Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Two Mrs Abbotts

'The Two Mrs Abbotts' - set in wartime Britain

  'The Two Mrs Abbotts', the third in a trilogy by longtime Moffat resident D.E. Stevenson has now been published by Persephone Books Ltd

In 'Miss Buncle's Book', the heroine wrote a novel about the village she lived in. She then had hastily to depart because the true identity of 'John Smith' was about to be revealed. In 'Miss Buncle Married' she and her publisher husband leave Hampstead for Wandlebury, a village within commutable distance of London.

'The Two Mrs Abbotts', the third and last sequel, set in WWII, has great good humour and a real understanding of the difficulties involved in keeping the home fires burning.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Table collapses

My kitchen window
A curious series of coincidences occurred when I was at the Wigtown Book Festival. An old friend, David Ross, who I had not seen for thirty years was there talking about the Caledonian Railway. David is a former publisher turned author whom I first met in London in the 1960's when he was sharing a flat with friends from uni and who kindly offered me a job as his secretary when I was an out of work journalist and he landed a good job in marketing at Associated Book Publishers.  One of the authors David was responsible for launching on an unsuspecting world in those heady days was the notorious Govan-born anti- psychologist R D Laing.  David has written an impressive history of the Caledonian and other railways and places near where he now lives in Herefordshire. We had dinner together and I am hoping he will come to Moffat to give a talk to the group hoping to re-open the station at Beattock. His history records that Moffat was a favourite watering-place for railway engineering legend George Stephenson and his apprentice Joseph Locke. Both  David and I have written 'Xenophobe's Guides' - his, being a Scot, to the Scots,  and mine to the Russians. He has sent me the Russian language edition of his Xenophobes Guide, which I think will amuse our friends at the Library for Foreign Literature and the Institute of Translation in Moscow who were in Moffat for our conference last month.

At Wigtown I had a uniquely eerie experience. One morning I went to a talk by Peter Conradi, about a visit of the Royal Family to the US in 1939.  Conradi described an episode where a dining table loaded with Limoges china collapsed from the weight of silver, glasses, china etc much to the consternation of President and Mrs Roosevelt who had borrowed some of the china from a rich friend. That same evening, I was at a dinner with various writers and the organiser of the festival when lo! The table collapsed under the weight of etc etc. Luckily there was no great damage done, amazingly nothing was broken because it happened quite slowly, caving in from the middle, and everything was caught by the table cloth, other than the wine. Then when I got back to my hotel there was a satisfactory 'third' collapse when the little Ikea table I had put my case on suddenly gave way. When I reported this the following day to my fellow diners at Wigtown I was accused of being a poltergeist but I am happy to say there has been no repeat.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Melvyn in Moscow - Moffat in Moscow

Not so much a library, more of a cathedral (St Basil's, Red Square)
Moffat as we all know will be in Moscow this time next year - the exhibition about us opens on 22nd Oct 2014 at the State Library for Foreign Literature, as part of the intergovernmental reciprocal Years of Culture and Language (ours over there, theirs over here)

Melvyn Bragg has just been there for the first time for 20 years, when I was involved with his visit.  He writes today:

'And so to Moscow. The centre of Moscow is much smarter and more handsome than I remember it from about 20 years ago. Much. Almost every building is six storeys, which gives it a pleasing and old-fashioned uniformity. Many of them are being painted up and they look very attractive in seaside colours. The shops do not advertise themselves as shops and so streets can seem rather dull, but there are word signs outside and if you look through the windows you see shops full of produce. The great department store GUM in Red Square is massive. It's like Venice enclosed in stone. Wonderfully worked stone. Inside there are canals of the latest European shops, with bridges stretching from one side to another two and three storeys up. You feel that you are in the centre of the world's luxury trade.

Red Square has one of the most eccentric and wonderful churches I've ever seen. St Basil's. It is in fact about a dozen chapels with onion domes and murals and marvellously worked icons. It looks like something out of a scene in the Arabian Nights. There are over 800 churches in Moscow and those I went to are extraordinarily well-preserved. And then there is the inner circular park walkway; there's the Conservatoire which is dedicated to Tchaikovsky ... And I saw a magnificent production of Educating Rita by a young, English-speaking company at a small theatre in the middle of the town. Too much really to absorb in too little time. But changed it has since I was there last. How deep, I don't know. How long-lasting, I don't know. But how striking!'

Well, Melvyn, you have whetted our appetites. A meeting will be held soon in Moffat to discuss the exhibition we have been invited to participate in - Russian photographers will be back in town and interviews with people will take place in May 2014 to complete the work started when our Russian visitors were here last month 18-23 Sept.    By the way, for collectors of useless but I hope interesting information, the word 'Red' applied to 'Square' here has nothing to do with Communism. In old Russian 'red' meant 'beautiful'.

The Selkirk Grace place

On my way home from five very enjoyable days at the Wigtown Book Festival, where I pioneered an event called 'In the Fox's Den', I stayed overnight at the Selkirk Arms in Kirkcudbright. Hands up everyone who, like me, thought that Robert Burns's 'Selkirk Grace' was written in...Selkirk? Well, it wasn't. It was written during a stay by Scotland's national poet at the inn in Galloway for the Earl of Selkirk whose seat, confusingly, was in the southwest, not in the eponymous town in the Borders further east. The same of course could be said for Dumfries House which is in...Ayrshire.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.