Friday, 17 January 2014

Chairman's Report to the 2014 AGM


Moffat Book Events

Chairman’s report to the Annual General Meeting, Jan 13 2014

At last year’s AGM, I reminded members how far MBE had come since Marilyn Elliott and Elizabeth Roberts started it in 2010. 

At the time of that first AGM, MBE had just held its first international conference Russia Lessons and Legacy. Since then, I am delighted to report that MBE has entered into a formal partnership agreement with our Russian colleagues at the State Library for Foreign Literature, VGBIL, in Moscow.

In June last year,  Marilyn Elliott stepped down due to the pressure of her many other commitments. We understood her reasons but miss her contribution.

We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Jim Hurren of Forestry Purposes LLP who volunteered to take over the administration of MBE until this AGM.

Katherine Clemmens of Moffat Books organized Murder in Moffat - a crime weekend at Moffat’s Old Well Theatre. It was a great success, enjoyed by all.

MBE’s very grateful thanks are due to volunteer artist Sarah Watkins, of Carole’s Milk Bar in Well Street, Moffat. She has updated the home page of our website, with a very eye-catching design

Forestry Purposes LLP, sponsored applications for participation in Day of the Region 2013 and our  ‘Creative Places’ bid for  2014. We secured grants from the British Council and SEE wind farm community fund for our Sept 2013 Russian conference.

For our Creative Place bid we faced competition from towns throughout Scotland of up to 10,000 population. We had just 10 too many people in the town to get into the up to 2500-population category. We did not make the shortlist.

However, the application was good enough to merit the judges’ commendation. We were delighted that Dumfries reached the shortlist.

Many thanks are due to Alan Thomson, commissioned to carry out a whole slew of tasks for MBE, including great work at our Translation Transformed conference.

Under our agreement with VGBIL, this second – and larger- international conference took place in Moffat on the weekend of 20-22 Sept 2013. The theme was Translation Transformed., which produced some memorable contributions. Fiona Hyslop MSP, Secretary of State for Culture and Foreign Affairs was kind enough to launch the weekend. It was her first visit to Moffat and I feel sure she will want to come again.

The Russian delegates arrived on Wed Sept 18 and left Moffat on Wed Sept 25, spending two full days either side of the conference in Southern Scotland. We will not forget their enthusiastic shopping expeditions in Moffat, which added in no small way to the town’s economy.

The Future

We were invited to participate in the UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014 under the auspices of the British Council. A number of events are planned.
These include MOFFAT IN MOSCOW - a specially- commissioned photographic exhibit of Moffat people and places, with interviews, to open in Moscow on October 2014.

Moffat will host an exhibition of Russian arts and crafts including work by the distinguished Moscow-based graphic artist  Liudmila Semyatitskaya.She is renowned for her ‘works on paper’, and although she has appeared internationally, this will be her first exhibition in the UK

A third international conference in Moffat is planned for October this year. This celebrates the bicentenary of Russia’s polymath, Mikhail Lermontov (1814-41),. He was an adored national poet, the painter of stunning landscapes, and a novelist whose ‘A Hero of Our Time is considered one of the great works of European literature. If he had he not been killed in a duel – an occupational hazard for Russian poets- what else might he have achieved?

In addition, under the umbrella of HomeComing Scotland, we shall welcome members of the Borders Learmonth clan from all over the world; Mikhail Lermontov was a Learmonth by direct descent, and exceptionally proud of his Scottish ancestry.

Students who have attended ‘taster’ classes in Russian at Moffat Academy sponsored by MBE will be able to join in this event, with the encouragement of Moffat Academy’s head teacher, Mrs. Lesley Watson.

Last  year,  MBE introduced the Moscow-based Institute of Translation to the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh. The first outcome will be new translations by contemporary Scottish poets of Lermontov poems, to be published by Carcanet Press in Spring 2014.

Over the year, MBE has made valuable regional contacts include Adrian Turpin, Director of the Wigtown Book Festival; Carolyn Yates, Dumfries and Galloway’s Literature Development Officer; and Stacey Paul of Destination Dumfries & Galloway. At a national and UK level, we are in contact with the Scottish Government, and The British Council.

In support of this 2014 programme, we have applied to Annandale & Eskdale Area Committee for funds to support a professional organizer who may also be able to secure further funding,

Finally, we continue to welcome new members and the fresh ideas and enthusiasm that they bring.

Last year I said ‘All this may seem very ambitious’. It was.

However, the lesson of the Borders and the Wigtown Book Festivals is that big ideas can sometimes be more achievable than something more modest.

Learning this lesson, we have focused on developing sustainable, continuing, partnerships, which will bring in international cultural visitors. .

In this, our unique and fundamental asset is Moffat itself: our foreign visitors have been entranced by the town and want to come back.

As Chairman, I stepped into the shoes of Adam Dillon, and quickly realized the opportunity that we have to put Moffat on the big map as a centre of creativity.
It is now time to hand over to the next management committee, so may I, on behalf of the departing board, give it our very best wishes for the future.

Andrew Wheatcroft
13 January 2013

Friday, 3 January 2014

The mystery of porridge

wall paper paste?
In this momentous year for Scotland and the Scots, I am making an urgent appeal. The substance of my quest is: when and why did Scottish porridge become like wallpaper paste both in looks and taste? Porridge in my infancy and youth was an unctuous substance akin to junket; it congealed to a rubbery consistency, pale blue at the edges. Why oh why is porridge so different today? Mine looks like the illustration above, but it is wrong. Porridge should be smooth as a millpond, not rucked up. And made with water and plenty of salt, of course. Solutions invited. By the way, I use value porridge oats  from the Co-op but I see no reason why such a simple classic ingredient as milled oats should be to blame for the wrong result. It must be the preparation. And, yes, I do soak the oats overnight.

Elizabeth Jane Howard

Elizabeth Jane Howard
I have never read anything by Elizabeth Jane Howard, news of whose death aged 90 was announced today - but will do now. I am off next week on holiday for a fortnight to a place where there is blissfully nothing to do and no-one to see, so I have downloaded all five of EJH's Cazalet Chronicles onto my Kindle, as well as her memoir 'Slipstream'. For good measure, I have also ordered Margaret Drabble's 'The Garrick Year' and Anthony Russell's memoir about growing up at Leeds Castle. My ex and I attended a retirement course at Leeds Castle 20 years ago, made memorable mainly for the information dinned in to us - a group of senior managers plus a 'plant' learning the trade of such courses - by a wild-haired boffin from the Department of Health and Social Security. The news from the man from the ministry (let me remind you that this was 1993)  was that we need not worry about making arrangements for our estates. 'You will all probably live into your nineties, and will have nothing left to leave your children', he told us bluntly. He explained that if one survived into one's sixties, one was statistically likely to go on for another thirty years. Travelling had to be done in one's sixties and seventies. Thereafter, in one's eighties, one became less energetic and for a while one's expenditure decreased along with relative mobility . Then, alas, the last few years would become astronomically expensive. 'Care' etc would swallow up what was left of one's wherewithal. EJH was living towards the end of her life in Bungay, the town in Norfolk where I was evacuated towards the end of WWII, when the V2's began to fall on our bit of northeast Kent. R.I.P.