I was writing from Tuebingen, my half-home since 1980, and realised that unless I got on a train soon I might be cut off from Scotland for months. The booking office staff, always helpful, found me a Stuttgart connection at 0600 the next morning, same cost as an air single, which would get me into St Pancras at 1400. It wasn't quite symmetrical: at Frankfurt I missed by seconds the Brussels connection but browsed in the magnificent station bookshops (their Edinburgh W H Smith equivalent is the size of an office toilet). The clerk at Midi nodded me through to a good lunch and dry French wine, supper with daughter Alison at Rheidol Terrace and her boyfriend Nathan.
Next day into Berwick at 1700: the bus timetables (from Borders Council) were in total chaos: the 60 shown as only reaching Duns, the 67 Kelso (both ought to drop me at my garden gate in Melrose). Letters have gone out to the Tory council. Meanwhile, the buses have been cut. The weather doesn't help. Lawn and the meadow beyond brittle white and cold. Up on the hills, Iain MacWhirter's 'houses the colour of dead skin', where the money people exist (live would not be the appropriate word): in present circumstances even more useless to humanity than usual.
Melrose has lost both its banks and the post office is a van at the Abbey car park three afternoons a week. In Galashiels, the main shopping street is 80% closed-up: the glittering hall for the Tapestry of Scotland at the Peebles end, the remaining banks and (for the last five years) the post office in W H Smith, are going to have to do well.
In 1960, they used to say that all the young men in Hawick looked like Connery and their girls like Princess Grace. Seconds from the textile factories – jackets and twinsets – did this. Could we get back? I looked at the web pages of one of the local secondary schools – a giant shoe-box outside Kelso. I had attended the splendid 1930s Aztec High School in the town, an early proto-comprehensive: I learned laughing and grief, history and geography were boldly experimental. Metalwork and carpentry made me build later-on, in the Morningside dining room, a sailing dinghy I navigated in 1960 along the near-choked Union Canal to Winchburgh. We took it on three summer holidays to Arisaig and Skye, strapped to the roof-rack of our 1952 Hillman, and splashed around the bays and skerries.
This burst of practicality, coupled by obsession with railways under the threat of Beeching, meant I neglected my Highers and only just scrambled into Edinburgh Uni when I got my teeth into '1886-1918' and came second in the Bursary Competition (a long-vanished alternative) in 1962. As to New Kelso... could I get hold of any notions about what was now being taught there? The online programme – lots of clever jugglery with graphics – seemed to come as 'kits to assemble': disproportionately, it seemed, about elaborate privatised finance: I sprawled and crawled on the steps of this techno-future – just as it was being dismantled by something as antique and mysterious as the Asiatic cholera.
Where was Christopher Lee's Fu Manchu when you needed him?
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