Just got off the phone with an old friend in the States who is anguishing about the decline in his pension investments, which he makes himself in the US stock market. After several weeks of jittery action and vertiginous movements in the Dow, I can understand the anguish but I did what I could to persuade him that Armageddon had not yet arrived.
Some may consider this just foolish optimism on my part. After all, the world is still struggling to recover from the 2008 financial implosion, profligate PIGS countries are teetering under mounds of debt, threatening the Euro’s very existence, most major English cities are picking up the pieces from the worst riots since the anti-Thatcher wave in the mid-eighties and Scotland is drowning under a St Swithen’s curse of biblical proportions. What’s to be cheerful about?
My first response would be to agree—in the last two weeks the boat trips I’ve been crewing have been cancelled in good weather because of heavy seas and running only in deluges the other 80% of the time. And yet…
…on the two boat trips that I did crew yesterday through the stair rods churning up the sea, passengers had a great time, half even spurning the cabin cowling providing some shelter to sit out on the seats on deck. They were rewarded by spotting a couple of the few remaining puffins, a glimpse of a whale and a pair of guillemots paddling along in the middle of the parental fishing lesson to this year’s chick. The gannets were, as usual, entirely unfazed by the weather, forming a huge ‘flying circus’ spiral Northwest of the Bass and floating along the East cliff edge in unbelievably dense gliding practice. This year’s gugas are now big as their parents, some already dark with adolescent feathers and only a Mohawk of down signaling they’re not quite ready to leave.
Even a Chinese family, unfamiliar with our birds and struggling with our language came back bubbling with enthusiasm. So, when I trudged through the rain to the Spiegeltent for last night’s concert, I was in a better mood than three weeks of poor weather should have allowed. Then Eddi Reader hit the stage. To say that the 600 of us packed in there enjoyed it is gross understatement. For almost two hours the rapport was intense. Her four-piece band were understated accompaniment to her rich variety of music from rocking, clap-along Perfect to a heartbreaking, definitive rendition of Burns Ae Fond Kiss.
At one point she broke into a long Connolly-esque rambling description of her family singalong, based on memories when she was five. Only if The Broons ever gets made into a musical will you witness such well-observed vignettes of savage Glasgow humour, laced with unbridled passion and expressed in song as Eddi mimicked her aunts varied voices and musical tastes—complete with sharp interruptions and even sharper ripostes. A high-energy criac buzzed around the Spiegeltent long after Eddi and the band had left.
Which left me in a good mood today, despite more relentless rain and cancelled boat trips. I was determined not to be put off doing the first of my Walk the Toun history tour contributions to Fringe by the Sea. But when I arrived early, the few people there were sheltering in the food tent next door and the only tickets arriving were for Maggie O’Farrel’s author chat in the Spiegeltent. I had visions of calling off or having to do the walk for the benefit of one or two: O me of little faith!
By showtime, two dozen people were there and ready. Off we went for our 90-minute jaunt through a thousand years and six reinventions of the town, undaunted by weather, by high tide or by traffic at the many street crossings. Perhaps a quarter of the group were local but everybody kept up, asked searching questions and generally joined in so that it felt more like an outdoor seminar with motivated students than anything else. Such was the engagement that we took a half-hour longer than scheduled and I truly hope they enjoyed the mobile talk as much as I enjoyed giving it.
When you have as fascinating material to work with as North Berwick gives you, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in enthusiasm. But when a whole bunch of people—even if they are largely strangers—get wrapped up with you, then you start to understand how a strong sense of place (and identity with it) goes a long way to combat evils far worse than persistently bad weather that life can throw at you.
When life gives you lemons, such things give you the sweetness to make lemonade.