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Balbirnie House Gardens

Normally we skirt round the side of Balbirnie House Hotel when we take our daily walk to Markinch for the Guardian. (To the left in the photo below and round past the front of the building.)

Balbirnie House and Garden

During the first lockdown last year we felt able to take a stroll through the House’s gardens.

Balbirnie House Garden

Balbirnie House Lawn

Balbirnie House Garden

Garden, Balbirnie House

Balbirnie House Garden Arch

Balbirnie House Garden, Markinch, Fife

Balbirnie House Garden , Markinch, Fife

Balbirnie House Garden, Markinch, Fife

Balbirnie House Garden, Markinch, Fife

Balbirnie House

Balbirnie House was the “big” house nearest to Markinch and was home to the Balfour family before being sold off in 1969. It is now a hotel, the Balbirnie House Hotel and the estate grounds are now Balbirnie Park.

Nearly every morning I walk past it and through its grounds (more than half of which is now a golf course) on my way to Markinch to pick up the Guardian.

This is a photo of the hotel from just over a year ago:-

Balbirnie House Hotel

There had been reasonably heavy rain and a pool of water had collected beside the footpath which skirts the estate road leading upo to the hotel. This was followed by a freeze:-

Balbirnie Park Flood

Balbirnie House with Frozen Flood

Lower down the estate road, nearer to Markinch, this area of the golf course had also been flooded and frozen:-

Flooded Golf Fairway, Balbirnie

On the other side of the estate road this part of Balbirnie Park remained flooded for almost all of 2020:-

Flooded Ground, Balbirnie Park

Colin Bell

Manchester City’s best team may have been the one of the very recent past. Certainly in terms of trophies won it is the most successful. However City’s last great side, the one of the late 60s and early 70s, is worth mentioning in the same breath.

That side’s outstanding performer, one of the greatest players Manchester City ever had, if not the greatest, Colin Bell, has died. The only one of City’s players ever to be dubbed ‘the King’, in his case ‘King of the Kippax’, after the Kippax Street Stand at City’s old Maine Road Ground. He was also nicknamed Nijinsky after a famous race-horse of the time due to the seemingly effortless way he covered the ground. The team was an attacking force to be reckoned with and Bell was its driving creative hub.

His stature at the club was such that one of the stands at City’s new ground, the Manchester City Stadium, aka the Etihad, was named for him.

There was a fine appreciation by Simon Hattenstone of what the man meant to City supporters in yesterday’s Guardian.

By all accounts he was a decent man as well as a great footballer.

Colin Bell: 26/2/1946 – 5/1/2021. So it goes.

Fifty Years Ago Today …..

…. five boys from the town nearest to where I live went off to watch a football match.

And never came back.

They were caught up in the crush on Stairway 13 at Ibrox Park – as it was then known – in which 66 people died.

No one in Markinch knew their fate until the last buses and trains through the town that night had come – and gone. And then they feared the worst.

The incident is still a sore memory in Markinch, it is almost as resonant, perhaps even equal to, Remembrance Day in importance.

The loss struck the town hard. Many of the present inhabitants were at school at the same time, if not the same year group, as the five, whom they remember vividly.

In the years after, one of the mothers would run down the street from her work every lunch time to be beside her boy.

The last big anniversary – the fortieth – saw a refurbishment of the town’s memorial, which till then had been a plaque lying on the grass overlooked by both the streets in which the boys had lived. An appeal to raise funds for refurbishment was inundated within days with contributions coming in from all over the world. So much so that the memorial was added to and made into a pair of stones one atop the other.

I posted a photograph of the upgraded memorial here.

There was a programme about the disaster on BBC Scotland on Monday 28th December, available on iPlayer for 11 months.

The disaster was also the subject of a piece in the Guardian earlier in December, mentioning previous crushes on the same stairway (ten years earlier one of these had resulted in two deaths) which ought to have brought about remedial action.

Sadly, it took the 66 deaths fifty years ago for Rangers FC to start upgrading the stadium.

As well as the memorial stone in Markinch there is a bench in the grounds of the local Kirk, St Drostan’s. Since St Drostan’s is on a hill the bench overlooks the town.

Ibrox Disaster Memorial Bench, Markinch

Names of the five boys:-

Nameplate, Ibrox Disaster Memorial Bench, Markinch

Ben Bova and Chuck Yeager

I see from George R R Martin’s blog that SF writer and editor Ben Bova has died.

Martin is particularly indebted to Bova as it was he as editor of Analog who helped Martin’s career (and those of many others) by accepting his stories for publication.

As a writer Bova’s style was in that USian hard SF tradition, which isn’t entirely to my taste. Looking at my records it seems I only bought two of his novels, Millenium and Kinsman.

Benjamin William (Ben) Bova: November 8/11/1932 – 29/11/2020. So it goes.

I also saw (on CNN as it happens) that legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager, first to person to fly faster than the speed of sound (in air,) yesterday passed away. (The link is to his Guardian obituary.) I read Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff (and also watched the film made from it) about Yeager’s era of piloting and the early US space programme.

Charles Elwood (Chuck) Yeager; 13/2/1923 – 7/12/2020. So it goes.

Also gone from us is former golfer and TV commentator Peter Alliss. His style had gone a bit past its sell-by date in recent times but it cannot be denied that his knowledge of golf and its history was immense.

Peter Alliss; 28/2/1931 – 5/12/2020. So it goes.

Art Deco in Chiswick

This photo appeared in yesterday’s Guardian as part of their Fantasy House Hunt feature.

It’s a wonderful Art Deco block of flats, white rendering, horizontals, verticals, balconies with rounded corners, flat roof, rule of three in entrance column. All its windows have been ruined though.

Art Deco flats Chiswick

A one-bedroom flat inside it will set you back a cool £495,000.

The Persistence of the Rime

The Rime of course is that of the Ancient Mariner (a nickname bestowed on a 1980s full-time team’s part-time goalkeeper of my acquaintance – he taught in the same school as me – on the grounds that, “he stoppeth one of three”) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

In another piece in Saturday’s Guardian Review, Philip Hoare, remarks on the poem’s continuing relevance, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick through to Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross and beyond.

(Aside; when I hear the word, “Albatross!” I nearly always think “Gannet on a stick.”)

The instant recognition of the lines, “Water, water, everywhere” and “all creatures great and small,” he says, have become part of the lexicon.

At which point my senses pricked up. All Creatures Great and Small is nowadays best known as a television adaptation of a James Herriot set of novels.

But surely, rather than from the Rime, that quote comes from the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful of which it is the second line? To my mind that is a much more likely source for a collective awareness of the phrase than the poem.

The hymn’s writers may well themselves have been inspired by the poem and its almost identical line “All things great and small” (which is followed by “For the dear God who loveth us; He made and loveth all,”) itself very close to “The Lord God made them all.” However that is not quite what Philip Hoare claimed.

Novel Misconceptions

In a piece in Saturday’s Guardian Review on how he wrote The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi echoes Tolstoy’s (in my opinion contentious) dictum about happy families. Kureishi claims that, “All first novels are letters to one’s parents, telling them how it was for you, an account of things they didn’t understand or didn’t want to hear.”

Speak for yourself, mate.

This sort of statement can only encourage the lazy view some readers have that everything in a novel – especially a novel written in the first person – is somehow autobiographical. It leaves no space for invention, nor for imagination; only craft. And it belittles that craft. The recent vogue for autofiction of the Karl Ove Knausgård type is for that reason an unwelcome development as far as I’m concerned.

Of course aspects of a writer’s life may seep into her or his work – perhaps even subconsciously – and autobiographical incidents may appear there, in altered form or otherwise, but that is not to say that everything in a work emanates from that source. Inspiration can strike from anywhere, not merely the author’s own life and experiences.

Your first novel may have been written as a letter to your parents, Mr Kureishi. However, that is not true of everyone’s.

A List. (Well; Part of a List)

This list – supposedly of the 100 best books of the 21st century (so far) – was published in The Guardian Review on Saturday 21/9/19. (Some of them are non-fiction which I’m extremely unlikely to read.)

I’ve split it in two for purposes of concision in a post.

The usual annotations apply. Those in bold I have read, an asterisk denotes intention to read.

100 I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron (2006)
99 Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou (2005), translated by Helen Stevenson (2009)
98 The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2005), translated by Steven T Murray (2008)
97 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling (2000)
96 A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015)
95 Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan (2004)
94 The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
93 Darkmans by Nicola Barker (2007)
92 The Siege by Helen Dunmore (2001)
91 Light by M John Harrison (2002)
90 Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck (2008), translated by Susan Bernofsky (2010)
89 Bad Blood by Lorna Sage (2000)
88 Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman (2001)
87 Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood (2017)
86 Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis (2017)
85 The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (2006)
84 The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy (2018)
83 Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli (2016), translated by Luiselli with Lizzie Davis (2017)
82 Coraline by Neil Gaiman (2002)
81 Harvest by Jim Crace (2013)
80 Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (2002)
79 The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009)
78 The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin (2015)
77 Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera (2009), translated by Lisa Dillman (2015)
76 Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2011)
75 Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (2009), translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (2018)
74 Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (2016)
73 Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick (2009)
72 The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff (2019)
71 Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware (2000)
70 Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller (2003)
69 The Infatuations by Javier Marías (2011), translated by Margaret Jull Costa (2013)
68 The Constant Gardener by John le Carré (2001)
67 The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (2018)*
66 Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli (2014)
65 Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)
64 On Writing by Stephen King (2000)
63 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)
62 Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn (2006)
61 This House of Grief by Helen Garner (2014)
60 Dart by Alice Oswald (2002)
59 The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson (2002)
58 Postwar by Tony Judt (2005)
57 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)
56 Underland by Robert Macfarlane (2019)
55 The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (2006)
54 Women & Power by Mary Beard (2017)
53 True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2000)
52 Small Island by Andrea Levy (2004)
51 Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (2009)

As you can see I’ve only read four of this selection – all of them broadly under the SF or fantasy umbrella.

Toni Morrison

I must confess I have not read any of the works of Toni Morrison who died earlier this week. My fault. Her obituary and other articles about her in the Guardian and things I have read about her before or seen discussed on book programmes and the like indicate she is certainky worth reading.

What can I say?

Too many books. Not enough time.

I ought perhaps to remedy my omission in the future, though.

Chloe Ardelia Wofford (Toni Morrison): 18/2/1931 – 5/8/2019. So it goes.

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