Scotland Street Volume 17, Chapter 5: Glasgist Attitudes

In Scotland Street itself, in their flat with its view up towards Drummond Place and down towards Canonmills, Domenica Macdonald, anthropologist and wry observer of Edinburgh life, sat with her husband, Angus Lordie, and contemplated the morning’s post. There was a leaflet from a rug shop, advertising a forthcoming exhibition of lion rugs from Iran; a renewal notice from an insurance company; and the latest copy of Scottish Field, to which Angus had for years been a subscriber.
44 Scotland Street44 Scotland Street
44 Scotland Street

Angus picked up the rug shop leaflet. This was headed by a colourful picture of a kilim, on which a stylised lion was depicted, its head and mane strangely angular, as if constructed from children’s building bricks.

“The Persian lion is extinct, I believe,” Angus said. “And yet they still like them as symbols.”

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“Everyone likes symbolic lions,” said Domenica. “Real lions are trickier. They smell, I believe, rather like tomcats. They have voracious appetites, and are quite happy to eat us if there’s nothing better on the menu.”

Angus agreed. “I have no particular desire to see a lion in the wild,” he said. “I like the idea of lions, but that’s as far as it goes. Lions are useful for metaphor, I suppose. Richard Coeur de Lion, the Lion of Kashmir, being lionhearted – and so on.” He paused. Other animals had metaphorical work to do: pigs certainly did – and sheep, too, when it came to the analysis of voting habits.

“I was reading about lion imagery in Auden’s poetry,” Domenica remarked. “He refers to lions in various poems. And yet there’s no evidence that he ever actually saw a lion.”

“I loved Born Free when I was young,” said Angus. “I thought that idea of forging a friendship with a lioness was just so exciting.”

“I came across somebody who met her,” Domenica remembered. “Joy Adamson – not Elsa. They said that she was a rather strong character, which was putting it mildly. Some of that Happy Valley set were somewhat colourful. What was her name – that other one? Diana Delamare? The woman who was friendly with Lord Erroll, who was so unfortunately shot in his car. The person I knew who knew Joy Adamson also knew her, apparently. She said to me that Diana Delamere did not shoot Erroll, and nor was it her husband, Jock Delves Broughton. He was very deeply in love with his wife, who nonetheless had an eye for other men, I’m afraid”

“They were a racy lot,” Angus said. Then she remembered Gavin Maxwell and his otters. “Of course, there was Ring of Bright Water?”

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“Yes,” said Domenica. “It’s a powerful genre. Person meets an animal. They communicate with one another and then the animal goes back to the wild. Everybody’s sad. The animal doesn’t forget the human friend. It’s an ancient theme. Androcles and the lion, in Aesop, for example. The lion was grateful to Androcles and declined to eat him when the slave was tossed into the ring.”

Angus changed the subject. He had been out for a walk that morning with his dog, Cyril, and they had seen Stuart. Cyril liked Stuart, whom he associated with Bertie, and had bounded up to the other man and licked his hands enthusiastically.

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“Stuart told me that Irene’s coming back to Edinburgh part-time.”

Domenica put down the lion rug exhibition circular. “I see,” she said.

“Yes. Apparently, they’re going to try to patch it up.”

Domenica sighed. “I’m not sure that will work. Poor Bertie.”

“Stuart’s mother won’t be pleased,” said Angus. “She’s settled in downstairs. She still keeps her flat round the corner, but she’s here most of the time.”

“Nicola has never had any time for Irene,” Domenica said. “And who can blame her? I know that we’ve all tried to look at her in a different light recently, but what worries me is that she’ll simply revert to her old ways.”

“What do they say?” said Angus. “You can take some people out of Glasgow, but you can’t take Glasgow out of some people.”

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Domenica looked at him reprovingly. “I’m not sure you should say that sort of thing, Angus.”

“I wasn’t saying it,” he protested. “I was simply reporting what some people used to say. I wasn’t endorsing it.”

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“Even so,” said Domenica. “You’ll be accused of Glasgism – of being prejudiced against Glasgow.”

“But I don’t think that way at all,” he said. “I’ve never been stand-offish about Glasgow. It’s a great place – for Glaswegians, that is. No, that didn’t sound right. I didn’t mean that. I meant to say: as Glaswegians will point out, Glasgow’s a great place. That’s what I meant.”

Domenica did not pursue the matter. She was careful about what she said – Angus was less so. And, of course, he was being honest about his feelings for Glasgow: he liked the city and its ways, particularly when he was tired of the slightly disapproving side of Edinburgh. Glasgow was robust and direct-speaking; it did not mince its words and it knew how to enjoy itself. It was warm and welcoming, and Angus would have been happy enough to live there – had he drawn one of life’s short straws. But he had not; he lived in Edinburgh, and did not feel that he had to apologise for that. There was nothing worse than somebody who lived in Edinburgh affecting Glasgow attitudes. We are what we are, thought Angus – and no amount of desire to be something different made us what we might like to be. If you’re bourgeois, get over it. It was a question of authenticity: Jean-Paul Sartre was right about that, he thought.

He looked at Domenica. “By the way,” he began.

It was a classic Glaswegian expression, he reminded himself. They were always saying “by the way” over there. “By the way, I had a very strange experience in Drummond Place Gardens yesterday. I meant to tell you yesterday, but I forgot.”

“You saw something strange in Drummond Place Gardens?” asked Domenica. “How very Stella Gibbons!”

It was a moment or two before Angus took the reference to Cold Comfort Farm and Aunt Ada Doom. “I didn’t see something nasty in the woodshed,” he said.

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“I’ve often wondered what Ada Doom saw,” said Domenica. “Freud’s primal scene?”

“Let’s not go there,” said Angus.

© Alexander McCall Smith, 2023. The Stellar Debut of Galactica MacFee will be published by Polygon in November, price £17.99. The author welcomes comments from readers and can be contacted on [email protected]

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