.

Postcards
from Scotland

We asked a selection of SR
contributors for a memory
of an outstanding holiday in
Scotland – good or bad



Marian Pallister in Tobermory
George Chalmers in Ayr
Islay McLeod in Rockcliffe
Judith Jaafar in Carrick Castle
Barney MacFarlane on Arran



Bill Jamieson on Bute
Tessa Ransford in North Berwick
Michael Elcock on Harris
Ronnie Smith in Largs

Katie Grant on Mull
Thom Cross in Kirkcaldy
Morelle Smith in Glencoe
Bob Cant in Carnoustie

Robin Downie on Arran
Bruce Gardner in Glen Livet
Fiona MacDonald on Tiree
Walter Humes at home

Jill Stephenson at Loch Duich
Quintin Jardine in Elie
Iain Macmillan in Gleneagles
Douglas Marr on Skye
Andrew McFadyen in Kilmarnock

R D Kernohan on Arran
David Torrance on Iona
Catherine Czerkawska at Loch Ken
Chris Holligan in Elie

Rose Galt in Girvan
Alex Wood on Arran
Andrew Hook in Glasgow
Alasdair McKillop in St Andrews

Sheila Hetherington on Arran
Anthony Seaton on Ben Nevis
Paul Cockburn at Loch Ness
Jackie Kemp in a taxi
Angus Skinner on Skye

10.11.11
No. 477

The Cafe 2

In the council by-election campaign in Hilhead, the LibDems produced a leaflet claiming that energy prices are being driven up by 'the hugh rise in worldwide gas prices' and that they are 'campaigning to help'. In fact according to the UN: 'As the world market for natural gas is fragmented in different regional markets, it is not possible to talk about a world price for natural gas'.
     Prices in many areas are far lower than ours. In particular the US price has been falling dramatically because they are embracing a new technique to reach natural gas from great depths.
     Perhaps the LibDems can be forgiven for their ignorance of the engineering. More difficult to understand is their claim to be trying to help. A field of such gas has been found in Britain containing 200 trillion cubic feet of gas. There is likely to be more. This is an economic windfall likely at least to match North Sea oil and able to make Britain's electricity and energy prices competitive with the rest of the world.
     The correlation between supplies of cheap power and economic growth explains why we are in recession while China's economy and electricity use have been growing in tandem at 10% for 30 years.

Neil Craig

SR Extra

In this weekend's Scottish Review, a searing indictment of arts policy in Scotland by the playwright and director George Gunn

Click here




Shocked and saddened

by the personal animus

of a literary critic


There is a quote from that most distinguished of Scottish novelists, Muriel Spark, which comes to mind whenever I find critics wallowing in their intellectual superiority. 'She thinks to intimidate me by the use of quarter hours'. Miss Brodie was not intimidated and let's hope Sophie Cooke isn't either.
     The irritating thing is that Stuart Kelly makes some excellent points (8 November), not least in reminding those who are perhaps not aware of it of the fine, strong tradition of Scottish writing that existed well before the union, although I'm not sure why he mentions 'the wonderful Complaynt' (as a one time mediaevalist to trade, even I had to look that one up to remind myself what it was – but then my formal studies were a long time ago) rather than those late mediaeval stalwarts, Henryson and Dunbar.
     There are literary critics who wear their learning lightly. But there are those who use it like a verbal club, and rejoice in beating their erstwhile opponents round the head with it. I may not agree with everything Sophie Cooke wrote, but I found the debate her piece provoked interesting, and am shocked and saddened by the personal animus displayed in Kelly's response.
     A piece packed with such intellectual derision scarcely merits serious attention, but it might be interesting to challenge him on his somewhat narrow notions about Scottish 'magic realism' and the contention that 'few writers' have read the border ballads, or are aware of folksongs and sagas. On the contrary, most Scottish state school-children – never mind writers – will have read some of the ballads and all of them will have had a hefty dose of Burns. Even this non-Scottish second generation Pole encountered them.      What Kelly calls 'the interplay between elements of the fantastical and elements of realism' is to be found woven into the very fabric of much of our poetry and prose, whether in Scots, Gaelic or English, and it would be a brave soul who attempted to dismiss its influence entirely, in favour of some naive notion that a Scottish novelist will write magic realism only because he or she happens to have read 'One Hundred Years of Solitude'.

Catherine Czerkawska

Catherine Czerkawska is a playwright and poet


Without claiming to be exceptional (although it transpired that we were so), we did consider ourselves 'essential' in the Scottish Poetry Library in the early 1980s when elements in the Scottish Arts Council literature committee kept trying to persuade us to rename ourselves 'the Poetry Library in Scotland'. (As soon as I retired the logo was changed at much expense and trouble from a Celtic one, expressing integration, interweaving, internationality and infinity, to an anonymous leaf vaguely linked to Patrick Geddes.)
     Why were we essential? Most Scottish poetry (apart from the Burns collection at the Mitchell Library) was lost, scattered – often in America and Canada – out of print, unrecorded, unindexed, uncatalogued (MacDiarmid and Soutar were out of print, as were the Oxford and the Penguin Books of Scottish Verse. Scottish university libraries had no contemporary Scottish poetry, though Alexander Scott was building up a department at Glasgow). Our task was to gather, access, catalogue and make available, through bibliographical and outreach work, the poetry of Scotland in its various languages as comprehensively as possible, in a setting among samples of poetry from throughout the world in translation.
     An essential feature of our work was to stock a selection of 'background material', being myths and legends, social, industrial, rural and local history, ballads and songs, and literary criticism. This being the kind of material any serious practising poet living in Scotland would need and would want to know.      Anyone living and working in Scotland is affected by climate, landscape and language unless they live in a box. We are lucky to have such diversity and richness at hand in a small area, easy to explore. We have the particular and the infinite, as well as music, dance and the visual arts, religion and science, which are deeply interwoven with the written word in our tradition.
     The only odd thing about Sophie Cooke's essay was that she felt the need to write it. What other country's writers feel the need to justify their designation? It's just a pity that Kelly was 'clever enough' to qualify for Oxford at such an impressionable age. Adam Smith tried it, and, as I understand, wasn't impressed.

Tessa Ransford

Tessa Ransford OBE is a poet and founder of the Scottish Poetry Library