Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!
"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.
His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"
Thursday, 22 December 2011
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
Monday, 19 December 2011
Sunday, 18 December 2011
I finally felt like getting ready for Christmas today. I texted my decorator and he came straight round. He likes to be left to get on with it his way, so I made myself scarce and sat in my bedroom by the window reading Will Self's Walking to Hollywood. Harry's signature decorating style includes the rather postmodern draping of my furniture in table cloths of various sizes and colours. He likes tinsel and fairy lights, but not - unaccountably - Ruby the veteran Reindeer (who sings and jiggles her head around when her batteries are in) or Ded Moroz - Grandfather Frost - the yellowing Russian folk figurine of even earlier date.
Saturday, 17 December 2011
Thursday, 15 December 2011
Wednesday, 14 December 2011
Shakespeare & Co was Sylvia Beach's Paris bookshop, made famous in the 1920's and 30's as a meeting place for writers such as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Ezra Pound ( 'il miglior fabbro' -the master wordsmith - in Eliot's dedication to him of The Waste Land). After Beach's death, the bookshop moved to new premises where it was eccentrically run for 60 years by George Whitman, who has died aged 98. Whitman famously allowed aspiring writers to stay, sometimes for up to seven years in one case, in exchange for working in the shop and reading a book a day. Breakfast pancakes were served every day to all comers, and wodges of cash were hidden in the shelves. The shop continues under the more conventional management of Whitman's daughter, another Sylvia. The US Bill of Rights was adopted on this day in 1791, guaranteeing freedom of speech, religion, the press and other protections for the citizen. Edna O'Brien, born Dec 15 1930, was inspired, by hearing read out loud the first few lines of Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms, to write her own first novel, in three weeks, The Country Girls (1960). A later, similarly semi-autobiographical novel, The Lonely Girl was made into a movie The Girl With Green Eyes starring Peter Finch. Her first book was publicly burned by the priest in her home town in County Clare, and all her books were initially banned in Eire. There is to be a Hollywood version of Milton's Paradise Lost. Lastly, it was on this day in 1939 that Gone With the Wind starring Vivien Leigh and Clarke Gable opened in Atlanta, Georgia. Due to the 'Jim Crow' regulations in force at the time, the black members of the cast were not allowed to sit with the white ones for the screening. I saw the movie, aged 13, on two parts on successive nights, from the dress circle of a converted theatre in Malmo, Sweden, where we had anchored to dry out during a sailing holiday in the cold, wet summer of 1957.
Tuesday, 13 December 2011
Saturday, 10 December 2011
The Statistical Account of that year also praised the way that townsfolk spoke: "Their language is among the best samples of English to be found in any Scottish village."
It goes on: "There is hardly any smuggling or poaching, and low and gross acts of immorality are seldom heard of in Moffat."
It includes facts about daily life in the town, such as:
curling, bowling and billiards were popular sports
a subscription and circulating library operated locally
there were two daily newspapers
no houses were uninhabited
There was no manufacturing industry but the town could boast plenty of services, ranging from 50 weavers, six shoemakers, six tailors and eight merchants, to one watchmaker, two bakers, five masons, six wrights and one surgeon.
And it was also a popular tourist destination, thanks to the location of the Moffat well.
According to Graham's Social Life of Scotland in the Eighteenth Century: "In spring there meet round the little wells of Moffat a throng in their gayest and brightest from society in town and country, sipping their sulphur waters and discussing their pleasant gossip ... city clergy, men of letters, country gentlemen and ladies of fashion and the diseased and decrepit of the poorest rank, who had toilsomely travelled from far-off districts to taste the magic waters." (reprinted in Moffat News Dec 8 2011)
175 years later, in December 2011 a letter to The Scotsman confirmed:
Your article on successful 'themed' towns in Dumfries and Galloway omitted a notable example: Moffat. Our theme, admittedly as yet unacknowledged as a brand, is 'hospitality' – we have the greatest number of pubs, cafes, restaurants, B&B's, and hotels of any town in D&G. Plus, remarkably for a town of our size (2,499 residents), we have virtually every other civilised amenity on or just off our high street: a bank; a library, two GP surgeries; vet; churches; chemist; deli; co-op; ironmonger; convenience store; clothes shops; gift shops; hairdresser; butcher; baker; book shop; blacksmith; garages; garden centre; newsagents; post office; beauty parlour; physio/osteopath; jeweller, a cottage hospital and a police station. Many of these are housed in a magnificent collection of Georgian buildings associated with the finest flowering of the spa, which spanned three centuries from the 17th –20th century. We were also once the reserve venue for the Wimbledon All England Championships – the real ones ie croquet not tennis.
Wednesday, 7 December 2011
Tuesday, 6 December 2011
Monday, 5 December 2011
Friday, 2 December 2011
My daughter went to Glasgow yesterday and reported that the shops were heaving. Will history divide our lives into BC (Before the Crunch) and AC (After the Crunch)? I have visions that, whereas we are being encouraged to feel relatively protected - cushioned as we are by sterling from the euro crash - , there is a darker scenario: democracy disappears from Europe in favour of the coercive rule of technocrats, the worst possible combination of French and German bossiness. How near the surface are lingering resentments and regrets following the outcome of WWII? Is Nicholas Ridley's Spectator prophecy to come true?
(From Wikipedia: On 14 July 1990 Ridley was forced to resign as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry after an interview published in The Spectator. He had described the proposed Economic and Monetary Union as "a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe" and said that giving up sovereignty to Europe was as bad as giving it up to Adolf Hitler. The interview was illustrated with a cartoon depicting Ridley adding a Hitler moustache to a poster of the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. While Ridley was not one of the most powerful government members, he was regarded as a Thatcherite loyalist and his departure was a significant break in their ranks. Margaret Thatcher herself had to resign four months later. Some commentators point to Ridley's resignation, its manner, and the European issue at its core, as leading indicators for the next decade of Conservative Party politics.)
Lunch yesterday at Brodies to discuss progress on the Moffat Book Events Sept 2012 conference. I had done a Jeremy Clarkson (ill-advised use of irony) by prefacing an email to my lunch companion: 'No! No! No! No!' - a quote from Margaret Thatcher whose biopic starring Meryl Streep is being promoted on TV. Clarkson's scripted sally on The One Show was delivered quite clearly and deliberately in two parts: first, he said how blissfully quiet London was because of the strike, restaurants empty therefore easy to get a table etc, then 'in the name of BBC balance' he went into the rant about taking the strikers out to shoot them. End of.
The house in south Lanarkshire where I lived until I moved to Moffat two years ago overlooks Watermeetings, where Sir Henry Irving and his partner Ellen Terry, giants of the Victorian stage, used to stay with their entourage: Eleanor Marx (daughter of Karl, Ellen Terry's secretary who ran her fan club, thought to be the world's first), Bram Dracula Stoker, Henry Irving's secretary and Ellen’s children, her daughter and illegitimate son Edward Gordon Craig (surname plucked whimsically after his mother saw Ailsa Craig the volcanic core rock nicknamed Paddy's Milestone, one of the world's two sources of curling stone granite, sitting off the coast of Ayrshire) whose portrait can be seen hanging in the foyer of the Moscow Arts theatre. Craig was the most celebrated theatre designer of his time. Their presence as a touring theatre company in Scotland was directly due to religion. Severe post-reformation Scotland abjured theatre, (indeed Christmas itself was first celebrated only in 1947 as a public holiday in Scotland, when shops such as Jenners began tentatively to put Christmas scenes in their windows) so the only theatre was provided by touring companies such as Henry Irving’s.There is also quite a lot of talk in the film about Findhorn, the eco community in northern Scotland. There is a comical aside by Gregory about a university production of The Bacchae that brought to mind a tragi-comic episode in my own life. Towards the end of my second marriage, on the occasion of our wedding anniversary we booked tickets to see a play at the National Theatre. When I arrived, my about to be ex-husband broke the news to me that for some reason that play had been cancelled and we had been offered (and he had accepted) tickets for The Bacchae instead. Connoisseurs of classical drama will know that the plotline of The Bacchae is the savage pursuit and dismemberment by enraged female spirits (the Bacchae of the title) of the protagonist. Ahem.
Thursday, 1 December 2011
Tuesday, 29 November 2011
Thursday, 24 November 2011
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Monday, 21 November 2011
I'm indebted to the Writer's Almanac for alerting me to the fact that today's the birthday of pop philosopher, historian, and poet Jennifer Michael Hecht, born in Long Island in 1965. Hecht holds a Ph.D. in the history of science, a subject that fascinates her -- and simultaneously convinces her that art trumps scholarship. She inhabits each world -- teaching, studying, and publishing both poetry and historical, analytical nonfiction -- but ultimately pledges allegiance, she says, to poetry. "If you look at a testimony of love from 2,000 years ago, it can still exactly speak to you, whereas medical advice from only 100 years ago is ridiculous," she said in an interview with the Center for Inquiry. "And so as a historian, I write poetry. I'm profoundly committed to art as the answer. Indeed, I don't put science really as the way I get to any of my answers; it's just helpful. It's poetry that I look to. It's the clatter of recognition. Everybody has different ways, but I attest that poetry works pretty well."
Hecht was speaking on the topic of her latest book, called The Happiness Myth: The Historical Antidote to What Isn't Working Today (2007), in which she argues that happiness is a phenomenon influenced far more by culture than by what we think of as scientific fact. In it, she writes: "We think our version of a happy life as more like physics than like pop songs; we expect the people of the next century, say, to agree with our basic tenets -- for instance, that broccoli is good for a happy life and that opium is bad -- but they will not. Our rules for living are more like the history of pop songs. They make their weird sense only to the people of each given time period. They aren't true."
Friday, 18 November 2011
Wednesday, 16 November 2011
Tuesday, 15 November 2011
Getting to St Andrews is a trek and no mistake. You get to the Edinburgh bypass and think: nearly there; not far now. Then it takes ages longer than you expect to get to the Forth Road Bridge, which looks so near on the map. But the worst is yet to come. Fife is Scotland's answer to East Anglia, in spades. Tiny meandering roads, on and on you go, narrower and narrower becomes the road. Unsettling signs invite you again and again to visit 'Scotland's Secret Bunker'. When I presented myself at the reception desk of my hotel, the news was broken to me that my room was on the third floor and the lift was broken. I stumped off in a huff to find some lunch while the lift was attended to. I drew a blank at the first establishment where soup was to be found, if I looked, 'in little pots in the fridge', except there weren't any left. I walked on and on to the far end of North St where there are two eateries - one a 'bookshop/eaterie' - on opposite sides of the road. I tried the bookshop-cum-cafe first, wishing to buy a book by Meaghan Delahunt, the tutor at the Creative Writing department with whom I had an appointment. The proprietor told me that because it was a Christian bookshop (not obvious from the establishment's name outside) - ' we only have books on reconciliation or redemption'. (This is a local shop for local people?) , 'Her book is about Tolstoy's wife, so maybe...?' I said. He smiled and shook his head. So I went across to The Point (where 'food is The Point' - geddit?) Where Wills met Kate. I found the only spare table and had delicious Thai sweet potato soup a pot of tea and a smoked salmon and cream cheese wrap with salad leaves dribbled with balsamic vinegar and started to feel the life inch back into my extremities. For some reason, I had stumped out of the hotel with a very heavy and badly designed book bag whose handles are slightly too long to be able to let it dangle, and too narrow to allow it to be carried securely on the shoulder. Revived, restored, I walked round to Market St and along to a bookshop where I found a copy of a book by Meaghan Delahunt. Not the one about Tolstoy's wife (The Blue House - which Meaghan now tells me is not about Tolstoy but Trotsky), another one, set in Greece. I also looked for a postcard to send to my Swedish date who had sent his suggestion for a name for the book of this blog, as requested, on a postcard (so literal-minded, those Swedes). As a matter of fact, it is a very well chosen and exclusive postcard, of a collage by the Russian artist Kasimir Malevich (in Swedish transliteration, Malewitch) 1878-1935. I have a favourite picture, a lithograph entitled Homage to Malevich by the Scottish artist Ian Hamilton Finlay, a present from my sister who worked with Ian H F on and off for 40 years. The image in the Hamilton Finlay lithograph is of a flaming cross falling downwards. The collage (pictured above left) is entitled 'An Englishman in Moscow'. This is not the title suggested on the card for the book of my blog, which is the catchy if surreal: From Farningham (or Kent) and Moffat (or Scotland). There is a slogan on the collage which I have been trying to decipher in case that might be appropriate. I am indebted to the web for the following explanation of the collage's meaning:
- The visible world is not what it seems to be - one thing conceals another.
- Familiar themes in this painting:
- The notion of concealment - expressed here most obviously by the covering of half the subject's face
- Cutting and slicing - denoted by the wartime images of the sword and bayonets, as well as the scissors and the saw
- The ladder - with its reference to raising up or to a higher perspective
- Zatmenie - at the top of the painting - is the word for eclipse. It is has been divided into another two words that convey the notion of "beyond the dark"
- Chastichnoe - at the bottom of the painting - is the word for partial. It has been divided in such away as to isolate the word 'chas' (hour) from the suffix of an adverbial adjective, -noe (hourly)
- The spiritual elements (candle, the Orthodox church, the cross made of candle and sword) all seem to say that with time the scales (fish) will fall from our eyes, and we will truly see clearly.
Sunday, 13 November 2011
It is confirmed by The Lady magazine that Dawn French has lost 10 stone - or to put it another way, half her previous weight. When I was at my largest, expecting one or other of my children, I approached the reception desk of a French hotel. 'One at a time please' said the receptionist without raising his head, 'Sir'. It is the Prince of Wales' birthday today: happy birthday, Sir. I have met HRH once, at a reception at St James' Palace in aid of Temenos, an organisation close to his heart which was run by my then next door neighbour, the poet Kathleen Raine. Temenos is the Greek word for sacred space, not a mis-spelling of the second person plural of the Latin verb 'to hold'. KR shared her house with the remarkable visionary painter William Collins RA and had carried a torch in her youth for Gavin Ring of Bright Water Maxwell (who was gay). The resulting book of poems On a Deserted Shore possess an incantatory, mesmeric quality. I was a supporter of, and sympathiser with, the late Princess of Wales but believe that Prince Charles should be allowed to work out his personal penitence in the spirit of 'Judge not, lest ye be judged'. I wrote a complaint to the BBC last week, following an - in my view - cowardly attack on him by an academic, Mary Beard in an opinion piece comparing him to General Gaddafi. Sometimes people complain about bad language, but in my view gratuitous attacks on people such as Prince Charles are just as corrosive to our quality of life. Talking of quality of life: last week I bought a pheasant for £4 from Wallace Bros, our excellent Moffat butcher - not expensive. I cooked it in a small oval casserole dish, browning it well all over in a mixture of butter and oil, with an onion (quartered), two carrots cut into big chunks, half a dozen cloves of garlic a handful of black peppercorns and a chicken stock cube, water to three quarters of the way up the bird. I brought it to the boil and transfered into a medium oven for an hour or so. I took the pheasant out when it had cooled, brought the liquor back to the boil and threw in some couscous grains. I have enjoyed cold pheasant with couscous and mango chutney over the weekend, with some baked squash for my vitamin D quotient, and am astonished at how much meat there is on the bird.
There is a vote for 'Keep Calm and Carry on Reading' as a title for the book of this blog to be published by Moffat Book Enterprises in 2012. Other, new possibilities include:
For You the Year is Over (too many old war movies?)
Write! Read! Book! Blog!
Diary of a Provincial Lady
By Birnock Water I Sat Down and Blogged
Serpents in Eden - and other animals
Flies in the Ointment (offering the possibility of a follow up volume: More Flies in the O)
Diary of a Book Festival Organiser
What I Was Doing, and Where I was Going (with acknowledgements to Damian Searls)
Brigadoon, Books and Budget Recipes
An Enemy of The People
Out of the Frying Pan
How To Be A Book Festival Organiser
An A-Z of Books and The People In Them
A Journey Round My Room
From Our Moffat Books Correspondent
Small Earthquake; Nobody Injured
Down Your Way
Down My Way
Happenstance and Makeshiftery
Postcard from The Hedge (acknowledgements to A Roberts)
Going Forward; Looking Back
A Right Turnup for The Books
Getting On With It
Keep Calm And Carry On Reading
Saturday, 12 November 2011
Often toward evening,
after another day, after
another year of days,
in the half dark on the way home
I stop at the food store
and waiting in line I begin
to wonder about people--I wonder
if they also wonder about how
strange it is that we
are here on the earth.
And how in order to live
we all must sleep.
And how we have beds for this
(unless we are without)
and entire rooms where we go
at the end of the day to collapse.
And I think how even the most
lively people are desolate
when they are alone
because they too must sleep
and sooner or later die.
We are always looking to acquire
more food for more great meals.
We have to have great meals.
Isn't it enough to be a person buying
a carton of milk? A simple
package of butter and a loaf
of whole wheat bread?
Isn't it enough to stand here
while the sweet middle-aged cashier
rings up the purchases?
I look outside,
but I can't see much out there
because now it is dark except
for a single vermilion neon sign
floating above the gas station
like a miniature temple simply lit
against the night.
"Simply Lit" by Malena Mörling, from Astoria. (c) University of Pittsburg Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission.
It's the birthday of St. Augustine, born in Thagaste, in what is now Algeria (354). He said, "Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are." (ER: Was it not also St Augustine who said: "Solvitur ambulando"- very apt for Moffat)
It's the birthday of writer Robert Louis Stevenson, born in Edinburgh (1850). His books include Treasure Island (1883), Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and Kidnapped (1886).
The inspiration for Treasure Island came on a rainy day in the Scottish Highlands when Stevenson's stepson was idling away the time by drawing pictures. He drew a map, and Stevenson saw it and immediately decided that it was a pirate map -- he embellished it and named it "Treasure Island." Stevenson told his stepson that there was buried treasure there, and someone had been marooned on the island. His stepson begged to know the rest of the story, so Stevenson started writing it out -- within three days he had three chapters. He worked with his stepson's input, including the boy's request that there wouldn't be any girls in the book.
Treasure Island is the story of young Jim Hawkins, whose parents run an inn in a small English town. One of their long-term lodgers is a sailor man named Billy Bones, who admits to Jim that he used to be a crew member for the now-dead pirate Captain Flint. Bones says that his fellow crew members are hunting him down because they want something that is in his sea chest. One of them eventually shows up and presents Bones with the "black spot," the pirate death sentence, and threatens to return that night; Bones falls dead of shock. Jim and his mother open his sea chest to collect their back rent, and instead, find the map for Treasure Island. Jim takes the map to two rich gentlemen, who excitedly recognize it as the map to the treasure of Captain Flint, and organize an expedition to go find the treasure.
Unfortunately for the well-intentioned but naive gentlemen, they end up hiring all of Captain Flint's pirate crew, plus one trustworthy captain. So Jim, Captain Smollett, and the gang of pirates -- headed by Long John Silver, the ship's cook, and his parrot known as Captain Flint -- set out for Treasure Island.
Jim overhears the pirates planning a mutiny, and tells Captain Smollett. On the shores of Treasure Island, they meet yet another member of Flint's crew, Ben Gunn, who has been marooned there. Both the pirates and Smollett want to get the treasure and then take hold of the ship; but the pirates are also plotting against Long John Silver. Jim is trying to outmaneuver them all and save the day. They finally make it to the treasure, only to find that it isn't there -- Ben Gunn has already found it.
In the end, Jim, Smollett, Ben Gunn, and Long John Silver head home with the treasure -- but Silver ends up stealing some and escaping into the sunset. Treasure Island ends with Jim as an old man summing up his adventures: "Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed island; and the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts or start upright in bed with the sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears: 'Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!'"
The plot for Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came to Stevenson in a dream. He was yelling in his sleep, and so his wife shook him awake, and he immediately informed her that he wished she hadn't -- he was dreaming part of a story. He wrote and rewrote it in several weeks while he was in bed with tuberculosis, and when it was published -- just a few months after he had first dreamed it up -- it was an immediate success.
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde begins: "Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary, and yet somehow lovable. At friendly meetings, and when the wine was to his taste, something eminently human beaconed from his eye; something indeed which never found its way into his talk, but which spoke not only in these silent symbols of the after-dinner face, but more often and loudly in the acts of his life."
The story begins with Utterson hearing a shocking bit of news: that a man named Edward Hyde has assaulted a young girl, but has paid off her family with a check from a prominent and respected citizen, Henry Jekyll. The reason for Utterson's shock is that Jekyll is his friend and client, and he has recently written Mr. Hyde into his will.
When Utterson mentions Hyde to Jekyll, he makes his friend uncomfortable. For a while, nothing more happens. Then one of Utterson's clients is murdered, and a maid identifies the murderer as Hyde, but Hyde has disappeared. Jekyll produces a note from Hyde saying that he is gone forever. The links between Hyde and Jekyll continue to add up, but Utterson does not understand the connection. A mutual friend dies and leaves Utterson a note that the lawyer is not allowed to read until after Dr. Jekyll's death.
Then one day, a servant of Dr. Jekyll's comes to find Utterson and tells him that his master has disappeared into his laboratory, and keeps sending the servant on bizarre errands for a drug. The servant thinks that someone has murdered Jekyll and is hiding in his laboratory. He and Utterson break in. They find Hyde's dead body, but no trace of Jekyll.
They do find a note left behind, and Utterson opens it, along with the one from his friend. He learns the whole story: that, of course, the respected Dr. Jekyll and the monstrous Mr. Hyde are the same person. As a young man, Jekyll was fascinated by the thought that both good and evil exist in every person, and he went to work in his laboratory to figure out a way to isolate his evil self. At first, the transformation from Jekyll to Hyde came about with the use of a drug. Eventually, it started to happen spontaneously, and he could not control it; finally Jekyll could not stand it any longer and committed suicide. He wasn't sure what would happen to Hyde, but Hyde had died along with him.
Kidnapped is set in 1751, the era of the Jacobite uprisings in Scotland. In general, Jacobitism was the attempt to secure the Stuart kings to the British throne. In the case of the Scottish highlands, it was mostly an attempt to keep English influence out and let the clans stay in control, and the Stuarts were more sympathetic to the clans than King George, from the House of Hanover.
Kidnapped is the story of the orphaned boy Davie Balfour, who sets off to find his uncle. His uncle is a sinister drunk ruling over a decrepit estate, the House of Shaws. Davie realizes that his father was older than his uncle, and that Davie himself is actually the rightful heir of the estate. He asks his uncle about it, who tries and fails to have him killed, but succeeds in having him kidnapped. Davie is put on a ship bound for America, where he will be an indentured servant. The ship turns around in bad weather, and off the coast of Scotland, it hits another boat. Everyone on board this second boat is killed except for one man, a Jacobite rebel named Alan Breck. Davie overhears the crew plotting to kill Alan, so he and Alan turn on the rest of the crew and fight them off; but the two are separated trying to get to shore, and Davie ends up in the Scottish Highlands.
Eventually, Davie reunites with Alan, but it's at the scene of a crime -- one of King George's tax collectors is assassinated, a man who is also a member of the enemy Campbell clan. Alan is accused, and he and Davie flee together through the Highlands. They end up in the secret den of an outlaw Jacobite leader, Cluny Macpherson, one of the many historical figures sprinkled throughout the novel. They have many more adventures -- a duel between Alan and his arch-nemesis turns into a bagpipe contest; Alan forces Davie to pretend that he is a dying nobleman to convince a pretty girl to give them a ride across a river; and in the end, they manage to get Davie's inheritance back from his uncle, and Alan heads to France to seek refuge from the English.
One of the many reasons I love Moffat is because of the view out of my sitting room window, of birch trees growing alongside the mill leat. The mill leat, as any fule no, is the channel dug to divert water from the main water course (in this case, the Birnock Water) for reasons understood by people who use water for mills. I do not know, and have yet to find out, what the piece of land is called between the river bank and the leat. In the case of the one I overlook, it is an exquisite shallow arc, the sort one drew doodling with one's school compass. I looked at the view particularly carefully this morning, because my sensibilities had been twanged by the arrival of the RA mag whose cover (Winter 2011)is a Hockney tree painting. The nearest I ever got to him in person was on Millenium Eve. We were standing by the Embankment waiting for the damp squib (the flash of fire that was meant to fly up the Thames before the fireworks proper, but never did) when he walked past, wearing quite a big hat. It is true that good painting - great painting - makes you immediately see the world differently. I like Hockney's trees. I looked at the birches outside my window, and they suddenly looked like Hockney birches. I could imagine how he would paint them. They still have a few golden leaves which hang delicately round them, like a veil. The golden leaves, the colours and shapes of the trunks, the arc of the mill leat - add up to an unrivalled view. Which brings me onto my second point: great artists like Monet, Matisse, Hockney go on and on painting the same thing time and time again. Unlike the rest of us who perhaps sketch a window frame in Provence and then a line of washing, these guys perseverate; they persevere, repeat themselves; they go over and over - in Monet's case the same quite boring haystack - and over again, changing the colour a bit, just completely possessed to suck out every last tiny bit of interest. To confirm my point, see an article in today's The Times newspaper about two virtually identical paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, one at first glance more or less a copy of the other but on closer inspection, radically different. There is no need to look for endless surface variety. If you find something that interests you, you just need to go on digging away at it. Novelty, variety, is not all. Depth, minutiae, sticking to one's last - all that stuff - is the mark of great artists. By the way, have you ever heard of Gerhard Richter? Nor me. He is apparently the most expensive living artist. I thought when I looked him up on the internet that someone - William Boyd perhaps - had made him up. As a matter of fact, William Boyd did make an artist up, Nat Tate (geddit). but this guy Richter. He is protean, but not in a good way. Every so often he seems to ingest the whim of the moment and splats it out as dots, neorealism, abstract expressionism. You name it, this guy can (and does) do it. Is it art? I doubt it. Stop Press: Blow me down with a fine porcupine feather quill if a work by Nat Tate (fictional artist invented by William Boyd, David Bowie and Gore Vidal) isn't to be offered for sale at an auction at Sotheby's this very Tues Nov 15). the work is entitled 'Bridge No. 114', estimate £3,00-£5,000. You read it here, folks
Thursday, 10 November 2011
Ideas for a title of my collected blog entries include:
Pages from a Bibliophile's Notebook
Ramblings from A Booklover
From Aldeburgh to Alaska via Azerbaijan – travels in my room
The world in a grain of sand
Can You Hear Me At The Back? -
Do You Read Me, Moffat?
Life and other accidents
A Moffat Miscellany
Marriage, Moscow and Moffat
Grist to My Mill
With love from Moffat
Preferences on a postcard please
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
'This IS the morning. Stand back. Stand back' (as Richard E Grant/Withnail strides manic and wild-eyed towards the kitchen to do the washing up).
'We are drifting towards the arena of the unwell' (I think this is said by Paul McGann, the fellow actor and Withnail's hapless flat-sharer.
'We've gone on holiday by mistake' (Withnail, pleading with the farmer, whose left leg is mysteriously encased in polythene, for fuel and food).
'GET INTO THE VAN' (the policeman cutting across Richard E Grant/Withnail's increasingly implausible representations and arresting him for drunk driving).
I was also rendered helpless by the shot of Grant making his way unsteadily across a muddy forecourt with plastic bags tied round his feet (no wellies being available).
Then: the scene in the tea shop in Penrith where the far gone Grant orders: 'I want the finest wines available to humanity. And I want them NOW' My sentiments exactly.