Scotland Street Volume 15, Chapter 61: How the Cyclops Felt
Big Lou had let James take care of the coffee. He had shown himself quite capable of running it on his own, and that freed her from the constant responsibility of ensuring a steady supply of cups of coffee, cheese scones and bacon buns. Like any small business owner, she found the demands of the job oppressive. Now she could take time to spend time with Bob and Finlay, and she was basking in the sheer pleasure of being with the two people who had become her everything.
Their plans for the Drummond Place Highland Games were now at an advanced stage. Permission had been obtained from the Garden Committee and several notices announcing the event had been prominently posted in the region. Local businesses had donated prizes and catering needs were being met by Nicola’s Glasgow company Inclusive Pies, who had agreed to send a large quantity of Scottish pies at a very low price. James was also involved: he had baked several shortbread trays and obtained three kegs of beer to serve in biodegradable paper cups. Everything was ready and lined up, including the necessary equipment for the events themselves – the caber, hammers, tug-of-war ropes, bags for sack races and bales of hay to keep people out of the way. get injured in the various contests planned for the afternoon entertainment. Bob had even enlisted the services of a team of Scottish dancers who would perform various dances on a raised platform, dressed in short tartan skirts, tartan panties and white ruffled blouses. A small group of bagpipes, known for their enthusiasm rather than skill, had agreed to play at the start of the Games, in the interval between events and at the end of the proceedings. The prizes were to be presented by Dominique’s friend, Mary Davidson. Everything was in place.
As they passed through Dalmeny Estate, with the Firth of Forth stretching out in front of them, Big Lou asked Bob if he was volunteering to compete in one of the competitions himself. He thought for a moment before saying, âI’m not sure, Lou. What do you think?”
âSome people might think this is unfair,â Big Lou said. “It would be like giving yourself a prize, don’t you think?”
âI wouldn’t necessarily win,â said Bob. âSome of my friends agreed to participate. They are pretty good.
âEven so,â Lou said. âThe family is holding back. Do you know this saying? “
Bob did. âYou’re right, Lou. Like always.”
She rejoices in his praise. Few people had ever said anything like that to Big Lou – indeed, throughout her life she had received very little praise from anywhere. She had worked hard on the farm as a child and received little thanks or recognition for her efforts. It wasn’t because she hadn’t been liked – it was just because she came from a part of the world where people didn’t feel it necessary to say too much. You said the right thing to say and left it that way. You haven’t wasted words. And here is this man – this kind, caring man, saying that she was right. Bless you, Bob, she said in a whisper; bless you Bob, and thank you.
Over the next few days, Angus helped Bob set up the platform, set up the small marquee that had been rented, and generally prepare the grassy expanse in the middle of the garden where major events were to take place. It was an open space, much like a clearing, which left enough room for the caber throw and the hammer throw. Track events could take place on the perimeter of this space.
Watching the preparations from her window, Domenica reflects on the tribal nature of the upcoming gathering. The prism through which anthropology saw the world – the prism of otherness, had of course been abandoned, and not before time; however, it was not so much the differences between societies as the similarities that held the attention of members of his profession. There was no difference, she thought, between those Highland Games and the showdowns she had witnessed in the remote village of New Guinea where she had spent six months in her early post-years. doctorate. Human society, she thought, was much the same, whatever its outward attributes. Basically, we were all concerned with the same essentials: food, shelter, security and status. Everything else was little more than the superficial complication of these eternal fundamentals. And the complication, she told herself, was nothing to be proud of. The complication was not the same as the culture.
But what was it for, she wondered, these showdowns, these crass competitions to see who could throw things farthest, jump higher than the rest, or transfer heavy weights most easily from one place? to another ? What was the point? Was it a form of sexual selection: determining which genes were most likely to produce the fittest children, the offspring most likely to survive? Was it so simple, so socio-biologically focused?
And as for the strong men themselves, what was going on in their heads? How did they see each other? Were they concerned about strength because that was all they had?
It wasn’t always a simple matter of being strong. She thought, without consequence, of Polyphemus, the one-eyed giant and son of Poseidon, who had trapped Ulysses and his crew in his cave. She thought of her rage and her throwing rocks into the sea, and her misfortune. She thought about how he had been duped, for that was what such a person had to fear above all else – to be duped by more nimble, more dexterous adversaries, who would laugh at you in your strength, laugh at your awkwardness, and ultimately, with impunity, escape your angry anger.
She felt sorry for Polyphemos. Ulysses and his men were intruders, defending colonialism and intrusion. Polyphemos expressed his horror of the other, the indigenous, made to appear brutal when the brutality, in reality, came from their own side – from those who would make the Cyclops creatures feel bad about themselves, feel inadequate, feel unjustified. Of course, such creatures threw rocks into the sea in their rage. Who wouldn’t?
Â© Alexander McCall Smith, 2021. A Pledge of Pegs (Scotland Street 14) is available now. Love in the Time of Bertie (Scotland Street 15) will be published by Polygon in a hardcover version in November 2021.