Europe Archive

In the pub with McIlvanney

In The Guardian last weekend, Ian Jack wrote of a trip he made for The Sunday Times to Glasgow in 1980, with a brief to “concentrate on its fine architectural legacy and the lifestyle of its middle class”. He went with the Magnum photographer Raymond Depardon, who was much more taken with the Glasgow Jack was trying to avoid: “the drunk, the waif, the grim line of tenements awaiting demolition”. Jack eventually gave in and took him to the Saracen’s Head, where “men with those thin white lines on their cheeks – evidence of a razor slashing – sat drinking and looking ominous”.

The story reminded me of a passage from Laidlaw, the first of a trilogy of detective novels from William McIlvanney, a writer who can build the streets of Glasgow in  a few paragraphs (see my earlier post). McIlvanney calls his pub The Gay Laddie.

In Heaney country

It’s almost a year since the death of Seamus Heaney. Fionnuala McHugh, who was raised in Northern Ireland but is now resident in Hong Kong, explores for Telegraph Travel the poet’s homeland of County Derry, where his father had cut turf and the young Seamus famously chose another path:

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

McIlvanney’s Glasgow

Heading for Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games? Then have a look at the city as it was until recently through the eyes of Detective Inspector Jack Laidlaw. William McIlvanney’s trilogy of Laidlaw novels, Laidlaw (1977), The Papers of Tony Veitch (1983) and Strange Loyalties (1991), had shamefully been out of print until the start of this year, when that enterprising publisher Canongate, which had snapped up his back catalogue, republished them with several of his other titles.

Glasgow — “a hard town but a terrifically warm one”, in the words of McIlvanney — is as central to Laidlaw as Oxford is to Morse or Edinburgh to Rebus. The detective’s view of it, though, is not necessarily one that a tourist board would be keen to promote, especially this year:

“Sunday in the park — it was a nice day. A Glasgow sun was out, dully luminous, an eye with cataract. Some people were in the park pretending it was warm, exercising that necessary Scottish thrift with weather which hoards every good day in the hope of some year amassing a summer.

“The scene was a kind of Method School of Weather — a lot of people trying to achieve a subjective belief in the heat in the hope of convincing one another.  So the father who lay on the grass, railing in his children with his eyes, wore an open-necked shirt, letting the sun get at his goose-pimples. Two girls who were being chatted up by three boys managed to look romantically breeze-blown rather than cold. An old man sitting on a bench had undone the top two buttons of his overcoat, heralding heatwave…

“But it was the children who were most convincing. Running, exploring bushes, they had that preoccupation which is at any time a private climate. It was one of them who found the reality hidden in the park’s charade of warmth.”

Beckett and the lure of Lough Erne

The Irish actor Adrian Dunbar wrote an article for The Observer yesterday that was headlined (in the print version) “Beckett and me”. It was, though, less a piece about staging drama and more a hymn to Dunbar’s home town of Enniskillen – where Beckett spent his school years – and to the watery hinterland of County Fermanagh: “The saying goes that ‘Half the year Lough Erne is in Fermanagh, the other half of the year Fermanagh is in Lough Erne.’ Fermanagh people love these words as they explain exactly the relationship we have with water; sweet water, deep water. We are the boys and girls of the lough.”

Laurie Lee on Slad and Spain

Laurie Lee believed in writing at a distance from his subject. He wrote Cider with Rosie, his memoir of his childhood in the Gloucestershire village of Slad, in a back attic in London; he recalled his wanderings in Spain in a top-floor room in Stroud. In his last recorded radio interview, made available by BBC Radio Gloucestershire again to mark the centenary of his birth, he explains why. He also talks of the “naive innocent idiocies” that took him into Spain on the eve of the Civil War.

Franz Ferdinand’s final journey

Adrian Bridge’s account of his journey in the footsteps of Franz Ferdinand (see previous post) is now online.

‘The Telling Room’ by Michael Paterniti

I’ve just added a review of The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti (Canongate) – flit lit with a difference.

Cornwall: a place set apart

The recognition last week of the Cornish people as an official minority was just a late acknowledgment of a truth, according to Philip Marsden. Their homeland, he writes in The Guardian, is certainly not England.

A tourist at Chernobyl

Alexander Nazaryan, born in Russia and raised mainly in the United States, reports for Newsweek on a visit to what was the scene, in 1986, of the world’s worst nuclear accident: “The toxic cloud that enveloped much of Europe that spring has intrigued me ever since. I can name all of the radionuclides it contained: cesium-137, iodine-131, zirconium-95,  strontium-90, ruthenium-103… But I longed to know its origins, the way a naturalist might yearn to see the source of a river somewhere high in the mountains, simply to fulfil the human need to discover beginnings and pay homage to them.”

A memoir of the Troubles in Belfast

CallMotherjktI’m publishing an extract this week from another book that was on the short list last year for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize, awarded for a work “evoking the spirit of a place”. It’s from Call mother a lonely field by Liam Carson, a memoir of growing up in an Irish-speaking family in Belfast at the time of the Troubles.

The title, incidentally, is borrowed from a song by Jackie Leven, who was lead singer in the 1970s of the band Doll By Doll before going on to a solo career in which he collaborated with, among others, the crime writer Ian Rankin.