with life, these pavements of rock, and the pools between: anemones, barnacles, little fishes, translucent shrimps, sea slugs. Children are exploring the reefs, teasing the anemones, briefly imprisoning creatures in jars and boxes. Look and let go, look and let go, calls the teacher.

We trek down to the beach, staggering beneath our trappings. We make a boat out of sand. My son motors to Arran and back within the hour and the sand holds up pretty well. He and his father and his grandfather commence engineering operations. They dam the burn that trickles down from the hill, dig a new channel, build a castle, divert the channel so that it forms a moat. The whole edifice is decorated with shells and white quartz pebbles.

There are swallows diving above, oystercatchers patrolling the shoreline, wagtails darting here and there. I tuck my skirt into my knickers and wade through soft salt water feeling shells between my toes, then look back and see the men in my life, grown small against the rocks, utterly absorbed in the moment and each other.

The dog follows me, splashing and cavorting. She has found a length of mooring rope, thick and prickly, but it is pinned into the shallows by a stone, and she is pulling and tugging, snuffling and sneezing as the salt water goes up her nose. Up there, behind the theatrical arc of the beach, people are walking among the scenery, wearing unsuitable shoes. You can see the odd flash of colour from a jacket or dress. There are precarious girls in high heeled sandals, tight skirts pinning their knees together.

The air smells of roses.


My son is growing fast. He wears a burgundy waterproof against the rain and a daft tweed hat that suits him, although he will only wear it here, where his friends won’t see. He has given up holding hands. But he still has apples in his cheeks, and a face like a flower, open and trusting. My heart aches for him, for all those leaps of faith which he must soon make. For the tripping and falling. For the spiny shrubs. For the picking himself up and walking on. For the narrowing of possibilities. For the disappointments and the friendships and the loves that are not me. How could it be otherwise?

Geese skein across the sky. The swallows have already gone.We stumble down the path to the sea past the boathouse with its tarry roof. The old dog with her white muzzle trots ahead of us. She comes and goes, a memory in both our heads.

Down here on Culzean beach, the familiarity of these stones, these shells, these grains of sand is comforting, our apprehensions soothed by the relentless thrust and pull of the sea. There is only now.

Behind the cliffs behind the woods there has been a change of scene. The heather is in bloom. The hill is a paisley shawl.


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