Battlefield of Prestonpans

Recently I have been travelling quite frequently up and down the A1 from Edinburgh to Dunbar, mainly to visit Eric Brown.

I had always wondered what the prominent hill with the flag on it just off the road a few miles east of Edinburgh was. A few weeks ago detouring into Prestonpans on the return I found out. Coincidentally I was reading Violet Jacobs’s Flemington at the time.

On the B 1361 into Prestonpans there was a sign pointing to the Battlefield of Prestonpans, 1745, the first battle of the Jacobite Rebellion of that year. I had previously thought the battlefield would lie somewhat closer to the Firth.

The prominent hill is the battlefield viewpoint, a converted coal bing, seen here from its foot.

The flag flying at the summit is Bonnie Prince Charlie’s battle standard.

There is a cairn at the side of the B 1361 erected in memory of the dead of the battle:-

According to the information boards on the Battlefield Viewpoint this is the site of the 1745 battle:-

This is the approximate Jacobite position at the battle’s start. It has a golf range on it now.

The battle itself was over in about fifteen minutes. Most of the relatively inexperienced Hanoverian force fled at the first charge of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Highlanders. This left the more hardened government troops sandwiched between the rebel wings. After suffering heavy casualties they gave way. Their commander Sir John Cope led some stragglers down a lane which to this day is named Johnnie Cope’s Road, but couldn’t get them to fight and left the field.

The song Hey Johnnie Cope Are Ye Wakin’ Yet? was written – by Adam Skirving, a namesake of the good lady – to commemorate the Jacobite victory.

This version, by the Corries, is preceded by an account of the first singing of the fourth verse of the UK National Anthem – the one which is no longer officially recognised.

Starhaven by Robert Silverberg

In The Chalice of Death, Planet Stories, 2012, 90 p. First published as Starhaven, 1958, as by Ivar Jorgensen.

Starhaven cover

Another of Silverberg’s early potboilers. Here Johnny Mantell, former researcher at Klingsan Defence Systems but for seven years a beachcomber on the planet Mulciber, has to flee justice when a tourist picks a fight with him and dies. He steals a spaceship and heads for Starhaven, “a sanctuary for people like us, who couldn’t make the grade or fit in with organised society. Drifters and crooks and has-beens can go to Starhaven.” This criminal’s planet was built and is ruled with an iron hand by Ben Thurdan. The premise is that all the criminal tendencies cancel each other out and so a sort of law prevails. Starhaven’s constitution is simple, “Expect the same treatment that you hand out to others,” and “ You’ll do whatever Ben Thurdan tells you to do without, argument, question, or hesitation.”

On arrival Mantell is subjected to a psychprobe, which reveals him to have an unusual level of will but also to be guilty of the murder of which he remembers himself innocent. Soon after, Mantell begins to be struck by episodes in which he is not quite himself. Thurdan employs him to build a personal defence screen to prevent assassination. Meanwhile Mantell is much taken by Thurdan’s assistant Myra and also gradually finds himself drawn into a plot to remove Thurdan from power.

Of its time and far from Silverberg’s 60s heights. I only read it for completist reasons.

Pedant’s corner:- one count of Thurban for Thurdan, several of quotation marks missing, “Only there was a pink blur waiting for him in this one.” ???? “He ducked, swept it under his mighty fumbling paws,” – I have no idea what the antecedent of that “it” might have been. I note here that Silverberg, too, could employ “time interval” later.

Friday on my Mind 118: Try a Little Tenderness

After Percy Sledge last week, some more soul.

This was the first track by Otis Redding that I remember hearing. If I can believe Wikipedia the backing was provided by Booker T and the MGs and Isaac Hayes worked on the arrangement.

Otis Redding: Try a Little Tenderness

Tales from Angus by Violet Jacob

In Flemington and Tales from Angus, Canongate 2013, 269 p; including 9 p Introduction, 1 p Acknowledgements, 9 p Notes and 6 p Glossary.

 Flemington and Tales from Angus cover

Jacob was born into the Kennedy-Erskine family of the House of Dun near Montrose (and published the family history The Lairds of Dun in 1931. In the memorable stories of Tales From Angus her sympathy with, and compassion for, those born with fewer advantages, her intimacy with and love for the landscape of Angus, shine through. The summaries below do not capture her facility nor her powers of description. Again, the book’s introduction mentions some of the salient points in the stories. Read that afterwards.

Thievie. An old skinflint would do anything rather than hand over his life savings – even to his daughter.
The Disgracefulness of Auntie Thomson. On the arrival in town of a well-dressed stranger the daughter of an upright but proud couple (to flaunt their wealth they take a carriage to a further away Kirk rather than attend the one backing onto their land) turns down her suitor on the grounds his guardian, his Auntie Thomson – is too coarse. The twist here is obvious long before the end but enjoyable just the same.
The Debatable Land. An orphaned young woman taken in as a servant by a woman the attentions of whose son she finds abhorrent finds refuge with a traveller.
The Fiddler. A beautifully constructed tale of a woman haunted by her aid to one of the rebels hunted after Culloden and the fiddler who is the only other person in the know.
A Middle-Aged Drama. A widower takes on a housekeeper and gradually comes to appreciate her. But she has a secret.
Annie Cargill. A man visits his godfather’s house and is spooked by a grave in the adjacent cemetery. A fairly straightforward, but admirably written, ghost story.
The Watch-Tower. A shepherd shelters for the night in a watchtower and finds there an old acquaintance whom he perceives to be the notorious sheep-stealer recently escaped from a nearby jail. Others are on the hunt.
The Figurehead. The mate of the brig “William and Joann” is struck by the resemblance of a girl he sees on a stairhead in Montrose to his ship’s figurehead and starts to court her.
Euphemia. A young lass organises women to bring in a harvest on a Sunday when the men refuse supposedly for Sabbatarian reasons but really for the money.
The Overthrow of Adam Pitcaithley. The son of a farmer strikes up a friendship with a travelling lad but ignores him when in his Sunday finery. Not a wise move.
The Lum Hat. The manuscript of this story – of which a few pages were missing – was found in Jacob’s papers and first published in 1982, many years after her death. The missing pages do not affect the story’s thrust. Christina Mill has led a sheltered life in the house of her father (whose favourite ‘chimney pot’ hat provides the story’s title.) Her disastrous marriage to Baird, a sea captain, and thankfully swift widowhood when his ship founders, leads her to cling to the familiar.
The Fifty-Eight Wild Swans. A man all but bed-ridden with arthritis is struck by a desire to view the many swans newly arrived on a loch just out of sight from his house.
The Yellow Dog. A tale mostly at second hand as the story of the yellow dog, which may or may not be a ghost, is related by one of three men in a smiddy.
Anderson. The boy of the title rescues a kitten from the gaggle of boys about to take great pleasure in drowning it.

Among Jacob’s bons mots are, “No woman, no matter of what age, can be quite cold to the charm of a new garment.” “Hard-working men do not analyse one another much; they either do or do not accept one another, and that is all.” “He was one of the many old men in Scotland who always allude to death as a joke.” She also writes, “Scottish people are addicted, perhaps more than any other, to nicknames,” and repeats the same sentiment elsewhere. Is that a particularly Scottish trait? Her acute observation is particularly evident in The Lum Hat. “In a small town a stranger in church is a godsend.” The cook objects to Christina’s help because of “her passionate belief that the gentry should keep the pose thrust on them by God.” “The stars in their courses fought for Baird, as they do for most thrusters.” “…men married their wives for convenience mainly, and were lucky if they got any attraction thrown in.”

I note that throughout Jacob employs the word “wean” for a child. Hitherto I had thought this a predominantly West Coast usage. On the East coast “bairn” had seemed to me to be exclusive. (It certainly is in Fife – and in The Sunday Post.) Perhaps its use stops just north of Dundee.

Pedant’s corner:- chrysophrase (chrysoprase,) standing in the white patch that then moon had laid, tried is used in the text where treid (the Scots for tread) appears in the glossary.

Famadihana on Fomalhaut IV by Eric Brown

The Telemass Quartet 1, P S Publishing, 2014, 88 p

 Famadihana on Fomalhaut-IV cover

This is the first of four novellas presumably centred round the beam-me-across-space technology Brown has dubbed Telemass and which, as I recall, made its first appearance in the author’s Meridian Days many moons ago.

Here, Matt Hendrick, a detective from Amsterdam, arrives by Telemass on the planet Avoel (Fomalhaut-IV) to seek his wife and the daughter she took with her when she left him. Once there he becomes embroiled with Tiana Tiandra, a woman whose girlfriend Lalla has also disappeared into the interior. The events of the novella are related to the goings-on of a strange cult inspired by the indigenous Avoeli who have a ritual similar to the famadihana of Madagascar from where most of the humans on Avoel originally derived. This involves the apparently dead being brought back to life. The story is mostly told in third person but small fragments from Tiana’s viewpoint are rendered in italics.

Brown does this sort of thing so well. His readers will be familiar with a protagonist not in a relationship at the story’s start or else getting over a failed one, a religion with a degree of bizzarrerie, a lost spouse or family member, strange aliens and may even expect a love interest to be encountered along the way. The entertainment comes with the twists he applies to these building blocks. In this novella the Avoel are perhaps a little too undeveloped, Hendrick’s relationship with Tiana is a bit precipitate and the resolution also feels a trifle rushed. Yet the whole thing is engaging, if perhaps lacking some of the warmth of Brown’s previous quartet for PS, Starship Seasons. But we’re only one story in. Time enough.

Pedant’s corner:- is a valued members of my congregation (member,) attempting to keep the irritation from her voice” (his voice makes more sense,) peered around it mass (its mass,) bears a passing a passing resemblance, not to hate met (me,) “He heard her breathing at her side (his.) And a fair sprinkling of instances of “time interval” later.

The Wall Around Eden by Joan Slonczewski

Women’s Press, 1991, 288 p

The Wall Around Eden cover

It’s the little things that niggle. One of the families in this book is Quaker, of the strict variety. And they address others as “thee” (except in the possessive when they use “thy”.) This is fine, but…. Bar once, they never use the form “thou” – and in the nominative case they ought to. I found this omission intensely irritating (though I’ll admit that “thou” would require, for example, the verb form “seest” as in “thou seest” rather than the author’s “thee sees.”) Do strict Quakers in the US actually use “thee” in this way? In any case Slonczewski and her characters are clearly aware that the “thou” form exists as in that one instance Daniel Scattergood uses it in the punning phrase “an I for a thou” when he and Isabel Garcia-Chase are exchanging images with an alien artefact. It also occurs in, “She had watched it for too long not to think of it as thou” when Isabel has an apparently wounded keeper at her mercy. Very annoying.

Then too, Slonczewski has her characters reference various works of Science Fiction which, although it provides a means of explaining the topographical relationship of the alien Pylons which link various human settlements together with a central core, comes over more as her demonstrating an awareness of the genre rather than something organic to her creations.

But to the tale. It’s set in the aftermath of an atomic war in which aliens called Keepers may or may not have had some part but where most of humanity and other life failed to survive the ensuing nuclear winter. Those who did now live in domed cities created by the aliens. These have an impenetrable barrier (the wall around Eden of the title) to the outside and also a walled off Pylon at their centre, plus flying aliens (or alien artifacts) called angelbees – who see infra-red – roaming the air inside the domes. There are very few of these environments – none in Europe – the main one is in Sydney, Australia, but ours is in Gwynwood, USA. Courtesy of the aliens the domed cities are kept in touch with each other by a teleportation technology.

Sunlight can penetrate the wall around Gwynwood but snow cannot; nor can animals – the outside is littered with the bones of the dying, humans among them, attracted there by its warmth and light in the days of nuclear winter – but there is weather inside (not to mention bluejays, mice and squirrels.) Despite references to the growing of crops and fruit – and their contamination with radiation via the groundwater – Gwynwood seems rather too small to create that internal weather, and to be self-sufficient. Yes, imports come in from Sydney but these seem to be mostly technological or medical. I did wonder how even the small number who live there managed to survive. Their existence is summed up by one of them remembering Chief Seattle, on being taken to the reservation, “It is the end of living and the beginning of survival.”

No matter; the main story is of Isabel’s quest to escape Gwynwood, join the Underground and eject the aliens from Earth. Somewhere along the way it turns into a yoyage of discovery about the nature of the Keepers and their purposes. Slonczewski does the discovery stuff very well and the central message – unusually for a post disaster novel – is of hope but I was left wanting more.

Pedant’s corner:- there was a “sprung” count of one (but sprang was used elsewhere,) the now very unPC, “We’ll watch the poofs at Les Girls.” “But King George (III) was a tyrant” is a very USian sentiment. We had crèche (for nativity scene,) rhinoceri (the word ending is plain wrong; its root isn’t from Latin, the English plural is rhinoceroses anyway,) calling an in unimaginable variety (in an,) polyhedrons (it’s from Greek so the plural is polyhedra,) shined (shone,) could have mowed us down (mown.)

Cockburnspath War Gravestones

Cockburnspath Kirkyard contains several gravestones commemorating war dead.

This one names no less than three Paxtons who died in World War 1:-

William A Watson was killed in action in France on 24/4/1918:-

This is one of those grey stones of the kind that also appear in Crail Kirkyard. Guardsman T Scott died post-war on 22/11/1918 – 11 days after the armistice:-

Sergeant W Paxton, RAF, (a relative of the three WW1 Paxtons?) Died 1/10/1941:-

Sergeant A H S Evans, RAF. Died 24/2/1941:-

This commemorates Stephen Falconer Dunnett, killed in Malaya, 1945:-

Are Dead Nazis Due Royalties?

I heard about this in an item on the radio news today.

It seems the owner of the copyright of the diaries of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels is suing a publisher over quotations from them.

My first reaction was “Goebbels had an estate?” As far as I was aware he and his wife Magda had killed all their children before themselves committing suicide – or having an SS man shoot them. So who could be the beneficiaries of his estate? (A private individual it would seem from the link above.) Reflecting on it as I write this, I wonder did Hitler have an estate? And who owns that?

My second thought earlier was, why should Goebbels have an estate? It all ought to have been confiscated and given over to victims’ organisations. Surely no single person has the right directly to benefit financially from the activities of the Nazi hierarchy?

This is a murky area of course, as the publishers are seeking to do just that.

Cockburnspath War Memorial

Cockburnspath is a village on the East Coast just west of the A1 about eight miles south of Dunbar.

The War Memorial is a Celtic Cross design on a stone base with the names carved proud of the stone.

The Scottish War Memorials Project has pictures of the two sides where there are more names.

There don’t appear to be any names for the Second World War.

Friday on my Mind 117: Warm and Tender Love. RIP Percy Sledge

Soul singer Percy Sledge has gone to the great auditorium in the sky.

Percy Sledge: Warm and Tender Love

His big hit was of course When A Man Loves A Woman, whose origins and authorship are disputed, but to me it has always had more than a touch of Pachelbel’s Canon about it. (See here, and here, and here.)

Percy Sledge: When A Man Loves A Woman

Percy Tyrone Sledge: 25/11/1940 – 14/4/2015. So it goes.

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