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Five Go for a Readaround in the Carrick Hills – 25 July 2018

Five readers met at Tim’s house in the Carrick Hills on a sunny evening, sitting on the veranda looking eastwards at a splendid panorama of the Southern Uplands with the highest mountain, The Merrick (2,766 feet), in the far-away distance. Sadly, not quite a Munro, which is a Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet. More of the Munros later.

Chris G. kicked off with a short piece, in prose style which began:
A man of such light,
Forever ‘How are you?’
It tells of a happy, well-liked, family man, with lots of hopes for the future, who falls into the clutches of drug addiction. The piece provoked a discussion and was read again so that we could pick up on bits we missed the first time. The group liked the idea and thought there was good potential for expansion.

Nigel read a piece inspired by his passion for mountain walking, following his dream of ‘bagging’ all of the 282 Munros. He described what he saw and how he felt as he climbed to revisit Sgùrr nan Gillean, on Skye, and how he had a sense of déjà vu, triggered by fragments of memory. The scene looked familiar and he remembered camping in this area on a school trip many years ago. At first, he wondered if the teachers in charge had led them in a climb to the top, but common sense told him that, even in those less health-and-safety obsessed times, the teachers would hardly have taken a party of school children up such a potentially hazardous climb. He wondered, had seen the peak from the campsite but not climbed it? This time though, he conquered Sgùrr nan Gillean, leaving only one Monro to complete. The group liked his description of the climb and the scenery. It succeeded in conjuring up a strong sense of place for the listener. Good luck in becoming a Munroist, Nigel.

Chris P. read about an episode in his life, which happened when he was a relatively new defence solicitor. It was written in the form of a letter. His client, was charged with a serious offence which, if convicted, would have ruined his career (recently begun) as a teacher. The case was to be heard at the Magistrates’ Court, and Chris gave a brief and fascinating sketch of how a Magistrates’ Courts worked and where the power lay. He described some of the personalities involved, which left me, a court virgin, a bit shocked. He went on to describe how his client skipped bail, failing to turn up at the Court, and how he, for reasons he couldn’t quite understand himself, went in search of his client, only to find that he had attempted suicide. He called 999 and left the emergency services to do their work. We agreed it was a powerful piece which raised a lot of important questions and was the subject of a lively debate amongst us.

The evening was starting to become chilly, so we went inside and had a break for tea, with Chris’s delicious chocolate cake and some tasty bites contributed by Nigel.

The session resumed with Gill reading a further extract from her novel, a work in progress -Florentino, an ex-footballer, has two adult children. One of them is a gay, fashion designer, who is afraid to tell his father about his sexuality. Now he is being blackmailed. To escape the exposure, he takes a train from Euston to Glasgow, which gives him time to collect his thoughts. He observes the passing countryside which Gill describes with original and vivid phrases, such as ‘shocking yellow rape seed,’ a colour which hints at his occupation. He observes his travelling companions and then slips into a sentimental mood, reminiscing about his childhood. We are told that he is going to Glasgow because that is where his gran came from. She was an important figure in his childhood, always kind to him, and he remembers, with fondness, happy holidays taken with her in Ayr. The group thought that this had the makings of a good novel.

Marion read extracts from a book she is writing about Govan, focusing on its glorious shipbuilding past. She quoted a well-known saying in those parts, ‘Shipbuilding made Govan and Govan made shipbuilding.’ The book takes the form of a walk through Govan encountering the many memorials, statues, plaques and buildings, dotted around the town. Many of them celebrate people who were involved in shipbuilding, such as, John Elder, who laid out the Fairfield Yard at Govan which later became Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. and Sir William Pierce, who ran the company after John Elder’s death. We learned that the company was famous for its compound marine steam engines. Another memorial tells of how, in 1915, a group of women marched to the Court to protest against the Rent Restriction Act. The book is full of interesting snippets such as, ‘there are only four statues of women in Glasgow, and Govan has two of them.’ The group thought that this was a valuable historical record and encouraged her to complete it.

Tim did not read anything but summarised a work which he hopes to publish soon. It is a memoir, working title, Summer of Love and War. It recalls a journey around the USA, over a period of two months in 1967, the so-called Summer of Love. of which he saw very little evidence. To him it was more like the Summer of War – Vietnam was in one of its bloodiest stages, with huge protests about America’s involvement, and fatal race riots were breaking out in various US cities. In the UK, it was a time of currency crises, and travellers were limited to taking £50 out of the country. Luckily Tim and his travelling companion had been able to buy a Greyhound bus ticket in advance, which gave them unlimited travel in the US, Canada and Mexico – $99 for 99 days. They made good use of this and travelled the length and breadth of the continent, mostly sleeping on the bus, with the occasional welcome stop to stay with family friends and acquaintances. Despite the bad publicity the US gets these days, over Trump and his ilk, Tim and his companion were overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of the people they met. The group looked forward to the memoir’s publication.

Tim Donaldson

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