Sunday, 5 June 2011

Buchanan St 2: a Meditation on Donald Dewar

Welcome to my wee photoblog on Glasgow, where we feature the  joys and unjoys of walking and cycling through a fascinating, beautiful and often badly run city. For the blog's origin see the  'Introduction' post  -

An alphabetical list of all posts so far can be found at the end of this post

In July 1999 my dear friend Aviva Golden sent me a copy of her brother Dan Jacobson's book, Heshel's Kingdom. Aviva and Dan's grandfather - the Heshel of the book's title - was a rabbi who died in Lithuania in 1919, after which his family emigrated to South Africa. They thus escaped the Holocaust. By 1945, 0ver 95% of Lithuania's Jews had been massacred by the Nazis and their Lithuanian allies.

Dan's book is his account of a journey to Lithuania to discover what he can about his and Aviva's grandfather: 'By evoking the shadow of my grandfather, I hope to discover elements in his life and mine which are now hidden from me"

The story of Heshel's family is also the story of  Europe, of what Neal Ascherson calls the true 'Dark Continent'. It is one of the greatest  stories of loss I have ever read. Its epigraph is from Housman

In the nation that is not
     Nothing stands that stood before

And its world is one of impossible horrors, of ghosts and shadows, of Dan's vision of the world we have all  lost and cannot be reclaimed -

'There was no Hitler, no years, no Holocaust, no loss, no migration, no sorrow, everything was as it had been and always would be.'

A few years later, I read W G Sebald's Austerlitz, another strange and beautiful book, a  novel in which the narrator meets Austerlitz, a man brought to Britain as a child refugee from Prague  in 1939 - a man whose past is lost in a world long gone. Like Dan, the fictional Austerlitz faces the loss of his past and the loss of Europe's past - a loss that haunts us all. The novel closes with the narrator reading Heshel's Kingdom.

Today is 12 November 2010, and we are leaving the Glasgow Concert Hall and heading into Buchanan St. For the earlier post on Buchanan St see

Heading out. . .

. . .into an afternoon of long shadows

There's a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
'Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, 'tis like the distance
On the look of death.
- Emily Dickinson

Buchanan St, like many Glasgow streets, is one of long perspectives. . .

 . . .and long shadows. I am a Townhead boy and I have known this street for almost 60 years. I once saw a man die a few yards from this spot. If you were at this point in 1960 you may have seen me walking up here clutching an Airfix Spitfire kit. (None of my Spitfires were any good. I am not good at making things,  even from kits)

As from the house your mother sees
You playing round the garden trees,
So you may see, if you will look
Through the windows of this book,
Another child, far, far away,
And in another garden, play.
But do not think you can at all,
By knocking on the window, call
That child to hear you.  He intent
Is all on his play-business bent.
He does not hear, he will not look,
Nor yet be lured out of this book.
For, long ago, the truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away,
And it is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there.
R L Stevenson - 'To Any Reader'

Truly, though our element is time,
We are not suited to the long perspectives
Open at each instant of our lives.
They link us to our losses: worse,
They show us what we have as it once was,
Blindingly undiminished, just as though
By acting differently, we could have kept it so.

Larkin - 'Reference Back'

Donald Dewar keeps his lonely shadow watch, staring down a street filled with Scots buying things Donald would never have wanted or approved of. As discussed in the older Buchanan St entry (see link above) Donald was a somewhat thrawn character - and a very Scottish one. Although an atheist, he had deep knowledge of the Church of Scotland and it would be good to hear his views on the cowardly evasions and compromises of the church regarding homosexuality and the ministry. It would  be good to hear his views - period

When any politician dies,  we obituarists may reach for that useful  expression, 'Man of the People'. and this goes in spades for Scottish politicians. I have quoted before the gobsmacking observation  by an ex-moderator of the Church of Scotland on BBC Scotland the day after Donald's death, that we 'were blessed that he walked among us'. The hyperbole lasted until the reading of his will when it turned out that Donald had been a rich man,  and suddenly the blessing of his presence among us was seen to recede. Private Eye had a very funny piece on this classically  miserabilist reaction to Donald's will; 'And the guid folk all threw up their bonnets in dismay and wrote letters to the Guardian saying that "Donald was nothing but an old humbug"'

The truth is Donald had the 'common touch' of a Medici aristocrat, and we liked him that way. Unlike some other politicians, he would never have married in order to look 'normal', nor would he have wittered on about the mystical racial properties possessed by the Scots. Like the rest of us,  he smiled when England lost at football, like most of  the rest of us, it was an affectionate smile
The 'Edwardian Summer' of the  world of pre-1914 Europe is probably an illusion,  but the shopping drags of Glasgow, Paris, Vienna and Prague and all the other great European cities would have seemed much like the modern Buchanan St (if possibly warmer): people making everyday trips from work and home to the shops,  or for  cafe meetings with friends

Probably an illusion, but the greater illusion is to see this peace as permanent: as a Balkan  refugee said in the 1990s, when they come, your postman will show them the door and the man leading them will be the man who teaches your children

Sarajevo was spoken off in the 1970s much as Glasgow is spoken of now in the official voice: a relaxed city where the old sectarian and ethnic tensions have dissipated. We can strive to make that true.  But our Europe remains that of Heshel and the fictional Austerlitz. We are much better off with politicians who don't actually approve of  us that much, or even feel the need to pretend they like us; the Lord Melbournes and the Dewars. They will never - unlike the Tony Blairs - want to lead us into hellish wars that consign our young men and women to the grave,  and unlike many nationalists they will never strive to make themselves popular by belittling other nations. After May 2011, I am  represented at Holyrood by an MSP chiefly notable for complaining about there being too much cricket on Scottish telly.
When cultural elements are identified as alien (cricket is actually the third most popular team sport in Scotland) the words will  have consequences:

Donald was not always on a plinth. He was originally nearer the ground but drunks and neds kept attacking him so  he has been raised above us on this plinth of red granite. 

Red granite: the birthstone of Scottish socialism perhaps

The shadow of Donald and his red plinth encroaches upon the young people on the steps.

There is shadow under this red rock, 
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock), 
And I will show you something different from either 
Your shadow at morning striding behind you 
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

T S Eliot - 'The Waste Land'

Forever in this moment she will sit holding the bottle above the step, the shadows beside her

Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

T S Eliot, 'The Hollow Men'


Feel free to drop me an email with suggestions, offers of £20 notes etc. The address is

For previous posts see

Bad Posters
Bellahouston Park
Bellahouston Park 2 : After the Pope is Over
Big Teddy Needs a Home
Botanic Gardens
Bridgeton Cross
Buchanan St
Burrell Collection
Cessnock / Kinning Park
Churches (Working/ Non-Working), Temples Mosques etc
Citizens Theatre
City Centre
Climate Change Demo
Clydebank 1
Clyde River Festival
December 2010: Dusk, Dark and Dawn
Edwin Morgan
Evolving Odeon
Festivals and Fetes
Forth and Clyde Canal 1
Forth and Clyde Canal 2
Gartnavel Hospital: a Winter Walk, February 2011
George Square
Glasgow Cross and Argyle St
Glasgow Green: the 2010 Scottish Junior Run
Glasgow North-West By-election 2009
Glasgow Piping Festival
Glasgow's Sikhs
Gorbals 2
Gorbals 3: Saltmarket to Tradeston
Govan Underground to Ibrox Underground: 40th anniversary of the Ibrox Stadium Disaster
Grow Glasgow
Hampden Park: Dundee United v Ross County Cup Final 15 May 2010
Hidden Gardens: Glasgow Harvest at Tramway
Hillhead / West End
Hunterian Museum
 Kelvinbridge: Adventures in Art - West End Festival 2011
 Kelvinbridge Railway Station: the 'Re-opening'
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Kelvingrove Park
Kelvingrove Park: Sledging
Kelvingrove Park: the Fountain Vandalised
King's Theatre to Glasgow Cathedral: a November Walk
Lobey Dosser day
Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Mela 2008
Mela 2010
Paddy's Market: the Last Day
Queen's Cross and Firhill
Red Road Flats
Red Road Flats 2
Red Road Flats 3
Ruchill Park
Save Otago Lane 16 October 2010
St Enoch Centre
Schipka Pass down, and a walk through Barrowland
 Sighthill Stone Circle
Sighthill Summer Solstice 2010
Sighthill Towers Before the Fall
Sighthill Towers After the Fall
Single Parent: Trials of an Extra part 2
Swingergate Day 2: Tommy and Gail Sheridan on Trial
Swingergate Day 11: 'How's He No' Gettin' Drapped Aff?'
Swingergate Day 28: A Large Pinch of Salt
Swingergate Day 37: Andy Coulson doesn't slip up
Swingergate Day 45: Waiting for the Verdict
Swingergate Day 46: the Last Day
Swingergate: Sentenced
Taggart: Trials of an Extra part 1
Tommy Burns Tribute
Alexander Greek Thomson
Alexander 'Greek' Thomson 2: the Egyptian Halls Part 1: the Interior
Alexander 'Greek' Thomson 3: the Egyptian Halls Part 2: the Interior
Townhead to Duke St St to George S
Welcome to Glasgow: the Dalmarnock Rd
Welcome to Glasgow 2: the Yoker Rd
Welcome to Glasgow 3: Charing Cross station to Dalmarnock station
Welcome to Glasgow 4: Rutherglen to Gallowgate, Part 1
Welcome to Glasgow 4: Rutherglen to Gallowgate, Part 2
We're Not being paid Enough For This: Trials of an Extra Part 2
West End Festival 2010

Reviews of Scotland: 1000 Things You Need to Know


'I love it - I'm giving this copy to a friend and buying another for myself' - Darren Adam, Presenter, Radio Forth, 17 November 2008

‘It’s a great wee book’ – Stephen Jardine, introducing Edwin Moore on Scottish Television’s Five-Thirty Show

'A fantastic book' - Scott Wilson , talk 107 Breakfast Show host (see In Memoriam talk 107)

'A great read' - Dougie Jackson, Drivetime host, Smooth Radio 105.2


'Despite its apparently humorous format, this is a serious and extensive dictionary on all things Scottish; from Jean Redpath to Lorne sausage, from Flodden to the Corries. Is particularly good on history and minutiae. There's a useful chapter on famous Scottish legal cases and another on literature. Excellent' - Royal Scottish Legion, Feb 2009

'This is the ultimate Scottish reference book' - Waterstones Christmas catalogue, 2008

'This is a fascinating look at the history of Scotland: its languages, politics and great achievements, from its origins in the ancient landmass of Laurentia 400 million years ago, to devolution and Billy Connolly. Edwin Moore has collected a thousand important facts about this beautiful country, covering Scottish history and culture, correcting misconceptions, and examining the mysteries of haggis and bagpipes with insight, warmth and impressive attention to detail' - The Good Book Guide, November 2008

'This is a recipe for revealing how horribly ill informed you are about your country. Although, if you are skillful, you can nod sagely as you read some new fact and mutter 'Ah, yes!' as if recalling the information from your excellent schooling. Where else will you find a real recipe for making haggis from scratch side by side with a potted biography of David Hume; a section of the Declaration of Arbroath and the curiously touching fact that Lulu was only 15 when she had a hit with 'Shout'? The whole thing is of course, silly - but oh so addictive.' - Matthew Perren, i-on Glasgow, December 2008

'. . . well crafted and witty' - Bill Howatson, Aberdeen Press and Journal, 18 October 2008

‘While most of Edwin’s entries are entertaining and scholarly – he writes like a Scottish Bill Bryson – it is when he takes an interest in the backwaters of history, the details lost down the back of the sofa, that he is at his best’ – Jack McKeown, The Courier, 27 October 2008

'History, it is said, is written by the victors. Trivia, meanwhile, is written by the guys with the smeared spectacles and the breathable rainwear. The first discipline is linear and causal; to quote from Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys, history is “just one f****** thing after another”. Things look different, though, when viewed through the prism of trivia. The past is reduced to one big coleslaw of fascinating facts that in their randomness tell a more mixed-up tale entirely.
The first approach leads to big, frowning books by the likes of Tom Devine and Michael Fry. The latter results in small, cheerful books such as Scotland: 1,000 Things You Need to Know, Edwin Moore’s valiant attempt to navigate the more trivial contours of enlightenment and clearances, crown and parliament, dirt and deity.
Moore proceeds from a sincere and controversial first principle: Scotland is really a rather pleasant and interesting place. . .As a work of popular scholarship, though, it’s in a different league to the Scottish novelty titles that get stocked next to the bookstore tills as potential impulse purchases, those little handbooks of parliamo Caledonia and regional braggadocio, such as Weegies vs Edinbuggers.' - Allan Brown The Sunday Times, 21 September 2008

'In his book, Scotland: 1000 Things You Need to Know, Edwin celebrates all that sets us Scots as a race apart - our language, law, flora, food, and of course, our people. From our poets, architects and inventors, to our artists, entertainers and fighters. But he doesn't shy away from the more unpleasant aspects of our history. . .' - Robert Wight, Sunday Post, 14 September 2008

‘We think we know all about William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and the Union of the Crowms. However, according to Edwin Moore, author of , Scotland: 1000 Things You Need to Know, we’re still in the dark about many aspects of our history and culture. . . The Big Issue looks at 20 of the most astonishing examples of secret Scotland.’ – The Big Issue, 18-24 September 2008

'What's the connection between Homer Simpson and Larbert, and why are generations of lawyers grateful to a Paisley snail? Need to know more? Author Edwin Moore has gathered 1000 facts like these about Scotland in a quirky new book. Brian Swanson selects a few favourites. . .' - Scottish Daily Express, 13 September 2008

'The palm for Christmas-stocking books seems to have passed recently to popular science, with best selling titles every year such as Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze? This year there has been a gallant attempt at a historical fight back. Scotland: 1,000 Things You Need to Know(Atlantic Books, £12.99) asks (and answers) such post-turkey questions as ‘How many kings of Scotland died in their beds?’, ‘Who on earth decided that the Declaration of Arbroath was the cornerstone of modern democracy?’ or ‘Why is iron brew spelled Irn-Bru?’ Mark Mazower,History Today; The Best of History in 2008, December 2008

'A real treat for the serendipitous Scotophile' - Reginald Hill

FROM THE INTERWEB (on the new paperback edition)
Book of the Month, May 2010
'Whether it's Scottish lochs or Enlightenment philosophers, the facts of the devolution referendums or the mysteries of Irn-Bru, myths will be debunked and truths revealed in this light-hearted but rigorous overview of Scottish history and culture.'

1 comment:

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