Still thou art blest, compared wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my ee
On prospects drear!
And forward, though I canna see,
I guess and fear.
– Robert Burns, To a Mouse
He never stops being topical, does he? His work never sounds dated, he is all things to all men and women, for all time.
And he never wrote a truer or more timeless stanza than that one.
So with that in mind, welcome to Navelgazingfest 2017, the nationwide festival of sad protest songs which will replace T in the Park in the affections of the land, so already, we know it’s going to be better for the environment.
The performers, a disparate bunch of commentators, bloggers, media sages and holidaying politicians (and the Queen if Laura Kuenssberg’s contact is to be believed), are still having trouble getting over 2016’s greatest hits, so they chant the words “Brexit” and “Trump” over and over, for truly, therein lies the seedbed of prospects drear and of our worst guesses and fears.
Have you noticed that both words are particularly ugly when spoken out loud and yet both are tinged with comedy? If you say the B-word twice in quick succession, like this, “Brex-it Brex-it”, it’s a corncrake with hiccups.
As for “Trump”, I keep saying it in threes, like this: “Trump-Trump-Trump” and always preceded by the words “Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk and said goodbye to the circus, off she went with a trumpety-trump…”
I find it helps to imbue the word with an appropriate sense of the ridiculous.
It is no great surprise that the Trump should enthusiastically embrace the Brexit. It’s a match made in heaven if ever there was one, for truly they both work in mysterious ways. And God knows, they certainly deserve each other.
My one consolation is that I didn’t vote for either of them (and neither did any of my American friends), so don’t blame me.
On the other hand, that only slightly less irksome word, “Indyref2” (which looks worryingly like an internet password), is not going away any time soon either.
Its adherents are mostly consigned to the Fringe events of Navelgazingfest 2017, although from time to time they threaten to drown out the stars of the main stage. This is because they have better songs and their policies don’t embrace any kind of world apocalypse.
As far as I am concerned, Indyref2 cannot come soon enough (and let’s not delude ourselves any longer that national opinion polls are sound judge of anything at all), because once Brexit and Trump get into their tub-thumping, Russia-bashing, apocalypse-embracing stride, I want to live in a country that is as deeply embedded in Europe as humanly possible.
It became very fashionable last year to talk down Scotland, the Scottish Government and the ambition implicit in Indyref2.
And Navelgazingfest 2017 will be THE venue for the shrill anthems of the down-talkers, anthems like Scots Wha Haver, Caledoomia, Scotland the Grave and (because the performers are such staunch defenders of the Union, also known as the Status Quo) Drown, Drown, Deeper and Drown.
I’ve been thinking about this, because I too have aspirations to be a bit-part player in Navelgazingfest 2017.
I have my own Dylan going on – and what I have been thinking about in particular is symbols, symbols that speak of our capacity to strut our own stuff in the 21st Century.
I have found five that I particularly admire and I’m still looking, still counting. But for the moment, the five are these:
The V&A in Dundee berthed alongside the Discovery, itself a symbol of regenerative power;
The Queensferry crossing (if you haven’t seen it, go and look, it is spectacularly beautiful);
The reintroduction of beavers and the community buyout of Scots pine woodland at Loch Arkaig, both of which suggest a new beginning in our relationship with nature, a relationship which is simply precious beyond price;
And the Kelpies.
The last ones are a kind of miracle. I had driven past them many times on the M9 before I finally went to see them up close in October.
Santa Claus (in the guise of my daughter Heather, who has just moved house to within a short walk of them) brought me sculptor Andy Scott’s book of the project and I have had my nose buried in it each evening since Christmas, marvelling.
Only a country afire with self-confidence can nurture something as daring as the Kelpies. Andy Scott said that he would like people to be passionately moved by them. Job done, Andy.
We should them put on the banknotes of our new currency when Indyref2 delivers and wipes the words Brexit and Trump from the vocabulary of Scotland.
Navelgazingfest 2017 is coming to stage near you very soon, if it’s not there already. You should take it in: the prospects are not necessarily as drear as you might think.