Monday, 26 September 2011

Initial thoughts on 'The Importance of being awkward'

Sometimes looking forward to reading a book for so long can sometimes disappoint. Thankfully that is not the case with Tam Dalyell's autobiography The Importance of Being Awkward.

Now you may ask how I as a Liberal Democrat could have been looking forward to a book by such a Labour stalwart. Well of course in 2005 I stood for the seat of Linlithgow and Falkirk East which took the majority of the retiring Father of the House's seat within its boundaries. As I wrote in a letter to Tam, which I intended to give to him on election night* if he were there, I hoped his beekeeping wouldn't keep him from telling his own tale. Finally over 6 years later here it is.

I'm still in the chapters of his early life but already I know this book will be inimitable Tam. Here are just a couple of extracts.

During the Second World War along with other six-to-eight year old at Edinburgh Academy Preparatory School Tam was evacuated to Grantown-on-Spey.

Alas my time at school came to an end when I suddenly got searing pains in my tummy. It was my appendix and the situation was urgent, the local surgeons having gone off to the British Expeditionary Force in France. What to do? my mother was out of contact. Mercifully, the local vet was available and willing to deal with my perforated organ. Had the vet not taken rapid and decisive action, and the teachers accepted responsibility, there would surely have been no me to tell this tale.
The second is the tale of the guides for the House of the Binns, the first country house in the Scottish National Trust gift and the ancestral home of the Dalyells. After a sucession of military guides things changed in 1953.

When my father died in 1953, my mother, alone in the house as I was at university, decided that she would rather have seasonal students. The first of these students was the sun, then at Edinburgh University, of the minister of St. Michael's in Linlithgow and a distinguished future moderator. The guide was therefor the future leader of the Liberal party, the first Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament and much else, Lord Steel of Aikwood.
David became a great favourite of my mother's and was extremely kind to her. He accepted the wearing of the specially measured black uniform with its silver buttons  with aplomb but understandably forgot to tske the baton with him when showing parties of visitors round the house. The baton was 'de trop' to a younger generation and remains on show beneath my father's portrait.
This is just a taster as I only started to read the book yesterday as a birthday gift from my brother but I shall share more later on, I trust.

*As it was it got posted to the House of the Binns and I still have the kind response from the man in pride of place.

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