The Scottish Parliament

I’ve just returned from a (literally) flying 48 hour visit to Edinburgh. The weather was stunning – I even caught a touch of sunburn – and although I’ve lived in Canada for a more than half my life, the trip reinforced how much Scotland holds my heart.

I spent the time with a friend I made many – many – years ago when we were both students at Aberdeen University; she studied Politics and International Relations while I majored in Social and Economic History. Having both lived in Edinburgh at various times in our lives, we felt we knew the city well, but one place neither of us had ever visited was The Scottish Parliament building at the foot of the Royal Mile by Holyrood Palace.

Parliament

The  building itself caused lots of controversy when it was commissioned; designed by a Spanish architect, it ran horrendously over budget.

What were those images of whisky bottles on the walls? we asked the guide.The famous quote by Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns came to mind; Whisky and freedom gang th’gither.

‘Aye,’ the guide replied, ‘that’s what everyone thinks, but it’s supposed to signify people looking over the politicians’ shoulders, so they know they’re always being watched.’

whisky bottles

And then we came across a copy of poem, Open The Doors, written by Sottish makar Edwin Morgan for the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in 2004. Although it was written specifically for the re-opening of the Scottish Parliament, there are lines in there that every politician around the world- be they local, national or federal – should recite every day before they begin their day’s work.

A Poem by Edwin Morgan
For the Opening of the Scottish Parliament, 9 October 2004

Open the Doors!

Open the doors! Light of the day, shine in; light of the mind, shine out!

We have a building which is more than a building.
There is a commerce between inner and outer,
between brightness and shadow, between the world and those who think about the world.

Is it not a mystery? The parts cohere, they come together like petals of a flower, yet they also send their tongues outward to feel and taste the teeming earth.
Did you want classic columns and predictable pediments? A growl of old Gothic grandeur? A blissfully boring box?

Not here, no thanks! No icon, no IKEA, no iceberg, but curves and caverns, nooks and niches, huddles and heavens syncopations and surprises. Leave symmetry to the cemetery.

But bring together slate and stainless steel, black granite and grey granite, seasoned oak and sycamore, concrete blond and smooth as silk – the mix is almost alive – it breathes and beckons – imperial marble it is not!

Come down the Mile, into the heart of the city, past the kirk of St Giles and the closes and wynds of the noted ghosts of history who drank their claret and fell down the steep tenements stairs into the arms of link-boys but who wrote and talked the starry Enlightenment of their days –

And before them the auld makars who tickled a Scottish king’s ear with melody and ribaldry and frank advice
And when you are there, down there, in the midst of things, not set upon an hill with your nose in the air,

This is where you know your parliament should be And this is where it is, just here.

What do the people want of the place? They want it to be filled with thinking persons as open and adventurous as its architecture.
A nest of fearties is what they do not want.

A symposium of procrastinators is what they do not want. A phalanx of forelock-tuggers is what they do not want. And perhaps above all the droopy mantra of ‘it wizny me’ is what they do not want.

Dear friends, dear lawgivers, dear parliamentarians, you are picking up a thread of pride and self-esteem that has been almost but not quite, oh no not quite, not ever broken or forgotten.

When you convene you will be reconvening, with a sense of not wholly the power, not yet wholly the power, but a good
sense of what was once in the honour of your grasp.
All right. Forget, or don’t forget, the past. Trumpets and robes are fine, but in the present and the future you will need something more.

What is it? We, the people, cannot tell you yet, but you will know about it when we do tell you.
We give you our consent to govern, don’t pocket it and ride away.
We give you our deepest dearest wish to govern well, don’t say we
have no mandate to be so bold.
We give you this great building, don’t let your work and hope be other than great when you enter and begin.
So now begin. Open the doors and begin.

Edwin Morgan

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Wartime Rations – Day 26

burgerDinner tonight was real hot comfort food before going out into the cold Hallowe’en night trick-or-treating; homemade hamburger, roasted squash and mashed potatoes.  Burger: ground beef, breadcrumbs, chopped onion and seasoning to taste, bound with a little tomato ketchup.  For the squash; I chopped it into  bite sized pieces, sprinkled the pieces with a tiny bit of sugar and cinnamon, tossed them in some melted butter and roasted them uncovered in the oven at 190C for about 35 minutes.

For dessert, my husband and I chopped up one of the toffee apples I made yesterday into pieces and shared it. It tasted so delicious that we decided we’re going cut up the apple next time before dipping it into the syrup and leaving it to harden. Sounds decadent… but within our wartime ration allowances!

I’m heading out trick-or-treating with my granddaughter shortly (her first time!) so a very quick catch up with The Glasgow Herald for October 31st, 1944.  One article in particular caught my eye.

The Population Problem:  Scotland is definitely a younger country than England or Wales, but an examination of the Registrar General’s figures show that in both countries the population is ageing. Women of child bearing-age between 15-45 in 1937 formed 24.2% of the population but within the next generation they will drop to 18.5%.

At the end of the South African War, children formed 1/3 of the population, today they form 1/4. If the same story continues, in 70 years time the number of children in Scotland would be halved to 1/6th.

Population breakdown: Scotland 1944
Population 5 million
2 million live in 4 cities.
1 million live in 26 large towns
1/2 million live in 66 medium towns
1/2 million live in small towns
1 million live in rural areas.
2/5 of the population live within 20 miles of Glasgow

Given that it’s now exactly 70 years since that report looking into the future, I thought I would check out the current statistics. It makes for interesting reading.

In 2011, the population of Scotland was 5.2 million.

The population of the 5 major cities was as follows:
Glasgow:   592,820
Edinburgh: 486,120
Aberdeen:  217,120
Inverness: 56,660
Stirling:  89,850

If children are defined as aged 0-19 years of age, they made up 22.39% of the population in 2011.

If children defined as aged 0-14 years of age, they made up 16.14% of the population in 2011, almost the exact prediction from 1944.  Fascinating!

Scottish Referendum – The Morning After

The morning after

Scotland, 19th September 2014

by Christine de Luca

Let none wake despondent: one way
or another we have talked plainly,
tested ourselves, weighed up the sum
of our knowing, ta’en tent o scholars,
checked the balance sheet of risk and
fearlessness, of wisdom and of folly.

Was it about the powers we gain or how
we use them? We aim for more equality;
and for tomorrow to be more peaceful
than today; for fairness, opportunity,
the common weal; a hand stretched out
in ready hospitality.         

It’s those unseen things that bind us,
not flag or battle-weary turf or tartan.
There are dragons to slay whatever happens:
poverty, false pride, snobbery, sectarian
schisms still hovering. But there’s
nothing broken that’s not repairable.

We’re a citizenry of bonnie fighters,
a gathered folk; a culture that imparts,
inspires, demands a rare devotion,
no back-tracking; that each should work
and play our several parts to bring about
the best in Scotland, an open heart.

Outlander/Cross Stitch

outlanderI first read Outlander – or Cross Stitch as it was called in the UK – back in 1992. A wonderful mix of romance, adventure and history set in Scotland, I loved it and recommended it to friends and family. I even wrote to Diana Gabaldon asking for an interview for the writers’ group I belong to, The Alberta Romance Writers’ Association, and she was extremely generous with her time and answers.

So when I heard it was finally being adapted as a TV series by Starz, I was both excited and a little anxious. Would they do it justice? We’re now two episodes in, so what are my feelings so far?

Here’s what I like.

1) I’m so happy that a story set in Scotland has actually been filmed in Scotland – unlike some other famous ‘Scottish’ movies I could name. The scenery is stunning and I’ve had a lot of fun figuring out the locations. If you’re planning on visiting Scotland and would like to check out the Outlander sites, even Visit Scotland has got in on the act and created an Outlander map.

2) I think all three main characters, Clare, Jamie and Frank/Jack have been very well cast and are doing a great job. And I’m thrilled to see Gary Lewis, one of my favourite character actors, playing Colum.

3) The fact that they’re sticking to the book. It was interesting to hear the producer say that the series has been made for the book’s fans. Having dabbled in the world of screenwriting myself I understand the huge difference between writing for the page and writing for the screen, so I appreciate that the writers have stuck to the book as closely as they have. But then, they had good source material to start with, didn’t they!

As for the ‘Meh’?

1) The Scottish twee. Admittedly the major audience for this series will be the US and I feel what’s being presented is how they imagine Scotland, and Scottish people, to be. However, as a Scot, there have been places where I have squirmed uncomfortably. There was one scene in the first episode where it felt like Dougal and the Scottish Dwarves… all named Goofy. And as for some of the accents..! And lines. A patient not liking ‘being stuck with a needle’? That’s not an expression I ever heard until I moved to the western side of the pond. But again, the major audience will be American and they might not be familiar with the term ‘injection’ or ‘jag’, so I’m probably just being picky.

2) The nudity. I’m not talking about the sex scenes, but the ones with Clare dressing and Jamie’s sister being attacked in the second episode. I don’t like to think I’m a prude – although maybe I am. This series was advertised as Scotland’s Game of Thrones, and for that reason I know of 3 men in particular who tuned in.  One gave up half way through the first episode, the second at the end of the first hour, and the third has vowed to watch no more having persevered through the second episode. Now, there may be many men who continue to watch and love the series, but my feeling is that the main audience is and will continue to be female. Do women really want to see so much female nudity? Is it necessary to the scene(s) or is it exploiting the actresses? People might argue that I feel this way because, ‘You’re just jealous because you’re older and will never have a body like that again’. Fair enough if that’s what they believe, but because I’m older, and have been around the block a few times, I think I can recognize exploitation when I see it.

But as I said above, I’m being picky.

If you loved the books, there’s waaay more right with the series than is wrong – you can’t please all the people all the time –  so I’ll definitely keep watching. But my advice to anyone would be ‘Read the book first’! Always, read the book.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Outlander/Cross Stitch and the job of bringing it to the screen.

 

 

 

D-Day +1 June 7th, 1944

I found Friday’s remembrances of the 70th anniversary of D-Day very moving, but perhaps for many of us the story that stood out was the journey 89 year-old Bernard Jordan took from his care home in Hove to join his colleagues in France.  It’s already been nicknamed The Great Escape, and I’m sure within a few weeks there will be a film in the pipeline.

Quite rightly, the emphasis this weekend was on the veterans and thousands upon thousands of young men who died on those beaches and in the months following the invasion. But it got me to wondering about the news the British people received, listening to the radio or reading the papers to find out what was happening to their loved ones.

Once again, I turned to The Glasgow Herald of June 7th, 1944 for some insights and gathered together a collection of tidbits that appealed to me.

Whereas other papers’ headlines screamed Invasion, with only 8 pages available (because of paper rationing) The Glasgow Herald wasted little space on pictures and remained as understated as ever. On the front page were the usual blackout times (Glasgow 11.57pm until 4.34am) and notifications of births, marriages and deaths. The current entertainment available at the city’s theatres was listed (including the Half-Past Eight Show mentioned in last week’s blog) as well as a programme of musical concerts in city parks.

But the Invasion did make its presence known on the front page with notices from city churches informing the faithful of special prayers and services for ‘our King and County and Allies and for the Forces now invading Europe’. Glasgow Cathedral offered two services at noon and 3pm for ‘those engaged in the Second Front Operation’.

The Late News column referenced a German report which talked of ‘grim fighting’ between Havre and Cherbourg being the ‘bloodiest of the day’ with several hundred Canadian paratroopers wiped out or forced to surrender.

German Overseas Radio denied any fighting in Caen. ‘Mr Churchill’s reference about fighting in Caen is untrue. No enemy troops have penetrated into the city, therefore no fighting has taken place in Caen.’

Page two carried the Colonial Secretary being forced to deny a ‘silly and harmful story’ which had had much circulation, particularly in America, to the effect that America was being charged for every palm tree they destroyed in battles for the recovery of British possessions.

When talking about the history of invasion in Europe, one columnist pointed out that Caen had been the HQ of William The Conqueror before he turned his sights on England in 1066.

Eisenhower apparently carried seven old coins in his pocket – one being an ancient five guinea piece.  He is said to have given these mascots a rub before the Italian invasion and everyone hoped that the mascots would do as good a job again.

Regarding the Invasion of Italy and France, it had been decided by Roosevelt and Churchill at the Casablanca Conference in 1943 that an invasion of the west would be deferred until the Allies had cleared the Mediterranean and knocked out Italy.

Page 3 contained Scottish news with detailed Invasion news starting on page 4.

The Invasion was originally scheduled for Monday June 5th, but postponed for 24 hours because of bad weather.

German Radio admitted the Allies had a foothold 10-15 miles long and nearly a mile deep in France.

Allied landings also took place on Guernsey and Jersey in the Channel Islands.

Hitler was reported to have taken charge of the military response to the invasion.

Between midnight and 8am on June 6th, an estimated 31,000 Allied airmen flew over France. 1,300 Fortresses and Liberators began their attack at 6am ending at 8.30am.

Priority was being given for troops’ mail so that both the men in the front line and their relatives and friends at home should receive regular deliveries of letters.

One hour before they left for the beaches, the troops enjoyed a meal of pork chops and plum duff. Each solder was then given a ‘landing ration’ –  a bag of chocolate and biscuits and cigarettes for ‘consumption while waiting’.

Civilian workmen and villagers who had seen anything of the preparations at an American airfield were detained in the camp by the authorities for 48 hours until news of the landings were released.

125,000,000 maps were used by the US invasion forces.

Eisenhower broadcast a Call to the People of Europe:  The hour of your liberation is approaching. All patriots, men and women, young and old, have a part to play in the achievement of final victory.

General Montgomery wished the troops ‘Good Hunting in Europe’.

And then, on pages 7 and 8 it was back to normal with commodity markets, situations vacant, property, livestock and farms for sale.  A five-room terraced house with kitchen and scullery could be bought for 800 pounds. So much for the biggest invasion force the world had ever seen.

If you ever get the opportunity to watch the film The Longest Day, I highly recommend it. It’s a comprehensive view of the events of June 6th, 1944 from all sides involved.

 

 

 

Ma Wee Gas Mask

Before I start a post, I usually have a clear idea of what I want to write about. However sometimes I can get pulled off track and this evening was one of those occasions. So this is going to be a long post, but if you hang in, there’s a rather sweet Youtube video at the very end!

With the 70th Anniversary of D-Day rapidly approaching on June 6th, I thought it would be interesting to look at The Glasgow Herald from June 2nd, 1944 and see if I could find any hint of the approaching invasion.

As noted in previous blogs, paper rationing meant each issue was comprised of only 8 pages. The Glasgow blackout began at 11.52pm and ended at 4.28am, a far cry from six months earlier when it lasted from 5.25pm until 9.17am the following morning!

As always, the war news was buried in the middle of the paper, so there were all kinds of fascinating articles to read through first.

Films showing in Glasgow included:
Lifeboat – Tallulah Bankhead.
Jack London – Susan Hayward
Madame Curie – Greer Garson
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Gary Cooper
The Cross of Lorraine – Gene Kelly
Life and Death of Colonel Blimp – Deborah Kerr

A list of legacies given to The Western Infirmary – remember this was 4 years before the NHS came in to being.

Mr Herman Anton Andrews, a London banker, bought the Scottish islands of South Uist, Benbecula and Eriskay. Following the purchase, the Scottish National Party sent him a letter detailing their concern that the buying up of large tracts of land by those operating from London and other centres outside the borders was contrary to the interests and people of of Scotland. (Given that Scotland is voting on Independence in September this year, I this particularly apt.)

And then came the war headlines.

Germans ‘getting a licking’ in Italy.

Notification that 47% of US Army troops (3,500,000 men) were stationed overseas.
The US Air Force had 50% of its personnel (2,357,000 men) and more than 50% of their machines stationed overseas.

Allied Gains on the Burma Front.

Three beachhead columns were moving on Rome.

4,000lb bombs were dropped at Roumania’s Iron Gate (where the Danube narrows), reducing German barge traffic and their ability to repair their railways.

Admiral Sir William M James, Chief of Naval Information in London, said the Navy would soon appear again in the public eye. ‘Before long, we shall reach that stage when we begin to launch a great amphibious expedition… We are going to have dramatic moments soon.” So there it was, the hint that something big was in the air.

And then it was back to general news, where one item in particular caught my attention. The Half-Past-Eight Show, starring entertainer Dave Willis was playing at the King’s Theatre.

As a child in the 60s, I remember going with my mother to see The Half-Past-Eight Show starring Dave Willis! I had no idea it had been going for so long. Before the 1930s, it had been the tradition for theatres to close during the summer when the citizens went on holiday. In the early 30s, however, it was decided to produce a high quality summer variety show. It was so successful it became an annual tradition lasting a long – long – time.

I seem to remember one of Dave Willis’s famous songs was about fox-hunting, but I’ve been unable to find any mention it on the internet. If anyone out there has any information, I would love it if you could send it to me.

Another song he sang during the war was Ma Wee Gas Mask.  I was unable to find a video of Dave Willis singing it, but I did find an absolutely charming video.  Enjoy!

In ma wee gas mask
Ah’m working oot a plan
The weans a’ think that Ah’m the bogey man
The girls a’ cry, an’ bring their friends to see
The nicest lookin’ warden in the A.R.P.

When there’s a raid on, ye ought tae hear me cry
‘An aeroplane, an aeroplane awa’ wa up a kye’
They a’ rin helter skelter, bit dinna rin efter me
Ye’ll no get in ma shelter for it’s faur too wee.

Visiting Fort William

I spent an afternoon in Fort William a few weeks ago. I’d recently read an article which said the drive from Glasgow to Mallaig ranked amongst the best in the world – just don’t stop in Fort William. Well… that’s a bit harsh. Given that the town clings to the shores of Loch Linnhe, the surrounding scenery is pretty stunning.

A wee bit of history about Fort William. According to Wikipedia a ‘Fort was constructed to control the population after Oliver Cromwell’s invasion during the English Civil War and then to suppress the Jacobite uprisings of the 18th Century’. Nowadays, the town is more famous for being the end point of The West Highland Way, a 96 mile walk from Milngavie (just outside Glasgow) to Fort William.

highlandway

Whilst there, we visited the West Highland Museum. It’s a great wee museum, covering everything from traditional Highland life to the training of commandos during World War Two. But the highlight for me was The Secret Portrait, a fascinating piece of anamorphic art. (I’d never heard of anamorphic art or illusion before. Basically it’s when an image only reveals itself when viewed from a particular angle.)

bonnycharlieAfter the Jacobite defeat and Bonnie Prince Charlie‘s retreat back to France, the English government banned all things Scottish and any reference to a Stuart king. When toasting ‘The King’ – meaning King William – Jacobites would pass their glass over the fingerbowl in a silent toast to ‘the King over the Water’, but the English soon got wise to that and banned fingerbowls from Scottish tables.

But where there’s a will there’s a way. Anamorphic trays were designed with special metal glasses.  When viewed from a particular angle, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s image appeared on the goblet. Should the ‘enemy’ arrive on the doorstep, the goblet was removed, revealing only a messy looking tray.

I also popped in to St Andrew’s Episcopal Church on the main street. Silent and peaceful, beautiful and welcoming, it’s definitely worth a visit.

.church1church2