Sunday, 17 May 2009

Countdown to Claudius

Had a wonderful night in Jedburgh on Friday with my daughter Kara when I made the Toast to the Jethart Callants Festival in front of 150 dignitaries from all over the Scottish Borders. We received a fantastic welcome and were treated like royalty all night. The speech went down really well and many people were very complimentary about Caligula, which has made me a bit of a celebrity in the town. Later, I took Kara around my old haunts and she was astonished that I knew somebody in every pub we went into. Jedburgh is like that: a close-knit, down to earth, hard working community that has a long, colourful and sometimes painful history in the front line of Scotland's four hundred year border wars with England. Today it suffers like all the Border towns from lack of investment and a diminishing industrial base. The mills have almost all gone, the electronics industry in decline. Jed is fortunate to have American-owned LS Starrett, lured to the town 50 years ago by visionary townsfolk who travelled to the States to convince the firm's bosses to put their faith in the Borders work ethic. The trust forged on those visits has been repaid a hundred times over on both sides.
I based my speech on the three words that for me sum up the festival. History, community and respect. Jethart's Here is a war cry that has rung down through the centuries on a score of battlefields, where men from the town rallied and kept the enemy at bay with their deadly Jethart axes. The festival is at the core of the community, woven through it from top to bottom, as evidenced by the hundreds who gathered in the Square to witness the appointment of this year's Callant, Murray Yourston. And it is he and his predecessors who have stepped forward when the town needed them since the first festival in 1947 and committed themselves to represent their community for three years who deserve our respect, along with all the other committee members and unseen helpers who turn out to make the festival such a huge success every year.

Wednesday will be a big day, one way or the other. That's when the decision will be made about my next three books. As Stan says: fingers and everything else crossed.

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