Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Pierre Berton's 'The Joy of Writing'

I picked up Pierre Berton's 'Joy of Writing' while in Vancouver. Though he's claimed as 'Canada's best-known writer' (I thought Margaret Atwood had snagged that one) this was the first book of his I'd read ... but a good one. It's a writer's guide disguised as a memoir, and a handy tome for non-fiction writers.
I don't agree with him all the way (and have one fact-check: T.E.Lawrence wrote 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom', not 'Ten', and left the manuscript on a station platform , not a taxi)-- but I did come away with some guidance under my belt. For one, I was pleased to see that only academics start biographies with the subject's birth. I now come to see where to start my own J.S.Haldane work.
I also admire the sheer stamina of Berton ... and am grateful that he bothered to turn out this book in an old age that still read vigorously. He's right, bring nonfiction to life with details, and never forget to include the weather - which is easy to get hold of from newspaper weather reports of the period.
One problem I have with the idea of getting nonfiction to read with the immediacy of fiction, however, is that the models provided generally read like bad fiction, often melodrama. I was pleased while in Vancouver to discover a novel that provides a fine model for biography, with vivid, telling language and Berton's love of period detail to boot - Timothy Findley's The Wars. A splendid book. I'd only read one of his before (a late one - Pilgrim) - so brought a few of his novels back with me. They can be my fun reading matter when I'm writing my bio - I like working with such an apposite choice of writer to hand, a companion and model.
Here's a jolly anecdote from the The Joy of Writing:
'"How many of you really want to write?" asked Sinclair Lewis when invited to talk to a class on creative writing.
A forest of hands shot up.
"Then why the hell aren't you home writing?" the irascible author demanded, and strode from the room.'

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Images from Vancouver

Walking around Stanley Park I sensed the pleasing odour of skunk. Skunk scent has stayed oddly sweet to me since I first met it drifting across the land in New Mexico. Skunks in Stanley Park seemed unlikely ... main mammals were squirrels and raccoon. However I did spy a fine piece of broad-leafed vegetation by the edge of the woodland path and a visit to the beautiful UBC Botanical Garden set me to rights. The plant, native to the Pacific North West, is swamp lantern, also known as skunk cabbage, particularly redolent in May.

The next two pictures are from Burrard Bridge ... one of the Bridge itself, one looking down from it onto English Bay. An especial treat here was a flight of pelegiac cormorants, slender and irridescent with the white flanks of their breeding pattern, nesting in the bridge's girders.

And the final image is of Nitobe Gardens, esteemed as one of the top five Japanese Gardens outside of Japan. One more highlight that places the UBC vampus right at the top of Vancouver's tourist schedule.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Walking the turf labyrinth

Cut into the upper lawn of the delightful UBC Botanical Garden in Vancouver is a turf labyrinth. Though hardly everyday in Britain, I saw this labyrinth and identified with it as some part of my own mythic tradition. How fine to have a lawn and cut such a creation into it. What a great thing to do with a spot of land and a damp climate. I slowly trod my way in from the entrance, span round at the centre, and wound my way out again.
The sculpture presiding over it all is of a minotaur holding a hare, created by Sophie Ryder in 1996. Hares get done down in storytelling - swift as they are they don't even get to beat a tortoise. It's grand to see a hare given a moment of due respect.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Wayne Rooney and J.S.Haldane

OK I'm obsessed, but truth to tell J.S.Haldane has much to do with England's hopes in this year's World Cup Finals in Germany. And that stems from Haldane's work in another continental clash in which Germany was involved.

When poison gas was first released into the trenches of World War 1, Kitchener called for Haldane. He steamed off to the trenches, and subsequently by experimenting on himself and his son, gassing them both in their home gas chamber, he worked out what the gas was, and built a prototype gas mask. He went on to work with victims of the war, becoming known as 'the father of oxygen treatment' for his discoveries of the ways oxygen can affect and speed cures for significant injuries.

So when Wayne Rooney sleeps in an oxygen tent at night, and his metatarsal shows astonishing powers of recovery, the story stems back 90 years to Haldane and a bunch of wounded soldiers.

A dog and her man

For my last long flight, back from Zimbabwe in February, I took Philip Roth's American Pastoral as airline reading. Sure the guy can write, but can he edit? On and on, and such a mean-spirited rundown man emerges from it, some curious blend of arrogance and self-pity. So much did reading the book pain me I chose to read nothing, for hours, rather than continue.

So coming to Vancouver I brought a back-up. And read the back-up first. But the flight was so long I was then able to get beyond the somewhat ponderous opening of Halldor Laxness's 20th century Icelandic classic, Independent People, and became engrossed.

Here's a treat of a paragraph from it, about a man and his dog, a dog and her man:

Bjartur did not make the journey to Summerhouse till the following day. The dog padded along beside him in blissful anticipation. It is lovely to be going home. And whenever she was a few yards ahead of her master she would halt and look back at him with eyes full of an unwavering faith, then return to him on a big curve. Her reverence for her master was so great that she did not presume even to walk ahead of him. A dog finds in a man the things it looks for. He leaned into the gusts of driven snow, leading Blesi by the reins and casting an occasional glance at his dog--poor little thing, lousy and wormy, but where is fidelity to be found if not in those brown eyes--where the loyalty that nothing can subvert? Misfortune, dishonour, the pricks of conscience,nothing can quench this fire--poor little bitch, in her eyes Bjartur of Summerhouses must always be highest, greatest, best; the incomporable. Man finds in the eyes of a dog the things he looks for.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Naked men, women, forests and me

I was being clever, backtracking south from the UBC Botanical gardens to find a trail down to the sea I was told didn’t exist.

I found it. Steep and slippery but I got down OK. Tucked in from the shore was a grey-bearded old soak in a naval hat puffing away on his pipe, stark naked. “Hello,” he said.

The trail was through forest that bordered the shore. One after the other naked men appeared and passed me, never quite looking me in the eye, always looking somewhere else. Some way down a cluster of them gathered on a pocket of clear sand. I looked away this time, keeping eyes on the path.

Why no women on this woodland trail? Why were all the joggers on the trails through Stanley Park also males, pounding away on the tracks, the women joggers keeping to the outer rim by the water’s edge? Is it some hunter-gatherer throwback, men in the forest and women in the clearings, picking sunlit berries? Or is it just that men have hogged the domain and women don’t feel safe? I can quite see why women might not feel at ease scrambling the trail in this Pacific clothing optional zone. But do women like forests the way men seem to?

Young men were sent into the forest with tasks to perform in order to achieve their destiny. I guess Angela Carter went into the woods, and Red Riding Hood and Gretel and Maid Marian, but they don’t seem to quest in the same mythic way.

One woman, Heike from my On Sacred Mountains, came into the forest with me for her first forest time time ever, a nighttime walk up Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka. Her first forest walk, her first mountain, her first nighttime expedition. I guess she felt safe in my company. I’m the sort of man women come and sit next to on trains or in stations. I used to object, in days when I wanted to seem young and dangerous.

On the whole women don’t come up to me in forests though, because they aren’t there. I don’t like the enclosure of forests all that much myself, preferring bands of daylight ahead. Where do women go in nature? Meadows? Would I like it there too?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Vancouver and the City Experience

Vancouver appears at the top of ‘best quality of life in a city’ charts. It was pipped to the post this year by Zurich and Geneva, suggesting mountains and lakes / bays come pretty high on the ‘ideal city’ agenda.

I tramped around downtown Vancouver for 6+ hours yesterday, including a good amount in Stanley Park(pictured). Playing virtual relocation games recently (a writer’s life is a transportable one) we came up with the West End of Vancouver as the best place to move to. Property prices were great at the time (they’ve since been soaring), and I loved the idea of Stanley Park’s many-hectared rainforest wilderness to walk in.

Now I know better. A fine ten mile concrete track around the coastline of the park is split between pedestrians and cyclists / rollerbladers. Relatively scarce tracks through the forest are pounded by joggers. It’s not wilderness at all but an urban experience, parkland as human exercise yard, seaplanes roaring overhead, a major traffic route cutting two roads up and down through the centre.

Then out into West End. Vancouver has a resident architectural genius, Arthur Erickson, (more on whom in a while when I go to visit his Anthropological Museum, here on the UBC campus). Like Frank Lloyd Wright he specializes in opening his cities to the landscape, so that they sit in harmony with it and wake and sleep to the play of natural light. The curator of an upcoming exhibition of his work says of him, “He kept on coming back to concrete, as he called it his muse. The poetry in his work was inspired by this material and its ability to suggest a permanence and develop a patina and the way it responds to light and its strength.” In the hands of a master maybe. In the West End they’ve simply taken the concrete and poured it into high rise blocks. One little square of ‘heritage’ housing fr0m the 1890s, wooden fascia and two storeyed, is left as a reminder of when the city was once human, before they tore it down.

“I’d like to see a greater density in the city itself,” says Erickson in this weekend’s Vancouver Sun interview. It’s surely happening. You can sign in for your apartment in ‘the Ritz’ today, or countless other deep holes in the ground set to reach above the crowds of other blocks towards the skies. Lots of glass is tinted turquoise or occasional sunset pink, in memory of the skies and the sense of space and reflected water they’re replacing. I kept tramping around, looking for some coffee space with an artistic feel, but Vancouver’s groundfloors have been leased by Starbucks. Out in the East there are some lowlying stretches, a Chinatown from the early 1900s and Gastown making something of its low ‘heritage’ buildings with a run of crap shops and restaurants. Vancouver loses 50% of my own ‘quality of life’ votes because I’m not a car. Santa Monica renewed itself by pedestrianizing 3rd Street. Gastown provides the perfect venue for such an upgrading, and a grid system that can absorb redirected traffic, but no, the people are crammed to the sidewalks and vehicles spew their fumes out in the centre. By Gastown my city experience had me weeping.

Two moments felt good. One was in Stanley Park, where I could focus on an empty horizon of sea straight ahead. The other was in walking across Burrard Bridge, looking out across the water, choking with fumes but leaving Downtoan behind me.

Just across the water is an area I did like, Kitsilano. Small buildings, a cinema with other than high-action bilge showing (I very much enjoyed Art School Confidential), good restaurants and shops and a neighbourhood feel. Such city living might be acceptable to me, even pleasant. It comes on a human scale.

I guess Arthur Erickson knows this too. He has lived in the neighbouring district of West Point Grey since 1957, and worked hard to make Robson Square in the city a “cultural and intellectual hub,” where writers and artists and poets could get together and enthuse and inspire. “That’s what we need to bring the city together. The intellectual approaches of these extraordinary people. If we could take it all to the area it would be quite unique.”

It sure would. And every time he’s gone back in recent years the place has been empty. Artists are a barometer of the soul of city life. Downtown Vancouver depressed me utterly and squeezed me out of itself, so that I might flourish once again.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Honour among scientists, UK v. US

Sir Charles Sherrington (pictured) won a Nobel prize - but more outstanding somehow is the meomorial room to him at the Charles Woodward Library. Chairs from his dining table now surround a table in the Sherrington Room, where his papers are held, and his dress uniform and Nobel prize are on display. An American scientist with a passion for his work saved the collection from random dispersal. (It seems Liverpool now has its own Sherrington building, and in sympathy some of the collection from here was sent over - a do-good model for the Elgin marbles.)
It does seem I am the first person to have consulted the J.S.Haldane archive here, at least in the librarian's long memory - and I've just cut the paper of journals, so clearly they have not been read before. Apparently a Hugh Sinclair, a physiologist from Oxford, despaired at research funds so sold his collection, including Haldane's papers ... as well as funding his research, he got himself an Aston Martin.
Archive material I want to look at in Oxford is unavailable to mer, for the library which holds the material now employs no librarian. if it's not digitized, it's not available. Not much has changed down the years.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Beach walks before breakfast

Still keeping Greenwich Meantime to some extent, I'm up with the early dawn on the Vancouver campus. Before diving into the library I took a walk down to the beach this morning.
Ahhh. Now I begin to get why Vancouver tops charts as the world's best quality of life in a city. The path down was through a Pacific mixed growth forest of dappled light, tall trees and ancient ferns. Then to the pebbled shore, looking out over the strait to the snow-capped peaks beyond, the occasional seaplane just a dot against a huge sky, a heron flapping its steady way along the shoreline.
On arrival I learned that the library is closed on Monday, for Victoria Day. Oh well. I guess I'll just have to make do striding into different panoramas.

Researching in Vancouver

Vancouver’s a long way to come for the experience, but the Charles Woodward Memorial Room combines grandeur and privacy to a fine degree. It’s probably the one chilly place on the UBC campus in this current brief heatwave, the lights dim too, perfect conditions for rare papers rather than people.
J.S.Haldane’s papers are here. Who knows when anyone last looked at them? I have a clear sense of my story now, so know what fits it and what doesn’t. My writer’s eye is most keenly at work, looking for choice phrases and emotions clearly expressed—such is the volume of material I’ve gathered I know I will be quoting relatively sparsely. The main thrust of today was a batch of letters from mother to son, with a host of particular endearments. They were fine, though I see I am more alert to the science now—letters from the scientist uncle, Burdon Sanderson, came as a relief.
The size of Vancouver surprises me. I’m used to London and having my big cities walkable. The University of British Columbia is settled on its own peninsula, with many fine aspects over water and mountains. The university itself is closed till September so I wander around with people on conferences. The weekend shoud become lively—the transnational gay, lesbian and transgendered chorus movement is coming here for some mass singing.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Science and Creativity

Reading on the train in to London this morning, I came across a most excellent line: 'Death is not a satisfactory endpoint'.

This came from an article by R.W.Torrance, 'Haldane and Indifferent Gases: O2 secretion or CO excretion?' I am most assuredly not a scientist, part of the big adventure of my current exploit, writing the biography of the scientist J.S.Haldane (pictured). Death as 'not a satisfactory endpoint' seems a wonderfully scientific viewpoint. Science texts offer occasional lines like prisms of alternative worldviews.

My London trip was to visit a Haldane grandchild, Professor Avrian Mitchison. He's also the son of the novelist Naomi Mitchison. Her son felt she and he shared the same view, that 'creativity in science and literature are not coextensive but in principle pretty much the same.' So I feel I about bringing creativity to the biography.

I've been amassing rather than studying papers and books of Haldane's science over these last two years, but some osmosis seems to have happened in that I begin to find informed viewpoints stirring in myself. My main hope is that scientists will follow this biography with their own studies into Haldane's work and legacy, but the science must be real and exciting for both the scientist and lay readers. The first biography of Brunel in 1957 brought him from relative obscurity to household name of the past. That's what I'm seeking for Haldane.

I'm about to burrow through more science. In the morning I fly out to Vancouver and a week in the Charles Woodward Memorial Room at the University of British Columbia. You want Darwin's papers? They're here, as with Haldane's and his uncle, John Burdon Sanderson. And in closing hours I'll be coming to know Vancouver for the first time. This probably means fewer postings for a while - excuse me. I'll bring back tales from the silence.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Perthshire Personalities of the 1930s, anyone?

The subject of my new biography, J.S.Haldane, is third from the left. This is a favourite photo, with that sparkle in his eye. I believe it was taken in the 1930s, for the Perthshire Advertiser.

The lady to his right, with the striped scarf, is the Duchess of Atholl. The lady second from right, with the fur stoal, is Elizabeth Haldane (J.S's sister - and probably fair game for a biography in her own right if anyone is interested). But I don't know who the other three people are, nor where it was taken (though maybe in Auchterader?).

If anyone recognizes anyone here, please let me know!

PS ... Follow this link to a picture of the Duchess of Atholl, the first Scottish woman MP, launching the ship that bears her name, of the Canadian Pacific Line. I do like these byways of biographical research!

Friday, May 12, 2006

'Slippery When Wet' and 'The Kite Flyer'

It's touching to hear from readers about one's own books - especially when the response is glowing. Here's a comment on my new novel from an American reader. He traced the book himself on Amazon (it's not on sale there - I suppose in the hope that a US edition goes on sale some day) and I bless him for writing the following:

"I read Slippery When Wet. Truly an eye-opener -- what good use you have made of your travels, Martin, in the best English tradition. You have a really wonderful ability to enter into different centers of consciousness, which is what the novel form is all about and without which it cannot exist -- as much in Joyce as in George Eliot. I like Maggie very much, but I love Sepen; he is really a wonderful creation. I knew you were a good writer, but the specificity and vividness of the imaginative creation here surpasses anything else of yours I have read. I have no idea what Bangladesh or any person living there is like, but you convince me entirely. Well done, indeed.

"Sepen for me is the most convincing embodiment of the otherness of the third world, seen from the outside by Maggie and then from the inside by your narrative and dialogue. It is like the Proustian intuition of a radical gap between the world as imagined and as experienced.

"There is a novel very popular in America now, perhaps in Britain too, that also evokes an Asian place with great vividness -- The Kite Runner, by an American physician who was born and grew up in Afghanistan. It focuses quite a bit on the ethnic hatreds of the country, and very oddly, I learn from it that upper class Pashtuns of Kabul speak Farsi, and do not even understand Pashtu. Such pedantry aside, it is a powerful book. it gives a very vivid picture of Kabul before the troubles. But since it is written by an Afghani, even though he is Americanized, it contains nothing of the effect of sparking across the cultural gap, which is the strength of your book."

Thursday, May 11, 2006

10 Favourite Books

This is a random posting ... a quick write to see what books pop out of my head.

1. David Marr's Life of Patrick White. I picked it up when I was in one of my most questing, what next with my life modes. It was brilliant. Patrick White is a favourite writer in any case. He had the right tale on writing - an don epiphanies. His own was reached falling in a mud puddle in his backyard one moonlit night.

2. The Androgyne Journal by James Broughton (pictured) . A clear and brave book by a writer who became a friend, given me to spur me forward, an intense account of loving one's own shit while in Big Sur.

3. James Thornton's A Field Guide to the Soul. Well he's my partner, but this really is the one book of spiritual practice I know that carries you into that other space.

4.Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr Ripley. I go to her when I need a model of how to write clean, taut prose.

5. Paul Bowles Sheltering Sky. A magnificent book about the split one encounters in crossing cultural boundaries into other worlds. My travel overseas has ofet, as a subtext sought my own physical extinction.

6. John Fowles The Magus. How would this read now? At the time it was utterly thrilling. The last book I remember running through the streets to buy when it came out was Fowles's The Maggot. It disappointed.

7. Another Country by James Baldwin. A rich book, an honest one.

8. James Purdy's In a Shallow Grave. I'm pleased one of his has jumped into this run of conscousness frame. It's been an odd time with him of late, since meeting - but this is a slim and deep book.

9. Waiting for the Rain by Charles Mungoshi. This is the book on the list that I first read most recently, a truly delicious tale of tribal longings, the seducements of the modern industrial world, and the solitary way of the true artist. Mungoshi would get my nomination for the next Nobel prize.

10. Cuchama and Holy Mountains by Evans Wentz. Chancing upon this book in San Francisco spurred me on the final leg of my own sacred mountains journey, and brought me together with a fellow traveller.

So much for that stream of consciousness. I'll maybe try the exercise again in a little while and see what utterly different books emerge.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Publishing is Celebrity Obsessed! .... Jules Verne

Jules Verne wrote Paris in the Twentieth Century in 1863 when aged 35, then it was locked away in a safe for 130 years. He couldn’t get it published. His feelings about the publishing industry were contained within the novel.
We see Paris of this dystopian future through the eyes of Michel: ‘“A poet, my friend! And I wonder what in the world he can be doing here in Paris, where a man’s first duty is to make money!”’ Poor Michel ‘hopes, he works, he loves good books, and when Hugo, Musset, and Lamartine are no longer read, he hopes someone will still read him! But what have you done, wretch that you are—have you invented a utilitarian poetry, a literature to replace compressed air or powered brakes? No? Well then! Gnaw your own vitals, my son! If you don’t have something sensational to tell, who will listen to you? Art is no longer possible unless it produces a tour de force! These days, Hugo would have to recite his Orientales straddling two circus horses, and Lamartine would perform his Harmonies upside down from a trapeze.’
Michel’s uncle, locked in a small book-lined room, senses the perils facing his nephew in the sterile yet powerful workplace. ‘The old scholar sought to smother just those tendencies he most admired in the young man, and his words constantly betrayed his intention; an artist’s situation, as he well knew, was hopeless, déclassé, impossible… “Literature is dead, my boy.”’
Desperate for recognition and the start of his writing career, Jules Verne would file this novel away for his lifetime. Set in the future, it spoke of the present, the eternal present, in which ‘true artists’ follow a ‘vocation’ and bewail the cheap successes and acclaim won by those who wield sensation rather than insights.
So celebrity culture has come to dominate publishing? What’s new?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Biography - the Anglo-Saxon Art?

When I was chatting with the Zimbabwean novelist Shimmer Chinodya recently, I wondered why he didn't write biography. For me, biography is a sound commercial option, more marketable than fiction, and possible to sell in advance on proposal. I was surprised that all the writers I worked with in Zimbabwe never considered non-fiction projects. Shimmer was interested for a while, but ultimately decided he didn't want the effort of all the research.
Talking with the biographer Carole Angier on Friday evening, I was surprised to learn how biography doesn't exist to the same degree even in the likes of Italy and France. Visiting Professor Murdoch Mitchison the other day (the grandson of my own current subject J.S.Haldane, and son of novelist Naomi Mitchison), he told me how he wrote an obituary of a German colleague and received a good deal of mail, praising him but astonished that he had given the life of the man rather than the driest of details. Unless one is sticking to a clinical run of facts the continental view is that biography is akin to muck-raking, sonehwat demeaning. Carole suspects it has something to do with those countries bring Catholic nations with their own particular reverence for the dead.
For me, biography is giving due reverence, finding the whole in a neglected life. But then I learn that biography on the continent is deemed a particularly Anglo-Saxon form.
Guilty as charged.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Haworth, the Brontes and Moslem women

A day out in Haworth allowed for a tramp across the moors in the footsteps of the Brontes. Their shoes are on view in the museum in town, coverng doll-size feet. It's sweet to think of them pattering those feet against the storms, out walking their dog. It's a dog highway up on the moors, packs of them out with owners to smash across the heather and scatter the skylarks.
I like Haworth, its steep cobbled streets clinging on to some authentic Yorkshire old-time feel. The parsonage was unpacked on a rare sunny weekday, remarkable for its presentation of all the Bronte furnitures in situ - 'here's the sofa on which Emily died' etc.
The new line of ths place since I was there a couple of decades ago is a stream of Moslem women tourgroups, peeping out through the eyeslits in their black swathes of cloth. It seems the Bronte sisters, cooped up in their family home while reaching out to the world, are deemed acceptable material for young Moslem women. It's fun to think of how they might appear in 21st Century Bronte works - they seem oddly apposite to the Bronte view of the world.

Flip the Script

A good evening at the Contact Theatre for their 'Flip the Script' night on Wednesday. Some wonders were worked in the 45 minutes of rehearsal time given to the segment of my 'Feeding the Roses' since the blind readthrough the night before. Just the opening seven pages. The actors were 30 years younger than the age they opening two characters were written for, but it worked. An extra sexiness and liveliness came in.
It's grand to have a play presented live, if only in a modest form. My every dream is about the theatre, I have a play I want to write that needs loads of research first, but first I must have a full production of this one. It's taken twenty years or more of redrafting and sharpening. Time to give my play agent a wake up call I think - she did a round of submissions 6 months ago. Why 6 months should be the standard time of response form theatres I don't know, but i suspect it has much to do with underfunding.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Contact Theatre's 'Flip the Script'

I'm off up to Manchester for a performance of my play Feeding the Roses in the Contact Theatre's 'Flip the Script' series - a BBC supported program for new writing.
It runs as a 'playwriting slam' - several pages of the play performed in rehearsed playreading mode by professional actors, then performed alongside others.
As an actor I used to do a lot of these rehearsed readings myself - at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow and Dundee Playhouse. It was a fine way of presenting work, getting audience feedback for an actor - though audiences did tend to say 'that would be great for radio', so something of the full theatrical experience goes wanting.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Gleneagles - place and family

Over lunch the other day Gillian Tindall, whose The House by the Thames has just been issued, told me how she feels place is much more important than family - that you absorb more from where you are than from who you c0me from.
I'm just back from a research trip up to Scotland. What a powerful combination it is, when family and place both power you through life. I walked the hills around the family seat of Cloan near Auchterarder, as my biographical subject J.S.Haldane used to do. Those hills made the man to a great extent, so I learned about him as I climbed. I also went down to the more ancient family seat of Gleneagles - predating the hotel's usurping of the name by many centuries. The name Gleneagles actually stems from glen d'eglise - the glen of the chapel. This tidy chapel of ancient stone used to stand at the crossroads of a Roman road. J.S.Haldane's ashes were buried there, and a column proclaims the life of him and his siblings. The Haldanes have held sway over this Gleneagles land for a millennium. J.S. carried the power of the name, and the land, with him through a life in which he kept challenging conventional wisdom and governmental folly. He was strong enough in himself to change the world.
Revolutionaries may wish to unseat the landed gentry - but it's intriguing to see how that intense sense of privilege and belonging can also be used to serve and change the world.