Tuesday, 15 February 2011
Sleet yesterday on and off; then light snow last night. At this early hour, the tops of cars parked beneath my bedroom window are sparkling white in the light of the street lamps. I have finally picked up And The Land Lay Still by James Robertson, his best novel so far, published last year. The paper is unusually thin, and it is a while before I realise it is 670 pages long. The ingenious framework of the book is that of a man going through his father's - a professional photographer's - archive, for a retrospective exhibition thereby evoking memories. It is a 'state of Scotland' book, and I am hooked. I met James when he was Brownsbank fellow, and one of his duties was to run the creative writing class I attended in Lanark. Brownsbank is the cottage where Hugh McDiarmid lived with his second wife Valda until he died in 1978. I heard last week that the Brownsbank scheme is to close. Valda dyed her hair orange like the fleece of a blackface ram made ready for sale. She used to visit another poet, Bessie MacArthur, at Nunnerie in farthest Upper Clydesdale. Bessie's daughter in law, another Elizabeth, still lives on the farm, now being peppered with the newly-erected turbines of the Clyde windfarm. Elizabeth MacArthur told me a good story about Bessie during WWII sending a formal invitation,'the pleasure of his company', - for tea - to the officer in charge of Polish troops billeted at the nearby village of Abington . To her surprise, he took her at her word and brought his whole company of fifty men. But in those days, there were plenty of occasions when you had to serve tea to that number of people at a remote farmhouse so everyone got a cup.