One of my most cherished memories of London was visiting the Natural History Museum to see my favourite dinosaur – or, rather, the famous cast of it – Diplodocus carnegii. I’ve been twice: once as a wee guy, and once as a not-so-wee guy. Both occasions filled me with the same sense of wonder, history, and awe regardless of the gulf in space and time. And soon, many wee Scots who haven’t had the opportunity to meet Dippy will have their chance!
Jings, it’s been a year, hasn’t it?
It’s been a quiet year in the Wilderness, but there were still some fond memories and popular enough posts. I aim to do better next year, as always. For now, I’ll take a look back on the most popular blog posts of each month from the year that was.
I’m not great at self-promotion. Every time I try, I curl up in a ball of bashfulness like a Mimosa plant. So instead, I’ll promote IScot, a quality magazine for all those interested in Scotland – full of great articles on Scottish culture, history, heritage, language, politics, media, wildlife, science, you name it. It’s a real success story of modern media in Scotland, and it deserves it richly.
This has nothing to do with the fact I just had my first article published there – an overview of depictions of Robert the Bruce in cinema – and that I’m bouncing off the walls seeing a magazine I contributed to being published on TV.
Anyhow. Go have a look.
This was on TV. In Scotland. Where I live. And I wrote something in it.
Scottish Jews will proudly tell you that theirs is the only country in Europe where a Jew has never been murdered for being a Jew. However, a few will cynically add that although this may be accurate historically, the local community is small and relatively young, going back only two centuries.
– Anshel Pfeffer
Regular readers will be aware that I’m involved in several peace organisations. You’d be amazed at how angry some people get when I talk about wanting peaceful solutions to Protestant-Catholic sectarianism, Chinese-Japanese xenophobia, and Israeli-Palestinian violence, to say nothing of nuclear disarmament and pacifism. For some reason, peace seems be controversial.
The utter tragedy that is happening in the Levant is, perhaps, the most difficult of them all to navigate, because how could it be otherwise? The entire history of Israel and Palestine since the beginning of the 20th Century is based on division and conquest, both sides used and abused in proxy wars by murderous powers for political and financial gain, no care or consideration given to the lives lost and ruined, the minds warped by hatred and loss, the generations sacrificed for money and power. Where once Jews, Muslims, and other religious and ethnic groups coexisted and worked together, now it seems to be torn asunder by madmen and isolationists.
The end result? Any discussion that’s even tangentially related to that period in our world’s collective history has to be treated with the utmost care and consideration. The ubiquity of the World Wars in our collective consciousness and the poppy policing sometimes makes it counter-intuitively easy to forget just how monstrous it all was. We got all the stories about toughing through the Blitz and making do with rations, the happy-go-lucky Evacuees and reunions with family after 1945, the tales of derring do as Our Boys whipped the Luftwaffe back over the Channel. The tales of children’s shoes & wedding rings piled into mounds, the boxer forced to fight his people in deathmatches, and the dark grey snowflakes that shadowed Europe may be occasionally revisited by way of a blockbuster film or television series – but all that happened over in other countries. Precious few of us, especially in later generations, have that connection with such a pivotal event in humanity’s collective soul.
I’d ask to keep the following things in mind:
22nd October 2018: Commonspace published an article regarding the Deputy First Minister’s decision to withdraw material on Israel-Palestine education sources following a complaint from the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities
27th October 2018: 11 are killed and 7 injured in a shooting at Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh
28th October 2018: the First Minister announced she would be joining school pupils on a visit to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Education Trust
30th October 2018: Dr. Philippa Whitford announces in the UK Parliament that she & other doctors hired by Medical Aid for Palestinians were denied permission to enter Gaza by the Israeli Government
30th October 2018: the SNP suspends a member for writing a blog post which was accused of antisemitism
30th October 2018: the First Minister returned from Auschwitz
This all happened in the space of a few weeks, in a political realm where SNP politicians have simultaneously been accused of antisemitism for retweets and meetings, while others were accused of apologism and timidity. Meanwhile, party activists have been detained & choices of conference stalls questioned, as social media and blogs are being scrutinised. I don’t even need to mention what’s going on in other parties.
Scotland is blessed with the presence of several thousand Jewish Scots, and is also home to a small number of Palestinian-Scots. There are people out there who don’t want them – us – to live in peace with one another, and will treat any attempt to reach that peace with as much hostility as they kindle in the people they seek to control. They have no ethnicity, no creed, no sense of commonality beyond shared love of power and profit – and even then, they will happy betray one another if it means getting one up on them. The people who so shamefully & unforgivably exploited and persecuted Jewish people over the centuries are the exact same people who chopped up homelands and radicalised devastated Islamic communities. This is how they work. This is how they’ve worked for centuries. The only thing that can stop them is peace.
There was a time that Glasgow was one of the most violent cities in Europe. Now it isn’t, and cities across the world are asking us how we did it. There was a time when sectarianism in Scotland and Ireland was a constant, persistent danger, and many believed that there would be no peace in my lifetime. Now there is peace. We didn’t get there by magic: we got there with hard graft, ignoring the people saying it was impossible or wouldn’t see fruition for decades, because we decided that enough people had died. Israel & Palestine are orders of magnitude beyond where Scotland was many years ago – but there was a time, not so long ago, where the peoples of those lands viewed their neighbour’s religion and ethnic background as just another facet of their common humanity. Not perfect by any means, but a damned sight better than the horror we see today.
An addendum to yesterday’s post: it’s illuminating to read the reactions of the story.
Here’s what some people say:
And here’s what others say:
It’s almost as if some people think that supporters of Scottish Independence will think less of one of their greatest historical figures if* it was revealed he was born in England. That the party whose first president was born in England will have a meltdown. That the people who march with the flags of many countries – including St. George’s Cross – will have a canary.
Why would people think that?
Like I said. Illuminating.
*The jury’s still out on that, of course.
He was the King of Scots who led the nation to its most famous victory on the battlefield and sent “proud Edward” and his army home to think again.
But although Robert the Bruce defeated the English at Bannockburn in 1314, it seems the historic triumph masked a hidden irony.
A new book by an eminent academic makes an astonishing claim: that Bruce was born in England.
One thing about historians is that you’ll never find two that agree on everything, or even most things. History is as coloured by the interpretations of the historian as they are by the written sources, and I do not think considering it more of an art than a science diminishes it whatsoever. So, much like the notion that Mary, Queen of Scots spoke with a French accent, I feel my inner history nerd steepling his fingers and arching his eyebrows at the notion that Robert the Bruce was definitely, absolutely, positively, certainly born in Essex.
The academic said: “The truth may be unpalatable for some, for a chronicler from Southern England states categorically that Robert belonged to ‘the English nation’ and, more specifically, that he came into this world surrounded by the pleasant meadows, vineyards, grass and grain of Essex.
“There was a strong tradition in the South that Bruce was born in Essex, while there is no direct evidence he was born in Turnberry. In modern times it has been presumed Bruce would have been born at Turnberry, but the evidence points to Writtle.”
– Dr Fiona Watson (as quoted)
Not having the privilege of reading her book (yet), I cannot comment on the evidence or sources that Dr Watson proposes. It could be she’s unearthed some hitherto undiscovered chronicle that turns everything we thought we knew upside down. In the absence of such knowledge, however, I can only surmise that the English Chronicler referred to in the article is Geoffrey the Baker of Swinbrook, who is the source usually cited whenever the alleged English origins of Robert are mentioned:
Robert Bruce also died in this year. He left behind a son David who was seven or eight years old, and the Scots made him their king. His right of succession was as follows. Alexander, king of the Scots, had three daughters but no sons. The first was married to John Balliol, the second to John Comyn and the third to Robert Bruce, an Englishman born in Essex, After the death of king Alexander, with the consent of Edward king of England the Scots had appointed as their king John Balliol, the husband of king Alexander’s eldest daughter, and Balliol on behalf of the kingdom of Scotland did homage to the king of England and swore fealty to him. But later, at the instigation of the disturbers of the peace of the kingdom of Scotland, John Balliol renounced by royal letter and by noble envoys the fealty and homage which he been forced to give and promised various other forms of subjection which he was willing to demand from king Edward.Despite this, he nevertheless kept the kingship of Scotland, but not for long. For the king of England extended a long arm from Winchester and put to flight from Scotland John Balliol king of the Scots and his son Edward.
While the two of them were journeying to France, the English king seized the castles and fortifications of the Scots, and the Scots, in an act of nothing other than witless rashness, took for their king the husband of the second daughter of king Alexander, namely Robert Bruce. For he was a soldier to his fingertips, except that, failing in his ambition of becoming king, he abandoned his loyalty without which no warrior wins praise and dared to rebel against his natural lord.
– The Chronicle of Geoffrey Le Baker of Swinbrook (David Preest translation)
Of course, if this is the “Southern English chronicler” Dr Watson refers to, then the Scotsman (and Telegraph and Times) are a bit behind the times, since Geoffrey the Baker’s account has been well-established since… well, the Middle Ages. As with dinosaurs, there’s nothing the press loves more than to present old news as some sort of bombshell new discovery.
In isolation, one could argue that this is fairly conclusive: as there is no known comparable contemporary evidence for Robert’s birth at Turnberry, the process of elimination leaves only Writtle.