Saturday, 28 June 2014

   At the backpackers’ hostel in the evening, Aberdeen fans could be heard in good voice on the street outside, in spite of losing 1:0 to Dundee Utd, but meanwhile I was slowly becoming conscious of the fact that my knee was unlikely to be better by Monday, when I’d had in mind to try walking again.

Churchillian plaque, Dundee
   On 7th April, Divine Mercy Sunday, at St Andrew’s Cathedral for Mass, I was a bit nonplussed to hear the (youngish) priest’s wistful yearning, in his homily, for the days when this, the Sunday after Easter, was known as ‘Low’ Sunday, as opposed to its more modern moniker. I asked him afterwards: “If ‘Divine Mercy’ is not an improvement on ‘Low’, what would it have been an improvement on?” I also bought a little book on the Divine Mercy from the repository there, realising it could not but be at least as useful as any SAS tome. From there I came via a small brass plaque commemorating Sir Winston Churchill (Dundee’s MP from 1908 to 1922) to the pub, knowing that Tottenham had a crunch encounter with Everton that afternoon. Before it started though, it was diverting to see the latter stages of a fixture which, in the context of English football, calls to mind West London club Queen’s Park Rangers, but which is in fact ‘Queen’s Park’ – ‘Rangers’, the former club being the only fully amateur team in Scotland’s professional league, who play their home games at Scotland’s national stadium, Hampden Park. Hampden has a capacity of over 52,000, though a typical attendance for Queen’s Park games is more often about 750. According to legend, a Queen’s Park continuity announcer once lost his job for announcing over the club tannoy: 

“For the benefit of the team, here are the changes to this week’s crowd…” 

The Hampden Roar (score) that day incidentally was 4:1 to the Old Firm outfit. Then in spite of an opening minute strike by Togolese target-man Emmanuel Adebayor, Spurs could manage only a 2:2 draw with David Moyes’ Merseysiders, reinforcing the presentiment that our Champions League aspirations were likely to be dashed, along with any hope of securing the services of star player Gareth Bale for next season. A redoubtable Scotch pie was the staple of my supper, and it then seemed fitting to spend part of Divine Mercy Sunday in a quiet room in the old part of the hostel, reading a Russian language article about the beatification of Blessed John Paul II.

   Next day, after attending 10am morning Mass, I was on a computer at the library when I saw the breaking news of the death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher. I felt this was of sufficient import that I should mention it to the half dozen or so other computer users who were there at the same time. Their mixed and, it has to be said, not uniformly charitable reactions were something of an eye-opener as to the strength of feeling that she excited among Scots, even so many years after her prime ministerial tenure. 

   The existence of a possible affinity in the relationship between Dundee and St Andrews, with that enjoyed in SW England by Bristol and Bath, was brought to my attention that day by the frequency and regularity of the trans-Tay bus services connecting them. Dundee is a bit like Bristol in being an old port; in having been for a long time (from about the 15th to the 17th centuries) Scotland’s second city; and in the fact that its smaller neighbour, St Andrews, is more upmarket, attracts many more big-spending tourists, and would sometimes appear unwilling even to acknowledge the existence of its bigger, badder neighbour. Climbing aboard one of the above-mentioned passenger vehicles, I was also reminded of a saying often attributed to Margaret Thatcher: 

‘A man who travels by bus after the age of 30 is a failure.’  

It’s worth emphasising that there is little evidence that she ever actually said this. Nevertheless, I was conscious not only of being well over 30 and travelling on a bus, but of being on a bus because my dodgy knee wouldn’t allow me to walk, in spite of having undertaken to go on a walking pilgrimage. And I was visiting the town where I studied for 4 years to obtain a degree, but where, because I now had no job and couldn’t afford accommodation, I would need to sleep rough in a niche underneath the university library. Still, as Mother Teresa famously said: 

“God has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.”  

…and moreover, the town of St Andrews is undoubtedly better off with its Latin motto, ‘Dum Spiro Spero’‘Where I Breathe I Hope’, than with a maxim that, likely as not, cropped up in the margin of some witless yuppie’s filo-fax.

   St Regulus (or Rule), a bishop of Patras who lived in the 4th century AD, is said to have been told in a dream to take a collection of St Andrew’s relics to the farthest corner of the western world, and there build a church to house them. His voyage needs to be filed under the heading ‘legend’ of course, but the upshot is that St Andrews, spread out across the Fife promontory where the venerable Greek is said to have made landfall, became pre-Reformation Scotland’s greatest pilgrimage destination and foremost ecclesiastical centre. My first port of call was St James’ RC Church, on a road called The Scores, from which one can see the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and West Sands, location for the opening sequence of the 1981multiple Oscar-winning  flick ‘Chariots of Fire’. St James’s was where I was received into the Catholic Church in April 1998. At the entrance, I noticed a cartoon-illustrated children’s book about St Martin of Tours, which I would need to purchase, as the idea for this pilgrimage came to me on St Martin’s day, 11th November 2012, and Tours was one of the places that I was most hoping to visit.

   For old time’s sake I had a coffee at an iconic place called the Old Union Diner, and then checked out possible sleeping places, deciding that a sort of ‘engine room’ behind gates under the library would probably work, before going to another old haunt from my student days and ordering a brew. A trio of students on the next table, chuntering away in Home Counties-like accents, reminded me that St Andrews is known as the English university in Scotland; in term-time, the town sometimes has the feel of a sort of English enclave. BBC News 24 meanwhile was on the TV, without sound. Naturally, in view of Baroness Thatcher’s passing, you had footage of yuppies, Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney persona, the Falklands, the Miners’ Strike, Poll Tax demonstrations etc. As I caught up with writing in my diary, the channel was changed and we were treated to an entertaining clash from the English Premiership between Manchester Utd and Manchester City, but what astonished me was that Ryan Giggs, who first rose to prominence during my schooldays, was still capable of playing 90 minutes for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, over 20 years later. Although Utd lost 2:1, the result amounted to no more than a stumble in their inexorable march to that season’s title.

   After a poor sleep, but at least dry and unnoticed, early on the morning of Tuesday 9th April I took great enjoyment from a cup of coffee, and read two different obituaries of Britain’s first and only woman prime minister. After the Brighton bombing in 1984, a quote of hers that stood out was “Terrorism will never succeed in destroying democracy”, which must surely have a corollary in the fact that neither will it ever succeed in advancing democracy, in spite of the best efforts of anti-government rebels in Syria to do just that. Afterwards I visited the town library to spend time on a computer, and then the university museum. The highlight here was a display case containing three golden 15th century maces, ornamented with beautifully wrought figures of Christ and the Apostles, including prominent stylised representations of St Andrew, his limbs spread-eagled on a Saltire (‘X’-shaped) cross. In 2013 these magnificent symbols of scholastic authority took on an added piquancy, because the university was celebrating the 600th anniversary of its foundation.[1]

[1] Though in fact, it had begun to function as a university a couple of years before the papal bull of 1413, so in typical St Andrews fashion an excuse was found to string the celebrations out over several years. The old joke has it that you need two St Andrews students to change a light bulb – one to look up an electrician, and one to mix the drinks.

No comments:

Post a Comment