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A Journey into Scotland  Bibliography Part Three

The West Coast : History Books

It’s impossible to give a full inventory of the source materials for this project. Most of this blog has come straight from the reservoir of memory; and this includes memory of books read, lectures attended, galleries visited, films and television programmes watched and conversations enjoyed. Obviously it also includes what happened along the roads of Scotland in 1987. Being something of a compulsive reader and naturally curious, I’ve always enjoyed finding things out. Cataloguing knowledge may suit the writer of the school curriculum or Mr Dewey in his library but, to me, there has only ever been one subject; and that is stuff. Knowing stuff has always felt like a good thing. It’s nice to know a little more and to this end, I have failed to be a respecter of the confines of my own discipline. This could lead to the accusation of being a Jack of all trades and master of none. Guilty Your Honour!

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Why is he pretending to know about geology and geography? How can what he has to say about the past be true history when he isn’t an historian? Well, I cannot necessarily sing, but I can do a pretty good impression of someone who can. Why not share enthusiasm when you’ve got some to spare?  I cannot look at a hill, a holt, a wood, a river valley without wondering how it came to be like that. I cannot read a newspaper without hearing echoes from the past. Teachers have helped too. My favourite geography teacher says that it is the fact that her subject contains all other subjects that is its main appeal. As a student, and occasional teacher, of words, I feel the same. A student of science  can only talk about what is: a student of poetry and philosophy  can talk about what could be as well. It’s all stuff and knowing it makes me feels like I’m fulfilling my purpose. Like oxygen, it’s good to suck it in; it feeds the system. Each of us can only draw in so much; there will always be an infinite amount we don’t breathe in, that we don’t know or even consider not knowing. We are each our own fruit and to strive towards ripeness is all.

rannoch moor 2I’ve written this whole thing to find out. To find out things that I didn’t know and for that I have been a frequenter of libraries as well as my own study. And that is the purpose of this appendix; to acknowledge a debt to other writers, academics and friends. But it is also written to find out and catalogue what I did know without realising it. It has been a Socratic project where the slave boy has shown himself more capable than he had previously contemplated. To know more at the end than at the beginning would be a measure of success. 

The Songs we Sang at Primary School

The music lessons we had at infant and junior school would all be classed as satisfactory, at best, by a twenty first century inspector. For the inspector’s clip board wouldn’t have boxes to tick for all the good things there were about them; merely the absence of what he/she is looking for. We went to the music room, (a room whose only distinction from our normal classroom was the presence of a Lancashire County Council standard school-issue piano) and got out our songbooks and sang. All of our teachers retired at the end of the year they taught us; something of a coincidence and nothing to do with the undue strain our class put on the nervous system. It does, however, show just how old-fashioned our education was. Up until the age of 10 all my teachers had left training college shortly after the first world war. We didn’t study Victorian education in history lessons but we re-lived it on a daily basis; right down to the slipper or the sharp crack across the knuckles with a ruler for losing concentration.

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The song-books were just about holding together. They were nothing short of a golden treasury of the English and Scottish folk tradition. Cecil Sharp could have saved himself years of trekking around rural villages if he’d merely opened the music room book cupboard. In out-of-school life we sang Beatles songs (then freshly in the charts) and Peter and Gordon and Herman’s Hermits. In music lessons we sang Tom Bowling, Cherry Ripe and John Peel. And we ventured into Scotland too and it was memories of these music lessons that had me belting out full verses and choruses of Loch Lomond, Annie Laurie, The Presbyterian Cat and My Love is Like a Red Red Rose as I pedalled a contented way from Dumbarton to Mallaig. On my way to Kilmacolm I serenaded crows and sheep with “In Kirkintilloch there’s nae pubs and I’ll sure ye’ll winder why. Well, me brother and me we went on a spree and we drank the pubs all dry, all dry. We drank the pubs all dry.” Pedalling down Glencoe I was singing “The Campells are Coming Yo Ho! Yo Ho!” As I approached Ullapool my lay was to “Come Buy my Caller Herring”. On the way south I rattled out the Carlton Weaver and the Braes of Killikrankie. I got a couple off  Corries LPs but most came straight from those music lessons. We sang hearty boys and we absorbed huge chunks of our culture. Thank you to Miss Kitchen and Miss Wren who only pretended to be able to play the piano, and to Mr Whitney who really could.

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Neil Oliver: historical romance in cargo trousers

History Books

The History of Scotland by Neil Oliver (television series and accompanying book)

I was delighted when I found out that the BBC had finally got round to making a series of programmes about the history of Scotland and transmitting them at a time when people were likely to be watching. I had mixed feelings when they chose popular, long-haired archeologist and presenter of Coast, Neil Oliver as the man to do it. The series, and the book, are excellent on the ancient history of the country. The enthusiastic Mr Oliver is able to paint bold canvasses from long before the land thought of itself as a country; from Calgacus sending the Roman legions fleeing back from where they came at the battle of Mons Graupius through the setting up of the clan system up to the establishment of a single nation. He tells the story of Wallace and The Bruce and Bannockburn exceptionally well and with the relish of a proud Scot. It is with the establishment of the House of Stuart (or Stewart) that he begins to waver and perhaps a modern historian should have taken over at this point. First class on sweeping legends and drawing some truth out of mythological figures; less good on the known and the well-documented. Still the series is worth getting and watching in full box set indulgence. In England we still get our Scottish history distorted through an English lens. Oliver at least gives Scotland its rightful precedence in the story.

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I delved into countless other books from Simon Schama’s History of Britain which is excellent once you get past Schama himself (a delightful, authoritative and charming presence but a huge presence nonetheless) to Magnus Magnusson’s 600 page labour of love. This is eminently readable and as amiable as we always found our favourite Icelandic on Mastermind. But it is, shall we say, a little loyal to the royals. I’m not sure if he ever became Sir Magnus, but it wasn’t through lack of deference. To paraphrase the quizmaster, I’ve started the book but I’m afraid I haven’t yet finished it. (Actually I’ve used it to dip in and out of to give a different perspective and to add a little flesh to the bones).

I’m a big fan of (and occasional donor to)  Wikipedia. I think it a magnificent resource and every time I have heard Jimmy Wales interviewed on the wireless I have been impressed. However, I’ve tended to use it as a series of signposts rather than as a storyteller. I figured that anyone who wanted to know what Wiki says will probably look it up for themselves.

I’ve also used the various volumes of the Cambridge Cultural History of Britain edited by Boris Ford and Brewer’s Britain and Ireland, an indispensable volume whether preparing a holiday, an outing or merely wanting to find out about the folk-lore of a place or the origin of a name. Christopher Lee’s “This Sceptered Isle” was written to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It’s a complete history of Britain and tends to view Scottish history though any impact it had south of the border. Enjoyable nonetheless not least for the magnificent lesson in pronouncing consonants offered by Anna Massey. It may not be the most comprehensive history lesson but it gives an insight into elocution RADA style.

to be continued…