Culture

Robert Kemp on the Edinburgh Festival

Twice before in my life I have seen Europe go dark and watched the doves of peace having their necks wrung. …”

Robert Kemp on the 21st Edinburgh Festival, from the Scottish Field 1967

Festivals are not like people. They never “grow up”. So perhaps it would be a mistake to make too much of the 21st Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama (to bestow upon it the full title which leaves out a lot of what happens), except that to say that its continuance for all of those years proves that the original idea was a durable one.

All those years…I , who happen to have seen something of them all, find it difficult to believe that among this years’ audience there will be those who were not born when the early Festivals took place. For them it may seem a venerable institution this Edinburgh Festival Society which some at first predicted would not last for more than a few years.



Robert Kemp on the Edinburgh Festival

“Twice before in my life I have seen Europe go dark and watched the doves of peace having their necks wrung. …”

Robert Kemp on the 21st Edinburgh Festival, from the Scottish Field 1967

Festivals are not like people. They never “grow up”. So perhaps it would be a mistake to make too much of the 21st Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama (to bestow upon it the full title which leaves out a lot of what happens), except that to say that its continuance for all of those years proves that the original idea was a durable one.

All those years…I , who happen to have seen something of them all, find it difficult to believe that among this years’ audience there will be those who were not born when the early Festivals took place. For them it may seem a venerable institution this Edinburgh Festival Society which some at first predicted would not last for more than a few years.



Architecture in Scotland

From the Observer 7 October 2001

THE FAILURE of high-rise architecture in Scotland’s cities is so universally acknowledged that it is often assumed that tower blocks are inherently incapable of supporting civilised life.  The Wee Malkies, the urchins of Stephen Mulrine’s poem, will come as surely as rats to a cargo ship.  They will put out the stair-head lights, sabotage the lifts and make the journey from entrance to flat more hazardous than any midnight walk along the meanest city streets.

Not just in Glasgow or Edinburgh, but in London and Paris, too, towers have become symbols of alienation, poverty and despair, the very evils they were designed to overcome.  Yet this form of urban architecture can succeed.  For the rich, the high tower can be a secure fortress, guarded by concierges where residents pay their dues and repairs are carried out without delay.



Attacks on asylum seekers in Glasgow

    • From the Observer Sunday 27 May 2001 
    • A general practitioner who has patients in one of the tougher housing schemes in the west of Scotland told me the other day that he uses an old banger to do his rounds. This is a strategem to protect his car, and himself, from theft, attack or worse.

      That there are places in urban Scotland to which most of us would not willingly go during the day and certainly never visit at night is a fact which as a society and a political culture we have chosen not to confront. It is regrettable, we seem to feel, but it is part of our lives. We prefer not to cast too much light on the dark world of the ‘schemies’.

The prohibition of drugs


From the Observer, Nov 25, 2001

Since the days of Adam and Eve, forbidden fruit has lost little of its power to tempt. There is a great deal of historical evidence to suggest that prohibition is counterproductive and may actually stimulate the consumption of the banned goods. In 1675, Charles II forbade by proclamation the sale of tea, coffee, chocolate and sherbet from private houses. His aim was to discourage sedition. In Scotland, the pulpit denounced tea-drinking as frivolous and ungodly. A consequence of such fiats was that tea became the national drink.


On Scottish self esteem

    • Arnold Kemp
    • The Observer, Sunday 8 July 2001
    • The Scottish identity has long been a rich source of material for writers and academics. They are attracted to it because it is such a ragbag of disparate elements and influences.

      It has survived, undoubtedly, because Scotland has wanted to be different from England, just as the Tartan Army conducts itself with sozzled amiability as it marches around the world in order to show up the English supporters.

Thoughts on churches

  • The Observer, Sunday 13 January 2002 
  • There is nothing like a row among Christians for sheer malevolence. Bishop Nazir-Ali, said to be the leading contender to succeed George Carey as Archbishop of Canterbury, found himself all over the front page of the Times yesterday because, as the paper rather piously reported, there was a ‘whispering campaign’ against him. But thanks to the Times, it wasn’t sotto voce but more a scream from the rooftops.

    The allegations against the Bishop of Rochester included the suggestion that he once had been a Roman Catholic, hardly an unforgivable aberration in a Christian. There was, of course, a less visible and uglier subtext, for Dr Nazir Ali is from Pakistan.



The art of Lesley Banks

THE chilly, misty weather of this week has brought intimations of winter and the retail trade, after a September in the doldrums, is beginning to sense the quickening pace of approaching Christmas. It is a time when the corporate mind, if it has not done so already, must settle the question of the Christmas card.

For some reason the choice has always been difficult for us at the Herald, but this year matters have been greatly if inadvertently simplified by a rising young artist living and working in Glasgow.



Christmas in Scotland

THIS year the Herald has, after a period of some years, resumed publication on Boxing Day and January 2. The decision arose not from officiousness but from movements in the market-place which could not be ignored. As we made our preparations, it became clear that New Year is not what it was. Most people would rather have Christmas Day off than January 1.

Christmas is often regarded as the English festival and New Year the Scots. The reality is more complicated but their modern mingling is not surprising because essentially they are the same midwinter festivals that somehow became separated from each other. The English Christmas, Christian but always with its pagan undertones, has merged with Scotland’s Auld Yuill, more frankly irreligious.



English and Scottish cultural nationalism

The Herald, Editorial Notebook, 1 August 1992

NATIONALISM, in Britain at least, tends to be discussed in terms of the Scottish and Welsh varieties. Yet English nationalism is the more powerful and a curious aspect of it is that it dissembles, pretending that it does not exist at all.



Hostility to science

The Herald, Editorial Notebook, 18 July 1992.

THIS week I had the pleasure of sitting at table with some distinguished scientists, and the conversation turned to the hostility towards science in Britain. In the past few years this dislike has acquired a new virulence and is exceeded only by the detestation of European bureaucrats, the scapegoats of the age.

It is a persistent theme. My father, a cultivated man, had a contempt for science to the extent that he tacitly encouraged me to slack at it in school. The Edinburgh Academy was at that time dedicated to producing recruits for the law, the civil service, and the ruling classes. Science teachers were in my day a bit of a joke. Our hero was the classics master who, it was said, consumed a bottle of whisky for breakfast and had verses published from time to time in Punch. I gather that life at the academy is much changed.



A museum in Cromarty.

The Herald, Editorial Notebook, 29 Jan 1993.

The museum of my youth was a dead fish on a plate. The visitor was invited to stare at inanimate objects behind glass. Fustian prose described them. Cromarty Courthouse is as much state of the art as its resources permit: it is animated and animating. But it is not trivialised a la Disneyland: it imparts a great deal of information elegantly and painlessly.

The first surprise, after you have negotiated the narrow steps, is an animatronic figure of Sir Thomas Urquhart (1611-1660). He was a bigwig who lived in Cromarty Tower. He was a royalist, a soldier, a scholar and, above all, an eccentric.



On the correct rules of hat wearing

AN unexpected pleasure of the week was to tune into Gerald Scarfe’s ironic BBC2 essay on the subject of class and its totems. People, it seems, are still prepared to pay large sums of money for the titles of old feudal baronies. Indeed, it was revealed elsewhere this week, some of the hard-pressed Lloyd’s names are selling superfluous titles to raise the wind.

We heard too of the earl outraged to hear that the applicant for the post of butler, having made a fortune buttling in America, had sent his sons to Eton where, egad, they might meet the earl’s own offspring. The butler was shown the door.



On plans to charge for the Botanics in Edinburgh

FOR a blessed half hour this week I sat on a bench at the herbaceous border in the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. Myriad plants were in bloom below the high hedge marching gracefully above them; their subtle colours soothed the mind and emptied it of care.

I have been coming here, on and off, for most of my life. We played childhood games on the daisy-strewn turf and ran about the magically mysterious rock garden, occasionally to the kindly rebukes of the keepers.



Pronounciation

At Edinburgh university we were taught that Southern English speech provided an example of hypercorrection: they would talk of lawr and ordah in Indiar, and claim that buttah is bettah than mahgarine.



On Scotland’s neglect of its past

THESE fine, or not so fine, spring mornings have found me walking in Kelvingrove Park for constitutional purposes, and I have stopped once or twice to admire the splendid fountain, by the architect James Sellars and the sculptor John Mossman, erected in 1871-2 to commemorate the inauguration of the Loch Katrine water scheme.

It is richly carved in Scottish Gothic and since its restoration a couple of years ago it spouts voluptuous jets of water behind which can be glimpsed the bright pink blossom of the Japanese cherry trees. Much of the detail piously commemorates Lord Provost Stewart, whose civic genius created the water scheme, but its crowning inspiration is Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake.

With my shoe I clean the inscription set in the ground and think it apt that Sir Walter’s name should be covered with mud. The neglect not only of Sir Walter Scott but of its own history is a striking aspect of contemporary Scotland. There can be few other countries that are now so cut off from their own past as is Scotland, so forgetful and so careless of it.