Literary Lockdown

Being under house arrest is no fun for anyone (at least with a small home)… However, I have been reading on Twitter that independent bookshops have received a massive boost in online sales during the lockdown. So perhaps there are one or two silver linings, in among the horror.

The other bonus is that I have been rediscovering the local area. I have to walk a couple of miles every day, and “staying in” for a few days, as recommended, has given me one or two non-CV19 health issues. The weather has been generally beautiful, and I have tended to go for quieter places. That means no Water of Leith, no Union Canal (at least from Wester Hailes down), and even staying off St John’s Road most of the time. Instead, I have been to Cammo (which is a bit too busy, but has quiet spots), Gogarbank (which is very quiet), Lennie (which is also quiet), Ratho and so on. All of these have their little secrets. It has also been delightful to explore some of the places near the airport without the constant thunder of planes…

However, I regret to say my personal reading has gone to pot. I am getting back into it, but I have been finding it hard to read, and to write too, because I have to spend a lot of my time walking to compensate for my health trouble. Nothing has gone to plan. (In case you’re wondering, the next book on my reading list is Amitav Ghosh’s River of Smoke.)

I certainly won’t be reading anything related to the Covid lockdown. This is despite being recommended the likes of the Andromeda Strain and Contagion by Amazon. No Love in the Time of Cholera or Death in Venice either.

Joking aside, CV19 has brought out the best and worst in people. Some folk act as if nothing is happening, and don’t seem to be aware one can transmit it without having little or no symptoms yourself. I have been particularly disturbed by the notion that the disease doesn’t exist. I can assure you it does. A friend of mine in the US has just spent two weeks in hospital with this supposedly imaginary virus, and is spending another week in quarantine at a hotel. He is physically tough for his age, thank God, and is recovering, but CV19  was all too real for him and his family. I don’t doubt that authoritarians would love to use the lockdown as an excuse to clamp down on civil liberties after this is over – more phone tracking, making it easier for folk to be locked up without trial etc…  and all the latent Fascists and Stalinists have been creeping out of the woodwork, but notion that this horrible disease doesn’t exist is just plain wrong.

Anyway, I hope all of you are staying safe and well. Remember this is a good time to catch up on those doorstoppers you’ve put aside for a rainy day, or even to take up a new hobby. Lockdown is horrible, but we can at least make it bearable.

Sinful Davey Haggart

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John Hurt in his pre-chest burster phase.

Back in my post Phrens like these“, I discussed the phrenologist George Combe who had Corstorphine and South Gyle connections.

“George Combe was no stranger to [controversy]. In fact, on one occasion he examined the head of one David Haggart, a nineteen year old pickpocket and murderer from Dumfries. Combe claimed Haggart had developed “secretiveness” written on his skull. Haggart was later to be executed, but would write a moving autobiographical account, explaining how the murder had not been premeditated and that he was deeply sorry for it. News of Haggart’s account reached Blackwood’s Magazine and others, who used it to attack Combe.”

Sinful Davey

A friend of mine specialises in digging up obscure films, and recently, he found one from 1969 called Sinful Davey, also known as the The Sinful Adventures of Davy Haggart. Having more than one title is never a good thing for a film, and I doubt it did much good for Sinful Davey before it sank into oblivion…

It took me a while to make the connection between Sinful Davey and the David Haggart I mentioned above. There is a very Barry Lyndon-esque flavour to the story-line. This film doesn’t really deliver on the “sinful adventures” that it promises, apart from a few robberies, there is less smuttiness than a Carry On film, and it looks quite tame in this day and age.

The penny only really dropped when a phrenologist came in to measure the character’s head in Stirling Gaol. Unlike much of the film’s narrative, this appears to have happened.

Sinful Davey boasts a well known cast, and some awful attempts at Scottish accents. The main character Davey Haggart is portrayed by a baby-faced John Hurt. His love interest is played by the under-rated Pamela Franklin (who you may remember as Sandy in the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie). Supporting roles are played by Ronald Fraser (who does the most convincing of the Scottish accents), Robert Morley (hamming it up as he always did), Nigel Davenport, and Fionnuala Flanagan. It seems to have been entirely filmed in Ireland, and while Ireland looks reasonably like Scotland, the Irish extras seem to make little attempt to put on Scottish accents.

The film was also Anjelica Huston’s first role, although I was unable to spot her. Her father John Huston directed the film. (Huston’s films recently featured on the Pointless recently, and Sinful Davey wasn’t even mentioned among the “pointless” answers!)

David Haggart

According to his Wikipedia article (!), the real Davey Haggart seems to have originated in Goldenacre in Edinburgh, of all places…

“Twelve days before the trial he was visited in prison by George Combe, the phrenologist, and between the trial and his execution he partly wrote, partly dictated, an autobiography, which was published by his agent, with Combe’s phrenological notes as an appendix, and Haggart’s own comments. It is a curious picture of criminal life, the best, and seemingly the most faithful, of its kind, and possesses also some linguistic value, as being mainly written in the Scottish thieves’ cant, which contains a good many genuine Romany words. Lord Cockburn, writing from recollection in 1848, declares the whole book to be “a tissue of absolute lies, not of mistakes, or of exaggerations, or of fancies, but of sheer and intended lies. And they all had one object, to make him appear a greater villain than he really was”. On the other hand, the contemporaneous account of the trial, so far as it goes, bears out Haggart’s narrative ; Cockburn is certainly wrong in describing Haggart as “about twenty-five”, and in stating that the portrait prefixed professed to be “by his own hand”. This autobiography later served as the inspiration for the 1969 movie Sinful Davey. It is available in several reprint formats, but no new edition has ever been issued.

Corstorphine Witch Trials

Today is All Hallows, rather than Halloween, but I have decided to take a belated look at one of Corstorphine’s witch hunts. And some waffling. Witch hunts are an ugly stain on our history, and although it is clear a lot of pagan traditions survived in Scotland, even past the Reformation and Industrial Revolution, most of the accounts of witch trials seem to have little to do with that. (We have at least two holy wells locally – the Physic and the Lady Well – but neither of these seem to have figured in the trials.)

Please excuse any extra strangeness in my post. WordPress not spooks are responsible.

Corstorphine After Dark

Some people are openly occultist (if that is not a contradiction in terms), and some are not. I strongly suspect it is mostly the latter, although there are no reliable statistics. This phenomenon has as much to do with Charmed & Bewitched (the show not the girlband), and we can thank  these  for a spate of Samanthas and Darrens born in the sixties.

Some say that Corstorphine Hill is used on certain nights of the year for such purposes. Who knows? My only strange encounter up there was one night when an assertive English jogger decided to rshine his light in my face and then asked me why I was covering my eyes. I was up there to take a picture of the Moon, which appears in my book. It is about the only time I’ve been up there in the dark… If light-polluted Edinburgh ever truly gets dark.

At least one fellow blogger seems to think the hill is used for witchcraft, although I detect a tongue firmly in their cheek. (Also I must repeat Wicca has little or nothing to do with our Celtic traditions!) See here –

#0105 Bears In The Woods

Real Witch Trials

Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe wrote on local witchcraft in Memorialls; or the considerable Things that fell out within the Island of Great Britain from 1638 to 1684 (1820). In A Historical Account of the Belief in Witchcraft in Scotland, Sharpe states:

“On the 31st of July, 1603, James Reid in Corstorphin, [sic] was convicted of sorcery, and afterwards burnt. He several times at Bannie Craigs, and on Corstorphine Muir, met the devil.”

Most people tried as witches seem to have been female, but they were not exclusively so as this incident proves. In many cases, the victims were also acquitted by other courts and authorities, which is not something we tend to hear about. Mr Reid was not so lucky.

Corstorphine Muir presumably would be the slope of Corstorphine Hill. If you know where “Bannie Craigs” is, I’d be interested to hear.

Witch Remembrance

Modern Halloween has been mixed up with the American version which has added a few elements from the Mexican Day of the Dead to the mix, as well as good old commercialism. Maybe I should bemoan how tumshies have been replaced by pumpkins or guising by trick or treat. You can do that instead, and please tell our kids, I mean bairns.

Recently, there has been campaign to have a national memorial to Scotland’s witches. There already is one, on the Castle Esplanade, which has of course escaped the notice of the Guardianistas who are not noted for their knowledge of Scottish history. Or anything north of Watford.

Corstorphine = Leith mk II?

thumbnailNow we are in the golden grip of Autumn, I’m back to posting a bit more.

So today’s question – is Corstorphine turning into another Leith? No, no, I hear you say! It has never been a port – a few boats on Corstorphine Loch notwithstanding. But there are a few features they have in common – both of them were swallowed up by Edinburgh, both of them lost their railway stations (see here) and both had Irish enclaves in the nineteenth century (although Corstorphine’s was smaller). Corstorphine even features in the novel of Trainspotting.

There are a few signs that Corrie is getting more Leith-y. You could trace it back to the druidic-looking sycamore leaves which started appearing all over local railings. Or to the signs welcoming visitors to the area, although unlike Leith, they make no claims to be twinned with anywhere as exotic as Rio de Janeiro.

How about some of the other developments? On St John’s Road, one of the chemists is veering into Californian territory, with adverts for Viagra and cannabidiol oils in the window… along with shopping bags with “I’m dead posh, I’m fae Corstorphine” written on them. Alison ?, has also produced some postcards of some of our local buildings (see note below). Then of course, there are the hipster books on local literary connections, but enough said about them.

So are we going to see a local version of Billy Gould’s magazine, The Leither? Well, we have Let’s Talk about Corstorphine, which in my view varies a lot, and whose main sin is in publishing politicians’ puff pieces. It does have some good historical pieces occasionally, in its defence. What about T-shirts with “I ♡ Corrie”? Better still “I ♡ Corstorphine”, to avoid being confused with a popular soap opera. Are they enough? Do we need a whole wheen of Corstorphine themed gear to compete with Leith?

How about a few celebrity endorsements for local sports clubs? Will the likes of Iggy Pop turn up at Union Park to see the Cougars play? I doubt it, although the trendification of Leith’s Hibees continues unabated.

Picture Credits and notes
I have photographed the postcard – see picture – but this is not intended to be an infringement of copyright, but to promote it. I have also tried to make it low res. If you are the copyright holder, I will remove this on request.

I myself have bought several of these, and am even sending one all the way to Tahiti, where a friend is working. One of the buildings on the postcards is Corstorphine Hill Tower, which is, of course, a monument to Walter Scott.

These postcards are available in several local outlets including the newly opened cafe on Station Road, and Corstorphine Chiropractic next to the Drumbrae Scotmid).

Corstorphine Trust also does its own notelets and cards (click on link to be taken to their shop).

The New Saughton Gardens

Saughton Winter Gardens, rose garden.

I decided to check out the newly renovated and refurbished Saughton Gardens today for the first time. I haven’t been for a while, but I have discussed it in previous articles such as those on Elizabeth Gaskell (click here) and also my piece on John Herdman (click here), which discusses the one time human zoo that was located there over a century ago.

Photographs of  the old Saughton Gardens appear in Literary Corstorphine. It is one of the most underrated locations in the city, and pretty much tourist free. Something could be said for the skate park which the council built next to it some years ago – it is definitely one of the best things that they’ve done in my time, and seems to keep a lot of young people happy.

So what did I think of the new gardens? Briefly…

  • On the positive side, the flower beds and rose garden all look good. The newly restored bandstand is a fantastic addition, and I can only hope that it is actually used for bands and concerts. I’m also glad to see the fish pond is in there, and that the toilets are improved. The sundial is also partly renovated, although the noses of the cherubim are still missing.
  • On the negative side, the greenhouse renovation is only partially successful in my view. The peace pole seems to have vanished entirely (why? I hope this isn’t some kind of omen, but with the UK’s recent interactions with certain countries in South America and the Middle East, it wouldn’t surprise me), while the Hindu goddess and statue of Gandhi have been moved around. The beds are also considerably smaller (a major disappointment), and most of the larger plants which were there before have disappeared.
  • On the indifferent side, the sunken garden looks same as it ever did, as do some other parts of the park. There is also a bland new avenue of trees and a kind of meeting room at the far end of the garden. The parking seems to be tight as always – but same as it ever was.

There has long been an issue with neds in the gardens, although I didn’t encounter any today. I was sitting minding my own business in the sunken garden one day, when a group of them decided to give me verbal abuse. Presumably these are the same group who set fire to some of the topiary and spray painted some of the trees… this is not ideal, and I hope that it doesn’t continue in the near future.

Tam Dean Burn attack

Earlier this month, a friend texted me, that the actor Tam Dean Burn had been knifed outside the Scottish Poetry Library. I looked online, and found all the major news outlets were carrying the story. The details were very hazy – he had been attending a memorial event for Tom Leonard at the Scottish Poetry Library by the Canongate, when a man attacked him in the street and stabbed him in the neck.

Nasty stuff, but Tam says he’s recovering well, and the man responsible has been arrested and charged. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Various rumours did the rounds. Was it politically motivated? Tam is pretty vocal about his views. Or was it as the papers tried to say, because the attacker had recognised him from River City? Well I don’t buy that. I think it was simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Edinburgh has a fair share of “radges” and that’s probably the simplest answer.

Clermiston Roots

Tam’s family is originally from Leith, and moved to Clermiston when he was very small. His brother is Russell Burn, who played in bands such as Win and the Fire Engines, and Tam himself was in a few.  He featured in the Big Gold Dream documentary.

Acting Career

Tam went to Craigmount High School iu the seventies, and would have been a near contemporary of the photographer Colin Jarvie and the novelist Louise Welsh. More importantly, Craigmount had a well respected drama department at the time, which was led by Ken Morley.

Tam is best known for his stage work, but he has appeared on both the big screen and the small one many times. Sometimes you’ll catch him reciting the works of Burns around that time of January, and other times you’ll see him playing historical characters in the likes of last year’s Outlaw King about Robert the Bruce, or Outlander, which is highly popular internationally. His first film appearance seems to have been Local Hero back in 1983. He has also appeared on a wide range of TV series including Fortitude and Taggart.

He has also appeared in a number of book adaptations, which include the 1990s Acid House based on Irvine Welsh and Young Adam based on Alexander Trocchi.

External Links

* Actor Tam Dean Burn stabbed after poetry event (BBC)

* Tam Dean Burn stabbed in Edinburgh street

* Tam Dean Burn page on IMDB

 

Into the Mountain

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Nan Shepherd has achieved some posthumous celebrity in Scotland in the last few years thanks to her appearance on a five pound note. Into the Mountain probably exists partly because of this new found fame and indeed bears the self-same striking image on the cover. Whatever the reason, Charlotte Peacock’s new biography is welcome, and gives a detailed account of her life and writings.

I am not very familiar with her fiction or poetry to be honest and am not even aware if it is currently in print. Like many people I mainly know her for the Living Mountain, a beautiful work which ranks alongside John Muir’s as a classic of Scottish nature writing.

Shepherd, like Helen Cruickshank was a product of the north east and indeed the two knew each other. Shepherd often visited Cruickshank at her home at Dinnieduff in Corstorphine. Into the Mountain contains copious references to Cruickshank, and thus has a lot of local interest as well.

If I may make one criticism of the book, it is that Peacock often conflates Shepherd’s fiction with autobiography. While it is true that Shepherd left little in the way of memoirs, and there appears to be a flavour of roman à clef about The Quarrie Wood (which I’ve not read) it is dangerous to rely on such works. As a would be fiction writer myself, I occasionally draw on my own life but often change many significant details – someone else would be hard pressed to guess which parts I had changed. I suspect Nan Shepherd did the same.

 

 

WS Graham at 100

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Happy belated birthday to the Scotto-Cornish poet, WS Graham (1918-1986), who was born a hundred years ago yesterday. Graham is one of the twelve poets represented on herms out at Edinburgh Park. I provide a full map & listing of the poets, sculptors in my book. (I’ve written previously on some of this in my “Corporate art of South Gyle” article )

WS Graham is away from the main body of the Kirk, hidden in a corner of railings, which fence the poor man in. If you fancy practising limbo dancing or have a pair of binoculars handy, then it shouldn’t be too hard for you to read the poem and the info on the side of the pillar.

Graham is not a poet I am very familiar with. He appears to have been very underrated within his lifetime, perhaps even after. Both Hugh MacDiarmid and TS Eliot were admirers of him. He probably escaped notice to some extent in his native Scotland, because he spent much of his working life in another Celtic country – Cornwall.

Apologies for any misspellings in this post. You can thank autocorrect – I’m sure others out there can sympathise. I can’t find any way to switch it off.

External Links

WS Graham on Wikipedia

*WS Graham on Poetry Foundation

Agnes Campbell and Daniel Defoe

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Daniel Defoe by an unknown artist

Agnes Campbell, Lady Roseburn (1637 — 1716) was one of the pioneers of publishing in Scotland. Most of the online information about Campbell seems to be on this Wikipedia article. From it, we learn that her husband became King’s Printer in Scotland, and that when he died, she took up the business at the age of 38. She remarried, but amazingly for the time, she was allowed to keep her business independent of her new husband.

In 1709, she established a paper mill at Penicuik, and became official printer to the Church of Scotland.

As for her personal connection to Roseburn, I’d be delighted to know more from any of my readers.

Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) is best remembered today as the author of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722). Defoe had another life, as John Clerk of Penicuik remarked:

“He was… a spy among us, but not known to be such, otherways the Mob of Edin[burgh] had pull him to pieces”

Defoe was sent up to Scotland to try and stoke up support for union with England, and to gauge the lie of the land. He was largely successful.

That Defoe was a Presbyterian was probably one of the reasons that he was sent up from England to spy on Scotland. It was also one of the things that Campbell and Defoe would have had in common, and indeed Campbell was one of his publishers. Was Campbell an informant for Defoe’s Memoirs of the Church of Scotland (1717) and The History of the Union of Great Britain (1709)? She certainly had regular contact with the highest levels of the Kirk, and Edinburgh society.

Fairley’s Biography

One of the few published sources on Campbell appears to be John A. Fairley’s
Agnes Campbell, Lady Roseburn, Relict of Andrew Anderson, the King’s Printer A Contribution to the History of Printing in Scotland, published in 1925. This ought to be available at the National Library, although it is long out of print. “Relict” is an old Scots word for a widow.

External Links

On Norman MacCaig and a bit of controversy

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MacCaig at Edinburgh Park, South Gyle

“To be a poet, you need to be able to talk whilst holding a cigarette in one hand…”

Norman MacCaig (1910-1996) was a tall, thin, wiry character, hard to miss by all accounts. And even today, he has better name recognition than many of his poetic contemporaries, with his work being a staple of the Scottish school syllabus…

In Edinburgh, we tend to associate MacCaig most with Milne’s, on the corner of Hanover and Rose Street, where he would meet with the likes of Robert Garioch, George Campbell Hay and Hugh MacDiarmid etc. There’s even a well known painting of them all being kicked out of there. But these days Milne’s seems more than a little shy of promoting its literary heritage.

One might further associate MacCaig with his tenement at Leamington Terrace in Bruntsfield, where he would be photographed usually with his tab in hand.

MacCaig as Teacher

“When I was a teacher, teachers would come into my classroom and admire my desk in which lay nothing whatever whereas theirs were heaped with papers and books.”

MacCaig was also a teacher… But not of poetry, because he believed that could never be taught. He compared its teaching to giving a propellor to a bird. Nor was he one for long poems, by his own admission, for he suspected many people no longer had the stomach for them.

What kind of teacher was MacCaig though? An old version of his Wikipedia article from around a decade ago suggests he taught locally and had a fearsome reputation. (See image)

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Is this true? Some Wikipedia editors thought not, and had it removed. Or at least they thought this claim wasn’t well enough supported. So was MacCaig a bit too keen on the tawse? Was he even a teacher at Carrick Knowe Primary? The media loves to dig the dirt on the dead. And Norman MacCaig isn’t around to defend himself – he’s been gone over twenty years. I caught the tail end of corporal punishment myself and I can’t say my memories of it are fond ones; it was something which was clearly part of the system and had been for generations.

If you have any information on this particular subject I will be glad to hear from you as always.

Picture Credits

  • Public domain image from Wikipedia. Taken by “MacRusgail”.

External Links