In each edition, a personal selection of things of value: we ask each contributor to nominate their favourite book, film, piece of music, work of art, restaurant or pub, and place. This week: former UK defence secretary and NATO secretary-general, George Robertson
Politicians (and ex-politicians) famously buy, review and write books. What they rarely have the time to do, is to read books. I spent my youth in Dunoon’s Tulloch Library and still collect books voraciously and do try to read them. Robert Tressel’s 'Ragged Trousered Philanthropist’ was an early primer for my beliefs – a graphic and moving picture of the wage slavery of the early 20th century. Then 'Catch 22’ by Joseph Heller made a deep impression – one of the funniest warbooks ever, and I am now addicted to the thrillers of James Lee Burke – the near poetic and atmospheric novels of the US deep south.
A recent remarkable find was 'Making it Happen’ by Ian Martin (one-time editor of the Scotsman), subtitled 'RBS, Fred Goodwin, and the men who blew up the British economy’. This is the only book my non-political friends passed from hand to hand. It is devastating, brilliantly written and enough to boil your blood. But my all time favourite? 1984, written by George Orwell on Jura and still the most uncanny, deeply disturbing description of how a dictatorship, and they exist even today, manipulates truth and the mind. Think North Korea and worry.
It has to be Local Hero. Every time I watch it I see some other detail. The many layers never conflict and it mesmerises as it amuses as it thrills. A masterpiece – and lovingly Scottish. I loved Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin in 'Cat Balou’, the best Western among the many I used to revel in. Then there’s 'A Man for all Seasons’ with Paul Schofield outstanding as Sir Thomas More. A more modern film? '1972’ – a gripping, gritty, upsetting story of a British soldier lost in the troubles of Belfast. This was my country in my time and in some ways as foreign as Turkmenistan.
I frequent the Tappit Hen in Dunblane and it is good – a range of real ales and a shifting crowd who pass through the town. Opposite the cathedral it was once called the Chimes with a Basil Fawlty-type landlord who had Encyclopedia Britannica (the battery-less predecessor of Google) above the bar to settle arguments, many of which he himself started. The new Andy Murray-owned Cromlix House is as good, maybe better, than anything I have seen in the world. Port Charlotte Hotel in Islay offers homely luxury, a fine bar, live music and as wide a range of good food and drink as you could ever need.
My tastes can be summed up as classics and country. Rachmaninov’s second symphony and most of Mozart. Emmy Lou Harris and Dolly Parton are playing while I write this. In the days (returning) of vinyl, my favourite was 'The Best of (Chris) Barber (Kenny) Ball and (Acker) Bilk'. My favourite CD? 'Tribute to RunRig’ by the Glasgow Islay Gaelic Choir. One song? Ae Fond Kiss sung by Fiona Kennedy.
Favourite work of Art
I am a fan of Jack Vetriano, not because – maybe in spite of him being Scottish – and I have several of John Lowrie Morrison’s striking pictures in my home. Both of these painters are shunned by the artistic elite and not hung in our great galleries. And yet they are special, insightful, moving and – here’s the rub, immensely popular. One new discovery I made was in Helsinki which I visited last month. In a back-street gallery was an exhibition of art students’ work. Some was hideously abstract but one painting, Forevermore, was by a Tamara Piilola. Fighting galleons was the subject but I was captivated as never before.
It has to be Islay. Okay, I was born there, but plenty of people love the island who weren’t. Distilling some of the world’s finest malt whiskies, hosting countless varieties of birds, with more clean beaches than even Harris, it has a purity of air to enliven the dullest of spirits. The light is matchless, the scenery heart stopping and therefore a paradise for trying photographers like me. It has a fascinating museum, a championship golf course, several superb hotels but there’s one thing better than all that. It is the friendliest place I have ever known – and I’ve done a lot of travelling in my life. Come and find out.