Yesterday was a very beautiful day here in L’Écosse Profonde; 27 degrees Celsius, and the prospect from a quiet country road heading north from Stirlingshire into Perthshire full of the intense greenery of high summer. I was reminded of an ancient BBC Radio 2 programme in which the anchor would ham up a kind of posh Scottishness: “Greetings to you. This is Desmond Carrington, speaking to you from my home in rural Purthsheer, Scutland…” He evoked the vision of an aristocratic Caledonia that has ceased to exist, if it ever did, and the image of an ancient country seat buried at the head of a remote glen, occupied by Buchanesque figures like Sir Archie Roylance and Sandy Arbuthnot, 16th Lord Clanroyden, receiving mysterious visitors in fore-and-aft deerstalker hats and ulster wraps, descending from shooting brakes before the grand entrance to the ancestral pile. Conjuring this image, and just when I thought summer might last forever, clouds began to amass all around the horizon, and the atmosphere became heavy and foreboding. Back home, around 7 pm, the heavens opened. In the still air, the downpour was intense, the stair rods absolutely vertical.
Meanwhile, England is parched. No green and pleasant land. The drought is official. There are hosepipe bans. And there are mutterings. Why have no reservoirs been created for many decades? What is the government going to do about it? Where, incidentally, is the government?
If I were an entrepreneur, I would construct a desalination plant, on a ship. If hot dry summers are the future, then my ship would anchor at the nearest port to the area of drought, and simply desalinate the waters in which she lay. I could put my idea in front of Dragons’ Den. “Let me get this straight,” that great heavyweight Scottish bruiser on the panel would say. “You wanna traipse around the coast in your boat, dock, and change the water into wine. How’re you gonna pump the fresh water into the reservoirs? I’m out!”
Work in progress. Perhaps I should attend the hustings coming up in Perth tomorrow and put my idea forward to Mr Sunak and Ms Truss. But, not being a member of the Tory party, I don’t suppose I’d get in. Security will be very tight, tighter than ever, after what happened last week in Chautauqua. J. K. Rowling expressed her sympathy on social media, and then received threats herself. The moral of the tale is, don’t have anything to do with social media.
Today, cloud, and thundery showers, are expected. The end of the golden weather? I’m glad I’ve spent the greater part of the last fortnight out of doors. For example, last week I had two long walks in Edinburgh. With the festival in full swing, Princes Street, the Bridges, and the Royal Mile are heaving, but in Edinburgh you only need to depart from the square mile and you would never know the festival was on. Out west, I parked in Ingliston Park & Ride, by the airport, and walked the ten miles into town following the tram route: Gogarburn, Edinburgh Gateway, Gyle Central, Edinburgh Park Central… here passing the sculpted busts on plinths of the great Scottish poets of the twentieth century. Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley MacLean, Tom Leonard, Hamish Henderson, Liz Lochhead, Edwin Morgan, to name a few. Leonard has the most acute ear for the voice of Glasgow:
stull wayiz urryi
You can hear Tom Leonard read The six o’clock news online. It is simultaneously profound, and absolutely priceless.
…Edinburgh Park Station, Bankhead, Saughton, Balgreen, Murrayfield, Haymarket, West End, Princes Street, St Andrews Square. I jumped on a tram and retraced my route back to the beginning.
And on another day I walked the seven hills, anticlock: Corstorphine, Craiglockhart… Another encounter with poetry. Here at the old hospital, Wilfred Owen met Siegfried Sassoon.
It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped…
The half rhyme – escaped/scooped – produces a forlorn cadence like the dying fall of a whizz-bang crossing over the Ypres salient. Here in Edinburgh, Owen must have observed the crowds on Princes Street, at six o’clock.
In twos and threes, they have not far to roam,
Crowds that thread eastward, gay of eyes;
Those seek no further than their quiet home,
Wives, walking westward, slow and wise.
Owen is sensitive and Keatsian, but Sassoon is hard as nails.
Somehow I always thought you’d get done in
Because you were so desperate keen to live…
I used to think that Owen and Sassoon at Craiglockhart were lost to the remote past, but from the top of Craiglockhart Hill I can see a ship in harbour at Leith. It is not a desalination plant; it is a floating hotel for Ukrainian refugees. It looks very smart. At least it is not a hulk. But the Great War no longer seems remote to me. It now seems quite possible that it could lie ahead of us.
…Braid Hills, Blackford Hill, Arthur’s Seat, Calton, and finally, Castle Hill. Now there is no escaping the heaving crowds. I tried to blag my way on to the castle esplanade but was politely turned away. That’s okay. I’ve previously attended the military tattoo, twice. I remember last time, at the close, a disembodied voice with the comforting timbre of Tom Fleming advised us to sleep easily in our beds, “whiles we’ll guerd the toon.” I can’t say I felt reassured. But I never think it’s a good idea to disparage the army. You never know when you might have need of one.