Scotland’s Art Deco Heritage 51: Laurencekirk

Laurencekirk is a small town in the former Kincardineshire in north-east Scotland, now administratively part of Aberdeenshire. We dropped by there on our way up to the cup tie at Peterhead last year (which sadly was postponed so I missed one of our few wins last season.)

Kincardineshire lies in the Mearns, so splendidly delineated in the fiction of Lewis Grassic Gibbon who lived in nearby Arbuthnot.

I was quite surprised to see a minor example of Art Deco there, Hantons Garage:-

Hantons, Laurencekirk

Frontage. Stepped roofline, rule of three in central first floor windows:-

Hantons, Laurencekirk Frontage

Clearly no longer in use as a garage but the Clydesdale Bank sign marks the presence of a cashpoint so it seems it still serves the town:-

Hantons, Laurencekirk Again

A Concussed History of Scotland by Frank Kuppner

Polygon, 1990, 195 p. One of the 100 best Scottish Books.

 A Concussed History of Scotland cover

Any novel which starts, “Go away – I wish to have nothing to do with you. I insist on it. Go away!” signals immediately it is not going to be a straightforward read. To follow that in the second paragraph with, “the Universe is merely something which I created as an illustration of my own non-existence,” only compounds that impression.

Then too, the cover bears the sub-title a novel of another sort. Flick to the back cover and there appear the author’s name, a title “A Concise History of Scotland” and a sub-title another novel of sorts – all in mirror writing – framing a black and white montage of the moon in various phases, an ear and a clothed female torso. Clearly literary games are being played.

The text contains 500 chapters none of which stretch to two pages; the shortest contains only two words. It is a fractured mosaic of the narrator’s personal recollections and observations, possibly describable as a stream-of-consciousness, except a stream flows. It is more like a successively dammed river, or cataracts of consciousness, if you will. Is this how a concussed person thinks?

The book is certainly no history. Various places in Scotland receive a mention. (For example, “Ah, will I ever forget Vienna? It reminds me so powerfully of Paisley.”) But there is no apparent connection between them other than their Scottishness.

None of the usual consolations of the novel apply. There is really only one character (the narrator,) and all but no dialogue to go along with a complete absence of plot.

There are some phrases which arouse admiration. There really ought to be a wine called Chateau Calvinblanc. (It would have to be grown in Scotland and taste sweet and bitter at one and the same time.)

The lines, “all families bar one were assembled by pure chance… all families are the same in different ways … That is to say all happy families are unhappy in one of two ways,” put a spin on Tolstoy, and while “males and females probably exist so that each sex has another one to blame,” may be there to provoke, “what does prayer most commonly consist of, but in begging the non-existent to do that which he could not do even if he were to exist?” certainly is; as is, “Man invents fears, and then invents gods to allay those fears.” And what can one do but concur with this attribution, “a private joke – or life as it is sometimes called,” while, “You would not deny that certainty is almost certainly the opposite of wisdom, I hope,” is a sentiment that applies to our divided times with more force than when it was written.

A Concussed History of Scotland would be no easy starting point to that 100 Best books list. Its entry there underlines that. There are far more accessible books with which to test the Scottish literary waters but, take the plunge, and you may find yourself rewarded. Expect to stray to the limit of your depth though.

Pedant’s corner:- “a flock of lame birds hobble past” (a flock hobbles,) “I sometimes think think this would explain” (only one “think” needed,) “all those artists mothers” (artists’ mothers,) an unindented chapter heading (all the rest are centred on the page,) negociate (negotiate,) “than than than than” (possibly to indicate the narrator’s state of mind,) back vertebrae (there was only one, so vertebra,) ungainlyly (yes, it’s an ungainly word but surely its spelling is ‘ungainlily?) arachnoepterate? (I can find no instance of this word. elsewhere.)

Kirkliston War Memorial

Kirkliston is a small town in West Lothian. I chanced upon it and its War Memorial, which is situated near the crossroads in the town, when I made a wrong turning exiting Dalmeny one day.

The memorial consists of a stone obelisk surmounted by a stone ball on a square pillar and bases with the square panels containing the dedication and lists of names:-

Kirkliston War Memorial

Dedication, “Erected by public subscription by the inhabitants of Kirkliston, Newbridge and Westerton districts to the memory of officers and men who fell in the Great War, 1914-1919”:-

Kirkliston War Memorial Dedication

Privates’ names for the Great War:-

Kirkliston War Memorial 3

Names of officers and non-commissioned officers from the Great War:-=

Kirkliston War Memorial 5

Names of officers and men from World War 2:-

Kirkliston War Memorial 4

Rhu Churchyard

Rhu Churchyard contains several graves of historical note.

It contains the grave of the father of steam navigation, Henry Bell.

Henry Bell Grave, Rhu

As befits his historical importance the memorial incorporates a statue of Bell in a seated position.

Then there is the grave of John Motion, late Sgt Major of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, one of ‘The Thin Red Line‘ at the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War.

Detail:-

War Inscription, Rhu Graveyard

And this grave, “Erected by the Officers and ex-Officers 1st Dunbartonshire Rifle Volunteers in memory of Col Henry Currie, late commandant 1st Dunbartonshire Rifle Volunteers and formerly of the 24th and 79th Highlanders. Died at Helensburgh 17th March 1899 aged 54 years”:-

Unusual Commemorative Stone, Rhu churchyard

The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif

Bloomsbury, 2000, 540 p (including xii p Glossary of Arabic terms.)

The Map of Love cover

This novel is set in two time lines, the Egypt of its present day, the late 1990s, and of the same country in the 1900s. The present day sections are told from the viewpoint of Amal al-Gamrawi whose brother, ‘Omar, a famous musician, has fallen into a relationship with US citizen Isabel Parkman, but its main thrust comes via the letters and journal of Isabel’s great grandmother, Lady Anna Winterbourne, which relate to her experiences in Egypt almost a century before. Isabel’s discovery of a trunk containing her grandmother’s letters was recognized by ‘Omar as a family connection and he encouraged Isabel to take them to his sister in Egypt for transcription. While in Egypt Lady Anna had formed a mutual attachment to Amal’s great uncle, Sharif Basha al-Baroudi, an Egyptian patriot, and married him; much to the dismay of all but two of the English contingent in Egypt at the time. Anna’s letters and journal track the course of that love affair and marriage. Isabel is their descendant and so related to Amal and ‘Omar. Some sections of the narrative are Amal’s imaginings of incidents from the past, others are seen via the viewpoint of Layla, Sharif’s sister.

Soueif wrote this in English but in some respects the novel feels like a translation as its immersion in Egyptian culture is total, though the Western perspective is acknowledged. But it is Egyptian concerns and history that dominate. “Egypt, mother of civilisation, dreaming herself through the centuries. Dreaming us all, her children: those who stay and work for her and complain of her, and those who leave and yearn for her and blame her with bitterness for driving them away.” (Yet, barring ‘the mother of civilisation’ and with just the name changed, that quote could apply to almost any country. It certainly does to Scotland.)

There are multiple resonances between the two times. The trouble with contemporary Israelis in Palestine – “putting things on the ground that will be impossible to dismantle,” ….. “It’s either Israeli domination – backed by America – or the Islamic radicals. Take your pick,” is mirrored by events in the 1900s when 50,000 Russian Jews escaping from persecution wanted to settle in the Holy Land. “Europe simply does not see the people of the countries it wishes to annex – and when it does , it sees them in accordance with its own old and accepted definitions: backward people , lacking rational abilities and subject to religious fanaticism.” At one point Layla says of the de facto ruler of Egypt, “‘Lord Cromer is a patriot and he serves his country well. We understand that. Only he should not pretend that he is serving Egypt.’” Cromer’s attitude ignores that, “We in Egypt have been proud of our history; proud to belong to the land that was the first mother of civilization. In time she passed the banner of leadership to Greece and then Rome, and from there it reverted to the lands of Islam until in the seventeenth century it was taken hold of by Europe.” As one Egyptian says to Isabel, in a phrase that perhaps prefigures and goes some way to explain the attack on the twin towers only a year after the novel was published, “all the Americans I meet are good people, but your government’s foreign policy is so bad. It’s not good, you know, for a country to be hated by so many people.”

The politics may be an essential background but it is not the focus. That is the love story between Anna and Sharif and the ever fascinating nature of human interactions. Soueif’s ability as a novelist to portray these is not in doubt. The tapestry triptych which Anna weaved on the loom Sharif bought for her and of which one part had disappeared in the intervening years is perhaps a little too obvious a metaphor, though, and I did have a reservation at the introduction of a further possible twist in the net of relationships here, a thread picked at but not truly resolved.

Nevertheless this is a very well written, engaging novel, shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize, which, while not, quite, in the absolutely highest class is certainly not far off.

Pedant’s corner:- Abd el-Nasser (in the epigraph it was ‘Abd el-Nasser,) hostess’ (hostess’s,) occasional unnecessary spaces after quotation marks, the odd missing comma before a piece of direct speech, “more that an eccentric Englishwoman” (more than,) Selfridges’ foodhall (I know the shop is now named Selfridges but it was founded by a Harry Gordon Selfridge as Selfridge & Co so its possessive should always have been Selfridge’s, therefore Selfridge’s foodhall,) staunched (stanched.)

Something Changed 18: Stupid Girl

A bit of polished pop from 1996. With the added bonus of a Scottish lead singer in Shirley Manson.

Garbage: Stupid Girl

Rhu War Memorial

Rhu is a village on the north bank of the River Clyde by the Gare Loch in Argyll and Bute. Its War Memorial stands in front of the churchyard, beautifully situated overlooking the entrance to the Gare Loch.

The inscription reads, “To the glory of God and in memory of the men from this parish who made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War 1914-1918. And of those who fell in the war 1939-1945,” followed by World War 2 names. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Rhu Parish Church behind:-

Rhu War Memorial

Rhu War Memorial from the churchyard, Gare Loch behind:-

Rhu War Memorial from Churchyard

Rhu War Memorial from East. Names here are for the Great War:-

Rhu War Memorial from East

From west. Again the names are for the Great War:-

Rhu War Memorial from West

Jedburgh

Jedburgh isn’t just worth visiting for the Abbey. There are some other interesting buildings in the town.

Unfortunately I couldn’t get far enough away to frame all of Bridewell Jail – now the Sheriif Court House.

Lower portion of Bridewell jail. Pity about hte traffic cones:-

Jedburgh Jail

Bridewell Jail Tower:-

Jedburgh Jail Tower

Here’s an interesting feature; vertical sundials on a house wall:-

Jedburgh, Vertical Sundials

Jedburgh has a Jacobite connection. This plaque lets us know Bonnie Prince Charlie woz ‘ere.

Jedburgh, Jacobite Connection

That lad got everywhere.

So too it seems did Mary Queen of Scots. This is her house in Jedburgh:-

Queen Mary's House, Jedburgh

We hadn’t known this was there till we walked past a sign post for it it on the way from the car park to the Abbey. It’s well worth a look outside and inside.

Interzone Time Again

The Orphanage of Gods cover
Interzone 279 cover

The latest Interzone, 278 of that ilk, came through the letter box a few days ago. It doesn’t have one of my reviews in it.

The issue after, though, 279, will do, as a couple of days later The Orphanage of Gods by Helena Coggan also arrived.

Once again, Ms Coggan is a new author to me – even if she has had two previous books published.

Jedburgh Abbey

Jedburgh’s main attraction is undoubtedly its mediæval Abbey, founded as a Priory in 1138.

From west:-

Jedburgh Abbey

From northeast, nearest to the town. Jedburgh’s War Memorial is to the left and down a bit, here:-

Jedburgh Abbey, from Northeast

Model (in visitor centre) of Abbey circa 1510:-

Jedburgh Abbey Model

South doorway, restored I think. Lovely detailing:-

Jedburgh Abbey Doorway

South Aspect. Stitch of two photos. The Abbey isn’t curved in reality:-

Jedburgh Abbey South Aspect

Nave and tower:-

Jedburgh Abbey Nave

Tomb. The aisle contains tombs/graves of the Earls of Lothian:-

Jedburgh Abbey, Tomb

Ceiling. It’s not a hammerbeam roof and probably not original. (And I didn’t get it focused):-

Jedburgh Abbey Wooden Ceiling

For more views of the Abbey nip over to the good lady’s blog at piningforthewest.co.uk.

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