This is a traditional time of year for reflection and today marks not only the end of the year but the end of a decade so I find myself thinking of the relevance of an old song by Sir Richard Maitland who wrote On The New Year in 1560. The lines I know are: “And yet I think it best that we / Pluck up our hairt and mirrie be / For thoch we wald lie doun and dee / It will us help nae thing. / In this new yeir I see but weir / Nae cause tae sing; / In this new year I see but weir / Nae cause there is tae sing.”
Sir Richard lived from 1496 to 1586, so a surprising 90 years old when he died. He lived in East Lothian, at Lethington – now called Lennoxlove – and inherited the house when his father was killed at Flodden Field; his son William later became Secretary of State to Mary, Queen of Scots.
At the end of this year there’s maybe no cause for singing, but let’s get up on our feet and face 2020 which has a few small points of light already visible.
The report from the Werrity Review was published on 19 December with little coverage in the media, still obsessed with the fall-out from the UK election, though landowners managed to get some publicity for their predictable complaints about government ‘red tape’. The main recommendation for a change to greater regulation of grouse moors was not supported by all. Two members of the review group threatened to veto a recommendation to license grouse shooting but the chairperson wanted a unanimous recommendation; he could have used his casting vote in favour of an immediate introduction of licensing. Instead “the group proposes a 5-year probationary period for specified raptors on or near grouse shooting estates to recover to a ‘favourable’ conservation status.”
For a better explanation of all this, see Alasdair Clark’s article on the Commonspace website – ‘Washout’: Grouse moor review does not go ‘far enough’ campaigners say.
The review recommendations came up at First Minister’s Questions the next day, first of all in a question from Andy Wightman. In response, Nichola Sturgeon said that the government would “be looking at whether we move to regulation in a much quicker time frame.” Claudia Beamish then said that ‘Scottish Labour’ was “very disappointed” and she went on to raise a number of sensible points – a ban on burning deep peat, the outlawing of some kinds of snares, an end to the mass killing of mountain hares. How I wish the Greens, the Labour Party and the SNP would work together more often instead of making petty points for party political advantage. This could be a good example of where such parliamentary co-operation would improve the country. Roseanna Cunningham, the Environment Secretary, has said that the government will publish a full response and she also indicated that a licensing scheme might be brought in earlier. Here’s hoping the landowning lobby will be faced down, even with the 2021 Holyrood elections coming up – they’ll be Tory voters anyway so why bother trying to placate folk who’ve had their own wicked way for far too long.
I was also slightly cheered this month to read that an Airbnb owner in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket has lost her appeal against a council decision to stop her from letting out her property because of the detrimental impact on her neighbours’ lives. I was shocked to read that one in ten properties in Edinburgh city centre is on Airbnb. I’ve been through in Edinburgh a couple of times recently and it’s hoaching – even a Hogmanay visitor described it to me as “turning into a theme park”, so residents must be feeling it even more.
Rama and I went there a couple of weeks ago to meet Duncan Ban and we had lunch in Scran, in the North Bridge Arcade off Cockburn Street. Rather, I had lunch – it was 2.30pm – and they both had a breakfast. Maybe because of the time of day, it had quietened down a bit and we got a table easily, though there seemed to be only a couple of folk at work – one in the kitchen and one serving. I enjoyed my meal though I was initially put off by the unadvertised dollop of gravy on top of the tower of tatties, neeps and haggis. Last time, I had their blueberry pancakes with added fresh blueberries and had to take away one of the three pancakes to eat later. They were gemme.
Rama suggested going to the Christmas market but Duncan Ban wasn’t keen and I vetoed it altogether. It’s another bone of contention in Edinburgh at the moment, taking up the normally public space of the Gardens and built on top of scaffolding, without planning permission I understand. Today I’m reading that Underbelly has taken away and relocated the Christmas tree gifted from Norway and also the nativity scene to make more room for their Hogmanay celebrations. Time for the council to get a grip, I think, and challenge the privatisation of these Edinburgh spaces.
Instead of the market, I took the lads to the Writers’ Museum in Lady Stairs Close though I’d forgotten where exactly it was and was just hopeless about using Google maps to find it; I was being told we were 4 minutes away but what use was that when I couldn’t work out which direction to go. At one point, all 3 of us were on the Lawnmarket with our phones out – the shame of it! Turned out I’d confused the curve of Cockburn Street with that of the Mound. Finally inside, they each found something of interest to look at but their favourite thing was the burglar alarm uneven step on the flight of stairs leading to the top floor.
For more cultural forcefeeding, I followed up with a quick visit to the Portrait Gallery thinking I could interest Rama in the Danny McGrain portrait, but it wasn’t on view that day. Though he was visibly flagging at this stage, both he and Duncan Ban found pictures and photos which they thought merited a closer look. Duncan Ban spent quite a lot of time looking at photos in the MacKinnon Collection exhibition and being a thoughtful lad, wondered how the Gaelic speakers from the Highlands portrayed in some of them had managed when they first came to Glasgow. I hope they’ll go back one day themselves for a further look and to feed their souls.
Before Rama and I got the train back to Glasgow, we took rest in a café where Rama promptly nodded off to sleep. Duncan said that he looked like an old crofter, with his head sunk on to his chest and his beanie hat riding up. Just as well Rama never heard that.
At this time of year, my thoughts have also turned to traditional baking and I’ve turned out several batches of shortbread, using 2 oz of beremeal to replace some of the flour from my sister’s mother in law’s recipe; it’s turned out fine though I can’t say I’ve perfected the technique of rolling the mixture into a log. Inspired by a wonderful BBC Alba programme in which Heather Dewar tried out various recipes from Flora McNeill’s The Scots Kitchen, I made both Atholl Brose – the world’s oldest cocktail? – and a black bun which I’ve told the recipient might be repurposed as a door stop.