Thursday 7 February 2013

History is a thing of the past

Wow, it’s stopped raining. Well, for an hour or two anyway. In fact the sun is out today, glistening over the firth of Forth as though it never went away. Maybe it will consider relinquishing its hibernation this year and affording this pleasant land with a summer that it hasn’t seen for a few years now.
Somehow I almost feel a spasm of guilt that we are now making plans to return to our own home in Aquitaine, where the days are long and warm, and springtime has already enticed the daffodils from the earth. I have to say I have enjoyed our time here in Scotland, even more than the last extended visit we made. For all the cold and overcoatness that this northern land is stigmatised with, there is something warm here that lies beneath it all - not just in the calling of the distant hills but in the people who live and love it here.
And what a contrast these people are to the ones back home in France, whose patriotism cements them together in defiance of all things out-with their national flag. Yes, the Scots carry the banner of Nationalism too, but not as much as the rest of Britain would have you believe. A few gentle jibes at me wearing my England rugby jersey in a local pub crowded around the TV, watching their own team once again fall to the auld foe, are both expected and acceptable. But that is where it stops. No slashed tires or burning holiday homes as with some of other anti-English nations within the British union. Scottish Independence? Well I have certainly seen no evidence of its support around this neck of the woods. If I can be bold enough to make a prediction, all talk of Salmon in Scotland will revert back to the smoked-kind before the end of next year.
Not that I am done with this country yet, as I will have to hasten back quite a few times this year in my role as researcher and writer about that great beast – the Aberdeen Angus. Now a couple of months into the project of documenting the breed’s history, I have been fortunate enough to sit and talk to a few great cattlemen who have been collectively responsible for developing the breed into the dominant brand that it now enjoys. Inside, I feel proud to be the one to preserve such a valiant history of its roller-coaster ride to fame, which can be left as a lesson, as well as a legacy, for generations to come. From the breed’s halcyon days of the sixties when overseas demand for smaller animals reduced the size of Angus bulls to that not much larger than your family pet dog, through the wilderness years of near extinction from the agricultural day-to-day in the eighties, back to the immense creature that produces the world’s finest beef once more. During that time, many a great business man had bailed-out, seeking new continental breeds for extra profit, while all but a few stalwarts stuck by their guns for what they believed in. Were this a more mainstream political subject, these brave men would now be waving the vees of smugness to those who failed to stay with the ship and repair it in its times of need. But these are farmers, rich in the art of silence on such matters, as their cash-tills ring out success once more and the ship gets back on its course. Not just on course to the UK consumer either, as demand for the Blacks now spreads out across Europe in a widening ripple. This week at the Stirling bull-sales, I met a crowd of Germans, Swiss and Portuguese who were all in town to purchase a piece of prime bovine real-estate. Who knows, it may even reach South West France, and replace that god-awful leathery creature that provides us with beef that would give a crocodile jaw-ache to chew. We can but hope.
In between this research, I find myself documenting yet another small piece of history, this time of the aviation kind. On a trip to the Scottish Museum of Flight in East Lothian, I discovered a small exhibit of a fibreglass single-seater plane built by a man called John Sharp, in his upstairs bedroom. In fact, he built the fuselage in one room and the wings in the other, in a tiny 3 bedroom house in Airdrie near Glasgow, over a period of two years. Now most of us would like to think we live with reasonably understanding partners, but how dedicated did his wife have to be to permit that little exercise? Although a man of resource, which is characterised by the fact that the front wheels of the plane are taken from a wheelbarrow and the rear once from a Tesco shopping trolley, it appears that our John was not exactly a man of foresight.  For it was only once the plane had been built, which measured some eight metres in length and span, did he consider the problem of getting it down the stairs. Not to be thwarted in his quest for free flight, John summoned up a few of his mates to help him with this exercise, by removing the side wall of the house to extract the plane! Even more unbelievable was the fact that this job had to be done at night because the house was, in fact, owned by the council! Now that, dear reader, shows tenacity that even a tireless author like me would be proud of. Unfortunately, John Sharp is no longer with us to tell his tale in person for me to write down and, as yet, the museum refuse to give me a contact for his family so I can extract further detail. However, so convinced am I that this true story should be revealed to the world in all its glory, I will not let this minor setback halt my progress. In the absence of any other evidence, in my next book, the dashing John will fly off to foreign climes and possibly save the world with his paisley-patterned scarf trailing behind him. Maybe he could even have a dog-fight with another John (from Rock) in some other home-made contraption over the skies of Halfpenny-Green? As Mr Murdoch always says, ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story!’

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