Thursday, 11 September 2014

Between the James Plays

Though I may not have seen a single thing on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, three days in or near my Alma Mater gave as good a panorama of events as any I can remember. Central, of course, were Rona Munro's three wonderful James Plays: enough said about them already on the blog except to note that seeing them on consecutive evenings was a real festival experience, with much musing between.

James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock cheered us after a dreary first afternoon in Edinburgh; J had been up since the weekend and it had stayed unremittingly cold, drizzly and grim. Then off he went back to his tiny cubby-hole in the otherwise spacious New Club, still in the thick of his conference, I to our dear friend Ruth Addinall's in Gilmerton (no further from Princes Street than Belsize Park is from the centre of London). Waking there was bliss. Ruthie had gone off for her early morning swim, so I padded around snapping. Here in quick succession are glimpses of the space where she teaches her lucky pupils, looking out on the wee garden she's always coveted,

the studio

and the desk beyond the kitchen, quite a picture in itself.

Avian activity in the garden continues, despite the loss of a favourite blackbird to a sparrow hawk. The Putins are still here, Mrs P always eager to take berries from the lady of the house's hand.

Wish I'd been here when a flock of waxwings* landed early in the year. One is preserved in an Addinall special.

After a typically generous and healthy breakfast, I took the bus to the Queen's Hall for one of the best recitals I've ever heard, friendly cellist Alban Gerhardt and a pianist who should need no introduction, the versatile Steven Osborne in Britten, Tippett and Beethoven (with a melting Schumann encore). No need to reduplicate anything on the Arts Desk review here. Then lunch up the road at Mother India, a Glasgow branch of which I'd taken the student godchildren to recently, and to the nearby Dovecot Studios, a favourite venue since the discovery of both it - no longer the Infirmary Baths of old, which I well remember - and the work of the wonderful John Burningham.

Before we hit the studio proper, J wanted me to see what he'd already watched - four very beautiful films featuring the special Harris Tweed designs of Dalziel + Scullion, immersing the models in four different Scots landscapes for the exhibition Tumadh (publicity image pictured above). I have to go to Lewis with its inland beaches, and the river-valley setting for Recumbent, allowing the wearer to lie down boulder-like with its pads on the back, was so evocative. I'd have liked a Recumbent myself, but at c. £3,000 for a tailor-made commission it's a bit beyond my budget. Sadly there are no available images of the tweedwearers in landscapes beyond this one.

Upstairs, on the balcony of the main studio where the Burninghams had been hung, the space was shared by a delicious selection of Craigie Aitchison paintings, etchings and tapestries, and a celebration of the links between Dovecot Studios and the Australian Tapestry Workshop. A few of them appear below, above work in progress on Magne Furuholmen's Glass Onion design.

I'd forgotten what a strong painter Aitchison was. This showcase from the Timothy Taylor Gallery included several of his Crucifixions: apparently his Slade tutor had told him that the subject was 'too serious' for him, prompting the devil of opposition.

Over the road in the Talbot Rice Gallery of Old College, the show Counterpoint was more variable -  a selection of eight artists representing '25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland'. Most topical was Ellie Harrison's installation After the Revolution, Who Will Clean Up the Mess?

On 18 September, 'the four large confetti cannons installed inside Talbot Rice's Georgian Gallery will only be detonated in the event of a YES vote'. Which, of course, is coming to seem increasingly possible, and all the very best to the idealists and their unknown future if that happens**.

The one exhibit I'd like to follow up is Alec Finlay's Global Oracle, much preoccupied with the future (futurist fantasy) of bees. The book produced on the subject, with a fine compilation of poetry and prose, is one I have to get. Below, Navstar Satellites.

The calm of Old College, with only a lone seagull for company

was in marked contrast to Potterville (see It's a Wonderful Life) down in the Cowgate. I guess it was always a mass of drinking dens - we used to enjoy frequenting Bannerman's, especially around concerts in St Cecilia's Hall, but now, or at least in festival time, the street has a daytime reek of beer and is lined with big pubs offering multiple screens (and free fringe events - godson Alexander and his new band Tumfy and the Deecers played a gig at 2am after I'd left. He says, none too approvingly, that the Fringe is really the Edinburgh Festival of Drink).

Time out in the comfort of the New Club quickly yielded to Sister Marie Keyrouz and the Ensemble de la Paix in Greyfriars Kirk. The chief virtue for me was getting to hear music inside the Kirk for the first time ever. I never went in during my university years, even though my most regular haunt in first year, the Bedlam Theatre, is as close as could be, and only once or twice walked through the extraordinary graveyard. Anyway, quick shot of the done-over interior

and of the Greyfriars Bobby merchandise.

The faithful wee doggie's grave is close to the main entrance

keeping most tourists away from the fascinating decrepitude of the rest. I don't have any details about the chapels abutting the houses to the south, but admire how buddleia and ferns thrive.

This ensemble on the north-eastern side struck me as so quintessentially Scots.

So to James II: Day of the Innocents, a late-night drink in the astonishingly transformed space of the Dick Vet College and back to the Lambtons' at Chapelgill, Broughton-by-Biggar, where we've seen the godchildren grow up over the years. Here's the beauteous Kitty, sweet 18 and soon off to Aberdeen Art College, with her new kitty Milo (I could bore you with some very cute solo kitten shots but let's leave it at this).

The next morning was taken up with review writing and other chores, but we managed an afternoon excursion to one of my favourite botanic gardens, or rather arboretum, nearby Dawyck. I always like to head up the hill via the mossy stone terraces of Sir John Naesmyth's commissioned 1830s stonework

and the view towards the (private) house, designed by William Burn to replace the one that burnt down in 1830

towards Heron Wood and the cryptogamic sanctuary. The beeches were looking lovely as ever - father Lambton is inspecting a grey squirrel in a trap at the foot of the nearest, part of a campaign to save the reds -

but there was little sign of above-ground fungal activity other than these young 'uns barely visible.

I love the mosses and lichen wrapped around, or dripping from, the silver birches at the top of the garden, but I've already shown them in all their glory in a mycological post as well as one from 2009, so here's a record of one of the oldest trees, a European larch (Larix decidua) planted in 1725. I like the idea of Naesmyth going round planting this and its like in the company of the great Linnaeus.

Nearby is the peeling bark of Betula chinensis, the Chinese dwarf birch, looking in both layers like a pianola roll (aren't the dashes purely ornamental?)

One conifer I should have noted down the name of really does boast blue cones

and the variety of greens across the valley was especially stunning at this time of year.

Must go back at the right time in spring to see the amazing blue meconopsis, which I've failed to grow down here. But that will depend on the future of Chapelgill; by then, Christopher may have moved back to Edinburgh.

After tea and cakes from Dawyck back home, it was time to catch the bus from Peebles for James III: The True Mirror and excellent fish and chips next door. This time J accompanied me back to Ruth's afterwards and we had another sunlit morning in her ineffable company before heading back for the train via lunch with Alexander in the superb Cafe de St Honoré. It won in two categories this year at the 2014 Catering in Scotland Awards - 'Sustainable Business of the Year' and 'Chef of the Year' (Neil Forbes, who uses only sustainable local produce). Check out the website, a beautiful piece of work. Over two days, J could attest to the restaurant's excellence across the board, though I'd have liked more spice and/or seasoning on my risotto. Since the diplo-mate does not permit any but the most remote of shots, here's a severed shot of our boy, much in demand now as a saxophonist, at lunch with J's hand to the right.

More on Alexander 'Betty' Lambton and Kurt Vonnegut in a post to come.

*Thanks to Sue below for banishing the 'lap'
**It didn't, and Europoliticians J knew didn't think it would, despite the polls. Received some quite strong pleas from the 'bettertogether' campaign which I brushed aside. Had I had the chance to vote, I would probably have abstained, if there had been a politically-active category for doing so, since the polyphony of voices pro and con never resolved for me. And from what I gathered from reading a City analyst, a 'yes' result most likely wouldn't have been a financial disaster, just have made things either a little bit better or a little bit worse.

Anyway, I'm not unhappy with the result, and nor, it seems, were many of the 'Yes' voters interviewed in Glasgow's George Square by the World Service (apart from a very unstable sounding Australian Gaelic speaker). Scotland has wrung more measures from a panicky Cameron, so - onwards and upward for that country I love so much. 

22/10 But oh, it could all turn nasty if the appalling self-interest of Cameron in threatening to limit the powers of Scots MPs in Westminster goes through. Is this man totally cut off from the real world, and so in fear of the lunatic far-righters that he would so go against popular opinion? It seems so. All the more reason, then, to carry on what 84 per cent of Scottish voters began.


David Damant said...

It looks as though father Lambton is in position to meet the fate of Milo - in an attempt to force apart a split in a tree the hands of the Greek athlete Milo were trapped and he was eaten by wolves. One hopes that the kitten will not follow his namesake. See also Wuthering Heights.

Some one - I thought it was Bismarck, but experts say that it was not - said that there would always be contention in Europe until every tribe has its own nation. But however strong and in themselves valid, the cultural positives have to be set aside by the practical over-ride that no one understands macro-economics - were they able to do so governments would put economies right and win votes. All the discussions about the economic effects of Scottish independence are without any chance of coming to an overall conclusion and are therefore a delusion and a dangerous waste of time ( like, I admit, most macro-economic discussions). Taken with the political complexities it is disgracefully irresponsible for the Yes party to take the tremendous risk of wanting independence. Emotionally, they want it, and as Freud said, when the emotions are involved the intellect comes to the conclusions that the emotions require.

David said...

That particular myth has passed me by, Sir David - though coincidentally it reminds me of our friend Eleanor's Fringe First winning play about the fate of another mythical man previously unknown to me, Erisychthon (aka Eric) in The Tainted Honey of the Homicidal Bees.

No one understands macro-economics period. So bearing in mind the 'persistence of the unforeseen', why would staying with England be any safer a bet? Frankly, if I were a Scot I'd cheer at all those ghastly robber banks relocating south.

Still, though I've heard many wonderful people talk so plausibly on independence, I'm not too happy with Salmond.

David Damant said...

It is the changes in the economic field which are the danger - at present there is a modus vivendi established over time, to a degree unconsciously. A very simple example about change - the big retailers say they will put up Scottish prices on independence, since at present they are subsidised. Others say that new lower price competitors will come in to keep prices in Scotland down - but why should they have a lower cost base? No one knows which will happen. If the cost of food goes up, people will not be pleased. And that is only a straight-forward example. The currency is a terribly difficult question. With the pound the Scottish currency would be controlled from London. Then if the Scots spent too much money on nice things they would have to be told to get their spending and borrowing in order. Cut back on benefits and the NHS. Is that independence?. And if they went for the Euro their central bank would be in Germany, so ditto. I stick to my point - those who argue for independence do not care that it is a leap in the dark - they want independence regardless. Irresponsible to a high degree. Unfortunately human nature is like that.

I really do think that many cultural and personal arguments for independence are strong. But life requires a platform - of a boring economic kind - and the economic realities of independence are unknowns. So most of the economic discussions about independence are about angels dancing on the heads of pins and a perversion of good sense. I appreciate that this applies to many economic arguments and I wish politicians would say so.

What if getting rid of the robber banks led to a decline in Scottish income? Also, Edinburgh is currently the second financial centre in the UK ( and a very good one)......would that continue if more financial institutions thought it better to be in the UK?

Salmond is a politician and politicians have to manoeuvre - it has to be done to bring all kinds of problems to a conclusion. Wonderful people are often not very good at that. I take FDR as the best example of a calculating ( and most brilliant) politician who had nevertheless admirable aims

I was introduced to Milo by Catherine's comment in Wuthering Heights - anyone who tried to separate her and Heathcliffe would suffer the fate of Milo. What a book! One of the greatest ever written. I note that it was seen as such by Prince Lampedusa, author of The Leopard, who referred to WH as " one of the greatest of all masterpieces"

Susan Scheid said...

The very idea of a "between the plays" post is fun, and you deliver on the promise of that idea wonderfully--though I don't know how you managed to fit so much! I particularly enjoyed seeing the photographs of the creative environs in which the waxwing painting was created (or at least I assume so). I don't know what the particular issues are behind the desire for an independent Scotland, but I don't tend to think of splitting off as a sensible solution to anything, for the most part. It just seems a shame that whatever the issues are can't be worked out short of breaking things apart.

David said...

David, I've come round to the thought that exactly the kind of concessions the Scots have been asking for have been rather hastily promised by Westminster politicians who took so long to notice (another reason why people up there, quite apart from the social imbalances, are so angry). So better perhaps within the union. But the stimulation of debate has been enormous, and there's no going back whatever the choice may be.

Which suggests that what you wisely thought best, Sue, may have come to pass, though dialogue will need to be ongoing. There's no putting the lid on it now.

And yes, that is the Addinall house and studio in Gilmerton where the lapwings were observed in the garden and painted.

Susan Scheid said...

Oh, now, I am just realizing you'd written lapwing and I wrote waxwing! You know, the bird depicted in the lovely painting looks very much like our cedar waxwing, so I just transmuted the word in my head! We saw a small group of our waxwings flying overhead this morning, always a lovely sight. As for Scotland, without context, I'm certainly not best suited even to weigh in (though that didn't stop me), but, yes, the dialogue must be ongoing, no matter what.

wanderer said...

The Scottish debate has been fascinating to watch from afar. Just how irresponsible, ranging from disgraceful to not at all, will surely depend on the outcome, and with the NOs just likely to prevail, the whole shebang might be worthwhile to the extent that considerations already provoked from Westminster may be forthcoming.

But the agitation in the NO campaign from England is especially obvious, and that in itself seems to be feeding the Scottish ideology. I can well understand how, regardless of Salmond, this time has come. The young Scots have forgotten much deprivation (did I ever say I recently read When I heard the Bell: The Loss of the Iolaire - rips your heart out it does) and as England contracts, with the collapse of the great manufacturing cites to a Tory collective in the south east, lurching to the right with the rest of the west, no wonder they think: let's at least think about this.

I am not one for if-it-ain't-broke- don't-fix-it. That is a recipe for stagnation and decay. All progress, all science, all spiritual growth is by the embrace of doubt. That the Scots may doubt is their good fortune. That they make the right decision is another matter. I wish them well, wonderful people in a wonderful country, so easy to fall in love with, like my dear one, with a name like Wallace as a given name, and Sterling, and Mackellar too. And what voices.

(As for the Pianola, oh my, I grew up with one, sadly no more and Wuthering Heights - it was there as a school boy I first read of spirits at windows, and had thoughts about beyond the grave, and learnt of passion and felt something stirring, as Heathcliff climbed, nay mounted, a tree to peer into the Linton's ball and in my mind the hardness of the tree, and his, and mine were joined. I reread it these last few years, and was struck by how I had forgotten her style and structure. The reference to Milo I don't recall (but have just googled) and now have another reason to pick it up again.)

David said...

Sue, is that a typically generous way of saying I got it wrong? For I did, and I'll correct 'lapwing' to 'waxwing' immediately. They are not too dissimilar, but checking up made it clear you were right. Thank you for that, and how lucky you are to see the critturs so regularly. I envy you your hummingbirds even more.

All you say is eloquent and right, wanderer. The most important thing is the abolition of apathy in Scotland - they expect an 88 per cent turnout. And though I think a Yes vote is unlikely, it ought to have a stimulating effect on England, too: there's divided thought on whether we'd be stuck with a Tory government until kingdom come.

I'll get hold of the book you suggest.

Now, anyone got a nice word to say about spectacular Dawyck, one of the (thousandfold) glories of Scotland?

David Damant said...

I knew the late Mrs Balfour whose son ( I think it was) gave the garden at Dawyk to the nation. The family really thought that they had a treasure and that it should be handed on to everyone.

David Damant said...

The essential readings on Wuthering Heights are C P Sanger on the structure and David Cecil on the fact that Emily Bronte asks of the Universe - what does it mean? It is NOT a story, and the crucial centre is lost if anyone tries to make a film or a play about it. Reluctant as one always is to agree with F R Leavis, he was right about that. I have a private email address if anyone is interested in those two articles -

wanderer said...

Thank you David D. but with the astounding Google, searching Cecil, Sanger, and Leavis has given me Sanger's essay and many references to Lord Cecil, enough to open a new folder for files and a late night coming up.

Films and books ... But I enjoy the film for what it is - a Hollywood film - with the mysterious Bombay born Merle Oberon opposite Olivier, then in love with Vivien Leigh, etc.

Of course about Dawyck David N, though just now I have been peering deep into the moors with Google earth.

David said...

Films (and plays) and books: nine times out of ten the former are diminishers. But a poetic meditation on a great novel by a great filmmaker - or even Hilary Mantel's dramtisation of her Cromwell books, which I've resisted going to see - can give us something else, enrich our experience.

HM was so compelling about the new aspects of her characters, especially about the silences where she wanted to know what the actors were actually thinking, at a three-way conversation between her, 'my actress' Harriet Walter and the beautifully spoken if a little too scripted playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker on Thursday night. HM made one visualise everything so that one almost understood her medium-like channelling (cf Beyond Black). Astounding. A lot of talk about energy, which was then so lacking in the late-night Rufus Wainwright Prom we went on to. That was dire.

David Damant said...

For David Cecil, look at Early Victorian Novelists and then Emily Bronte etc. In Sanger, one can omit the summary of the plot at the start of the article - an amazingly brilliant analysis then follows, and as Jean-Pierre Petit has said, all views up to then - that the novel was chaotic - were swept away. Every line is exact.

I suppose that F R Leavis was often right but he was such a wearing personality. I can understand why he( and Queenie) were not appreciated though to do Downing justice they gave him a fellowship.Maybe they did not have another English don to object

Leavis said that WH was a "sport". I guess that he did not mean that WH was odd, merely that it did not fit into his "great tradition".

The Oliver/Oberon film contains ( or rather does not) the green goo scene. It finishes with the spirits of Heathcliffe and Catherine seen on the moor together. It is sometimes said that this is an addition but it is in the book

Susan Scheid said...

Oh, not polite, just not 100% certain that the photo of a lapwing I also looked up may have turned out to be only one variety. Am enjoying looking in on the Scots and literary conversations here, and this from David D had me laughing: "I suppose that F R Leavis was often right but he was such a wearing personality." Not that I'm so well acquainted with F R Leavis, but when introduced to his work by the Edu-Mate I seemed to have taken an immediate dislike. (Can't recall now why, though it had something to do with D.H. Lawrence, I suspect.)

David said...

F R and Queenie's Dickens the Novelist was my undoing - though I only have myself to blame. I took Oxbridge entrance exam in fifth term of grammar-school sixth form (could blame that as untimely, too, but won't).

At my interview all went well until they picked me up on my lines about the racing clocks in Dombey and Son. This was daft since I hadn't read it - I did so in 1981 on the train to Turkey - and took the observation from the Leavises. Could so easily have dwelt on the Dickens I DID know and love, but they smelled a rat and pursued me on that. I lost confidence and it ended badly.

Hard to believe, but I was told I was failed on that five minutes of the interview...a sign of a plagiarising mind, perhaps. Well, I can't regret where I ended up and whom I met there.

Susan Scheid said...

Sheesh, what a story! That Leavis, what a trouble-maker, eh?

David Damant said...

David, your interview was of an intellectual kind, if I understand you correctly - I failed my interview at Cambridge for other reasons. Fortunately my exam results were so ( modesty intervenes) and I was accepted. But my own experience draws out the point that confident and in a sense worldly young people ( I was not one in those days) tend to be able to show well at interviews especially if properly briefed. And so the public ( =private !) schools tend to win out. The universities are wrestling with this problem but it is not easy to see how it can be overcome to any large extent

David said...

Even back in the 1980s grammar school boys (and girls too, no doubt) were told that they would stand a better chance if they chose one of the less glamorous colleges, or one which was more welcoming - which is why I was told to apply to Keble. A levels would have got me in but my fate was decided before I took them.

When it came to applying to do my PhD there (on Greek tragedy and 20th century opera) I was told that 'Oxford is not an interdisciplinary university'. How times have changed.

David Damant said...

The advantage of being in Keble is that one does not have to look at the outside

David said...

One could become quite fond of it, I think. The chapel is quite something, but that's on the inside, of course.

David Damant said...

As regards Mr Salmond, I take refuge in P G Wodehouse

"It has never been hard to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine"

David said...

Thereby anticipating the many cliches of Scottishness we've been putting up with over the past few weeks. And I know 'Scotsman' is supposed to be generic, but I've been mighty impressed by some of the Scotswomen I've heard recently.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no fan of Salmond, but there's been a polyphony of voices to contradict any one stereotype, which is why I'm still undecided and certainly won't actively support the bettertogether campaign. Interesting article in yesterday's Standard from a Bank of England man pointing out that even at its worst this won't be a major disaster for finances. It's the pandering to fear that makes me squirm at what Westminster has too belatedly been up to this week.

Nick said...

Hi David. I'm making a programme for BBC Radio 4 about Peter And The Wolf for broadcast this December. I'd like to talk to you about taking part. My email is

David said...

I'll be with you forthwith, Nick.