Lobsters on the Agenda by Naomi Mitchison

House of Lochar, 1997, 251 p, plus ix p Introduction by Isobel Murray and i p About the Author. First published 1952.

This is a deceptively unshowy tale of a week in a Highland district in which apparently nothing much happens but by the end a lot has been resolved. It starts with widow Kate Snow, a trained doctor but now not practising – only occasionally called in as a locum – milking her cows, and receiving a visit from a man called Chuckie with the news that a cache of lobsters belonging to Matta has been stolen. This is a shocking circumstance as it means someone from the local community is responsible. Thereafter the question of the lobsters pops up from time to time – at least until the explanation is revealed near the end – but the main preoccupation of the village of Port Sonas is whether or not it ought to have a Village Hall. There is also an incident involving one of the boarded-out children from Glasgow being treated unfairly by the man of the house where she is billeted and an outbreak of measles in a family from up the valley. The Hall is the most easily dealt with issue at hand; others such as the state of the roads and whether or not there will ever be a bridge built across the loch to shorten the locals’ journeys require much more investment. Kate of course being a modern-minded person and indeed a District Councillor is in favour of the Hall and becomes chairwoman of the committee set up to facilitate it. Despite her status as a doctor and District Councillor Kate is still the subject of sexism, asked by a male Councillor if she knows anyone suitable – as if it’s up to her to find a cleaner for the school toilets.

Naturally most of the opposition comes from the churches, not so much the Established Church but the more hardline Free Presbyterians and even harder line Wee Frees. At one point Kate thinks about some women who speak against the Hall. “They wanted to believe evil. They were brought up to think in terms of sin. They would have liked to have sinned themselves, to have some pleasant memories to brood over – as most of the men had. But when you think of sin in terms of sex and when birth control is ill understood, women can’t afford to sin.” This is also an example of the novel’s more or less candid approach to sexual matters. The question of the nature of relations between men and women is more open here than in most Scottish books of the novel’s era. Lad about town (well village) Donnie Cameron, dragged to church every Sunday by his staunch father, is set to make a “godly union” with his cousin from Halbost but, though never seen with them, finds time to dally with lassies – especially one always referred to as Kenny’s Chrissie. She in turn, via a lawyer, sends Roddy MacRimmon a letter accusing him of being the father of her (still not showing) baby. While not denying spending time with her he is adamant he is innocent of that particular offence. “‘She never had her skirt up. Not for me.’”

Opposition to the Hall is not intrinsic. Through Kate the author tells us “any association that was not directly of the church was a distraction, was a temptation and a leading away from the true race and the only goal. Therefore all such things were evil, whatever good earthly intention they might have, aye all, Boy Scouts, political parties, the Women’s Rural Institutes, the Farmer’s Union, above all anything which in any way encouraged games, dancing, the heathen Highland pipes or any other thing to do with the body where Satan might enter to seize from there on the soul.” The most strict local Minister, Mr Munro, was “mainly troubled in the Lord over two things. One was the Roman Catholic Church, forever assailing the realm of Scotland, and the other was the Port Sonas Village Hall.” He had come to the conclusion that Village Halls were part of a Papist plot. This, despite the fact that, from the text, there appear to be no Roman Catholics at all in Port Sonas.

The fear of modernity is at the heart of it, not lost on Kate herself, as she says to a friend, “‘Odd, isn’t it? These things which have come in our own time: the cinema and the wireless, and both breaking up the community! And when there’s the television, we won’t need to go out of our own lonely room.’” Her attitude to the churches is perhaps reflective of Mitchison’s own, “‘If once we could start treating the Ministers like ordinary decent folk, we’d get help out of the churches instead of the harm they mostly do. ….. You know there are a few folk who contrive to be good without the fear of hellfire at their tails. But maybe we’ll not manage to treat the Ministers right till they stop wanting to be treated as something special.’”

A curious addition to the list of characters is a member of the Highland Panel, come to assess the possibility of allocating funds for the Hall. This is a “‘Mrs Mitchison from Carradale. She writes books.’” This may be an attempt by the author to deflect suspicion that Kate is in fact her avatar. I also mused on whether this is where Orhan Pamuk might have got the idea of referring to himself in his novels. But I don’t suppose there’s any reason to believe he’s ever read Scottish Fiction of any kind, still less Mitchison.

The concerns over change in the community are bound up with the thought that the Highland way of life is in danger. Kate puts this into perspective when she thinks, “You could sum up the Highland way of life, she thought, if you were unkind, in four words: devilment, obligement, refreshment, buggerment.”

This novel is steeped in that way of life, speech patterns and all, only aspects of which now remain seventy years on, yet the capacity for gossip and innuendo, interest in other folk, is a human perennial. These are recognisable people, behaving in familiar ways.

Pedant’s corner:- commas before and at the end of a piece of direct speech in a continuing sentence are routinely omitted, “The Revie’s had come” (Revies,) oursel’s (this is ‘ourselves’. It’s a plural so does not need that apostrophe,) gunwhale (gunwale, and spelled as such on the next page.) “‘Were you thinking ou an extension, Dugal?’” (printer’s typo? ‘u’ for ‘n’? ‘thinking on’,) a-hold (ahold,) an end quote mark inserted into the middle of a speech, Bits’ (Bits’s.) “‘So long as it’ no’ me’” (it’s,) crochety (crotchety,) rhodies (x 3, rhoddies,) Balnafearcha (elsewhere always Balnafearchar,) “all it’s horrible narrowness” (its,) “an seven-day incubation period” (a seven-day,) Angus’ (x 2, Angus’s,)

Lovely SF Colour Endpapers From 1950s

I can’t remember where I bought my hardback copy of Son of the Stars by Raymond F Jones (Hutchinson & Company, London, 1952?) but I did so mainly due to the excellent endpapers.

Aren’t they lovely? So of their time. They remind me a bit of Robot Archie from the British weekly comic Lion and of course Robby from the film Forbidden Planet:-

Colour Endpapers

Boer War Memorial Plaque, Tynemouth

On the stairwell of what was once a church, now a shopping arcade in Front Street, Tynemouth

Boer War Memorial Plaque Tynemouth

Jupiter Artland

As it was our anniversary on Monday we decided to visit Jupiter Artland, a Sculpture Park and Art venue near Wilkieston in West Lothian.

At present it is hosting an exhibition of paintings/drawings by Tracey Emin under the collective title “I Lay Here For You.” These smaller works were split between the Ballroom and an exhibition space in the Park’s Steadings. I must say I’m not taken with Emin’s painting/drawing skills. The best bit about the Ballroom was the building’s ceiling.

Jupiter Artland Ballroom Ceiling

The garden outside the Ballroom was pleasantly planted:-

Jupiter Artland, Ballroom Garden

There’s what looks like a paddling pool in the grounds. It’s not really. There are signs asking you to stay on the black area for a start. The estate’s “Big House” is in the background here:-

Jupiter Artland Paddling Pool

We also partook of lunch in the café. The menu was abit pretentious but the food was good.

On the way in you drive past some Charles Jencks landforms called Cells of Life. Below is a stitch from four photos:-

Jupiter Artland, Charles Jencks Landforms

Closer view of Charles Jencks landforms at Jupiter Artland with a red bridge in middle distance:-

Jupiter Artland, Charles Jencks landforms + Red Bridge

In our later stroll through the grounds we came closer to that bridge. It’s named Only Connect and is by Ian Hamilton Findlay:-

Jupiter Artland, Red Bridge

Red Bridge at Jupiter Artland

The Quarry by Phyllida Barlow. The colours on the columns are a bit faded but reminded me of totem poles:-

"The Quarry," Jupiter Artland

The Rose Walk is by Pablo Bronstein:-

The Rose Walk, Jupiter Artland,

Jupiter Artland, The Rose Walk 3

The Rose Walk at Jupiter Artland

One of the installations is Weeping Girls, created by Laura Ford. I didn’t photgraph that one as I found the figures rather creepy.

Signpost to Jupiter. I note the distance is given in USian. (Since a meter is a measuring device not a length the better spelling is kilometres):-

Signpost to Jupiter, Jupiter Artland

There is a Tracey Emin sculpture titled I Lay Here for You in the griounds.

I Lay Here For You at Jupiter Artland

Jupiter Artland, Bomb Sculpture

To give some idea of the location here is a phptgraph of three bridges across the River Forth as seen from Jupiter Artland. The Forth Bridge (right,) The Forth Road Bridge (centre,) The Queensferry Crossing (left.)

Albion Rovers 1-2 Dumbarton

SPFL Tier 4, Cliftonhill,* 6/8/22.

Well. Another win. But we left it late and we were playing against ten men for well over an hour.

Stuart Carswell is on penalty duties again. And there was a first goal for us for Ryan Wallace.

We’ve had false dawns before. I’ll reserve judgement as to how good we might be for a few weeks yet.

Mind you; I can’t remember the last time we came from behind to win a game.

*Apparently the Riegart Stadium for sponsorship purposes. Me neither.

Ignorance by Milan Kundera

faber and faber, 2003, 197 p. Translated from the French L’Ignorance by Linda Asher.

 Ignorance cover

Kundera left Czechoslovakia (as it then was) in 1975 to live in France. His last few books have all been written in French and he wishes them to be considered as French literature, not Czech. This novel could have been designed as a riposte to anyone who questions that wish, dealing as it does with the condition of the émigré, especially one who makes a return to his/her original country.

He tells us, “the émigré is always thought to be forever longing for his/her homeland” and, citing the Odyssey as a template, says, “Homer glorified nostalgia with a laurel wreath and thereby laid out a moral hierarchy of emotions.”

Kundera begs to differ. For his émigré characters here, that hierarchy (taken as read by others) is an unwarranted assumption. They do not have such a longing. They have made a life for themselves elsewhere, have memories of those lives and do not have the same memories as those who stayed. There is a mutual incomprehension there, “for memory to function well it needs constant practice.” That practice is not available to someone no longer living in a country and “nostalgia does not heighten memory’s activity, it does not awaken recollections; it suffices unto itself, unto its own feelings, so fully absorbed is it by its suffering and nothing else.” Indeed on return even the native language appears at first to be barely intelligible.

Kundera also notes the unthinking cruelty of a US journalist who asked the composer Schoenberg only a few years after the Holocaust had led him to leave Europe, “Does an artist’s inspiration wither when it no longer has the roots of their native soil to nourish it?” Well, no. But what insensitivity.

Kundera’s absence from his native land has certainly not quenched his inspiration. Ignorance is saturated with thoughts of Czech identity, the Czech experience. Twice, he says, in 1938 and 1968, Czechs had been willing to die “to keep that landscape their own.” He says, “To be willing to die for one’s country: every nation has known that temptation to sacrifice.” However, the patriotism of large nations is different: “they are buoyed by their glory, their importance, their universal mission. The Czechs loved their country not because it was glorious but because it was unknown; not because it was big but because it was small and in constant danger. Their patriotism was an enormous compassion for their country.”

Geography is a factor in this. “The Scandinavians, the Dutch, the English are privileged to have had no important dates since 1945.” (Actually, as far as the English are concerned, twenty years on from when that thought was published, it is arguable that that ‘privilege’ has had a baleful effect.)

The two émigrés in Ignorance, Irena and Josef, meet by chance in a Paris airport waiting for a flight to Prague. Irena believes she had a connection to Josef when they were still in Czechoslovakia but Josef cannot remember her. They tentatively arrange to meet once they get to Prague. Both have unfortunate encounters with their relatives or friends who stayed behind and when they get together in a hotel room the outcome is as disheartening as might be expected.

Then again, the modern world is a constant distraction. Kundera tells us Schoenberg said, “Radio is an enemy …it force-feeds us music,” over the hearing of which we have no choice, hence music becomes just noise. I wondered idly if, to Kundera, sex, or the description of it, is just noise. In Ignorance it isn’t necessarily joyful. For example, in her absence, Irene’s husband Gustaf, who has set up a branch of his business in Prague, is seduced by her mother. Surprised, his initial reaction is “an immemorial error of men: having appropriated for themselves the role of seducers, they never even consider any women but the ones they might desire; the idea doesn’t occur to them that a woman who is ugly or old, or who simply stands outside their erotic imagining, might want to possess them.” The thought doesn’t stop him though.

Despite discussing what might be called high ideas Kundera invites us to mistrust them. “Conversations carried on in the stratospheres of the mind are always myopic about what goes on, with no reason or logic, down below: two great armies are battling to the death over sacred causes; but some minuscule plague bacterium comes along and lays them both low.”

Josef’s past life, when he rejected a girlfriend, leading to a bizarre consequence unknown to him, seems like a different world. Perhaps because it is; both to him as an émigré and to us as readers in translation.

Pedant’s corner:- Odysseus’ (Odysseus’s,) “by the emotion wracking that beauty and distorting it” (racking.)

Friday on my Mind 219: The Day I Met Marie

Heyday Cliff Richard was before my time but he still had some songs I could appreciate.

Written by The Shadows’ Hank Marvin, this is one of them.

Cliff Richard: The Day I Met Marie

Minor Art Deco, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Art Deco Style – flat roof, cream render – as seen from car park of Modern Two, Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Art Deco Style

Edinburgh Art Deco Style

Markinch, Art Deco Style Former Church

In George Street, Markinch, is this former church building now a private house. It may have been a United Free Church.

Markinch, Art Deco Style Former Church

There’s rule of three in the (replaced) windows and 1930s style in the doors but the cross above the doors and the style of the portico both suggest deco.

There’s another photo of it on the web.

Spennymoor War Memorial

Spennymoor is a town in County Durham. We usually bypassed it on travelling to and from Barnard Castle but last December we decided to have a look at it on our way back from visiting Bowes Museum. Unfortunately the light was fading a bit by the time we did.

Spennymoor’s War Memorial stands at a road junction:-

Spennymoor War Memorial From Distance

Closer view:-

Spennymoor War Memorial

Dedication; above cross “Pro Dieu et Pro Patria.” Below cross, “To these men of Spennymoor district who fell defending our liberty let their names be cherished with gratitude and pride and the remembrance of their steadfast endurance and gallant sacrifice be enshrined in t e haerts of our people for ever
and let this land whose hearts they saved from shame for many and many an age proclaim eternal honour to their name.”

War Memorial, Spennymoor, Dedication

“The Glorious Dead” of the Great War. I Abley – J H Evans:-

War Memorial, Spennymoor

Below these are the names for World War 2:-

Spennymoor War Memorial Second World War Names

Great War Names K Farthing – F Perry above and a 2011 Afghanistan name below:-

Great War and Afghanistan Names Spennymoor War Memorial 6

Great War Names, J Perry – W Young:-

War Memorial, Spennymoor, Great War Names 7

Great War 100th Anniversary bench, litter bin and effigy of soldier:-

War Memorial Bench, Spennymoor

Former Town Hall. It still holds Town Council meetings but now houses an Art Gallery and various other outlets:-

Building, Spennymoor

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