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March 2007 Archives

March 11, 2007

Taking the plunge

With 100,000 blogs being started daily, why do I dare to add to the blogosphere? Two reasons, mainly: recently life has become more interesting than usual: next month I'm setting off for Nepal for the first time so I'm hoping to keep up the blog from internet cafes ... With handwriting like mine, this makes more sense than scribbling in a tent by headtorch. As a total newbie, I see blogging simply as writing a legible personal diary that's public rather than private.

The other reason is last weekend's Independent Publishers Guild conference. Mark Thwaite's excellent talk was on ReadySteadyBook and the blogosphere, and led me to the Snowbooks blog which proves that a publisher blog can be readable. I was thrilled when my friend Philip Kogan won the IPG Lifetime Achievement Award. I've known him for over 30 years, learned a lot from him, and he has always fought the corner for the independent publisher. By coincidence, Snowbooks shares the Kogan Page premises, so clearly the time had come. We are a 21st century publisher, therefore we need a blog: does this follow? Time will tell.

I don't know about the second day of IPG as I had a more important commitment. Flying home to host grand-daughter Amy's first birthday party, I just made it 20 minutes before guests arrived. What a total contrast, just lovely to see babies crawling, clambering, smiling and interacting: here is Amy with her cake:

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March 13, 2007

A grand finale for my father

I've never been to a Memorial Service before, so flying to London to speak at the Lincoln's Inn service for the late Sir Robert Megarry, my father, to a congregation of over 150 distinguished lawyers, friends and family was triply terrifying: concern about the journey timing, the imperative for self-control, and the total lack of any precedent in my lifetime. Unlike at the family funeral when I spoke about him from my heart, this time I had only to read somebody else's words: Bessie Stanley's essay on Success.

This was a much less difficult task than speaking at his funeral which followed his death on 11 October 2006. But in nearly 60 years of making myself, from time to time, do some bold things, I had never been so terrified. An hour later, even after uplifting music from the choir and Susan Anderson singing Dido's Lament, I was still hyperventilating, dry-mouthed with heart thumping, despite no physical exertion, no altitude challenge, no rational explanation. Only after the second glass of wine did my nervous system begin to calm down.

The event took place in Lincoln's Inn yesterday, and the Chapel was full, with people standing at the back. Bryan Garner, who edited my father's book A New Miscellany-at-Law (published when R.E.M. was 95 years old), had flown in from Texas to read an extract about arbitration by hen turkey. Representatives of his old school, Lancing College, were there in strength. Sir Martin Nourse gave the eulogy, which was both erudite and wonderfully affectionate: download it here. It makes a wonderful counterpart to the close-up and personal obituary in the Independent of last October.

The service was a grand celebration of R.E.M.'s 96 years, and the whole family is grateful to Lincoln's Inn for organising it. Here is Anthony Morris' fine portrait of my father which the Inn commissioned in 2001:

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March 15, 2007

Seeing London afresh

Although I grew up in London, Tuesday was the first day I really saw the city afresh. With the high emotion of Monday's Memorial Service laid to rest, we went (I with husband Keir, son Sandy, sister Lindsay and brother-in-law Nick) to Dulwich Picture Gallery for their Canaletto in England (1746-55) exhibition. There's an extraodinarily timeless quality to many of these paintings, with gentle folk seemingly always at leisure, skies always blue and London's waterfront echoing shades of the Venetian lagoon. His paintings of Westminster Bridge, completed 1750 despite the bitter opposition of the Thames watermen, were particularly striking.

Later, on a whim I boarded the London Eye, finally fulfilling an intention dormant for the last seven years. It was a warm spring day, and by chance this was the perfect time to go, with a huge red sun kissing the horizon just as our capsule glided smoothly to the top of its 450-foot trajectory. At that moment, with the sunset glow over classical buildings, the floodlighting on the Houses of Parliament and Whitehall, with Westminster Bridge looking as great as Canaletto painted it, London really was beautiful. Although London often seems infuriatingly dirty, crowded and expensive, I intend on future visits to see it as if from the Eye and try to forget that I was a Londoner originally.

And so, finally, to the Gielgud for Equus, which made the deepest impression on me when I saw the NT production (with Peter Firth and Alec McCowen) on tour in 1974. Not many evenings stand out all that clearly 33 years later (!), and I was keen to see whether and how Peter Shaffer's play would withstand my high expectations. I needn't have worried: Richard Griffiths's self-doubting psychologist was conversational, credible and caring. Daniel Radcliffe's 17-year old Alan was convincing enough to create "that willing suspension of disbelief" - as well as moving well while naked, to the obvious delight of an audience with an unusual proportion of young women. Led by dancer Will Kemp, the horses were magical: balletic, athletic and palpably equine. This powerful play starts from a shocking (true) incident, cleverly delves into Alan's past, and ends by romanticising his pain and passion - but it certainly has stood the test of time.

March 18, 2007

A family weekend

Stirling Literary Society organised its Spring outing to Perth Theatre yesterday: the play was Humble Boy, written in 2001 by Charlotte Jones. Perth Theatre is great - a West End theatre in miniature - and this was the play's first professional production in Scotland. Felix Humble is a 35-year old astrophysicist who struggles to accept his bee-keeping father's death and his mother's new life. The script combines verbal wit in a middle-class, middle-England dysfunctional family with some splendid black farce involving accidental soup seasoning with the dead father's ashes: think Alan Ayckbourn meets Tom Stoppard. Jones weaves astrophysics, bee-keeping and psychology into the plot, and it's well written, with a superb cast.

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Back home, daughter Helen and grand-daughter Amy were waiting. This was a momentous weekend in Amy's life, as she in the process of moving on from her first few faltering steps to walking as her preferred mode of transport. Each time she sustains the vertical for a bit longer, cue enthusiastic applause, with Amy joining in and sometimes collapsing as a result. Our black lab Bramble is tolerant of this "incompetent puppy", but puzzled by all the fuss. After all, her own pups had walked within their first weeks. Happily, Bramble tolerates Amy's assaults with calm good nature - even when Amy invades her bed:

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One great thing about babies is how they put you back in touch with the child inside yourself. Under Amy's influence I have been rediscovering swimming (we are teaching each other). And only today I discovered a movie button on my camera in order to capture her walking, so the next step will be to find out how to upload it to my blog. Until then, the still photos above will have to do.

March 21, 2007

Xtreme Everest and the media

It's less than a month since my birthday, but already I am scheming to spend my next one having more fun. Somehow, scrambling over steep, slippery rock in Snowdonia in persistent rain wasn't quite what I had in mind when I enrolled in the Xtreme Everest expedition. I am one of 200+ volunteers undergoing medical tests at various altitudes from sea level to Everest Base Camp (5300m/17,400 ft) to assist research into the effects of low oxygen (hypoxia) on brain, blood and breathing. The mystery is why some folk tolerate lack of oxygen so much better than others.

Our group of 17 leaves for Nepal on 7 April. At least the Snowdonia weekend let some of us meet and we do some team-building stuff – more fun than getting soaked and drained. Sea level testing had taken a full day in London in January, and included cycling on an exercise bike until you drop from exhaustion - in my case at a heart rate of 185 beats per minute. I am not looking forward to repeating this at altitude! It has also emerged that the innocuous-sounding daily "diary" requires a series of measurements before and after a step test that I found tiring even at sea-level. It seems that we have to do this daily, first thing, without so much as a cup of tea first!

The weird thing is that the press thinks this is a story. After seven years of beavering away as a publisher of Rucksack Readers, suddenly there's one feature after another. This week alone there's a story in The Bookseller, a feature in Country Walking magazine and a centrefold imminent in the Stirling Observer. People trek to Everest Base Camp all the time, but it seems that the combination of grandmother, EBC and medical research pushes all the buttons. I am bemused by visits and phone calls from reporters, and a photo-shoot takes longer than I could have imagined. Mustn't be ungrateful though, it will probably be at least another seven years before anybody notices us again – if ever!

March 23, 2007

Dumyat, Rennie McOwan and Stirling Literary Society

Yesterday the air was gin-clear, visibility superb, so I abandoned the office email mountain in favour of taking Bramble up a local hill, Dumyat, which has a Pictish fort, dog-friendly access and a view of the entire carse (the flood plain of the Forth). The views yesterday were captivating: to the north and west the snow-capped mountains, to the south Stirling Castle, the Wallace Monument and the sites of seven battlefields in the foreground, with the Pentlands and Moorfoots behind.

To appreciate Dumyat fully, read Rennie McOwan's chapter in our anthology Call of the Wild, which we published for the Outdoor Writers Guild. Rennie grew up in Dumyat's shadow, it was his playground, and he immortalised it in his wonderful novel for children Light on Dumyat. A well-known author and broadcaster, now semi-retired, he still sometimes speaks in local schools. Years ago, my daughter Helen came home from school full of the excitement of hearing him talk. And there's nothing like hearing the author in person to breathe life into literature.

I was reminded of this on Monday, when crime writer Christopher Brookmyre spoke to Stirling Literary Society - a group that, like Friends of the Ochils, was founded by Rennie McOwan. He read a wonderful extract from A tale etched in blood and hard black pencil which is about to come out in paperback - lots of us bought signed advance copies on the night - quite a coup for SLS! Not merely a gripping and amusing crime novel, it's essential reading for anybody interested in children and schooling. It's a vivid, authentic evocation of the casual cruelty of the playground, and the licensed abuse by some teachers, in the west of Scotland in the 1970s. It rings true, but it's also very, very funny. Brookmyre's website is lively, but oddly it shows the wrong colour on the jacket image: etched in blood should be red, not blue, obviously. Not many people have this book yet!

March 28, 2007

Kintyre and its Way

I spent the last two days in Kintyre, visiting Campbeltown for an event to support and develop tourism surrounding the Kintyre Way. This new long-distance walk opened in August 2006, and we are publishing a guidebook for it in October. Co-author Sandra Bardwell and I will do the research trip in May, but this was a golden opportunity to meet some of the people we want to work with, and also to get my first taste of the peninsula. The drive from Dunblane via Loch Lomond and Loch Fyne was wonderful, with stunning scenery on both coastlines, Atlantic and Firth of Clyde.

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Campbeltown has a fantastic natural harbour sheltered by Davaar Island, seen above at sunrise just before the event. It was held in the Aqualibrium, a glaring white concrete cylinder housing a leisure centre and "family room" with appalling acoustics where our sessions were held – seriously headache-inducing for group work. What on earth must it be like when full of noisy children? Colin Hossack of the Forestry Commission gave us an inspiring presentation on the assets of Kintyre for the walker, and Steve Duncan provided the Visitscotland perspective.

Before the start, I had a look at the wonderful Lorne and the Lowland, known locally as the Longrow Church. Its tall tower dominates the skyline from Campbeltown Loch. An early work by John Burnet (1869), its wonderful sweeping curves create the warmest, most welcoming interior of any church I've visited. It's encouragingly well looked after, and obviously plays an active role at the heart of the community. I was lucky enough to find workmen repairing the roof, so I was able to get inside with my camera:

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The only downside of my trip was over 40 midge-bites from my lochside evening walk. If that's what they're like in March, what must it be like in high summer? (Postscript 3.4.07: still itching badly, over a week later!)

March 30, 2007

Wind turbines and the Ochils

I'm deeply sorry to learn that Clackmannanshire Council has narrowly voted to approve the Burnfoot 13-turbine wind farm above Tillicoultry. I was one of over 100 objectors, both as an individual and as a member of Friends of the Ochils, the society started by Rennie McOwan. The Ochils provide an island of wilderness not only for those living in and near Stirling, Alloa and central Scotland, but also for Glasgow and Edinburgh. They offer hills and moorland of character and distinction, which walkers can traverse by ancient Rights of Way. These huge turbines (102 m tall) will be close to their highest top, Ben Cleuch (721 m), and will intrude on the skyline for many Ochil walkers.

The Ochils should be conserved in their wild state for our grandchildren, not despoiled by the distorted economics of subsidised turbine construction. The Ochils are under siege, not only from proposed windfarms (two approved and four more the subject of public inquiry) but also by the Beauly to Denny power line. As Stuart Dean said "we could be sleepwalking to a disaster in the Ochils".

Wind farms should be small and designed for local needs, such as those in Gigha. Large-scale turbines, if we must have them, should be out at se, but we should also invest in other, more reliable forms of renewable power and do more with hydro schemes. The turbines are productive only when the wind is right – not too little, not too much – but they ruin the horizon 24/7/365.

It's already too late for the first Highland vista for visitors heading north on the A9 from Dunblane: the Braes of Doune windfarm already ruins that. I know that its 36 turbines were manufactured in Campbeltown, and I can see why windfarms are more popular in Kintyre because they bring much-needed jobs. But already the blades are being manufactured elsewhere, and it can't be long before UK labour costs mean that these huge, ugly devices are wholly imported. Why don't we account for the major energy demands involved in their manufacture and transport before permitting them to spread at such terrible cost to our beautiful scenery? This is utter folly!

About March 2007

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in March 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2007 is the next archive.

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