We have now had both our COVID jabs and the world is starting to open up a little for the first time in a long time. To be honest I haven’t been unhappy with lockdown. Perhaps I am naturally Billy-No-Mates and self-contained ? I have enjoyed reading some serious books, and trying to write something for this blog once a week. If that sounds too couch-bound, I have also been walking round or over Arthur’s Seat most days, the volcanic plug which I can see from our sitting room. And I am on a 77-day streak learning Spanish with Duolinguo. Muy bien, gracias.
A few years ago I decided to walk from Edinburgh to Berwick, which is about 60 mies or so. Not in a day, I hasten to add. So far I have walked from Fisherrow to North Berwick, which is about 20 miles, as much as I can manage in a day; and from North Berwick to Dunbar; and from Dunbar to Cockburnspath. Most of it is by the sea, and everywhere is accessible by bus from Edinburgh. But I am a bit intimidated by the stretch after Cockburnspath, along the cliffs to St Abbs Head and then onward through Coldingham and Eyemouth. The very fit looking ex-soldier who walks it on a Youtube video carried his tent with him in a hefty back-pack. But that’s not my style. I walked from Fisherrow to Gullane again the other day; it was glorious in spring sunshine.
Susie and I have also made a couple of expeditions in City Car Club cars. We don’t run a car, and I can walk to most places in Edinburgh that I want to visit. But we need to keep our hand [our eyes ?] in for a planned return trip up north in June. Our first trip was to Stenton [stane toun], a granite hill village on the edge of the Lammermuirs. Stenton is an interesting place, a medieval settlement that was once a place for buying and selling wool from the hill farms. The village has no shop and no pub. But it does have an ancient church, now in ruins, converted into a dove-cot [doo cot], some dignified stone houses, and uninterrupted birdsong.
A couple of miles beyond Stenton, heeding into the hills, is Pressmennan Lake. In a very steep sided valley a nineteenth century land-owner dammed up the stream to create this narrow lake. The woods are managed by the Scottish Woodland Trust. There are said to be roe deer in the woods and otters in the lake, but neither made themselves known to us. We had never been there before. On a bright, sunny day we walked the length of the lake to the dam, and returned on a path higher up the side of the valley, with a picnic on a rustic bench.
After which we came home via White Castle Fort, the remains of an Iron Age fort, which was occupied from about 400 BC to about 100 AD. The fort is at close to the 700 foot contour on the northern slopes of the Lammermuirs, totally unspoilt, and close to the side of the very minor road the makes its way from Garvald to Cranshaws and Duns.
More recently we had a trip down to Peebles. The road down from Edinburgh is dreadful, all IKEA traffic and temporary roadworks. But Peebles itself is a delightful county town with the feel of a Victorian holiday resort. ‘Peebles for pleasure’ was its original tourist tag. The wide high street with a church at each end is parallel with the river Tweed, one street away and crossed by a green wrought iron bridge.
The river is wide and has footpaths on both sides. We had good lentil soup in what used to be the Eastgate Theatre. A few miles on, on the south side of the Tweed, Traquair House, the oldest permanently inhabited house in Scotland, visited in 1566 by Mary, Queen of Scots, with her infant son James VI, was Closed to Visitors. Innerleithen has a good ice-cream shop, and we came home on a minor road, new to us, which climbs over the bare Moorfoot Hills.
Not opening up
Life may be opening up, but blustering Boris isn’t. The latest media storm concerns the cost of the refurbishment of the flat above 11 Downing Street occupied by Boris and Carrie. [I am tired of the term fiancée. Would not partner be more appreciate. Or possibly current mistress ?] The work was done at a cost of, depending who you believe, between £58,000 and £200, 000. Boris is notoriously mean. And was keen to solicit financial support from wealthy Tory supporters. But he now insists that he paid for the work himself, and had a hissy fit when Keir Starmer suggested otherwise in the Commons. Iain Blackford, the SNP leader in Westminster, accused him of lying.
There are now several [probably toothless] committees looking into the affair. If Lord Brownlow paid for the work, then the gift should have been declared. And Boris will be liable for tax on the benefit received. And why did he lie about it ? What may continue to rankle with many people is the report that the couple wanted to transform the apartment from his predecessor Theresa May’s “John Lewis furniture nightmare” into a “high society haven”. Since John Lewis furniture and furnishings are aspirational for many who voted for the Tories, the comment may come back to damage him. No-one has seen photos of the refurbished flat. The latest upgrade was carried out by interior designer Lulu Lytle, causing one insider to suggest that the apartment may now look more like an up-market Turkish brothel.
Boris had already spent £2.6 million on a new Briefing Centre in Downing Street, supposedly so that his new Press Secretary Allegra Stratton, could stage-manage Trump-style press conferences. The media centre has only been used once, and journalists likened it to a Travelodge hotel decorated with four outsize union flags. But now there aren’t go to be any White House style briefings. Presumable because Boris doesn’t like answering questions from journalists. And Allegra Stratton has been summarily moved from her job. Possibly because, in response to questions about the affair of [with ?] Jennifer Arcuri, the American businesswoman who alleged that she had a relationship with Boris while he was London Mayor, Allegra Stratton replied that “there is no case to answer”. She added: “He does believe in the wider principles of integrity and honesty. He acts with integrity and is honest. He follows the Nolan principles when conducting himself in public life.” A statement so preposterous that even the Daily Telegraph was incredulous.
Someone at 10 Downing Street fingered the late, unlamented Dominic Cummings as the ‘chatty rat’ who was responsible for damaging leaks about the behaviour of the government. It was a foolish move. Dom is now threatening to come clean on a whole raft of stories about Boris’s mishandling of the COVID epidemic. Including the suggestion that Boris personally promised [Sir] James Dyson immunity from tax responsibility if Dyson, already a tax exile in south east Asia,, would work on the much needed ventilators. In the event no ventilators were produced.
Allegations of sleaze and inappropriate behaviour continue to accumulate. Did the Prime Minister say that he would rather see thousands die and “bodies piled high in the streets” rather than order a third lockdown. He has called the story ‘absolute rubbish’. Bit it does sound like the sort of thing Boris would say. And Robert Peston among others has blogged that two witnesses have confirmed to him that the Prime Minister did use these words, shouted in a rage in his study.
So we are back where we started. The Prime Minister may well be a habitual liar. Which is sad. [My current Bible reading is in Zechariah. “Yahweh Sabaoth says this: ‘These are the things you must do. Speak the truth to one another ‘ …”. [Zechariah 8:20].
But we are grateful for all who worked to develop, and then to roll out, the vaccine. We look forward to seeing our family, children and grandchildren, next month for the first time in nearly a year. After that we hope to be able to travel north, to the Outer Hebrides, in June. And we continue to pray for the awfulness of the situation in India and elsewhere, in places where the COVID virus continues to ravage the population unchecked.