It has been a strange and quiet week in Grasshopper Towers and indeed on these pages. The Urchins have been absent, spending quality time with aunties and cousins in the frozen wastes of the north, including celebrating the sixth birthday of Urchin the Younger. But they will return, and by the time I arrive home from my afternoon calls the house will reverberate once again to the sounds of laughter, and of tears and tantrums. The latter of course will be all mine.
But a good week it has been, despite their absence, and certainly not because of it. With The Networker the other day I met up with an old contact. We couldn’t ifx a time when we were last together, sometime between 15 and 20 years, but I could confirm that it was 31 years since we had first met, when he took a chance on a very youthful and innocent me and laid out the groundings of what could have loosely been called a career. Paths change over the years, as do outlooks and desires, and I will be forever grateful. It was great to catch up, no matter how brief. We may meet again, perhaps even on the terraces this Saturday, and continue our reminiscing over pie & bovril.
Then for the first time this year I met my Angel. A published author, twice over, former columnist with the local and national press, The Angel has made a living from her pen, and I turn green. But writing was never her motive, simply the route to use her real skills, for The Angel Gabrielle is gifted, blessed with powers beyond our ken, and yet always in a bit of a fix. Sage advice and wise words leak out and when I see her fix me in her gaze, remaining silent, I worry. And yet it is a household where the debate ebbs and flows, jumping from one topic to another as we come from different directions to thrash round various divides in our society, and all with a smile and a curse or three. As the years pass it is great to see the youngest in the household joining in the chat, adding his views to those of his parents, thinking for himself. There is hope.
But it has been a week of self inspection, one where breathing has become important. On two occasions I have had to leave houses of dear ones incapable of that basic requirement, breathing, and I am all too aware of the fragility of life as I try to ensure an agreeable balance of heat and humidity, an awareness of mites and particles in the air. It does not get any easier.
So you can imagine my delight at a having a day and a half when the weather was not unkind; The Grasshopper took to the roads and I ingested huge lungfuls of crisp and clear air, without any difficulty, other that is than in pain in the legs as we wound our way round the lanes spotting the occasional heron here, a roe deer there. It looks as though the bike will be garaged for the entire weekend, such is the gloomy outlook of yet more torrents and gales. It really can get you down, and I am convinced that our weather patterns are getting worse as the years go by.
As we returned, gasping up that final hill, I took the chance to leap off. Tractor Jim was in the yard, and we hadn’t had a blether for months. My dram shelf groans since he moved to darkest Ayrshire. Now there’s another man with tales to tell. Manys a time we have moved from whisky to football and despots, and our views tend to differ on all of the above, to reach mutual agreement when the wimmenfolk join in, and we diverge to tales of ghost dogs and castles. Heavens it is not unkown for The Angel to get involved at that stage, and the clock turns back once again.
Amongst all this the world changes. Muammar Gadaffi is dead, and Libya resounds to gunfire as the party begins. Few will mourn his passing, but many may rue the chance to have put him in the dock and to hear the words coming from his mouth. I am minded of the punishment meted out to the Commandant of Auschwitz, who was made to write of his thoughts as he carried out his job, whilst awaiting trial and retribution.
The local world too is on the brink of change. Even Question Time came from Glasgow last night, though it was a tame affair. Subtitles may have been required in some parts, for Stairheid Rammy was representing the red tories. Hard it was to think that she and Rees-Mogg actually shared a common tongue, and could understand one another. But as the red and blue tories do, they both spoke from the same hymn-sheet, united in their contempt for all things nationalist. And in Inverness there is a conference underway, one without the blanket coverage the BBC reserves for the London parties, but one of some importance.
For this world changes and there seems now to be acceptance that there will indeed be some form of constitutional change, with the debate to be about how much. Malcolm Chisholm suggests his Labour colleagues ought now to be dispensing with their Scotland Bill, that draft of legislation wrung out of the sordid Calman Commission in response to the 2007 election. Times have changed and Chisholm knows we have moved on. So too it seems does Douglas Alexander whose speech last week grabbed attention. But look between the lines and he too seems to be accepting that there will be change, and trying to find a path for Labour to walk in Scotland in the post-change years that lie ahead.
As Question Time largely ignored most things Scottish last night, everyone remembering Dimbleby’s chastisement of Nicola Sturgeon the last time he had to set foot in Glasgow, reminding her that she addressed a UK audience that was not interested in Scottish affairs, so I flipped over to Newsnight Scotland. Change was very much on the agenda as Brewer struggled to try and put problems in the path of Gerry Hassan and Ewan Cameron, both of whom have a firm grasp of what lies ahead. Now of course it is the unionists leading the independence agenda, intent on having it on the agenda sooner rather than later, afraid that their table is to be robbed and anxious to nip that in the bud whilst Salmond plays the long game. Interesting times indeed. I should be in Inverness.
And books caught my eye this week, for the prestigious literary award will, in much the same way as a peanut and nougat covered chocolate bar will always be a marathon, always be the Booker Prize, sod that Man thing as wimmen will often agree. On the shortlist was A D Miller’s Snowdrops, about which I may have commented earlier in the year. it is a fine book, very much in the mode causing angst around the selection process, a page-turner rather than great literature. I remember being a wee bit disappointed with a tame ending after a snorting tale, a romp through mafia-led corruption in post-Commie Moscow. Would it win, would my first edition pre-Booker suddenly take on value? Sadly it was not to be, but it is a very fine book.
I was thrilled to see that Magsie Hamilton-Little’s Dancing with Darkness is to benefit from a hardback edition and have placed my order. The original paperback was released as a fund-raiser for present day Afghan women, and it is a wonderful read. For now I am back in Afghanistan, in the company of Tony Burdett, who left for those parts shortly before I arrived in this world. He left by bicycle, with £21 and ten shillings – now that takes me back, the shilling thing, for which there is no symbol on the keyboard. He arrived in New Delhi with only a few of those shillings left, having survived by giving up armfuls of blood in Istanbul and Teheran, by doing some teaching here and there, and learning a bit of Farsi. I think I’m going to enjoy Sturrey Masheh, covering forty years of wandering the Afghan Borderlands, by A F M Burdett.