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first met Alastair Reid. the New Yorker's man in the Dominican Republic. at last year‘s Book Festival in Charlotte Square. Later we spent an evening in a chromium bar in Victoria Street where the barmaid neglected her duties to do ‘The Bump‘ to Sixties‘ hits with punters with umbrellas in their drinks. Before we got to the stage where we joined in we hiked to MacGuffie's for a nightcap and gatecrashed a .S'eotsmrm wake; yet another double-breasted hack was defecting west and those left behind watered their whisky with tears. It was a sight for sore eyes. Alastair and I offered our shoulders but without conviction for there is something about sentimental journos that causes cynicism to surface. A news reporter. quite literally with his ear to the ground. took Alastair to task for leaving everyone in the lurch while he peeled greenbacks in the Big Apple. Alastair parried and jabbed back with well-timed bon mots. as you would expect of a graduate of the same college as Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker. I ruled no contest and we left before another sucker fancied his chances.

Alastair recalled the encounter over haggis and neeps in the Doric. He was in town for the Festival. not going to much but scouting around for an intended article which has had the gestation period of an elephant. Apparently the New Yorker does not stoop to deadlines. While here he was roped in to Ricky Demarco‘s symposium on MacDiarmid. talking ofthe connection between Langholm‘s laureate and Pablo Neruda. I was sorry to miss it. though not the rest ofthe proceedings which sounded soporific. He had also caught up with Muriel Spark with whom he shared an office when she was writing The Mandelbaum Gate. While they were backtracking they were interrupted by an inebriate resident who wanted to know why neither of them lived in Scotland. Mrs Spark responded with




a weary silence. What Alastair said is unrecorded but someone woke up next morning hungover and smarting from witlash.

oday. I suppose. is the kind ofday

Alastair described in his poem ‘Scotland' ‘a day peculiar to this part ofthe planet‘ Hockney skies. the links billiard-table green after a drench. gulls yacking and tumbling. and the sun high and unqucnchable. The poet ‘like a sunstruck madman’ cries to the woman from the fish-shop: ‘What a day it is!‘ And she caws back. ‘We‘ll pay for it. we‘ll pay for it. we‘ll pay for it!‘

uriel Spark sums up such a

dreary response in the word ‘nevertheless‘. translated by Morningsiders to ‘niverthelace'. To Alastair it embodies all that is wrong with this peculiar part of the planet. qualifying optimism. damping enthusiasm. But after a while it becomes a matter (ifreflex. a portable attitude Which is about as meaningful as being told to ‘Have a ' nice day'. To the emigre writer it is manna. archetypal. a mode d‘emploi that allows you to say one thing while admitting the possibility of another. ‘Much of my literary composition is

based on the the nevertheless idea.’ wrote Muriel Spark. ‘I act upon it. It was on the nevertheless principle that I turned Catholic.‘

ur finest writer. long resident in

Italy. graced the second lecture given in her name at the (‘anongate Kirk. Though I have spent many happy and reposeful hours lunching in the churchyard where Robert Fergusson is buried I had never been in the church. a cheery place. painted watery blue with mediaeval pennants hanging from the rafters. The novelist read in a bird-like voice from a work in progress. her autobiography. and then handed over to a silver-bearded Englishman who said. ‘My name is Stan Barstow and I am in my prime’. That he was who he said he was no one doubted. for it said so in the programme. but how could we be sure he was what he said he was?

y the time this comes out Brian McCabe and Dilys Rose will be en route for Canada on one those cultural exchanges which the Arts Council fixes up. There was good news before they embarked. Dilys having her short stories accepted by Secker and Warburg. and both being included in the ('o/lirzs‘ anthology of Scottish Short Stories which is named after Dilys's contribution. ‘I (‘an Sing. Dance. Rollerskate'. At the launch ofthis in Waterstone‘s. where gratis vino was to be had after eleven throughout the Festival. the knives were out for Giles Gordon. impenetrable novelist. literary agent and gossip. In a review in Scotland on Sunday he was decidedly bitchy about the anthology. drubbing its editors and knocking the contributors. All’s fair in love and literature but Gordon did not mention that he hasjust co-edited a rival anthology nor did he admit that he had submitted a story for the inclusion in the Collins collection and had it rejected.

The List 2 15 September IUSS 67