Shelagh Atkinson

Shelagh Atkinson is a Scottish artist who has exhibited her art all over the world. She also likes writing short memories of people.  Here is one below about Miss Burrell, the daughter of Sir William Burrell who donated his great art collection to Glasgow, “The Burrell Collection” now in its own museum.

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A Wee Memoir of Miss Sylvia Burrell

When I first met Miss Burrell what I noticed most was her pink-orange lipstick. Not only were her lips a vivid brightness but she also had lipstick on her teeth. Every time I met her I saw pink-orange splodges on her front teeth. Another thing, she always signed her name SB in a rather distinguished style, her pen heavily marking a postcard – never a biro, always blue ink flowing from a real nib.

She never spoke of her father, Sir William Burrell or spoke about his lifestyle and art collection. But she did speak about her dancing days in India – when India was British, the days of the Raj, and she would dance through several pairs of shoes a week. This was SB’s life then – a bright young rich gel dancing the days away in a foreign country.

Her home fascinated me. I only ever saw two rooms of her spacious apartment in Findhorn Place, South Edinburgh: the stark white kitchen with bare cupboards upon which stood an elegant Japanese bowl; the drawing room where we spent time together over small glasses of pale yellow sherry in delicate crystal glasses probably given to her by her father after a trip abroad. Cheese footballs and crispy malt twiglets were offered on a silver salver. Everything in that room was antique and perfect. We watched the university boatrace together, cheered on the Oxford team then changed sides and cried out for Cambridge.

She enjoyed her television – the “box” she called it – but it seemed slightly out of place in her elegant drawing room. She sat in her pink Queen Anne chair which matched her pink-orange lips – a curious spectacle. Her silver grey hair was slightly dishevelled, falling in wisps about her face.

There was another face in this room I was fascinated by. The face of the clock on the mantlepiece ­– the crocodile skin clock from Fortnum and Mason’s.

Then she would tell me about her French governesses, brought up by them. No state education for SB.

She was always knitting grey woollen gloves which she sent to the Lifeboat Society “to keep the lifeboatmen’s hands warm” she said.

She was an intensely interesting woman, but very private, never really saying all that much about herself. But we talked and laughed a lot. We were generations apart, a class apart but I adored her stories and she listened to mine.

RIP Died Saturday, 4 January, 1992.

SB, God Bless You