The Scottish Enlightenment

30 August 2014 23:58

Adam Smith

Adam Smith

I was reading a post recently about The Enlightenment when I realised that it wasn’t The Enlightenment as I know it because to me it is The Scottish Enlightenment an 18th century movement. Then Scotland was described as a hotbed of genius. According to Voltaire:

‘We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation’

(‘Nous nous tournons vers l’Écosse pour trouver toutes nos idées sur la civilisation’)

Hume and Rousseau

Hume and Rousseau

So it was a bit of a slap in the face when it dawned on me that some people have absolutely no idea about The Scottish Enlightenment and indeed seem to think that The Enlightenment was an English/American entity.

The only explanation is that we in Scotland must just have been far too shy and retiring about it – instead of blowing our own trumpets as we should have been. I’m thinking of those tea towels which you see in tourist shops printed with all the famous discoveries and inventions and the Scots who were responsible for them! We need a tea towel with all of the 18th century movers and shakers of Scotland printed on it, Adam Smith, David Hume and the like. Did you know that The Encyclopaedia Brittanica was a product of the Scottish Enlightenment, founded in Edinburgh.


But have I read anything by those luminaries? Have I whack! So it’s about time that I did and I’m setting myself a challenge to read at least one book by a Scottish Enlightenment figure – before the end of the year. It’ll fit nicely into the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge too. Join in if you think you’re brave enough!

The photographs are of just a few of the embroidered panels which make up The Great Tapestry of Scotland which is on show at The Scottish Parliament at the moment and entry is free.

The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie

29 August 2014 23:47

I picked The Gun Seller up when I was in a library thinking, is it the same Hugh Laurie – and sure enough it is. The book was first published in 1996 and was re-issued in 2009.

This book is hilarious, more than a laugh a minute, certainly up until the last third of the book when the storyline gets quite convoluted, or should I just say confusing. Possibly that was because I was reading it at bedtime.

I was hoping that there was a large back catalogue of Hugh Lawrie books which I could get stuck into but sadly there isn’t. Mind you, fair’s fair, he obviously has a very busy and successful life. In fact I couldn’t help thinking to myself that it is really quite unfair that there is so much talent inside one human being!

If you enjoy sarcastic wit then you’ll like this book. Thomas Lang is an ex-Scots Guard who has been approached by someone who wants him to carry out a contract killing, but Lang is a good guy, not that that helps matters. Things quickly get out of control.

Hugh Laurie is of Scottish descent, as you would expect with a name like his. Both his parents were Scottish and he does use the Scottish word ‘jink’ quite a few times in this book, it means to ‘dodge around’. It’s often used to describe footballers I think.

Apparently Laurie had quite a difficult relationship with his mother as she was a strict Presbyterian and as often happens when people move away from their own roots (they moved to England) she seems to have been even more rigid and dour than the Presbyterians who stayed at home and maybe loosened up a bit over the years.

Laurie is a bit disgruntled by his childhood experiences but I think that he probably has his mother to thank for his sense of humour, imagination and multiple talents. Presbyterian upbringings can be grim but also very nurturing to the senses and imagination, something which Hugh Lawrie has in abundance. It has been nearly 20 years since this book was first published and his next book is long overdue, I hope he gets around to finishing it soon.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

29 August 2014 14:46

Earlier this summer, my friend Joan, at Planet Joan, and I were having a chat about Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, which we’d both just read. We’ve edited our chat a bit, leaving out the parts about what we were each making for dinner that evening, Katrina’s new summerhouse, the demolition happening around my house, the weather, gardening, and a raft of other things. We humbly submit our erudite discussion:

Joan Kyler:
I thought the moors and the weather on the moors were major characters.

Katrina Stephen:

Yes I know that du Maurier was a big fan of the Brontes and I suppose this is her version of Wuthering Heights, Bodmin Moor being used as a substitute for the Yorkshire Moors.

I didn’t know that. I thought the characters and the outcome were predictable. I knew who the good guys and who the bad guys were from the start. And who Mary’d fall for and what she’d do about it. Not much suspense there. But it was a fun read. I read it back in the 1960s and have my index card from then. I said I didn’t think it was one of her best books.


I would agree with that although I did enjoy it, it is predictable. I first read it around 1970 I think and again in the mid 80s probably, sadly I didn’t take any notes but thinking back I thought it was darker and scarier than it actually is. There was more sexual threat in it than I remembered, but maybe I just didn’t pick up on that as a 12 year old. Uncle Joss saying – I could have had you anytime if I wanted you a few times in the book.


I don’t remember if any of that got past me or not. I was into reading modern Gothics then, they’re usually fairly sexually charged. I just checked my file. Although they don’t have dates either, I have cards on Rebecca and Frenchman’s Creek that, from the handwriting, look like I read them about the same time. I know I’ve read My Cousin Rachel, but I don’t have a card on it. Mary annoyed me for seeing things so black and white, but she was young, so maybe she could be excused.


On the other hand she is a stronger female character than her aunt who is I suppose worn down by years of domestic abuse. Also compared with the second Mrs de Winter in Rebecca Mary seems like a really strong young woman.


That’s true. I don’t think Mary understood how hard it sometimes is to leave that sort of relationship, as we often wonder why women stay in them. She does seem strong and independent. I understand why she found Jem so attractive. I wasn’t sure she’d leave with him at the end, but I wasn’t surprised when she did.


Yes but maybe it would have been more sensible for her not to go with Jem. It’s that dark and dangerous male – I read years ago that it was books like this and Wuthering Heights which were bad for young women, making them think that men who were going to turn out to be bad for them were exciting and so worth the risk. I think it was a 1970s burn your bras feminist who came up with that one.


But I can understand. I wonder what happened to them in the next ten years. He didn’t seem to be the type who would stay and she seemed like she might decide to go back to that farm by herself. In the meantime, they probably had some fun.


Yes I don’t see it lasting that long but in those days she would probably have had a few kids in tow by the time it all fell apart, she would have been forced to put the kids first.


I think I’d like to read Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel sometime before the end of the year. I’ve seen the movie Rebecca so often, I think I get it confused with reading the book!


Rebecca is one of my comfort books so I’ll definitely join you in that. Obviously that’s her version of Jane Eyre, I love both of the books. As you say though it’s du Maurier’s writing of the place which is such a large part of the book and after reading this one I always wanted to go to Cornwall and loved books with a Cornish setting. It’s quite unusual for an English writer to have the setting basically as important as any of the actual characters. It’s a Scottish/Celtic trait in writing I think.


Is it? I have to get on board with more Scottish books. I loved the wildness of the weather and the moors. I don’t think we made it quite that far when we were travelling in England. I looked at a map to see if I recognized any towns. We were in Swindon (sp?) and Cheltenham, but don’t think they’re considered Cornwall, especially Cheltenham. I was such a little Anglofile in the 1960s, all that British invasion stuff, but I used to go out in storms and thought I was very oddly British doing it!


You probably were, we often have no option and have to go out in hellish weather otherwise we would be housebound, in the winter anyway. You would have to have travelled quite a bit further south west to get to Cornwall. Strangely Cornwall feels and looks very much like parts of Scotland, even the old buildings look similar, I suppose it’s the stone but also the design of the houses. It must be a Celtic thing, the Cornish don’t regard themselves as English.


That’s interesting. England’s such a small country to have divides like that.


I think it is because when the Romans invaded the Celts were pushed out to the fringes of the island. The Romans didn’t like Celts, I think they were afraid of them.


How about Rebecca what’s your opinion of Max de Winter – from memory . Do you see him as ‘that murderer’ or ‘sex on legs’ or what?


You know, I don’t really remember. I don’t think I liked him very much, but I don’t remember much more than that.


Well that’ll be interesting then, I’ve always been on the ‘sex on legs’ side but it is a while since I re-read it, you never know, I might have changed my mind in my old age.

I don’t think I’ve read it since the 60s, at least I don’t have a card on it. I started to get fairly compulsive about recording my reading after the late 1970s.


I so wish that I had thought of taking notes on all the books which I’ve read over the years. Shall we plan to do a Rebecca readalong sometime before the end of the year then?

Scottish Independence and Trident

26 August 2014 23:42

Scottish referendum photo

As you can see from the photo above, the empty shop which was taken over by the NO campaign for their HQ has an upstairs neighbour who is very definite that they are voting YES. I found it amusing anyway but I don’t suppose the NO people are too chuffed about it.

Last night we had the second televised debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling on TV. I watched it even although I’m getting fed up with the whole thing, it has been such a long campaign. I think Salmond won the debate easily but I have heard others say the opposite, there’s no accounting for people’s perceptions I suppose.

Anyway the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins has been writing about the referendum here. The article is specifically about Trident and what would happen to it if Scotland votes YES for independence.

I grew up just a stone’s throw away from Faslane and Coulport and at one point my father even worked at Coulport, but it’s always been a place I’ve hated, the very existence of nuclear weapons is abhorrent but when they are on your doorstep it sort of concentrates the mind. Apart from anything else the Gare Loch, where the Trident submarines are based is such a place of beauty, well it would be if it didn’t have miles and miles of razor wire circling it.

I’ve always wanted to sweep the weapons of mass destruction away and replace them with tourists and holidaymakers. It would be superior to anything in the Lake District, there could be the usual outdoor activities, such as sailing and scuba diving, no noisy speed boats or jet skis please!

I’ve actually had the unnerving experience of being on an enjoyable hill walk when I stumbled across an ominous looking air vent in the hillside. Because those hills have been hollowed out to allow for storage of nuclear weapons!

If I had my way those hollow hills could be used for all sorts of peaceful activities. Indoor climbing could take place and all sorts of games and entertainments. It would be a great place to shelter when the weather was bad, or the midges were too annoying.

Trident is the reason that President Obama changed his mind on the Scottish Independence referendum. Originally he said that it was up to the people of Scotland to decide. Then obviously his advisers got to him and explained that Scotland was the home of the Trident missiles, the only ones in Europe and as such apparently required for the ‘safety’ of the world!

I would just get rid of the lot of them but seemingly that would not be on the cards. It has been suggested that the base could be moved to Portsmouth. I wonder how the good people of Portsmouth would feel about that. Apparently there are about 260,000 people living around that area, including Devon, it’s presumably more than that, but still not close to the much larger amount of people living near the Scottish bases.

Simon Jenkins mentions: Where will the submarines and their warheads go if not in Scotland? The wild, unpopulated Scottish lochs are not easy to replicate in England or Wales. Honestly, I had to laugh when I read that. The loch which is home to Trident is a very short distance from Glasgow, one hour by road – at the most. As Glasgow is the biggest centre of population in Scotland at over 600,000 people in the city itself and there are plenty of medium sized towns in the area too it can hardly be described as a ‘wild and unpopulated area.’ Maybe Simon Jenkins should have a look at places before he writes articles about them, then he would have more of an idea of their ‘wildness’ or otherwise.

The Netherlands Trip – at last

26 August 2014 12:49

At the moment I’m busy preparing for our trip to the Netherlands, we’ll be setting off in less than a week now. We’re going to visit the Dutch branch of my family, something which we’ve been meaning to get around to since we got married, but life, kids and a mortgage sort of got in the way. We’re going by ferry and we’re fitting in a bit of a road trip in England before and after going to north Holland.

So all in all we’ll be away for almost a fortnight, that’s unheard of for me as I really don’t like being away from home for more than about a week at a time. I don’t know what our internet access will be like but I’m going to schedule a few posts for during our time away, just in case I don’t have a chance to blog. I might not be able to get around to answering any possible comments until we get back home though, I’ll get around to them eventually.

I’m sure there’ll be lots of interesting places to visit and photograph while we’re away which I hope armchair travellers will enjoy.

Blast from the Past – WWI Postcard

25 August 2014 00:13

World War I postcard

This postcard is one of quite a few which I have collected over the years, it’s a photograph which has been turned into a postcard. As you can see it’s of a group of soldiers, including one in a kilt so they must be from a Scottish regiment, he must be their piper. Sadly there’s absolutely no mention in the card of who they are although maybe nowadays it would be possible to enlarge an area of it to identify their insignia.

Quite early on in the war the Scottish soldiers were told to stop wearing their kilts as they were causing them so many problems. The conditions were just not suitable as a kilt consists of 6 yards of wool and when it got wet as it inevitably did in the trenches, there was just no way of drying it. The wet material acted like sandpaper on the soldier’s skin as they moved and caused sores and infections. On top of all that the pleats were a perfect breeding ground for the lice which the soldiers were plagued with. The pipers were the only kilties around.

World War I postcard,

The postcard is addressed to:

Miss M. Willoughby,
“Binnie Cottage”
Causeywayside St

The message says:
D.A.M. (presumably Miss Willoughby’s initials or a shortened version of an endearment)

Isn’t this a nice lot of chaps. Eh!
Not half. Expect to be leaving for France seven days or so hence. Will write later. Bert

The stamp which obviously has King George V’s head on it has been put on upside down. ( I thought that they could chuck you in prison for that!) Way back then every post office had its own postmark but I can’t make out this one, it’s somewhere St Mary, possibly Godford. Anyway the date is clear it was stamped on 18 November 1915.

Poor Bert. The chaps have obviously been at a training camp prior to being sent out to the trenches. I wonder how many of them survived it – if any.

Arthur the King by Allan Massie

22 August 2014 23:54

Arthur the King by Scottish author Alan Massie was first published in 2003 and has been waiting in my TBR pile for absolutely yonks and I sort of wish I had just left it there. I usually love books involving King Arthur, the Mary Stewart Merlin series is my favourite but I’ve also really liked T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, which I know some people have found to be very dry.

I’ve enjoyed previous books by Allan Massie but for some reason he decided to employ a really clunky and archaic writing style in this one. His take on Arthur and Merlin and a lot of the minor characters is unusual in that he has them having same sex relationships. It’s all very ‘right on’ I suppose but I don’t think it adds anything to the story. Arthur’s relationship with Morgan Le Fay is a long standing one, not a one off aberration as in most versions of the tale.

I suppose I just prefer my Arthurian tales to run along the more traditional lines but if you haven’t read those ones then you might find Arthur the King to be acceptable, it just wasn’t for me, but as I almost always finish a book which I’ve started to read in the hope that it’ll improve, I struggled on to the end, then was annoyed with myself for doing so.

Ah well, let’s hope the next book is more enjoyable. At least this one counts towards the Read Scotland 2014 challenge. I’ve lost count now, I think this is number 23 or 24.

Some Favourite Blogs

21 August 2014 23:07

I’ve been busy with house and garden stuff this past wee while so haven’t been able to get around to quite as much blogging and visiting blogs as I usually do, but I’ve just seen that Evelyn at Evee’s Blog has recently posted some lovely blogposts. If you’re interested in Scotland, gardening and beautiful photographs you should definitely hop over to her. One post is about Edinburgh and some places nearby, one about a friend’s beautiful garden and she’s been gallivanting along the east coast of Scotland recently too.

Another of my favourite blogs to visit is in The Silver Room which belongs to Michelle who is an artist normally making and exhibiting her gorgeous jewellery in Newcastle I believe, but at the moment she’s having a wee bit of a change and is having a taste of shop life as she’s looking after a friend’s shop in Kendal and I hope getting a chance to show off some of her own artwork.

If you’re looking for that special ring or other piece of unique jewellery then in The Silver Room is the place to go. You can design exactly what you want and even help with the making of it. I find the processes fascinating, it’s just a pity that Michelle wasn’t around when I needed a wedding/engagement ring, I had to make do with H. Samuels!

The Great Tapestry of Scotland

21 August 2014 00:04

Last week we went to the Scottish Parliament where The Great Tapestry of Scotland is on exhibition, it’s the longest tapestry in the world apparently. I meant to visit it this time last year but didn’t get around to it, due to pressure of house selling and too many people viewing our old place. It was my old family friend Isabel who recommended that I visit the exhibition, I knew that it must be good if she was impressed because she’s a really great embroiderer herself.

Of course it isn’t a tapestry it’s an embroidery, but then neither is the Bayeux Tapestry a tapestry, there seems to be a tradition of misnaming such things. I took quite a few photos of the panels which were of most interest to me, but I haven’t sorted them out yet. Meanwhile, you can see images of the panels here.

The tapestry has been wandering around Scotland for the past year or so and nobody seemed able to give it a permanent home but I just heard on the Scottish news tonight that it is going to be on permanant exhibition at Melrose eventually. I’m so glad I saw it in Edinburgh as Melrose isn’t exactly central.

The author Alexander McCall Smith was the chap who came up with the idea of a ‘tapestry’ depicting Scotland’s history and the artist Andrew Crummy designed it with the work being carried out by hundreds of embroiderers from all over Scotland.

Below you can see the first stitch being put into the design.

Robert Louis Stevenson at Bridge of Allan

19 August 2014 23:59

We really like Bridge of Allan, which is a very small town (or is it a large village?) in Stirlingshire, not far from Stirling. It has some lovely views and good hillwalking nearby and also the Stirling University Campus is there so it always seems to be a thriving community, with a nearby film theatre too.

In fact we looked at a couple of houses there but decided against moving there, mainly because the house which we sort of liked had a very wee garden but worse than that it almost backed on to the only women’s prison in the whole of Scotland. The house was about 100 yards away from a huge perimeter fence. I would just have found that outlook too depressing, especially as I’ve been told that most of the inmates are suffering from mental problems and are on suicide watch. I think the estate agent was doing that thing beloved of such people, namely changing the location to something more salubrious, the house should really have been marketed under the place name Cornton.

Anyway, it was when we were having a look around the town for the umpteenth time that I noticed this plaque on a wall just off the High Street.

RLS Bridge of Allan

It says that Robert Louis Stevenson and his family often stayed there for holidays. I don’t blame them, it must have been a nice change from smoky Edinburgh, which at that time was often called Auld Reekie. Apparently Charles Dickens was also a regular visitor.

I grew up in a town with two rivers in it, the Clyde and the Leven and for me a town has to have a good river and bridge to qualify as a ‘proper’ town. It usually means that it has been settled for donkey’s years, a place with a long history. Bridge of Allan fits that bill too, and as you can see from the photo below it also has a resident heron which is often to be seen close to the bridge. It actually moved this time but it wasn’t fishing, just sorting out its feathers.


If you want to see more images of Bridge of Allan, have a look here. To read more about the town’s history have a look here.