Morrice‘s collection is a delightful and accessible read tackling a myriad of themes. From tentative declarations of love and the grim realisations of one‘s mortality, to the ecological tragedies of the 1990s, these poems, often bitterly frank, will make you stop and think.
In contrast, M. S. Lumsden's poetry is more traditional and lyrical, its soothing qualities weaving a blanket of tranquillity. But, when complacency looms, a rattling celebration of Scottish life is cleverly dropped in to jolt the senses. Broad Scots is much in evidence but neverlear, an excellent index is provided.
I Eccentric Edinburgh by J. K. Gillon (Moubray House £6.95). Did you know that Madame Tussaud‘s place in British history was established in Edinburgh? Orthat sedan chairs were a popular form ol18th century transport in the capital? These and many more quirky facts are revealed in this captivating and original glimpse of the city's history. Many bizarre examples of Victorian showmanship are highlighted, but worryingly prominent is a fascination for menageries. Indeed, the fact that the essence of some of these strange tales is ingrained, unquestionably, in today's society says a lot about human nature.~ The accompanying line drawings, photographs and advertising bills set off the text wonderfully and it’s well worth a look, if only to discover what The Art of Cocking was.
CHRISTMAS BOOKS SPECIAL
Loved and loathed in equal parts. Glasgow Herald columnist Jack McLean has an opinion on everything. as the new compilation of his work, The Bedside Urban Voltaire, shows. lain Grant. however, seemed especially interested in his views on Scottish literature.
I have told Jack McLean l atn interviewing him for the (‘hristmas Books issue of The List. ‘(‘hristmas'."
he asks. ‘I hate Christmas—
everywhere's shut and the whole place is full ofamateur drunks. who don‘t know how to handle themselves. falling down and lying around under your feet.‘
McLean. though. is a professional. His Friday column. which has appeared in the Glasgow Herald for nine years. regularly sees him writing about his exploits in a fair proportion of Glasgow‘s many watering holes. He uses this as a jumping-off point for the expression of some remarkably forthright opinions about. well. just about anything.
Some ofthe best of these pieces are collected in his new tome. The Bedside Urban Voltaire. the title of which picks up the soubriquet conferred on him by Arnold ‘Mad Arnie‘ Kemp. the editor of the Herald, some years ago.
The launch of the book was an emotional moment for McLean. ‘lt was like going to my own funeral.‘ he says. ‘Loads of my friends were there. some of the bastards werenae. but most were. It was very moving.‘
He has a lot of friends too. We are sitting having a chat. a pint (me) and a couple ofwee haufs (Jack) in Babbity Bowster‘s. the Merchant City's chic-est bar. and keep getting interrupted. It was a bad place to
choose to do an interview (my fault). as he seems to know the entire clientele intimately.
But when you spend so much time in pubs. you are bound to get to know their other habituees. You're also bound to develop what some people would call a drink problem. ‘I suspect I‘m an alcoholic.’ McLean says. modestly. 'but I have no intention ofreforming. I like it too much.‘
In any case. Mr Booze doesn‘t get in the way ofhisother activities. Ile gets out to the theatre and galleries. and goes to football matches— he fell out of the press box at one stadium recently and tore the ligaments in his right leg. though this was due. he claims. not to inebriation but to a slippery step on the stair case. He also reads a lot.
‘An awful lot.’ this former English teacher avers. ‘1 don’t sleep much. so I can get through about five novels in a week.‘ He has developed opinions
on literature which are as strong as
those he holds on whatever else he holdsopinions on.
He revels in the [English country house detective novel even though.
; as he has it. ‘they‘re all crap‘. Ile has tried Umberto Eco. but finds The
Name ofthe Rose incomprehensible. Modernism and post-modernism he dismisses. quite rightly. as ‘a fucking con to disguise lack ofcraft‘.
He is almost passionate about
Scottish literature. (‘arl MacDougall. he thinks. writes very well. and (ieorge Friel was brilliant. if flawed. He has a theory about R. L. Stevenson as the Father of Modern Psychology. Unfortunately. there is insufficient space to discuss it here in detail.
Ile has. however. no time for the likesof Kelman J. or Mcllvanney W. "l'hey overwrite.’ he says. ‘as if they're always looking fora red tick from Sir at the foot of the page. ' This opinion. expressed. no doubt. with his customary diplomacy. was the occasion of a violent disagreement between McLean and Mcllvanney in the very bar we are sitting in now. Mcllvanney is bigger. fitter. stronger and not so fat. but you have to admire the pluck of the wee man.
()n this issue. though. it is Mcllvanney"s cause which is just and righteous — anybody who wrote like him would be miffed if accused of overwriting. Indeed. there is enough overwriting in The Bedside Urban Voltaire to give even McLean's Herald colleague David Belcher. the thinking popster. a run for his money. so there is a touch of pots calling kettles black here. As pots go. though. McLean is one ofthe
The Bedside Urban Voltaire is published by Loi'har at £9. 95 .
The List 23 November— 6 December 1990 87