Best events attended
Lots of possible bests here: StAnza 2008 was very special, the UNICEF Burns Supper in Dunbar was, as always, hilarious; I enjoyed the Stirling Writers meeting in February; the Folkies reading in March, the Chelsea Flower Show in May; book launches for Anna Dickie, Dave Purdie, Anne Connolly, Catriona Malan and Jayne Wilding; a wildflower walk with the Dunbar Writers; an Arthur’s Seat one with Gerry Loose; the SPL renga in August; the Callander Poetry Weekend in September, and the Great Grog reading in November. My favourite event of the year was, however, the wedding of our son Duncan to Sheila. It was a lovely day, and we all enjoyed ourselves excessively – the only way.
Favourite people I’ve met
I don’t mean to name-drop, but meeting August Kleinzahler at StAnza was a real pleasure. His discussion on Basil Bunting was one of the Festival highlights this year, but aside from that he seemed to be everywhere – that furry hat of his was always popping up at readings and discussions. Great too, to meet Tess Gallagher, a fine poet and a very nice person. Talking to Kenneth White was also terrific – we’ve both visited many of the same places in the world, and experienced many of the same things. I loved his enthusiasm, his optimism and cheerfulness – very refreshing. I renewed a friendship with Lillias Forbes too. She’ll be 90 this week, and I’m publishing a new book of her poems in February. She’s another one who says, “Yes” to life. I’ll single out the nursing staff at the State Hospital, Carstairs, for special mention. Over the years I’ve run several poetry readings and workshops there, and the staff have always impressed me. The way they interact with the patients, treating them with dignity and respect, is wholly admirable.
In September I joined 47 friends from Linlithgow, North Berwick etc for our biennial trip to one of Europe’s cultural capitals (we call ourselves the Fahrters, from the German for a journey). We’ve been to Naples (and Sorrento), Madrid, Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Vienna and Budapest with the group. This year it was Paris, one of my favourite cities. I don’t normally like cities – I know I couldn’t live in one – but there are some that I love, and Paris is at the top. Within Paris itself, the Metro is great – easy to use, and difficult to get lost. We did all the touristy things – bateaux mouches, open-topped bus, a walking tour of the Marais, the Conciergerie, Musée D’Orsay etc, but we also explored some of the more unusual sights, like the sewers, and the new Musée du Quai Branly. The trip out to Chartres Cathedral was memorable. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen the cathedral from the Route Nationale, but this was the first time I’d been inside it.
Best musical discoveries
Our Broken Garden, Little Dragon and Kim Edgar were among my discoveries. New music from old favourites included Karine Polwart and Kate Rusby, but the best sounds of the year, to my ear, came from John McLaughlin, with Floating Point, a collaboration with Indian musicians – jazz and classical. It’s a stunning CD.
Best TV series
Neil Oliver’s History of Scotland was unmissable. I know: his hair is ridiculous, he shouts a lot, and there was entirely too much fake blood splashed around (it looked a bit like redcurrant jelly dissolved in port), but it was exciting, the landscapes were stunning, and I learned some things I hadn’t known before, particularly about the early period before Scotland was established as a kingdom.
Best artistic discovery
The Pompidou Centre in Paris has the best art bookshop I know, and I had a great time browsing through their print collection, their postcards and their books. I discovered the work of Zao Wu-Ki, a major modern Chinese artist whose work I hadn’t come across before, so I bought a print which is now hanging in our living room. It’s abstract, or should I say non-figurative, and it’s painted with great skill and delicacy. Among the postcards, I bought Cartier-Bresson photos of Albert Camus and Samuel Beckett. As DunbarJane and I wandered through the shop, we could hear the marching band of the Falun Gong playing outside. It was an international band, with members from all parts of the world, all dressed in the same sky-blue uniforms. I found it a bit suspicious, to be honest. Who’s funding them? I think I can guess.
Best poetry magazine?
Poetry Scotland, of course.
A vintage year, 2008. I wonder what 2009 will bring? The way my January and February diary looks, it could be the Year of Schools Workshops.