Climate Change Cataclysm
The opening section of my new novel The Summer Stance, about a family of tinkers (Travellers) who live in a lawless housing scheme in Glasgow and who decide to take their matriarch to their traditional summer stance in the Highlands, so that she can die in the place she adored. However, their move leads to prejudice and violence.
The Summer Stance, paperback by Thunderpoint Publishing, is available from bookshops and Amazon at £7.99.
A Kindle version at £1.99 is available from Amazon.
OneThe The convoy of five caravans led by a motorbike passed through Speyside in the July afternoon of 2009, the remnants of the old Caledonian pine forest straggling below mountain slopes served by chairlifts. A stag limped away at the sound of the backfiring exhaust. The previous winter it had been ambushed by an Italian syndicate with lethal repeating guns in a high corrie. The convoy passed Aviemore with its chalets and barbecue pits and went through the high pass of Sloc nam Muc (Hollow of the Pigs), where wild boars had roamed in the time of heroes. An eagle out of the Monadhliath Mountains rode the thermals as it watched the convoy coming through the glen. The motorcyclist was overtaken by other machines, new models of Yamahas, Ducatis and BMWs ridden by elderly men who had salivated over DVDs of the film Easy Rider, but who hadn’t been able to afford bikes until they were made redundant or retired early. Exhausts blasting, they reached the ton on long straights, but slowed down too late for the looming bend and broke their necks, or killed the occupants of oncoming vehicles.
The motorbike leading the convoy of caravans was a classic machine, a Triumph Bonneville of 1959, with a sidecar which was occupied by a woman in Ray-Ban sunshades and black leathers, a transfer of the Glasgow singer Lulu plastered to her helmet. The rider of the Bonneville was careful to stay within the 70 mph speed limit, to let the elderly bikers, low on testosterone, but high on the octane of illusion, roar past. The Bonneville turned off on to the loop of old road where drovers had grazed their cattle on their way to southern trysts and which had been left as a halt for touring buses to film the panorama.
The radiator of the leading vehicle, a Bedford van, the name of its previous owners visible under a white wash, was boiling. Blue jets were lit under kettles in the caravans and while they sat in the sun drinking their instant coffee, waiting for the radiator to cool, the motorbike rider opened the front door of the van and lifted out an old woman the size of a child. She had her arms round his neck as he carried her to the shade of a dyke, settling her down tenderly and kneeling beside her with the mug of tea.
The two greyhounds that had been slithering around the back of the Bedford were lapping the burn with noisy tongues. The sidecar passenger appeared from the bushes, zipping up her leathers. She kissed the rider on the cheek, took out a cigarette and tossed the packet over her shoulders. He retrieved it and pushed it down between her breasts.
He carried the old woman back into the van, kissing her forehead before settling her in the seat, leaving the belt off. The cooled radiator was filled with peaty water from the burn before the motorbike turned out on to the highway.Two hours later they turned west, entering a glen, the roofs of the caravans scraped by the overhanging hazels as they swayed round the bends on the narrow road. The river, whose Gaelic name meant grey, perhaps because it reflected the clouds, was dark as it flowed through the tight ravine.
The motorbike’s indicator was winking. The convoy turned off, crockery rattling as the caravans went through the open gate and bumped across pasture. The motorcyclist lifted the old woman out of the van and carried her to the standing stone by the river.
‘We’re here at last.’
He put her hand on the stone and she ran her fingers down it as if she were feeling the spine of a lover.
‘I was married at this stone.’
He carried her back to the caravan where her daughter-in-law Maisie made her strong tea from a kettle drawn from the river. Before departing for Africa a cuckoo in the glade on the other side of the flow was calling for the last time, as if asserting its intention to return to the same secluded place as the men collecting windblown branches. They soon had a fire going in the centre of the pasture and carried their supper plates from the caravans, sitting round the blaze with the kids and the boisterous dogs. The old woman was in her wheelchair, with a shawl round her shoulders, toasting her toes, breaking with ancient arthritic fingers the sparse food on her plate on her lap as she reminisced in Gaelic to the gathering. The others understood Gaelic, but had never used it in the city because they wanted to be absorbed, their tinker roots torn up.
‘I remember one day we came through the glen, it was so hot, the horses would have drunk the river dry if they could,’ the old woman was reminiscing in the language to which she had been loyal since infancy, with Dòmhnall the only one who was listening intently.
‘Our horse looked as if he was going to collapse with sunstroke. Do you know what Seanair (grandfather) did? There was a party of fancy people from a big car having a picnic, with bottles of wine cooling in the river. They had fallen asleep because they had drunk so much. Seanair crept up and took a straw hat off one of the heads. He cut holes in it for the ears and put it on the horse’s head. We laughed all the way here. Oh those were the days.'
Published in online Scottish Review on 15 May
by Lorn Macintyre
The fact that on at least one radio news bulletin
the birth of the British royal baby took precedence over the colossal threat of species
extinction, as detailed in the UN's report, is of a significance which may have
escaped some listeners.
The threat to humans from global warming is, I
suppose, as terrifying to many of us as the First World War was to our
forebears. But the difference is that after the Armistice of 1918 the damage by
ordnance was repaired gradually, and the visitor to the Somme area can walk a peaceful
landscape, with birds singing in the replanted woods, the Thiepval Memorial,
the cemeteries, and the trenches retained as reminders, the only evidence
(apart from the live shells which ploughs sometimes uncover) that that area of
France experienced one of the most ferocious battles in history.
But even if we begin to listen to the scientists
about the dire effects of global warming, it seems that despite the actions we
take, better late than never, there will be lasting damage to land, the oceans and
creatures. It is a prospect that is already causing clinical depression in
those anxious about the future that their children and their offspring are
facing. It's a mental state that will spread and which Freud could never have
foreseen. The threat of extinction calls for a new psychology.
In the coming war against global warming and
species extinction – because it will be a war, with believers against the
cynics, the latter from big business – there will have to be a realignment of
society such as was attempted during the Russian Revolution. The Czar, with his
court of sycophants and the sinister Rasputin, lived in luxurious ease while
the exhausted peasants starved. This same model of social division and
confrontation cannot be allowed to occur in the decades of deprivation to come.
Everyone with a heart welcomes a baby into the
world. But what world is Archie, the little prince-to-be, entering? Can we permit the
international class (the royals and A-list celebrities) into which he has been
born to continue with its self-indulgent lifestyle, while the rest of us are
asked to make major sacrifices for the ecological sake of the planet and the
survival of its inhabitants, from the playschool child to the insect in the
flower? Money is power and influence, and will continue to be.
Is the oligarch whose billions have come from the
extraction of oil which has polluted the atmosphere through exhausts, likely to
give up his extended cruises on his oil-guzzling superyacht to share in our
sacrifices? Will the film star and pop star surrender their private jet to join
us in the proletarian cabin of a plane, flights rationed by new
international laws of aviation?
It's unlikely. Once fortunes and power have been
obtained, by whatever methods, the psychological profile includes a
determination never to be poor or insignificant again. Will the royals and
their celebrity hangers-on curb their uses of limousines, planes and
helicopters? If they don't, then those beneath them on the social scale, the
hewers of wood and drawers of water, can hardly be expected to make sacrifices
for the survival of mankind and creatures. I predict, not only social
realignment, but also social unrest in the coming decades.
When Buckingham Palace was bombed in the Blitz,
the Queen Mother said: 'Now we can look the east end in the eye'. Will her
daughter's descendants be able to look Britain and the world in the eye when
the storm strikes? Royalty, whose activities, however trivial, are reported
with such zeal in the media, will have to change and will have to cut the
limousine fleet and start wearing the same outfits regularly, because the Rolls
guzzles fuel and the sewing machine uses energy, and even the most modest
saving is going to be significant.
Archie, the new prince-to-be, if he is spared to live a
long life, will feel the effects of global warming within his own lifetime. For
myself, and for others of the older generation, we will be gone by the time
global warming begins to affect millions. But are those with comfortable pensions and properties, including large lawns
that are cut regularly by ride-on tractors and flowerbeds that require hours of
watering in time of drought, likely to heed the dire warnings? I fear that many
of us, whose generation helped to damage the world and its species by our
careless squandering of resources, will shrug and say: 'It'll see me out; these
are problems for coming generations'.
My attitude has nothing to do with politics of
whatever colour. Global warming and its consequences for us all are beyond
politics – beyond royalism, nationalism, republicanism, or communism. The British Brexit dispute seems trivial but also divisive, considering that with global
warming all nations will have to come together to agree a strategy because it is
the future of the planet that is at stake. The nuclear weapon can only be
activated by pressing a button. The global warming button has already been
We have a responsibility to our children and their
children to act, at whatever level we are in society, and that includes
resisting to charter a plane for a transatlantic crossing for a 'baby shower'
party, as well as turning off a switch. As the home secretary, Sir Edward Grey
of Falloden, predicted as he watched a man lighting gas lamps in St James's
Park in that poignant evening of 3 August 1914: 'The lamps are going out all
over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime'. In our lifetime
we need to start turning them down, and not only in Europe. The party's over
for the profligate.
I am a writer, living on the east coast of Scotland, within sight of the North Sea. In recent years the climate has become unpredictable, and there are fewer insects and migrating birds in our garden. My wife Mary is a biologist, with a passionate love of nature in all its forms, and we are concerned greatly with climate change. We applaud the international mobilisation of the young which is taking place, because it is people of my generation, and the generation below mine, who have damaged the environment through indulgence.
I believe that writers now need to add their voices to the call for action, and to describe what is happening to the environment, now changing dramatically since William Wordsworth the poet wrote about the unspoilt beauty of the Lake District in England. From time to time in this blog I will add poems, some of which I have published, which express my deep alarm and sadness.
across the floe, the penguin heard the
of the glacier on the
move after an age. Its beak
the thinning ice under which it
the sea leopard swimming, searching. But the sea
devoid of fish, devoid of the blue
of the deep, hoovering up the krill.
penguin saw no point in the
its breeding ground, where, instead of snow,
the sun would beat down on the
last sea lion had drowned, the last
slithered from the
ice, the last albatross
on the melting runway.
Antarctic’s melting is all our loss,
just creatures that have had their
Mowing in winter
month before Christmas and he’s cutting grass.
mower he rides on belches carbon dioxide.
has this seasonal shift come to pass?
a monoplane takes a joyride,
the tainted breath of its trail.
have we done to the world, I ask
starts the next machine? His next
the autumn leaves from A to B,
winds will blow them back again.
house needs heated these winter
already up to maximum.
cannot sleep without a light,’
tells me as he fills the chainsaw.
tell him we have an obligation
conserve on energy.
will see out my time,’ he says.
‘Let the next generation do the
From the collection A Snowball in Summer (see main page)