Tag Archives: george macdonald

April 10

Ha ha, we got our dump of snow – 8 straight inches, so we’ve done even better than our friends up at Tomintoul, who measure in metric. Here’s a picture of my holy-of-holies on the morning after and guess what, I forgot to shut the door again the night before.

That’s a week ago now, we’ve had lots of family and friends up before, or for, Easter, the snow took a few days to clear and now it rains and the drips are cascading through the caravan roof again and the ground is as it should be, ie capable of supporting life and it’s time to think about sowing seeds.

Ben, Abby, Will, Robin – they’ve all been helping with major cobbing jobs – the insulation layer for the floor of the new room in the Long Byre and, in Robin’s case, some wall creation in the little new (temporary) bathroom – he was stuck for a whole day with his head in a dark corner finishing off the rough parts of the wall there, poor lad, while I prannied about trying to elicit sympathy for the difficulties I was having with the plumbing work above his head. I think I make these difficulties for myself because we’ve spent so many years now washing crouched in a little hip-bath that the very thought of reclining full-length in a real bath gives me night terrors.

However, now it’s Easter Monday and, us being in an irreligious country, Annie has had to go back to work at St Andrews this morning, with Abby and Robin on the Magebus – I mean Megabus of course, but that slip-of-the-finger gives me a nice idea…. They get off at Dundee, from where they go on back to Glasgow (they don’t have to work Easter Monday for some reason). Will and James have meanwhile headed back to the wilds of upper Donside to pack in as much as possible before the tree-planting season ends. How any saplings survive planting in that kind of drought is anyone’s guess, but I guess that these operations are on such a scale that even a thirty percent failure rate can be coped with. When Robin was engaged on some tree planting a couple of years back he was outraged at the disrespect shown to the baby trees. Now I hear chaps with planting-spades are to be replaced by low-flying aircraft which will fire the saplings into the ground in sharp-ended plugs. Maybe it was April 1st I heard that.

So, I’m back to raking through the piles in the little caravan again, trying to avoid the drips (I really must order that pond-liner); unsuccessfully hunting for the last page of “Manhunt in Golden Mall” which will hopefully have a link or something in this posting. It was the year before the London Bombings that I wrote it – I remember that, because Annie was regularly using buses into Russell Square in the week we were there – and the thought of trying to remember the ending after so many years seemed an effort too great to contemplate – and why, with all these disks and storage devices, floppy, hard, pocket-lighter sized, I only had one single hard copy, and an incomplete one at that, is just one of life’s minor mysteries, my life’s anyway – but in the end I bit the bullet, wrote a new ending and it didn’t take too long. I wrote this particular story for a proposed anthology about boys’ relationships with their dads, but it wasn’t accepted; however by that time I’d got rather fond of Baddo and Nazir and I’ve written, or roughed, or planned, three more stories about them, with ideas for a few more to boot. We’ll see what happens.

I’ve just remembered that other thing I’d been going to mention in the last posting; the book on mathematics which I came across in the little caravan, one which I’d been going to use with Maddy when we embarked on the fascinating matter of circles – 360º maths, as we call it. It’s called Vicious Circles and Other Savage Shapes by Kjartan Poskitt and it’s one of a series of maths companions he’s written to make the subject more accessible to youngsters. I think they’re quite popular, though whether amongst students or teachers/parents I don’t know. I have to admit the book brought back all the old smells, sensations, twitchings and sweats which maths books always induced in me at school. I don’t know, there’s always been the same progression with me whenever I try following a new approach to understanding maths, and it goes a bit like this:
Step 1, usually an anecdote – love it, most interesting.
Step 2, a bit of mathematical information – got it, yes I’m following this.
Step 3, more anecdote – yes, yes, I’m still amused.
Step 4, a little more information and – yes, I am truly following, this I do believe this will finally be the approach to maths….
Step 5, a bit more information and – what!?!? How did you arrive at that? How can 5 possibly follow from 4? How can you say it’s an easy step.

That’s how it’s always been. Roger (“very-simple-for-someone-with-the-most-basic-maths-understanding”) Penrose is the Emperor amongst the Names but many other names hover on the dim rim of my consciousness – maths geniusses every one, I’m sure, but I just don’t get it. I don’t have maths in my soul.

– Take Paul now. He’s my oldest friend, so I assume we must have some stuff in common. But Paul says he loves how maths takes you out of the real world into a world of pure logic and beauty: sometimes when he’s on a plane he shuts his eyes and sets himself a mathematical problem to solve. Well, I don’t know. When I’m on a plane I like to watch angels up against the blue-black sky, so I keep my eyes open. Mediaeval mystics used to calculate how many angels could be fitted onto the point of a pin. See what a nexus you can stray into when you step out of the real world. Maddy seems to have a natural feel for numbers, which doesn’t mean that she willingly consents to twenty minutes of the kind of basic maths tuition I can offer; but it also doesn’t mean that she has any more positive a reaction than mine to Kjartan’s excellent guidance… She reckons there’s only one number that’s important and that’s four, and only one unit important enough to count in and that’s horses’ legs.

My own idea of congenial – nay, comprehensible – maths is more like the one I tried out with Robin, during one of his home-education years, on the windy wintry beach at St Andrews, when I demonstrated the construction of a perfect square with a stick and a piece of rope – much to his chagrin, as he reckoned all passing students or dog-walkers were staring at the mad old geezer and his unwilling accomplice in a very disconcerting way. He wanted – at that stage of his life anyway – the magic without the science, the knowledge without the embarrassment; but I don’t think it can be done.

I suppose, when you consider the gulf between that kind of carry-on with ropes and sticks and the modern-day repertoire of symbols and processes for every conceivable thing, you realise what an incredible work of construction mathematicians have been doing over the centuries, turning abstract concepts – little more than elusive shadows across the mind to begin with – into a formal language that others (well, some others) can comprehend and record and pass on to posterity. But which posterity? Because I do wonder if the human race is actually dividing up into those who can enter that other, perfect, conceptual world and those who just can’t. The division may be evolutionary, and already irreversible.

Well, where was I?…. maths, Penrose, physics, geniusses, angels…. I’m also going to leave a link to my story “The Page Boy and the Stars”, which was one of four I sent as a birthday present to my father a good few years ago (it was the only one of the four he liked; the others are currently being hammered into the texture of a bigger book I’m writing for Anna). Like everything else I write, I don’t know if it’s a children’s story or not.

Paul re-read my “Timeghost” the other week and felt impelled (I hope it was impelled, he might just have been being nice because I’d written a review of Gaia’s Children) to give it a review on Amazon. He reckoned it was in the tradition of George MacDonald, which I take as a compliment, especially in a book that, in retrospect, really feels quite lumpy. But the same would be even truer of Page-Boy, which I do think of as a sort of homage to our great local forebear.

I see Anna’s also put “The Sundial” into the collection. It’s from even longer ago.

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January 21

Anna has put this page together for me. When I first clicked on it and saw the banner – the same one that’s up at the top of the screen here – my first thought was, “my that’s bright”. Then, after a couple of seconds’ gazing, “Hey – that’s Coldhome!” It was the little rowan tree on the far right that did it. I didn’t recognise the rest because of all the trees. Anna must have snapped it herself on some occasion, choosing a spot that made it all look quite tree-ish. The picture’s nice and fuzzy of course, which contributes to this rather idealised view. The roofs of the buildings – why, they could be lovely old red pantiles, really, couldn’t they. You wouldn’t know it’s actually rusty corrugated iron, and the buildings are, well – sheds, what else can you call them. Not quite as tumbledown as they were eight years ago (apart from the Tumbledown Shed, which is even more tumbledown) but pretty tumbledown for all that. And it’s hard to imagine the grim light of November through February, the bareness of landscape, bareness of the wind, the bareness of grey sky, which makes such an indelible impression on the spirit.

Well, it’s good to think about it in a fuzzy idealised light, now and again. Maybe we’ll get round to the pantiles some day.

I like “Coldhome Project” too: that sounds very purposeful. I can’t actually remember what the Coldhome Project is, or was; though I do remember that we all four adults here made earnest resolutions to keep up our own record of things as they progressed. I did, for a bit. I think Rachel might have done as well. But – too busy; too tired; too something; just like most of the rest of humanity, I suppose.

So, I needed Anna to slap me around a bit. “Do you want to sell books? – Yes, I know you really just want to share them; but do you or do you not need some income?” … Anna is actually politer to her revered Parent than this suggests; let’s call it poetic licence – but that was the gist of it. I don’t want to sell books as in Hard Sell. Poetry I’ve never wanted to sell, stories I’ve never minded so much … “Let’s not get bogged down in the detail, Father. You a) want to sell some books, b) share some other stuff, including a rather belatedly-begun record of the Coldhome Project -” (Whatever that is, or was….) “Well, put (a) together with (b) and what do you have? A blog, Father, a blog.”

So, this is that blog. It should be rather a lot about the Coldhome Project (probably) and related stuff, but seeing how some of the related stuff is me, and I write stories (and poems, and songs, and tell stories), it seems reasonable to also give some instructions as to buying some of this output – not poetry, of course, nobody wants to buy poetry, and as I say I don’t want to sell it anyway, so that’s something that will be entirely for sharing; and to be honest, if I can’t sell my stories I’ll probably finish up sharing them as well – why? Because they’ve mouldered in damp boxes for long enough, and I believe in freedom for the captives. I’ve still got 400 copies of the “Dragon Fire” trilogy stored up, so they’ll be for sale. Completely fresh and unmouldy, them. I dare say doughty old Dragon Fire will be going out of print one of these days. Under the good offices of Walker Books it’s been selling quietly away for the last twenty years, but it’s got to be coming to the end of its present incarnation. Marilyn says we should think about a re-launch.

I’m also determined to do e-books, or something of the kind (ha! grimly! Mention anything digital and I always strike the same pose of grim determination), of the half-dozen or so stories that never got published, and perhaps also some of the ones that went out of print; while Ben has promised to do his own princely handmade versions of the same if demand arises – and he won’t do that for nothing, not if he’s got any sense. And I’ve also got some little stories which I’d like to share by audio-link (when I find out how to do that), and several shelves of poems which ought to be allowed to see the light of day so I can at least point to them and say: look! I wasn’t entirely frittering the last few decades away…

Anyway, instructions of one kind or another will follow, when I work out how to do them, or get Anna to do them for me, and the these goodies will be freely (or not so freely) available.

But back to Coldhome; because Coldhome is always in the forefront of my attention, whatever chances I get to creep up to my little hovel and Create. I need to put the record a bit straight already, because I really don’t want this to be my weekly let-me-moan-about-our-harsh-existence slot. I have on occasion seen Coldhome in real life (nearly) as bright as the banner (and frequently as fuzzy: but that’s another story); and I certainly don’t want to be anywhere else than here, even though I’d always dreamed of settling somewhere where there were woods and big rocks and running water. We have none of that kind of nonsense here: just fields, fences, more fields, farms, the odd grudging little strip of woodland more for shelter-belts than anything else or for beleaguered game to crouch in…. But Coldhome is our little island; our shelter and stronghold.

That said, there is something odd about the temperature at Coldhome. Either the thermometers are wrong, or else things happen at higher temperatures – like freezings, and wind-chill, and such-like aspects of cold.. One morning the car thermometer registered -8C as we left the homestead, and as we drove down to Inverurie we watched it plummet to -22, but I swear when we got out in the town it felt exactly the same as it had at home.

When Lairdie (he’s the chap who sold us the property) came round, a few years back, to introduce himself, we asked him, so what does Coldhome actually mean, do you know? After all, names change, they get corrupted. We once stayed at a place called Bellyhack, which turned out to be an anglicization of the perfectly mundane Gaelic name Baile’ Ach). “Home” could mean “holme”; “cold” could mean – well, something different. Lairdie responded with a surprised look and, “Coldhome? It means exactly what it says”, followed with some rigmarole about the way the wind comes round a particular hill and up that part of the glen and I can’t remember what else, but the upshot of it all is: Coldhome means you’re living in a cold home, maties: a preternaturally cold place indeed. When you’re at home here, you’re cold. There was talk, among us and the wider family, of changing the name to help us (and visitors) feel warmer, but no-one could think of any decent alternative. Actually, I’m delighted about that. Coldhome sounds a bit lofty, a bit uncompromising. I think of the House of Sleep in Lilith, where the very idea of being comforted by warmth becomes absurd. Maybe George MacDonald happened upon Coldhome in the course of one of his youthful rambles.

When we arrived here – the first time must have been eight years ago now – there was one tree on Coldhome’s four and a half acres: a gean possibly, long-dead, and dumped on top of a heap of the bulldozed remains of a shanty-town of old concrete buildings that once spread around the main complex. We never burned it, perhaps due to sentimental considerations; and it lies in the pond now, and the kids call it Smoky.

There’s lots of trees here now – over a thousand, I suppose, but they’re all little. Anna’s picture cunningly takes in some of the big trees in our neighbour’s field and then manages to make a little copse out of what is actually a line of apple trees that runs up the north side of the property, once again in the neighbouring field. These apples are actually quite remarkable trees: there are thirty-two of them in the line beside us and then another line meeting it runs along the roadside. We call them crabs, but I don’t think all of them are native types: the fruit vary greatly in size, colour and sweetness, though all of them have that paint-stripper quality in the mouth. I and the kids have acquired quite a taste for them, once you get past the face-scrunching stage. They must be at least a century and a half old, and have an air of craggy, weatherbeaten venerableness. A plentiful crop falls into our field most years, and we’re getting sophisticated in our brewing experiments. Well, sophisticated-ish. Being apples of wisdom, it wouldn’t be right to make unwarranted claims for them, or ourselves.

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