inside the doll’s house

The dying man glows with sickness in his mildewy-looking bed, the light seeming to emanate from where he sits, crammed into the airless, box-like room. He signs his will while his friend looks on intently with concern and restrained grief. The artist who painted Thomas…

7.6 billion mirrors – the value of art

Was it a cold morning in Edinburgh in 1586 when James VI, only twenty years old, very aware of his status as a divinely-appointed monarch, but with already a lifetime’s experience of human nature and earthly politics, sat in front of Adrian Vanson to be…

time for a change; the death of a decade

  Between the ages of 14 and 16 or thereabouts, the things I probably loved the most – or at least the most consistently – were horror (books and movies) and heavy metal. These loves changed (and ended, for a long time) at around the…

courbet’s birthday – the case for conscious iconoclasm

  Gustave Courbet was born 101 years ago today, but although he remains one of the key figures in nineteenth century art and the roots of modernism, this isn’t about his painting. During the Franco-Prussian war, Courbet, by then in his 50s and an elder…

chosen ones and dark lords and everything in between

To start with, this was mostly about books, and I think it will end that way too. But it begins with a not terribly controversial statement; hero worship is not good. And the greatest figures in the fight for human rights or human progress of…

“Ane doolie sessoun” covid-19 and the art of isolation

  At some point in the late fifteenth century, the poet Robert Henryson (who lived in Dunfermline, not too far from where I’m writing now), began his Testament of Cresseid with one of my favourite openings of any poem: Ane doolie sessoun to ane cairfull…

how it felt to be alive in February 2020

The correct response to the title here is of course it depends who you are and what you did. But anyway; in a February when the big news story was the alarming spread of coronavirus/COVID-19, which history will tell us is either – (a) a…

crafting a memory of Christmas

It’s mid-December as I write this and the farmyards, the stately homes and converted stable blocks of rural Fife are aglow with rustic Christmas ‘Fayres’. Leaving aside that I’m clattering around the cobblestones on crutches, what could be more festive and redolent of Christmas past…

messages from the past for the future

  Sitting down to write this, a month after breaking my leg and having to grapple with hitherto-unconsidered questions like ‘how do I usually sit on a toilet’? and one week before a General Election where my preferred of the apparently plausible outcomes is an…