Dunnett Newsletter 27th May 2003

Greetings from EdinburghThis time round we concentrate on the DDRA AGM but before we look at that I’ll bring you up to date on the changes I’ve made recently to the website. At the time of the last newsletter I’d just changed the menu system but in rushing to get it ready before the AGM I’d entirely forgotten that I hadn’t added the necessary alternative CSS files for older browsers like Netscape 4.X – most embarrassing for a web designer, particularly as we seem to have a higher proportion of Netscape users than in the wider world. Incidentally for anyone still using Netscape 4 I can highly recommend the Mozilla browser on which Netscape 7 is based.

When making the necessary changes I found I was still unhappy with the menu layout so I’ve gone right back to basics and stripped out a lot of old code that was left over from previous versions, and replaced it with fully revised style sheets. While it doesn’t look terribly pretty in Netscape 4 it should work correctly, while in the version 5+ browsers it should be a great improvement. If anyone finds any problems with it (for instance I don’t currently have access to a Mac to check it there) then please let me know what platform, operating system and browser you are using.

At the same time I’ve made a few additions. A photograph of Alastair has been added to the Biography page. This was sent to me a few years ago by a reader and I’ve temporarily lost track of who it was (it’ll be somewhere in my 800Mb email database!!), so if you recognise it as yours please tell me so I can credit you. A number of images of Dorothy’s paintings have been added to the Paintings page to go with the picture of Archie. If anyone has any other of Dorothy’s paintings or knows where there are any then I’d love to hear from you. Most of her best work is in private hands but it would be lovely to see if we can get permission to photograph any of it.

I’ve added more photos of Culross from two visits there, and Falkland from the AGM weekend visit, to the Places to Visit pages and added the contents of this newsletter to the AGM reports along with some photos of the event. I’ll be adding more details about both places in the near future.

The Book Covers Page has been split into the current book covers and the older book covers as I’ve added some more images of the older ones and the page was thus getting a bit slow. Additions include a couple of the Johnson Johnson series and three of the Cassell versions of Lymond. The Lymond Poetry cover is on the Book News page.

Since I’m beginning to run out of room on the webspace that I’ve been using I’ve reduced the sizes of some of the older photographs but I may soon have to move the site to commercial space in which case I’ll use the address www.dorothydunnett.co.uk which I registered a while back.

The Lymond Poetry

The book is due to be published in in the UK in June but it doesn’t look as if it will be published in the US. However we were able to get advance copies for the AGM direct from the printers warehouse and I have the remaining unsold copies which Elspeth signed for me. I’ve already sold a number of them by people sending me money via PayPal and if there is sufficient demand I’ll order some more when these run out. I also have copies of the Edinburgh Renaissance Band CD which can be bought the same way. I’ve upgraded my PayPal account to accept credit card payments as well as PayPal money transfers – it means a small percentage is taken off at my end but it makes it easier for anyone who doesn’t keep any money in their account. Use my billmarsh@bigfoot.com address for the PayPal payments.

Prices are as follows

The Lymond Poetry – UKP 10.99 (not the provisional 9.99 that I’d said last time)
postage and packing:
airmail to US – 3.50
surface mail within the UK – 1.60
airmail to Europe – 2.20

Renaissance Band CD – UKP 11.50
postage and packing:
airmail to US – 2.40
surface mail within the UK – 1.30
airmail to Europe – 2.00

Edinburgh in the Spring 2003 – The DDRA AGM and Mini-Gathering

Saturday Talks and AGM

The mini-gathering is always as much a lovely social occasion as it is a formal event and with Olive Millward’s usual prompting about 20 of us had gathered in a Chinese restaurant for a meal on the Friday evening to kick things off. The huge banquet we consumed left me feeling full for two days! Having had only one day of rain in the previous two months – very unusual for Scotland! – we were worried that the weather had broken as it poured down most of the evening but we needn’t have been concerned. The weekend proper started on the Saturday morning when we gathered as usual on the top floor of the Point Hotel, where the view was better than ever this year with the bright clear conditions making the castle appear almost in touching distance and giving us superb views over the city to the Forth.
There were around 55 of us in attendance with readers from Germany, France and the USA as well as from various parts of the UK.
On this occasion we started with two of the talks before holding the short formal AGM proceedings.

Elspeth and Richenda on the Lymond Poetry

The AGM day simply wouldn’t be the same without Elspeth Morrison and Richenda Todd who’ve become a lively and entertaining double act. This year they gave us an insight into the work they had done together in editing the manuscript that Dorothy had originally written in 1976 between finishing Game of Kings and starting King Hereafter.

The Lymond Poetry, copies of which we had obtained early especially for the event, contains 66 poems in various European languages with Dorothy’s own translations. She intended that this be a collection of the best love poetry and ballads from the period as well as giving extra insight to the Lymond Chronicles which contain fragments of around 200 poems. The original plan had been to publish them after Checkmate (in fact one suggestion was that it be published at the same time) but although her agents were enthusiastic the publishers seemed not to see the potential and for a while Dorothy intended to publish privately. However these plans had to be put aside when Alastair suffered a major heart attack and although a number of the poems were later reworked and added to the two Companions, the full original manuscript only came to light after her death. Elspeth set to work tracing the original sources with her usual mixture of diligent research, inspired thinking, and close understanding and affinity with Dorothy’s writing and research techniques, and with Richenda’s help they put together backgrounds and biographies which they placed on the facing pages to the poems.

Between them they gave us an glimpse of the choices and difficulties they faced in trying to adhere as closely as possible to Dorothy’s wishes and the original sources, while dealing with proofreaders and publishers. Proofreading was particularly difficult as the spellings were often different within poems – one poem switches from Spanish to Italian and has misspellings in it – while punctuation often varies from one source to another and they felt it was important to make sure that the choices Dorothy had made were accurately reflected, even if she herself had made the occasional mistake. Only very occasionally did a source prove impossible to find, but in three instances a poem was quoted which they were unable to find in any of the six Chronicles. Penguin are now offering a prize for anyone who can find the references to these three.

All this background was conveyed with the light touch and humour that we’ve come to expect from them, and everyone, whether or not familiar with the intricacies of research and publishing, was left with a sense of both the expertise required and the immense fun that they both had in working on the project.

Jenny Smith on Music

It’s obvious to anyone meeting her that music is Jenny’s passion – both it’s execution and history. Here she gave us an impression of the rich background that lurks within the musical references contained in the Lymond Chronicles.

Starting with an analysis of Joissance vous Donneray – the music which Francis played for Christian while she lay dying in Flaw Valleys – she traced the connections and inferences which can be gathered about his skill as a performer and the political and cultural clues that are apparent in those people he deals with. She touched on the Netherlands as a centre of musical excellence, their influence reaching the Italians, and what can be read into Marguerite asking Lymond if he can play Palestrina. She also discussed the academic and social place of music in the period – its connection to mathematics and the wide ranging availability of degree courses in universities.

Philippa’s musical abilities were mentioned and the contrast made between Flaws Valleys which had a music room and Midculter which, perhaps surprisingly, did not, but had instead the cold room containing Lymond’s books and broken lute.

These are just a few of the points covered but I’m told that Jenny is producing an article about her talk for Whispering Gallery which I very much look forward to reading.

Jenny finished her talk by leading a brave band of singers in a rendition of “It was the Frogge in the Well”, which plays a prominent part in the early chapters of Game of Kings. The performers doing an excellent job despite having had no real chance of rehearsal.

The AGM itself

The AGM was fairly short with two important aspects. The present committee was re-elected with the welcome addition of Simon Hedges to fill the one empty place. I’m particularly happy to see this as it means I’m no longer the only male committee member!
The second important item was the Treasurers report and subsequent discussion. This revealed that in the last year the subscription income had dropped by around UKP 1800 and it was therefore proposed to raise the subscriptions by UKP 3. It will be obvious that such a reduction in income cannot be sustained for long so it’s important that we try to regain as many of the international subscribers that we lost after the demise of Thins, and the facility they provided for Credit Card subscribing, as possible. Simon’s assistance in this area by acting as a go-between for overseas readers who would otherwise find it impossible or prohibitively expensive to convert their currency into Sterling has been invaluable.

If you’ve been considering subscribing but don’t have access to UK currency or bank accounts, then do visit his website at www.simonhedges.co.uk or follow the links to it from my site under the Whispering Gallery page.

Henk Beentje – From Blue Hands to Racing Camels

For the afternoon session Henk gave us a follow up to his legendary Flora and Fauna of Lymondshire at the Edinburgh 2000 Gathering, and once again had compiled an astonishing number of slides of animals and plants mentioned in the eight books of House. As he said, where would be be without natural history? – most of the book titles wouldn’t exist and there would be no “date stones”. And there would be no food – nothing to describe sticking to Fra Ludo’s clothes. No Ostrich for Nick to ride and he wouldn’t have the love of his life – Chennai the camel. No oysters in Gemini, sugar in Cyprus or apricots in Sinai.

I won’t even try to list a fraction of the items which Henk described, quoted, and illustrated – my attempts to record the highlights in my notes were overwhelmed by half way through and I just sat back and enjoyed them – but again look forward to seeing an article in Whispering Gallery in due course. Suffice it to say that it was a delight to be reminded of so many of the wonderful images that Dorothy filled her stories with, particularly with Henk’s mellifluous accent. It must have taken many hours of re-reading and preparation but it was certainly worth it.

The Sunday Coach Trip to Culross and Falkland

Sunday morning turned out to be far better than the meteorologists has predicted as we set off from the Point towards the Forth Bridge and Fife. As in previous years we were joined by Charles Burnett.

As we crossed the bridge the clear conditions allowed us to pick out Blackness, which we had visited last year on a windy, grey, and damp day. Once across the bridge we turned left and took the minor coastal road past Rosyth naval yards and through the villages of the area. It has to be said that this is not one of our more scenic areas with the view up the firth being dominated by Grangemouth oil refinery on one side and Kincardine Power Station on the other, but again the clear sunlight picked out the famous Abbey in Dunfermline which lies to the north of the road.

Through the village of Torryburn the houses became gradually older and more attractive, until we reached the outskirts of Culross, our first stop. As anyone who has read the entry on my website will know, the village, or to be more exact, the Royal Burgh, is a remarkably well preserved example of 17th and 18th century buildings which, because of the way in which the local industry declined, was not subjected to the demolition and improvement that occurred elsewhere. This gave the fledgling National Trust for Scotland an ideal opportunity when they were offered the “palace” for £700 in the 1930s, and they went on to purchase many more properties in the area, resulting in a uniquely preserved and renovated village which still manages to maintain a healthy living community.

After a refreshment of tea and scones in the Bessie Bar Hall, which was originally a malt house, our party was split into two and one started their tour of the palace while the other went up to the Study. The intention had been that Elspeth and Charles would take the groups round but in fact we were assigned local guides who clearly had their own ideas on what subjects the visitors would like to hear about. Under normal circumstances I would have enjoyed the eccentric character of the guide and there were certainly some snippets of information that I had not heard before, but knowing Elspeth’s vast store of knowledge and meticulous preparation I suspect we’d have heard a lot more of relevance to our favourite reading had she had the chance to impart it.

The Study is a fine building constructed around 1610 and is painted a brilliant white. It forms part of the small square which houses the Mercat Cross dating from 1588 and its facade is pierced by the typical windows of the period with half-wooden shutters and diagonal leaded glass upper sections. There is a crowstepped gable in traditional Scottish style and a corbelled outlook tower from which the occupant could look over the Forth and watch the ships as they entered and left. It is reputed to have been used by Bishop Leighton of Dunblane as his study room.

On the first floor is a fine room with wonderfully painted ceilings by a man who had studied the ceilings of the Palace while they were still clearly visible. The guide told us he had a visit from the painter’s nephew who was able to telephone his father to confirm that the work had been done while lying on his back! There was also a fine piece of 17th century panelling and a Witches Ball – a glass ball filled with Mercury which was supposed to protect the house from evil spirits.

The study itself is at the top of the tower up an extremely tight spiral staircase and is a small room with windows on three sides.

Although we didn’t have time to climb further up the hill to the Abbey and Church, it is well worth the walk up the narrow inclined street of brightly coloured houses with wooden steps up to their front doors. The Abbey was set up by the Cistercians in the early 13th century and was where the young St Mungo was taught by St Serf before moving to Glasgow to found his own community. It was said he was the son of a princess who was cast out of her home in the Lothians and whose boat landed at Culross.
It was the Cistercians who first made Culross a prosperous town by mining the “black stone that burns” – coal, and thus developing both its trade and the closely connected industry of the salt pans.

Near the Abbey is the Abbey House, an very advanced design which looks almost Georgian but in fact dates from as early as 1608. Later it was the home of the famous naval hero Admiral Thomas Cochrane – The Sea Wolf as Napoleon described him – whose life was the inspiration for many well known naval stories.

Returning to the palace we were first of all shown a video describing the history of the town and the Trust’s involvement before learning more about the man who created it. The palace was built by Sir George Bruce, a descendent of King Robert the Bruce, who had taken over the running of the colliery and brought in many engineering techniques from the continent that enabled deeper mines to be dug by improving drainage and ventilation. While the mines had previously been only 30 feet deep, his techniques, such as the horse-powered 36 bucket Egyptian Wheel, allowed a depth of 240 feet to be reached and the mine was probably one of the most advanced in the world at that time, eventually extending a mile under the Forth. The shaft even had an outlet in a substantial round stone building on a tidal island and James VI was taken there on a visit to the mine where he was apparently so surprised to find himself surrounded by water that he feared treachery and panicked.

We were taken up to the main hall, withdrawing room, guest rooms, and the painted chamber, with their panelling and painted barrel ceilings. In the hall we heard the origins of the word “threshold” and had a description of 16th century toilet facilities that was probably more information than some would have preferred! We were also told the reason behind the yellow ochre colouring of the outside walls – it was originally covered in sheep-dip!! This was often applied to houses at that time as there was nothing else that could be done with the liquid – you couldn’t put it in the river or on the land due to its poisonous effects – and since the roof would originally have been thatch it was useful for keeping down the insects which would otherwise live there. In fact the guide reckoned that the palace colour was too brown because as the richest house in the area it would have had fresh sheep dip which would have been a lighter yellow.

Sadly there was insufficient time to properly explore the restored gardens which lie on the slope behind the palace or to walk much more around the village before we were due in the Red Lion for lunch, though some people did manage a quick visit to the Town House and the Trust shop, where the attendant had heard of Dorothy and knew she’d been born in Dunfermline.

An excellent meal allowed time for interesting conversation before we headed for Falkland and the favourite palace of Mary de Guise. Though the weather briefly threatened to close in it had cleared again by the time we arrived and although the gardens were only just beginning to show glimpses of the rich and fragrant blossoms that it will have in a few weeks time it was still a lovely sight in the sunshine.

The guides happened to be in period costume that day, with one in each room available to answer questions. This time however we had Charles and Elspeth to describe the surroundings for us. There were a number of paintings of 16th and 17th monarchs including one of James V and Mary de Guise, an ornately carved and inlaid four-poster bed, and some fine panelled and painted ceilings. There is also a fine tapestry gallery which runs the length of one wing.

A quick trip down to the end of the garden and the royal tennis court gave mixed results – on this occasion there was no-one playing and the viewing angles didn’t really allow a good photograph, but I was delighted to find that there were newly arrived swallows in the viewing gallery – always a welcome sign of Spring. Diverting out through a side gate brings you to the tranquil adjoining meadow where pink blossom adorned the trees and bluebells shimmered in the grass. It’s a timeless view over to the turrets of the Palace gate and the roofs of the old inns on the main street and that feeling was compounded by the sight of a man in full armour and helmet on the main lawn next to the ruined north wing. However it proved to be a photoshoot rather than a time warp!

All too soon we had to head for home and maybe in retrospect we tried to fit too much into the day, but when people are coming to Scotland for what may be the only time you want to give them as broad an experience as possible. Incidentally we are always looking for suggestions for places to visit on the Spring weekends so if you have any ideas please send them to me. I think we’ve pretty much covered the accessible western and northern sides having been to Linlithgow, Torphichen, and Blackness, as well as Rosslyn in the south and St Mary’s Loch at the time of the 2000 Gathering. Within Edinburgh Elspeth has often taken guided walks down the Royal Mile but we haven’t done Edinburgh Castle itself – should we include this or would people prefer a coach trip further afield. Craigmillar Castle is fairly close and Haddington is interesting although there is nothing left to see of the nunnery where Kathi visited. Likewise North Berwick is a lovely town but the Dunnett sites are not accessible – the final scenes of Gemini are now within the grounds of an old people’s home. Traquair, which is the oldest house in Scotland, is on the site of the fictional St Mary’s and has its own brewery so it might be a good place to go, and there is a nearby printing museum which while much more recent than our time period would surely be in the spirit of Lymond’s interests. Let me know what you think.

Certainly everyone I spoke to seemed to enjoy the day and hopefully many will have seen enough to encourage return visits. We certainly all enjoyed renewing friendships and making new ones, as is always the case at Dunnett gatherings. I hope we can continue them for many years to come.

A big round of thanks to all the committee for their work on the AGM weekend, and a special one for Val Bierman who puts in a tremendous effort in the organisation for this as well as all her work on the magazine, much of it way beyond anything that could be reasonably expected.

Finally I should mention a couple of recent deaths. The first is that of Seumas Adam, the other half of the Canoe Boys to Alastair Dunnett, who died in April at the age of 95. He was a lifelong friend of Alastair and Dorothy and like them was heavily involved in a great many projects in Scottish life. The year after his epic canoe trip up the West Highlands with Alastair he made the first solo canoe crossing of the Minch – the stretch of water between the Inner and Outer Hebrides. He worked in journalism for most of his life, having started with the Scottish Daily Express and then after war service as a staff captain was features editor with the Glasgow Evening News and Daily Record before become assistant editor of the Evening Times. Later he moved to Edinburgh and was General Manager of the Scotsman Publications before moving to the Chester Chronicle and Middlesborough Evening Gazette. After retiring and moving back to Edinburgh he was asked to organise the first International Gathering of the Clans. He continued to write books and poetry in Scots and Gaelic as well as English and was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland, and the Institute of Directors. His interest in physical activity was reflected in his work on the Scottish Council of Physical Recreation and he was a natural choice as President of the Scottish Canoe Association.
I’m told he continued to drive until he was 90 and I recall seeing him at the Edinburgh New Club reception that Penguin organised for Dorothy following the publication of Gemini. At the age of 94 he and his wife had moved down to Wales to be near their daughter. A very remarkable man.

The second is somewhat more peripheral but may be of interest as it relates to a film that has often been discussed on the Dunnett internet groups. One of the great British actresses, Dame Wendy Hiller, died at the age of 90 recently. She first became a star in the 1930s in a play called Love on the Dole and was seen by George Bernard Shaw who invited her to play the lead roles in Pygmalion and St Joan. He later insisted that she also play the roles in the film adaptations and she was nominated for an Oscar for the part of Eliza opposite Leslie Howard. She was to win an Oscar for a film of Rattigan’s Separate Tables, and in 1966 she was again nominated for the part of Alice More in A Man for All Seasons. She continued to work in acclaimed stage productions for many years including seven visits to the Edinburgh Festival, and even appeared in the film Murder on the Orient Express.

Her connection to Dunnettworld came through starring in the wonderful Powell and Pressburger film, I Know Where I’m Going, with Roger Livesy. The filming on Mull was made possible by Alastair, then working in the Scottish Office, who was a friend of Michael Powell, and who promptly took a holiday in order to watch the filming. The yellow oil-skin jacket that she wore in the crucial Corryvreckan whirlpool storm scene was actually Alastair’s – her own didn’t show up well enough on the black and white film and Powell appropriated it.

Not sure what colour her eyes were or how she’d have looked as a blond, but looking at a photo of her I can see her as a perfect icy Sybilla – can’t think why that hadn’t occurred to me before!

That’s all for now

best wishes to you all


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