TO the National Library of Scotland, where I have accepted the impossible challenge of interrogating the Home Secretary about her tome, After Flodden, this being the 500th birthday of that dreadful own goal.
Beforehand we are directed to the innards of the library, where we are offered a private view of the first book printed in Scotia by Walter Chepman and Androw Myllar, who were given their licence by James IV, who was hacked to bits at Flodden. Apparently the same pair were responsible for the first appearance in print anywhere of a four-lettered word beginning with F. Is there nowt that We have not done before anyone else?
THE Man Booker shortlist has something for everyone. Or so the wiseacres proclaim. It has very short novels and very long novels, and novels by twentysomethings and sixtysomethings and a few from inbetweensomethings.
There are novels set in the here and now and in the far distant past. There's one based in Africa, another in Japan, and yet another in "pre-Enclosure England". Is any of them any good? Mibbee aye, mibbee naw.
According to Metro, the freesheet, it is just possible that the "Booker has got its mojo back". You didn't know it was lost?
Where in the name o' the wee man have you been?
Way back in 2010, it seems, it may have misplaced its mojo when the chair of the judges, Stella Rimington, formerly head of MI5, declared she wanted a shortlist that promoted readability. To which I replied, she should try reading one of her own - ahem! - "thrillers".
Among this year's Booker judges is my dear friend Stuart Kelly, who, doubtless expecting to be bombarded with brickbats, has taken to wandering the byways of the Borders incognito. I must therefore apologise to him for blowing his cover. He is the fellow on the left.
WHEN Dylan Thomas, Welsh bard, raged against the dying of the light, he could well have been thinking of my dear chum, John Bellany.
Mr B was an alcoholic and would have died a quarter of a century ago had he not been given a liver transplant. No-one ever had a louder wake-up call.
For the next 25 years, Mr Bellany lived as if there was no tomorrow. Except that now he didn't have a glass in his hand but a brush. It was said of Van Gogh that he had a "lust for life"; the same was true of Mr Bellany.
His obsequies did him proud. The cortege started in Eyemouth, his grandfather's hometown, and proceeded to Port Seton, where it stopped for a while by the harbour to allow the big man a last look. At St Giles' Cathedral the great and the good and the not so good turned out in force to bid him arrivederci.
His two sons and daughter spoke movingly - and with a flood of sea-faring metaphors - of their love for their father. Joan Bakewell spoke of a time to mourn and a time to dance.
Sandy Moffat, painter extraordinaire, placed his old mate in perfect context, among the great. Helen, his wife, whom he loved so much he married her twice, read heart-wrenchingly from Sorley MacLean's Dain do Eimhir.
Then Richard Holloway, sometime Bishop of Edinburgh, said we should sing the BB's marching hymn Will Your Anchor Hold? and "give it laldy".
For some it was a new experience but not for me, a former BB, like Mr B. The captain of the 61st Musselburgh company was not impressed by my rendition and requested - nay, commanded! - that I should mime rather than sing. Who knows what long-term psychological damage that caused.
RICKY Burns, a pugilist, retained his world lightweight title in Glasgow, following fisticuffs with Raymundo Beltran from Mexico. Virtually everyone - other than a couple of the judges - says that Mr Burns got a pasting. He certainly got his jaw broken. This happened in the second round, after which the heavily-tattooed man from Coatbridge battled bravely on. One pundit described the verdict as "verging on the ridiculous". I am intrigued to learn, however, that Mr Burns keeps himself in trim by sticking strictly to a diet of junk food, the implication being that if he were to eat his greens his jaw would be whole.
TO Toronto, where there is a film festival, to which I have yet to be offered a freebie. Be that as it may, I am delighted that Scotia does not want for representation. Among those who have been at the celeb-fest in tartan are five bods from the Centre for the Moving Image, i.e. the Edinburgh Filmhouse and Edinburgh International Film Festival. You might think that's a long way to go at public expense to watch dreadful movies.
But then, like moi, you're probably a penny-pinching philistine.
LAST Saturday evening was spent in Melrose, where a preprandial libation was enjoyed in the Ship Inn, the only pub in this thirsty town.
Its name intrigues me. When, one wonders, was a ship last seen in the vicinity of Melrose? A dear friend suggests it was so-called because of the street it's in, Eastport. Thence to Burts Hotel for supper. Aware of its popularity, I rang a few days ahead to book a table. "What time?" asked a dame. 7.30? "We only take bookings between six and seven." Interesting. I asked if I could have one reserved for seven. "You can if you're here on time, otherwise you'll have to take pot luck."
After all of which, may I say, I have never sampled a finer cottage pie.
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