Monthly Archives: March 2014

Scotland isn’t different, it’s Britain that’s bizarre

A stonking read from Bella Caledonia. Nail, Head, Bash.

Scotland isn’t different, it’s Britain that’s bizarre.

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I was drawn to this one

…. for reasons that escaped me as I picked it from the shelf.  Pilgrimage in itself is not a topic that attracts me.  But within a few weeks I’d begun to notice some reviews, typically in the travel mags, suggesting I’d picked a fine read.  And it was about journeys; several of them.  The reviews weren’t wrong.

The son of two American rabbis Gideon Lewis-Kraus was bumming around in Berlin, wasting, it might be said.  His religion was largely gone, though he still missed those high days and holidays round the family table, returning when he could.  In my view the opening section on the former walled city can be ignored; you’ll learn more than enough of life in the city as our author sets out on his travels.

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In A Sense of Direction, his first book but I’m pretty sure not his last, he sets out on the popular Christian pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago, across Northern Spain with his pal Tom, amid the hordes, before Tom finally settles down.  The boys have 800km ahead of them, and much soul-searching, for Gideon is riddled with angst.

There was trouble in the family, relationships fractured.  Throughout the walk, on which religion bore no part whatsoever, there were notes taken and emails of progress sent to family and friends in distant parts.  Eventually some dialogue with his father stuttered along.  They hadn’t spoken for a while.

For Gideon’s father had, eventually, followed his own needs and desires, setting aside acceptancy.  And he’d come out, found Brett.  Apologies and reasons were sought, unobtained.  But the walk set Gid on the path to reconciliation.

His walking, and indeed his pilgrimages, had a bit to go though.  Next stop Japan, and the 88 temples of a circular route of Shikoku, the Buddhist pilgrimage.  The first few days were in the company of octogenarian grand-father Max, who also was less than cordial with his apparently errant son.  Then Gideon was alone, through 1,200km this time, meeting occasional out of season fellow pilgrims as he examined and explored.

And as with most works on travel it is the inner journey that is the important one.  A third pilgrimage beckoned, the Jewish one.  Gideon realised he needed time with his father, and off they went to Uman, Ukraine, for Rosh Hashannah, without Brett, but with little brother for support.  Mount Kailash could wait.

Forty thousand Jewish pilgrims, Hasids mainly, with black hats and curls.  Three days of davening, and other practices alien even to our rabbi.  Father and two sons.  And together they found a sense of direction, and a purpose, even if the long-sought apologies were absent, not really required as understandings and acceptances, flaws and families, were explored.

There’s some interesting little sideshows – the girl in Shanghai for instance – but it’s all about that inner journey, after the physical ones.  And there’s none better than a Jewish writer for touching into his heritage, with a dash of humour, whilst offending none.  The book builds and builds, one journey after another.  And that final trip, in Uman and to Uman, is a fine finish.  Just ditch the Berlin section and dive straight in.

And I find myself, once again, with thoughts elsewhere, and hopes, of journeys to come; it might be no pilgrimage, for The Prodigal.

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I wasn’t going to…

post anything this week, but came across this whimsical little piece, enjoy:

And they’ve got a website too. Go on girls join in, watch out for the programme of events developing.

Or you could pitch your lot in with this fine chap:

You chose.

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It’s your license fee

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That got your attention, whodathunkit?

It’s no surprise to some of us that the BBC in Scotland find themselves in the eye of the referendum storm.  They’ve just published their own guidelines for that part of the campaign leading up to the vote where they have to be absolutely impartial, as if they didn’t have to be at all times.

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Never mind that frightening prospect.

Of late we’ve seen McQuarrie and Boothman, BBC Scotland’s finest decision makers, summonsed to Holyrood to answer questions from the relevant committee.  It was a session I watched live, following the one with Prof Robertson of UWS who was speaking to his report; the one that confirmed bias in the output of our state-funded impartial broadcaster.

But the BBC’s heid-bummers were squirmingly awful in defending the indefensible.  And the fall out continues.  Now we find that Sunday morning’s Headlines programme on the wireless is to be axed, seemingly not biased enough for the overlords – Ken MacDonald, as successor to the departed Derek Bateman at that particular helm, was, in reviewing what had been in the media that week, prone to including the web in his review, and that of course is where the Yes campaign has it’s audience, the same audience largely ignored by the broadcast and newsprint media.  So Headlines has to go.

Bateman’s off the air, MacDonald has his show closed, Isobel Fraser is off our screens after her Ian Davidson spat.  The BBC Trust has slapped wrists after the appalling take on the Irish foreign minister’s comments; the UWS report is damning, and not reported by the BBC; the bosses are grilled in parliamentary committee.  And now there’s Andrew Marr.

I didn’t see the interview with the FM yesterday, listening to Headlines at the same time as I was, but have seen the footage.  And David Miller, another gone after one fine interview.  But I digress.  The flawed Barrosso analysis on the EU membership is at the heart of the current stooshiet, part it seems of the retiring Barrosso’s aim of getting the nod from Cameron for his Nato pitch, and Marr is happy to take it all as read, without question, Scotland akin to Kosovo, Barrosso says so.  But there’s more to it than that, much more.

And don’t just take my word for it, others do it all so much better; so here’s some current reading on the subject.  Firstly Newsnet, and the Marr’s Attack.  Then the said Dr Bateman, always trying hard to look towards incompetent management of reducing resources rather than a deliberate policy outlook, and always a fine read.  But it’s best to lighten it up a bit with this summary.

And as PS to all that, a fine piece from Lesley Riddoch today on the same subject

And talking of lightening it up, let’s have a look at the blue tories Scottish conference, Rev Stu of course, in fine form, though I preferred this withering summary of the written press recently.  And finally, a few snapshots, from Munguin and others, to brighten up a very dull day:

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The Eagles

The highway may not be dark or desert, but it’s a highway all the same.  And it runs from east to west, from the Tay estuary to Mull.  These are the grounds that we travel with Jim Crumley, glasses trained not on the skies but on the trees and the rocky outcrops and on the ground.  He might even have a seven iron to hand  as well as his binoculars.

With a score of books to his name already, and that’s just the ones on nature, it’s no surprise to find that Crumley has it down to a practised art, and imparts his knowledge of what he sees, or doesn’t see, in the manner of a conversation with an old pal.  He’s a fine guide through the hills and glens.

The Eagle’s Way takes us through the best part of a century, from Seton Gordon’s 1927 work, Days with the Golden Eagle, (it’s on my list) to modern times.  When Gordon’s seminal work was published the white-tailed eagle had been banished from these same hills and glens, purged to extinction.  Today it is back.

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Crumley takes us back a bit further, back 5,000 years.  In those days there were 2,550 sea eagles, and 650 golden eagles.  When Columba came to Iona the predominance had shifted, with 800-1,400 of the former surpassed by 1,000-1,500 of the latter.  By Seton Gordon’s 1920s we were down to 100-200 golden eagles only.  Today though numbers are recovering, with getting on for 500 golden eagles and a tenth of that in reintroduced white-tailed eagles.

The sea eagle was brought back in 1975, reintroduced on Rum.  The latest programme sees Norwegian white-tailed eagles released in the east.  And Jim Crumley has been tracking the highway as the colonies expand, and meet.

Loch Tay sits on that highway, land-locked, midway between the estuary of the Tay and the cliffs of Mull’s west coast.  And that is where the eagles are roosting, golden and white-tailed together.

We learn of the habitat on the seventh fairway at St Fillans, and we watch eagles from watershed up in the hills, as well as from the cottage garden.  He takes us to the isles, to Mull and to Skye, and across to Glenelg.  Oh can you imagine if those white-tailed eagles in the narrows today were around when Maxwell’s otters were playing at their ring?

But more than that we learn of the nature of the beast; the sea eagle walking the beach, unperturbed by human intrusion, and watch as the wings unfold and power rises.  We plummet and stoop and rise again, wings folded, on power alone, and drift in reverse, coupling and playing.  It is the shadow on the ground that belies the size of the collapsing parachute of wings aloft.

And what I take most from these lessons is the certainty that the bird I saw on that last monumental trip to Mull was a white-tailed eagle, not a golden eagle as I then assumed.  I saw not the white tail, for it was on the ground, amongst the ferns, and big Mark ensured we hurtled past, time only to glance back. I remember that beak, the calm as a watcher surveys his lands, unconcerned by an intruding car-load of humans.  It was at the most 20 yards away, probably less.

Having hugely enjoyed Jim Crumley’s narrative I’ll be on the watch for these lords of the skies in places where I’d never have thought of taking my eyes off the ground before; and I reckon I’ll be able to tell one tribe from another, even without a clear sighting, such is the teaching in Crumley’s narrative.

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You can, should and must watch this

… so it said on the email that arrived.  I did, and I agree, so get on with it:

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They’ve done it again

Having enticed me back to the ancestral turf last year with a gathering of the great and the good, those good folk of the East Neuk Festival have assembled another rich list for this year’s Littoral.  And I haven’t even considered the jazz on offer yet.

After last year’s fun I had been considering a possible weekend break.  It may still happen; but it looks like I need to be there on two Saturdays, and a week away before the summer break is just a bit too self indulgent, nay impossible.

Artemis Cooper will be there, giving us a portrait of PLF, from her biography of the man himself and all his tales of derring-do and princesses.  And of course in addition to her own narrative we’ve recently had the final volume from Paddy, with others, posthumously, in The Broken Road.  Unmissable, I’m thinking.

And the following Saturday we’ve got both Tim Dee, he of The Running Sky and more recently Four Fields, as well as Robert Macfarlane, individually and together.  I’ve not read Four Fields yet, despite reviews which suggest it can’t be ignored.  But I’ve covered a fair bit from the man who gets his name on more book covers than most, with endorsements and introductions.

Robert Macfarlane writes some beautiful stuff, and riles some others.  The Wild Places and The Old Ways spawned much interest and activity in the nature genre.  Holloways I haven’t looked at, yet.  For good measure he also sits as chair of the Man Booker judging panel.  And he’s speaking at Kilrenny Church in the grounds of which lie some of my ancestral bones.  Do I really have to go to church on a Sunday morning?  Someone might see.

And if I get the planning right there will be smiles on other faces.  The music programme needs to be examined, Schubertiad this year, whilst there are events on the themes of Family and Food as well.  With story-telling from the Isle of May where there are puffins and magic, The Urchins could stay at Crail Church for what could be a very messy painting session as a seascape mural is destined to take shape.

Oh bugger, I’ve just seem some of the jazz sessions.  Now where do I find that booking office, and the credit card?  Looks like we’re heading back to Fife in July.

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