17 December 2008

Mar's Wark, Stirling

Who knows what they really get up to behind the forbidding gates in Mar's Wark these days, but I made something up that might interest you. Mar's Wark was commissioned around 1569 by the Earl of Mar, heriditary Keeper of Stirling Castle and one time Regent of Scotland during the minority of James VI. The Earls of Mar were originally the Erskine Family who were appointed by David II as heriditary keepers of Stirling Castle. Stone came from Cambuskenneth Abbey. The Earl of Mar was Guardian of the infant King James VI of Scotland. It was a wonderfully gloomy and somewhat tatty place that I visited today, but certainly redolent with former glory, some excellent and fierce looking gargoyles.
Earl of Mar’s House: Stirling

Black rugged frontage bubbles out of
The graveyard manacled to the hillside
From times gone; an insane angel built
It here to house black deeds, perhaps,
Or a cradle for a prince, his mother mad
Out flying with demon lords, his father
Moon-white and lying in state in the night
Garden. But today the mountain is
Littered with plastic bulging with
Semen, dark words
Scrawled across walls and phone
Numbers offering service in this lord’s
House where a telephone would have
Seemed a witch’s device, unthinkable.
Now it’s the past that looks out of
Time as the manor house gasps and crumbles,
Shifting in and out of the chalky hillside
As people beetle about it, fucking over gravestones
Where once there were kings.

09 December 2008

Unity Mitford: Begone Plukes!

Just spent a weekend with the Artist and her family. The Artist’s child is particularly endearing, some of her hugs almost reduced me to tears. I follow her around in wonder and do her bidding. The Artist’s esteemed father lit fires and made us tea, which perhaps we should be doing for him. I replied by mucking out the horses, venerable beasts all. The Artist’s brother, him of the Debatable Land (and debatable hat-stealing techniques – wearing said stolen item in front of the previous owner is not a chapter in the good thieves rulebook), produced a feast of roast pheasant, stickily-caramellised parsnip, perfect roast potatoes (no mean feat but a must-have ability in any Borders houseboy) and sprouts in chilli and garlic. The Artist and I had plucked the birds, so it was a team effort. However, Sage Father will find his wine cupboard missing a bottle or four. Brain juice. Relief to be surrounded by fine folk and more importantly, cats and dogs and horses. However, there was general agreement around the hearth - Janet S-P does not look so good by firelight, indeed she is rancid.
So, the list of feisty dames to catapult us out of boredom and into a New Age of Enlightenment stops here. Suddenly there were visions of a world ruled by two enormous conjoined battle-grannies prodding us to work with plough-like teeth and neighing in a horrifying manner. Also – boring. Quite fun we had with Frilly Teeth and the Tsarina, but really all their monstrous stretching of chicken-limb biceps makes me squeal and moan and writhe, not in a good way at all, more like being trapped in purgatory having a chat and tea with Nicole Kidman. Horrors. Light cream skin stretched back across battered madcap Australian skull. Sunday Rose, the latest genetically-modified daughter of the rich and famous, you are encouraged to leave home as soon as you’re able, dear.
The dames were a calming thought for a while though; just think if we were saved from the unutterable crap we like to lick up every day. But for the purpose of today’s blog, we say, top-of-voice: “Such old dames should be seen and not heard! Begone!” It would be nice to use these women as a platform for social change, but sometimes all we really want are fripperies and those two wouldn’t know said FRIP if it cannon-balled them in the front-face. They are now viewed as plukes, that is to say in common medieval Scots sheep-scabs. No more worthy peddlers on this blog, and no more sheep-scabs.
Others on the list were not numerous: Mariella ‘Gravel-gob’ Frostrup, Jennifer Saunders in her incarnation as Jackie O and fetchingly turned out, Christine Pullein-Thompson (soon scratched her, turns out she’s dead) and the spooky-looking one from Shakespears Sister, called by the press and her nearest and dearest Siobhan Fahey. Anyhow, turns out we can’t use any of these dames. Gravel-gob would be an unbearable social-wrangler, always pouting and saying fashionable things about George Clooney. Jackie-O Saunders is only a husk for other people’s personalities and would be too trying. The important Pullein-Thompson and her brace of dead sisters we will save for a further blog. Extremely horsey. Extremely needing a biography which will be scrawled across this blog on a later date. The Sister is out for her torrid marriage to Dave Stewart, who we are sure turned Annie Lennox into a whey-faced loon and forced her to make a charity record with Madonna and Joss Stone. Inexcusable behaviour.

The lack of dames may lose me valuable readers but I feel that you will all agree that instead of carving out tastefully sculpted tittle-tattle about these tarts, you’d rather hear some choice quotes from the Mitford Sisters, who ranged in political emotion from fascism to Nazism to communism to socialism to Gaullism to Conservatism and back again, all with splendid fascinators perched on their heads and well-clipped vowels. Frilly Teeth and the tsarina are mere flower-girls compared to the might of the Mitfords. Today we concentrate tentatively on Unity Mitford’s letters about Adolf Hitler. Her shivering delight at tea with the Fuhrer is eerie but strangely comprehensible, as if indeed we would all have been in thrall to this tea-drinking mass-murderer who wowed Unity with his “thrilling” ideas for Germany. She was a beautiful young girl in the flush of youth, and thus had something to prove, as we all do. Unity spent much of the 30s in Munich, eventually keeping a flat there - perhaps most gag-inducing is Unity’s gift, from old Adolf, of an Agnesstrasse flat which she looked around as the proprieters were ushered out. The Jewish owners, she jauntily told her sister Diana, “are going abroad”. And Unity signed her letters ‘Jew-hater’ and ‘Heil Hitler’, depending on her mood and even the weather. For a lighthearted mocking of Unity’s po-faced zeal see Nancy Mitford’s seminal “Wigs on the Green”, a hilarious caper through the National Front that is probably out of print. A friend of mine, the Pugdog, found me a copy and I have to say I have rarely laughed so much. It also reveals an upper-crust world far removed from such uncomfortable realities as concentration camps and starvation.
These letters (edited by Charlotte Mosley, published by Harper Collins) do not really give Unity a human face - they reveal her to be a strange naïve child, who might have gone on gap-year and lost herself in designer drugs in our time but in her time took on her sinister mission and ended up shooting herself in a park in Munich and never really recovered. Her big sister Diana, mother of Max Mosley and great-grandmother to Jasmine Guinness, was the one who egged Unity on to her National Socialist downfall, one feels, and the stringy ex-Mitford Diana (or “Honks”) stayed adamant until the end – a very Mitford quality, it would seem – that husband Sir Oswald was right to support Hitler during the war. Anyway, on to Unity’s lunch with Adolf as recounted to Diana:
“The Fuhrer was heavenly, in his best mood, & very gay. There was a choice of two soups & he tossed a coin to see which one he would have, & he was so sweet doing it…He talked a lot about Jews, which was lovely.”
Quite amazing really that in her cocoon of privilege she came to believe in Hitler’s innate “sweetness” and within Hitler’s circle became an admired member (or a useful tool)– when she was merely an excited school girl impressed by a powerful man. The gushing tone lends it a dark comic edge. One also feels sorry for her, her mad-keen crush on Hitler having tragic consequences. Can we see why Unity fell for the moustache yet? Still wondering why I’m replacing the dames with naïve Nazis in Chanel? I choose Unity as she is the maddest member of a standout family. Haven’t even got on to Jessica yet who spent much of her time in the States and was a staunch Communist, after having eloped to Spain to fight against Franco. What we can take from these slightly dotty aristocrats, however, is the width and breadth of politics that used to cross the land, and the ideologies that were discussed across the dinner table. Despite a lack of education due to being a girl (nothing worse then developing big thighs through excessive hockey playing – this was one of the main reason, it seems) she had the temerity to see beyond her parents politics and go her own way. An escape route for an undervalued female. What a horrible way she went.
Naturally we must also take into account the bad luck Unity had in choosing as her obsession the most destructive regime of recent years. Excited youths do many wacky things, and as Debo Devonshire (nee Mitford, quite the nicest of them - and Elvis fan) says in a later letter to Nancy:
“I think people can change completely…People didn’t invent the word MELLOWING for nothing, All Passion Spent, Lady, that’s what. When one is young & clever & energetic & always thinks one is right nothing can stand in the way…”
Sadly Unity didn’t give herself the chance to see this time and character evolution. If we can blind ourselves to her love of Hitler the man and see her love of pure theory (and romance – always a loser), theories all her sisters brought themselves up to argue or challenge or accept or ignore, I think we can learn a lesson from her and it brings us back to the tsarina’s chat about “Morality”. Are we losing our ability to think creatively? If not, we might escape this weird kow-towing culture that shuffles along ignoring any theory that is not taught to us by politicians and newspapers. I appreciate we were not all born into land-owning families with a penchant for tyrants, which is a boon to enjoying outlandish theories as one never has to cook or wash, but at the very least we can start the day by jumping out of our received beliefs and into the fire (mind that dark shadow of Frilly Teeth rearing up the wall behind you).
Yes! Bloggers! Escape the world prescribed for us by the Grauniad and the Torygraph and sing a different tune!
Which reminds me, today I misheard a Patsy Cline lyric – I thought she said “I’ve got a double dildo in my heart”. But I think not. I hope not. Perhaps Unity would have preferred to go that way – I know there are worse ways to get a thrill. Top tip: Don’t end up falling in love with a dictator and committing suicide in a German park. This, however, is infinitely better than just being a feisty dame/bore.

02 December 2008

Baby In Blue

It's always somebody's birthday; this poem was written on my birthday, a hundred years ago, or last week. I was getting old. Now, thank goodness, I am getting young, going backwards in years in a thrilling regeneration of self. I may be a medical miracle. I may have spent too much time alone. Whatever the reason, I now have a rather skewed concept of time. I don't look at the watch, I just watch the lines on my face as they read their story. Anyway: on to "Baby in Blue", for all you birthday boys and girls lamenting one year closer to death. Talking of death, I encourage you all to consider your own mortalities by including a picture of myself in a corset.

The sun hasn't arrived yet, nor the
Post: this evening of my youth is going to
Be a long day. I'm in red baby clothes,
Stretched to fit this elongated
Form, sucking my thumb and
Remembering photos of me in this
Outfit in blue twenty years ago.
As time creates a film of dew across
My face, I am the morning sun, I am
The invisible years that scud and shoot
And shudder across the gaping
Blue arc hanging off the day that ticks back,
Forth, already moved along like a succession
Of loud clicking silver ball-bearings.
Moving along with it, I am crushed and
Held by the future evening sun, a
Figure dangling in space confused by time.
I am on this day the wholeness and emptiness
Of it all, the tread of torchlight on frost,
A baby in blue, fist clenched round this memory.