Pollok House, Pollok Park, Glasgow

Pollok House, not owned by but run by the National Trust for Scotland, is in the south side of Glasgow, set in great parkland; so much so you would never believe you were in the middle of a big city.

Pollok House, showing gates on to parkland of Pollok Park, Glasgow:-

Pollok House Frontage

This is a stitch of three photos to get in the full frontage. In reality the grass and road don’t have that bend in them:-

Pollok House, Glasgow

The house contains an array of paintings – mostly of that branch of the Hapsburg family who ruled Spain for centuries. Being notoriously in-bred they are a fairly unprepossessing bunch. The very informative guide was much more taken with this painting by El Greco of rather different content; Lady in a Fur Wrap (picture from BBC Your Paintings):-

Lady in a Fur Wrap, El Greco, Pollok House, Glasgow

A certificate on an internal wall on the corridor leading to the tea-room (which has a marvellous setting, being housed in what was the Edwardian kitchen) commemorates the house’s use as a hospital during the Great War:-

Pollok House Great War Certificate

On a wall of Pollok House’s garden facing the parkland area there is a War Memorial dedicated to the men from the tenantry and staff of Nether Pollok who served in the Great War. There are 58 names on the cartouche. Beside 13 of them is inscribed “killed” – beside another it states “died”.

Pollok House War Memorial

That makes 14 out of the 58 who went away that lost their lives as a consequence. A fraction under a quarter of the total. And some of the others would have been wounded.

No Mean City by A McArthur and H Kingsley Long

A Story of the Glasgow Slums. Corgi, 1978? 320 p.

 No Mean City cover

I had avoided reading this ever since I became aware of its existence as I had gained the impression it was an overly sensationalist account of life in the poorer parts of Glasgow in the 1920s but when it appeared in the list of 100 best Scottish Books I decided to take out a copy from one of the local libraries that is under threat of closure.

It is the story of Johnnie Stark, who manages to get himself a reputation as the Razor King of the Gorbals and thereafter has to live up to it. There are four main viewpoint characters, Stark, Lizzie Ramsay (the girl who marries him,) his brother Peter and his schoolmate, Bobbie Hurley. Peter’s and Bobbie’s stories seem to be forgotten about for long periods and their relevance is slight; though they are dragooned into the final scene.

Stark’s inevitable eventual demise is presented as a consequence of mental deterioration through drink and too many gang fights but his fate would have been to be overtaken in any case. It is the natural order of things that the younger succeed the older.

As a reading experience the book leaves a lot to be desired. The writing can only be described as poor. Certain words or phrases are placed in quotation marks for no good reason – does anyone reading a book set in Scotland not know what a “hoose” is? “Canny get a man” is surely self-explanatory and “single end” not unusual while “inferiority” is totally unremarkable. Others have their meanings explained in parenthesis immediately after their appearance eg kert (coal-waggon.) If a meaning cannot be explained by context (which would be the ideal) by all means provide a glossary but this practice of putting the wagon after the kert is irritating. (It is possible that I may be more irritated than most, since in Science Fiction, part of my regular reading matter for decades, the use of unfamiliar words – sometimes for unfamiliar concepts – is all-but obligatory and I am therefore used to it.)

Some writers show, others tell: it is infrequent that they lecture. At times this read like a treatise in anthropology, a condescending treatise at that. To describe the characters as “slummies” betrays a self-congratulatory attitude on the part of the authors, “a guid conceit o’ themselves” as we Scots have it. This assumption of moral superiority by the narrator ….. grates. Authors’ characters deserve some sort of sympathy from their creator(s).

These issues are perhaps explained by the book’s genesis. A McArthur was an unemployed man (the book uses the oxymoron unemployed worker) and H Kingsley North a London journalist obviously unused to the different art of writing a novel.

It might be thought that the minimum requirement for being included in any list of best books would be that a novel not be just socially relevant and illustrative of its times but also had some degree of literary quality. No Mean City has none. In saying this I realise that I am in danger of being called a literary snob (as the puff for the novel on the 100 best Scottish books webpages would have it.) Very well; but I would still maintain this does not belong on that list of “best”.

Pedant’s corner:- coal-waggon (I prefer wagon,) appraisement (appraisal?) how the hell with this yin do him any? (how the hell will this yin….)

Hampden Here We Come!

No. It’s not an unwonted indulgence in excessive enthusiasm.

Just a second round Challenge Cup game. (That’s sufficiently rare in itself to be worth a celebration.)

Queen’s Park away on 18th or 19th August.

World Cup Draw

Hmmm. Interesting.

England, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta.

It’s tricky. Not as tricky as Group A though; or G. And it might have been better to be in Group B.

The England games will take care of themselves, I suppose, but we’ve come unstuck against Lithuania before.

We’ll just have to make the best of it.

Morton 2-3 Dumbarton

Scottish Challenge Cup,* Round 1, Cappielow Park, 25/7/2105.

And so it begins again. Only nine months to go.

But with an unusual result. I believe this is only our fifth win in this competition in its 25 year history. Two of those were in the same season.

Looking at the team sheet there were only two starters who were at the club last season. Life in part-time football.

While it’s a bit disturbing to have a three goal lead eaten into it’s still refreshing to kick-off a season with a win.

*It’s officially the Petrofac Training Cup but that’s just too much of a mouthful.

Bête by Adam Roberts.

Gollancz, 2014, 320 p. Reviewed for Interzone 255, Nov-Dec 2014.

Bête cover

We know from the epigraph, “You? Better. You? Bête” – attributed to Pete Townshend but given Roberts’s own slant – that we are in for a tale full of word play and allusion; everything from Led Zeppelin lyrics to the riddle of the Sphinx, with nods to previous SF (at one point there is the shout, “Butlerian Jihad!”) as well as Animal Farm.

The novel begins with dairy farmer Graham Penhaligon, who has also trained to butcher his own livestock, having a verbal disagreement with a “canny” cow which does not wish to be slaughtered. This is shortly before such Loquacious Beasts (as the Act has it) are to be legally protected. The encounter makes Graham famous, after a fashion. The advent of speaking animals had come with green activists, “creeping around farms in the dead of night, injecting chips into the craniums (sic) of farm animals.” These bêtes at first spouted authentic sounding phrases, responses of animal rights propaganda, but quickly the chips, by now AIs, develop into something more integrated with their hosts.

It is tempting to find faint echoes in this set-up of Wells’s Dr Moreau but the comparison is too stretched to be truly viable. No vivisection is involved; the chips only have to be ingested to make their way into the host’s brain. Graham reflects that Moore’s Law made this sort of augmentation inevitable but he never believes that the animals are really expressing themselves; it is the computers in their heads doing so. Soon enough bêtes become legal citizens competing with humans for jobs. Along with the almost simultaneous development of synthetic Vitameat, one of the ramifications is that Graham’s farm is no longer viable.

He resorts to a nomadic existence, taking the odd slaughtering job, living (poorly) off the land, his peregrinations bringing him into irregular but recurring contact with Anne Grigson, with whom he falls in love. She has a canny cat, Cincinnatus, which loves its mistress but also exhibits a peculiar interest in Graham.

Graham is prickly from the outset. “Don’t call me Graham,” he tells the argumentative cow – and nearly everyone else whom he meets thereafter. He is especially so with the bêtes he encounters. These internet enabled, wifi-ed animals recognise him instantly, but there is always a hint of menace in it. A shambling incoherent human appears to know Graham but has been chipped; with “higher” animals schizophrenia is the unerring result of such a merger. Dogs, cows, horses are much more suitable.

This scenario gives Roberts scope to comment on humanity’s collective relationship with the biosphere, sometimes through his minor characters, ‘“Animals have feelings and thoughts – it’s just that only now have they been able to bring them out,”’ otherwise through Graham’s thoughts, “Speciesism is more deeply entrenched within us than sexism, and that is deep enough,” “Nature: it’s not nice, it was never nice. Niceness is what we humans built to insulate ourselves from – all that.” Cincinnatus provides the barbed observation, “Misrecognition. It’s what humans are best at.”

At times Bête takes on some of the characteristics of the post-disaster stories associated with British SF of the fifties and early sixties. Also stalking the land and causing AIDS-like panic is the disease, Sclerotic Charagmitis, where mucous membranes scar over, leading to death. The countryside is abandoned to the animals, people huddle together in the larger towns, the regime becomes repressive, but shuts off the wifi too late. There are tales of inter-species war in the north, animals immolated on pyres by the army. In his isolation, Graham does not witness any of this, though.

He makes much of language and his relish of it and notes his is a very English tale. Language is a field, he tells us, and farmers are used to working with fields. A strange aspect of the narrative, though, is its frequent use of archaisms. “And you have brought it me,” wroth, thrice. Sadly, this last appeared only twice.

But Anne dies from cancer, and Graham reflects that the loss of love brings resentment, bitterness, anger, envy. Fair enough, but I don’t quite buy his contention that, for adults, crying is always a performance, intended for an audience. The crux of the novel comes at Graham’s delayed meeting with the leader of the bêtes in the south, an AI in the brain of a very old ewe known (in a piece of somewhat heavy-handed symbolism) as The Lamb, which makes him an offer.

While the essential motor of the plot is that this is a love story, Graham’s relationship with Anne does not come over like a grand passion. Everything is a touch too intellectual; described, not experienced. Bête is good stuff, though, probably enough to ensure Roberts’s usual award nomination.

The following did not appear in the final review.:-
There is reference to a film scene which, though it can be parsed, will only make immediate sense if you’ve actually seen the film. The proof copy I read was absolutely littered with typos, easily averaging one a page. The best of these was “imagining I was in the gondolier of some balloon.” That “gondolier” conveys quite a different image from the one that “gondola” would. We also had “ruptures of the Achilles tension” and riveta for Ryvita. Plus:- lay for lie, apothegms for apophthegms, liquorish (the sweet stuff; not anything to do with alcohol,) and a span.

Live It Up 22: Song for Whoever

Sweet tunes, romantic tunes, The Beautiful South certainly had them; but allied to bitterly ironic – even cynical – lyrics.

The opening line here, “I love you from the bottom of my pencil case,” is just about on the bounds of tastefulness but the lyric goes on (partly to comment on the process of writing a cheap love song) by listing a series of girls’ names with the tag, “I wrote so many songs about you, I forget your name,” then adds a cutting parenthesis, “(I forget your name)”.

The cynicism is increased in the second round of the melody where we have, “Oh Cathy, Oh Alison, Oh Phillipa, Oh Sue. You made me so much money, I wrote this song for you.” Jennifer, Deborah and Annabel are added to the list in the next two lines. It’s brutal in its lack of regard.

The Beautiful South: Song for Whoever

Local Libraries Threat

As part of cost-cutting measures a proposal has been put forward to close 16 libraries in Fife. Three of these I have used and one of them has a very good stock indeed.

I have mentioned before how many libraries are within a few miles of Son of the Rock Acres. Most of these serve distinct communities. Not all of them are under threat but I would be sad to see any of them go. However, two of them are the ones I use most often.

As a result of this proposal the good lady and I have recently been borrowing a few more books than we would have previously in order to boost “footfall”. This means the books already unread on our shelves will have to remain there for a while.

Apparently the plans have been halted temporarily to allow for “consultation” – as is mentioned in this article where there is also a link to a petition to keep the libraries open.

Scotland’s Art Deco Heritage 33: Peebles. Addendum

In August 2013 when I was in Peebles the former Playhouse Cinema looked a bit run down. (See here.)

By this May it had been spruced up a bit.

Peebles Former Cinema

We partook of the ice-cream from Caldwell’s shop/cafe just along the street. It was good.

On the High Street I noticed this Art Deco gate at the entrance to a close:-

Art Deco Gate in Peebles

This is the view from the close:-

Peebles Art Deco Gate

We ventured down to the green by the River Tweed where there is this Pavilion:-

Art Deco Pavilion, Peebles

The reverse has slightly more deco style:-

Peebles Art Deco Pavilion Reverse

On a back street the two Chambers brothers who later produced Chambers’s Dictionary (as it was known at first) were both born, in 1800 and 1802 respectively, as the plaque records.

Peebles House Chambers Plaque

Compassionate Conservatism?

This is something that has been bugging me for a long time.

Welfare [wel-fair] noun: the good fortune, health, happiness, prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organization; well-being.

Why has this word become transformed into meaning something derogatory? Something of which those people who need it are supposed to feel ashamed? (Rather than it being to society’s shame that such people don’t have it.)

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