Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Thomas Hardy's house of secrets thrown open to the madding crowd

For the first time since Thomas Hardy’s death in 1928, the Dorset house where he wrote Tess of the D’Urbervilles and composed his most poignant love poetry is to be opened in full to the public. From mid-March, visitors will be able take in all three floors of Max Gate, designed and built by the author himself.
Moments of real revelation are in store for literary pilgrims who make the trip to Dorchester, said Jacqueline Dillion, the American PhD student who this month was appointed scholar-in-residence. Hardy, she said, is in the very grain of Max Gate, and almost every facet of his life is revealed in its structure.

Take the drawing room with its long windows allowing inspiration to flood in. J. M. Barrie, one of many famous writers to visit Max Gate, said: “Hardy could scarcely look out of the window at twilight without seeing something hitherto hidden from mortal eye.”

Visitors will be able to see two studies, the first where the author wrote Tess, a tale of love, pre-marital sex and murder that scandalised Victorian society, and the second where, over 40 years or so, he completed some 900 poems.

From the first floor, they can climb to the attic where his first wife, Emma, retreated as the marriage collapsed. The couple became estranged in the 1890s and in later years Emma occupied this second storey. “She wanted her own personal space, and she got it,” said Ms Dillion. “She was up there writing, and below in his study, Hardy would be working too.”

The son of a stonemason, Hardy trained as an architect, but only came to design Max Gate in his forties, by which time he had secured his literary reputation with a succession of novels including Under the Greenwood Tree, Far From the Madding Crowd and The Mayor of Casterbridge.

In configuring every detail of the house, Hardy brought his own personality to bear on its design, said Ms Dillion. “He lived out half of his life in a house that was designed for his own specific purposes, his dreams,” she added. “He lived out two marriages here, and died in Max Gate. You sense his presence as soon as you walk in.”

Today, the nearby ring road can mask the significance of its location. In fact, Max Gate, with its “wild, bleak look”, is just three miles from the cottage where Hardy was born, which in turn stands on the edge of ominous, glowering moorland that was the basis for Hardy’s Egdon Heath, the setting for The Return of the Native. Yet for all its original rural setting, Max Gate was close enough to Dorchester for Hardy to observe the comings and goings in his fictional “Casterbridge”.

Everything about the house reflects Hardy’s idiosyncrasies, said Ms Dillion. He was so absorbed with the construction process that he drove his easygoing father, Thomas, to distraction as he helped to build it.

Hardy had one turret built when he commissioned the house, then, years later, another. As time passed, and his successes grew, he added more rooms and by the time of his death Max Gate had doubled in size.

Ms Dillion, who has an MA in Victorian studies from the University of Hull, will spend the first 18 months of her tenancy completing a PhD for the University of St Andrews on folklore in Hardy’s literature. For the rest of the time she will concentrate on restoring the house’s original interior design and furnishings.

This will be no easy job. To the dismay of scholars, Hardy ordered that his papers be burnt after his death and his sister, who inherited the house, sold off most of the furniture.

Max Gate passed to the National Trust in 1940, with the stipulation that it should always be occupied. Public access began in 1993, when Andrew and Marilyn Leah became custodians, and the next year opened up the ground floor to the public, two days a week in a short summer season.

Earlier this year, Dillion heard that the Leahs were planning to move on and, with their support, she was installed on a three-year tenancy. Under her care, Max Gate will open five days a week between March and October.

“This part of Dorset repays anyone who has read Hardy and loved Hardy,” said Ms Dillion. “When Max Gate opens up, it will complete a wonderful picture.” 

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Travels with Tess - Arkansas to Dorset via Baghdad 

Jacqueline Dillion may not be the first custodian of Max Gate since Thomas Hardy’s death, but at 28 she is probably the youngest. And she is certainly the first US Army veteran to take up residence, Offering proof positive that great literature endures even the most extreme circumstances.

“I kept a battered, dirty copy of Tess under the seat of the Humvee in Baghdad. I snuck it out when mortars were hitting,” said Ms Dillion, a former military intelligence specialist with 1st Cavalry Division.

For the National Trust, the owner of Max Gate, she is clearly not just some academic caretaker. Her age and enthusiasm offer much more: marketing power. “I guess there is something about promoting ‘Hardy country’,” she said. “Maybe the notion is to inspire a younger generation of readers.”

Quite how a former frontline soldier will cope with rattling around alone in a huge Victorian pile is anyone’s guess. Iraq was full of danger, excitement, noise, comradeship and fear. “Maybe the Dorset countryside will have a calming effect,” she said. “It’s kind of a hard act to follow.”

Ms Dillion grew up in the Arkansas Bible Belt and took her first degree in America before she was called up in 2003 as a reservist. She was already a “lifelong Hardy advocate”, converted by her first encounter with Tess of the D’Urbervilles at the age of 14. “My grandparents were poor bean farmers,” Ms Dillion 
explained. “When I went back to the farm, with the smell of horse manure, it was another world. Reading Hardy was a way to see the beauty in that rural place — to see that people aren’t just backward farmers, they have real literary worth, they endure tragedy and drama. Everything you find in the best literature you also find in that landscape.”

For years, she loved Hardy’s Dorset from afar: the hidden passions, the human anguish, the brooding presence of nature. “But you can romanticise anything — then you have to live it.” 

Friday, 3 December 2010

Prisoner of his own conscience

Scotsman 17 June, 2002 
It’s a special kind of contrarian who can irritate all sides in politics, but then, for all his languor over lunch, Christopher Hitchens is what you’d call an especially contrary fellow.
This is a journalist whose meticulously documented contempt for Mother Teresa caused him to be summoned to the Vatican to play devil’s advocate against her memory. He followed that attack with a blast against the cult of Princess Diana which disgusted the Daily Mail. 

But if these shafts cut through the narrow minds of the Right, Hitchens takes no prisoners on the Left. The oleaginous Gore Vidal has anointed Hitchens his natural heir as Grand Pantomime Dame of the American Left, but his successor has no compunction about dismissing Vidal’s latest political work. "Badly written and ponderously argued," he booms in his rich, bass voice. "I’m not looking for a quarrel with him. I’ve tried to avoid it as long as I could ... "

This counts as a mild assault from Hitchens, whose witty, passionate and bellicose outpourings in the aftermath of 11 September stood out as the finest journalistic response to the terrorist massacres. No-one surpassed him in his assault on al-Qaeda, on "Islam with a fascist face". Equally, many on the Left were numbed by his fierce contempt for appeasers in the war against terror.

Even now his enemies are forced to fight a rearguard action. Two weeks ago, the 53-year-old Hitchens was labelled "the poster boy of ‘principled opposition’" by the New Statesman, and derided as the "dishonourable policeman of the Left". His response was to invite the author, Scott Lucas, to "look me up in Washington any time - I am in the book - and have an unscripted exchange with neutral witnesses present".

These days, as George Orwell’s centennial approaches, it is almost inevitable that Hitchens is compared to his literary hero, whose ambivalence to parties and ideologies he has himself adopted ever since he left the International Socialists in 1975.

In a fine London restaurant, it is easy enough to conjure up some clear distinctions between the lean, ascetic Orwell of the 1930s and the robust and bibulous Hitchens, who even now is happily ordering us up a second bottle of red wine. But according to "Hitch", the fundamental difference is one of moral and physical courage. Orwell was the self-denying reporter whose journeys into misery still colour our views of the 1930s and 1940s, a fighter in the Spanish Civil War, who took a bullet in the throat. For his part, Hitchens, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in 1974, and a foreign correspondent who has been shot at in the course of duty, was never in such danger.

Now in his latest book, Orwell’s Victory, Hitchens has sought to rescue his subject from critics who either claim his legacy or scorn his worth. And while he saves much of his spleen for those on the Left who have cast Orwell as a fellow-traveller with the establishment, Hitchens vigorously slaps down the Right, whenever they stumble into view.

Take John Major’s pitiful attempt to link "Eric Blair’s" 1984 with the "doublethink" of one Tony Blair. Hitchens was on it like a flash. "I was delighted when I discovered Major had linked the two Blairs. If he’d have read a word of Orwell, he would have known the huge snorting pig in Animal Farm is called Major. But I felt I shouldn’t point it out - it does Mr Major too much credit." He lets go a throaty chuckle: "Old Major is a fine old pig, rallying the piglets for a struggle."

In contrast to the last prime minister, Hitchens appears well-disposed to Tony Blair, although he says he deplores his "official piety". He applauds the constitutional changes of the past five years and approves of British foreign policy in Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, contrasting it with the failures of the Bush administration.

And despite barbs to the contrary from his left-wing critics, he does not bury criticism of Bush, not least because he fears the struggle they have embarked upon may not go well. Therefore, "It matters to point out when they mess up. I wrote a long piece from Kashmir last autumn saying we should worry about the next war.

"America has already committed itself to getting things wrong in Kashmir and Pakistan, for it has for so long neglected the idea of India."

This international outlook has been a constant in Hitchens adult life and he has spent the past 25 years in America ("I felt early on I’d been born in the wrong country," he grunts through a glass of Macallan). The son of an English naval commander, who had worked his way up through the ranks, he was brought up by his mother as the family moved from base to base. She nurtured his love of books before he was sent away to a Methodist boarding school near Cambridge.

By the time he went up to Oxford, Hitchens had dabbled with verse, and thought about writing fiction, but found he couldn’t. At Balliol College he shared rooms with the poet James Fenton. He went on to become friends with novelists Martin Amis and Ian McEwan. Very quickly it became apparent he could learn about writing just by spending time with his companions.

Thirty years on, would he accept that journalism is the lesser art? The question is posed three times before he answers head-on. "I would rather put it like this. I think the ability to write a novel or a sonnet is a superior ability. James, Martin and Ian have all written essays and reviews which would stand comparison with anybody’s.

"That is their spare-time work but it’s not their calling. They knew something that I didn’t know.

"I have to say journalism is second-best. It’s not false modesty. I have one idiom in which I can write - James has three.

"Gore Vidal has made political writing an art by fictionalising it, but you can’t keep it in the form it commonly exists in and claim it for art," Hitchens says.

But with all the fire and humour, the angst and aggression that marked his work after 11 September, surely there’s artfulness to be had from that kind of journalism? "But you’re not going to remember it like Mozart, are you?" He counters. "You must realise, at whatever cost to yourself and however much you think you’ve seen, that you have to be able to recognise a new situation when it happens.

"One of my main criticisms of people on the Left like Noam Chomsky and JohnPilger after 11 September was they thought: ‘Here’s a new event, but it just reminds me of what I was going to say anyway and what I’ve been saying all along.’ That was their failure."

We are back to the events which could come to define his career, just as they immediately rearranged his priorities. On 10 September it seemed a Hitchens sponsored campaign to have Henry Kissinger indicted for war crimes was coming to fruition. That day, a group of Chileans had been given leave to bring a lawsuit for murder against Kissinger, and others, for their role in the 1973 coup in the country. The same evening Hitchens delivered a triumphal lecture at Washington State University and, to a standing ovation, concluded: "This day will be remembered for a long time in the struggle for justice."

He awoke the next day to find the world falling apart on his television screen. The Evening Standard rang, and Hitchens responded instantaneously with the first of a sequence of articles whose passionate clarity made sense of the shocking, confusing scenes for thousands of readers around the world.

"It was one of the most beautiful mornings in the history of the world. But the most perfect crystalline view of Manhattan had suddenly been totally obliterated from the air by this ghastly cloud. I wrote that it was ‘as if Charles Manson had been made God for a day’. If you’ve thought that, you aren’t neutral about things. I dumped my campaign - I don’t think the subject of international human rights will go away, but you’ve got to realise when things have changed."

We’re back, more or less where he started, and the question of another whisky is being raised. Does he ever worry he’ll lose his fire? Through a great throaty laugh, he has advice for contrarians everywhere. "If you don’t get up every day whimpering with fear, thinking this is the day they’ll find you out, and say, ‘Well he would say that, wouldn’t he?’ you’re not doing your job. You should be in a state of permanent fear about being discovered as a blowhard, or as an irrelevance." He decides against the whisky, because the BBC are waiting to speak to him. A blowhard, perhaps, but he’s not an irrelevance yet.

  • Orwell’s Victory is published by Penguin, £9.99.

  • Sunday, 21 November 2010

    Premier league poet

    Scotsman, 5 October 2000

    Warming up, as any decent coach will tell you, is the key to a good performance and if that's true for footballers it might just hold good for poets.

    Ian McMillan, the poet-in-residence at Barnsley FC is playing away from home today. He's been limbering up for nearly an hour in the staff-room of Carmel School in Darlington, and it looks like he will be ready to hit top form when he finally takes the stage.

    Even before he opens his mouth there's a presence about the man - it would take a while to walk around him - but rattling through anecdotes and jokes, he cuts an extraordinary figure, reflected in the what-have-we-here faces of the teachers around about him.

    One butts in - she recognises McMillan from a writing course in Heptonstall: "Do you remember," she asks, "Ted Hughes was there?" - another wants him to explain a poem from his last-but-one volume, Dad the Donkey's on Fire.

    He answers the first: "Yeah I remember. Are you well?" He tells the other: "Say it out loud, you'll get it."

    Then he's off again into his own world, explaining to no-one in particular how he's ambitious to write a hit song.

    "My mate Dave Low, he wrote the theme tune to the Nine O'Clock News. He gets #10 every time the news is on. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not."

    Twenty minutes later the pace gets even more frenetic when he's on stage, in front of a couple of hundred 13 and 14-year-olds. There's still a hubbub as McMillan begins his act, but like a top stand-up he opens with a tirade of one-liners about local rivals, infant schools and every other natural enemy of his audience, the modern teenager.

    "I did this poem at a school in Middlesbrough," he yells, "because they've got one there now ..." and the cheers begin. "I can see the headmaster at the back there with that look on his face. He's thinking, 'I should have spent the money on software ... he's thinking: 'Death to fat men from Barnsley.'"

    He disappears behind curtains, hides behind plants, does tricks, vanishes again and among the laughter, commands the kids' rapt attention. They think he's fooling, but it's poetry in motion. He runs a couple of verses past them just to prove it and then has them join in with two more. Suddenly he shouts: "Right. I've finished now. I bow and you clap."

    This is a game of two halves, mark you. After a break for oranges and tea, McMillan is back in a classroom, this time helping the members of the school football team write and perform a poem of their own. Delighted with what they have already seen, they greet him with a round of applause and he turns in another bravura show.

    Afterwards, when he's on his way home and we're talking in the station buffet, he's relaxed and explains more about his work, divided as it is between schools and gigs at arts centres and comedy clubs.

    The routines, he admits, owe as much to music hall and pub banter as anything. From those two rich veins of verbal dexterity he mines his verse.

    For the son of a teetotal Scottish sailor, he gains a deal of inspiration from the pub. Take the poet-in-residence idea, that was just one of those notions you have over a drink of an evening. Normally they don't make any kind of sense next morning, but McMillan rang up his local club and asked the question.

    "Being Barnsley they said: 'Will it cost owt?' I said: 'No I'll do it free, gratis. I'll do it to get loads of publicity."

    They agreed and the poet's instincts were nicely judged. The Yorkshire Post ran a headline 'Barnsley's first Premiership Signing' and after that the phone never stopped ringing. He appeared live on Danish TV, he was gifted a regular 16-line spot in the Barnsley Chronicle - he always wrote 18 to see what they'd do - a career on local and national radio flourished and Yorkshire Television made him a familiar face.

    It brought recognition, but not everywhere. He produces a poster from a gig at Melton Mowbray library.

    "Funny Poet Here On Thursday" he reads, "that was the entire publicity. They put one on each door of the building. Only three people turned up, and one of them said: 'I thought it would be you.'"

    McMillan was undaunted. After all, the performances have gone on for 20 years now, and no stage is too challenging. With his friend Simon Thackeray he dreamt up the notion of a Yorkshire Pudding boat race. "We made a flour and water paste and strengthened them with chicken wire and yacht varnish. They were like coracles, and there was [saxophonist] Snake Davies doing music on one while I did poems on another.

    "We had a diving society along for safety, so we're floating a long in giant puddings with bands and poets and a load of kids and there's blokes with snorkels in the water. It was different."

    Football brings another kind of recognition. He's become a kind of spokesman for Barnsley fans and whenever something happens - a controversial penalty, an offside goal against the Tykes - people ask him to write a poem.

    Sometimes the specifications are exact. "We beat Man United 3-2 in the Cup and this bloke leaned over and said: 'You'll not write a poem about this, you'll write a bloody sonnet.' I said 'I will lad, aye.'"

    In fact, sonnets are hard, he admits, and though his books include plenty of serious verse, these days humour and performance are more important.

    "Comedy and poetry are very close, they both tickle the same part of your brain," he says. "For years, I had a dilemma because I'm quite a serious chap, but I love making people laugh.

    "I'm not melancholy. I'm a relentless optimist, but I'm serious. I was thinking should I be doing this funny stuff? I went to a school once and a teacher said 'We've got an author coming next week'. I thought 'Bloody hell, I didn't find this stuff on the street'."

    But in a way he does, and street-wise as McMillan is, that's what makes it work.

    Wednesday, 13 October 2010

    The 'vandals' playing around with Mary Queen of Scots' golfing legacy

    It is, they say, the oldest golf course in the world. Mary Queen of Scots is said to have played a round of golf at Musselburgh. As did her son, James VI, days before he decamped to England. The East Lothian course hosted six Open championship in the 19th century, and the first ladies tournament in history.

    But now – in the aftermath of Ryder Cup hysteria - Musselburgh Old Course is being “vandalised” by the local council, according to local sportsmen.

    Across the expanse of rolling grassland, enclosed by the town’s horse racing circuit, dark brown scars cut into the grassy links, attest to works already underway, aimed at realigning the ancient links to a huge £4.5 million sports pavilion, on its northern fringe.

    The building – an ungainly, four-square affair – opened in July and primarily services the race course, housing accommodation for horses and jockeys. Eventually it will make space for golfers’ changing rooms and an office for the golf club “Starter”, who for decades has been housed 400 yards away, in a hut close to the first tee.

    The new facilities have prompted changes to the nine-hole course, carried out by the green-keeper, without the support of a golf course architect.

    The first tee will be moved, so that it is visible from the pavilion, bunkers will be filled and the hole lengthened, from a short 146-yard par-3, to a much more challenging par-3 230 yards. The dog-leg on the approach to the par-4 ninth hole is also being adjusted and its tee position moved.

    Alterations on this scale may seem minor to non-golfers, but send the game’s aficionados into apoplexy.

    “It is an act of vandalism” said Brian Ramsay, 57, a member of the Musselburgh Old Course Golf Club. “Everyone knows the great history of the course, but the council seem hell-bent on developing the commercial side of the race track, and forgetting the course. The course shouldn’t be turned over just because of a new building. It’s madness.”

    To understand this level of feeling, the uninitiated need only consult Golf World, the Bible of the modern game.

    “Musselburgh is to golf what Mecca is to religion,” it concludes, listing it among the world’s Top 100 courses. “The very roots of the game are founded on this hallowed turf. As the oldest playing links course in the world, it captures a wonderful sense of nostalgia.”

    Mr Ramsay and his supporters are quick to point out that East Lothian Council have an undistinguished record when it comes to safeguarded their golfing Mecca.

    The course, like the race track, stands on common land, administered for the community by the local authority. Five years ago the council sanctioned the creation of an £11 million all-weather horse racing circuit complete with floodlights, a development that would have required shearing off sections of the old course.

    Cue uproar. The development was called in by the Scottish Executive, and eventually thrown out to the delight of golfers all over the world.

    This time around the council insist it consulted with the golf clubs that use the course, and had not faced objection. Moreover, a spokesman insisted that even the historic short first hole, had been altered over the years, so it was hardly breaking with tradition.

    And it is true, acknowledge the council’s critics: most courses change over time, even, occasionally, the most venerable. St Andrews was lengthened for this year’s Open and nearby Muirfield bears little relation to the course first constructed on its site, east of Gullane.

    But on Musselburgh links history hangs heavy on the air. The first recorded game was documented here, revealed in the account books of Sir John Foulis of Ravelston, who paid for three golf balls, and hired a horse to carry him to the burgh.

    There are older traditions. Mary Queen of Scots is said to have been indicted for the murder of Lord Darnley while she was playing here. Soldiers slain at the Battle of Pinkie are reputed to be buried under the second hole – known to sportsmen as “The Graves”. Cromwell billeted his troops on the course.

    This is heritage to the max. Underlying the sense of grievance among critics is a sense that the council, along with public bodies – notably VisitScotland – simply do not value a sporting destination that resonates all around the world. Yet, in the tiny Starter’s hut, the visitors book is crammed with signatures from all around the world – Americans, South Africans, Canadians and Germans joining the Scots and English visitors who have played the course in the last few days.

    It is this global reach that is constantly overlooked, said Sir Charles Fraser, a keen golfer who lives locally and is well acquainted with the course’s history.

    “This is a national treasure,” said Sir Charles. “It is a terrific place. When you walk on it, you walk on history. If this golf course was run by Americans, can you imagine the fuss that would be made over it? But nothing in life is frozen in aspic – people just have to find a way between minor change and damage to a national treasure.”

    Mr Ramsay agrees, and proposes a simple solution. “Why don’t they just stop and think. If they simply convert ninth hole in the first, and the first into the ninth, there will no need to keeping digging the course up.”

    Saturday, 18 September 2010

    Lost letters reveal Morgan's muse

    The trauma of unrequited love, the pleasure and pain of friendship and the sheer beauty of language emerge powerfully from a collection of “lost” poems and letters written to his student friend and muse by the young Edwin Morgan.

    The poems — most unpublished — are revealed for the first time today by The Times and were composed for Vivian Linacre.

    Now 82, Mr Linacre was in his early twenties and a final-year student at the University of Edinburgh when he met Morgan, then 29, who had recently been appointed as an assistant lecturer at Glasgow University.

    Morgan, Scotland’s Makar (or National Poet), died last month, aged 90. His English counterpart, the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, described him as irreplaceable, “poetry’s true son and blessed by her”.

    Morgan had concealed his homosexuality until he was 70, but as a young man, for four years, he maintained an intimate correspondence with Mr Linacre, sometimes barely unable to conceal his longing, but never quite confessing his true desire.

    Instead, beginning the summer of 1949, in a succession of literary letters — in which he occasionally wrote in blank verse — Morgan often made main plain his feelings.

    For Mr Linacre — addressed as “Vividest Lineament”, “Vivihand” and “Vivid Liniment” by Morgan — these letters were “purely poetic”, the mark only of a strong friendship, ripened by a shared love of language.

    “I was very naive at the time,” said Mr Linacre, who is twice married and has eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. “Looking back I realise just how intense it was, how emotionally charged. But as far as I was concerned it was a literary thing.

    “Like Robert Graves, he always needed a muse, and he had several. I served that purpose, too. He wasn’t interested in me, I think he just needed someone to address.”

    One of the poet’s published pieces, A Metre-Reading, was written for Mr Linacre, and is ripe with sexual imagery: “... The groin mine groans with gold,/ Meditation is choked,/ Mine-shaft, granary-wall/Crack gold, spout grain-of-gold/ Swelling by love’s lintel / In lust’s wastrel jostle . . .”

    Morgan found life particularly difficult during the 1950s, when he hid his sexuality away for fear of carrying the stigma of being openly homosexual. This week, a biography of the poet, written by James McGonigal, will suggest that Morgan became depressed and even considered committing suicide during this period.

    Some of his correspondence to Mr Linacre makes clear Morgan’s discomfort. One of his letters, written in verse, reads: “The patient was a patient/ Even in Edinburgh/ And had no heart to see you/ Being in much pain and so/ Desiring only hiding/ Like the lonely forest things/ Till gaiety should return.”

    Looking back, there was no doubt that his friend had suffered from a form of depression, Mr Linacre said. “In the poetry there are lots of references to illness,” he added.

    “I suspected at the time that there was nothing wrong medically, but he suffered bouts of the ‘black dog’ and would withdraw himself, though he wouldn’t advertise it. If you read between the lines, you can see that he would look into himself and use all this stuff as material.”

    Mr Linacre moved to London in 1953 to pursue a career as a surveyor. He lost touch with Morgan but kept many of the letters and items sent by the poet, over their four-year friendship. These include A Metre Reading and another poem Cheiromantra, apparently unpublished until today — when it is reprinted opposite.

    Morgan also sent Mr Linacre copies of his first two published books,A Vision of Cathkin Braes and a translation of Beowulf; copies of then unpublished works, such as the love poem, Benedicite Omnia Opera, and Michelangelo: 4 Sonnets, as well as copies of many works in progress.

    The two men first met in July 1949, through a shared interest in the Edinburgh Festival, when Mr Linacre was a month short of his 21st birthday. At the time, he was “half-heartedly reading English” while devoting the rest of his life to debating societies and dissipation.

    “In Edinburgh we met in either the Cockburn Hotel or Darlings Hotel,” Mr Linacre said. “Occasionally I made the round trip by train to Glasgow and by tram to Burnside, Rutherglen, for tea with his parents at 12 Albert Drive.

    “As a special treat, we would travel as far north as Drymen for a frugal meal at the Buchanan Arms. Our correspondence continued long after he had moved into his modern flat on Great Western Road, though I never visited him there.”

    Mr Linacre said that Morgan was essentially a loner. The younger man was conscious both of his literary friend’s strained relationship with his parents, and of the fact that he remained distant from the famous poets of the day, such as Sydney Goodsir Smith, Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley MacLean and Norman MacCaig.

    His parent simply didn’t understand him and that made him very unhappy,” Mr Linacre said.

    Though he destroyed some of the correspondence, Mr Linacre kept the letters and poems which he considered most important. The first item is dated August 23, 1949, and followed an Edinburgh production of T.S. Eliot’s play The Cocktail Party, one of the highlights of that year’s festival.

    Morgan attended the play, while Linacre enjoyed a drink at Darling’s Hotel, in Waterloo Place, a favoured haunt of the Edinburgh arts crowd.

    The letter begins: “A little document, my dear Linacre,/ To express my resentment at the wretched angustity/ Of fate and time which tormented my feet/And hindered my dating you at Darling’s Hotel/ At the hour hoped-for: for he (Eliot)/ Kept us in the Lyceum later than cued, And cars were full, and fretting keenly/ Took me no earlier than twenty to eleven/ To the vacated rendezvous; you must recently have vanished.”

    A letter of November 4, 1949 again is written in verse, and charmingly recounts the humdrum details of Morgan’s everyday life.

    “My friend Sydney Graham is/ In hospital in Truro,/ Another poetry-shard/ Another crock of a Jock,/ And I worry about him/ Since he is too drugged to write . . . I am reading Gormenghast/ And the Seven Cantos;/ Saw an aquarium fish/ Exhibition yesterday;/ And have put on a yellow/ Pullover to knit up care/A little with its brilliant/ Ravelment; such my poor news. Haut les coeurs, kingfisher cries,/ ... Haut les coeurs, O haut les coeurs!” The poem is signed “Endgloom Mornagain!”

    Morgan, who announced he was gay on his 70th birthday — he said “as a present” to himself — had endured agonies and anxiety for periods of his life. Homosexuality remained a criminal offence in Scotland until 1980, and his public position called for discretion.

    The 1950s had been particularly difficult, Hamish Whyte, a long-standing friend of the poet, said. He had difficulties writing and suffered from the buttoned up sexual mores of the day.

    “Eddie felt the muse had deserted him, so he poured himself into his translation of Beowulf. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he had depression with a capital ‘D’, but he was probably confused. It was a very repressive time for him until the Sixties exploded.”

    Morgan met John Scott in 1963, though the two never lived together, this finally, was the defining relationship in the poet’s life, until Scott’s death in 1978.

    Professor McGonigal said that he had been aware of Mr Linacre from Morgan’s correspondence, which the poet kept, and from their conversations, but he doubted that Mr Linacre had been the poet’s muse.

    “It would be difficult to judge the relationship from the correspondence Eddie kept,” he added. “Eddie was interested in lively people and good company, and Vivian Linacre perhaps fitted the bill. I got the impression he was bright and interesting. There was a correspondence between them, but I didn’t form the impression that it was hugely important. I could be wrong.”

    Costume drama warning: Thou shalt not covert thy neighbour's hat

    It was not just the Pope who claimed the streets of Edinburgh yesterday. Ninian, a fourth century Scottish bishop, ran him a close second. On T-shirts, placards and balloons, the name was everywhere, as the grand parade in the saint’s honour formed up, in the shadow of Calton Hill.

    At nine o’clock, lines of obedient schoolchildren were first to arrive at the head of the march, ready to squeak their excitement. Orderly adults followed on, dignified bandsmen who joined the 1,000 pipers who made up the procession, and bashful blokes in fancy dress, kitted out as St Andrew, Robert Burns and Ninian himself.

    Next up were the Knights of Malta, the oldest Christian charity in the world, all grand in their ceremonial robes and carrying flags. “It is a big day out,” said Nick Crean, the Chancellor of the Knights. “This parade demonstrates that the Catholic Church is a force for good. This parade is a tremendous symbol of its worth.”

    This being secular, 21st century Scotland, not everyone agreed. In 1982, when John Paul II came to Edinburgh, the streets were jammed. This time, even the Catholic Church had to admit that only 60,000 turned out to form a thin line of well-wishers along the mile-long route down Princes Street.

    Much has changed in three decades. Now there is a parliament building in the city, Scottish football is even worse, church attendances are down in the depths — but the Rev Ian Paisley, now Lord Bannside, remains immovable. For his last fixture with the Vatican on Scottish soil, Lord Bannside trekked from Co Antrim to the Mass given by John Paul II in Glasgow, where he hurled sectarian abuse at the prelate known in Paisleyite circles as “the Antichrist”.

    This time out, his protest was hidden away deep in the bowels of Edinburgh’s Old Town, and, mercifully, far quieter. Indeed for an hour or more, it was entirely private, while Lord Bannside communed with 50 grim-faced clergy from the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster inside the tiny Magdalen Chapel.

    The setting was suitably historic. The chapel was built by Catholics in 1541, but occupied by John Knox for the first General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. As the clock ticked on, the question arose, what on Earth was Lord Bannside doing in there? Knocking out the stained glass windows, manufactured by papist craftsmen?

    He probably was, because when he finally emerged he was in high spirits. Sporting a nifty black fedora and a broad smile he stepped into the sun. Would he answer a flippant question — where did he get that great big beautiful hat? “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s hat!” boomed the voice that rattled a thousand pews. And could Lord Bannside spare a message for the Pope? “Go. Back. Home.”

    That was more or less that. A quick chorus of The Lord’s My Shepherd at the nearby Covenanters’ monument, and Lord Bannside was off.

    The Pope, by now ensconced in his Popemobile, and trundling through the nearby city-centre streets, was not free of his tormenters yet. By the Usher Hall, the staunch gentlemen of the Orange Order had gathered to register their silent protest at the papal visit. Across the street, a noisier faction of sceptics, humanists, gay and women’s rights campaigners had assembled to shout out their individual grievances.

    For once, as the demonstrators surged, the crowd along the route swelled to four or five deep. But then, just as a frisson of opposition could be felt, the moment was gone and the Popemobile drove back into the real, and sometimes raucous, Edinburgh.

    Now the crowds were different. Sikh waiters in turbans throwing curious looks from a restaurant doorway; office workers, leaning against the barrier to stare at the man in white and his tartan scarf. Even the girls at the Ambassador Sauna had time to get to their window, above the Bottoms Up Show Bar, to wave down at the Pope as he trucked past. And he was gone. In the office, the restaurant, the sauna and the show bar, it was back to business as usual — in 21st century, secular Scotland.

    Saturday, 11 September 2010

    Postcards from the edge of darkness

    David Shrigley plants his cup of tea on a Nottingham Forest FC coaster and with a smile of satisfaction opens that proof copy of What The Hell Are You Doing?  lying on his  kitchen table. He has published 30 books, but few had occasioned  such anxiety as this anthology. Taking delivery last Monday was a huge relief.

     “It was like wow,”  he says, sticking his nose between the covers.  “You open  it up and you start looking at it and going through the pages one by one: good, good, good.  It isn’t always right, you know ... ”

    Shrigley, depending on your point of view,  is variously cartoonist, musician, sculptor, filmmaker, humorist, and centre half, though for himself, he thinks it best just to stick with artist, “it is a good catch-all”.  

    His new collection of greatest hits spans 19 years and opens with a cartoon of two rabbits.  Says one: “There is a land not far from here where rabbits live in harmony with all other creatures.” The other retorts: “That’s a complete load of shit and you know it.”  
    Over the following 300 pages, he mines a mordant seam, conjuring up the same dark tradition of British humour that threw up Tony Hancock and Chris Morris. One cartoon features an executioner who beheads a prisoner, carries his axe on to a bus, then leaves it at home while he walks the dog. Another picture shows a squirrel with its  severed head between its paws. A third is a photo of a child holding up a board of magnetic letters. They spell: “i have swallowed a piece of lego”.

    Nothing about Shrigley’s demeanour suggests a weird interior world, but a few minutes in his company reveals that this is a very paradoxical fellow.  Take his voice. At 41, Shrigley has lived more than half his life in Glasgow, since he arrived as a student at its art school, but he still speaks with the clipped vowels of the English Midlands.

    Factor in his appearance. Tall and fastidiously well-scrubbed he cuts a prim figure, but every other weekend he dons a replica football top and drives to Nottingham to watch his team play, and to hurl abuse at match officials.  He usually goes alone to these games.

    Finally there is his attitude to his fans, whose adoration he cannot begin to fathom. “You get emails about an image you made one day and these people say ‘That’s amazing - it just sums something up for me!’ What on earth do they mean?” he wonders.

    “Or more worryingly, someone contacts you and says: ‘I’d suffered from clinical depression for years and your book really helped me.’ I’m like: Great – but how? They don’t realise you just make the drawing and then go off and watch CSI.”

    For all his self deprecation, Shrigley is a serious artist.  His breakthrough came when he drew the cover piece in 1995 for Frieze, an influential art magazine, which  appeared  alongside an admiring essay by Michael Bracewell. Today he is  represented by six galleries around the world, and his work hangs in The Tate and in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

    He keeps good company too. Shrigley plays football in the same team as Richard Wright.  His mates include Douglas Gordon and Martin Creed. Even that little girl in the photo, holding the  magnetic letters, turns out to be the daughter of Christine Borland. 

    All of these friends are Turner Prize winners or nominees. but he seems to harbour no such expectations. The current issue of a Scottish listings magazine may feature his art on its cover, but  Shrigley is  stunned to have been granted even that level of public recognition.  “When I saw that I thought, why would they do that?” he says. “I am surprised these images have any currency.”

    Shrigley was born in Macclesfield and  moved to Leicester when he was two.  His upbringing, he says, was utterly normal, and left little mark on him, save for  a respect for his father’s evangelical religious views.

    “If I am remarkable, it’s because I am so ordinary,” he says. “I grew up the same as everyone else, on a redbrick estate that could have been anywhere in the UK. My dad drove a second hand, Mark 2 Ford Escort,  which I learned to drive around the redbrick estate. I’m not sure it had any influence on me, except to want to leave and never go back. I’m like everyone else.  The only difference I suppose is the tenor of my graphic work - which isn’t so different either.

    “I dunno,” he concludes diffidently. “It all happened by accident anyway.” 

    These days,  all remains convincingly normal. Shrigley practices yoga, drinks goats milk, monitors his caffeine intake and works a regular eight hour day.  He married Kim, his long-time girlfriend in the local church this summer, but beyond the facade of the Victorian house  the couple occupy,  his weirder world intrudes. 

    At one end of a living room wall is a sign he has copied from a travel agent, offering 7 nights in Zante for £199.  At the other is a picture showing a big black blob filling a square; its message urges “Enjoy quantum physics”. On the table  between them,  a book of matches warns: “DON’T SAY THE WORD SHIT”. 

    Here in the kitchen, his own work may be absent, but on the table  is a video and a book  sent to him by Banksy, the street  artist, and one of his friends. Shrigley is delighted. “I like  graffiti,” he says.  “It’s transient, guerrilla, unsanctioned, uncensored.”

    By contrast, he hates public art. A picture in his anthology shows people admiring a giant-sized sculpture entitled ‘CRAP’.  “It’s brilliant,” opines a stick-person critic. The truth, for Shrigley is that  all spontaneity has been knocked out of public art, through  an endless process of negotiation.  Inevitably, the end product is dull.

    Like Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North? “Yes,” he says.  “It becomes a landmark. People don’t think of it as an artwork any more. When you think about that thing (the Angel), it’s not really that nice is it? There’s nothing very interesting about it, if you looked at it as a sculpture in context. Public art is like town planning. It’s boring.  They will never do anything interesting - and if they do it will be by accident.”    

    His own output  relies on intuition and his first thought on graduating was to become a cartoonist. Then, as now, he works quickly.  For a show next week in Leuven, Belgium Shrigley will frame 30 pieces from 300 he made over a matter of weeks. He might save another 70.  The remainder go in the bin.

    “There is a moment when the project is finished,” he says. “I just allot a certain amount of time and resources and whatever happens in that space ends up being the project.  That’s the strategy – a journey between A and B rather than arrival at B.”

    The artist himself gives every impression of being settled in the city he arrived in 21 years ago. He says:  “I have civic responsibility here, because it is my home. That implies a certain commitment to the art scene in Scotland and Glasgow specifically.  That  is where my loyalties lie.”

    But lest any passing nationalist should feel a warm glow of pride at that pronouncement,  Shrigley’s Scotland, like the rest of his world, turns out to be a very contrary place.   

    “I am culturally Scottish,”  he declares, in the restrained voice of middle England,  “but I hate Robert Burns. I hate the Scottish football team, I hate Rangers and I hate Celtic.  I hate thistles. And I hate whisky.”

    Photos by James Glossop

    Monday, 30 August 2010

    St Kilda: Life on the edge

    Through a smirr of icy rain, there could be no sight more poignant than this abandoned village. A bumpy track rises parallel to the shore, and on one side, a row of cottages looks out to sea. A handful have been restored, but most have been left to the elements, and have been torn apart by the almost ceaseless gales. Humanity though is still defiant and inside each ruin, a stone slate, positioned in the fireplace, tells its story.

    At No 8, the stone reads: “1930 Empty. Formerly Callum MacDonald ‘Old Blind Callum’.” A little beyond, inside the ruins of No 15, is the home once shared by John Gillies Jr and Annie Gillies, known, apparently, as the “Queen of St Kilda”. A third house has a simple round pebble inscribed: “Flora Gillies”.

    This is Main Street, St Kilda, 80 years to the day that the island’s resident population was evacuated on HMS Harebell, and removed from its punishing life on the most exposed outcrop of the British Isles. For at least 4,000 years, people had eked out their lives here, dining on the oats they grew, and the seabirds they plucked from the cliffs, until their unique brand of “sustainable” living finally became unsustainable and they were forced to quit.

    Then, as now, that event inspired a media circus. In 1930, the under secretary of State for Scotland, Tom Johnston, was moved to issue an instruction preventing press from remaining on the island on the day of the exodus, “to avoid the miseries of the poor people being turned into a show”.

    Three generations later, the island’s owners the National Trust for Scotland, strike rather a different pose. St Kilda is one of around 20 places on Earth to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site both for cultural and for natural reasons. Its importance can hardly be understated, says Dick Balharry, the naturalist who chairs the Trust, but the cost of maintaining the site is high, and every last ounce of publicity helps.

    To that end, a German TV crew has this morning anchored its yacht in Village Bay, joining the BBC team that arrived last night. The islanders latest residents, contractors who man St Kilda’s weapons testing station, and keep its 1950s army barracks running, look on at the launching of a replica of the island’s mail boat, pleased to share the island’s story with their visitors.

    In truth, St Kilda’s history speaks for itself if you make the steep ascent to the Gap, the little dip on the ridge between Oiseval and Conachair, at 430m St Kilda’s highest point. The village – whose population never passed 180 - is wrapped beneath this vast amphitheatre, and its is easy to pick out the semi circle of verdant green where the community grew barley, oats and potatoes, and husbanded their cattle. The descendents of the islanders’ sheep are scattered out over mountainside, running wild.

    Above the Gap, is Conachair itself. At the summit, the fiercest winds reach 170 knots – or 200mph. Beneath, sheer rock tumbles into the sea, the highest cliffs in Britain. It is scarcely credible, but here, every summer, St Kildan men, roped together, and carrying long sticks with nooses attached, defied death (though not always) to snare thousands of fulmars; or took their boats over the treacherous sea to Boreray island and trapped gugas – young gannets – for the pot.

    The carcasses of these birds were stripped of their feathers, the birds split down their backs, and the meat either eaten straight away, or, in most cases, salted and stored away in the hundreds of stone cleiten – sheds of stone and turf, that are still scattered all over the island, even on steepest hillsides.

    In the end, modernity crushed the St Kildans. When the first tourist steamer arrived in 1838, the islanders, alarmed by the smoke rising from the funnel, went running to the manse to tell the church minister that a ship was on fire.

    They soon grew accustomed to the summer trade. Tourism brought money, and an acquaintance with non-perishable foods, medicines and fuel, consumable that became almost essential, as grinding poverty slowly cleared the island of its youngest and fittest inhabitants. The Royal Navy set up a post during the First World War, and the clearance accelerated; when the forces left after the war, a quarter of the remaining St Kildan population followed them off the island.

    By 1928, only 37 survived, too few able-bodied enough to farm the land, and pluck sufficient seabirds from the cliffs. The death of Mary Gillies, pregnant but unable to reach a mainland hospital when appendicitis set in, was the last straw. In May the evacuation was ordered; by the evening of 30 August, all that remained of the St Kildans was their houses, and smoke of their last fires rising from the chimneys.

    Unlike the former inhabitants, today’s residents have mastered the art of modern living. In 1957, when the trust bought the island, it allowed the Ministry of Defence to take up residency. Though the army and navy quit in 1998, their ugly barracks block is occupied by the26 contractors who man the weapons station, and keep the electricity working.

    Now, their lives too may change. Their biggest customer is the British government. The Strategic Defence Review will inevitably cut forces spending, and could quite conceivably put paid to this latest community. What then for St Kilda? Would the barracks block be ripped up, and St Kilda returned to nature?

    Not necessarily, says Mr Balharry. St Kilda is a world resource. The mysteries of its Neolithic and Viking past remain uncovered; so does its marine environment and its the dynamics of its unique bird life. Even its sheep are the subject of detailed scientific study. In Mr Balharry’s mind’s eye he sees an international research station here, funded by agencies from all around the world.

    But as he descends from the Gap, that notion remains a distant dream. Beneath the vastness of the mountain, he demands: “How have you enjoyed your first morning on St Kilda? Once seen never forgotten. It is magnificent, isn’t it?” And it is.

    Photographs by James Glossop.

    Monday, 23 August 2010

    Caught in the crossfire

    In 1972, at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, just four months after Bloody Sunday, a ten-year-old boy on his way home from school,was shot and blinded by a rubber bullet, fired by a captain in the British army.

    This week – with violence casting a long shadow in North Ireland – the two men will take to a stage in Britain for the first time, in an extraordinary act of public reconciliation, to discuss the devastating moment that has shaped their lives and to promote their message of peace.

    Both men - Richard Moore, 49, the victim, and Charles Inness, 68, the solider who fired the gun – have spoken to The Times about their memories of this most traumatic of incidents, and how it changed their lives. Their vivid, affecting, but very different accounts are printed here.

    For Mr Moore, his sudden blindness was a catastrophe, but from an early age his astonishing lack of bitterness and self pity, and his determination to lead a full life were obvious. He completed school and went on graduate from the University of Ulster.

    With £68,000 in compensation he established himself as a successful businessman, then, in 1996, founded Children in Crossfire, a charity dedicated to helping children caught up in poverty and the threat of war.

    Mr Inness remained in the army, and returned to North Ireland to work closely with the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He left the forces in 1993, and eventually retied to the Scottish Borders, with his wife Louise.

    But despite his years of service a single day in 1972 continued cast a long shadow: “Occasionally one remembered Northern Ireland and thought: ‘O my God, had I have the gift of foresight, I would not have done what I did and fired a rubber bullet,” he said.

    As the tenth anniversary of Children in Crossfire loomed, events conspired to bring Mr Moore and Mr Inness together. A documentary maker put them in touch, and they met for the first time, in Edinburgh in 2006.

    They have remained firm friends, regularly staying in with each other’s homes, and with one another’s families. On Friday, they will appear at Edinburgh’s Festival of Spirituality and Peace.

    Victor Spence, the festival director said the men’s story was almost overwhelming in its intensity. “These two men provide outstanding examples of the power of forgiveness,” said Mr Spence. “Years ago, I heard Richard speak about his own experiences and was brought to tears. To see both men together at our festival will be a moving and memorable experience.”

    Richard Moore's testimony

    It was 4 May 1972, four months after Bloody Sunday. It was in Derry, and I lived on the Creggan Estate. Nowadays we tend to forget the environment that existed then.

    This was a no-go area. - the British Army and the police were not allowed in. The place was barricaded off. There were riots, shootings, bombings on a daily basis. I remember watching cars in flames and CS gas shooting across the sky. Our house, was a 30-second walk from the houses of four of the people killed on Bloody Sunday. One was my uncle Gerard, my mammy’s brother. That is the context.

    I went to Rosemount Primary School. It was on the edge of the Creggan. Both the primary and secondary schools were next to each other and beside them was an RUC police barracks, heavily protected by the British army.

    The barracks had sangars – look-out posts – and one of these things was built between a row of houses, facing out onto the football of St Joseph's secondary school. On that day, I got out of school as normal at 3:20 and ran up by the football pitch. I had to pass that sangar as I had on many occasions.

    On this particular day, I ran past and a British soldier fired a rubber bullet. I don’t remember hearing a bang. The next thing I knew was waking up in the school canteen. My music teacher, Mr Doherty, had found me lying on the ground. He carried me into the canteen and laid me out on the table. I remember him asking my name. I told him: 'Richard Moore'. He got a shock, because he was my teacher, and he wasn’t able to recognise me. My nose was completely flattened, my eyeballs were down on my cheekbones and my face was just a bloody mess.

    The next time I awoke, I was in an ambulance. My daddy and my sister were beside me. My daddy was holding my hand. I remember him saying: 'You'll be OK, Richard.’ One of the ambulance people said, 'There's a woman outside, she's very upset - will we let her in?' He said: 'Don’t let her in, it's his mother.' He didn't want her seeing me in the state I was in.

    When I eventually came to, all my conversations were about getting the bandages off my eyes. I loved playing football - there was a boy in the bed opposite and I remember joking with him: 'I can't wait to get these bandages off - I'll teach you how to play football.' That must have been very difficult for my parents and my brothers and sisters.

    A month after I was shot, my brother Noel took for a walk up and down the back garden. That wasn’t unusual, because every day he would take me out to help build up my strength. But on this particular day he said: 'Do you know what's happened to you?' I said, 'Yes, I know I was shot.' He said: ' Do you know what damage was done?' I said, 'No.' He said: 'You've lost your right eye and you'll never see again with your left eye.'

    There were no dramatics that day. The only time I remember crying was that night when I went to bed. I was a ten year old boy. I wasn't thinking about getting a job, or about getting an education. All I felt was this enormous sense of loss that I would never see my parents again. I was on my own and I cried myself to sleep.

    The next day, I woke up and it was the first day of the rest of my life as a blind person. I wanted to be independent, I didn't want people to feel sorry for me. I didn't want to go to a school for blind children. I went back into primary school on to St Joseph's Secondary. Then I went to university and graduated in 1983. I learnt the guitar and played in a semi-professional band and travelled all over Ireland.

    I didn't have a moment's anger or bitterness for what happened to me and I always wanted to meet the soldier who shot me. The reason for my attitude was my parents. Despite their best efforts to avoid the Troubles, the Troubles found us and they had to deal with the magnitude of it. They were just poor people dealing with the most difficult situation: watching their son who one day had been out kicking a football and racing and running and climbing over hedges – then, weeks later, walking into half open doors and groping his way round the walls. In the middle of that the only thing I can remember is their hurt. There was never anger. When I talk about forgiveness, it came from them in a very implicit way.

    Thirty thee years later, someone asked to make a documentary and I found out the name of the soldier. I flew to Edinburgh and we met in a hotel foyer on 14 January 2006.

    The build up was very emotional for me, and I never thought it would be like that. I remember the day before I met Charles, I went to my daddy’s grave and said to him, ‘Look – I hope you are happy with what I’m doing.’ Then I went to see my mother. I said: ‘I am going to meet the soldier tomorrow – what do you think?’ She said: ‘Are you alright about it?’ I said I was. She said, ‘Well Richard if you’re happy, I am happy.’

    Finally, to sit there in the hotel, opposite the guy who blinded you and caused so much hurt to your family and to like him, was an incredible experience.

    I won’t justify violence, I’m not justifying violence. But sometimes in a violent situation things happen that shouldn’t happen. For me – I can't speak for any other victim – that is the way I have let it go. Whether I hate or love, I won’t get my sight back. Charles is not a bad person. I believe he is someone in a situation where he acted incorrectly and unjustifiably and I bear the consequences. I have to allow him the space to say what he has to say, as long as he allows me the space to speak too. We may not agree – but we can agree to move forward. I forgive Charles.

    Charles Inness's testimony

    My regiment, 5 Regiment, Royal Artillery was over in Ireland in 1972, from February until June. It was a time of extreme violence, the worst time in the whole of the Troubles. There was a recent statement about Afghanistan: it noted that the situation now, desperate as it is, is still not a bad in terms of numbers of casualties over six months that we had at that time. This was virtually a war zone.

    We were sent to Londonderry. I was a captain, given the dubious task of running Rosemount RUC Station. It was a red-rag-to-a-bull situation. We were in a hard line Catholic area, and positioning a police post there attracted every bit of violence that could possibly be thrown at it. The norm was anything from bombing, nail-bombing and shooting, to much lower level violence, rioting, stone throwing , petrol bombing. Almost on a nightly basis we were shot at. Not long before the incident with Richard, two soldiers from my own battery were killed, blown to pieces by a remotely-detonated bomb.

    Rosemount police post had a number sangars –manned, sandbagged structures, from which personnel could observe outwards and sideways, and maintain the integrity of the base. It was essential that the sangars were manned, the people were alert, and they were fully aware of what the procedures were, in the event of them seeing something abnormal or being shot at.

    On that day, I was called to the sangar and it was pointed out to me by the poor lad inside it, the sort of aggro that had been going on hours – not continual but the coming and going of youths, chucking stones. At one stage they had got hold of a scaffolding pole and they were trying to skewer the guy inside with it.

    The choices you had were pretty simple. You had a fire arm and a thing called a rubber bullet gun. A rubber-bullet gun was relatively short-barrelled bit of kit – about 20in long and an inch and a half wide. It was smooth bore, a low charge propelling, literally, a rubber bullet. It is a black piece of rubber about six inches long, conical at the sharp end, blunt at the back. In the time I was there – a six-month period – we used these as a means of trying to disperse low-level violence and fired hundreds with very few effects.

    In those days, the procedure was that you most certainly would not go out of the defended area. Because the game was very simple. The youths would throw stones, and cause aggro, a soldier would expose himself by remonstrating with them. Then a chap with a telescopic rifle who would promptly shoot dead the solider. Under no circumstances would I let anyone go out; one merely shouted through an observation slot to get people to disperse. That usually resulted in more shouting and more stones thrown.

    On this occasion, I took the appropriate action at that time – which was to fire a rubber bullet, with a view to getting a group to disperse. One of them went down and the rest did disperse. Very shortly afterwards, people came and took the individual away, who had been lying on the ground. Soon we heard some shooting and that incident passed. I didn’t give it much thought.

    The next thing, the following morning, I was rung up by my CO, who said the individual who had been hit by the rubber bullet had damn near been killed. He would be very lucky to survive. My immediate feeling was one of absolute and total shock. I thought: ‘How the hell did that happen?’ Obviously, I was devastated.

    There was an RUC police inquiry into the incident and a military police inquiry. The upshot was the action I had taken was justifiable and absolutely in line with the procedures at the time, though the outcome was simply horrific. That was a point I totally agreed with.

    Over a period of time, the shock of it went, because I am pretty robust and there were many other grisly things going on. It was an unpleasant incident to try to put behind me, and obviously, the sadness and regret stayed with me. Occasionally one remembered Northern Ireland and thought: ‘O my God, had I have the gift of foresight, I would not have done what I did and fired a rubber bullet.’

    Many years later, five years ago, I was rung at home by a chap who was ex-RUC. He said: ‘If I said the name Richard Moore to you, would it ring a bell?’ I said: ‘It most certainly would’. He then said, ‘Can I come and talk to you?’

    So this guy appeared and gave me a bit of background: that despite his appalling injuries, his total blindness, Richard had managed to get himself back to school, had gone to a good university, had become pretty successful. He had established this wonderful organisation, Children in Crossfire. The guy then said, ‘Richard has got a letter for you – would you like to take it?’ I said, ‘Yes, give me the letter.’ It was absolutely brilliant: there was no acrimony in it, no feeling of hatred. It was astonishingly positive. I took a bit of time to couch a reply – I didn’t think me reply was as good as his letter – but the upshot was that we agreed to meet in an hotel in Edinburgh.

    What a day. I walked in and he was sitting in a chair. I walked up and tapped him on the shoulder, and said: ‘Hi Richard, it’s Charles.’ He got up and shook my hand. The next four hours went by like they were a matter of a few minutes. We talked, we chatted, we laughed, we told jokes, we talked about our families. We talked about everything under the sun. We had a damn good lunch, and a bottle of wine. It was the beginning of a great friendship.

    I took Richard back to the airport and passed him over to the escort who was going to take him down to the plane. Richard later said to his escort: ‘That man you saw me laughing with – that was the man who blinded me.’ The guy thought he was completely barking mad.

    Saturday, 21 August 2010

    Govan's salute to Clyde-built Reid

    Some came by subway - old men in donkey jackets and brogues, ladies decked in black pearls. Others arrived by plane, taxi and by ministerial limousine, Alex Ferguson and Billy Connolly, Alex Salmond and Gordon Brown, the celebrities taking their places among the 800 everyday Glaswegians who had come to mark the passing of Jimmy Reid, their "Clyde-built" trade union hero. 

    Govan Old Parish Church is no shrinking violet of a structure, a massive Victorian edifice, with a handsome gallery and a wood panelled roof. It speaks of a Glasgow of a different age, when prosperity sailed in up the River Clyde, and the shipyards lined the water, providing jobs for thousands of men. 

    Reid's celebration here signified the passing of that era. As Ferguson said, in 1945, there were 35 yards but now there are only three. Where once there were 145,000 people in this parish, today there are just 30,000. 

    Even Reid himself had retired to the Isle of Bute and the day started near his home, with an early morning service in Rothesay. Then the coffin was ferried across to the mainland, for the slow 30-mile drive along the too-peaceful waters of the Clyde, to Govan where Reid was born, raised and enjoyed his 15 minutes - and more - of fame.

    Those moments came during and after the sit-in at Upper-Clyde Shipbuilders in 1971. Faced by a Conservative plan, devised by Nicolas Ridley, to "butcher" the yard, rather than publlicly fund its efforts to maintain an order book, Reid and Jimmy Airlie, his fellow shop steward,  led a sit-in, which effectively wrested control of the yard. 

    It was the model of trade union action, said Jimmy Cloughley, who worked at the shipyard. Reid's inspired speech at the start of the campaign - "there will be no hooliganism, there will be no vandalism, there will be no bevvying, because the world is watching us "- won him global fame. Seven months later, the union's victory saved 6,000 jobs. 

    Reid's contribution earned him the rectorship of Glasgow University - voted in by a huge majority of students. The  acceptance speech that followed was so brilliant it was reprinted in full by the New York Times, recalled Ferguson. Some of its most famous lines adorned the order of service: "A rat race is for rats. We're not rats, we're human beings." 

    Mr Salmond, making the final speech in Reid's honour announced that the rectorial address would be added on the modern studies curriculum in Scotland's secondary schools, a gesture which brought warm applause from the congregation. 

    If the early 1970s  marked  Reid's finest hour, what followed often seemed less inspiring. He enjoyed being in the public eye, and made a career as a journalist, raconteur and after-dinner speaker. He was columnist and a radio presenter; a guest on chat-shows. 

    Celebrity anecdotes from his celebrity friends only emphasised the change in his world. Fergusson recounted the tale of Kenneth Williams and Reid waiting in the green room at the Parkinson show. The painfully snobbish Williams recited a poem and turned confrontationally to Reid, who said: "Was that Yeats?" Williams conceded it was, before Reid recited a few lines for himself and asked: 'Who wrote that?" When Williams failed to find the answer, Reid told him: "Me." 

    Connolly - who laughed uproariously at his own reminiscences - quoted John Sessions reaction to Reid's death, proving that shipyard worker's persona had penetrated deep into the world of the performing arts. 

    "Jimmy had a lovely way of dealing with idiots ," said Connolly. Presumably, the great man would have offered him an indulgent smile. 

    But in nearly two hours of celebration, a rounded picture of Reid came through. Here was a boy who left school at 14, but made himself at home in Govan library, teaching himself history and philosophy while Ferguson and his friends played football. 

    The congregation discovered Reid the jazz lover, who inveigled Connolly into an Ella Fitzgerald convert, and Reid the Communist-turned- Nationalist who quoted Shelley and Tennyson and liked nothing better 
    on a Saturday afternoon than watching a game of cricket. 

    The union leader's wife, Joan and their three daughters wiped their eyes. His friend David Scott, invited all and sundry to the Hagg's Castle Golf Club for the funeral tea - a large gesture, for a larger than life man.