Edinburgh in the Spring 2008 – the DDRA weekend

Spring arrived only just in time. A week earlier we’d still had a dusting of snow on the Pentland Hills and there was a biting cold wind even on the opening Friday evening – it wasn’t only our American visitors who were well wrapped up! Fortunately the sun appeared on Saturday and Sunday with rather warmer conditions, though it was back to cold again on Monday.

At the beginning of the week I’d been happy to escape the last minute preparations and welcome Mickey and Jerry Thies who had come over for a holiday to lead up to the weekend. I fear it was too cold for Jerry to get much golf in but I hear they managed a tour to Loch Ness amongst others. It was good to see them again after a few years gap.

For the committee the weekend really got under way with a four hour meeting on the Friday afternoon, though work commitments meant I missed the first hour and a half.

For the members the weekend started with a drink and an excellent buffet meal in the Sheraton Hotel. Numbers were up on previous years so this was a chance to get to know new people as well as greet old friends. I was sitting with two new members, Jayne and Alison, both of whom I’d had correspondence with, so it was good to be able to put faces to names and find things in common to chat about. Later I was able to enjoy a drink with Olive Depont and husband Kell who I hadn’t seen for a few years, and discuss Scottish History and Whisky.

Saturday meant an early start for the committee to get everything ready for the day’s events. I took along the portrait of Dorothy by Emilio Coia to show to the members and watch over the proceedings. Hurried consultations on running order and then it was time to make the opening address followed by the Chairman’s report and Membership report. Fortunately I’m pretty used to public speaking but so much talking certainly dries the throat.

AGMs are unpredictable events; sometimes they’re over in minutes and no-one wants to say anything, other times everyone wants to speak and the points made are expanded on and debated at length. That is the way of things and you cannot tamper with it. On this occasion discussion was plentiful and we overran our estimated time by over an hour, necessitating a rearrangement of lunch and a recess and later return to the AGM proceedings.

Prior to lunch we had Betty Moxon’s illuminating talk and slide-show on the trip she and others took to Timbuktu. I have little doubt that this kindled some feelings of wanderlust amongst many of her audience as she showed an obvious love of the country and its people along with some excellent photographs. Betty’s fellow traveller Jonquil finished off with a demonstration of turban wrapping Mali style.

Timbuktu was one of the very few places that Dorothy didn’t visit in her research – at the time she wanted to go there a war was taking place and the Foreign Office advised against it. She once told me that she regretted not going anyway. Such was her dedication to getting everything right.

Lunch, with views of Edinburgh Castle and the daffodills on the banks leading up to the Esplanade now bathed in sunshine, was followed by a talk from an old friend of the association, Doreen Grove of Historic Scotland, on the history and architecture of Rowallan Castle. Doreen always speaks with enthusiam as well as expertise and this was no exception.  She was followed by a colleague at Historic Scotland, the multi-talented Vajira Premadasa, who played us some delightful lute music – much of it from music books from the castle itself. I could happily have listened to much more of this and it gave us all an insight into the sort of music that Lymond and Philippa might have played.

After the resumption and finish of the AGM we all went off to prepare for the evening dinner. An excellent meal was followed by an address from our Honorary member and dear friend Charles Burnett, who had shown an unexpected talent as a prize draw announcer earlier in the day! As always he spoke well and finished up with a toast to Dorothy’s memory.

A well-deserved presentation was then made to Olive Millward who has been organising the AGM weekend for the last four years. She later showed the present to everyone – a lovely necklace made of red Murano glass.

The final part of a happy evening was a perfectly phrased recitation of epic poet and tragedian William McGonagle’s Tay Bridge Disaster by Ann Buchanan. I foresee this being a regular favourite at future events!

I didn’t go on the Sunday trip to Dirleton and Tantallon as the demand for places was so high this year that I didn’t want to deprive anyone of the chance of seeing them. Living locally I’ve been there a few times, while for some it might be their only chance of visiting. So I’m afraid I have no photos of this year’s events since it isn’t appropriate for the Chairman to hide behind a camera during the Saturday events. If anyone has any good ones I’d love to see them. The Sunday weather seemed sunny though I’ve little doubt that there would be a cool sea breeze on the coast. Hopefully everyone enjoyed it.

Messages are now coming in from those arriving home. I trust that all felt the journeys well worthwhile and that we’ll see them again before too long. Thanks for your company!

Wanted – your favourite Dunnett descriptions

One of the delights of reading Dunnett are those marvellous one-liners and short descriptions that perfectly capture the scene or character that she is writing about. Sometimes they make you laugh out loud, sometimes they give you that perfect visual image that helps cement the moment in your mind.

In the latest issue of Whispering Gallery, the magazine of the DDRA, I mentioned that I felt that one way to try to attract new readers might be to collect some of these little fragments of linguistic magic, and when trying to convert a potential reader to point them to them to whet their literary appetites. So that’s what I intend to do here on the Dunnett Blog, and I’d like your help in doing so.

Send me your favourite quotes, not just the well-known set pieces but those almost incidental ones that enlighten our view of a character or place or critical moment in that way that only she could. I’ll collect them together and publish them here and then archive them on the main site once we have a big enough collection.

Here’s one of my favourite short ones to start you off.

“Quarrelling with the Prince of Barrow was like fighting a curtain.”

Doesn’t that just provide the perfect visual counterpoint to Lymond’s attempts to talk round the singular Phelim O’Liam Roe?

While a slightly longer one gives Will Scott the essence of just how important and burned into Lymond’s psyche is the captive lady in the tower.

My brilliant devil, my imitation queen; my past, my future, my hope of heaven and my knowledge of hell … Margaret, Countess of Lennox.

I’m looking forward to hearing your favourites.

Berwick wants to be Scottish again

Dunnett readers will likely be familiar with the history of Berwick-upon-Tweed, once one of the most important ports on the east coast of Britain, and a town which changed hands between Scotland and England at least 14 times as the border wars raged and the border itself moved back and forth. It eventually became English for the last time in the 15th century and so it has remained despite having a somewhat unique diplomatic status for a long time. However it has retained a somewhat dual character – some of its services being supplied by English authorities and some by Scottish ones. The local football team, Berwick Rangers, plays in the Scottish league and the rugby team plays in the Scottish Rugby Union leagues.

Recently there have been suggestions from members of the Scottish National Party that Berwick should return to Scottish rule and the head of Berwick Council is said to be largely in favour. The local newspaper has been running an unofficial poll and apparently about 79% of the inhabitants are in favour of becoming Scottish. Could it happen? Well the differences between Scots and English law might make things a bit tricky but as a Scot I’d love to see it. And I reckon Wat Scott would have been well chuffed!

Laudable Vices – my new malt whisky blog

A little off-topic this one but I know there are many members of some of the on-line Dunnett discussion groups who will recognise the term “Laudable Vices”. We’ve often discussed malt whisky because Dorothy and Alastair were both very fond of a dram and experts on the subject, and it’s kicked off many entertaining off-topic threads.

So I hope some of you will drop by a new malt whisky blog – Discover Whisky – that my good friend Mike and I have been working on. Mike is a fan of Speyside malts while I am more of a islands enthusiast so we should have some interesting discussions and hopefully connect up with a few people on the way. We’ve already got some comments from people on Islay and I’m dreaming of going back there.

We’ll be doing a series of tastings (such an onerous task!) over the next few months and hopefully developing it all into a useful resource and discussion area for enthusiasts. Please come and join us and if you like what you find then please mention us or link to the site from your blogs or journal entries so others can do the same.