Your basket (0 items) | view basket
Lover of Scotland23 August 2011 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
It was so busy at the Edinburgh Festival that my publisher and I had to book into Pollock Halls, the student halls of residence. Plain but pleasant rooms with a view of Arthur’s Seat, their only disadvantage was a haphazard wireless contact with the outside world.
Were the Scots using jamming devices aimed at English communication tools? Maybe it would have been better if my London-based publisher had kitted out her mobile and laptop in a mini kilt.
Sitting in our rooms took us back to being students. We started to ask ourselves: When will mum arrive with meatballs for us?
This turned out to be unnecessary: the next morning a breakfast buffet of record-breaking variety awaited us in the dining hall.
The dining hall was packed and I found myself sitting next to a very sexy female pirate (one of the Pirates of Penzance at the Edinburgh Festival) or a human cupboard like ‘The Fridge’ sporting a kilt who, with his pipes, would be taking part in the Edinburgh Tattoo that evening. The latter ate a heap of haggis and six sausages.
Afterwards we set out for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which took place in a park in the middle of the city; a number of marquees were arranged around a muddy field.
We attended eight events over three days. One was Jules Verne, lover of Scotland, presented by Nat Edwards, director of the Robert Burns Museum. I have been to quite a few literary festivals but he was one of the best presenters ever. Relaxed and with a marvellous voice, he introduced the speaker with a winning combination of humour and passion.
The speaker, Professor Ian Thompson, seated next to the presenter, proceeded to fold himself into knots during his own presentation; one moment the sleeve of his jacket swayed empty, the next moment it contained his arm. Subsequently he tucked his left foot under his right armpit.
Nevertheless his talk was very entertaining. We found out about the places Jules Verne had visited – ‘Jules Verne loved the view from Arthur’s Seat’ – and learned that in his time you could travel faster across Scotland than you can nowadays.
I suddenly developed an enthusiasm for various Scottish subjects, such as ‘A Short Monograph on Diversity in Scottish Sausages’ or ‘Highlights from Scottish Literature: A Succinct Overview of Afflictions caused by wearing a Sporran’. For non-Scottish readers, this is the wee thing dangling in front of a kilt.
Between events you had an excellent opportunity to observe festival-goers. At one point, the sun shone for three consecutive hours! Lounging in my deck chair, I scrutinised the long queues. Lovers of horror, it turned out, looked a bit weird. ‘The Horror! The Horror!’ I said to my publisher.
A talk about Gallipoli attracted a queue of retired army officers. This is one of the strong points of Edinburgh Book Festival: it has a very wide-ranging programme.
They even provided a ‘Buggy Park’ for parents with children. The children entered a marquee only to reappear as pirates. My publisher just managed to stop me visiting the Giraffes Can’t Dance event.
So I ended up at Best of European Fiction 2011, unforgettable writing from across the continent. It didn’t contain anything that was unforgettable, except that one of the writers looked like a heavy-drinking Hobbit. Actually he was a good speaker but turned out to be Irish. I didn’t know Ireland was part of the continent.
The Romanian writer may well have made sensible contributions, but he had brought along a female translator who was as incomprehensible as he. At one point, she translated while squatting under the lectern, as if she wanted the ground to swallow her up.
There was also a Dutch authoress who was asked what was typical about Dutch literature and encouraged to say a few things about ‘European literature’. ‘There is no such thing as European literature, there is just literature,’ I muttered to my publisher.
Luckily this was dovetailed with an event about Czeslaw Milosz, the poet; an opportunity to hear what was so special about the Polish Nobel Laureate. The Polish poet Adam Zagajewski, in particular, recited Milosz’s poems wonderfully, in Polish and English. Well, this doesn’t require any explanation.
The most striking thing about the Edinburgh Book Festival is the large and very attentive Scottish contingent of attendees. This week, I am going to write to Edinburgh University to enquire about the possibility of becoming writer in residence. ‘Please house me in a hall full of red-haired Scottish female students; I am even prepared to wear a kilt with a sporran.’ I have already got a title for the book: Arnold Jansen op de Haar, lover of Scotland.
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
You can leave your comment on our forum.
Previous columns:Tips for ParentsAn Altruistic Writer
Tell a friend
Back to magazine