I’ve been walking round the river at the end of a long day, wondering what to write about. It’s a still, clear evening and the water’s low for the time of year. Normally we’d be expecting the stormy weather that comes with the lambing, and the Tay would be roaring. But thanks to the recent prolonged cold, dry spell, it’s not.
The trees are still leafless, and across the water is Eastwood House, where Beatrix Potter stayed as a young woman and wrote the Tale of Peter Rabbit in a letter to the children of a former governess. Every time I look at the walled garden, sprawled along the opposite bank, I think of Mr McGregor chasing Peter out of the lettuces.
But today I had rabbitry of a different kind in mind. I’ll be at Merton College, Oxford this time next week with my partners, John and Stuart, running the third Dark Angels masterclass. One of the tasks we set everyone, including ourselves, in advance of the course, is to read a novel that has an Oxford connection, then write a piece of dry financial services literature in the style of that book. In previous years I’ve drawn Zuleika Dobson and Three Men In A Boat. This year I drew Alice in Wonderland.
It’s a wonderful exercise in rendering absurd the pompous, self-congratulatory waffle that pours forth daily from banks and building societies and other financial institutions the length and breadth of the land. With the Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts, the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle to hand, the scope for comic surrealism is boundless. I’m looking forward to writing it this weekend before I set off.
Were they not so alarming there would be something almost as comically surreal about the images we’ve been seeing from Pyongyang this week. Watching the grimacing young leader, spluttering newscasters and goose-stepping soldiers is like having disappeared down another rabbit hole, of an altogether more sinister kind. And then, in the very week that the North Korean nuclear sabre is being rattled more loudly than ever, David Cameron chooses to visit Faslane and make his defence of Trident – a deterrent which, at least according to the SNP, the great majority of Scots feel they never asked for and can’t wait to be rid of.
And so, via rabbits and rabbit holes, I seem to have ended up where I started last week – the Independence question, which gives me the opportunity to respond to Steve Rawson who commented on last week’s post. That the economic question is not the right one to be asking, I agree. Independence would be for a long time; economic forecasting is accurate for a few months at best, and whatever the great oil carve-up might produce, Scotland would still be better off than practically any other country that has ever struck out on its own.
But on the question of kinship, I disagree. To paraphrase, Steve suggested that if Scots and English feel they are kin, they should stick together. The theme for this blog, A Few Kind Words, has its roots in that same place, of kindness in its original sense of being kin, or of the same kind. I’m all for the benefits of kinship, and kindness, and hope that sentiment would persist whatever happens in 18 months’ time. But when it comes to it I don’t let my kin determine my life choices.