Sunday, 28 April 2013

Richard Demarco in Moffat

Richard Demarco on the road

Yesterday's 'Meet the Artist' 2-4pm at the Moffat Gallery with Richard Demarco turned into a kind of seminar.

To begin with, 12 of us sat in the sun at the picnic table in the beautiful Moffat Gallery garden, planted by Sherpa Dawa of Craigieburn Garden, Moffat, gathered round the great man (13 when my grandson Zac joined us). We were: John Martin (co-founder of the Demarco Gallery, founder of Forth  Studios); Sheila Martin; Helen and Graham Duncan, Trustees of the Demarco archive; Edith Reyntiens of Dumfries, whose father Patrick  - the famous stained glass window artist Coventry Cathedral, Westminster Hall etc -  was a contemporary of Richard's at Edinburgh School of Art; Richard's wife Anne; Terry Newman, assistant to RD; Viola a Croatian photographer; Janet Wheatcroft of Girton College Cambridge and Craigieburn garden, Moffat; Eryl Shields, photographer and writer of Moffat; Jill Hollis of Cameron & Hollis, Moffat-based publisher currently working with Andy Goldsworthy; my sister Jenny Gough-Cooper sometime administrator of the Demarco gallery , graduate of Camberwell and Hornsey schools of art, biographer of Duchamp, now a professional photographer, and myself.

Talk continued inside the gallery surrounded by the pictures Richard has been making since 1960, under the rubric 'The Road to Meikle Seggie',  on the theme of 'the road' or 'the journey', through rural Scotland contrasted with, and leading to and from, the city of Edinburgh. We were joined by a couple from Dalkeith, an artist and a singer/songwriter who happened to be passing.

We brainstormed some Creative Place/Day of the Region ideas, the importance of art etc.

Richard also brought with him, and we discussed, details of the 'Room 13' initiative which seemed to those present a perfect activity (among others)  for Old Moffat Academy.

Richard will be holding another seminar at 21 Well Road on Sat June 15th 2-4pm, this time with the  focus on Moffat's Creative Place/Day of the Region plans.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Tom 'Love' Devine

Tom Devine
To Lockerbie Academy on a bright, clear spring evening yesterday: one of those events that make the rain and midges all worth while. Tom Devine came to give a lecture, courtesy of the Holywood Trust, and received the medal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The lecture was on the Scottish Enlightenment - its flavour (sceptical, passionate, analytical, lubricated by strong waters) its origins (Calvinism, the Scottish tendency to nomadism) and extension (not least to America, in whose revolutionary war of independence both American and Scottish historians now agree Scottish thinkers played a crucial part.)

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Speak, Memory

Today is the birthday of Vladimir Nabokov, born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1899. He was the first of five children; his father was a lawyer and politician and the family were well-to-do members of the minor nobility. He grew up with access to a lavish library, and was trilingual, fluent in English and French, as well as his native Russian, from an early age. When he was 17, he inherited an estate from his uncle, but he lost it the following year in the Bolshevik Revolution, and he was never to own a house again. The family fled St. Petersburg during the revolution, and in 1919 they settled in western Europe: first England, where Nabokov attended Cambridge, and then Berlin, where his father was shot and killed at a political rally in 1922.

Nabokov left Berlin in 1936 with his wife, Vera, who was Jewish, and their son; they moved to Paris but left again in 1940 to escape the Nazi advance. They settled in the United States, where he wrote and pursued the life of the academic nomad, moving from rented house to rented house and teaching at a series of colleges. In 1961, the success of his famously controversial novel Lolita (1953), and its subsequent film adaptation, enabled him to retire and write full time, and the Nabokovs moved to a hotel in Switzerland, where they lived until his death in 1977.

It is of particular interest to Moffat Book Events, looking ahead to our international conference on translation here 20-22 Sept 2013, that he wrote his first nine novels in Russian, and then began writing in English, although he mourned the loss of his native language. He wrote in the afterword to Lolita: "My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody's concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English."

He was also a passionate and methodical collector of butterflies. He wrote, "From the age of seven, everything I felt in connection with a rectangle of framed sunlight was dominated by a single passion. If my first glance of the morning was for the sun, my first thought was for the butterflies it would engender," and he claimed that he would have become a lepidopterist, had it not been for the interruption of the Bolshevik Revolution. His knowledge, though self-taught, was so great that he was appointed curator for the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology's butterfly collection. In 1945, he came up with a theory that the Polyommatus Blue species had come to North America from Asia in a series of waves, and though professional lepidopterists scoffed at him at the time, recent DNA research has proven him right.

In his memoir, Speak, Memory (1951), he wrote, "The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness."

And, "A sense of security, of well-being, of summer warmth pervades my memory. That robust reality makes a ghost of the present. The mirror brims with brightness; a bumblebee has entered the room and bumps against the ceiling. Everything is as it should be, nothing will ever change, nobody will ever die." (from today's online The Writer's Almanac)

Monday, 22 April 2013

My Table - my life

My table - my life

A snapshot of my life on a table in my sitting room: bottom right - my trusty Kindle sitting on top of Chris Brookmyre's Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks, a trophy from last weekend's (Sat April 20 & Sunday April 21st) MBE event Murder in Moffat. MiM was wonderfully well organised and compered by a team led by Katherine Clemmens of Moffat Books, Alan Thomson of MBE and Michael Malone, crime fiction author and bookseller. The'A' list of authors, both new and established, consisted of Chris Brookmyre (who we hope to book for our international conference on translation in Moffat Sept 20-22); Lin Anderson, inventor of the redoubtable Dr Rhona MacLeod and progenitor of 'Bloody Scotland' ; Aline Templeton and Alex Gray; newcomers Mark Douglas Home and Matt Bendoris PLUS Douglas Skelton talking about the Buck Ruxton murders and a guided tour of the sites associated with the famous case, led by Emilio (Jock) Dicerbo, Moffat resident and historian.

Above the book is the programme for a couple of days tree-gazing in Perthshire with the RSFS. To the left of the programme is a box lid containing a plastic saw, property of my youngest grandson Olly (and potentially I suppose a murder weapon). Under the saw is a flyer for an exhibition of Far Eastern art. Next to the saw is Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair that MBE will be giving away tomorrow evening Tuesday April 23rd on World Book Night. Left and slightly under The Eyre Affair is a page torn out of a clothes catalogue. It will sit there for a few days while I decide if the rather bright orange print dress is suitable for a series of summer events including a book launch at 21 Well Road, The Moffat Gallery on Saturday June 1st or Richard Demarco's 'Meet the Artist' on Saturday June 15th. Other objects, if you wish to play Kim's Game include a wriggly green plastic creature. a blue biro, a half eaten oatcake , a pack of red dental flossers teepees, cup of Rooibos tea (cold) and a small screwtop bottle that contained the single dose of Ciproxin Alan Thomson and I were both prescribed after our MBE chairman was (wrongly) diagnosed with bacterial meningitis last Wednesday in London.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher and me

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Roberts, later to become Thatcher, was elected as Conservative candidate for Dartford, the then hard Labour constituency in which my father had his business HQ. She went on to marry Denis and were near neighbours of ours in Chelsea in the 1970's. I took a photograph of her, not long after she had been elected Leader of the Opposition,  planting a tree near my daughters' C of E primary school in Flood Street. On May 4th, the morning after she won the 1979 General Election, I walked round at 7.30 am with our two terriers Buttons and Jockey to see her emerge from her house to be interviewed by Anna Ford for BBC TV. There was a mere handful of us curious bystanders. As many in the media have reminded us in the past few days, she was widely regarded as a joke, an accident that the Conservative Party would put right after a decent interval - what was expected to be a caretaker period - until the next man could replace her. I was 35 years of age. We had camping gas lights in our house, bought during the - quite literally - dark days of the 'winter of discontent' when electricity and gas were limited to a few hours of the day, corpses remained unburied and rubbish uncollected. Trade unions, some of their leaders now known publicly to have been funded from Moscow, operating so-called 'closed shops', calling strikes without ballots and picketing businesses that had nothing to do with their industry, effectively ruled Britain. Parliamentary democracy, that institution once called by Sir Winston Churchill, 'the least bad system we know' was on the back foot. I had first hand experience of union power myself when as a young journalist the print unions delayed for six months the opening of a regional paper of which I had been appointed women's editor.  Later, as a Russianist, married to a man who was responsible for cultural agreements between the Soviet Union and the UK, I witnessed first hand the enormous admiration of everyone in that country for Mrs Thatcher's powers of argument, her belief in freedom, the rule of law, free speech and her ability to wipe the floor with their TV pundits who they unwisely put up against her three to one on live prime time TV. What a miscalculation! With President Ronald Reagan she brought down the communist regime that had led to misery for so many millions for nearly 75 years. She is rightly regarded in America and in Eastern Europe as the outstanding champion in our time of freedom under the law, of human responsibility as well as rights, and of parliamentary democracy world wide. I was, and am, and will remain, a great admirer of Margaret Thatcher. R.I. P.

Friday, 12 April 2013


Star of Caledonia
At the Fresh Start for the Arts meeting yesterday at Moffat's Old Well theatre, talk turned to the need to rebrand Dumfries and Galloway as a five star arts and culture destination. My suggestion was to market ourselves as 'a constellation' of destinations. We are a big, dispersed region geographically, and this link with the stars would chime well with the Star of Caledonia monument to James Clark Maxwell to be built at the border beside the A74(M) at Gretna.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Science and art

True or false?
As Dumfries and Galloway's annual science fest, it is worth reminding ourselves that the test of any claim in the life sciences relies on statistics - in other words the probability that something is true. A hunch such as that an unusual proportion of left-handers, compared with - more numerous - right-handers are high achievers, or that people with red hair have short tempers can be tested by collecting data and subjecting that data to a carefully chosen test from a wide repertoire which will reveal the level of probability that the proposition is true. By extension, it turns out that maths, and in particular the branch of maths which is statistics, lies behind such varied phenomena as the best value for money for managers choosing players for professional baseball teams using their batting average (as expounded in the film Moneyball), the transformation of the investment industry, brought about by anoraks hunched over computers using complex mathematical formulae - and the success of Google Translate. Google Translate uses statistical likelihood as the basis for choosing which word is likely to be the right one in a translation. It is by no means perfect yet, but it bestows the inestimable benefit of enabling one to convey the gist of what one wants to say to another, non-native English speaker. I can speak and write Russian, but switching at short notice between two languages (one's first language and those acquired later are stored in different parts of the brain) is a time consuming and brain-rackingly tiring process.  To illustrate what Google Translate does at the touch of a button: below is shown the above in Russian. I will ask a native Russian speaker to read it and let me have a more literate version showing their corrections in red - but I guarantee that they will have got the gist. ps As the illustration reminds us: every behaviour, if underpinned by a gene, - whether for irascibility or unusual intelligence - must, by definition have bestowed a selective advantage on the individuals possessing that gene because they have survived to pass it on.
Правда или ложь?

Как Дамфрис и Галлоуэй ежегодный фестиваль науки, стоит напомнить самим себе, что тест каких-либо претензий в науках о жизни опирается на статистику - другими словами, вероятность того, что что-то не так.Догадка как, например, левшей, необычайно высокой успеваемостью или, что люди с красными волосами вспыльчивый может быть проверена путем сбора данных и подвергая эти данные тщательно подобранных тестов из широкого репертуара, который покажет уровень вероятности того, что предложение истинно . В более широком смысле, то получается, что математика, и, в частности ветви математики которая статистики, лежит в основе таких разнообразных явлений, как лучшее соотношение цены и качества для руководителей выборе игроков для профессиональных бейсбольных команд, используя их средний уровень (как изложено в фильме Moneyball ), преобразование инвестиционной индустрии, вызванные куртки склонились над компьютерами с помощью сложных математических формул - и успех Google Translate. Google Translate использует статистические вероятности в качестве основы для выбора которого слово, вероятно, будет правильным в переводе. Это отнюдь не идеально, но она дарит неоценимую пользу позволяющие передать суть того, что человек хочет сказать другому, не носителем английского языка. Я могу говорить и писать на русском, но переход в короткий срок между двумя языками (свой ​​первый язык, и тех, кто приобрел позже хранятся в разных частях мозга) является трудоемким и мозг rackingly утомительным процессом. Чтобы проиллюстрировать, что делает Google Translate при нажатии кнопки: Ниже показано выше на русском языке. Я буду просить родного русского языка, чтобы прочитать его и дай мне более грамотным версию с указанием их коррекции.
PS Как иллюстрация напоминает нам: любое поведение, если опираться на ген, - будь то для вспыльчивость или необычного интеллекта - должно, по определению даровал селективное преимущество на физические лица, имеющие этот ген, потому что они выжили, чтобы пройти его.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Verandahs and beef tubs

A verandah
One unusually interesting scrap of information led to another today. The first was a review of an exhibition at the British Council in London, The English Effect, demonstrating how various words have got into the English language. One of these was the word 'verandah' which most dictionaries will tell you derives from a hindi word. Apparently not so. It is a Portuguese word, probably based on a place name, a settlement by a river in Portugal where houses had this interesting architectural feature. The Portuguese took the word and the feature to India with them, whence it returned - see the illustration above of the very first 'bungalow' ever built in Britain (in Moffat, in 1825), complete with 'verandah'. Then out of the blue came an email from Moffat hotelier Simon Tweedie with the following intriguing thought:

According to Alexander Warrack's The Scots Dialect Dictionary, the definition he gives for   deil’s beef-tub (n) is a roaring linn.

I put it to you that the Devil’s Beef Tub is a roaring linn. It is a place where a devil may take his bath. Moffat the local spa town with its sulphurous spring would reinforce this demonic theme. It is nothing to do with reivers or beef.  It is a corruption of bath tub.

  “Town in a lather over…..”  “Rubba, dub, dub in the Devil’s Beef Tub”?