King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett

Michael Joseph, 1982, 725 p, plus ii p frontispiece showing the lineage of Kings of Scotland (Alba) and Northumbria, ii p backispiece (I apologise for the coinage) of rulers of Orkney, Norway, Normandy and England, iii p maps of mid Europe in the 11th century, Alba (Scotland) and Northern England in AD 1050, and of the Orkney islands and Caithness of AD 1050, and ii p lineage of Danish and Norwegian rulers.

The sparseness of the historical record for Scotland in the Dark Ages leaves something of a blank canvas for the novelist to exploit. In Dunnett’s account of the life of Macbeth MacFinlay (whom Shakespeare portrayed as a villain) she has chosen to fill that canvas by conflating him with a certain Earl Thorfinn of Orkney. (See here.)

In Dunnett’s version, Thorfinn (in the book he is rarely referred to by his Christian baptismal name of Macbeth,) although the grandson of King Malcolm II is more proud of his Orcadian heritage than his Scottish one and keener for that to be passed on to his own sons, to whom he gives Norse names.

He is not the only character to have more than one name. His wife was born in Norway as Ingibjorg Arnason, has the baptismal name Margaret but is known to him as Groa (and in Gaelic as Gruoch.) Aged fourteen she was forced into marriage to a middle-aged Mormaer of Moray, Gillacomghain, who had killed Finnlaech, our hero Thorfinn’s stepfather. When Thorfinn in his turn killed Gillacomghain to regain his lands of Moray he married the widow.

Such was life for high-born women in the Dark Ages; destined only to cement alliances and to breed. (Spoiler alert [Really? Are the outlines of the story not well-known?]: she was to suffer a similar fate when Thorfinn is killed by the man who became Malcolm III who also made her his wife.)

This was the time when the Norse kingdoms had only recently become (at least nominally) Christian and a fair bit of the narrative deals with the merits of the Celtic as opposed to the Roman Church in particular as Thorfinn is trying to unify the Kingdom of Alba’s only loosely held regions of Fife, Angus, Buchan, Caithness etc. Though Thorfin has some sway in Galloway (and Cumbria plus alliances with Ireland) the Lothians were territory disputed with Northumbria. England’s regions (Mercia, Wessex, East Anglia) likewise owed allegiance to one king but their rulers had ambitions of their own.

The novel’s main attention, though, is given to Thorfinn’s Scottish lands and those in Orkney but ranges widely over the Northern Europe of the time and has mentions of King Stephen of Hungary. Thorfinn even makes a pilgrimage to Rome to seek the Pope’s imprimatur. In his youth he had spent some time in the English court of King Canute whose wife Emma (another who had been taken as a wife by her first’s successor,) after her second husband’s death still has her matrilineal fingers spread across England and Normandy.

At times, then, the book reads more like a historical account than a novel. Shifting alliances and manoeuvrings make up most of the intrigue with the interests of the Godwinsson family and William the Bastard of Normandy (which would eventually collide at the Battle of Hastings) begin to loom large towards the book’s end.

King Hereafter can be seen as one of many attempts to rescue the historical Macbeth from the obloquy to which Shakespeare consigned him.

His periglour Sulien here says to him, “‘Men will look back and see a king who strove to build for his people. …. The name each man leaves is a small thing compared with the mark he puts on the world.’”

The book is long, with fairly small print, and paints Thorfinn and Groa’s relationship sympathetically and humanly but also serves as a primer on late 11th century history.

Pedant’s corner:- dwarved (dwarfed,) manoeuvering (manoeuvring,) unfocussed (unfocused,) aureoles (areolas- or areolae,) chorussed (chorused?) pleat (it was hair, so ‘plait’,) basalm (balsam,)

Live It Up 110: Fairy Tale of New York. RIP Shane McGowan

And now Shane McGowan has gone. I doubt he needs any introduction.

There is really only one song that I can use to illustrate his legacy. It is most people’s favourite “Christmas” song. It does not deal with traditional Christmas themes.

I note this is not the version with the “cleaned-up” lyric. (Though the person typing out the lyrics  did misspell a four letter word.)

The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl: Fairy Tale of New York

Shane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan: 25/12/1957 – 30/11/2023. So it goes.

Alistair Darling

I saw on today’s news that Alistair Darling has died.

He was Chancellor of the Exchequer during the 2008 financial crash and is credited by many as having been instrumental in ameliorating its consequences. That its perpetrators/enablers subsequently were not punished for causing it – as they ought to have been – cannot be laid at his door.

He seems to have been well thought of all round. Not something that can be said of the usual run of politicians.

Alistair Maclean Darling: 28/11/1953 – 30/11/2023. So it goes.


I hesitate to mention Henry Kissinger, whose death was also announced today, in the same breath. The two could hardly have been more different.

Henry (Heinz ) Alfred Kissinger: 27/5/1923 – 29/11/2023. So it goes.


In Saturday’s Guardian there was a good article on various sporting teams’ nicknames.

Apparently The Pilchards, aka Perranporth, a team from Cornwall, once had a manager who said “I’m gutted.”

As well as The Pilchards and multivarious others it mentions Scotland’s own Doonhamers, Bully Wee, Blue Brazil, Loons, Red Lichties and Hi Hi.

Stamford FC in England are nicknamed The Daniels after that country’s fattest man Daniel Lambert. Albacete in Spain are seemingly known as The Clockwork Cheese.

I was surprised that Harrogate Town’s tag of the Sulphurites wasn’t included as it is on the surface a bit strange. (Not htough when you consider the town’s arigins as a spa due to its sulphur springs.

Not to mention The Flying Donkeys (ChievoVerona) whom fans of their city rivals Hellas Verona were fonds of saying that only when those animals did achieve that feat would Chievo ever appear in Serie A. Chievo had the last laugh though when in 2001 they played in the Italian top flight for the first time and their fans adopted the nickname i Mussi Volanti. Sadly Chievo, though still registered, no longer play in the Italian pyramid system due to problems with financial viability over tax liabilities and a dispute about Covid dispensations.

War Memorial, New Elgin

Until I looked up Elgin War Memorial before our trip I had no idea there was a New Elgin. It lies to the south of Elgin itself.

We came up via the A 941 after turning off the A 95 at Craigellachie and passed though another Highland League town, Rothes, which has no less than four distilleries, but we didn’t have time to stop there for a look round.

Since I knew it where to find it I was able to stop to photograph New Elgin’s War Memorial. It is a figure of a kilted soldier with reversed rifle above a square plinth with scrolled edges.

War Memorial, New Elgin

Dedication, “To the men of New Elgin, Ashgrove and Mycroft,” and names:-

War Memorial, New Elgin, Dedication and Names

Great War names. Note Nurse Mary Fraser VAD:-

New Elgin War Memorial Great War Names


Great War Names, New Elgin War Memorial

Memorial’s reverse. Second World War names:-

Reverse, New Elgin War Memorial


Terry Venables

I was sad to hear of the death of Terry Venables, former footballer and England manager, with many strings to his bow.

Not least was that he became manager of Barcelona, whom he led to their first La Liga title in 11 years and to a first European Cup Final in 25 years. Soon nicknamed El Tel he had endeared himself to the fans just after his appointment by addressing them  in Catalan.

His interests outside football were less inspiring, with question marks over his business affairs.

More to his credit though was that along with Gordon Williams he was the co-creator of Hazell, a fictional TV detective. The pair also wrote a football based book together They Used to Play on Grass as well as several other novels featuring Hazell.

It is for his footballing legacy that he will be remember longest though.

Terence Frederick Venables: 6/1/1943 – 25/11/2023. So it goes.


Scottish Cup Fate

Sons reward for our 5-4 extra time win over Annan Athletic on Saturday (a topsy-turvy game where we went two up, then one down then all square at 9o minutes before going one down again but recovering to score twice) in the Scottish Cup* is a home draw against Rangers in Round Four.

We were second last out of the hat (which nowadays is a perspex bowl) with only us and Rangers left.

We won’t win the tie so I would have preferred the game to have been away so that we would have a financial boost from the much bigger crowd that would have turned up to Ibrox but we’ll have to make the mostof what we’ve got.

*The Scottish Gas Scottish Cup.

The Farewell Party by Milan Kundera

King Penguin, 1987, 186 p. Translated from the Czech by Peter Kussi. First published as La Valse aux adieux, © Éditions Gallimard, Paris, 1976.

This novel’s story unfolds over five days, the events of each of which make up the book’s sections.

Klima is a jazz trumpeter who has an erotic secret. As he tells his friend Bartleff, a rich American, “I love my wife.” That, however, has not stopped Klima from having sex with other women, one of whom, Ruzena, is a nurse in a fertility clinic in the spa town where Bartleff lives. An earlier phone call from Ruzena to Klima announcing she is pregnant has brought Klima scurrying to the town to try to resolve the situation. Their story is mixed in with that of Dr Skreta who runs the clinic, his friend Jakub, a former political dissident who has just received permission to leave the country and Jakub’s ward, Olga, the daughter of the man who betrayed Jakub to the authorities.

Skreta has had great success in enabling his clients to have babies. He has a sperm bank using his own semen as a result of which many of them have features resembling those of the doctor. “I have cured quite a few women of childlessness by using this approach.”

Klima wishes Ruzena to have an abortion but she refuses, at least initially. Skreta heads the abortion committee before which Ruzena would have to appear. Its two mature women members are generally unsympathetic to those who come before them wishing the procedure, an attitude Skreta interprets by saying women are the greatest misogynists in the world, always doing other women down. Misogyny, though, is a strain which tends to run through the book.

The character of Jakub allows Kundera to comment on the restrictions of a repressive state and the traits that inculcates, “All you have to do to turn people into murderers is to remove them from their peaceful circle of family home and work. Every now and again history exposes humans to certain pressures and traps which nobody can resist.” On people who seek revenge for their plight on the descendants of their persecutors he opines that victims are no better than their oppressors.

Bartleff, too, has observations to make, including that Saint Paul was not only a disciple of Jesus but a falsifier of his teaching. “His somersault from Saul to Paul. Haven’t we seen enough of those passionate fanatics who jump overnight from one faith to another?” (I note here that Christianity’s evolution after Saul’s conversion makes a case for the religion(s) it became to be named Paulinity rather than Christianity.)

The Farewell Party (some translations give the title as The Farewell Waltz) is intricately plotted, the connections between the two main strands woven together in an unexpected but somehow inevitable – albeit harsh – way. The overall feeling though is one of distance, that we see the characters as through frosted glass. They don’t seem to act for themselves so much as take the parts ascribed to them. But that is what living under a repressive regime must be like.

Pedant’s corner:- “surely a more likable being that Raskolnikov’s usurious hag” (than Raskolnikov’s,) missing full stops at the end of two sentences.

Something Changed 74: Black Hole Sun

US group Soundgarden’s biggest UK hit.


It was Sixty Years Ago Today …..

…. that Doctor Who first appeared on a TV screen.

The episode was entitled An Unearthly Child and starred the wonderfully tetchy William Hartnell as the Doctor and Carole Ann Ford as his granddaughter Susan.

It wasn’t until four weeks later that the enemy who became synonymous with the series, the Daleks, entered the natons’ consciousness.

The title music was composed by Ron Grainer and its haunting, and at the time futuristic, nature was realised by Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.


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