24 August 2016

Beyond the grave

The folks at the National asked me to fill in for a couple of weeks, while one of their regular columnists was tripping the light fantastic on their holidays. In my second and last effort this morning, I thought I'd take a break from the relentless politics of Brexit, and GERS, and #indyref2, and write something a little more personal, historical and meditative. Here's an excerpt:

There are always figures in your family history who cast longer shadows. The folk who catch the eye, who haunt and preoccupy. Sometimes their choices coloured everything that came thereafter. Sometimes they are enigmas. Sometimes you feel – or perhaps only project on to them – a sense of recognition. Sometimes you feel you can detect their influence on folk you have known – your parents and grandparents. 
Angus Miller, my great-grandfather, was one of these characters. A rural doctor, he was born during the reign of Queen Victoria, and tended to the health of his community long before the Labour government of 1945 introduced the National Health Service. We still have candlesticks he was given by a grateful blacksmith, who couldn’t afford his medical bills, but who could work and shine metal into beautiful shapes – a memento of a child whose life had been saved on the western edge of the Scottish wilderness.

17 August 2016

En vacances

As my earlier correspondence on the Named Persons judgment suggested, I've been furth of the United Kingdom on my holidays for the last few weeks. (See an uncanny artist's impression, left). But touching back down in Scotland this morning, I found Glasgow bathed in something resembling natural sunlight. It was balmy. Unfamiliar blue patches had sprung up in the sky, as I steered back from France. This novel experience was uncanny, but found me in cheery, serene, hopefully restored fettle. 

But before I landed, I filled in for an absent National columnist this morning, reflecting on one or two of the more curious characters I met, and political conversations we had, trundling around the south of France. Again and again, I encountered the curious character of the foghorn-leghorn Brexit voter -- souls who have moved to France, but blithely cast their ballots in favour of Britain's crashing out of the EU.

"OUR location? La belle France. Our temperature? 32 degrees. We’re many leagues into taps aff territory here, through warm fields of vines, and parched Cathar castles, and Cypress trees. Cicadas electrify the woods. Crickets keep up dry and woody symphonies in the underbrush. And my current complexion is what my mother would describe as a “healthy puce”. Hypertension red. 
I have become the traditional lobster ecossais which results whenever anyone from this country is exposed to anything like natural sunlight for a sustained period. Rudolph has nothing on me. I might use my face as a reading lamp, or perhaps deploy it to power a modest solar energy scheme – if only Ms May’s new government hadn’t shuttered our renewable future and squandered all my ruby phizog’s potential energy. 
But as the rays beat the terrace outside ruddy, I loiter sweltering in the back cave of a local bar. A rugby match rumbles on, on the telly. 
The hooker takes out a prop and the referee misses a gruesome tackle. Offside rules are flouted, provoking only the occasional outraged Gallic interjection. Our audience is principally French, sipping little beers and lining the snug, watching one local team leather another. 
The atmosphere is convivial. 
But in their midst? Our John Bull, ex patria, is determined to give the citizens of his new home a passionate defence of why he voted for Brexit. Their incredulity is general. My ears burn."

Unlike my weekly Times bits, locked away behind the paywall on Thursdays, you can read the whole thing here. More peated blogging when we have it.