9 May 2019

Scotland 2 - Hard Rain Falling

Halfway Houses.....






I am in the Halfway House, Fleshmarket Close, Edinburgh, just up from Waverley station, waiting for a train....  I am halfway through a pint of Scottish metaphor, and a plate of Haggis, taties and neeps.  I am halfway home, halfway between laughing and crying, between clarity and confusion, between the here and the now, between life and death.  My glass is neither half full nor half empty as I prepare to leave Scotland and its distractions to return to the destruction of 'normality.....'







As referred to in my last post, I have been watching an empty nest, the iconic osprey nest at the RSPB Loch Garten Osprey Centre in Abernethy Forest, between the River Spey and the awesomely beautiful Cairngorm Mountains. This year no osprey took up the penthouse suite, and so, sadly, I am wending my way home, crestfallen, spent and empty.






I wish I could stay.  I really don't want to go home.  If I could linger on the hillside, watching the trees grow and fall, my mind blank, that would be rather fine.....







Occasionally I would eat a grouse, to replenish my store of grumpiness.....







And perhaps I would bake a squirrel in the embers of my fire, its sweet squeak and fluffy fur pealing away with the brittle clay....







You cannot be serious?  I hear you whisper.  

No, you are right, I will instead take cover in a highland hotel and gorge myself on stewed stag, venally delighting in venison.  Would I harm a squirl?  Nah.  Of course not!  You know me?








So, courtesy of a tastefully truncated train, which ScotRail has managed to fill beyond capacity, I drizzle southward, reading Don Carpenter's 1966 novel Hard Rain Falling for light relief.  With the exception of the title, the book has little direct association with Scotland, but it is a book that suits my mood and fits some parts of Scotland like a perfect kilt.  Gradually, through his books, his records, his long walks alone, the mere passage of time, he would begin to come to terms with his life as it was. He became an observer.  He began to taste his food and to smell the air.  He saw things and felt them. The art became real, and at times he was capable of sensing the pleasure of existence.  Other times were not so good. There were evenings when he would drink too much and get to feeling sorry for himself.....









And so to Dundee, or Glasgow on Sea as I have heard it called.  Not exactly on my true migration route, but I have a yen to glim the new V & A and associated pleasures....






There it sits, next to Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery, a dismasted hulk (the V & A) that pretends to greatness by the mighty Tay, famous for its December 1879 disaster when the railway bridge, with a passenger train aboard, collapsed in a violent storm, with the loss of some 75 lives....







The Tay Bridge Disaster was commemorated in verse in 1880 by William McGonagall, possibly the worst poet ever.....  

His poem concludes:


Oh! Ill-fated bridge of the silv'ry Tay,
I now must conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.


And Amen to that!


But its replacement is a splendid sight, as seen from James McIntosh Patrick's studio window in 1948.....






Though on the beach at Broughty Ferry I find small traces of a wreck,




And nearby I witness precautions against a tragic recurrence:






Robert Falcon Scott notoriously said Great God! this is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to [-] without the reward of priority..... 



And I share his trepidation {though he may not actually have been referring to Dundee}.



However, the V & A has some smart designs and a grand stairway, and after a slice of cake and some marmalade in The McManus Art Gallery my heart is warmed by chatter with Ron Sternberg's Two Auld Wifies,  Dundee, benched for posterity at the corner of Reform Street.....








And then I am even more inspired when I meet Lily in Verdant Works, where she started work straight from leaving school at fifteen..... Now, aged 90 and with a recently broken hip, she still demonstrates the machinery that tells the story of the nine different processes of making sacking, ropes, boot linings, aprons, carpets, tents, roofing felts, satchels, linoleum backing, tarpaulins, sand bags, meat wrappers, sailcloth, scrims, tapestries, oven cloths, horse covers, cattle bedding, electric cable and even parachutes, out of raw jute fibre which is obtained from two varieties of plant: Corchorus capsularis and Corchorus Olitorius, both native to Bengal. Jute is one of the most versatile natural fibres known to man and, in its prime employed some 50,000 people in Dundee....









Life was tough.  For example, with the aid of a very poor diet, life expectancy in 1863 could be as much as 33 years for a man. Living conditions were dire, with an average of eight to a family, if they were lucky sharing four to a bed. Clean water was a rarity and cholera and typhus added to the misery. Unusually, this was a city where women were the workers and men stayed at home as kettle boilers.  More  women ended up in court for drink related crimes here than almost anywhere....



Hard Rain Falling....








Meanwhile the Jute Barons built their grand homes and lived in style....







I'm still reading Hard Rain Falling and every so often a passage touches a nerve.  The food at the orphanage did not taste very good, and the children were taught, told, that this food, this unappetising oatmeal or dish of prunes or boiled-to-death vegetable, was nourishing and good for them and would make them strong and capable of much hard work.....  


Yes!  The poor you will ALWAYS have with you. 

It must be so!  John, Chapter 12, Verse 8.


But then we will also ALWAYS have unicorns, the national beast of Scotland (a symbol of purity and innocence, as well as masculinity and power....)








And Dundee has HMS Frigate Unicorn, never masted, never sailed, but Scotland's only wooden warship, wallowing in Victoria Dock, washed by the wakes of drag line water-skiers, but mouldering too far from the V & A, hard by deserted Chandler's Lane.....







Up town, however, on Nethergate, I find Dundee Contemporary Arts, where David Austen is on show....







And where, after a few bevvies with some local lassies, I stumble into Wild Rose, where an Irish girl (Jessie Buckley) plays a Glaswegian (with a Lancashire mother) who is aiming for Nashville.  








And then it's a pint of Mor in The Phoenix with Oor Wullie, and a fifth of malt in Mennies on Perth Road with Desperate Dan, courtesy of D C Thomson, and I am about done.... The transition from shaggy highland beast to civilised man about toon is almost over, though reference to Boswell lowers the bar a little:

We stopped a while at Dundee, where I remember nothing remarkable.....








And thence to Auld Reekie, where I join the dreamers in The Tiles....








And the pretty things on Princes Street by the Scott Memorial, 











And watch the sky fill with darkness.....







Before I take my final leave, and board the train that will take me back to the Halfway House that I call home.....

His life was temporary.  He continued to park cars for a living, and he stayed in hotels and ate in restaurants, but for the time being, that was enough.  Not that he planned to spend the rest of his life this way.  He did not plan anything.



Hard Rain Falling

Don Carpenter




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