Being professionally interesting

23 Mar

I sometimes think I should get business cards made that list my work as “professionally interesting”. Part of being an author means that I always have a random fact or interesting anecdote about anything that comes up, and it also means that I spend time at events, on the radio or in print, talking about the most interesting aspects of my books, my research or even just myself. (I have had an unusually full, interesting and long life for someone who likes to think she’s in her early 30s.)

I actually have “author and interpreter” on my cards, but I have my book covers on the front, which is cool.

Anyway, that’s just a preamble to telling you that I was on CamGlen radio yesterday, and will be on BBC Radio Scotland at some point in the not-too-distant future, talking about Hugh MacDonald, Glasgow, and being a missionary.

CamGlen is a volunteer radio serves Cambuslang and Rutherglen (hence the name). They do a lot of good work with community engagement, skills building and training. I was invited along by Cat Gibson, who presents the Cat’s Cream show and who discovered Hugh MacDonald during lockdown. You can hear me on their ‘listen again’ service using the link below. My bit starts 33 minutes in.

After appearing on CamGlen (and I walked to Rutherglen from Dennistoun in honour of Hugh MacDonald – be impressed!), I went straight across town to Govan, where I had a wee walk with Mark Stephen of BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Out of Doors‘ programme and talked about what Govan was like at the time that Hugh MacDonald was rambling round it. It was actually less nerve-wracking because it wasn’t live, so anything stupid I said could be edited out (like the moment when I pointed to Glasgow University but the words that came confidently out of my mouth were “That’s Glasgow Cathedral!”). I’m not sure when the episode will be broadcast, but I’ll let you know. [It went out in the early hours of 25th March and you can listen here. My part starts at 1h20m.]

One thing I had wanted to mention during my Out of Doors interview was Thomas Campbell’s wonderful poem about the way 19th-century industry on the Clyde exploited both human beings and nature, but it completely slipped my mind. I got very fond of Thomas Campbell’s poetry when I was editing Rambles, and this powerful poem is quoted at full length in the chapter on Govan, Renfew and Inchinnan – so I’ll quote it at full length here, too. Enjoy.

Lines on Revisiting a Scottish River

And call they this Improvement? — to have changed,
My native Clyde, thy once romantic shore,
Where Nature’s face is banish’d and estranged,
And Heaven reflected in thy wave no more;
Whose banks, that sweeten’d May-day’s breath before,
Lie sere and leafless now in summer’s beam,
With sooty exhalations cover’d o’er;
And for the daisied green-sward, down thy stream
Unsightly brick-lanes smoke, and clanking engines gleam.

Speak not to me of swarms the scene sustains;
One heart free tasting Nature’s breath and bloom
Is worth a thousand slaves to Mammon’s gains.
But whither goes that wealth, and gladdening whom?
See, left but life enough and breathing-room
The hunger and the hope of life to feel,
Yon pale Mechanic bending o’er his loom,
And Childhood’s self as at Ixion’s wheel,
From morn till midnight task’d to earns its little meal.

Is this Improvement? — where the human breed
Degenerates as they swarm and overflow,
Till toil grows cheaper than the trodden weed,
And man competes with man, like foe with foe,
Till Death, that thins them scarce seems public woe?
Improvement! — smiles it in the poor man’s eyes,
Or blooms it on the cheek of Labour? – No —
To gorge a few with Trade’s precarious prize,
We banish rural life, and breathe unwholesome skies.

Nor call that evil slight; God has not given
This passion to the heart of man in vain,
For Earth’s green face, th’untainted air of Heaven,
And all the bliss of Nature’s rustic reign.
For not alone our frame imbibes a stain
From fetid skies; the spirit’s healthy pride
Fades in their gloom — And therefore I complain,
That thou no more through pastoral scenes shouldst glide,
My Wallace’s own stream, and once romantic Clyde!


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