Sunday, March 02, 2014
The longer I do this the more I realise that I don't have to go to Dumfries and Galloway but that Dumfries and Galloway comes to me, in all shapes and forms, in day to day reality and dreams. You can't move and function anywhere without some kind of interaction with people and place and where that happens it's sometimes a cause to write. However the process goes beyond that to a kind of magic or at the very least a succession of leading coincidences. Or has this obsession and sleep deprivation finally taken its toll?
Recently I got a parcel of William Macilvanney novels I hadn't read. As I set out yesterday I absent mindedly stuffed one in my bag. I had planned to have a wee search for Dirk Hatterick's cave, on the coast just past Auchenlarie. No car, but juggling with buses, a finely honed art form of which I think I am, by now, one of the world's finest exponents. I had a wee lunch in Gatehouse in the hotel opposite the Bakehouse, then caught the bus. It was a nice day on the coast, if a little overcast, and when I got off I wandered about on the shore. The road was invisible, and there was only silence and the Solway glittering and clouds running wool white overhead. After a while I sat down and for the sheer hell of it gave a loud howl, frightening the family I hadn't spotted that was walking along the shingle kicking a ball for their dog.
Out of embarrassment, I took out the novel, 'A Gift from Nessus', opened it randomly and began to pretend to read. I saw the word 'Dumfries', skipped a few pages, followed the main character, who I later discovered to be a window salesman from Glasgow, on the road south. A few pages later he was in a hotel, 'the Angel' in the middle of Gatehouse. Then, on the foreshore before Creetown "looking through a rock cleft that was open to a bay, where the wind was farming empty acres of dun sky." Of course, at the end of the chapter, he was disturbed by a family "throwing a ball that was being tirelessly retrieved by a dog."
Even if I hadn't just been sold a new set of windows, I would have found this a bit odd. I think I'll invent a new term for all this. Geofantaspsychiatry. There I've done it.
and in his brain,--
Which is as dry as the remainder biscuit
After a voyage,--he hath strange places crammed
With observation, the which he vents
In mangled forms.
(As you Like it)
And what has that got to do with This book? Well everything really.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
The great tour of Wigtownshire designed to inform an eager public about the MacTaggart project gets off to an inauspicious start in Wigtown Library where the staff are shocked to see me, there is no audience, and I retire into the local collection to research furiously to overcome my humiliation. I look in a mirror and am shocked to see myself to tell you the truth: it's been a long bus journey without a toilet stop and a large man bound for the Stranraer boat has spent the whole journey telling me how desperate he is to get out of Scotland because it's destroying his liver.
This is not the first time this has happened to me. I was once invited to a reading in Wick when only the janitor came, and, unlike these discreetly embarrassed librarians, he insisted on making things worse by telling me Edwin Morgan had been the the fortnight before and they had been "queued round the block." Worse I suppose, is a story that Tom Pow once told me about a reading in The Edinburgh Festival at the Art College, entitled 'Bards o Gallowa' featuring himself and the great Willie Neill. In spite of extensive publicity no-one turned up at all and the poets were about to leave quietly and in a dignified way, when the organiser said "wait a minute" and pointing to the door of the bar from where extravagant noise and laughter issued, said " I'll see if anyone wants to come for free." After what seemed an eternity he emerged furiously shaking his head, muttering "no, no-one".
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Bobby Dalrymple of Newton Stewart, having just shown an approving gaggle of spectators the mark of an adder bite he'd got as a boy on Cairnsmore, moves effortlessly onto a discourse on the science of coincidence.
'Is it not bloody strange' he asks us, rhetorically, 'My Grandfather Bobby was in the KOSB, and was killed in Cape Hellas in Gallipoli on the 4th June 1915, his body was never found, though he's on the memorial there. My youngest brother is going in October to see it, by the way. Anyway, do you know the Turkish man who's got the cafe across the road?' Everybody nods. 'Aye a really good man. Anyway I was telling him all this and - this is completely kosher now, he showed me the proof- his grandfather was killed in exactly the same place on exactly the same day, except fighting on the other side. Is that no incredible now? ' Everybody agrees.