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

hqdefault
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.

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

 

Kipling’s Sister

519maj7nccl._sx354_bo1,204,203,200_

Today, LitCors looks at yet another neglected female writer with local connections.

Rosie ?Bell left a pleasant comment on my last post about Nan Shepherd, letting me know about Alice “Trix” Fleming (1868 – 1948), who lived at 6, West Coates for a number of years. Trix was the sister of Rudyard Kipling, and like him spent some of her life in colonial India. The two of them appear to have collaborated on some early work, so it is fair to assume some level of mutual influence. Trix also had a number of her own pieces published in both India and the UK. The Kiplings seem to have been a very talented family – both Trix’s mother and her father were also notable in their own right.

The Scottish Connection

Alice Beatrice MacDonald Kipling was named after her mother Alice Kipling, née MacDonald. Like her children, Alice Sr. was a keen poet. She also had a Scottish family background, which was perhaps influential in bringing Trix to Edinburgh. At 21, Trix married Colonel John Fleming – I suspect from his surname he may have had a Scottish background too, but I would have to look this up.

Trix and her husband tried to move to Edinburgh in 1910, but the visit was brief. Her mother had died back in India, and her father died three months later. The stress brought on by the bereavement appears to have affected Trix quite severely.

She came back to Edinburgh in 1932, and lived here for the rest of her life. She was visited Edinburgh Zoo regularly, and spoke to the elephants there in Hindustani (the Indian lingua franca, before it divided into Hindi and Urdu). Rather like Arthur Conan Doyle, Trix took an interest in psychic phenomena and was said to have the second sight. Back in those days, this was a far more mainstream viewpoint.

Novelist

As well as being a poet, Trix also produced several novels and short stories. These include:

  • The Heart of a Maid (1890)
  • A Pinchbeck Goddess (1897)
  • Her Brother’s Keeper (1901)

Trix in fiction

kipling-and-trix-cover-visual9

Mary Hamer has written a novel about Trix and you can read a piece she wrote about the novel here.

Apparently some of the later scenes take place in Edinburgh including the zoo.

Further Reading

I’ve only skimmed over a few pages on the internet to write this post, but there appear to be at least two major works which discuss Trix’s life and work a bit more fully.

One of them is Trix: Kipling’s Forgotten Sister, which includes a number of her pieces, plus some biographical notes.

The other is Judith Flanders’ A Circle of Sisters, which also discusses Trix’s mother and her three aunts, the MacDonald Sisters.

Online resources

Acknowledgements

I would of course like to thank Rosie ?Bell for telling me about Trix.

The two book covers above are used in good faith and to promote the works in question.

Into the Mountain

811Jen5fcyL-398x600

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.

 

 

Clerwood’s Free Library and Others

20181124_131451 I’m delighted to see Clerwood now has its own free library. If you want to find it, follow the 26 bus to the Clerwood View bus stop. There is a path leading west from the bus stop between the houses and the library is there.If you can find it, it’s worth a visit. It’s not far from the walled garden on Corstorphine Hill.

I’ve gone up a couple of times. It’s a bit out of the way for me, but I’m glad there is at least one on this side of town.

The content on my last visit included several football books (ghost-written “autobiographies”), chicklit and a range of children’s books as well as some classic novels, and a copy of the “Holy Blood and Holy Grail” (I wonder if they know about Templeland Road at the bottom of Drumbrae?). This one has an unusual shelving pattern, but I don’t want to go full anorak mode in discussing it!

Other free libraries

20181216_225527
A less happy example in Clovenstone

Since I wrote the “Free libraries for Corstorphine?” I have found two new free libraries.

The first was in a sorry state and book-free. It can be found next to the allotments on one of the greens in Clovenstone in Wester Hailes. The last time I visited, the doors were left wide open, and there was not a book in sight. Sadly, there is a lot of vandalism in Clovenstone in general. One or two of the buildings have been done up and there are now allotments, but the area could be improved a lot for the people who live there. Free libraries are a sign of people taking back an area. Vandalism is usually a sign of the opposite (although I’ll make an exception for certain graffiti – none of which I’ve seen in Clovenstone)

The second is a more positive story. The Shandon one is in a better state and has a lot of books in it every time I pass. There’s an obvious class issue here in comparison to the one in Clovenstone. Shandon is a “sought after” area as you can pick up from the accents of some of the residents. Clerwood too is a middle class area, but is not so well known to people originating south of the border.

Last but not least, the free library at Haymarket has reappeared. It used to be in a piece of furniture, but now there’s one hidden in the hedge. It can be quite hard to spot until you’re right on top of it, but that’s probably protected it against vandalism. That doesn’t stop vans parking in front of it, but you can’t have everything.

WS Graham at 100

lochsidegraham3grey

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

Buy Literary Corstorphine!

 

If you have enjoyed this blog, why not consider buying the book? It’s a unique & ideal Christmas gift for anyone with links to this area. I include a lot in the book that doesn’t appear on this blog at all, such as maps and even more detailed discussion of some of the subject matter. Many people have told me that they were amazed about the content, and that they were completely unaware of it beforehand.

You can buy Literary Corstorphine for £9.99 from Gee’s/Corstorphine Post Office, which is on the corner of Station Road and St John’s Road. If you can’t see it on display, please ask to see a copy.

If you live nearer Leith than Corstorphine, it is also available in the Scottish Design Exchange shop, which is on the first floor of Ocean Terminal. Directions and details can be found by clicking this blue link.

You can also buy it online at Lulu.com (click on this blue link).

I know a lot of people expect content for free, but remember content creators can’t all live for free!

And to all of those who have bought copies, thank you! I have sold a number of copies already, but I do appreciate all sales.

 

Henry Bellyse Baildon

800px-The_grave_of_Henry_Bellyse_Baildon,_Dean_Cemetery

Dr Henry Bellyse Baildon (1849-1907), was a poet and playwright born in Granton, who spent some of his later life in Duncliffe in Murrayfield. His grave can still be seen in the Dean Cemetery.

While Baildon is ill remembered, his friend, Robert Louis Stevenson is not. They went to school together, where they co-edited a few magazines and kept up a life time correspondence when RLS moved over sees. Because of this connection, Baildon’s Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life Study in Criticism (1901) is of particular interest.

In a letter of 1891, from his home in Samoa, Stevenson wrote:

“It is a long time since we met I was curious to see where time had carried and stranded us… Did you see a silly tale, ‘John Nicholson’s Predicament’ – or some such name – in which I made free with your house in Murrayfield? There is precious little sense in it, but it might amust. Cassell’s published it – in a thing called Yule Tide years ago… there’s the house in Murrayfield and the dead body in it, forby: no extra charge. Glad the ballads amused you… I give you my warm Talofa. Write me again when the spirit moves you. And if some day, if I still live, make out the trip again, and let us hob-a-nob with our grey pows on my verandah. Yours sincerely, Robert Louis Stevenson.”

Baildon was also a good friend of Sir Patrick Geddes.

Baildon the Poet

Baildon’s poetry includes:

  • First Fruits and Shed Leaves” (1873)
  • Morning Clouds being Divers Poems” (1877)

The Spectator wrote of the latter collection that:

Baildon has a certain gift for verse writing, but is too fond of what used to be called Pindaric meters… and fanciful, or even fantastic means of expression… the occasional use of such similitudes is allowable, but they occur with wearying frequency.”

Not exactly high praise, I’m afraid.

HBB found more success in academia, being employed as a lecturer in English at Vienna University, and Dundee (then part of St Andrews).

The end

One day, Baildon failed to return to his final home in Dundee. His dog had wandered back without him, and his wife reported his disappearance to the police. He was found dead in a quarry at Lochee. The cause of death was determined to be overuse of a dubious rubbing solution called “ABC Liniment”, which contained minute quantities of belladonna and chloroform, used to calm nerves.

Baildon had been suffering from severe depression at the time, and one wonders if he committed suicide. Given that his father was a chemist, it is quite possible he knew what he was doing.

External Links