Sunday, 8 May 2011
Back on dry land
Back on dry land on Friday morning May 6. During the week at sea, I finished Francis Pryor's The Making of the British Landscape and began seriously to read Alistair Moffat's The Scots: A Genetic Journey, both apt background reading to the SNP landslide in the elections last Thursday May 5. My reaction to the post-election map was 'did voters follow the tribal boundary of Rheged?' Alistair replied "no, the Antonine Wall". Because our business is forestry, I usually welcome rain. On board a small boat exploring the nooks, crannies and lochs of the Firth of Clyde last week, I found a history of one of the boat-building firms on the Clyde. The list of construction materials included 'Pacific spruce', the tree I grow and is grown in its millions through the British Isles including Ireland north and south. The reason for this preference is simple: the climate of our islands is remarkably similar to the tree's native habitat along a 10-mile wide coastal strip of the north west Pacific coast of North America from Alaska where it is the state tree as far south as Oregon and Washington State. In its homeland of Sitka, I have witnessed how it grows alongside companion plants such as skunk cabbage, which I was glad to see flourishing in the beautiful woodland gardens of Ardkinglas on Loch Fyne, which I visited on my cruise. Talking of companions: on three separate occasions in my adult life to my knowledge, I have become aware, or been made aware of members of a group who were not quite who they seemed to be. The first time was when I campaigned for the liberal candidate in one of the Chelsea wards during the so-called 'who rules Britain' General Election called by Ted Heath in 1974. We were a very small group, led by an impressive young man who lived in Glebe Place, who revealed to us all in the pub where we gathered on election night that he had been set leadership of our group as an exercise by his employers, to learn how to infiltrate the political process. Looking back, I might have gone to the newspapers (I had not long before worked as a reporter myself) but I didn't. The second time was during a retirement course I attended with my husband in 1993, when at the end one of six or seven couples were revealed as 'sitting in' as preparation for working for the organization who ran the course. Thirdly, during the cruises I have enjoyed in the past three years exploring the west coast of Scotland on converted Irish fishing vessels taking eleven passengers and four crew, from time to time a passenger has either declared themselves or it has become evident that they were not quite straightforwardly a fare-paying passenger - for example, a travel writer will introduce themselves as such but on other occasions putting two and two together, other connections can be deduced.