Thursday, 31 March 2011

The Old Academy

To the Town Hall (formerly the Pump Room) yesterday evening for the consultation about the Old Academy. Moffat is a place people stop off at on their way somewhere else as well as come to stay in, whether for life or for holidays. One thing we do not have is an exhibition space. Perhaps we should become a tiny Tate along the lines of Tate St Ives? There is a Darwinian argument for creating spaces for many small businesses - the ones that flourish will gradually come to occupy more space as unsuccessful ones slip away. So: a centre for small start up businesses - to include manufacture, of course. The bicycle was, if not invented right here, developed not far away by a local D&G blacksmith (see Bella Bathhurst's latest The Bicycle Book). Invite a bigger business to relocate? Enterprise, excellence - reminds me of the very sad news of the death of Edward (son of Eddie) Stobart's death at the untimely age of 56. RIP.

Spa vignette

From today's online Scottish Review, of particular relevance to those of us contemplating ways to reintroduce 21st century hydrotherapy to Moffat:

The Recreation Room, which would make a splendid ball-room, has a piano that once was grand, and upon its willing notes a lady 'of uncertain age' is performing 'The Irresistible Quadrilles' which begin with 'A frog he would a wooing go', while no fewer than eight persons, none older than 40, are gliding through 'figure 4'.
This quadrille business, as many excellent Hydropathists will tell you, is just the thin end of the wedge. In 10 years, it will be the polka, and after that the wicked waltz. What are the Hydropathics coming to?
J J Bell on a Scottish hydropathic holiday, 1880s

The meals were served at long tables; one had to mix with one's fellows and make the necessary genteel conversation. There was a fine, full breakfast followed by a fine, full mid-day dinner. There was a good plain tea at half-past five, with scones and cookies and 'fancy bread' abounding. Those who had just arrived, and had missed their dinner, had to be given value for money and so got eggs to their tea or cold meat. At half-past nine a service of milk, bread, butter, and cheese was laid on in the dining-room.
Those late for meals were confronted by a money-box into which, for charity's benefit, they paid one penny per (unpunctual) person, thus atoning for sin. There was always grace before meat and at 9.45 prayers in the drawing-room. At 10 o'clock or so one withdrew, possibly hoping for a nice read in bed. Vain expectation unless you had brought your own candles! The lights were officially turned off at 10.30.

Ivor Brown on a Scottish hydropathic holiday, 1950s

The amber lozenge

If you happened to be walking past Milburn House at 3am this morning and heard a loud laugh that was me reading Elif Batuman's The Possessed - adventures with Russian books and the people who read them. There is one episode, not lol, of particular interest to Moffat Book Event readers, because it concerns Persephone, as follows: the author is staying in Samarkand ostensibly to improve her spoken Uzbek - she is a first generation American of Turkish origin - with her partner. On their first night, Elif's partner falls ill and their host treats his fever with an infusion created by scraping at an amber lozenge and a pink rock in a box. Later, Elif recalls a fellow student of Russian literature coming to tell her that the key to the phrase by the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam 'as I come to you from the rubble of Petersburg, take a little honey from the palms of my hand' and 'Psyche is slow to hand Charon the amber lozenge' - both items refer to the copper coin Psyche carried in her mouth to pay Charon the boatman who carried people across the Styx (river of death) when she went to Hades to look for Persephone. Mandelstam's phrase 'mednaya lepyoshka' is the same used, following the distinctive shape, for Samarkand bread. This book is an unmissable treat of observation, made more enjoyable if like me you have been there and done many of the things she so wittily and unforgettably describes. Also, this morning, a postcard from Nikolai Tolstoy with a picture of Merlin on it - he must have written another book as well as The Quest (set in Moffat). The illustration on the card is from The Coming of The King - the first book of Merlin published by Bantam Press. There is a chapter on a visit to Lev (War and Peace; Anna Karenina)Tolstoy's estate in the Batuman book.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

So much for self sufficiency

One chapter into The Rational Optimist and the case for international trade and the fruits of specialisation - in other words, the opposite of 'living local' and minimising carbon miles - becomes clear. Oh dear. Here is a beautiful picture Documenting Change at Crookedstane Rig last Oct 2010 by Lizzie Rose to cheer up this wet day (but we and the trees needed the rain).....

Rational optimist

Delighted to discover that Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist is being serialised for free to readers of The Times online. It is another beautiful spring day and I have just posted a contribution to the debate about selling off English forestry on the Saga magazine forum known as Sagazone. All these opportunities to exchange opinions are part of a great new freedom and are changing our society as we watch. It beats throwing a shoe at the TV set anyway. Stacey has come up with the brilliant idea of marketing our April 16 Love and Marriage event in Moffat as the ideal Mother's Day gift. Well done Stacey! Wearing my Mum's hat I am taking cards and posters for Abi's Edinburgh Festival preview show after L&M across to the Moffat House hotel this afternoon.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

An interesting question

How far is it possible to manufacture a "natural" environment, we might ask. And after how long does a species stop being the equivalent of an illegal immigrant and receive its ecological Green Card? Conservation has become a philosophical as well as a practical minefield.. Thus a review of T C Boyle's thirteenth novel When The Killing's Done in this weekend's Financial Times. This is a topic of interest to me as a grower of a so-called 'exotic' conifer which has been grown here since it was introduced by Scottish planthunter David Douglas in the 18th century. When did the potato, to take one example, become a welcome naturalised feature of the British landscape? This is a debate which I look forward to having, and hearing all the arguments at our autumn Moffat Book Event on the themes of identity, provenance and terroir - to be grouped conveniently under the umbrella title 'Belonging'. At the cellular level, identity is vital so that the components of a toe know that is not an ear. Of course, we are not just collections of cells - but people seem to need a narrative which includes familiar features in the landscape, shared history, accepted customs and practices and so on. Who we are and how we live together is a process moderated by the law but in some senses elastic, a moving target which from time to time is worth pausing to consider.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Spring undoubtably sprung

Well the week flew by. The Community Wildlife Reserve was well and truly opened on Tuesday, and is a triumph - a credit to all concerned from the firm that donated the land (an ex-quarry) to the designer, builder and enthusiasts who pushed it forward. We split into three groups to walk around after Geoff cut the ribbon on the bird watching hide by the pond. I walked with the group led by Gary Tait, the bird expert who did the surveys up at Crookedstane. He reassured me that my bloomer about hen harriers was not as colossal as I feared - I told the RSPB man that we have hen harriers nesting in our trees and he said crushingly that they nest on the ground, which Gary says is not invariably the case. Anyway, as we walked round the edge of the wetlands area I thought I heard frogs so three of us tiptoed across and there sure enough was frog and toad spawn. One of our co-walkers who runs the Lockerbie reserve said he had counted 57 toads on the road there (in Lockerbie) the night before. Later that day, my son in law Jim reported so many frogs &/or toads on the forest road at Crookedstane on Monday, just sitting there, that he had to just close his eyes and drive on. A great bonus of the cup of tea and sandwich at the Initiative after our tour was the opportunity to chat to Jean Purves and David Booth about plans for upgrading Station Park. I mentioned the idea of making a Kneipp Walk - a facility available in many Swiss and Austrian spa resorts, excellent for walkers' tired feet but not only for them. A Kneipp Walk is a shallow cold water track with different surface textures to be walked barefoot. It does you the world of good, apparently, alongside another cold water treatment known as an elbow bath. Yes! It's all to do with the boost to your immune system supplied by immersion in cold water. So we are back where Moffat started, with hydrotherapy - but for the 21st century. Credit for suggesting that goes to Julia Williams who runs a clinic at the Wellbeing Centre on th High St. Maybe I am being simple-minded but why not recreate a well-being centre in the Pump Room (aka Town Hall)? In the post later in the week came a welcome letter from Count Nikolai Tolstoy saying that he will come to our autumn Moffat Book Event to contribute to the debate about 'Belonging, identity and provenance' (not forgetting food). There are early signs that Moffat Let's Live Local will be welcome collaborators and we may spread our wings over two days rather than, as for Love and Marriage in Moffat on Sat April 16, just the one. I am stuck on page 104 of Civilization - Niall Ferguson has adopted the same tiresome device as Ian Morris in Why The West is winning - For Now : playing 'what if?' (the 14th century Chinese sea voyages of exploration had continued; what if we not the Spanish had colonised South America). They did, we didn't, nothing more to see here folks, lets move on.I received three handwritten letters this week: one from a 93-year old, both the others from friends in their 80's. Everyone my age (rising 70) uses email.

Monday, 21 March 2011


Looking forward to the official opening of Moffat's new Community Wildlife Centre . Will there be frogs? Time will tell. If an index of spring is children playing out in the park opposite my house after school, then it was in full swing today, bikes with multiple riders and trees being climbed. I was struggling with a cardboard robot kit misguidedly ordered from the internet while Harry aged 5 was writing 'Golden Apple Awards' in readiness for his school film night (for Apple read Oscar). I detect signs of pre-award night nerves - he is short-listed for 'Best supporting Actor'. In true Oscar tradition, the role he is nominated for (by his peers) is not, in my opinion, his best which is 'grumpy man' in School of Pop, the season's blockbuster. All the shorts made by his school, Applegarth near Lockerbie will soon be available on DVD so you can judge for yourselves. In honour of the last days of winter, yesterday I made boiled beef and carrots, a nostalgic dish I shared with daughter Elly. After lunch we discovered a tin of Quality Street left over from Christmas, with all my favourites (orange and strawberry creams)still intact. I opened Niall Fergusson's 'Civilization - The West and the Rest' before bed, the second historical blockbuster I have attempted recently. Discussing theoretical holiday destinations with Elly, I am uneasily aware that flying across the Mediterranean to - say - Greece may be unwise with the battle for Libya raging and other signs of civil unrest (not to say revolution) from Syria to Yemen. One day historians may record the self-immolation of a disgruntled street fruitseller in Morocco which sparked off this latest round of uprisings on the Arab street as akin to the 'shot that rang round the world' in Sarajevo in 1914. Like the Japanese tsunami, this great wave may sweep everything away leaving an unrecognisable landscape behind and one thing is certain: the aftershocks will be felt even as far away as Moffat. With which gloomy thought I return to the anticipation of seeing newts in the pond.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Hollywood, D&G

Book things to look forward to: The Bicycle Book by Bella Bathhurst, out next week from Harper Collins; The Possessed, not the one by Dostoevsky but the very funny uncategorisable American best-seller by Elif Batuman, subtitled Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. This is a book I would love to have, perhaps should have, written. Every day brings ideas and situations that cry out to be lightly fictionalised: like the cover story of this month's Dumfries & Galloway Life magazine, telling the story of how a woman film maker in Los Angeles Googles 'secondhandbookshops by the sea' and comes up with Wigtown, D&G (Scotland's booktown for readers overseas), gets on a flight, meets Princess Anne and falls in love with the bookseller she rents a room from. Hollywood! Are you hearing this!!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Japanese disaster

A question: if there were a similar earthquake and tsunami in any part of the British Isles, would people on Day 8 be reported to be dying from cold and lack of food? A friend answered this question by reminding me that people in New Orleans were reported to feel themselves - and indeed to be - 'forgotten' and neglected by their government. The USA has the complication of state and federal government. But still, the film of elderly people apparently dying in Japanese shelters from the cold and lack of food and water only 150km from Tokyo is both distressing and puzzling. Answers welcome.

Thursday, 17 March 2011


We have a Japanese friend, Kyoko who used to teach Abi & Elly piano, and once gave a piano recital at my mother's house in Kent. She gave up her concert career when she married, then got divorced and went to work for the head of the Japanese state steel corporation as his personal interpreter. She and her parents came to visit us at Crookedstane in the mid 1990's. She lives just south of Tokyo. I sent her a card of sympathy after the earthquake and suggested she came to stay for a while. Maybe now she will.The illustration (left)is a Moffat artist's impression of a nuclear reactor by Harry Hurren, aged 5.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

St Patrick and Moffat

From today's Scottish Review: Recently in a Radio Scotland programme, 'The Scots: A Genetic Journey', Alistair Moffat revealed evidence of a connection between St Patrick and King Coroticus, ruler of Alcluid (Strathclyde), about the evils of slavery and persecution.
Dumbarton is the ancient capital of Alcluid and King Coroticus lived at Dumbarton Rock about a mile from which, at Dunglass by Bowling in Old Kilpatrick, Patrick is said to have been kidnapped while fishing from rocks with a friend and sold into slavery in Ireland at Slemish mountain in Armagh.
It is not difficult to understand why Patrick is generally claimed to have been born in Wales. Apart from the phonetic similarity between Clwyd in Wales and Al Cluid in Scotland, which would have caused confusion, there is the fact that Scots in Strathclyde at that time spoke what is now known by historians as 'Old Welsh', which became the Welsh language of today. Additionally, a River Clwyd – again similar to River Cluid or Clyde - runs through the county.
It goes without saying, then, that any place with such strong historical links to one of the world’s best known saints – Patrick is up there with Valentine and Nicholas – would want to take some commercial advantage of this. But there is not even talk of a visitor centre in West Dunbartonshire, an area which is low on job opportunities and high in deprivation. Perhaps the time has come for this to change?

Bill Heaney

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

A Different Perspective on Moffat

I am reading The Birth of Modern Britain by Francis Pryor, whose face will be well known to fans of BBCTV's Time Team. In a section on 'polite landscapes' - the creation of parks and planned villages, Moffat is mentioned alongside Glencaple as one of 500 Scottish planned villages founded between 1730 and 1855 - in our case as a 'designer spa'using hydrotherapy, or water cure still widely used on continental Europe in France,Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the Czech and Slovak lands. In my view, it is high time we revisited this aspect of our wellbeing profile here in Moffat. Readers are also walkers - we will benefit from working together.

Sponsor robbed

Our sponsor, Forestry Purposes/Zacharry's spruce products suffered a raid over Thursday night. The thieves cleaned out the shed, taking the quad bike, power tools and other equipment used for managing the forest. Apparently there have been a lot of similar thefts in the area. You have been warned.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Staying in a library; a prize is offered

I am going to a wedding in New York in July, and have booked myself into a hotel that thinks it's a library. The Library Hotel on Madison and Vine is organised according to the Dewey system of book classification. I have booked (sorry)a 'petite single' so presumably will find myself sleeping in a tiny room devoted to The Borrowers, or Little Grey Rabbit. The wedding is on Saturday July 16 at the New York Botanical Gardens. A prize book of the winner's choice to the value of £25 to the reader who guesses most nearly the name of my room. NB There can be no dirty tricks because I myself do not know and will not know until I check in on the evening of Fri July 15 the name of my room. And I may be offered an upgrade to - what ? The Diary of a Provincial Lady? Mrs Dalloway? Miss Buncle, Married.....

Monday, 7 March 2011

Book publisher in Moffat

A warm welcome to Pocket Mountain books who have moved into Moffat just in time to take part in our October event all to do with provenance and terroir.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

A message from Melvyn

Marilyn our Moffat Book Events administrator managed to buttonhole Melvyn Bragg at Keswick's Words by the Water yesterday, and he gave her the following message of encouragement:"6th March 2011
I am very happy to be associated with the literary festival in Moffat and wish it the best of luck.
Melvyn Bragg"
How brilliant!! Well done Marilyn and thankyou Melvyn.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The Lady

I had time to flick through a January issue of the Lady magazine in the doctor's waiting room yesterday (I'm fine, or will be after a period of supervised recuperation). I had read about the vigorous re-invention by Rachel Johnson (sister of Boris)of this reliable old standby for mother's helps and holiday lets. I found several articles of great interest, including a fun-sounding holiday island in the West of Scotland for 9-15 year olds so I have taken out a subscription. I have also contacted Rachel asking if she would be interested in a step by step or blow by blow account of how we got Moffat Book Events off the ground.

Friday, 4 March 2011

World Book Night (a day or two early)

An email from the organizers of World Book Night this morning informed me that 48 identification numbers had been allotted to each copy of the Spy Who Came in from the Cold I thought I was going to distribute tomorrow evening (March 5th). I rang The Heatherghyll hotel in Crawford to discuss this last minute change of instructions. A voice answered the telephone. The proprietor is away all weekend. 40 of the books have already been given away. Yes, I agreed, it's a bit late now to give numbers to the remaining 8 copies. Saturdays are quiet anyway. OK. OK. Bye. Bye.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


The beautiful shiny green bookmarks have arrived ready for our Moffat Book Event on Sat April 16 - see? Sad news today, that Jane Russell has died aged 94 at her home in California. What is the connection between a book event and Jane Russell, you may ask. Well, the answer is that Jane's boyfriend Howard Hughes not only invented the uplift, cantilevered, underwired - ie engineered - bra. giving her that memorable cleavage, but he also designed and built the Spruce Goose, a vast transport plane, out of that self-same spruce which goes to make the paper books are printed on. We also have a great design for our flyers in time for Marilyn to distribute some at Keswick's Words by the Water Literary Festival on Friday. I hope to join her there myself to hear Michael Frayn speaking about his latest book, a memoir. I read that John le Carre will be on the platform in Trafalgar Square with other famous authors to celebrate World Book Day and World Book Night, March 4 & 5. I am distributing le Carre's The Spy Who Came In From the Cold to long distance lorry drivers in Crawford to mark the occasion.