Tuesday, 2 October 2012

...and back (minus cardigan, keys and brooch)

Richard Demarco human hurricane
Sarah Fraser, author of the Last Highlander
Adrian Turpin, director of the Wigtown Book Festival
A memorable day out at the Wigtown Book Festival yesterday. It was breezy and sunny by the time I arrived, and I was able to leave my brolly in the car. In the hallway I saw and had a quick word with Adrian Turpin, the talented young organiser of the festival, looking cheerful, dressed casually in white shirt and jeans, striking exactly the right note, ie being seen out and about, welcoming and accessible to us (largely elderly) festival goers. Being a weekday, the age of the audience is to be expected - the retired or self-employed are free on weekdays, as well as school children or 'students' of all ages, who were also there in force.  I had arrived an hour early for my first event so went into the first floor cafe for a good broccoli quiche and salad. The Main Hall in the County Buildings was packed for Sarah Fraser, talking about one of her husband's family forebears, the 18th century Lord Lovat who was executed in the Tower of London for treason, aged 80. It was so hot, with the sun pouring in the windows despite the half closed venetian blinds that I took my cardigan off and alas forgot to reach behind to retrieve it from the seat and take it with me at the end of the session. I only realised what I had done when I got out of my car at the end of the day and went to reach for my house keys in the pocket - lo! no pocket, no cardigan. I had also pinned on it an amber and silver brooch, an item of jewellery given to me in the times when I was hopping back and forth to Moscow in the days when the Baltic States (where amber comes from in chunks) were part of the Soviet Empire. But back to my Day Out: after S. Fraser, I was very glad of the offer of a quick cup of tea with Carolyn Yates our D&G Literature Development officer (thanks!) in Reading Lasses, then back to the hall for Richard Demarco 'In Conversation'. I have known Richard for forty years, since my sister was administrator of his gallery in Melville Crescent, Edinburgh. He is an unsettling presence, now the same age as the unlamented late Lord Lovat was when he got the chop but luckily for us all still very much alive and kicking. He showed, and commented briskly on, a series of black-and-white slides, some upside down and some back to front but that didn't matter. They recorded a life of unrelenting opposition to complacency and comfortable assumptions. After the slide show, the curtains were opened and the lights switched on for his 'conversation' and questions. Richard celebrates Romano-Celtic culture throughout Europe - a geographical expression in which he includes Scotland. His archive consists of 1,200,000 photographs and a collection of 20th entury art by geniuses such as Joseph Beuys, Ian Hamilton Finlay, George Wylye and Paul Neagu. Richard is an artist too, of course. Not only or even so much his works on paper but his inspired 'performances' such as the voyage on a replica of Darwin's Beagle across the Irish Sea to James Joyce's Martello Tower in Dublin or the performance of Macbeth in the ruined abbey on Inchcolm. His life is a performance, camera round neck, purposeful, focused. He needs a home for his archive, and would not mind if it were in Wigtown near Whithorn - Demarco is a Christian and likes the idea of pilgrimage. 'The most important of the arts is agriculture' he reminded us yesterday, as he showed a slide of 'the road to Meikle Seggie'. More detail of his life and extraordinary career is on the web and on wikipedia. Those of us brushed by this human hurricane find ourselves knocked a bit sideways by his undiminished, unrelenting insistence that we raise our game and our eyes. It's a bit frightening, actually.

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