EDINBURGH

 

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Just back from a visit to this great city.

Initially surprised and touched  that the locals had laid on an exceptionally warm welcome for us, we quickly discovered the cheering crowds were for Nicola Sturgeon, woman of the moment, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, or ‘Queen of Scots’ as she was referred to in the press after winning the first TV election debate on April 2nd.

For those who have managed to miss the news, there will be a General Election in the UK on May 7th. Here’s how it’s looking.

The ‘cyberwar’ is now well underway, with ‘cyberwarriors’ engaging in ‘precision strikes’ and ‘carpet bombing’. (NB: a ‘cyberwarrior’ should not be confused with a ‘happy warrior’, e.g. Ed Miliband,* fending off attempts to destabilize him by Conservatives engaged in a ‘Kill Mill’ plot.) After the first TV debate, ‘Sturgeonmania’ swept the country, in spite of the Nikileaks scandal**, which ‘the nippy sweetie’ claims was all a ‘dirty tricks campaign’ (and in which the perfidious French were somehow involved). Her ‘cybernats’ have been busy ‘pumping out vines’*** on Twitter with the aim of ‘going viral’.

In case you’re wondering what on earth I’m blathering on about, I’m merely quoting expressions found in the UK press over Easter. Apparently social media will have a vital role in the election, so, dear ex-pat readers, it’s time to get out your vocabulary notebook and start adding new items on the ‘Politics’ page. Then you can slip them into casual conversation with the neighbours, using tactical cyberbluffing to ensure you continue to hold the political and technical high ground. ****

All very interesting, but personally I preferred discovering the fabulous cocktails at the Chaophraya restaurant while craning my neck from the rooftop terrace to try and spot the haunts of Edinburgh’s legendary detective, Inspector John Rebus.

 

cocktails at the Chaophraya
cocktails at the Chaophraya

 

‘…as he stop-started between the lights on Queensferry Road he thought maybe he’d go to the Oxford Bar. Not for a drink, maybe just for a cola or a coffee, and some company….he drove past Oxford Terrace, stopped at the foot of Castle Street. Walked up the slope towards the Ox. Edinburgh castle was just over the rise. The best view you could get of it was from a burger place on Princes Street. He pushed open the door to the pub, feeling heat and smelling smoke. He didn’t need cigarettes in the Ox: breathing was like killing a ten-pack….Harry was on duty tonight. He lifted an empty pint glass and waved it in Rebus’s direction.

‘Aye, OK then,’ Rebus said, like it was the easiest decision he’d ever made.’

(Ian Rankin, “Dead Souls”)

 

*Notes by Ed Miliband to himself were left behind in the TV studio; he reminded himself to appear as ‘a happy warrior’ (a Wordsworth quotation, also used by Obama in his campaign).

**Just after the TV broadcast, a memo was leaked to the press which stated that Sturgeon had privately told the French ambassador she would prefer the Conservatives to remain in power after the election in spite of her promises to Scottish voters that her party would not support a Tory government.

*** vine: a short video

****To understand these terms, we were fortunate in having an interpreter from the younger generation, great-nephew Brodie, who can be seen below.  Three months old, but already a genius. ‘After all,’ he told us ‘it’s child’s play’. Mum and Dad were interpreters.

'Not sure about the Happy Warrior, Ed.'
‘Not sure about the Happy Warrior, Ed.’

 

Endings

Haworth moor
Haworth moor

“I sought, and soon discovered, the three headstones on the slope next the moor–the middle one grey, and half-buried in heath–Edgar Linton’s only harmonized by the turf, and moss creeping up its foot–Heathcliff’s still bare.
I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”

THE END

So ends, in lyrical perfection, that great classic ‘Wuthering Heights’.

Endings are hard. And they often leave the reader with a sense of anti-climax, even disappointment. It’s as though the writer suddenly runs out of steam, or else, holding all the threads of intrigue in her hands, just can’t tie them into the perfect bow.
I was recently struck by the power of ‘the perfect bow’ after indulging in a ‘Mrs Gaskell binge’. It seemed to me that I had surely read all of those wonderful novels at least once before, but I must have been mistaken.
Galloping through the 720 pages of ‘Wives and Daughters’ I was quivering with anticipation to find out if little Molly Gibson was finally going to get her man. Or rather ‘how’ she was going to get him, as we had just seen him set off on a mission to Africa which would effectively keep him out of the plot for at least six months. But, dear reader, we know he is coming back, don’t we? This is a romantic novel. And does he not stop at the turn of the road, does his white handkerchief not float in the air one last time, a promise to our heroine that he will return?
He does, and it does.
So with a happy heart and a smile on my lips at the comforting certainties of Victorian romance I turned the page, ready to skip forward six months to Roger Hamley’s return and wedding bells in the little town of Hollingford.
What???
I was greeted by a message from the Editor of ‘The Cornhill Magazine’, informing me that ‘here the story is broken off, and can never be finished’.
Elizabeth Gleghorn Gaskell died of a heart attack in 1865 before she could write the ending of ‘Wives and Daughters’.
To say I felt a pang would be an understatement. How many thousands of readers since that day in 1865 must have experienced the same feeling of loss? Mrs Gaskell, meeting the inevitable ending that awaits us all, had left us with a fictional world where Molly will be forever seated in the window, forever watching the turn of the road to catch a glimpse of Roger Hamley’s white handkerchief.
This week, writing the final chapters of my second romantic novel, ‘Hot Basque’, my mind is necessarily on endings. Thinking of Molly eternally looking out of her window, I decided to pay my own respects to Mrs G, and include in the very last chapter a symbolic nosegay for hopeful heroines awaiting the return of absent heroes.
I started this blog with my favourite ending of all time. I’ll finish it by another favourite, that message of unquenchable optimism which every reader knows by heart:
“Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” Margaret Mitchell, ‘Gone with the Wind’.

The moors near Wuthering Heights
The moors near Wuthering Heights

 

Biarritz

Setting off with their buckets and spades, French families talk about going to ‘la mer’, the Mediterranean Sea, or ‘l océan’, the Atlantic. Two utterly spectacular and utterly different coasts. The wine-dark waters of the Med look eastward, towards the old world, olive trees and palms. To the south, an older world, camels, lions and elephants.

‘L’océan’ looks west. It rolls out towards the New World, immense and ever-changing. Here sky and water join in a spellbinding duet, offering up the entire palette of colours, dense and translucent, brilliant and dark. In the space of a heartbeat the colours fade, shadows fall from the sky, the wind freshens and stormy greys and greens whip in from the horizon like furies.

Continue reading Biarritz

Can you remember the first book that really captured your imagination as a child?

For me it was a story about a man called Mr Flop who was a flower collector. Mr Flop gathered up faded and dying flowers and whisked them off on a flying apple-tree branch (sort of prototype of Harry Potter’s Nimbus 2000) to the Kingdom of Flowers where they ‘regained their lost beauty and perfume and became more beautiful than ever’.

I loved the idea, but even more appealing was that Mr Flop whisked off the young heroine for a magical visit to the Kingdom on his flying branch. And what was the young heroine’s name? Alice? Dorothy? Wendy? No, they’d already had their fun. It was Laurette.

Continue reading Can you remember the first book that really captured your imagination as a child?