Speakers’ Corner – Imagination

Sue and I have developed a routine for the podcast; the essential element is interviewing varied guests who provide listeners with more than just us.  Of course, we coax and cajole friends, colleagues, and acquaintances to join us.  Many are too shy and decline the invitation, thinking they won’t be interesting enough.  However, it’s this ordinariness that we aim for, trying to encourage aspiring writers or musicians, even local historians to pass on their experiences. In fact, that’s why the tagline of the podcast says – Everything and Anything.  In some ways, they’re more interesting than famous authors like J K Rowling or Richard Osman, as exciting as a chat with them would be. 

            This week, we interviewed Valentina Franceschi, a writer and fellow student on the Creative Writing Course at UHI.  She’s Italian but writes in Japanese and English; make sure you listen to the podcast in a couple of weeks as she discusses her fascinating journey.  She explained that Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott was the book that caught her imagination.  She found the story’s mythology intriguing, even if the prose was too florid.  It inspired her writing style, which has led to her self-publishing a fantasy trilogy called Port Amox on Amazon.

I’ve tried reading one of Scott’s Waverley novels, The Antiquary, but I found it too heavy. Nevertheless, I was inspired by Ivanhoe, not by the book, but by watching the film when I was a young boy.  The movie Ivanhoe starred Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Fontaine, and George Sanders, and it was a techno-coloured epic of knights clad in armour and sporting shields with red lions and St Andrew’s crosses.  It was about chivalry and fighting with swords, lots of fighting with swords.  I must have been five or six.  It captured my imagination.  It was another world, very different from the isolated farm I lived on with my two older sisters in Peeblesshire.  Distance meant I didn’t have friends I could play with unless school pals came to stay for the weekend.  Therefore, I created my playgrounds in the fields and woods on the farm.  I used an old tin dustbin lid for a shield, and my sword was a bright yellow pig slapping stick plastered with the Lever’s animal feed brand.   My fighting was always on terra firma, however, as I wasn’t a keen rider like my sisters.

My imagination ran riot as I played in a make-believe world where I was the young pretender, a king repelling the invading hordes, or even at this tender age, scoring a try for Scotland at Murrayfield.  I would make the decisive break or score in the corner to win the Triple Crown against England – it was always England.  Things don’t change much.  On one occasion, I wanted to play in white like Scotland did when they played against France.  I sneaked out in my freshly ironed white school shirt and headed to the flattest field we had on the farm with my leather rugby ball.  It was pelting down, and I disappeared into a match where only I could score the winning try, a sprint down the wing, and a dive and slide over the line.  It was a balletic, perhaps more of a swallow dive as I crashed into the grass riddled with small rocks.  I slid in the mud for ten meters, unable to stop.  I was exhilarated until I glanced down and saw my thighs and knees scraped raw and bleeding and my white shirt now brown.  It doesn’t take much imagination to imagine what greeted me when I returned to the farmhouse.

But I had to have these playtimes as an excuse to leave the house because of the atmosphere.  My parents often quarreled, and my Mum had mental health problems.   Even at that young age, I could sense the strained moods, and escape was my only option.  An opportunity to pretend there was a calmer, happier, and more controllable place I could be, even if it did involve killing a few nasty black knights on the way!

I loved that time, and when searching for creative inspiration, a walk and a chat with myself invariably stimulates my imagination.  The farm was sold when my parents divorced, and I lost that solitude and freedom when we came back to live in Edinburgh.  The memories, however, never left me. So, when our farm, Rutherford Mains, was transformed into Rutherford Castle golf course in the noughties, I couldn’t wait to play and walk around my old stomping ground.  It was manicured but still had drainage issues when the rain came, but it had lost none of its charms.  I should stress that I’m not a good golfer, but the course was never busy, so I took a membership.  The drive out of Edinburgh, the round, lunch at the Allan Ramsay Hotel in Carlops, and a leisurely drive home soon became a sanctuary.  There was no one on the course, just me, and time to reflect on what was happening in my life.  It was as if I had regained that innocence and solitude.  And every round, I passed the field, now part of the sixth and seventh hole, and smiled at my match-winning try against the French or on the eighteenth, where the bordering trees used to provide cover from the marauding Saracens.

The course closed in 2015 due to poor membership, and sadly, I can no longer walk around and relive my childhood.  But that doesn’t matter; I can always go there in my imagination.