OUR cars, our roads, the authors argue, aren’t just the means by which we get to see our country: they’ve become a crucial part of the British scene.
by Kathryn A Morrison and John Minnis
Yale, £25 ****
The obvious ironies aren’t ignored: our passage from wide-eyed innocence (the “open road”) to crabbit experience (the M8 tailback); the freedom of a countryside which was then concreted over to accommodate the car. It’s not just Los Angeles that’s designed around the automobile: the same can increasingly be said for any English country town. But Morrison and Minnis venture beyond the idea of “blight” to consider the car and its ancillary services calmly and steadily as a defining (and by no means necessarily detrimental) influence on modern life.
From Tartan to Tartanry
edited by Ian Brown
Edinburgh, £24.99 ***
ROMANTICISM reclaimed tartan from its former “barbarism”; now we have academic cultural studies to redeem it from the kitsch-status into which it’s sunk. So consider (if you will) the cultural centrality of Sir Harry Lauder; the convention-busting daring of the Bay City Rollers; Jimmy Shand’s ironic counterpoint to rock-and-roll. And, of course, think of tartan and its semiology – a riot of colour regularised; unbridled anarchy contained – and all it might have meant for the development of a postmodern Scottish culture. Nonsense? No – or not entirely: between the crazily far-fetched and the crashingly trite, this collection does identify some genuinely interesting middle-ground.
A Swedish Field Trip to the Outer Hebrides, 1934
edited by Alexander Fenton & Mark A Mulhern
NMS, £25 ****
THE trip in question was undertaken by Sven T Kjellberg and Olof Hässlof, who made their way from Lewis to Barra, mainly by bike. It was a “field” trip because they were there in their capacity as curatorial staff of the Goteborgs Historiska Museum to study the material culture of a region which had, of course, had close connections with Scandinavia for centuries. Along with a fascinating photo-record of island life, they made sketches and plans of everything from peat-spades to pothooks, from barns to box-beds. Their earnest methodicalness may seem mildly comic now but it bespeaks their unquestioning respect for the way of life they found; a respect it’s hard not to share as we peer through this window on to a vanished age.