Saturday, 30 June 2012

A career in the arts

An assortment of books and other bits and pieces in my library
I was at Wallace Hall Academy in Thornhill D&G yesterday afternoon, for their first 'Rural Opportunities' day. The idea was to have representatives of occupations available, with handouts and demonstrations, for students to meet and consult. I parked in the approach road to the academy, having been warned that car parking space at the academy was limited. I had not brought an umbrella but my luck held as I walked along the road and then quite a long way through the school grounds past the not full car park to the building where my stand - D&G's arts organisation - was situated. Having found the stand I went to the buffet where I found myself standing beside David Mundell MP, and passed on to him my view that bankers should be prosecuted if found carrying out or condoning activities which I am sure there are already laws to prevent, such as fraud or misrepresentation. I sat at a table with a representative from the Loch Arthur community and something called DICE which is also designed to help young people. Then I went back to my stand where I met  and chatted to Alice Stilgoe, a D&G film expert, about possible areas of co-operation. There was a harpist practising her art at our stand for a while, and a representative of CABN - our local arts and business network and a photographer. Some students came by and we explained our mission, and there were useful notes with lots of web addresses for those interested in writing, dance, film making and music. An odd omission was anything about art - making marks, sculpture etc, the sort of thing done at art school. I met a nice woman who is a lawyer and we talked about keeping a diary - I had a feeling she was interested in doing a bit of writing herself - and she gave me her card. The head master of Wallace Hall came by, and confirmed that, no, he wasn't looking for a new career. We made desultory conversation about the film business, and how it isn't necessarily just about being in front of the camera. He agreed that it was the sort of business where you probably get hired if you are floating about usefully as  an 'intern' 'but you need money to do that' he observed, correctly. I thought about how enormously challenging it was to do one's first job, buoyed up by ignorance and youth. How incredibly brave it felt to send off one's first attempts at journalism, a feature 'on spec' to The Lady magazine about having a wig. I must have been nearly 20. I remember that blonde wig - wigs were very fashionable in the early 1960's. I took it to America and wore it as a bridesmaid to the wedding in 1964 at Mettunuck, Rhode Island of my room mate Mopsy who is still married to Duncan. She had twelve bridesmaids dressed in hot pink with enormous pink pictures hats, her idea of a kind of Mafia wedding. Her father worked as financial adviser to one of the Rockefeller family in his private office, and Duncan's father was an architect. One of the bridesmaids was Rachel Goodman, daughter of Benny, later to move to London. she taught me an invaluable life skill, which is always to carry a box of matches if you are going to share a loo. Anyway, 'writing' is something I have done all my life for various purposes, whether as a straight news reporter, feature writer, non-fiction or fiction, finding an unfailing interest and solace in the sheer variety of humankind.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

I was a contemporary of Edward Mortimer in Oxford, when we were both students, he at the university and me at a place called St Clare's reading for an external London degree in Russian. Edward popped up on today's BBCR4 Media Show being interviewed about his review of BBC news coverage of the 'Arab spring'. We were both in New York one late summer in the1960s, pursuing our own devices, when I bumped into him in a large department store asking in his exquisitely articulated donnish way 'if by any chance you have a postage stamp?' The assistant stared at him, her jaw frozen in the act of chewing her gum, in fear, mixed with respect. He looked human. He even spoke a sort of English but 'not as we know it, Jim'. Edward was the cleverest man any of us had ever known, not excluding Chris Patten with whom Edward starred that summer in a travelling production of Aristophanes The Frogs, set for some reason lost in time in Victorian dress. Patten played Queen Victoria and when I am really broke I will send him the picture with a suggested donation to a bank account in Switzerland held in a nominee name. (That's a joke, Chris). Edward sailed effortlessly into All Souls and, after a puzzling stint at the Financial Times, coasted home to the UN where he has held the world together ever since.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The mysterious case of a missing pane

The proprietor of Moffat's family-owned Black Bull Inn (est. 1568) remembers a rumour that a pane of glass engraved by Robert Burns with a couplet about the relative values of a gem and granite was taken by - or given to - Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia during a visit to Moffat in 1817. The young Grand Duke, aged 21, was engaged to be married - the wedding to a Prussian princess took place that July. He was on a triumphal tour of Britain as one of the victorious allies who had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and were occupying France. It was at this time that 'service a la russe' was introduced to European dining rooms, and remains the way we eat now, in a series of 'courses', which was not the practice before. The presence of many Russian soldiers in Paris is also said to be the origin of the 'bistro' - the Russian word for 'quick' - for a place where they could get fast food. Here at Moffat Book Events we are looking forward eagerly to lots of Russian visitors in September 14-17 2012 for our conference 'Russia: Lessons and Legacy'. Maybe one of them will be able to tell us if the Black Bull/Burns story is true - the pane of glass is supposed to be in St Petersburg.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Hay Fever

High pollen count alert! I have hay fever nearly every year and I think it is about grass. What literary allusions are there to hay ? 'Hay Fever' is the name of a play by Noel Coward set in the country. 'Ask the Fellows Who Cut The Hay' is a great book about English country lore, why people put hazelnut shells into walls and children's shoes up chimneys or planted rowans by their door. Antic Hay is a novel by Aldous Huxley. Does anyone read Huxley nowadays? The Hay Wain is a famous picture but not a book.  'Making hay' hints at frolics out of doors. During the war, our garden was put down to  grass and I can vividly remember when the grass was cut making 'cars' out of piles of hay and pretending to drive them.  There was a time when I would re-read 'A Hunter's Notebook' by Turgenev every year on holiday - maybe I''ll do that again this year. Turgenev writes incomparably well about being out and about in the countryside. I love thistles ever since I went to an exhibition of Russian landscape art at the National Gallery in London and saw them celebrated on a vast canvas by some 19th century artist. Here's a good poem about thistles by Richard Wilbur (thanks to today's free online The Writer's Alamanac:

A Pasture Poem  by Richard Wilbur

This upstart thistle
Is young and touchy; it is
All barb and bristle,

Threatening to wield
Its green, jagged armament
Against the whole field.

Butterflies will dare
Nonetheless to lay their eggs
In that angle where

The leaf meets the stem,
So that ants or browsing cows
Cannot trouble them.

Summer will grow old
As will the thistle, letting
A clenched bloom unfold

To which the small hum
Of bee wings and the flash of
Goldfinch wings will come,

Till its purple crown
Blanches, and the breezes strew
The whole field with down.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Where are we? 'Beyond the Garden Gate' and looking ahead to lots of exciting book-based entertainment in the months ahead. There is Russian story telling in July, at Moffat's Old Well Theatre, a Moffalump adventure at The Moffat Gallery, where a pirate ship is moored, in early September for literacy weekend, and our international conference 'Russia: Lessons and Legacy' in mid-September. Experts are looking back through the annals as we speak, to discover why the young (21 years of age) Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia - later to preside, as Tsar Nicholas I, over the golden age of Russian literature -  came to Moffat in 1817. Did he stay at the King's Arms (now known as The Annandale Arms) or at the Black Bull Inn? Was he given the window pane inscribed with a couplet by Robert Burns, and is that pane of glass now in St Petersburg? All these mysteries and more will be explored and resolved in the weeks to come - watch this space.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Looking Ahead

At our 'mopping up' meeting last night at The Moffat Gallery we looked back at how 'Beyond the Garden Gate' went, and ahead to our next events.  As a fledgling organisation we depend on enthusiastic volunteer organisers, local sponsorship and the support of our community. With this in mind, for our first event next year, 2013, we are going to focus on what people actually go into the Moffat bookshop to buy: crime fiction. More immediately, we are exploring the possibility of holding an evening at The Moffat Gallery thinking about the Weaver Man - a patient who spent his time making whole suits of clothes out of grass - , celebrated most recently by Chrys Salt in a book out on July 6 2012. This September 14-17 2012 we will be taking a long hard and expert look at 'Russia: Lessons and Legacy'. We are very lucky to have Alan Thomson a well kent figure for many years on the D&G arts scene to steer us through this exciting departure, including through such tide races as visas for our many Russian delegates all of whom are looking forward to visiting the same places (such as Moffat's the Black Bull Inn) as their hero Robert Burns, and the place where 'Ossian' wrote his fake epics (Moffat House). Efforts from now on will be devoted to recruiting volunteers to help us 'on the day' (or three days) and to keep the budget from emulating that of Greece, Spain and others too numerous to mention. For the first time, for this event, Moffat Book Events will be working in partnership with Moffat Academy, who will be holding a 'Russian Day' in the week before the event, so lots to look forward to.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Thanks, Katherine!!

Many thanks to Katherine Clemmens for all her many and much valued contributions to 'Beyond the Garden Gate' and 'Open Gardens', last weekend inadvertently omitted from our letters of thanks in this week's Moffat News