IMG_5225Edensor Day has finally arrived.  Just two months ago, the residents of the bijou Derbyshire Village, where I live, emerged from hibernation and converted their gardens into a collective floral spectacle. Then, last Saturday, they opened them to the public, while on the green, all the accoutrements of a village fete and gala sprang up: stalls selling plants, bric-a-brac and books, vintage cars, a steel band, Morris Dancers, hog roast, raffle and barrel organ.  People paid £5 a ticket to enter and all funds were in the aid of this year’s charities: Dementia UK, Leukaemia and the never-ending Church Roof fund. 

Edensor appears in the Domesday Book as a small hamlet on the road from Matlock to Carver and Bakewell.  But after the big house was built in 1699, successive Dukes of Devonshire complained that the straggle of rude dwellings spoiled their view of the deer park, so in 1835, the 6th Duke and his general factotum, Joseph Paxton, demolished it and commissioned another village of the same name out of sight of his palace behind the Tumps.  According to social history, the Duke asked Paxton to obtain a selection of architect’s drawings. These included Italianate villas, Swiss chalets, gingerbread cottages and fortified houses with battlements and turrets. All the buildings were of a different style.  So in a confusion of indecision, His Grace proclaimed, ‘I’ll have one of each’.  And so it was: the dwellings of Edensor resemble a collection of film sets, but that contributes to the charm of the village. Nevertheless, Nikolaus Pevsner, the author of the compendious ‘Buildings of England’, was scathing about what he regarded as its inauthenticity. 

As a resident of 10 years, I am still regarded as an incomer, but in a gesture of solidarity to the community, I watered my flowers, fed the honeysuckle, and tidied the weeds from the front yard.   But I am no gardener. The biggest thing growing in my garden is the scaffolding they put up three months ago to replace my chimney that was in danger of blowing down. I am much better on biscuits and books that I ever was with plants and flowers.  So I erected two large tables outside under the scaffold, and filled them with some of my less cherished books, while on a separate table, I installed a Winchester flask of elderflower cordial and two cake stands of my own home made ricorelli biscuits.  I then made myself a cup of coffee and sat down and awaited the crowds. 

It is so poignant to sell my books, even for charity. They are like old friends. I can remember where I was when I first read them, where my mind travelled, what was important back then.  But my tiny cottage is groaning under the weight of novels, reference books on physiology, natural history, geology, environmental studies, medicine, psychoanalysis, biography and lots of poetry – though, if there’s one category I can’t get rid of, it’s the poetry books. 

It could not last. The long, hot spell of weather we had enjoyed from early May had to break some time. I had not long set up my stall when it started to rain.  I put both tables together under a large green parasol and rearranged my books where they might stay dry, then just as Lord Burlington, the scion of Chatsworth, drove through the village gate with his wife and young family, the rain stopped.  The ribbon was cut, posies exchanged  and Edensor Day was formally opened as, with a jingle of bells, a thump of the drum and img_5231.jpgthe bucolic strains of pipe and accordion, the Morris Dancers emerged in their black cloaks and breeches, multicoloured tassels, top hats with feathers and flowers, and faces painted in black, red and yellow like Red Indian medicine men. Back in the day on the borders between England and Wales, begging was unlawful, so destitute people disguised themselves and danced through the villages, extorting money by their frightening appearance.

From 11am until 4pm, a steady stream of people passed my stand and examined the books, though not all bought them.  Many said they already had a house full of books.  Others equivocated over the price, but I charged no more than £2 for most books, and all the money raised went to good causes.  The paradox is that had I charged more, people might have bought more; two pounds implies that they have no value.  I didn’t even have the heart to charge his Lordship more than £4 for the two art books he purchased, though his daughter politely requested a drink of cordial nervously holding out her 50p.  I didn’t sell as many biscuits as last year, probably because Tracey was selling cakes just next door, but despite the chilly weather, the Winchester of elderflower cordial was empty by the end of the day.  

At half past four, I had just started to pack up when, with exquisite timing and a loud rumble of thunder, heaven opened its sluices and cleared the streets and gardens.  It was a signal to join my neighbours in the courtyard for a beer and a laugh, and wait while the committee sat in conclave and counted the money.  The outcome was a record; over £12,000!

 

 

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st kilda

‘Three points of contact at all times. And if anybody falls overboard, just throw them a ring and scream.  Don’t go running for’ad to get us because the chances are we won’t find them’.  Ex Royal Marine and RNLI, Jock was a health and safety man to his branded anorak and shiny boots. ‘None of you have got your life jackets on properly.  ‘If your crutch strap is too loose, the jacket will ride up around your neck and strangle you.’  This was suddenly serious.  

St Kilda is about 90 miles away from the Isle of Skye and the only way we could get there and back in the same day was in the GotoStKilda speed boat, a modern sea going capsule with a small afterdeck from where we could watch the birds, the whales and the dolphins.  

‘If people don’t come on time, they’ll get left behind’, scowled Jock. So on the stroke of 7 o’clock, Willie, the skipper, a stocky, shaven headed man, who had bought land to farm in Tennessee, fired up the engines and soon we were all heading west, racing across The Minch and through The Sound of Harris and out into the Atlantic, Harris and Lewis receding into the mist behind us on a glassy sea.  A pod of dolphins came out to investigate, arcing above the reflective surface. The sun was bright on the sea, in contrast with the western horizon, which was a wide smudge of dark grey with the evanescent angular shapes of islands.  

Borarey is about 4 miles to the north and east of the main island of Hirta and includes the magnificent sea stacks, An Armin and Lee, home to the largest gannet colony in the North Atlantic.  We watched as, like large prehistoric seagulls with sulphur yellow heads and sharp pointed bills, they folded their wings and darted into the sea at 60 mph to spear the shoals of herring.  Gannets can live for up to 30 years, but after a while the accumulated impact of hitting the sea at 60mph causes them to go blind and dislocate their necks.  Returning with their catch, they are mobbed by Bonxies (Great Skuas), also known as pirate birds, which force them to disgorge their catch.  The people of St Kilda relied on nesting birds not only for their staple food, but also for the oil and feathers which they would trade.  The young men would scale the sea stacks late at night to catch the gannets.  It was dangerous work.  They would have to catch the sentry bird and wring its neck before they could harvest the other birds. 

Hirta, the main island, is formed from part of the rim of an extinct volcano and has the highest sea cliffs in Europe. The islanders would let each other down on horsehair ropes to harvest the fulmar petrels that nested on the ledges. It was such dangerous work, but only two men were known to have died, when the anchor man at the top of the cliff lost concentration and did not take up the slack while his climbing partner missed his foothold, fell about forty feet and catapulted him 600 feet onto the rocks below.

We docked in the sheltered harbour of Village Bay, clambered into the rubber Zodiac and went ashore, where we were greeted by the resident archaeologist.  He was a shy young man with glasses and baggy jeans, who informed us that St Kilda had been occupied for 3000 years. The names of the islands, however, are derived from the Vikings, who built the black houses for people to live in and cleats (stone huts with a turf roof) to dry and store the feathers and the birds.  The St Kildans lived in their black houses up until the eighteenth century.  They burnt peat in a central hearth, but, as there was no chimney; the smoke hung just below the roof and deposited a thick layer of tar, which functioned as a disinfectant.  They also had their own form of central heating.  A cow or sheep occupied the same space, separated by a partition.  The dung was collected and stored together with human waste and refuse in a large heap inside the doorway and then spread over the floor.  The rotting refuse provided underfloor heating, but was very smelly.  

The St Kildans did everything together and met for morning ‘parliament’ in the village street to decide what they would do that day.  Survival was a full time job. The men collected the birds, built the houses and cleats, while the women tended the vegetables, plucked the birds and cooked the meals.  The community shared all the work and the harvest, but they sent feathers and fulmar oil to the landowner on the mainland in return for materials for their houses and any provisions, which they did not have on the island. 

People continued to live on St Kilda until 1930 when the combination of disease, emigration and poverty forced their evacuation.  The last person to have lived on St Kilda died just three years ago. An epidemic of smallpox killed off half the population in the 1870s, then flu took its toll in the 1920s.  Many children  died of infertile tetanus, probably caused by the habit of anointing the umbilical cord with dung or fulmar oil.  The newer houses, constructed in the 1880s, had tin roofs which let the rain in, but these were not an improvement: the tin roofs would blow off and the storms blew the windows in.  They may have been cleaner but they were not as warm. People suffered, became ill and increasing numbers of survivors took the opportunity to leave.  

On Hirta, we took the opportunity to explore the island alone.  We only had two hours to explore the island alone and the cloud was too low to go to the tops of the hills. I went up to the gap – the low point between two hills below the cloud base and ate my lunch while watching the fulmars glide along the side of the cliffs past their nesting sites.  Then I traversed across the heather and tried to get some photographs of the resident Bonxies, which were intent on dive bombing me.  The whoosh as one dived within inches of my head was alarming.  Down in the village, some Fulmars  nested in the turf on top of the cleats while St Kilda Wrens, greyer and much bigger than the wrens we see on the mainland, nested in the walls, sharing the nooks and crannies with starlings.

The time passed too quickly and I wished I had opted to camp there for the night, but as we left, Jock said he had an extra treat for us. He took us  to the place near where the puffins nested and saw thousands of them floating on the sea,  their clown like faces incongruous in their black habits.  Puffins dive for sand eels which dangle on hooks set on the inside of their comical beaks, but they are also victims of the skuas, who fly in and delicately grab the dangling sand eels.  

We could not dawdle; Jock and Willie were keen to get back, but Jock had an announcement.  ‘Now just go on your Facebook and Twitter and tell all your friends about ‘GotoStKilda’. We need to have a full boat every trip so we can put food on the table.’  At £236 a shot, this was hardly the same privation as the original settlers, but we said we would. 

A breeze had got up while we were on land and as the boat bucked and dived through the swells, we staggered to keep our three points or more in contact.  But that just added a certain frisson to what had been an amazing trip.  

The Cellist of SarajevoA violinist was playing in the subway on Baker Street Station. He had positioned himself at the corner of the space where the stairs from the Metropolitan line met the escalators that descended to the Bakerloo and Jubilee lines. I could not name the piece he was playing but it was so poignant I stepped out the flow of commuters rushing like ants through the tunnels, leant against the wall and listened. It felt like a refuge, a moment of peace among the mounting chaos and insecurity of our collective lives.

I thought of the Cellist of Sarajevo, the subject of Steven Galloway’s recent novel. During the four year long siege of that once beautiful Bosnian city, ringed by hills, a sad looking man with tousled hair and dressed in a dusty full evening dress suit, stepped into the market square at four o’clock every afternoon, positioned his stool in the bomb crater and played Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor. He has been playing the same piece in a window overlooking the square when a mortar bomb exploded outside and killed 22 people queuing for bread. He had stood motionless at the window all night and for most of the next day. Then at 4pm, he carried his cello into the square, and began to play He continued to do this every day for the next 22 days, one day for each victim. People stopped and listened, oblivious to the risk from snipers and shelling from the hills, and for a brief time forgot about the war. Then he got up, gathers his stool and his cello and walked slowly to the door of his house and disappeared. He could have been killed by the men on the hills besieging the city or any of the snipers sent to infiltrate the population, but he wasn’t. On the last day, he picked up his stool, tossed his bow on to the pile of flowers that people have placed at the spot and went inside for the last time. The Cellist of Sarajevo is a work of fiction, but is based on the courage of Vedran Smailovic, who had played for the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Sarajevo Opera before the war.

The Balkans have been in the centre of conflict since Greco-Roman times. For many years part of the Roman Empire, then part of the Ottoman Empire, then the Austro-hungarian Empire, it was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo that precipitated the First World War, firstly as a conflict between Serbia and Austro-Hungary, then between Russia and Germany; finally Britain and France were drawn in because of their alliances. Under the Treaty of Versailles, the Balkan States were subsumed under a single nation, called Yugoslavia (southern Slavs). During the Second World War, the region was occupied by the Axis powers, but it regained its independence under Marshal Tito at the end of the war and was drawn into the orbit of the Soviet Union as a client communist state. When Tito died in 1980, old nationalist ambitions resurfaced. Serbia had ambitions to reunite the country under their control, but Bosnia-Herzegovina and other Balkan states including Croatia and Slovenia, which had a sizeable Serbian population resisted.

The Seige of Sarajevo

Bosnia declared independence in 1992 and almost immediately were attacked by Serbian forces. Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia; a modern city with a population the size of Bristol, was besieged for four years, much longer than Stalingrad and Leningrad 50 years earlier. The Serbians set up artillery positions in the hills that ringed the city and sent snipers into the city to terrify the population. 11,000 defenders were killed. There was scarcely a house that was not damaged or destroyed by bombs. The main targets were the hospital, government buildings, schools and libraries. The images of high rise buildings on fire resembled the recent Grenfell Tower disaster in London. All services, electricity, water supply, sewage and transport, were cut.

Steven Galloway’s book charts the life of three of the inhabitants during that time. Arrow is a Bosnian sniper who has been ordered to protect the cellist from Serbian snipers sent in to kill him, but she ultimately becomes a target of her own side when she refuses to fire on Serbian civilians. Dragan is a baker, whose family have managed to escape to Croatia, leaving him behind. Kenan runs the gauntlet of sniper and mortar fire every day to cross the river to get water for his family and the elderly widow, who lives in the same block of flats. Life for the 400,000 or more people living in Sarajevo was a matter of life and death every single day.

Galloway’s characters are based on real people, worn out by war, fearful of what might become of themselves and their families. Only the cellist and his music bring hope and respite from fear. For a brief moment every day, it seems that mankind is still capable of humanity and the war has not destroyed everything.

In the last two years, London has been the scene of random terrorist attacks, creating a low level sense of anxiety every time I go down. The music in the underground helps to reassure. Everybody should stop and listen for a few minutes.

 

Alarmed by the atrocities committed by the besieging Serbian forces and what resembled ethnic cleansing, the United Nations joined the conflict in 1996 and bombed the Serbian positions. Eventually a peace treaty was signed giving autonomy to Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia. The only state not given nation status was Kosovo and this remains unresolved. The Serb leaders were tried for war crimes at The Hague and sentenced to life imprisonment.

ball-tampering

Bowler Cameron Bancroft and captain Stevie Smith at their news conference in Cape Town.

It took but a moment. During the lunch break, several senior players hatched a plan. The fall guy was their new fast bowler, Cameron Bancroft. They persuaded him to smuggle a piece of sticky tape onto the pitch and apply it to one side of the ball so that it would pick up dirt and make it swing more in the air. The problem was that the sticky tape was bright yellow and his actions were witnessed on screens all round the world via a host of television cameras. According to the rules of cricket, a player is not allowed to tamper with the ball to gain an unfair advantage. This includes abrading one side with a fingernail or dirt in the pocket or rubbing it on the ground, through strangely spitting on the ball to dampen one side and buffing up the the other side of the ball on the trousers is allowed. It all seems a bit arbitrary. But in cricket as in life, players must play by the rules.

Cricket Australia reacted swiftly. With one test match left to play in South Africa, they recalled Smith, the captain, Warner, the vice captain, and the bowler, Cameron Bancroft.  It was only after they returned that they realised the enormity of their crime. Smith broke down in tears in front of the world’s media; he had let himself, his father and everybody else down. Australia lost the last match by 322 runs.

Bill Shankly, the manager of Liverpool FC during their glory days, once said, ‘Football is not life and death; it’s more important than that’. He was right. The identity of thousands of fans are invested in their team and its players, but for Australia, cricket carries the identity of the whole nation. Cricket is the national game. More respect is afforded to the players than to the Prime Minister and members of his government. We all know that politicians can cheat and lie; it is part of the job, but cricket is an honourable pursuit. Even the poms can criticise the Australian government, but heaven help them if they slag off the Australian cricket team. Australians are very proud of their team; not just because they are such dedicated and skilful players, but because the Australian team, unlike other nations, are thought to play the game fairly according to the rules.

So, by cheating, the players have not only shamed themselves, they have shamed a whole nation. Australia is no longer that pure, uncorrupted, sunlit island in the southern hemisphere; they are cheats, like everybody else. No wonder there has been such a storm of anger in the Australian media.

Sport is a metaphor for society. And society has to be run according to rules. If those are flouted, then the society collapses into meaningless anarchy. Although cricket is ‘only a game’, it means so much to so many people that the players have to play fair. If they don’t, what is the point of playing? Not only Australian Cricket, but the whole game worldwide becomes meaningless. Millions of fans who believe in the integrity of cricket no longer have any anchorage of identity. Yes, indeed, cricket is more important than life or death, it is about meaning and identity.

The psychoanalyst, Melanie Klein, wrote that at about the age of 2 or 3, children reach what she called ‘the depressive position’, when they first realise they are not the centre of their own universe; there are others to consider and they can’t do just what they want. This might also be called ‘the stage of disillusion’. She added that we may continue to encounter the depressive position many times throughout life, especially when we are encouraged by our achievements and the admiration of others to feel that sense of hubris or false pride. But pride always comes before a fall.

Australia’s cricketers are folk heroes with almost god like status. Worshipped by a whole nation, they may come to believe they can do no wrong, as long as they keep on winning. No doubt Smith and Warner felt that with a crucial test series against South Africa in the balance, winning was so important that the risk of cheating was worth taking. Maybe their hubris was such that they thought they were beyond reproach. How wrong they were. The higher our heroes climb, the harder they fall. Smith and Warner have gone from hero to zero in less than a day and only Bancroft may be excused because he was younger and in thrall of his seniors.

Is this just a sign of the time? Are we living in a time of such scepticism, when a reality television host and self confessed sexual opportunist can become President of the United States, while here in the UK, we read every day about the incompetence of our leaders, the corruptness of the police and judiciary, the mistakes of the health service, the irrelevance of the royal family, and only a minority of people believe in God.

There is more outrage over the latest incident of ball tampering than there was in 1994 when that icon of the game, the English captain, Michael Atherton, was observed to be rubbing dirt from his pocket on one side of the ball. He was fined £2000 but was allowed to continue as captain. I am not sure Smith will be as fortunate. Perhaps we need our heroes too much these days. If they cheat, then it means that we no longer trust the integrity of the players and will have to rely increasingly on technology. Freed from the obligations of honour, players will be forced to find ever more inventive ways to break the rules. And that my friends, will not be cricket.

IMG_4229

Crackaig is a sad place. It lies in a hanging valley above steep cliffs, just a mile from the sea in Northwest Mull and contains the ruins of 12 stone dwellings. The land around still shows the shallow undulations of the strips and furrows for cultivation. Two hundred years ago, the people of Crackaig subsisted by fishing, keeping cattle and growing barley and potatoes; they even ran an illicit whisky still in a cave by the shore, trading the whisky for piglets brought over on boats from Ireland. It was a hard life, only barely above subsistence level, but the potato blight brought them to the brink of starvation. Many died, the village was deserted and those that survived, emigrated to Canada. Only a few miles back along the coast is a village called Calgarrie, which gave its name to the city in Alberta.

Across the sound from Crackaig is the island of Ulva, the domicile of the Macquarie clan, the fierce red tartan fighters who fought the English throughout medieval times and at the Battle of Culloden. Two generations later, their descendants would join the British Army. Major General Lashlan Macquarie served with distinction during the Napoleonic Wars and, as Governor General of New South Wales between 1810 to 1821, was instrumental in its development from a penal colony to a free settlement. Macquarie Island in the Southern Ocean is named after him. As landlords of Ulva after the clearances, his family had fought for the population to remain as long as they paid their way by fishing and harvesting kelp, which provided soda ash for soap and glass manufacture. They even commissioned Thomas Telford to design a church for them. But, the market for kelp collapsed in the 1840s at around the same time as the blight destroyed the staple potato crop. The landlord dipped into his own pocket to send most of the 600 people who lived on the island to Canada. There are now just 16 people living on Ulva. The island is again up for sale. The price is £4.1 million, a snip for somebody with the money and imagination to seize an opportunity for tourism.

 

In the early 19th century about 40% of Scots lived in the Highlands and Islands. Now that figure is around 2 to 3%. The depopulation of the highlands by what has come to be known as the clearances has become part of Scottish identity; a tragic tale of exploitation and betrayal by avaricious landowners. The truth is more complex.

The Highlands and Islands avoided the enclosure and intensive farming that occurred in the south. Much of the land was poor and inaccessible and people lived in clans or tribes, who operated a system of mutual loyalty, called ‘duathches’, based on the allocation of land and controlled by the clan chieftain. In return for the land to live on, clansmen not only had to give over a proportion of their produce to the chieftain, they were also expected to join the local militia in any conflicts with neighbouring clans. The ‘clansmen’ were largely subsistence farmers, but their livelihood was increasingly threatened by sheep farming, which was less labour intensive and used more land. Some of the clans kept cattle, which were driven south for sale in the autumn.

Chieftains were autocratic rulers with little respect for the crown, but after King James II was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, they backed the Stuart cause to regain the monarchy. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s march south, which reached as far as Derby, was an enormous shock for the English. King George II was all ready to escape to the Netherlands, but Charlie’s highland army began to drift away back north and were eventually beaten by the English at the Battle of Culloden. Anxious to avoid another highland rebellion, the English redcoats under the notorious Duke of Cumberland pursued the highlanders into their own country, burning their villages and killing the many of the clansmen, as in the infamous Massacre of Glencoe. The clan system was disbanded. People were forbidden to wear the tartan or play the bagpipes.

After Culloden, clan chieftains and their tacksmen became major landowners; in essence, client rulers, answerable to the crown. They struggled to make their land profitable. Some such as the Duke of Sutherland evicted thousands of families, burning their cottages in order to establish large sheep farms or shooting estates.

Donald McLeod, as Sutherland stonemason, wrote about the events he witnessed:

The consternation and confusion were extreme. Little or no time was given for the removal of persons or property; the people striving to remove the sick and helpless before the fire should reach them; next struggling to save the most valuable of their effects.The cries of the women and children, the roaring of the affrighted cattle, hunted at the same time by the yelling dogs of the shepherds amid the smoke and the fire, altogether presented a scene that completely baffles description – it required to be seen to be believed. A dense cloud of smoke enveloped the whole country by day and even extended far out to sea. At night an awful scene presented itself – all the houses in an extensive district in flames at once.

Evicted tenants were resettled in coastal crofts (small tenant farms) where they kept a few cattle, tried to grow crops on impoverished land, fished and gathered and burnt kelp for potash and soda ash, which was used for glass making, soap and fertilisers. But rents were high, there was no security of tenure and access to land was limited. People were dependent on their landlords for their survival. Some people resisted eviction; there were riots. On Skye, the population of one village burned the bailiffs’ papers and sent the back home naked, but a few days later, they returned fully clothed and with soldiers. Others threatened to emigrate and reconstitute their societies in Canada, but the landlords needed to retain the croft industries. The Island of Harris was effectively divided in two. The open grassland to the west was used for sheep farming while the crofters were huddled into the poor rocky and boggy land to the east of the island. Despite the privations, the system worked and the population of the Highlands and Islands continued to increase into the early nineteenth century.

During the Napoleonic war, young men were recruited from the clans in return for land. It was said that the war had harvested sons. Prices escalated during wartime. Many landlords were already in debt, because they wanted to mimic the lifestyle of the lowland landlords.  Increases in the price of fish and kelp from the croft industries protected them from bankruptcy for a few years, but as markets expanded after the war, cheaper sources of potash became available and cattle and fish prices fell. Crofting was no longer profitable. The final straw was the failure of the potato crop due to blight. This led to widespread starvation and with it disease.  People left Crackaig after an epidemic of typhoid, during which many died.

This second wave of highland clearances, like the first, was not a case of abandonment by foreign landlords, as it was in Ireland.  The landowners were of their own stock. Many of them tried to protect their tenants from the worst ravages of the potato blight, but since the famine continued for several years longer than it did in Ireland, it became more profitable and humane to pay for their tenants to be transported.

The chief of the McLean clan found it necessary to lease the Island of Rum to a single sheep farmer and move the whole population to Cape Breton. Late spring in North Uist became known as the transportation season because that was when the boats arrived to collect emigrants for their passage to Canada. But not all the tenant crofters were forcibly transported against their will; the majority of people left because of their impoverished circumstances at home and the lure of an affluent new life in the colonies, symbolised by abundant land and the discovery of gold. Some, taking up their cross of presbyterian guilt, even felt they had deserved the hardship and privation, they had endured, because of their sins, and felt ‘called’ to begin again abroad.

A third of the population of the highlands left between 1841 to 1861. It was not until the Crofters’ War in the 1880s and the deliberations of The Napier Commission in 1886 that those, who had remained, were allowed to own their own crofts and even have the vote, but the land was barely sufficient to make a living. The economic depression of the late nineteenth century caused more people to leave. The price of wool continued to decline. More land was given over to shooting estates, which cost less to maintain and attracted tourists from the south.

These days, the biggest source of revenue in The Highlands and Islands is tourism. The area is one vast theme park. Sheep capitalism has become the leisure industry. Following on from Sir Walter Scott and the endorsement of Queen Victoria and the British Royal Family, the highlander has become a romantic figure. The tartan, the bagpipes, haggis and all things Scottish have been reinvented. The highland diaspora of the 18th and 19th centuries has meant that most people of highland descent prosper in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where many still retain highland traditions.

Notwithstanding the romance o the highlands,  the Highland Clearances continue to represent a deep sense of betrayal in Scotland.  According to popular myth, the government in the shape of their landlords or chieftains had demanded the highlanders’ loyalty, their livelihood and even their sons in return to small piece of land to live on, only to deprive them of their birthright and exile them to another country.  The  ‘Clearances’ became more significant as a symbol in the 1960s and 70s with the rise of Scottish nationalism. ‘The highlander became the political conscience of all Scots’.

This post was inspired by our recent holiday at Treshnish on the Island of Mull, during which visits to Ulva and the ruins of Crackaig made me want to find out what happened.

Caravaggio,+Narcissus

Narcissus by Caravaggio. 

 

‘He constantly goes on about his own stuff and never listens to anybody else’

‘She is so fond of the sound of her own voice’; I can never get a word in sideways’

‘Their children are so wonderful, I can’t quite believe it’.

‘He just needs an audience. It is so boring.’

 

When I was growing up, there was nothing worse than to be big headed. It echoed the other big taboo: being spoilt. We all recognised it; the boy who told us how wonderful he was, who insisted on having his own way and was not interested in anybody else except himself; the girl who was constantly preening herself, going on about all the friends she had, all the boys who lusted after her. It was Sigmund Freud, who first called this ‘narcissism’, after the myth of Narcissus, who spent so much of his time gazing at his own reflection in a pool in the forest.

The prince who fell to earth.

Everything came so easily to Jake; he never needed to try. He had achieved top grades at school and won a scholarship to Harvard, where he obtained a first class degree in economics. He was, it seemed, guaranteed a brilliant career. If Jake is given a target to aim at, he would excel, but he finds it difficult to motivate himself; he plays computer games, surfs the internet; anything except working.  At weekends, he goes to parties and gets high on drugs. Despite his natural brilliance, his life is going nowhere. He tells me that he is working on a project that could net him millions but he never seems to get on with it

An their only child, his parents had viewed him as the embodiment of their own frustrated ambitions. His father had a job on the railways, his mother in a shop. They worked hard and saved their money in order to give Jake the best education they could afford. Although he realises how much he owes his parents, he blames them for controlling his life and not letting him find his own way.  Jake still lives at his parents’ home. He has the best bedroom, converted the garage into his personal gym and uses the living room as his office, but he continues to persecute his parents for not giving him the ‘space’ to work.

Jake contacted me to help him get some direction in his life. At his first visit, he was  agitated and never stopped talking.  He listed his numerous achievements, not only in the academic world, but also as a skier, mountaineer and competitive motor cyclist. It seemed there was nothing he could not do, except get on with other people. He finds most people boring and either escapes into his computer games, obsessive work or gets high on drugs. He has a girl friend but finds her boring and only good for sex. He seems lost and lonely.

The essence of narcissism.

The essence of narcissism is self-centredness. People with a narcissistic personality tend to exhibit a grandiose sense of self-importance, exaggerating their achievements and talents and expecting to be recognized as superior. This may not always be without reason. Some, like Jake, have achieved a great deal.

Driven by fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love, their personal standards often seem unreasonably high. They are ‘the chosen ones’, entitled to be the focus of attention, attracting special treatment and only associating with high-status people or institutions.

Since their focus is on themselves, people with a narcissistic personality show little empathy with the feelings and needs of others, whose achievements are often derided. Nevertheless they are often oversensitive to being ignored or criticised.

The bigger the front, the bigger the back: a narcissistic personality often conceals a profound emotional fragility; their boastfulness compensates for a severe lack of self confidence; their fragile personality is over-dependent on the approval of others but does not trust it.  Self aggrandisement can oscillate with self deprecation and self denigration. If things are going well and people respond to their extravagant and impulsive behaviour, they feel confident and happy, but if others fail to respond or are critical, they may easily become depressed.  So people with severe narcissism may oscillate between ‘exuberance and depression’ as they try to navigate their way through the world.

In their narcissistic world, everything that happens is perceived with reference to themselves; they not only feel specially privileged when things go right but also unfairly treated when things go wrong. They lack the empathy to see things from the others viewpoint and understand, forgive and forget. This may cause them to slip into paranoia.

Personal relationships are largely superficial and serve to enhance their own self importance rather than any genuine care or interest in another’s personality or opinions. Men may chose trophy girl friends or wives; women – successful husbands. The lack of any emotional connection between narcissistic partners inevitably leads to disagreement and disappointment and may culminate in hatred and rejection.

What is the origin of narcissism?

Narcissism depends on consciousness of the self and that only arises with the development of episodic memory somewhere between the ages of two and three. It is then that the growing infant realises that they are not the same person as their mother and cannot do exactly as they wish. ‘No’, is the most important word, any of us ever hear; it launches us into a life of increasing separation and independence. We are not the only pebble on the beach; there are others to be accommodated; not just mum and dad, but brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunties and uncles, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Self awareness might be said to mark the beginnings of socialisation.

Narcissism can be thought of as a failure of socialisation. If children are overly praised and incompletely sanctioned, they can grew up thinking they are the most important person in their world. Perhaps they were too much desired; conceived to enhance their parents lives or fulfil their ambitions.

Too preoccupied with their own needs, narcissistic parents may never allow their children to develop their own separate identities, but keep them close in order to enhance their own self regard. Parents who sacrifice themselves to educate their children, may rear children who are programmed to succeed in order to obtain love, but feeling they don’t exist if they fail. Unable to be loved for themselves or even to know themselves, they may come to feel there is no real meaning or purpose in life. This may explain why Jake not only attacks his parents but also tries to annihilate the person they had produced by dangerous activities and self destructive behaviour.

So are narcissists the children who have never grown up? Is their whole purpose in life to fulfil their parents ambitions and succeed? Do they tend to attract similarly narcissistic partners who see themselves reflected in the regard of their attractive and talented partner?  ‘What is falling in love but the mutual expression of narcissism?’

Can we all be narcissistic?

The American Psychiatric Association estimates that Narcissistic Personality Disorder is present in 6% of people living in America. This figure might seem unrealistically low, but it only represents those people who have such persistent narcissistic behaviour that it is a dominant feature of their personalities.

Narcissistic behaviour is pervasive throughout our society. We all have acquaintances who are so ‘full of themselves’ they never listen to anybody else. We are all familiar with the daily exhibitions of self aggrandisement on social media sites. We all know people, who are constantly obsessed whether somebody likes them or not, or those who continue to carry a sense of personal grievance for years. These are all aspects of narcissism.

It can seem we are living in a narcissistic world, where so many people tend to talk at each other and compete rather than engage, where all of their stuff is put out on ‘Facebook’, which serves as a poster board rather than as a vehicle for communication, and where everybody aspires to be a celebrity. Is this the result of increasing cultural insecurity, greater opportunity and reward for self advertisement, the prolongation of a state of childhood, or a combination of all three?

We can all exhibit narcissistic behaviour at times. Who among us cannot recall a time they were so carried away with their own exuberance after some particular achievement that they felt ashamed? Who has not been in situations where feelings of inadequacy has led them to overcompensate? Who has not felt ostracised because of something they might have said or done? Narcissistic behaviour depends on what happens, especially how other people behave. Promotion, reward or praise may release the brakes on self publication. Conversely, feeling ignored or treated unfairly may consolidate a sense of grievance or paranoia.

Self-centredness should not always be seen as a negative quality. When we are threatened and in danger, it can ensure our survival and the survival of our dependents. And, off course, we all need a degree of self belief if we are going to manage in the world; we cannot always expect to be looked after. The aim of socialisation might be expressed as the ability ‘to be ourselves in the company of others’, which implies sufficient self awareness and belief to survive in society. Like everything else, narcissism is a matter of degree and balance.

There are of course certain occupations where narcissism is encouraged and rewarded. Actors, politicians, sportsmen, performers of any sort, captains of industry, military commanders, all need to express a strong sense of self belief, which they do not always feel.  We respect and admire their narcissism and even wish we were not held back by conscience and could be like them. My friend and fellow university lecturer, David Rumsey, understood this, when, on the occasion of my appointment as Professor, he said, ‘we are all delighted that Nick has got a shiny new chair, because when he sits down, we shall get the reflected glory.’  We all need friends who can contain our narcissism with gentle humour.

Not only promotion, recognition and achievement, but in particular falling in love can be seen as an expression of narcissism. There can be nothing as intoxicating as perceiving your reflection in the eyes of your beloved; it beats staring into a forest pond.

The occasion flush of narcissism is quite normal and can feel wonderful but needs to be managed in order to remain healthy and survive in the society of others. Too much of it can lead to unreality and therein lies a form of madness. This may explain why so many celebrities find it difficult to survive failures and reversals without self doubt, extreme depression and escape into addictions. I used to encourage my more ambitious research students to dream with their head in the clouds, but always to keep their feet firmly planted on the ground.

Managing narcissistic behaviour.

Extreme narcissistic behaviour is like drug addiction; it perpetuates itself. If narcissistic people are getting attention they crave, why would they want to change? And if they get it wrong and are ignored and disapproved of, all they want is to do is to make themselves feel confident again. Unless they crash, there is no incentive to correct their behaviour. But narcissistic personalities crash all too commonly; marriages fail, children are damaged, the career that was so brilliant, can collapse because of the one hasty decision  that didn’t work out.

Time and life experience can provide the opportunity to reflect on life’s reversals, understand others’ points of view, appreciate the consequences of their behaviour and change. But patterns of behaviour consolidated over a lifetime rarely change unless they get help. Psychotherapy can help people gain that sense of perspective and control over their own behaviour by creating the mental space to reflect with a therapist on what has happened.  A combination of mentalisation to promote understanding and empathy and cognitive behavioural strategies to modify responses, may correct patterns of socialisation and normalise mood and behaviour.

The British psychoanalyst, Melanie Klein, coined the term ‘the depressive position’ to describe the developmental phase, when an infant realises his own limitations. He (or she) can’t do just what s/he wants to do and has instead to conform to the mores of family and society. This leads to feelings of depression, which nevertheless encourage thought, course correction and learning. People with narcissistic personality disorder may never resolve ‘the depressive position’ early in life and are most likely destined to repeat it later, often many times.

 

They said this thing just couldn’t be done.
With a smile, he said, he knew it.
But he tackled this thing that just couldn’t be done
and he couldn’t do it.

st_augustine_hippo_24

When I was much younger, I worked for a few months at The Villa Maria Mission Hospital near Masaka on the western shores of Lake Victoria. Every evening, I had dinner in the refectory with ‘the white fathers’, who ran the mission. Sustained by delicious African food and the local beer, we shared views on life and the state of the world. One evening, the conversation switched to sex. I tried to justify the fact that I was still in an early ‘experimental’ stage of sexual relations with young ladies and not inclined to ‘go steady’.  I explained that, although not a catholic, part of me felt drawn to a contemplative, monastic existence. My companion turned to me and somewhat ruefully commented, ‘You remind me of Saint Augustine; you want to be good but not yet.’

That made me curious. Who was this kindred spirit and why was he a saint? I thought little more about it until this week’s episode of In Our Time on Radio 4 when Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed Augustine’s ‘Confessions’.

Augustine was brought up in the Roman province of Numidia in what is now Algeria in the 4th century AD. His was a typical Roman colonial family of freed slaves. His father was a merchant; his mother a Berber, but deeply religious and fiercely ambitious for her son. He had a good education, studying Latin, rhetoric, grammar and logic. He learnt how to deliver speeches and wrote a good many letters. ‘I lie for a profession’, he once declared.

‘Confessions’ was perhaps his most famous work, in which he acknowledged not only the hedonism of his youth but also his long term relationship with a concubine, who bore him a son. This was a different world: at that time young Roman men were expected to gratify their sexual desires with slaves, who were often willing partners since they derived benefits from the relationship. Although Augustine explains that the relationship started with an act of lust, he became devoted to his mistress.  He nevertheless abandoned her in order to marry and obtain a dowry that would allow him to advance in his career and perhaps obtain a provincial governorship.  His designated fiancé was just ten years old and Augustine had to wait until she was 12 before they could marry. Although he satisfied his lust with another concubine, his heart was no longer in it and he gave up all three women for a life of chastity and devotion to God.

In what now might seem an intellectual defence, born of guilt, Augustine wrote of how the the divine spark, the purity of a relationship with God, is corrupted by the appetites and desires of the body. This led to his notion of original sin; the notion that man is born fallible, but can be redeemed, not necessarily by repentance and discipline, but by the grace of God, the arbitrary nature of which was beyond man’s understanding.

At the time, Christians expected that Jesus would return; after all, hadn’t he promised he would? The fact that he didn’t suggested they were irredeemably bad, which coincided  with the notion of original sin, but Augustine suggested that there was no real evil in the world, only human weakness; a rupture of the will.  Sexual desire was part of human nature, which was inevitably flawed. People were all too ready to submit to their own desires and turn their back on God. Augustine confessed his human weakness, but was never certain he had received the grace of God.

Augustine’s Confessions included a detailed discussion of how he stole pears from an orchard when he was a very young boy, explaining how he was not hungry, nor did he particularly like pears; in fact he threw them to the pigs.  No, he just wanted to experience the thrill of transgression – being naughty, but he recognised that if he could steal pears, he could also steal land or countries; there was no moral difference.  Adam and Eve lost paradise because they disobeyed God, followed their own will and stole the apple. The trivial act of stealing fruit was a metaphor for something much more important.

Augustine’s conversion to Catholicism occurred after he met Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, Ambrose introduced Augustine to the philosophy of The Neoplatonists and he begin to contemplate on the inner world rather than the outer world. He concluded that God was real but immaterial all at the same. The same might apply to the concept of the mind. He also preached that the Bible was not meant to be taken literally. It was a series of allegories; lessons on human nature.

I wonder how Augustine’s philosophy would have been received by our current secular society.  It seems that the extended metaphor of the Bible would have included the deity; the; the immaterial human mind transposed for God. Existential concepts such as sin, guilt and shame have been encultured in us by upbringing.  Childhood and adolescence may be seen as a process of increasing socialisation, a time when we adopt the mores of the culture. Transgression does not offend against God, it offends against our own nature and is punished by feelings of unworthiness and depression.

But how might we equate sexual freedom with fidelity? Augustine’s prayer, ‘grant me chastity and continence but not yet’, seems a pragmatic solution, that identifies him as a human being, with all the virtues and faults that entails. We might all identify with that. As long we can behave in a way that does not undermine cultural values by exploiting or harming others, we may accept and live with ourselves without conflict and guilt.  After all, Augustine has been there before us and survived.