(Never written a journal. Can a retired, reclusive, Hyndland septuagenarian have anything to record? Remember Maeterlinck said: '…an old man, seated in his armchair, waiting patiently, with his lamp beside him; giving unconscious ear to all the eternal laws that reign about his house…does yet live in reality a deeper, more human, and more universal life than the lover who strangles his mistress, the captain who conquers in battle, or "the husband who avenges his honour."' We'll see…)
Monday 1 April, Tuesday 2 April
Incapable of thought, let alone action.
Wednesday 3 April
Phone call at five past nine. Cousin John (65) died at three o'clock in the morning. He had had a kidney tumour diagnosed a few weeks ago, but there were secondaries all over the place. Last Sunday I had held his hand and said: 'You are very tired John. "Let us sleep now."' His jaw held up by a pillow, he had a beautiful Roman Emperor's head: and couldn't have died more quietly, surrounded by his wife, Jen, and his family.
The last of my generation of the Jack Mavors. Jack's widow, my aunt Agnes, died two years ago aged 101. John's elder sister and brother have both died since 1 January; Harry simply of a broken heart, not wanting to be the last of his generation. An Aeschylean, rather than a Shakespearean tragedy. However…
Saturday 6 April
Jen said the family would like to find the tombstone of our grandfather in the Western Necropolis. I said I knew exactly how to find it, but couldn't. It was on the other side of the hill. But they found it. They then wanted to go out to the country, so we had a delightful fish n' chips in the garden of the Black Bull at Killearn; the Campsies looking beautiful under a light haar, with patches of snow still in the corries.
Tuesday 9 April
My last two, southron, remaining cousins up for the funeral in Glasgow Cathedral with lots of good music. I demur at the Minister opening the proceedings by saying, 'We are all gathered in the sure and certain knowledge that through Jesus Christ we shall…' I forget what. Go to Heaven? I wasn't. And I don't know how many others were. Very nice reception afterwards (Funerals are jollier than weddings. You are all on the same side. At weddings half the people there you don't know, don't madly want to know, and will not meet again) and a lot of old friends, though looking, well, old.
Thursday 11 April
For Tuesday I had booked four tickets for 'Swan Lake' in Edinburgh, but couldn't, myself, go. My friends were so enthusiastic about the performance (The Prince as a repressed wimp surrounded by grandees who dreams of a better world with gentle, in this production male, swans) that I staggered through this evening. After galloping up Fleshmarket Close I felt like Borrachio at the beginning of Webster's 'The White Devil': 'Quite lost, Flamineo' and almost lay down on the pavement to die. However I found the restaurant where I was meeting a friend, had a large whisky and enjoyed the performance. Alistair said: 'What do you think it's about?' I said: 'It is the story of my life.'
Tuesday 16 April
To 'Othello' done very straightforwardly (a welcome rarity) by the National Youth Theatre and clearly and intelligently spoken. Othello groped his way towards the bed and into 'Soft you a word or two before you go' without any sense that this was a famous monologue, which I found very moving. Suspect Boito and Verdi contrived a finer ending for the opera. The Herald said it was 'rather middle-aged for a young company.' I fear that's why I liked it.
Wednesday 17 April
Decided not to go to the Philosophical Dinner.
Friday 19 April
A strange bright light in the sky, which has turned an odd blue colour. Nevertheless, decided not to go to the Glasgow Art Fair.
Tuesday 23 April
Measured for new carpets for drawing room and hall. Intricate discussion on carpet types and modalities. Will they be able to move the grand piano? And take away the old carpets? Answer: Yes, at a price. To choose what I want tomorrow.
Wednesday 24 April
My first Meeting of Council of the Philosophical. Too long and too boring. The only important question, not discussed, is whether, approaching its bicentenary, that notable old Society is past its 'sell-by' date or if, and how, it might become 'born again.'
Friday 26 April
Decided not to go to conference on Ethics at the College of Physicians.
Sunday 28 April
Informal meeting to honour Rob Logan, our local councillor, who lost his seat in the recent reformed elections. He was for 20 years a first rate constituency councillor and lost it only because he was, alas, a Tory. Nobody at the party accepted this blatant fact.
Monday 29 April
To the ophthalmologist. I have always hated games and was bored stiff in half an hour trying to arrange colours between blue and yellow, but quite liked spotting how many lights there were in my visual fields. My approaching blindness of a year ago has gone away. Kenneth McKellar reminded me of the old senate who, told he would go blind if he didn't give up whisky, considered, and said: 'Well, doctor, I think maybe I've seen enough already.'
To see Ian McKellen's film of 'Richard III.' Very wild, very funny, and a towering performance from Ian. Also brilliantly scripted by I McK and Mr W S. The iambic pentameter first appears after 10 minutes of action, and 'Now is the Winter of our discontent' is delivered at a Royal Ball and to Edward, 'this Sun of York.' The ending, too, wonderfully cheats the audience into saying, 'Oh, come on. This is getting too much like a bloody gangster movie,' and then mocks us by indicating that that is precisely what Shakespeare wrote.
Tuesday 30 April
Nice birthday lunch chez James Cairncross in Edinburgh for Elspeth Cochrane, who was my theatrical agent, was the first stage manager at the Citizens, in the Athenaeum (1943) and also the Stratford Festival Theatre in Ontario (1953). Still running her agency and a unique source of gossip which the theatre lives on as a whale lives on plankton. Also much chat about 'the old days' of Roddy McMillan, John Duncan Macrae, Gibbie, Fulton Mackay – only Andy Keir still acting of that great pre-Havergal generation at the Citizens Theatre.
Glasgow taxi driver says they've been told by the police that in six or seven years only taxis and public transport will be permitted in the city centre. I'm all for that. Why do more people not realise that buying a new car means you throw away some three or four thousand pounds on depreciation? That's a thousand taxis. And you don't have to worry about insurance, batteries, tyres…And a taxi takes you where you want to go. You don't spend half an hour finding a parking space (at a cost) a mile from your destination. And you get lively conversation. I would ban parked cars from residential streets. Well, Hyndland anyway. They seem to say, 'This is my little fortified space, even if I've left it in your
street. It's locked and demobilised; and it will scream if you, or a passing cat, touch it.' Falkland Street, old sepia photos show, was much nicer when children and dogs played outside the front doors and only a single horse-cab might wander round the corner.
Wednesday 1 May
Cold, damp and grey. Why did I come back to this cold doorstep of a country? For a dozen years in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, even the seven-month, cold (-30 degrees) winter had the sun beating down on the permafrost; and on the 7th of April the snow vanished and the temperature rose into the 70s, 80s, 90s and you could plan a barbecue weeks ahead and be all but certain it wouldn't rain.
Reading Catherine Carswell. An old Montrose woman said to her: 'Auld age disna come its lane. Gin it bring naething else it brings sweirdness.’ Delighted to be reminded of that lovely word; meaning 'reluctant, slow, lazy.' Confess I am aft gey sweert myself in this climate.
Friday 3 May
The Tory party, described yesterday as 'cheerfully pessimistic' (a neat oxymoron), have lost 567 local government seats and are trying to persuade the public that this is a sign – as they didn't lose even more – that everything is going according to plan. Please may they be kicked out soon, before they do more damage at home and abroad.
Saturday 4 May
Fortunately watched the snooker semi-final between Peter Ebdon (who won 16/14) and Ronnie O'Sullivan. Yesterday Ebdon led 11/6 but lost the next five frames. O'Sullivan romped round the table, addressing his next shot before the referee had replaced the black, potting everything, leaving the cue ball in exactly the right position, thumping the blue into a middle pocket and scattering the cluster of reds, potting the brown and miraculously making the cue ball do a delicate 'S' figure to push the pink off the cushion and just outside a pocket. A break of 137 in just over six minutes. At the end of the match Ebdon embraced him and said: 'That is the greatest snooker I have ever seen. You are a genius.'
Sunday 5 May
My lawyer, approaching retirement, took up the cello a couple of years ago: so I suggested we play Haydn Trios – which experienced cellists hate because they have so little to do. But too fast for us, though we have a good pianist who rattles through them. Have taken to salon pieces by Elgar and Granados. Much better (tho' still, to the outside ear, I'm sure bloody awful). But we are beginning to listen to each other. I roasted a chicken for dinner, a great success. I was even complimented on my bread sauce, although I toasted the bread and fried the onions, which is not gastronomically correct, and was not intended.
Wednesday 8 May
I had to work hard on Sunday to make myself heard. A friend had pointed out that the top of my fiddle was coming unstuck. Took it to the fiddle-maker. There is also a long crack on the belly, so it will cost a hundred pounds to repair. The fiddle belonged to my grandfather and is 110 years old. Shall I play like Perleman when it is repaired? No.
Called on Cliff Hanley, getting a wee thing auld but in excellent spirits. He is to get an Oscar at the Film Theatre next week for 'Seawards the Great Ships' which has been cheered up and reprinted. Also someone is writing his biography. 'Well, if it amuses him: I have the time.'
Friday 10 May
To dinner in the Glasgow Art Club for William Crosbie, painting better than ever. When I first joined the Art Club in 1948, Bill and David Donaldson were, as they still are in their 80s, the two best painters in the West of Scotland. I'm very disappointed in their acolytes. When I came back from Canada I immediately rejoined the Club, but didn't feel at home, as I did when the great Jennie Law ran it and, of an evening, you could drop in and have splendid, if not always altogether sober, conversations, round the (now hideously stained and peeling) light oak octagonal tables in the Gallery. I went in once or twice recently and one of the girls was reading a novel in front of the fire. I'm seldom down town when the Club is busy at lunchtime, so I resigned. I shall not miss their exhibitions. The Crosbies showed how fine the Gallery looks with good paintings on the walls.
Sunday 12 May
Last of many attempts to make my video machine record all four channels. Success. It took me two and a half hours. Why is it that no one over the age of 10 can handle these machines? There are only six steps of instruction and I'm not stupid. I think older people read too much into them: but they really aren't clear or specific; e.g. it says: Press the button and search for the next situation. It should say: Press the button briefly and the machine
will search for the next station. It took me an hour to discover that simple fact.
Wednesday 16 May
Finally, after three visits, replaced the bulb socket in the bathroom in my studio. It was in a glass bowl on the ceiling and the heat had reduced the whole thing to a frangible nothing. Had to go back home for (a) screwdriver, (b) pliers, (c) scissors, (d) binding tape. How many geriatrics does it take to change a light bulb? One if he lives long enough.
Thursday 17 May
M Chirac and Chancellor Kohl have both gallantly eaten British beef (though the Euroexperts have decline to raise the ban). Quite right, too, all of them. Old people ought to keep the farmers and butchers in business. If Chirac or Kohl had brought a couple of children with them, would they have eaten, or been offered, the same fodder?
We may be on the verge of an epidemic of a new form of Creutzfeld Jakob's disease which seems to be related to Mad Cow disease. Sure, it's not yet proven. But a cholera epidemic was halted in London by 'removing the handle of the Broad Street pump,' demonstrating that you don't have
to wait for final proof to behave sensibly. This is a major question about our children's health, and a question for rational scientific study. Europhobia should have no part in the debate. (And, anyway, the nice Americans and New Zealanders banned our beef six years ago.)
Odd, then, that our
veterinarians (and the French because we stood alone in supporting their atom bomb tests in the South Pacific) are quite sure the beef is safe, while others are not. The French have just had their 19th case of BSE and slaughtered (as we used to do for Foot and Mouth) the whole herd of 62 beasts. We have had, what? 162,000 cases and done virtually nothing. So much for the sloppy, careless foreigners.
Friday 18 May
To opening of the Norman and Janey Buchan Reading Room at the Caledonian University. Janey has given the new university a raft of books and spoke, as ever, wittily and outrageously. The University's top brass were immensely kind and jolly. I'm converted to the view that more universities are A Good Idea
. Sure, it may be that standards can, perhaps must, drop; but the graduates of even the newest universities have had a decent education.
Saturday 19 May
To the GFT, umquhile Cosmo Cinema, to honour the late George Singleton. Born on the morning of 1 January 1900, he rather wanted to see the new millennium, but missed it by five years. Ah, the French and Russian movies we saw on grey afternoons at the Cosmo. George insisted that he didn't do it for the public, or for culture; he did it for the Singletons. But that was the most acceptable face of capitalism: now long absurd, alas.
Tuesday 21 May
Mr Major has declared war on the European Union. Well, the Falklands War won Mad Meg loadsa votes. But, Madness. Madness.
Thursday 23 May
New carpets. A tiresome day, with the smell of new carpets, hot irons and bits and pieces all over the place: but it’s a great success – getting rid of brown and worn green and having new sand-colours which are light and bright, as they say, 'whatever the weather.'
Friday 24 May
Lunch at Rogano (so called, my host discovered, because the founders were called Rogers and Anderson) with an old college friend, and two nice wee, douce white-haired ladies, also college colleagues. One used to be a tall, Spanish-looking lady and the other a big hockey-playing type. Why do I find Glasgow ladies so much nicer in their old age than I did when they, and, I guess, I, were young?
Tuesday 28 May
To the Maly Theatre at the Tramway. 'Claustrophobia' didn't enchant me as much as their earlier 'Guadeamus' but it is an extraordinary company of young, athletic, talented people who have rehearsed for months. Must say, I prefer theatre to be written by playwrights. Brilliant improvisations in the rehearsal room don't always stand up to perpetual repetition. 'He who binds to himself a joy/ Does the winged life destroy;/ But he who kisses the joy as it flies/ Lives in eternity's sunrise.' And the contemporary Russian satire was largely lost on me, though not on my young companions. I felt it was like watching 'Have I Got News For You' in Chinese in the Beijing version.
Thursday 30 May
Ghost from the past. John Malcolm was in a play of mine, away back in 1962, about 'Muir of Huntershill' in Pitlochry and wanted a copy. He, later, had a good claim to be the person who decided there should be plays at the Traverse. We forget what exciting times these were: and what remarkable and life-enhancing chaps Jim Haynes and Ricky Demarco and (a little later on) Nicky Fairbairn were in dreary old Edinburgh.
Friday 31 May
Douglas Young said, quoting one of his ancient Greeks, that you should always end on an up-beat. So…The sun is shining, if a little bleakly. There is almost enough blue in the sky to make a pair of breeks for a hielandman. If the June solstice comes, can Spring be far behind?
(Well, that's it. Maybe Maeterlinck should have his head examined.)
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