Sandy’s shop up in Rogart has a staggering range of designer gin. There’s gin that costs upward of £30 they were telling me, pointing out gin liqueur that’s even more expensive, and gins from Orkney, Dundee, Harris...This list goes on. My new novel has a lot of gin drinking in it, so I’ve become a bit sensitive to gin – though I wrote the heart of the book ages before I was even aware that it’s a drink that’s now very fashionable indeed. “Oh yeah” Mary said, as she was ringing up our much more mundane purchases at Sandy’s. “People are spending money on gin, alright. More than on whisky, it seems...”
Crumbs. The drink that used to be described as Mother’s Ruin is now the drink of choice for... well, everyone. If the supplies at Sandy’s Spar are anything to go by. The shop is brilliantly stocked on all fronts anyway, as village shops in the Highlands usually are. There’s never anything you want that Sandy doesn’t have – from the right kind of potato to bootlaces. And there’s an excellent post office attached as well – which, let’s face it, is something to treasure when banks and post offices are being closed down all over the Highlands, and all over the UK, for that matter. So, no, it doesn’t surprise me at all that the Spar in Rogart has a range of fancy gin that’s as varied and “curated”, as everything is these days, as any groovy bar in Edinburgh or Glasgow or London.
The groovy bars in Edinburgh will be starting to polish up their bottles now, I suppose, with Summer and the Festival just around the corner. The bright yellow programmes for this year’s cultural extravaganza are suddenly everywhere – taking over from the daffodils, kind of. Like daffodil spotting, I saw my first one at the Colinton Library a few weeks ago – another institution, like post offices and village banks that we must use, use, use if we are not to lose them – after going in to pick up something for my mother-in-law and having a chat with the terrific librarians there, who, like all librarians, are so knowledgeable and cultured and kind.
A couple of girls came in, taking books out for the week and also buying one from the used books trolley. “Is it really only 10p?” I asked them. “Yes!” the older girl beamed, “and look..., “she presented the cover. Junk by Melvin Burgess. “It’ s one of my favourites! It’s about drugs and how awful they are but told in a really, really good way...” She, along with her best friend, as she was introduced, went on to describe the plot, and we talked a bit about favourite writers, and then the librarians helped me do something on the computer and then they and I talked about contemporary novels and the kinds of books my mother-in-law gets out when she goes in there to choose books for her reading group. The whole morning was stimulating and interesting and fun. Why aren’t all of us spending at least two hours in our local libraries every week? And taking someone we love there with us too? I can’t think of a better place to go if one was feeling in need of some company or intellectual buzz or variety. Again, we must use, use, use, if we are not to lose, lose, lose.
I had a lovely email earlier this week that has got me thinking about loss, and how we must be vigilant, and take greatest care of the things that are important. The email was from someone I hadn’t seen for a long time, Geraldine Hamilton, who nursed my sister at St John’s, Livingston, around ten years ago when Merran had a life-threatening illness and the massive surgery needed to counteract it that was carried out by the one and only Mike Dickson of the Western General whom Merran and I revere and continue to thank in our hearts and minds on a daily basis.
Geraldine was writing because she’d read in my columns here and elsewhere in this paper of my horror of wind turbines and how they are ruining the landscape of Scotland. The Hamiltons have a small family business, a house they rent out, which Geraldine runs, along with keeping up her nursing, that does especially well at Festival-time when all the foreign visitors are in town.
Her community have been valiantly protesting the planning of a development to put, for starters, 12 125 metre turbines on, as she puts it “our beloved Pentland Hills”. Here is “a sublime area of hill, water, heather, moorland and wonderful skylines” as she describes it, that’s been designated of “Great Landscape Value” yet , with the grim relentlessness of these operations, with their massive amounts of private funding as well as the ongoing support and incentives they receive from Holyrood, is set to be carved up and planted with the giant white columns – that always start around the number six or 12, but quickly, after they’ve been established, are added to in number and heft. “We are up against it “ wrote Geraldine, “and all we can do is get as many people to submit letters of objection as possible” – we’ve only got until the end of this week. Or there’s the website where you can comment at https://planning.westothian.go.uk . All correspondence marked Fauch Hill Application 0235/FUL/17.
Yes, all we can do is write and protest, and write and protest again. We may have fields of daffodil yellow Festival programmes and counters of gleaming bottles of gin, even in the most remote parts of Sutherland... But if the country has been spoiled, with massed white turbines and their endlessly turning arms on every hill, no-one is going to want to buy a ticket for a play or sit down with us and say cheers.
What small businesses will be left, who will even be around, after the energy companies have moved in and done their monstrous thing ? Who’ll want to stay in Geraldine’s house that you can rent for a lovely holiday when it’s no longer a home on the Pentland Hills but a deserted building crouched in the corner of the Fauch Hill Industrial Wind Turbine Centre?