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Scottish Short Stories Edited by Theodora and J F Hendry

Penguin, 1945, 123 p.

Scottish Short Stories cover

The back cover says this book was mostly edited by Theodora Hendry but she was killed in the London Blitz. The criteria for selection in the volume was Scottish stories with a Scottish setting or else it “would almost certainly have assumed an international aspect.”
The first, The Coasts of Normandy by George Blake, is the story of a tragedy which befell the narrator’s childhood friend and its effect on the child’s mother as reflected through the prism of a chance encounter with a stranger many years later on the coast of Normandy. It takes a slightly circuitous route to its revelation (which the reader intuits well before the narrative gets there) but this allows for such thoughts as, “The simple feel as warmly as the clever and the learned.” Another of its observations is a reminder that, for some soldiers at least, the Great War was not only a horrific trial and ordeal but also an opportunity to remake their lives in its aftermath.
In A Sunday Visit by Colm Brogan two boys are dragged along by their mother to the Mortons’ house, where the family has just suffered a bereavement. Amid all the whispering, the boys are left to their own devices.
A Hike to Balerno by Ronald McDonald Douglas sees two boys on the titular hike, the escapades they get up to, the banter between them, “daft, just plain daft.”
Clay by Lewis Grassic Gibbon is the story of Robert Galt, a man from a chancy background who takes a farm and devotes all his time to it, to the neglect of his wife and his daughter’s prospects.
Beattock for Moffat by R B Cunninghame Graham tells of the last journey of a dying Scot on the train up from London with his cockney wife and his brother come to take him home to die. The author observes of the accomodations married couples make with each other that “usually … good points, seen through prejudice of race, religion, and surroundings, appear … defects,” and refers to the Cockney wife’s reticence being explained by, “the English theory, that unpleasant things should not be mentioned, and that, by this means, they can be kept at bay.” The prose evidences that Scottish authors’ eye for landscape.
In The Sea by Neil M Gunn a twelve-year-old overcomes his fears, staggering through the night down to the harbour to witness the perilous return of his father’s and brother’s boats during a great storm. Here it is seascape (or land-meets-sea-scape) which the descriptive powers bring to life.
J F Hendry’s Chrysalis is a fragment of the childhood of a boy who wants to be good but fears he is bad because he sometimes is too enthusiastic in his activities.
Clock-a-Doodle-Doo by Willa Muir is set in a room full of clocks (all wag-at-the-wa’) which can speak to each other, having theological discussions over whether the Son or Moon is the primum mobile and aspiring to Pure Horological Thought.
Neil Munro’s The Lost Pibroch could be characterised as a Scottish version of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Two pipers come to Half-Town. After a night of musical vying with the blind piper there he finally plays them the titular pibroch he “got from a man in Moideart.” It has “something of the heart’s longing and the curious chances of life” and sets up a wanderlust in those who hear it.
In The Matinee by Fred Urquhart a fifteen-year-old newly graduated into long trousers reverts to shorts to get into the cinema more cheaply, dragging his younger brother along for corroboration. Engrossed in a film where a factory owner exploiting the workers is presented as virtuous he fails to acknowledge his brother’s increasing personal discomfiture.
Eric Linklater’s Kind Kitty is an old woman who likes a drink, then dies through lack of it a few days after throwing a party for Hogmanay. She inveigles her way into heaven but finds the company there uncongenial, and the beer far too poor.

Pedant’s corner:- a missing full stop, “brigh” (is missing a final ‘t’,) missing commas before pieces of direct speech.

The Ragged Man’s Complaint by James Robertson

B&W Publishing, 1993, 158 p.

 The Ragged Man’s Complaint cover

This is Robertson’s second collection of short stories, after Close.
Giraffe is told from the viewpoint of a worker in a Safari Park and gives a picture of all the dodgy practices that go on there.
In Plagues a man who works in a bookshop sees frogs everywhere and is worried that’s only the beginning.
Screen Lives displays a woman and a man developing their relationship by acting out lines from the film Notorious.
In The Jonah one of two men hitch-hiking in a backwater reflects on how to turn his life around.
The Claw is the withered appendage of the HIV positive narrator’s grandfather, “caught between hope and history,” in a care home. A monitor of his future.
Squibs contains four vignettes a couple of which approach the style of Iain Crichton Smith’s Munro stories.
Bastards relates an encounter in a pub, where a man mistakes another for “the cunt my wife ran off wi’.”
Facing It is a vignette even shorter than those in Squibs wherein a man sees his innards cascade into the toilet bowl and realises he can no longer ignore his medical problem.
The unarguably apocalyptic The End is Nigh, told in almost biblical cadences, has a Science-Fictional feel as a prophet extends his sermon while wandering the countryside.
There are reflections on writing, relative privilege and Scotland in The Mountain, where for a few months in the winter following his grandfather’s death a man occupies the ancestral croft.
What Love Is examines the distance between married couple Dan and Joan, between men’s lives and women’s. “Dan isn’t frightened of other lives. He imagines them all the time. The only life he is frightened of is his own.”
Portugal 5, Scotland 0 (the comma is Robertson’s – or his publisher’s.) During the game concerned two men in a pub take to discussing Hugh MacDiarmid, poetry and Scotland’s cultural reawakening, turning back only after the game is finished, since the football has begun not to matter so much.
In Tilt Alan’s friend Mike tells him the only question in the world worth asking is, “What’s it about?” (Note the absence of “all”.) Alan’s increasingly shiftless feeling comes to a head one day after an encounter with a recalcitrant pinball machine and Mike’s sister, Mona.
Surprise, Surprise. A man accompanies three girls to a party and while there finds his evening is described in a book he picks from a shelf.
In the absence of the real thing, the Tories having won a General Election again (the book’s publication date suggests the 1992 one) Robert occasionally retreats into The Republic of the Mind. “I just think what a waste of time it is, having to wait to be a normal country, having to waste all this energy identifying ourselves. So I bugger off anyway. To the Scottish Republic of the mind.” On an epiphany he thinks, “You had to come upon it, or it came upon you.” He also realises, “how nobody ever assumed their neighbour was a Tory in a public house in Scotland,” and “We’re a nation of philosophers … at the end of the day. A nation of fucking philosophers.” That expletive is a brilliant piece of emphasis by Robertson. It demonstrates both the glory and the despair of the thought it qualifies.
Someone, perhaps homeless, perhaps not, is Pretending to Sleep. For all the ones who cannot do it for themselves. It is a strange existence. “Funny how in the cells they come to check if you’re not dead. Out here, out in the open, nobody checks” but, “Just by lying there, pretending to sleep, you get under their skin …. deep into them.” It’s a horror story. But not for the pretender.

Pedant’s corner:- staunch (stanch,)

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