I hope when this piece is published I will have moved into my new residence. I also hope that everything I haven't consigned to the storage unit will fit in, because the previous owner has taken his shed with him as it had sentimental associations, having been erected by his partner's grandpa. Unfortunately, there's no garage either, so I will be keen to replace the shed to retrieve my stuff from the storage unit.
The last week has been taken up with being even more ruthless with sending books to the charity shop – it's fascinating to decide that writers you once really rated have lost their appeal. Maybe predictably, the survivors include Buchan and Chandler (my heroes), Angela Carter and TF Powys (I must get round to reading his brother JC, but Mr Weston's Good Wine
is one of my favourite books ever). But having downsized my books by half, there was then the question of what research documents I dumped. At the time of writing I am still swithering. I have several boxes marked 'Leadership ****' (that is, silly stuff on a category that is often confused with hero or celebrity worship), 'Esoterica' – now that might be interesting to re-read, 'Interesting Material on Religion' – is it still? And 'The Personality of Organisations' – I might save that for future reference!
If I were more IT comfortable, I wouldn't need paper copies of journal articles, but like McCall Smith's heroine Isabel Dalhousie, I still prefer to read material on paper as I feel more in charge of it. But will I read this stuff again? I think I may need to purchase a really large shed…
One of my reasons for moving from Beautiful Downtown Banchory to the less beautiful village of ****** was the fact that there appeared to be rather more supporters of independence in the latter and less of an oil industry bubble, where those employed by the sector have in some cases developed a rather irritating sense of entitlement. So my first encounter with a local tradesperson went well to begin with as we both deplored the state of Aberdeen, the education system and the road gritting programme.
Then this 'salt of the earth' guy then added: 'It's her
I can't stand! Her down in Edinburgh. All those mistakes she's made!'
'Er, what were those?' I asked, expecting a diatribe on the Gender Recognition Act.
'The ferries of course! She can't get out of that
one!' he announced with glee.
'So what do you think about the mistakes of the other lot? And the fact that their leaders now have criminal records?'
The day was saved by the chap's mate appearing, and not wanting to alienate a useful section of the populace, I said: 'Me and Him have been putting the world to rights, haven't we?'
Memo to self: Do not assume all working-class colleagues will desire independence, especially if they think it will reduce their current living standards. But then, one of my French friends has only achieved joint citizenship after passing all sorts of tests: why shouldn't potential voters have to jump through similar hoops to prove they had taken the process seriously?
Another book I have happily reread several times is JB Priestley's Bright Day
. I'm never totally convinced by Priestley – he could be very good at depicting working-class people without patronising or sentimentalising them, but he had what I now see as an idealised view of 'the English', and in fact his non-fiction book of that name has made its way to the charity shop.
involves several incredible coincidences and an extraordinary denouement, but it is worth reading for his brilliant descriptions of middle-class life in Bruddersford at the time, 1913, just before the First World War, a prosperous Northern English town with a thriving trade in wool. Rather dishonestly, Priestley claims the book is not autobiography, but in part it clearly is, as both he and his fictional self, Gregory, spent time working in the wool trade after their parents died and were given shelter by a kindly aunt and uncle.
For his time, Priestley was very interested in philosophical issues such as the nature of time; like Buchan, he seems to have read the new literature emerging on analytical psychology. Rereading Bright Day
, I came across a page I had turned down, and it's interesting to see why. In the story, young Gregory is intrigued and enchanted (the word is correct here) by a rather bohemian family he meets, the Alingtons, who he invests with a sort of magical glamour (again the word has resonances of being bewitched). His wise older friend Jock suggests to him:
But you mustn't make them stand for more than they ought to stand for, you mustn't turn them into symbols… magic shouldn't come in with people… I think it belongs to our relation with what isn't human, and there I think our ancestors were wiser than we are, because in their universe they left plenty of room for the magical but warned everybody to be careful of it. We pretend it doesn't exist, then smuggle it in through the wrong doors.
This is a powerful description of what Jung called the archetypes, patterns of behaviour which he almost invested with agency, like the gods and goddesses of the Indian, Classical or Norse pantheons. Royalty, and its protagonists, is a powerful archetype which can represent order and stability, or in its negative turn, craze for power and its trappings.
Priestley here is pointing out the danger of mixing archetypes, which are magic and semi-divine, with the real world that is messy and imperfect. And by treating real people like gods and goddesses we do them no favours. Interestingly, in the story, Gregory becomes a script writer for the film industry and gets frustrated that his colleagues don't realise that film stars are not divine beings: 'What we are doing is filling a horrible vacuum, where once there were gods and goddesses and then afterwards saints and guardian angels. We are mythologists…'.
In the story, glamour rebounds on the Alingtons in a tragic way. Similarly, it could be said that all the psychic energy that Daily Mail
readers project onto the Windsor family is as bad for them as it is for their 'worshippers', and perhaps we are already seeing the collapse of a dysfunctional archetype.
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant