Another week, and I’ve been off to another part of Scotland as part of my general Ambassador for the Literary Arts role. This week was Balloch, for a schools debate as part of the Scottsland Initiative. So I caught a train at 7 o’clock, stupidly thought the connection went from Glasgow Central rather than Queen Street so walked away from the train I should have been on, and had to catch a series of other trains to catch up with where I should have been.
Scottsland has been put together by Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Scott’s The Lady of the Lake; since its celebrity caused – to all intents and purposes – the re-imagination of the Trossachs as a tourist destination. It’s not an idle boast: the arithmomaniac Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster noted his carriage to Loch Lomond was the 297th that year, with no year beforehand having more than seventy. And I can’t help feeling calling it The Lady of the Lake, not The Lady of the Loch was a stroke of genius: English tourists didn’t automatically think of it as an alien place. The six schools at this event were debating against each other on the motion “This House Believes That Sir Walter Scott Was The Greatest Scot”, after me talking to them about the good and bad aspects of Scott and his legacy. I judged the debate, along with the Education Minister, Michael Russell – without previous preparation, we both used the anecdote about the infamous comment by the Brigadoon producer, who on being asked why they didn’t film it in Scotland, replied that Scotland didn’t look Scottish enough. The motion was carried 2-1 over three debates, and I was pretty impressed by the pupils’ debating skills. The opposition did rather bang out about how great Alexander Fleming was, but no reference to James Clerk Maxwell.
Certainly as the train wended through the landscape, Scotland didn’t look very Scottish. My heart jumped when the tannoy announced we were at Singer, since my Dad worked there when it was a factory the size of a small town. Now it’s like the aftermath of a war in a small Balkan town. A friend recently told me that there is not a single bookshop in the whole of West Dunbartonshire – and with public sector cuts targeting “soft” options like libraries, there’s a whole generation being denied access to their own, and other, cultures. I headed back to Edinburgh afterwards to chair A L Kennedy at the National Library of Scotland, where she revealed that her favourite childhood book was “Are you my mother?” by P D Eastman. So that pretty much explains everything. Mrs McS and I went out to dinner with AL, to the ever-reliable Le Sept, and the topics discussed over dinner are now locked away in my Table Talk volume, sealed with the notice “Break In Event Of Financial Crisis”. Oh, the secrets therein…
In a vain bid to distract people from my still problematic haircut, I bought a pair of shoes at the weekend. Then went on another psychogeographical ramble, with less dramatic results – a concrete night-light frog in the woods near to a murder site, an old railway tunnel which has been reopened as part of the cycle routes, a gallery I’d never visited (and where I intend to buy some art pretty soon). But there isn’t a route in Edinburgh without some anomaly or fissure or curlicue of the weird. Yesterday, for example, we passed Queen Mary’s Bathhouse at Holyrood and marvelled again at the heritage sign, which sonorously ends “it is not known if it was ever a bathhouse”.
PS: Silurians Part 2. Equally bad. The death of a companion ought to be singularly heart-wrenching; this was just “och weel”.