History Echoes

My near neighbour Scott, who farms just over the burn from me, was clearing out his office today and came across this note from his grandfather whom I remember as being a great character and a gifted and passionate local historian. As was his brother, Sam, from Drummore, who was able to draw a line from local families to William Wallace and who kept cropping maps from the 1870s that reflected the geopolitics of Europe at the time (the Franco-Prussian war was raging and, with land being destroyed, cereals were at a premium). I remember him telling me, through plumes of smoke from his pipe, that the reason there were so many big houses in the parish was that farmers were making so much money that they had to capitalise some income to mitigate the tax bill – hence the big hooses. So, France and Prussia have a rammy and the price of oats in Kirkmaiden goes mental and everybody upgrades their hoose. They say all politics are local, but the same goes for history. A friend of mine, a retired schoolteacher once told me that even weans who weren’t that interested in history were fascinated when he showed them things like his grandfather’s army issue shaving kit from the Great War. The wee details make it accessible, understandable, real. Then, as now, everything connects.

The property John describes is the house I stay in now, and Scott was brought up there in his very early years before moving to the big hoose at Garthland Mains where he now manages his braw herd of Ayrshire cows. Good to see that Scott seems to have inherited a wee bit of the history gene from the older generation.

There’s so many wee gems in the note. The curling stones unearthed by the plough, the descriptions of where the old mills, fords and houses used to be, even the tragedy of the drowning. I didn’t know any of this. And in farming circles we tend to think of paddock grazing as kind of groundbreaking and new – and yet here’s a guy who’d worked it out seventy odd years ago in the place I now live. Astonishing, and humbling.

“The vanity of each generation”, writes the brilliant Andrew o’ Hagan in his essay ‘Scotland Your Scotland’, “is to believe that we are living in the greatest period of history. Each generation imagines it is germinating a brand new world, that the times are glorious, that their period is the most interesting ever to occur, that earthly progress would turn around now for a thousand years and their names would be written on water. The Romans believed it, and their civilisation is now a heap of lovely ruins and a dead language”.

Our vanity is to view the path of human civilisation as constantly upwards. But there are sizeable bumps on an increasingly rocky road. And, actually, a lot of what we think of as modern and innovative are simply echoes of what’s been around generations before we believed in our vanity that we’d discovered something for the first time. There really is nothing new under the sun.

In his seminal 1953 novel “The Go-Between”, LP Hartley writes the following lines:

“The past is another country. They do things differently there”.

It isn’t.

And they don’t.

Write this stuff down, folks. Because it’s later than you think. Slainte, chiels.

I’ll meet you further on up the road.

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2 replies »

  1. I recently posted this in my blog….. http://www.spanglefish.com/berniesblog/blog.asp?blogid=16123

    “Thought For the Day…..

    Having watched Bettany Hughes in Gibraltar…. https://www.channel4.com/programmes/bettany-hughes-treasures-of-the-world/on-demand/72732-003 , speaking of how the Battle of Trafalgar was reported in the local newspaper at the time Bettany said that news is the beginning of history. And I thought if News is the root of History – that’s worrying – as it depends on who wrote it, and who they wrote it for. Then it becomes accepted as what was/is so. That’s a worrying thought.

    And then I read this…. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-64377942


    And there’s Ozymandias…


    I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
    Percy Bysshe Shelley – 1792-1822

    ‘Nuff said

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