As Mrs McShandy and I wandered up Union Street in Aberdeen, at the close of the day, we thanked our lucky stars that this year’s WORD festival had not featured anything as surreal or disgusting as the time we were vomited over from an upper storey window. It was still pretty unusual: Aberdeen has installed open-air pissoirs, to prevent doorway micturition. The doorways still reek. Union Street was teeming with what Mrs McS christened “the great undressed”, reminding us of the time when an otherwise pleasant meal with Sam Leith, then literary editor of the Telegraph, was accompanied by the bare and well-developed thighs of local lassies pressed against the outside of the restaurant’s plate glass window; with the fingers of their rat-faced, acne-splattered paramours worming away ineffectually. Quite put me off my calamari, that did. Aberdeen can be an intensely beautiful city: the silver shimmer when the sun glints off the granite in the mist is staggering.
The WORD festival was a great success. Firstly, I did my first ever event for Scott-land. It seemed to go fairly well, although I was oddly nervous to be giving an event rather than chairing it. The next day buoyed me up with a full page advert for Scott-land and the new Book of Lost Books, as well as an early but welcome review (“Scott-land doesn’t just provoke, it could map out a Scott renaissance”, from MSP Chris Harvie) in the Scottish Review of Books. I had relatively light chairing duties: Benedict Allen, the explorer, talked about his husky-pulled trip over the Bering Straits; and Pauline McLynn – of Father Ted fame – well: we were supposed to be talking about her new novel, but ended up discussing why porn stars hate HD TV (it does sound like a sexually transmitted disease). We went to a large number of non-reading events – an Elizabeth Blackadder exhibition, comedian Karen Dunbar performing Denise Mina’s Rabeleisian retort to Hugh MacDiarmid, A Drunk Woman Looks At The Thistle, and the new Scottish Opera 5:15 (we liked Miriama Young and Alan Spence’s contribution a great deal, thought Peter Davidson’s libretto for 74 degrees north by far the most poetic, and Bernard McLaverty and Vitaly Khodosh’s The Letter the most successful overall). The Canongate Club Night was great fun: readings from Dan Rhodes, Scarlett Thomas, Robin Robertson and Louise Welsh, where the goose-flesh-raising work of Robin Robertson silenced a sweaty hall. I declined to dance.
As for the literary festival side of things, there were a couple of great events. Allan Massie was on typically dry and wry form. Denise Mina discussed the question of character names – her new detective, Alex Morrow, was originally Alice Minto, but the Americans have an article of confectionary called the Minto, so it sounded like she was Alice Chewits or Alice Eminems, and Alex is more androgynous. The revelation was Polish author Stefan Chwin, who read a very Perecian section of Death in Danzig – a ludicrous title change, insisted on by the UK publishers, of Hanneman. Alan Riach gave an excellent lecture on Edwin Morgan, which managed to be iconoclastic towards as well as indebted to the author. Scarlett Thomas was as sharp and intellectually nimble as ever, and the only slight let down was the debate, which never really became a debate.
This Wednesday will see Aberdeen council vote on the proposed plans for Union Terrace Gardens. Please look online for any petitions to sign in favour of the Peacock Arts Centre and in opposition to the Wood Group’s proposal. Philanthropy is not the same as droit de seigneur.