¿Qué pasa en Hartlepool?

This post’s title is adapted from an Argentinian newspaper headline (¿Qué pasa en Suecia?) I saw on a TV programme about the history of Argentine football when the national team was widely perceived to have underperformed in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden and recieved a hostile reception on their return to Argentina. (See their Group 1 results if you look on here.)

AS to the meat of the post; after bumbling along just above the relegation zone for much of this season (unlike last where they were firmly rooted there before what seemed an almost miraculous escape) Hartlepool United have gone on a similar late run, not losing in their last seven games and winning five of those. (See League Two table and current form here.)

Of course, by mentioning this I’ll have jinxed it. The ‘Pool will most likely lose at Carlisle tonight, now.

War Memorial, West Bridgend Church, Dumbarton

West Bridgend Church hall was where I started playing badminton, long, long ago now.

I had never explored its churchyard till last October when I discovered this Memorial to the men from the church who died in the Great War:-

War Memorial, West Bridgend Church, Dumbarton

The names:-

West Bridgend Church War Memorial Names

There was also a Commonwealth War Grave. Private William C Douglas, RAMC, 7/12/1916, age 19:-

War Grave West Bridgend Church

And this gravestone commemorates, as well as his father, one Captain William Learmonth Buchanan, 5th HLI, killed in action in Palestine, 20th November 1917, aged 25:-

Gravestone, West Bridgend Church

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

Harvill Secker, 2015, 303 p.

 The Gracekeepers cover

The sea has risen; the only land left is islands. Between the island dwellers (landlockers) and seafarers (damplings) there is antipathy, with the latter only allowed to set foot on land if they carry bells on their limbs. There are two main story strands. One concerns Callanish, a Gracekeeper. An aquatic equivalent of an undertaker, she lives in exile tending to graces, caged birds which are used in the ritual when a dampling has died and is “Rested”. Callanish’s preoccupation is to keep her webbed hands and feet out of sight of anyone as in this world such deformations can be a death sentence.

The other strand takes place mainly aboard a travelling – seaborne – circus where the young adult North has a bear as a companion. Their act is the circus’s star attraction. The ringmaster, Red Gold, owns and rules the circus. The main ship, Excalibur, trails the acts’ coracles behind it in a long chain. Excalibur’s sail doubles as a Big Top and its deck as circus ring. The main tension here is that Red Gold wants North and his son Ainsel to marry and live in a house on land. North hates the land and is moreover secretly pregnant – by a sea-swimmer she thinks of by names she’d only heard in stories “selkie, nereid, mermaid”. Red Gold’s young(ish) wife, Avalon, though, wants the house for herself.

Narration duties are carried by several of the characters’ viewpoints, Callanish, her mother (once), North, Ainsel, Avalon and a couple of the circus members, though only Callanish and North have multiple sections.

Despite North’s companion there is no evidence elsewhere in the book of bears being extant in this world. Neither does it seem plausible that any could exist on the scraps of land which are described. Food is scarce enough for the members of the circus. How much more so for a bear? North’s bear may be the last of its kind, of course, but surely we ought to have been told that. There is, too, a mention of ice and icebergs in the north. If the sea has risen so much ought not all such ice to have melted?

In the Avalon narration we find that on meeting Red Gold she lighted on that name because his boat was called Excalibur. No other reference to Arthurian legend is made, it seems of no importance to the people of this world; so what is the point of this? It can only be there as a nudge to the reader.

One of the clowns’ acts is to dress as old-fashioned bankers and throw paper money into the crowd. (we have previously been told paper is an exceedingly scarce commodity.) It seems the landlockers blame greed for causing the inundation of their precious land. This again seems too much of a reference to early twenty-first century concerns. Beyond the usual sorts of payments involving coinage there are no other references to financial transactions in the book so this note seemed off-key to me. For the world to have degenerated so far would have taken time; time enough for bankers’ excesses to have slid from prominence.

The back cover gives us a blurb from Ursula Le Guin, ‘A highly original fantasy, set in a haunting sea-world both familiar and mysterious.’ Maybe it was the bear that swung it for her. (Le Guin’s Earthsea does of course have a lot of water.)

Aspects of The Gracekeepers struck me too as familiar, particularly the circus (compare Larry Niven’s Destiny’s Road, and slightly less so Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven which involved a travelling – non-circus – entertainment in a post-apocalyptic world,) Red Gold’s seigniory, the fascinated antagonism of landlockers for damplings, the repressive revivalist religious sect; but then again it’s hard to construct completely novel scenarios.

Pedant’s corner:- “all that was clear were the fine lines” (was the fine lines,) the violins reached a crescendo (a crescendo rises to a climax; it is a process, not a culmination,) “the crowd held their breath” (its breath,) “forced her mouth into smile” (into a smile.) “Water poured through the gap, knocking Melia and Whitby on to their backs in the freezing water,” (Water… water; a bit clumsy. “The sea poured through the gap”?) “she did not know if any of those things were Whitby” (was Whitby,) “selkie, nereid, mermaids” (okay, North is using generic terms but nereids and mermaids are both female, so couldn’t have made her pregnant) “opened its maw” (a maw is a stomach; how can a stomach open?) “wanted to avoid to performing” (to avoid performing,) “might all have up and left” (upped and left,) “her hate burned so strong” (strongly, that would be.)
Credit for “lain” though.

Cardross War Memorial

This lies beside the main road through the town, which is on the A 814 between Dumbarton and Helensburgh.

Cardross War Memorial

Closer view:-

Cardross War Memorial Close-up

Left-hand name panels:-

Cardross War Memorial Name Plaques

Right-hand name panels:-

Cardross War Memorial Names

The Jewel and her Lapidary by Fran Wilde

Tor.com, 2016, 90 p.

 The Jewel and her Lapidary cover

As revealed in cod extracts from a later guide book quoted at the beginning of each section of this novella the Jewelled Valley was once ruled by a royal family of “Jewels” who could bind the powers of precious stones to influence minds and so tamed the gems. Each Jewel had a similarly bound servant, a Lapidary, who could hear and speak the stones.

The action of the book is set in the end-time of the Jewelled Court. Lin is the youngest daughter of the King, her Lapidary, Sima, the daughter of the King’s servant. Driven mad by the gems, Sima’s father has betrayed the Court and destroyed most of the jewels. Lin is the only member of the royal family to survive, the only person who can protect the people of the valley from the invading army of the Western Mountains. Sima sticks to her vows not to betray her Jewel.

Wilde’s control of her material is accomplished enough but it doesn’t stand up to a moment’s scrutiny. Gemstones with mind-controlling powers? That can be muted by being placed in a setting? But it is a fantasy. And short enough to read in one sitting.

Pedant’s corner:- if a Lapidary broke their vows (several instances. Lapidary is singular; so “his or her vows”.)

Dumbarton 0-0 Morton

SPFL Tier 2, The Rock, 2/4/16.

Well. It’s as you were in the league what with all five games being draws but the failure of Rangers to win means they have an even bigger incentive to beat us on Tuesday night as that will make them champions. They might not have to beta us if Hibs don’t win – but that’s a situation I wouldn’t like as then Livingston would have avoided defeat against them; on which point thanks to Alloa for getting the draw (which sadly wasn’t enough to prevent them being relegated.)

It’s all getting far too tense. It’s possible, if results go against us, that by the time we play Queen of the South on the 12th we could be four points behind Livi with a much worse goal difference; very much worse if our usual Ibrox thumping takes palce..

The Logie Baird Pub, Helensburgh

This is the former La Scala Cinema, Helensburgh, now a pub named after Helensburgh’s most famous son, John Logie Baird, inventor of television. (Well, one form of it.) Stitch of two photos:-

The Logie Baird Pub, Helensburgh

The building was erected in 1913 so it doesn’t qualify as Art Deco proper but there are some features which prefigure the style like these side pillars:-

The Logie Baird, Helensburgh  Side View

Also the stepping on the roof-line. The painting scheme emphasises the Deco feel:-

The Logie Baird

Fergus Lamont by Robin Jenkins

Canongate Classic, 1990, 351 p, including iii p introduction by Bob Tait. One of the Herald’s “100” best Scottish Fiction Books.

 Fergus Lamont cover

“Half Scotland sniggered and the other half scowled, when in letters to The Scotsman and The Glasgow Herald I put forward my suggestion that prisoners in Scottish jails be allowed to wear kilts, as their national birthright, if such was their wish.”

How can you not take an instant liking to a book of which the above is its first sentence? It certainly invites you to read on. Who can this quaintly opinionated, and perhaps ridiculous, individual be?

The interest in the kilt, though, is a marker. It is narrator Fergus Lamont’s signature apparel. One of those garments was the last gift he received from his mother before she walked into the local loch. She had married a man not Fergus’s father, left him for another – richer and much, much older – but had come back supposedly because of Fergus. She claimed Fergus’s true father was the son of the Earl of Darndaff – though others in the town said it was the under butler. However her fiercely Protestant (and resolutely anti-Catholic) father refused to speak to her, tipping her over the edge, not that that affected him. “My grandfather did not allow my mother to be buried in her own mother’s grave; nor did he go to her funeral. He displayed atrocious callousness; yet, by the sheer effrontery of faith, he compelled most people to think of him as a Christian of formidable and magnificent staunchness.” Fergus’s grandfather, like all those who profess to know the will of God, displays enormous self-righteousness. “‘You may be sure, Fergus, that if people are deserving of His help the Lord will not withhold it.’” Fergus is not convinced. “Young though I was, it seemed to me that it was really my grandfather himself who decided whether or not people deserved Jesus’s help…. There were some people with whom God, in my grandfather’s opinion, was displeased.”

The young Fergus had unthinkingly accepted the state of things; anti-Catholicism, the subtle social gradations of single-end, room-and-kitchen, two rooms and kitchen, up to the big houses in the west end of town. His nominal father, John Lamont, “wouldn’t say I was better or worse, but I was different. Whether this had anything to do with my having an earl for one grandfather, and a man of serious religious principles – he really meant a hypocrite – for the other, he wasn’t clever enough to say.”

Through his early life Fergus’s aspirations to his aristocratic connection grow but as his headmaster tells him, “‘You must bear in mind, Fergus, that the Scots landed gentry are a tribe apart. They do not speak like us. They go to considerable trouble and expense to avoid speaking like us. They are sent to exclusive English schools, to acquire their characteristic accent and peculiar habits.’” While recognising others’ sense he may not be quite what he seems he fakes it enough to achieve officer status – not to mention an MC – in the Great War and the attentions of a writer of romantic fiction (well aware of his humble origins) who more or less drags him into marriage. Though, as author, Jenkins does not dwell overlong on this aspect, a fear of being found out – even on the part of those who are perfectly competent – is a common emotion for a Scot. Throughout his life Fergus can never quite shake off the conflict between his compassion for those he has left behind and his reluctance to return without enough to show for having left.

The sense of distance engendered by his presumed, or actual, parentage (the identity of his sire is never revealed to us) allows Fergus to reflect on the foibles and dichotomies of his countrymen. “I was watching, I realised vaguely, a clash between two traditions in Scotland, that of love of learning and truth, and that of Calvinist narrow-minded vindictiveness.” “To the stern Calvinist no one was innocent, not even a new-born baby.” “Here was another conflict between two aspects of the Scottish soul…. mendacious sentimentality… and ironic truthfulness.” “It seemed to me that since Scotland was small, proud, poor, and intelligent, with a long history, she, better than any country I could think of… had an opportunity to create a society in which poverty and all its humiliations had been abolished, without refinement and spirituality being sacrificed. In the past the Scots had lost too many battles because, while waiting for the fighting to begin, they had been given prayers instead of second helpings.” The middle class “had throughout the centuries set up in Scotland a morality that put the ability to pay far in front of the necessity to forgive and love.” “For generations in Scotland bursary-winners and gold medallists have passed out of schools and universities, fixed in the belief that nothing has a value that cannot be marked out of a hundred. This is the reason why the Scots have failed as artists and patriots, but succeeded as engineers and theologians.” “Luckily the Scots are not a demonstrative or philoprogenitive race.” “Scotsmen do not find it easy to speak frankly of love, especially the physical aspects, without some protective coarseness. We call the act houghmagandy, and, alas, in the performance we are too apt to make it measure up or rather down to that crude term.”

But there is a kind of hope. “It is not the goodness of saints that makes us feel there is hope for humanity: it is the goodness of obscure men.”

When Fergus’s wife feels he is a hindrance to her social climbing and forces him out he takes the opportunity of a bequest to repair to the district of East Gerinish on Oronsay. Here he meets Kirstie McDonald, a child of nature, strong of limb and dressed in men’s clothes. They move in to his ancestral home (on his mother’s side) scratching a living from the poor soil. Of the local minister he is told, “He had nine children; eleven really, for two had died in infancy. Mrs Caligaskill was always ailing,” and thinks, “Without having seen this Caligaskill I hated him…. He represented that mixture of sanctified lust and hypocrisy which had stunted the soul of Scotland for centuries.” The passages dealing with this ten year long not-quite idyll, in many ways the time of Fergus’s life, do not linger on the page in the way those on his childhood did. In any case it is over too soon and island life is perhaps more judgemental than in the towns of the mainland. Only Kirstie had really accepted him. The doctor called in on her death warns Fergus, “‘You broke their rules. So did she. If one of them was to let a fit of pure Christianity get the better of him the Lord might be pleased, but I’m damned sure his congregation and colleagues wouldn’t,’” and, “‘You’re presupposing that tolerance is in itself a good thing. Not many people really believe that. Most of us are prepared to tolerate only what we understand and approve of.’” As a result the funeral has to be improvised. “‘Four ministers were asked,’ I replied. ‘All refused.’” Nevertheless the men of the island turn out in respect for Kirstie.

The promise that first sentence had of light-heartedness is not bourne out by the rest of Fergus Lamont which has a more serious mien. As a dissection of early to mid twentieth century Scottish mores and attitudes it is probably unexcelled.

Pedant’s corner:- peaver (usual spelling is peever,) medieval, the griping of buttocks (gripping?) “‘what she cannot know … that my books,’” (what she cannot know…is that my books…) Betty T Shields’ (Betty T Shields’s,) wheehst (usually the spelling is wheesht,) had never stank (stunk,) septagenarian (septuagenarian) a long (along.) “By cool Siloam’s shady hills” (Fergus – or Lamont – misremembers this. It’s actually shady rills.)

And It’s Goodnight From Him

The tag line was too good not to use as a post title but it’s still sad that now it’s The No Ronnies.

Mr Corbett never lost his Scottish accent. I believe for a while he retained a house in the village of Strathmiglo, which is only six miles from Son of the Rock Acres.

In my days as a teacher I was wont to employ a catch phrase from one of the TV shows he starred in, Sorry!, (even though it wasn’t Ronnie who ever spoke it.) Rather his character was the subject of its admonishment, “Language, Timothy!” [At least one bewildered child responded to me, “I’m not called Timothy.” ]

From his time on the “Class” sketch in The Frost Report through the immortal “Fork ‘Andles” in his heyday as the smaller half of The Two Ronnies he made memorable contributions to lightening the nation’s heart.

Some of his comedy from that era may have tired but the best of it is up there with with anyone’s.

The Frost Report: Class

Ronald Balfour “Ronnie” Corbett: 4/12/1930 – 31/3/2016. So it goes.

Painting with Light

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been watching Andrew Graham-Dixon’s BBC 4 TV series The Art of Scandinavia. It’s over now but you can still catch it on the iPlayer.

I hadn’t heard of a lot of the artists but there were some great landscapes in the Norway episode.

The painting which struck me most however was by a Danish artist, Vilhelm Hammershøi. It’s called Dust Motes Dancing in the Sunbeams. I found an illustration on the net on this page and I reproduce it below.

Dust Motes: Vilhelm Hammershøi

A stunning depiction of light, I hope you’ll agree.

In its use of the qualities of light I was immediately reminded of John Henry Lorimer’s Spring Moonlight, which I blogged about here.

As well as Spring Moonlight, which I forgot to mention in the previous post about it is a huge canvas, Kirkcaldy Art Gallery also has on display at the moment two further Lorimer pieces of more normal dimensions, Sundown in Spring, Kellie Castle:-

Sundown in Spring, Kellie Castle: Lorimer

and View of Kellie Castle:-

View of Kellie Castle

both of which exemplify Lorimer’s distinctive style. The pictures are taken from Art UK which is the successor site to BBC’s Your Paintings.

Kellie Castle was the home of the Lorimer family and is worth a visit if you’re ever over in the East of Fife.

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