TOUR OF SCOTLAND

We’ve been on our annual pilgrimage to Scotland, and returned. I wonder how many thousands of miles we’ve travelled over the years, just there and back?

The weather wasn’t great, but we enjoy being there. We stay with Joanna, whose guest accommodation is so comfortable that we feel guilty about how often we withdraw to our quarters, skulking like teenagers.

We go through to the East Coast, for John and Lawrence to attend golf at Gullane, and John and Eugene to go to St Andrews. We arrive at my brother’s for one day, and linger for three, enjoying their glorious garden. (Yes, I do know this is expressly forbidden in the Ladies Guide to Etiquette and Good Behaviour).Susan and I go to Falklands Palace, where somebody once rode a horse up the stairs, and where I on a previous visit, dressed all in black sitting in a quiet spot on the stairs. waiting for John and the children to emerge from the kitchen, was mistaken for a ghost by a startled passer-by. Did he think I was the ghost of Mary Queen of Scots, I wondered, or some Witch of Doom?

Another day, with Eugene and Susan, we go to an exhibition in Dunfermline of the Embroidery of the History of Scotland. The hall is full of people from all walks of life, examining the work with great interest. It is beautiful, interesting, amusing in places and skilful. We buy a book, and I hope to see it again.

On another day, Joanna and I, escaping the children left in care of the men, travel to Linlithgow and have coffee with my oldest (ie she’s known me the longest ) friend and her husband, and talking to her flows as smoothly and easily as it did when I was 19. The Company Secretary of the Brewery we both worked for brought her to me when she arrived and said, Please look after Miss B – and we’ve been looking after each other ever since.

Later that day we had lunch with a friend of my mother’s, whom I had not met for maybe 40 years (she is younger than I am) and we were lucky hat she had been one of the team of ladies who had laboured to produce the Scottish embroidery, so we were able to question her about the methods they used and the difficulties they had to overcome. She is also an authoress and a book has been published from her father’s war time diaries of the Arctic Run. (Ice and Fire by Leona Thomas).

John and I go back to Linlithgow later where I visit Norman Cummings fabric shop. I have just finished an enormous spool of white thread which I bought there 30 years ago, so I buy another and two pieces of train fabric, which Ewan has inspected and requested a cushion cover and pyjama bottoms which should be possible.   I also bought in Glasgow xome pink cherry blossom Japanese type cherry blossom cotto (gils’ dreses; bluse and trousers for me), plus some green gingham to back a quilt in progress for the swing, and a blue linen with seagulls on it.   I quite fancy a dress of it, but my friend Barbara, whose advice I value, thought it might look like a sofa…   You know if you made up the dress you’d see ‘sofa’ whenever you looked in the mirror.  I think she’s right as well.)   We collect our friends Nan and Steve and cross the river (the third bridge has its pillars solid in the water stretching their arms out to meet their neighbour) to an attractive little eatery in North Queensferry which used to be a post office and is now a rather elegant restaurant though not easy to manoeuvre. The food is delicious and we reminisce about our holiday in France last year and plan future outings.

Back in Glasgow, we take the children to Largs for the day to give their parents a day to themselves.

John and I go to Hill House in Helensburgh, a Charles Renee Macintosh house overlooking the Clyde. There is a party of Americans visiting, whose tour seems to rejoice in the appellation ‘Rhodes Scholars.’ Whatever the ‘Rhodes Scholars’ may (or perhaps not) have studied, good manners is clearly not on the list, for I hear several peremptory commands barked out to hapless waitresses, “Tea! I feel like intervening and saying to the ill mannered customer, ‘Your rudeness is not acceptable here. ‘Please’ is mandatory in polite English.’ But needless to say, I pass quietly on to other pleasures. Joanna and I go looking at shops, having coffee etc. I buy a black and white Linea dress in a sale.   We have lunch with Joanna and the girls in the House for an Art Lover.   I buy a handbag ( as I do nearly every time I come here) in the Burrell.

We have lunch with Lawrence’s parents. John and Lawrence and his father play golf. We go to the Transport Museum; and on an outing to Luss, we take a boat out on Loch Lomond.

Then it is time for us to return. Joanna comes driving in tandem with us, and we stop on the M6 tollway motel for the night. You always think as you pull in that it’s too early, you could make it home; but once you stop driving you find you’re really tired, and next morning that it’s a long way still to get home.

When we came down to England first, we used to cheer when we crossd over the Border into Scotland. We still do that, but now we cheer when we come across the Border into England as well. It is, I’m happy to report, still an open border.   Do visit Scotland.   It’s a lovely place and the natives are, for the most part, friendly!

TIME FOR QUESTIONS

TIME FOR QUESTIONS?

I watched a recording of Question Time from Glasgow, which I think was broadcast on 5 March, and am still reeling in astonishment.

I am no longer resident in Scotland (although still Scotland Forever in my heart) and therefore I cannot claim to read the groundswell of current opinion on any issue of the day. I discuss these matters with family and friends of course, but I do not claim to have a typical Scottish reaction any more.

Since the Referendum, the issue has subsided somewhat I thought (and certainly here in the Deep South most people sincerely hope it’s dead in the water) and I wondered if the Scots would lose their stomach for the fight, and just settle for the status quo. Judging by the passionate response of the audience, this does not appear to be the case. (I should state that the city was Glasgow, which voted Yes, but I still believe the views expressed by the audience were representative of Scots views in general.)

Scotland, since the dark days of Margaret Thatcher, has loathed the Tory party with an intensity that I doubt if our fellow nations realise, far less understand. Whereas once the Tories had a strong presence in Scotland, since that unhappy time their support has dwindled to a paltry one or two MPs.

Labour, on the other hand, has always been the natural party for the left-thinking Scotland. I had wondered if after the failure of the Yes vote in the Referendum, Scotland would revert to its ‘normal’ position. I was astounded at the outright hostility the audience repeatedly displayed towards Labour, almost indeed that same intensity of loathing it has for the despised Tories. One characteristic of the Scots – I have it myself and it’s not one of our more charming attributes – is that once our resentment is aroused, (and believing ourselves to have just cause) we can hold to our position in perpetuity and be spectacularly unforgiving. I was quite shaken by the depth of feeling which accompanied the audience’s loss of trust in Labour. I think this resentment will take decades, if not actual generations, to dissipate.

I was also extremely surprised that all the politicians of whatever party admitted that they thought their party would lose to the SNP in Scotland and quite evidently the majority of them felt they were at a high risk of losing their own seat in the first following election that would affect them. Since politicians are generally tiresomely upbeat about their prospects even in the face of the most discouraging of polls, for them to admit these fears in public before the election was unprecedented.

I can think of three possible reasons for this reaction. (All three may apply.)

1 It is possible that the Scots despised the Tories so much that even for Labour to share a platform with them would lead to condemnation by association.

2 Since it appears that Labour’s sole preoccupation in its support for the No vote was to preserve its power base IN WESTMINSTER, it was evident to the Scots that though they had supported Labour for decades, their loyalty was not returned, and that Labour did not give Scotland first priority or have its best interests at heart. I think Scotland felt like a woman who discovers that her fiance has only proposed to her because of her wealth, which he plans to spend on another woman whom he actually loves.

3 It would seem that more people than the 47% who actually voted Yes wanted either independence or (more likely in the case of No voters) devo-max; and were persuaded by Gordon Brown that they could still obtain this if they chose the safer and less disruptive No option. But as soon as the vote was cast and the immediate danger over, Cameron (he is a politician after all, what did they expect) began re-adjusting his position, and Scots whowanted Yes but voted No may have felt duped. They can’t dislike the Tories any more than they already do, but they feel Labour has betrayed them and they intend to lay the full burden of their resentment on Labour.

In a previous blog, (Referendum: Winners and Losers) I listed those persons whose reputations I felt had suffered damage in Scotland because of their actions in regard to the Referendum. I counted the loss of Gordon Brown as a champion of Scotland as our greatest grief, although even his neutral advice would have been acceptable if that was all he felt he could in conscience offer. But behaving as he did, I felt he was the greatest betrayer of our trust and affection since Bonnie Prince Charlie. However, I thought this was just my private opinion, as I had read no public condemnation of him. But I begin to suspect that this judgement is more widely held than I had supposed. Gordon Brown is not standing for his Westminster seat in the May elections. I wish he were. He had a majority of 23,000 and I’d really like to see him lose.

We are not a nice people when we are well and truly offended and once we are in that mindset, empires can fall and kings be overthrown and it all makes no difference to our view. On reflection, I think those politicians have good reason to be pessimistic on their chances of retaining Scottish seats.

Scotland forever!

TRAVELLING HOPEFULLY

I seem to be very weary this week.   Occasionally, I fall into these moods.  It’s not a depression.   It’s more a need for  time to myself, to reflect and recharge one’s batteries.

We set off on our travels North fairly soon.    We’ll be seeing Joanna and her family, visiting friends , going to the Ryder cup, meeting (but not sailing in) the Arran ferry.   We’ll be in Scotland when  they vote for the Referendum, but without a vote.

I am anxious about the vote.   Not about the actual outcome.   If they vote No (every expert opinion declares this will be the outcome) – well, it will be a grave disappointment in some quarters, but we’ve managed well enough for 30o odd years.    We know how to survive in a union.   If they vote Yes, I am confident that we’ll be able to make a go of it.

What I’m anxious about are the feelings of the losers of the vote.   If the Better Together side wins, the movement for Independence will be extremely disappointed to have come so close and to have failed to inspire their fellow countryman to take their courage in their two hands and come.   If the Yes campaign wins,  the No campaigners will be unable to believe that they lost and such sweeping changes will be made from a small majority.   They will also be afraid for the future.

Whatever the outcome, some damage has occurred.    Some of the views of disrespect and dismissal expressed by some English commentators have taken my breath away.   One wonders, if they hold us in such contempt, why they would not welcome the opportunity to  be rid of us.     Also the lack of understanding of many of the English as to the differences between themselves and the other three nations is quite astonishing.     There appear to be two polarities on Scotland.   One view, supposed by its holder to be flattering, is that Scotland is a pretty country, mountains, lochs, Balmoral, heather, whisky, tartan, tossing the caber, the pipes, and it would be a nice place to go on holiday if only the weather were more reliable.     The opposite view is that Scotland is a cold, wet, windy, midgie-infested country, with unfriendly natives you can’t understand, troublesome socialists who demand too much of the national budget and aren’t in the least grateful, silver tongued rabble rousers, and a population that is largely work-shy, fat, violent and drunk.    While some evidence for all of these views can be found in Scotland, that is not what it actually IS.

I could write comments, favourable or unfavourable about the English.   But I don’t think that’s helpful right now.   Suffice it to say that I have lived in the beautiful England for 26 years and have been kindly treated and made welcome wherever I have gone, and have come to love the English like a brother.    One gets irritated by siblings from time to time, but when all is said and done, they’re still nearest and dearest, and you can never be indifferent to them.   You want them to live and prosper.

The Scots are famous for their generosity and big heartedness (the allegation of meanness is a calumny);  the English for their tolerance and sense of fair play.   Whatever the outcome of the vote, we need to express our very finest qualities.   The winning side should not crow over the losers, but express genuine sympathy for their disappointment and see what can be done to ameliorate their losses.   A fair and just settlement should be sought for all the nations.      We share a small island.    We should be kind to one another and remember our joint triumphs, what we’ve achieved together, our kindnesses to one another.       We’ll always be neighbours.   Let’s try to ensure, whatever the outcome, that we’ll always be friends.

I wish we could stop talking and vote now.      I’m going to fall silent for a few weeks and I’ll talk to you in October.

 

 

 

 

The definition of a lady.

I haven’t written anything for about a month, and if you received any odd blogs or ones which you know you saw but then vanished, it’s because Joanna was patiently trying to teach a remarkably inept and slow pupil how to post own photograph in blog.    The photograph at the bottom is all my own work – only problem is I have no idea how I did it!    I’ll try to include one over the next few weeks so I get used to the process.

We’ve been in Scotland, visiting on our tour the place of my mother’s birth where we scattered her ashes.    Although I wrote an account of this event, I think this should remain private to ourselves.

We had no instructions from my mother, but I think she would have approved, as in John Galsworthy’s poem:

Scatter my ashes!

Hereby I make it a trust;

I in no grave be confined,

Mingle my dust with the dust,

Give me in fee to the wind!

Scatter my ashes!

In my remarks, however, about my mother, I said how difficult it was to capture her subtle and elusive qualities, and I fell back, unlikely though it seems on the magnificent reply of the future King Edward VII when someone criticised his wife.   “The Princess of Wales,” he reproved them, “is a lady, and therefore she never does anything mean or small.”

I thought that an excellent description of what it is to be a lady.   It’s nothing to do with etiquette, wealth, rank, social category.   Not every Princess of Wales has been a lady.   When my mother taught me the etiquette of middle class life : how to set a table, for example;   in what precedence guests should be seated round a table;  the traditional way to serve a dish – she generally prefaced her remarks by saying, “All this is of little account, for good manners is just about being kind to other people, but it is useful to know what ought to be done, so that you can choose not to do it.”

I think mothers who are bringing up girls should have the motto painted in their halls.   A lady never does anything mean or small,

It is by no means always easy to achieve either.   This past week my eldest daughter and her children have been with us on holiday and one day we did a tour of the charity shops.   I spotted a grey wool jacket which I rather liked, with a fairly good label, but it was quite a small size, so I suggested my eldest grand-daughter try it on.    It suited her (almost everything does) and I bought it for her.   She was delighted with it.   But when we got home and I tried it on, it also fitted and really suited me.    Whereas on her it looked funky with jeans, on me it looked classic with a black dress.   My granddaughter with great generosity offered to surrender it to me , saying I would have more opportunity to wear it, and for one shameful moment I was tempted.   Then I asked myself, how mean and small are you going to be?   A gift once given cannot be rescinded:  it is freely the property of the recipient.   Also, was I going to play David to her Uriah the Hittite?   How many jackets did I own, in comparison with my grand-daughter?   So I suggested she model it with different selections from her wardrobe, recommended another styling of her hair, and left her securely in possession of her jacket.    It is not easy to live up to Queen Alexandra’s ‘never’ lapsing into anything mean or small.

I was saying that my mother’s counsel always was to be kind;  to be generous;   to give the benefit of the doubt;  to forgive (and I with my vengeful anger and long memory had much need of that counsel).   My father was a clever and unusual man.   He understood the kind of person I was, and he advised me how to hone my skills in order to best defend myself and pursue my own interests;  whereas my mother gave me advice on how not to cause too much damage, both intended and collateral,  to other people.

I am grateful to my parents for their thoughtful and tireless efforts to educate us in the widest sense, and it must have seemed (certainly in my case)  at times a thankless  and forlorn cause.   But they persevered, and here I am today, still trying and not always managing, never to do anything mean or small.

2013-08-11 12.11.55 (1)

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTION

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTION

So, Scotland is to be asked the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”   I find it extremely interesting that the powers that be have chosen to ask the question in this form, and that the existing government, which desires a No vote, has agreed to these words.

I realise of course that I am pedantic about words and may look at the wording of the question in an untypical way, but personally I don’t see how the question could be put in a way more slanted towards the Nationalists.

Should Scotland be an independent country?   Of course it should.   Should England be an independent country?   Yes.   Should Norway be an independent country?  Yes.   Should you, gentle reader, be an independent person?  Of course you should. There is also the brevity of the question.   Six words, and the destiny of a nation – several nations – in it.

Should.   There are implications there of duty and honour and obligation.    Something to which it  might be proper to aspire.    One should do one’s duty;  stand up for right;  pay one’s debts;  act with integrity.

Scotland.   Well, thank God that’s a clearly defined entity.   Everyone knows what and where that is.   When you say, anywhere in the world, Scotland, you don’t draw a blank response of ignorance.   People smile.    The picture that they form – heather clad mountains, shining rivers, handsome men in kilts, pipe bands, tossing the caber, Robert Burns and the haggis, whisky, the thistle, Gin ye dor (translation: come on if you’re hard enough)  may not be entirely accurate – it is not wrong, Scotland is all that, but it is alot more besides – but to put it in marketing parlance, as a brand, we’ve got recognition.   We’re not the kind of country where you might be forgiven for thinking, ‘Mali?’

Be.   We can certainly BE, and perhaps it is a weakness in the question, for we undoubtedly ARE.

Independent.   Stand on your own.    Think for yourself.   Understand your separate aloneness.   Make your own mind up.    Be self reliant.   These are all characteristics of the majority of  Scots.

We all absolutely understand, more so perhaps than we do with Wales – and no disrespect to the sons of the dragon – that Scotland IS a country.   When I say to my friends, why are places referred to as ‘the North’ when they’re south of Scotland, they answer, ‘But that’s another country.’   Or in talking of the UK’s legal or educational system, people will pause in their analysis and shrug  their shoulders and say, ‘Oh as for Scotland – it’s another country!’

It’s interesting that the word ‘country’ was used and not ‘nation’.   In ‘Flower of Scotland’, the Scots democratically selected national anthem, chosen by the simple expedient of it being sung forcefully whenever any other anthem was played, there is a verse which says (referring to the time when Scotland saw off the marauding English king ):

Those days  are gone now

And in the past they must  remain.

But we can still rise now

And be The Nation again…

I find this rising to be The Nation the most moving line in the whole song.   I love the use of the  word word ‘rise’.   We don’t have to fight.    We just have to rise up and BE the nation, like we rose up and sang the song.

As I have repeatedly said, I have no idea how the vote will turn out.   I won’t have a vote, and as I no longer live there, I am content with this situation.   But I’m by no means certain that this is the question Cameron should have asked.   I thought the Tories, and especially Osborne the Sneerer were supposed to be ace at strategy?    Am I missing the subtlety of some especial cleverness here?     We could have asked Should Scotland leave the UK?    Should Scotland separate from England?   Should the union be broken up?   Should we increase the powers of devolution within the union?    Any number of questions could have been asked.   And then again, it’s surprisingly vague.   Should Scotland be an independent country?  When?  How?  On what basis?   Does the government in the south think that this opacity is a defence for its position?   Do the Nationalists believe that the theoretical nature of the question mean voters will decide without considering the consequences?

I’ve made my position clear already.   I think we should attempt to save the union, but it would have to operate on a different basis.

But of one thing I’m absolutely certain.   Were I a Scottish voter, and  the question were put to me in the form proposed, Should Scotland be an independent nation?   I’d have absolutely no option but to answer, Yes.   To answer No would be to deny our whole birthright.

CROW

CROW

Our book group recently read the wonderful Crow Country by Mark Cocker.    I really enjoyed it.   The whole book is a prose poem in praise of the crow, all the better because this bird tends to be a demonised and despised object.

From our childhood in Central Scotland,  I remember a  boy who lived near us, who used to go searching for crows’ nests (involving considerable risk to him as of course he had to climb high into the trees, no doubt harrassed by crows, to get at them).     He would boast of killing all the baby birds.   He invited me to accompany him on one of these delightful expeditions but I declined, and he seemed very disappointed, as though a girl could have no more inviting a prospect for killing a few hours (and birds.)   I have since occasionally wondered whether he graduated onto murdering anything else.   But actually I would guess not for he was not a wholly unkind fellow.   Aged about 9 himself, he appeared to have almost sole charge of a little brother aged about 3, whom he perpetually carried in his arms.   When the brother would cry and therefore was liable to get his guardian into trouble, the crow killer would cry anxiously, jiggling the child up and down, Laugh, Willie!    This expression has passed into family usage and is used to indicate an occasion when you’re invited to laugh though it’s not at all funny.   I hold the murder of the baby crows against him, but I acknowledge that he exhibited some grace and kindness in what was a difficult childhood.

If you actually look dispassionately at the crow, it is a handsome bird in its glowing black plumage with the jewel-like green sheen.   It has a strutting walk, and a bright and intelligent eye.   In their rookeries, some of which have stood in the same places for a thousand years, their raucous cawing as they build their nests is one of the first harbingers of spring.

I had noticed, when occasionally we stay at the Westmorland Hotel, a delightful find at Tebay Services, en route to Scotland, that crows roost near your window overnight in large convocations, leaving in a noisy departure en masse at dawn.   The author explored and researched some of these sites, finding references to crows being in that same place hundreds of years before now.

When we were on Orkney last Autumn, we had a lovely apartment at Finstown.  We used to get up quite early and sit in our comfortable armchairs before the large picture window, having a  leisurely breakfast and watching the wildlife – mainly seabirds, seals and leaping large fish.    Imagine our delight when suddenly our silent view of the sea was filled with crows just leaving their rookery which was behind our house.   The  empty sky would be full of them, noisy and active.   Some of them exhibited that curious ‘falling out of the sky’ dance that they do when they freefall and tumble from a great height, and then seize control of the flight again just before they hit the ground.    John likes crows and so do I.  Realising this happened every morning, he was ready with his camera, and took the lovely photograph below.

When John and I were at the Grand Canyon in the USA, the scale of the canyon filled me with horror and a kind of mental vertigo and I mostly clung to walls and longed for flat places, so I spent some time sitting waiting while John explored places with more enthusiasm than I could muster.     There I watched with delight – wonderful things can present themselves to you if you sit still and silent –  – crows doing what I took to be a mating or pair bonding dance, where two birds would come together and at first rotating slowly around one another, they would tumble and fall and glide on the thermals, while far below them the terrible abyss yawned.

Crows leaving the rookery. Finstown, Orkney.   September 2011.

I hope you share my delight.