Meet Ailsa

February 10, 2021

Reading time: 6 minutes

I always say that the easiest way to say it is “Ale-sa”.

Well, it’s not if you have a Scottish accent, it’s not that simple, which has always been a conundrum for me. I’m one of those people who has a different accent for every day of the week.

The beginning

I was born in England, when Madness were at the top of the charts with House of Fun. My early years were spent in a nondescript small town just off the A1 in Nottinghamshire, charming anyone who came in to my parents’ photography studio. My family background and history roams around Yorkshire, Cumbria and the North East, up to Lanarkshire, and down to Oxford. We moved to the Scottish Borders when I was 6, to a beautiful Georgian market town called Kelso. Kelso’s beauty was lost on my older brother Richard and I who felt uprooted and out of place with our English accents. I’ve now spent most of my life in Scotland, and if you ask me I’ll say I’m from Scotland. That said, I can’t even humbly claim to be Scottish, my Scottish friends would call me out!

Ailsa, aged around 5, posing by a tree holding a stuffed toy
Small Ailsa, before Scotland, with Bumblelion

I was alternately outgoing and rather lonely child. A self-sufficient bookworm, always barefoot and up trees. A teenager reading Vogue, writing in Quenya and listening to Nirvana at home, but wearing Kappa tracksuits and listening to Techno to fit in (hey, it was the 90s). A kid who could proofread articles and work a trade fair stand at 13. At the same time, a kid who ran around with ‘the wrong crowd’ and struggled with depression. I dreamed of being a writer, maybe an make-up artist, then an archaeologist, then… dreams of my future stopped taking hold. So I left school weeks after turning 16, and took up a community college course in Media. That also went unfinished, but it did lead me to Colin (but that’s another story).

Figuring it out

After another false start educationally, a return to college to finish my High School qualifications led me to discovering my dyslexia at 19. With that knowledge in hand, the next step was university in Cambridge (not THE Cambridge) to study Psychology at 20 (a snap switch from my plan of Egyptology). Outside of class, I was a photography studio dogsbody, and an “SMS researcher”. Despite that, I had no clear career path when we moved to Edinburgh in 2005 after I graduated. I ended up selling kilts on the internet, leading on customer services, photoshoots, newsletters and QC – yup, the dogsbody again.

The work years

If you think I’m being self-deprecating when I say dogsbody, you’d be mistaken. An ability to turn my hand to a wide range of skills is one of the things of which I am most proud. It meant that when I optimistically applied to be the Office Manager of The Scottish Parliament‘s Hansard in 2008 I made it in. It also meant that I could leap from that to being a Committee Clerk after 3 years. I’ve now been a Senior Researcher in the Parliament’s independent research service for nearly 5 years. My 12.5 years at the Scottish Parliament is a gift I’ll always be grateful for, but I will always be someone who needs to have variety in their occupation. I’m a Jack of all trades, a dogsbody for life.

I finish working at the Parliament in April, unless another role that I can do part time and remotely magically appears. My plan is to become a part time content creator in the hopes that it can form an income stream someday, whilst spending the rest of my time taking on freelance editorial work.

Raison d’etre

Travel is a seam running through my life. My parents, as photographers, travelled for the photo opportunities. When I was a teen, my dad was fully consumed by the family publishing business. Luckily my mum was able to take me away once a year for trips chosen largely for the scenery. We visited New York, Seattle, Colorado, California and Detroit (?!?) in a quest to absorb the US. We joined my dad for short family holidays in Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Tuscany. And we found Barbados, which captivated me. Colin and I kept travelling, in Europe, the Caribbean and the US, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about confining myself to one part of the world when I’ve so much more to see.

My loves? Karaoke, though I can’t sing. Walking, as much as my joints object some days (I have a chronic connective tissue disorder). Yoga, when my hyperactive mind allows it. Good coffee, even though I don’t drink caffeine. My friends. My big brother, dad and surrogate siblings in the form of in-laws and cousins. Cats, all of them. Sustainability, and ethical shopping, and the beauty of slow fashion. Myself, and the practice it takes to love oneself. Food, especially authentic pizza and fresh seafood. Seeing the world through a viewfinder, and writing down what I see – growing up in a world of photography publications leaves its mark.

And now, we sail

Sailing was new to me until 2015, but the peace of the open water, the conversations with people from different cultures, and the food, all of the food, keeps me battling my fears and stepping up to the helm until it becomes home. I am flighty. I am distractible. I throw a good tantrum. And I’m easily spooked. All of these things will be a challenge. But I’m also a fast learner, a canny refrigerator repairwoman, and someone who laughs their head off when things go wrong or get scary, so I’ve got this.

I hope.

Yep. I’ve got this.


Ailsa holds up a Carib Lager on deck after a day learning sailing manoeuvres in the Gorda Sound, BVIs
After a day of manoeuvres in the Gorda Sound during our Competent Crew week