Next Friday, 3rd October, Luath Press are publishing This is Scotland by Daniel Gray and Alan McCredie. It describes a quick jaunt around Scotland earlier this year, on which they visited 12 areas of the country, beginning in Leith and ending at the Borders.
Daniel provides personal reflections on the area laced with social history and more than a pinch of politics. Alan, one of our own photographers, who recently got exclusive pictures at the Book Festival of Malala Yousafzai and JK Rowling, brings to the book a collection of pictures that capture a spirit of each area.
Rather than focus on the heather and hills, he’s turned his camera on the mundane, the Scotland we see every day, with plenty of streets, shops, pubs and hotels, many of which look as if they have barely changed since the 1970s. There is the occasional shot of beautiful dereliction, but mostly it’s people going about their lives, making the best of it. Oh, and there’s quite a lot of rain with occasional flashes of sun.
‘That’s the rain back on, son,’ says a lady near the old Empire Electric Theatre. ‘Lovely day,’ we reply. ‘It is,’ she carries on, ‘bloody gorgeous. Ah might have a wee dance.’
Dan’s writing is lyrical and is by turns romantic and earthy, and is often very funny. He’s also written: Homage to Caledonia, about the Scots who went to fight Franco’s fascists; Stramash, examining Scotland’s football teams; and a kind of companion piece published by Bloomsbury, on English teams, Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters.
There’s also a desire to illuminate the lesser-known facets of each area’s history, such as the dominance of women in Dundee’s political history.
Their attitudes were perfect for the Suffragette movement, in Dundee a solidly working-class one. There was Miss Kelly, who scaled scaffolding and kipped in the Kinnaird Hall attic to disrupt an address by the local MP, Winston Churchill, and Miss Fenwick, the first female leader of a British trade union, prone to beginning meetings by asking a raised hand from any audience member who read the wrong kind of newspaper. And there was Miss Moorhead, havoc raiser, agitator, forgotten hero.
She pelted an egg at Churchill, smashed windows at the Wallace Monument, hurled pepper at policemen and tried to punch Prime Minister Asquith. With such ancestry, little wonder Dundonian men sit quietly on benches.
There’s even a nod to Oscar Marzaroli’s Castlemilk Lads in Govan, with a trio of teenagers playing to the camera.
Opposite, the parish church waits handsomely for some peace and an old lady finds it with a ciggy by the cherub fountain. The Pearce Institute is ornate, worth the glowworm fare alone, and a Govanite tells us about its pub neighbour, Brechin’s Bar. ‘Naebody calls it that. It’s the Black Man to us. You can get anything in there: TVs, clothes, STDs.’
But it’s by no means poverty porn, and there is plenty of celebration of the simple pleasures, such as taking a trip to the seaside.
The wind rises and more people follow them, most to one of three bars. It seems half the fun of going Doon the Watter is missing going Doon the Watter. There is an attractive ambivalence to hiding in the dark hull of a ship while Scotland puts on a show. It suggests a knowledge that she will always be there for people when they need her, but photos and maps are for tourists. To go Doon the Watter is not an act of vacation, but an act of ritual.
(from Doon the Watter)
It’s a gentle book, with no axe to grind either way on independence (which makes a welcome change at the moment), celebrating a nation past, present and future. It’s probably the only book ever to mention a local… no… national institution, Borlands on Leith Walk (which we’ve given pride of place on the header picture).
They’ve also both done a bit in The Leither magazine about the hows and whys of the project. Go read it, it’s funny.