To Edinburgh on Thursday, for lunch with two second cousins. Nurse, and doctor. The nurse’s father, (the doctor’s uncle, and my mother’s cousin) was a GP in Paeroa, in the Thames Valley at the foot of the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand’s North Island. I once did a locum for him and it became evident that he was held in high regard by the Maori community. When he died, there was a tremendous outpouring of grief and a huge funeral. I was privileged to be a pall-bearer. The body lay in the local marae for a tangi lasting three days. He was laid to rest to a pibroch played on pipes that had also been played at the Battle of the Somme. There was a chant from the Maori, and the combination of Ceòl Mòr and the ululation of the Maori women was overwhelming.
In Edinburgh, we joked about the douce mores of the inhabitants of the New Town. “I’ve only once been to Glasgow – to the opera.” Was I going to watch the Royal Wedding? No. I asked my cousins what the attraction was. The dress. It’s a girlie thing.
Sunday was The Day of Pentecost. In Acts chapter two St Luke records that on the day of Pentecost, the eleven were filled with the spirit of the Holy Ghost and were able to speak to men of every nation in their own tongue. On the other hand, some people thought the disciples were just pissed. Surely the best rendition of this episode comes from Lorimer’s Translation into Scots of “Acks”.
They war aa ‘maist by themsels, no kennin what tae think, an speirin at ilk ither, “What’s this o’d avà?” tho there wis some geckit an said, “They’r lippin fu o new wine.” But Peter stuid up wi the eleivin aside him an, takkin speech in haund, said tae the croud: “Aa ye Jews an dwallers in Jerusalem, this is something at ye maun ken; tent ye weill what I am tae say tae ye. Thir men isna fu, as ye jalouse: it is but the mids o the forenuin.”
The diametric opposite to this strange tale occurs in Genesis with the description of the Tower of Babel, that absurd ziggurat and monument to man’s hubris. When it all came tumbling down, everybody started talking gibberish and nobody could make himself understood. So we may conclude that if we are full of pride we will be cut off from our fellow beings, but if we are full love we will be one with them. Or, to quote that great chestnut of wedding texts: (Lorimer again)
Gin I speak wi the tungs o men an angels, but hae nae luve i my hairt, I am no nane better nor dunnerin bress or a ringing cymbal.
That I think was the essential message from the Most Reverend Bishop Michael Currie to the Dumbartons on Saturday. Not that I watched. Bah humbug! Instead, I walked round Loch Leven, where they locked up Mary Queen of Scots in 1567-68. I went, as the mathematicians say, in the positive direction, anticlock. It’s a half marathon, a walk full of variety. The insecta are less pestilential on the outgoing, western side of the loch. After forty five minutes I made the gentle ascent to a lookout point which affords a splendid view of the RSPB sanctuary, and on the hour I stopped for refreshment at the RSPB centre. It was quiet. Apparently everybody was either watching the wedding or one or other of the cup finals. Half an hour later, at the south east perimeter of the walk, I became aware of a breath of air and a soft fluttering of wings over my head. An elegant glider, so close that I felt I could have reached up and touched it, passed almost silently over my head and landed on the grass strip at Scotlandwell.
Next there was a woodland walk occasionally through teeming clouds of insects so dense the air was turgid. I thought of turning away from the loch towards the inviting Loch Leven Larder. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…” But a gentle breeze helped and I stayed the course. Back by the water’s edge the vista opened up again and I made the long walk to the sandy cove at the northern end of the loch, before turning west and then south to complete the circuit on the wharf at Kinross. Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken reminded me of another lunch I recently enjoyed with friends in my local, the Lion & Unicorn. A Professor of Statistics, another statistician (retired), a mathematician who teaches in prison, and me. In the words of Alexander Pope,
Here let us feast, and to the feast be joined
Discourse, the sweeter banquet of the mind.
Incidentally, throughout that entire meal nobody once took out their phone, tablet, or “device” (device! – it’s like some sort of therapeutic appurtenance, a prosthesis). What a blessed relief. The conversation turned, after the fashion of Robert Frost, to what each of us might have done, if we had not pursued our respective disciplines.
This is a strange question for me, because I have the strange notion that, in fact, I did choose the other path. I was always a writer. I read Eng Lang & Lit and then I went off at a complete tangent and became a doctor. I think it was in Why I Write that George Orwell said that if he had not been a writer, he would have done violence to his basic personality. And when I read that, I thought, that’s what I did. Yet I can’t say it didn’t work out for me. I guess I just got lucky. Life is unfathomable. But, with respect to the world of letters, I always knew I’d come back.
In the Lion & Unicorn I said I would study modern languages. I have no German, yet when I hear German spoken, I have a sense that I nearly understand it. I am with the eleven in the upper room. I admit that’s absurd. I sound like Lady Catherine de Burgh in Pride and Prejudice who says of the fortepiano, “I could have been a great proficient!”
Back home in the evening, I flicked on the telly and encountered the nuptials at Windsor. I was about to mutter bah humbug again when I chanced to see the beautiful white apparition of the Countess of Dumbarton entering the west door of St George’s Chapel while a treble sang exalted Handelian music. Some sort of mysterious transfiguration occurred. I was completely undermined.