“His sentences are chubby with the lard of his self regard.”

From a review by Craig Brown of “Distilling the Frenzy” by (Lord) Peter Hennessy in which he castigates Hennessy, one of Britain’s best-selling historians, on the number of times he reminds his readers that he is now a member of the House of Lords and accuses him of padding out his book with sloppy writing.

I gasped when I read the sentence. What a put-down. Is it possible that there is bad blood between Brown and Hennessy?

Pitlochry’s Summer Sights

School Sports Day

Now that it’s the season of school sports days, I thought I’d include the above photo which is in my book ‘Mr. Mackay’s Legacy’. There is very little I know about it, except that it was taken at a sports day at St. John’s School, Perth, Scotland in 1968 or 1969 nor do I know the name of the photographer.

The event was held on Perth’s North Inch which is a large parkland on the bank of the River Tay and, at that time, was the school’s back garden.

What I like most are the expressions on the boys’ faces as each couple tries to cross the line first in the ‘wheelbarrow’ race. It’s a life-or-death lunge for glory and the boy at top left seems to be intent on bundling his partner across the line. No doubt, the following seconds were occupied by the protests of the couple awarded second place about the unfairness of it all.

In the background, the umbrellas and raincoats tells us that it’s typical Scottish sports day weather:  dull with drizzly patches. Sensible schools don’t cancel in conditions like this. They know it could be the best weather they’ll get.

Pitlochry views, a century apart

The top photograph shows Atholl Road, Pitlochry’s main street, as it looked in 1912. The photo was also issued as a postcard. One hundred years later, I photographed Atholl Road from the same position.

Apart from the mode of transport and people’s dress, little has changed over the century, which surprised me. I even resorted to counting chimney pots to find differences. The photos certainly back up Pitlochry’s claim to be a Victorian/Edwardian town.

At present there is controversy about a proposal to build  a Travelodge in Pitlochry but surely this photo supports the opposition.

I have one regret about the modern photo – I didn’t find three boys to occupy centre stage and stand on the road amongst modern traffic.

Cairn o' mohr heads

The carved heads of Cairn o’ Mohr

Cairn o’ mohr heads

Yesterday, while driving along the A90 Perth to Dundee road we stopped at a favourite place, the Cairn o’ Mohr winery near Errol. Superb coffee and scones, friendly and attentive staff and a highly quirky and attractive atmosphere. Best of all, the ever changing display of carved tree-trunk heads.


The story of ‘Windows in the West’

Windows in the West’ is a painting by Scottish artist Avril Paton. It depicts the people and activities behind the windows of a Glasgow tenement (apartment) block after a winter snowfall.

The work is regularly voted at or near the top in polls of Scotland‘s favourite paintings. It attracts many visitors to its site in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum where it is the second most visited exhibit after Salvador Dali‘s “Christ of St. John of the Cross.” Even the print which hangs in our living room attracts my attention more than any other in the house. There’s so much going on throughout the building and outside, the snow cover and late afternoon sky suggest warmth and cosiness. It’s a happy world.

Recently, I stumbled upon this video of Avril Paton explaining to a group of schoolchildren how she came to paint ‘Windows in the West’. Look at it yourself. It will repay a few minutes of your time and you will find the answer to questions such as: Does the building actually exist? How long did the painting take? Was there an easel large enough for it and what’s the story of the cat?

There’s also an interview with Avril Paton conducted by an unknown writer on the website West End People.

Best of all, go and see the original.


‘Yer heid’s in a fankle’

I think I’m returning to words I used when growing up. Amongst other surprises that have recently dropped from my lips is the word ‘fankle’. I’ve not heard or used it in years so I’ve now taken to using it regularly.

Words like ‘fankle’ are part of a Scots heritage and so often they express just the right nuance compared to their standard English counterparts. “Fankle” is superior to ‘twisted’ or ‘tangled’.

The Waves and Fields group at Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh has The Scots Word of the Week archive on its website. We find that ‘fankle’ originates from the Gaelic word ‘fang’ for a sheepfold (which is a type of knot).

It can have a number of meanings but the most common is ‘tangled’ or ‘knotted’.

Examples of the correct uses of the word are:

‘Ah wis gonny take the wean fishin, but the nylon’s in a pure fankle’ (English Translation: I was going to take my child fishing, but my nylon (fishing line) is too tangled.

‘Dinna get yourself into a fankle’ (Translation: Don’t get yourself into a mess/state of confusion or stress induced panic).

‘Yer heid’s in a fankle’ (Translation: You are very confused) is another excellent phrase that might use this word.

Many readers will have their favourite Scots words. Tell us yours…and if you wonder why a university science department has a website about Scots words, the answer is there on their website. As part of their weekly group meetings, and for a bit of fun, the Waves and Fields group would choose a Scottish Word of the Week at the end of each meeting and the professor would research that word and its meaning and post an entry on the website. What a great idea!