There were three of us. It was after a family dinner. We’d drifted through to the other room to have some coffee and watch the news. My wife, my mother and myself all half watching the TV and we all found ourselves absorbed by the memorial service from Paschendale.
Grandsons, great nieces and nephews all paid tribute to young men who’d been killed or gone missing 100 years ago. As my wife noted at one point, ‘it seems to move me more as I get older.’ Why is that?
Quietly the same truths confronted us in a much more understated way as we took our rented camper van round the North Coast 500 in early July. Like a cut-out and keep illustration of the themes behind Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s, ‘Sunset Song,’ no sooner had we pootled along the High St of any one of the many small towns and villages than we’d happen upon the war memorial. Often we’d be walking past and stop to read. How was it possible so many had gone from such a tiny place? How much harder to believe thy’d never returned.
What, I’m sure you ask, has any of this to bear upon country music? It’s the same question I found myself asking as I watched the choirs sing and the children laying wreaths on television. How insubstantial most of our choices seem when faced with people whose had only one option: to go over the top and be killed or refuse and be executed. It was the second fate which awaited the boy from the Mearns, Ewan Tavendale, in Grassick Gibbon’s novel. No comfort for any who waited on news.
It was then I thought of what was left behind: the turning of soil, the milking of cattle, a shop to run, a boat to sail. Nothing much greater than the routine rhythm of daily life, which, from only 80 miles away must have seemed further than the furthest place. A vision of heaven from the seventh circle of hell.
So we celebrate what we have, that which we would miss most and the tiny events which constitute civilisation as we know it. Every part of that is sacred.
Another Country may form part of that for you. I’m honoured if that’s the case. It’s not a matter of life or death but it is part of that delicate fabric we would all recognise had disappeared were we to be displaced and exiled in the way our forebears were 100 years ago. The absence of war gives weight and meaning to the prosaic.
We will be off air for the next three weeks allowing time for the endeavours of the Festival and Fringe to capture your artistic imagination. This Tuesday we will celebrate our last show in the present series by bringing you the best from Southern Fried 2017. Nick Lowe, Sam Outlaw, Chuck Prophet and Beth Nielson Chapman in concert. Oh how much we would miss all of those should our world be taken from us.
Join me from five past nine this Tuesday (repeated Friday) on BBC Radio Scotland FM.