To be or…. ?

I was listening to the car radio on Friday at a changeover of DJ. Said DJ found his controls weren’t working properly, none of his opening jingles fired and then they all went off at once. After the first song he then complained about when buttons start “to not work”.

Why did he not say “start not to work”? This construction is (or was,) after all, the standard way in English to negate an infinitive.

I have however noticed over the past few years the usage of “to not” creeping into public discourse from news reporters and the like. I’ve even seen it in newspaper articles. I can’t say I’ve heard it in everyday speech though.

I realise in some situations there may be a case for saying “to not” do something or other, when it is the not doing that is the point of the sentence. Otherwise not to do something remains perfectly adequate.

I suppose this solecism is really a special case of the split infinitive (as in “to boldly go”) but for all my life up till a couple of years ago the standard way “to not do” something was always “not to do” it.

I might wonder what Shakespeare would have said. Except I know.

So. To be or to not be?

That is not the question.

Scotia Nova: Edited by Alistair Findlay and Tessa Ransford

Poems for the early days of a better nation.

 Scotia Nova cover

I was searching the poetry shelves of one of the threatened libraries when this collection’s title intrigued me – mainly due to its inversion of Nova Scotia the anthology to which I contributed my story Dusk. I used to read poetry back when I was a lad, but it’s not my usual habitat. Nevertheless I borrowed it.

The book contains poems solicited from January-March 2014 regarding the possibility of a better Scotland, across every aspect of life. Timed, as this call was, for before the Independence Referendum, many of the poems reflect the choice Scotland faced. Others do not. Here are poems in English, Scots, Gaelic – even in Arabic. (For the Gaelic and Arabic ones an English version is also provided.) Aonghas MacNeacail’s Saorsa/Freedom/Freedome appears in Gaelic, English and Scots.

The ordering of the poems is strange, being mostly alphabetically according to the poet’s surname. The exceptions are few, even for those with two poems in the collection their second ones follow a similar order to their first. It is remarkable how many of the poets have had books published by Luath (but it was to these that invitations to contribute went in the first instance). On that evidence Scottish poetry seems to be in rude health.

Donald Adamson’s In Thir Haunds was notable for a similarity to Is there for Honest Poverty? (aka A Man’s a Man for a’ That) – but others also alluded to Burns’s works – and I appreciated the classical sonnet form of William Hershaw’s Aye but especially its denunciation of Calvinism.
The poems in Scots beg to be spoken aloud. The sound of the leid (language) is just so earthy and vigorous.

Raith Rovers 1-0 Dumbarton

SPFL Tier 2, Stark’s Park, 26/9/15.

This is getting to be like a stuck record. (Oh dear; time expired simile outbreak.)

We didn’t look bad, very tidy on the ball in fact, sound enough defensively. And we even created some chances (well, half-chances.) But we never really looked like scoring.

Then again nor did Raith – till they did when we weren’t organised enough at a set piece.

And our set pieces weren’t anything to write home about. At least two were wasted with short balls and came to nothing. Willie Gibson (I see the club website has him as Wullie Gibson) had a particularly poor game; both those set pieces, many misplaced passes and the ball continually getting stuck under his feet. I’d have hooked him long before Stevie Aitken actually did.

We also lack height up front and we’re back to situation normal (for most of my many years following the Sons) with throw-ins. Very little movement.

It was my first look at loanee Eamonn Brophy. He looked lively enough, capable of scoring if he gets chances, making one for himself in the first half but he dragged it just wide. But this team doesn’t create chances. And we’re shot shy. Kevin Cawley had a header just over in the second half and Eamonn Brophy a shot blocked – but that was it.

I must say Donald McCallum looked sharp when he came on for Brophy. He could be very useful as an impact sub.

But this was a tight game, with the teams mostly cancelling each other out.

It looks like we won’t lose many goals. But if we can’t score we won’t achieve anything.

I’d been toying with the idea of travelling to the Rock for next week’s game. Maybe not now.

Open the Door by Catherine Carswell

Canongate, 1996, 431 p + xii p introduction by John Carswell. Borrowed from a threatened library.

On the spine plus the front and back covers the title is written as above but the title page and other mentions have it as Open the Door! (as did a Virago reprint I saw yesterday in a charity shop.) One of the 100 best Scottish Books.

 Open the Door! cover

Joanna Bannerman has had a strict religious upbringing in Glasgow. Her father dies on an evangelising trip to the US, but didn’t really love anyone. “Better than his curbed enjoyment of his wife’s virginal freshness” was his love of public speaking: hence his ministry. Joanna’s mother, Juley, might have had a religious vocation – so much so that had she been a Roman Catholic she would have entered an order; “But to her the Church of Rome was the Scarlet Woman.” And there it is again; that stab of religious intolerance that blighted Scotland for so long and, partly, still does. However, Joanna’s life is a long attempt to throw off this background. Not that the novel focuses too much on religion, it’s more concerned about her wish to shake off restrictions (to open the door to living) and her relationships with the men in her life, Ben Ranken, Mario Rasponi, Lawrence Urquhart, Louis Pepper, whom she strings along, or is strung by, in one manner or another. The first she enters into an engagement with then breaks it off, the second she marries but he dies not long after they move (in his case, back) to Italy, the third is an intermittent presence, the fourth is a much older married man with whom she has a years long affair.

In Italy Mario also restricts her, not wishing her to appear in public where “she carried on her the lovely bloom which comes to some women when they are first possessed.” But she does notice a sunken door in a wall which she is told admitted a lover to the house of the Renaissance courtesan “La Porziuncula”. Mario’s death in a crash on a motorcycle of his own construction is something of a release. Her return to Glasgow to live with her mother is only relieved by her meeting with Pepper. Her mother’s friend Eve Gedge is described thus, “Barren of life herself, her deepest passion was to balk and defeat the entering of others into life.” I’m sure we’ve all met one of them.

On seeing her sister Georgie with her son Joanna thinks, “Their mother had done this for them, and her mother for her, and all with the same eager and touching confidence in the next generation. And what was to come of it? Nothing! Nothing because it was based on a lie..…… No! If the children, born and unborn were to be served fairly, one must utter clearly and fearlessly one’s own word of truth in one’s own lifetime.” She feels that, “‘evil’ (in the Christian sense of the word) quite as much as ‘good’ had made her alive ….. had made her an individual,” and her thought, “She remembered the words – ‘In sin did my mother conceive me,’ Why not – “In sin did my father beget me’?” shows that feminism is by no means a recent conception.

Mainly due to her affair with Pepper Joanna seems to drift through life. This gives the novel for most of its length the trajectory of a tragedy but Carswell seems to resile from this for the dénouement. Perhaps this was because, as her son John’s introduction reveals, a large part of the book is autobiographical in origin. Already less than overwhelmed by the novel – among other things it is overlong and too full of introspections – I must confess I was all the more disappointed by this (as usual I left the introduction till after I had read the book) as, while of course an author’s life experiences will feed into the work produced, it is better to rely on imagination to create something completely fictional in order to address deep truth. Towards the end there is a strange passage about the attractions of Fife towns. “Cupar, Falkland, Auchtermuchty, Strathmiglo! Such promising names as they had!”

I’m glad I read this and I suspect it was more of a ground-breaker when it was first published in 1920 but for me there were too many longueurs.

Pedant’s corner:- in the blurb page; annulment (annulment,) Observerand (space is missing,) Boccocio (Boccaccio,) Hugh Macdiarmid (Hugh MacDiarmid.)
In the main text:- first pain them was past (has a four character gap between pain and them,) Asias’s Millions (Asia’s Millions,) an end quote mark where none had been opened, sewed up (sewn up,) or his Easter Holiday (for,) thig (thigh,) students were too shy speak (the s and t of students are underprinted with t and o respectively and the word “to” is missing,) an opened pair of quote marks where no speech followed, pigmy (pygmy,) showed (shown, x 2,) “o return home” (to return home,) ay one (anyone,) beams o the guttering candle (the space between “o” and “the” suggests “of” was meant,) forment (foment,) missing quote marks at the beginning of a piece of dialogue at a chapter’s start, a missing full stop, to day (today,) eveybody’s (everybody’s.)

Reelin’ In the Years 111: The Combine Harvester

From the sublime (Al Stewart, last two weeks) to the gorblimey.

I’d almost forgotten about this till the good lady said she’d heard it on the radio this week

The Wurzels were a band from Somerset – a traditional rural farming county – who dubbed their style Scrumpy and Western after the name for a type of cider and a USian music genre.

A parody of Melanie (Safka)’s Brand New Key from 1971 with lyrics more appropriate to agriculture this, believe it or not, was actually a number one hit in the UK in 1976. For three weeks!

Bits of it are still funny, though. I especially like the spoken, “Just you wait till I get me ‘ands on your laaaaand,” towards the end.

The Wurzels: The Combine Harvester:

Another Wurzels parody, this time of Una Paloma Blanca, got to number three in 1976.

The Wurzels: I am a Cider Drinker

There are clips on You Tube of the Wurzels performing this on TV but on one of them they are introduced by a paedophile and the other is incomplete.

The Falls at Invermoriston

Telford’s Bridge (see previous post) spans the falls of the River Moriston at Invermoriston village.

The falls from the side of Thomas Telford’s Bridge:-

Falls at Invermoriston

From the bridge itself:-

Falls at Invermoriston

Upper falls of River Moriston from Thomas Telford’s bridge:-

Invermoriston Upper Falls

Looking to the “new” bridge, which was built in the 1930s:-

Invermoriston, Falls and New Bridge

Arch of “new” bridge at Invermoriston. I don’t know what the structure that can be seen through the arch and is perched above the river is:-

Invermoriston, New Bridge +

Thomas Telford’s Bridge at Invermoriston

Invermoriston lies near Loch Ness, in the Highlands, 7 miles from the loch’s foot at Fort Augustus.

Apart from some Highland cows in a field by the car park and its War Memorial (which I featured here) its most interesting feature is the bridge built by engineer Thomas Telford in 1813.

The bridge was superseded by a new one in the 1930s and its approaches are now in considerable disrepair:-

Thomas Telford's Bridge at Invermoriston

This is taken from off to the right of the one above:-

Arch of Thomas Telford's Bridge, Invermoriston

Viewing it from down on the river from the other side of the bridge reveals its two arches:-

Thomas Telford's Bridge, Invermoriston

Punctuation Marks

I’m obviously not the only one who gets nerdy about this sort of thing.

There was a review by Sam Leitch in Saturday’s Guardian of the book Making a Point: The Pernickety Story of English Punctuation by David Crystal. A review which I enjoyed immensely.

I particularly liked the two sentences, “The big four – comma, semicolon, colon and full stop – were for a long time, and insanely, regarded as precise measurements of a pause: a full stop was worth four commas. The book’s full of this sort of curio: interesting on first encounter; illuminating on investigation,” in which Leitch has deployed those marks with great care. The paragraph on Wordsworth and Humphry Davy and the possible punctuation of the parenthesis it coontained was also a delight.

And then there was the bit on defunct and obscure marks:- the asterism, (⁂); the dinkus (***) and the fleuron (stylised forms of flowers or leaves); the austere pilcrow (¶) and the honourable diple (>); the breve (or háček, in which it pleasingly appears) (˘) and the manicule (a pointing hand); or the caret (^).

I’ll not go so far as to read the book itself though. I’ve too much else on.

Stepping Out by Cynthia Rogerson

Salt, 2012, 256 p. Borrowed from a threatened library.

 Stepping Out cover

Rogerson is a North American who has been settled in Scotland for decades. The book, a collection of her short stories, is structured in seven sections (each with a theme whose title is given in capitals.)
ACCIDENT’s theme is obvious. A Dangerous Place examines the reactions and emotions of two recent immigrants to California as their youngest son undergoes surgery after a car accident. The Etiquette of Accidents inhabits the thoughts of three women friends and a male biker who have decided to go up Ben Bhraggie. The women are on the cycle path when the biker hits one of them on his way down and is thrown off. In Homesick fourteen year-old Izzy hates her mother – especially when she gets killed at milk crate corner. On the day of the funeral Izzy feels free, but homesick. Rubbish Day has a forty-five year-old unemployed man whose wife hates sex, whose son disrespects him and whose only function is putting out the rubbish reflect on his life when the son goes missing.
ELISABETH relates six incidents from the subject’s young life. In The Bear, on holiday in a log-cabin settlement, six year-old Elisabeth is allowed to sleep over with her new friend. She misses her family. By the next story, Room, the family has moved house (not for the first time) but this time Elisabeth has a room of her own. It takes her a while to get used to it. In Enough Room Elisabeth reacts to the death of the father of her friend next door, Robbie, just before Christmas. Home on the Road sees Elisabeth’s family, minus Sam, on a trip to see her grandparents. All the familiar things happen, but towards the end of the journey Elisabeth has an epiphany. Eleven now, Elisabeth watches as her brother, Sam the Man, suddenly grows up – and away – on his wedding day. Summer sees Elisabeth and her friend Debs, in their fourteenth summer, hang out, tease each other and anticipate adulthood.
JACK AND MILDRED* chronicles a marriage. Wait for Me, Jack introduces us to cocky, too charming Jack and to Mildred who decides she is ready to settle down. Stepping Out is the story of Jack’s (first?) extra-marital affair after twenty years of marriage. When sixty, Jack goes Wine Tasting while Milly is beginning to forget things. First sees the couple in old age. Mildred becomes complaining while both she and Jack wait to see which of them will go first.
FRANK AND MARTHA deals mostly with Frank. When The World and Things in it starts, Martha has just discovered a lump in her breast. Meanwhile her white hen broods on his eggs after their red cockerel has been killed. In To Dance, eight years later, Martha’s lump long since removed, her annual scan is followed by a recall. Narrator Frank reflects on what he doesn’t know. By The Truth About Roller Coasters, Martha is dead, the kids still at home much more helpful than before; not-roller-coaster person Frank takes his more-or-less grown up family to Alton Towers. After a ride he realises that, “Dying is not fun. Almost dying is.” The Purpose of Photographs has Frank, now seventy-nine, losing his eyesight. He goes through the family albums and picks out five photographs.
TRUE STORIES may or may not be. Like Singing has Flora seeing things. Her brother, the preacher of a charismatic religious group, appears as an alsatian. He tries to get her to join his sect. Belated Love Letter From a Famous Writer is a story about the ways in which writers perceive and misperceive. Sonoma Finch lies waiting, hoping to know what her last experience on Earth will be but receives a letter from Ernest Hemingway (even though he’s dead) suggesting she was his muse. In Persephone’s Passion Persephone thinks her latest squeeze, Arthur, is dead. He’s actually the devil (or at least lives in Hell.) Herman’s Night Out features a woman who has wet dreams about her friend’s husband, but later finds some of the things her dream lover says are true. Christopher’s Room appears in Sarah’s flat; as does Christopher. He thinks she has appeared in his. A ghost story.
ALONE’s link is also obvious. My Favourite Things presents the thoughts of an art gallery attendant as he or she sits on a chair and observes the visitors. A woman comes across a house which lies In Abeyance. Her experience is interspersed with that of the Pole who came to Buchan in 1940, worked the land and was asked to stay. A lass, just finished her Highers, lies in The Top Field. It’s so warm she takes her shirt and bra off and imagines her true love chancing upon her. Instead, it’s Fergus. The Long Missing of a woman’s dead husband of fifteen years only begins after she takes up with someone new.
LOVE’s stories are mostly about its absence. In Begin Sheena finds she is pregnant. The father is Daniel whom she has not known long enough; but it’s a beginning. Ten O’Clock Trim relates a – somewhat charged – conversation between a woman and her hairdresser. Bus Stop is a fairy tale about Angus and Zoe. It even begins Once upon a time and also contains the phrase And they live happily ever after. But endings are never really the end. “Everyone has just remembered they are Scottish and that Scotland is a lot of sad things these days, and actually a thousand years of sad things, but it is also their beautiful place.” “On Saturday nights in Inverness pubs, it is impossible to be too sentimental.” A Good Wife seems to be one who confides in photographs of her dead relatives, and kisses the best lover she never had. In Instead of Beauty Addie decides after giving up on love she will settle for non-prepossessing Joe, who smells of fish, to father the child she wants. “Single men in Lochinellie gravitate to the bar at dusk, like single men everywhere in the Highlands.” Joe is nevertheless reluctant. In Fly A woman, her man and her thirteen-year old son go fishing. She strolls off, panics, and returns. The boy is oblivious.

*To British eyes of a certain age that just looks wrong. It should be George and Mildred – except Mildred in this case isn’t as domineering. (In this section’s second part either we are seeing a different Jack and Mildred from in the first or else Jack has forgotten his pre-marital affairs.)

Pedant’s corner:-
There are eight new paragraphs not indented and one superfluous line break at the bottom of a page, focussed (focused,) lay (lie, x 7,) Dunrobbin Castle (Dunrobin,) less (fewer, x 2,) “Elisabeth imagines the chipmunks and red squirrels she feeds by day” (Okay, she’s imagining them, but red squirrels? In the Sierras?) outside of (outside,) de ja vu feelings (déjà vu,) Debs’ (Debs’s,) a middle-aged women (woman,) tisks (the alphabetic representation of the sound of a “tut” is usually spelled tsk, x 2,) the climatic night (climactic,) Glen Miller (Glenn Miller,) pine martins (pine martens,) closet (cupboard,) knit (knitted,) Damascus’ (Damascus’s,) “I’ve never see you drink anything either (I never see or I’ve never seen,) sandwiches crumbs (sandwich crumbs,) “a pain the arse,” (pain in the arse – this is British usage but we had “rowboat” in the same story; in British English it’s called a rowing boat,) spasm-ed in the middle of a line, he unpeeled it off (he unpeeled it, or he peeled it off,) an new type (a new type,) “everyone begins to breathe again and move away” (moves,) lifesomething else (like something else?) cloths (clothes,) cafetierre, (cafetiere,) chilli (chili) and in the credits, oka (aka?)
Given this list I found the thanks in the acknowledgements to Peter, for patiently proofreading every version of every story, a bit ironic. (I’m tempted to suggest, next time try harder. Or try me. I wouldn’t charge much.)

The Holocaust and the State

There was an interesting article in the Guardian of 16/9/15 where Timothy Snyder argued that the conditions necessary for the Holocaust of Jews (and others, but mainly Jews) by the Nazis to take place have largely been misunderstood.

Snyder sees it as crucial that in the areas where most killings occurred, principally in the lands of pre-war Poland, the Baltic States and what had been Soviet Belarus and Ukraine, the apparatus of the state was no longer functioning – had indeed been deliberately destroyed. This was the necessary precondition for the activities of the Einsatzgruppen and the SS to be so unconstrained.

Though Snyder’s focus is on Eastern Europe I found myself thinking that in Western Europe too the absence of state institutions was a factor contributing to whether or not transportations to the killing zones of those whom the Nazis saw as undesirables came about. In Denmark, where the king remained and most institutions stayed intact (at least until 1943,) most of the Jews escaped or survived. By contrast in the Netherlands, whose monarch went into exile in Britain, and in France, where the Third Republic collapsed and Vichy was a puppet, deportations were much easier and in some cases even facilitated.

We have seen the consequences of the absence of the state relatively recently in Afghanistan – the Taliban would not have come to power there if not for the chaos engendered by, first, the Soviet presence and then its retreat (effectively driven out by a mujahideen aided and abetted via US and Western support) – in the disarray of Libya and now in Iraq and Syria where ISIS/ISIL/Daesh would not have had the opportunity to grow as quickly or at all if there had not been the vacuum created by the destruction of the Iraqi state and the failure to replace it.

Contrary to what some libertarians appear to think it seems the state really is a force for good.

Postscript:- While looking over the above it also occurred to me that the killing fields in Cambodia, while a consequence of Pol Pot’s take-over, were also due to state collapse, in this case that of the pre-revolutionary government. I suppose too that La Terreur in revolutionary France and the turmoil in the former Russian Empire after the Bolshevik coup are examples of what happens when state organisation suffers disruption. To avoid chaos a polity requires not people with guns but checks and balances; plus a functional judicial system capable of holding those in power to account.

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