Monday, 22 August 2011

Books, bikes and borders

I went to Books, bikes and borders - an intriguing mixture of politics, outdoor activities and literature - on Sat Aug 20 and Sun Aug 21 at Traquair House, the oldest inhabited house in Scotland and home of a branch of the British royal house of Stuart (James I & VI, Charles I, Charles II, William and Mary). The current chatelaine of Traquair,Catherine Maxwell Stuart, who hosted the event, gave a sneak preview of her own forthcoming book on the life of the house and its inhabitants over 400 years and introduced her former history tutor from university: the controversialist Dr David Starkey. He made two entertaining, instructive and thought-provoking presentations : one on royal marriages in Scotland and England; the second with Ming Campbell, Allan Massie and moderator Lord Steel on the future of Scotland. At this second event, following observations by Allan Massie about the predicament of families such as his own, where spouses and children come from or now live in different parts of the UK, I asked if there could be a show of hands in the packed auditorium (a tent in front of the house). Since, like Massie, my family is a mongrel mixture - in my case, of Welsh, English and Scots, - it was gratifying to see (judging from the sample in the tent yesterday) that there is a very considerable number of us in the same boat. I bought To The River by Olivia Laing, who was very well interviewed by James Runcie the director of the Bath book festival. Her book is an account of a therapeutic (both mentally and physically) walk along the River Ouse in Sussex, combining meditations on water and rivers in life and literature with nature observations. Andrea Reive was also at the event, and we revisited the possibility of making gardening the theme of our Moffat Book Event in April 2012. This prospect may be improved by a providential encounter with Kirsty Maxwell Stuart, Catherine's aunt by marriage, a former near neighbour when I lived in south Lanarkshire, whose sister Magda is a Professor of Garden History in New York. The political strand included a platform of experts debating the future of Zimbabwe, Pakistan: is it a failed state?; the future of Afghanistan and the merits of reconciliation as opposed to justice in the peace processes in Ireland and between Palestinians and Israelis on the west bank and in Gaza. Enjoyment of this remarkable event was greatly enhanced by the journey to and from Traquair from Moffat, along remote rural valleys with water always present - the river, and St Mary's Loch - between hills, purple with heather at this time of year. A visit tomorrow to Edinburgh to visit a new great nephew and go to Ruby Wax and my daughter Abi's shows on the Fringe.

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