In the five-and-a-bit years I’ve been writing this blog it has brought me satisfaction, pleasure, occasional anxiety, occasional joy, and a lot of good connections. It can also sometimes feel tyrannical. Today is a case in point. (More accurately, it’s the compulsive part of me that bullies the reluctant part to write something every week that feels tyrannical, since no one else is asking me to do this – are they?)
At around 4.30 this afternoon the tyrant had begun to rage and I was racking my brains for something to write when a distraction appeared in the form of an email from my mother’s solicitor. Three years ago we moved her from Kent, where she was not managing well on her own, to a care home just along the road from my house, here in Perthshire. Since then we have been trying to sell her flat, and frequently despairing that we ever would.
Were it a nice little apartment in a pleasant town house, or even the ground floor of some ivy-clad Kentish vicarage, we would doubtless have got rid of it in short order. But that was not my mother’s style. No. In her eightieth year, with not a care for her impending decline in mobility, she moved from a cottage in Dorset to the top floor of a Lutyens mansion surrounded by several acres of parkland, lawn and a walled garden. Nor was it any old walled garden. From her eyrie on the fourth floor she looked down into the original Secret Garden, as immortalised by Frances Hodgson Burnett, who lived in the house at the turn of the last century.
Now at long last, with a lot more inducement than we would have liked, a buyer has appeared and we’re picking our way through a labyrinth of freeholders, management companies, agents and lawyers. At the moment it feels as if we’ve fallen into the plot of a Dickens novel. Anyway, no sooner had I answered the email and dealt with the distraction than the tyrant reasserted himself. But by then I’d begun to run out of time. So the rest of this post is going to be a short commercial.
On Tuesday I make the pilgrimage to the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh to compère Alexander McCall Smith’s Christmas entertainment. This is the fourth or maybe even the fifth year we’ve shared the stage and a jolly, festive occasion it always is. I can say that without fear of boasting, because my role is not much more than that of the man with the match who lights the blue touch paper.
Sandy is an interviewer’s dream. Any question, no matter how imbecilic, elicits a flood of anecdote delivered with charm and impeccable comic timing. This is a man who chuckles contagiously at his own jokes and has the audience chuckling with him in no time. He’s also the man who invented not only Ma Ramotswe but also the Great Tapestry of Scotland. He is, in short, quite extraordinary.
Music is always a feature of these evenings and this year Sandy has had eight poems set to music by his friend and collaborator, composer Tom Cunningham. The poems take as their subjects eight images from his recent book on Edinburgh, A Work of Beauty. The book is a personal tribute to his home city using photographs and engravings from the collection of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.
We’ll also be talking about his modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma, the latest goings-on in Botswana and Scotland Street, the Great Tapestry, the Really Terrible Orchestra and doubtless many other things that hang around in distant crevices of his vast and fertile imagination like bats waiting to fly out at dusk. There are still tickets available here. Join us if you can.