I had intended my Return Blog to be mostly about this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival – which now seems a hazy memory compared to the joys of living in the countryside. Suffice to say I think any initial scepticism about Nick Barley’s directorship has been laid to rest. Among the highlights were the transhumanism debate (Iain M Banks declared that, whilst there was much to say in favour of age-enhancing technologies, at least at the moment Rupert Murdoch and Margaret Thatcher were going to die); the Story Machines day and the McSweeney’s event, where Eli Horowitz has all his hair shaved off while discussing the American avant-garde. I particularly enjoyed chairing Lydia Davis and Tom McCarthy; and David Mitchell was charm itself. Ticket sales being down 2% hardly seems a crisis: once one has factored in that the Unbound events were unticketed and the book sector as a whole shrank by 13% last year in Scotland, the Festival still seems in a strong position.
Anyway: the countryside. It’s astonishing. Among my observations are that pigeons are not in fact all gammy-legged, vomitophagous mutants, but rather beautiful.
We’ve had bats, frogs, spiders (that sounds a little Macbeth), sheep, horses, dogs, robins, pine-martens, squirrels and plenty other Red In Tooth And Claw dropping by. Mrs McShandy, hitherto petrified of spiders, has learned she finds the ones in the countryside “cute” and is cataloguing the myriad variants of arachnid. Village life is fundamentally different from the city; even from parts of the city which retain a vestigial memory of having been a village. Neighbours are actually neighbourly – we got a lift along the road from the Heriot Car Boot Sale on the back of a truck, since we were carrying four oak chairs which we got for a tenner. The church – don’t worry, I’m not singing hosannas yet – is integral in a proper community way (and the sermon was actually very fine indeed: my atrophied ecclesiastic nerves sparked in a worrying fashion). The cottage is nearly finished – curtains still to be taken up, but the Library is built (and indeed, I am now sitting in it, surrounded by 4000 books).
Work beckons: I’ve got to read a book on Arabic science, write a piece about Alexander Dumas, do a radio interview today about book burning and, time permitting, read more of The Unwritten.
But a quick post scriptum. Mrs McS and I have heard a strange snuffling noise outside the cottage at night. So far, the shortlist of suspects is:
- Child of brother and sister that live far up the valley and which has escaped its woodshed