"When I was a little girl, the ghosts were more real to me than the people. The people were despotic and changeable, governing my world with a confusing and alarming inconstancy. The ghosts, on the other hand, could be relied on to about their haunting in a calm and orderly manner. Bearded or bewigged, clad in satin or velvet or nunlike drapery, they whispered their way along the dark corridors of the castle where I was born and spent the first ten years of my life, rarely interfering with or intruding on the lives of the living."
Christian Miller, the youngest of a family of six children, was born in 1920. She was brought up on her father's estate in the highlands of Scotland, and educated by governesses. After her father's death, the estate was inherited by her older brother, and the rest of the family moved to London, where, at 18, Christian became a debutante. During World War II, having started as an aircraft fitter working on heavy bombers, she became a technical adviser in the Ministry of Production. A Childhood in Scotland is her memoir of life in the gloomy castle on her father's estate; this slim volume was first published in 1981, and received a Scottish Arts Council Book Award the following year.
"The castle stood in the middle of my father's estate, in the highlands of Scotland. Its central guard tower had been built in 1210, as guard-house to a nearby monastery. Of the monastery itself only the granite gates remained, but the church that had belonged to it – its first use recorded in 1078 – still served as the village kirk, and in one of the safes of the castle lay a reliquary, one of the best pieces of Celtic crafts-manship in Scotland. Believed to have once held the bones of St. Columba, who brought Christianity to Scotland in the sixth century, it was a small house-shaped box, carved from a solid piece of wood covered in bronze and silver plates carved with intertwined animals. It was decorated with bronze medallions, their borders covered with red glaze; of its enamelled hinges, pierced to take a carrying-strap, only one remained. I was unaware that it had been made more than twelve hundred years before I was born, but when I showed it to visitors I would raise the roof-shaped lid apprehensively, its strange aura making me half fear and half hope that the sanctified bones, which had long since disappeared, might have come back to rest again in the dark interior."
Miller's A Childhood in Scotland is a perceptive but unpretentious autobiography. In this little book, she recalls her privileged but at the same time deprived upper-class childhood in the castle in Scotland. Through the eyes and ears of this child of the 1920s, who seems to have seen and heard everything that went on within the massive stone walls of her home, she gives her readers a unique insight into what must surely have been one of the last relics of Scottish feudal life. Be sure to read all about it.
Copyright © 2003, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.