FirstWord Alasdair Gray

Scotland’s cherished polymath shares some insights on expensive art books, Walter Scott and why he’s banned from buying flowers and cooking

First record you ever bought My sister and I had seen the Laurence Olivier film Hamlet and we bought the wax cylinder, as this would have been in the early 1950s. It was Laurence Olivier doing all of Hamlet’s great speeches. First film you saw that really moved you One of the Disney ones. Probably Dumbo or Pinocchio. They certainly moved me.

First movie you ever went on a date to I can’t ever remember a girl accepting to go to the pictures with me. I was never very good at getting girls to go out with me. First thing you do when you’ve got time off work I sometimes go to the pub for a whisky on the way home. I do quite a lot of reading and a friend and I try once a fortnight to go a few miles of a country walk. As near Glasgow as possible, on the campuses and Mugdock Park.

Last great meal you cooked I’m not allowed to cook. My wife doesn’t like me cooking. The meals I make myself are usually along the lines of toasted cheese and tomato with garlic cloves. Although I do boil an egg in the morning.

Last book you read The Fortunes of Nigel by Walter Scott. It is a remarkably good book. There are a few of Scott’s novels I’ve never read so I’m getting through them. First great piece of advice you were given ‘You’ll never make a living by being an artist in Scotland’, my teachers and parents used to tell me. And they were largely right.

First thing you’d do if you ran the country Go mad like all the rest of them. Neither prime ministers or presidents run the country it’s the stock exchange and no one person is powerful enough. That’s why the country’s in the mess it’s in now.

Last time you exploited your position to get something I’m not really sure. I don’t like to think I’m an exploiter. No doubt I am. I’m afraid I’ve suppressed my guilty memory. First three words your friends would use to describe you You’ll have to ask them. I think they think I’m nice. Well I’ve heard them say so.

Last time you made an impulse buy and regretted it Only books and I don’t regret any of them.

Last extravagant purchase you made Almost certainly a book, generally an art book. There is a book out at the moment which costs about £120 so I’m brooding over whether I can afford it. First concert you ever attended When I was about six I lived in Yorkshire and there was a hostel for miners which had a social centre. Amateur concerts were held there. Anybody who could sing or do a turn would do so. My

mother was a very good singer so she would sing ‘Comin’ Through the Rye’ and I recited one or two puerile wee poems.

Last time you bought someone flowers [Consults his wife] I think last time I bought flowers was for my wife. She told me not to do it as there was a previous occasion when an insect came out and stung her, so she asked me not to buy any more flowers for her or for the house. First thing you think of when you wake up in the morning Chiefly, I have a lot of pills to take, but

don’t always do them right away. So sometimes I start by wondering which pills to start taking. On the other hand, I think about work, so sometimes I forget to take the pills until later. Last thing you think of before you go to sleep I don’t know. When I go to bed, I seldom fall asleep right away and generally do some reading to ease me into it.

Gray Stuff: Designs for Books and Posters, 1952–2010, an exhibition of Gray’s graphic works, is at the Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sat 11 Dec.

WeLike The things making our world just that little bit better

If we were living in America (hopefully, if The List and its contents teach you anything at all, you’ll know we are not) then we might well be involved in some deep Thanksgiving dinner planning right now. The mash, the beans, the candied yams we like pretty much ALL the Thanksgiving fixings and hope to eat plenty this fortnight. Regardless of what the sat nav is telling us about our location. And massive props to world- record- smashers in New Bremen, Ohio, who

went and baked a 20 foot-wide pumpkin pie. (They just need to find a record- breakingly large tub of cinnamon ice cream to go with it now.)

Weather-wise, as the temperatures continue to creep downwards, we’re also liking the chance to air our autumn/winter wardrobe once more, and rock the fingerless gloves/ear muffs/knee socks over tights look again. The blown- inside-out-umbrella look and tsunami hair, on the other hand? That not so much.

This fortnight on

Check out our alternative Saint Andrew’s Day Spotify playlist, free of the usual suspects and packed with music’s ‘secret Scots’ such as Siousxie & The Banshees, Revolting Cocks, Ladytron and The Human League.

2 THE LIST 18 Nov–2 Dec 2010