Fear not Bill Paterson
, the great Scottish traditional hotel is alive and well and, despite the vicious impact of COVID-19, will re-group and return to glory days with increased aplomb.
A few years back, I was working in Kinross on a weekly basis whilst commuting from London. Hotel accommodation was rather limited in the town and, on occasions, left much to be desired. After one such occasion I happened upon the Kirklands Hotel, tucked away on the High Street. The lady proprietor, whilst serving in the bar, sensed that I was unsettled and asked that if she offered me a modest discount would I be tempted to switch hotels. I did so with enthusiasm and have been a regular guest at the Kirklands for over 10 years.
My first night went well and the next morning heralded a sensational breakfast, using many local ingredients. The very diligent husband and wife team was keen to establish my experience thus far, particularly in comparison to the rival hotel. They insisted that I should be constructively critical, however minor the detail. Taking them at their word, I stated that overall the experience was a vast welcome improvement but two very minor points should be drawn to their attention. First, there was no separate spoon for the marmalade jar and the coffee saucer was the poorer for no brown sugar rather than the ever-present white sugar sachet. I added that neither issue was a hanging offence and that I was only being fastidious on their demand. Whimsically, I floated the idea that with such 'outrageous' blemishes on good hotel service, I should perhaps refer to them personally in future as Basil and Sybil of Torquay fame. I then left for the office.
Later that day, I returned to the hotel at 6pm ready for an excellent gourmet meal. As I entered the hall, the proprietors, Anthony and Shona, were serving several regulars in the cocktail area and everyone looked up at the newly arrived entrant. Mischeviously, I hailed them and said 'Good evening Basil, good evening Sybil'. There was a collective hush when I suddenly sensed that I may have overdone the theme, whereupon, to a man (and woman) the whole group simply chorused 'Good Evening Major'. The topic has not been mentioned since!
The Scottish traditional hotel sector is under immense pressure at present but, Mr Paterson, rest assured that Kinross will outdo Torquay any time.
Slavery was a big deal and the commemoration of it deserves more than a peely wally wee blue plaque that no-one will ever notice. I would suggest that the burghers of Edinburgh could declare their opposition to slavery and the way that their town benefitted from it by erecting a statue that says something about the depth of feeling on this topic on the part of the descendants of those slaves.
When the statue of the slave owner George Colston was toppled in Bristol, the sculptor Marc Quinn made a statue of Jen Reid, one of the protestors on the day. It's a glorious celebratory thing but Bristol Council had it removed within 24 hours. Perhaps Edinburgh Council could borrow it and place it at the top of Dundas Street so that the whole world could see it and talk about it. Everyone knows the Scott Monument; in time, the anti-slavery monument could become as well known as that.
In 1954, as a punishment for climbing up to the roof of one of my school buildings, I was told to copy out Paradise Lost
. I didn't get far into book one, but John Milton's poetry has remained with me ever since. In the second book, Satan's daughter Sin opens the gates of Hell:
…………………… She op'nd, but to shut
Excel'd her power; the Gates wide op'n stood,
That with extended wings a Bannerd Host
Under spread Ensigns marching might pass through
With Horse and Chariots rankt in loose array;
So wide they stood, and like a Furnace mouth
Cast forth redounding smoak and ruddy flame.
Before thir eyes in sudden view appear
The secrets of the hoarie deep, a dark
Illimitable Ocean without bound,
Without dimension, where length, breadth, and highth,
And time and place are lost; where eldest Night
And Chaos, Ancestors of Nature, hold
Eternal Anarchie, amidst the noise
Of endless warrs and by confusion stand.
I watched on television the armed and violent mob surging into the central symbol of United States' democracy, urged on by its President, and I thought of Hitler at the Nuremberg rallies. As they broke the windows of the Capitol building, I heard the shattered glass of Kristallnacht. I wondered who Trump's real enemies are. His supporters call them immigrants, communists and socialists, but I think they are anyone who stood in his way as he sought power – power which he had apparently no idea what to do with other than to increase his and his family's personal fortune.
Anyone who had watched Trump’s arrogant, bullying and abusive 'debate' with Hillary Clinton during his successful bid for the Presidency must have wondered why so many people appeared to vote for him. His stated mission was to 'drain the swamp' of the Federal employees of Washington DC; his appeal was to the disenchanted and poor of America, to make the country great again. He conducted his Presidency by television and Twitter, never moving from his role as bully and narcissist, and the disenchanted were enchanted but the poor got poorer. Far from making America great, which it was before he took office, he dragged it into the slough, unprepared for the terror of COVID-19. The world heaved a sigh of relief when the American people finally voted him out, but the worst was still to come and on 6 January it did.
The late John le Carré pointed out that the difference between patriotism and nationalism is that nationalism requires an enemy. We would do well to remember that. Trump came close to fascism in his fanatical nationalism and demagoguery. He has his fans in Europe and elsewhere, not excluding the UK with Farage. With the benefit of so-called social media, these people have the keys to the gates of Hell. The difference between the mob that stormed the House of Representatives and those that support our European demagogues is but a matter of degree and armament. All exploit the ills of the poor and uneducated, all construct a national enemy out of their political opponents. Given the chance, all load important offices with their supporters and eliminate their opponents, all lie and corrupt the media, but thankfully, most eventually come to a sticky end. If they do not, they destroy their country and the lives of many decent people.
If two people decide to circumnavigate the world, it matters not whether they go east or west. Either way, they will eventually meet the one who took the opposite route. The same is true in politics; extreme views to left to right lead to the same point: dictatorship. To the oppressed, the philosophy of the oppressor is of little interest. We have witnessed two grotesque and horrendous examples in Hitler and Stalin in recent history and we know how they rose to power. It requires progressive failure of more democratic governance, a mass of dissatisfied people, and a ruthless liar with the resources to grab power. It can only be resisted by effective democracy and a fearless and incorrupt media.
My parents visited Germany in winter 1937. It was a country they had admired for its science, music and literature, but they were shocked at what they saw. It must have been a good holiday nevertheless, for I was born nine months later, shortly before the last Nuremberg rally and Kristallnacht and at a time when Mosley's blackshirts were marching in England. We very narrowly escaped fascism then, eventually with the essential support of the United States. However, a lifetime later, it still lies just beneath the surface and the conditions for its resurgence are apparent in the UK as well as the US. On this occasion, America has managed to slam shut the gates of Hell but the conditions that led to their opening are still there. Let us hope that Mr Biden, a man of proven decency, can calm the mob and restore the people's confidence in their democracy. But in the USA, Europe and the UK, we need to deal with the root causes in society that allow such demagogues to flourish.
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