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The Scots word ‘to daunder’ is to take a wee walk, a leisurely stroll. This book collects 42 of Peter Ross’s feature articles from Scottish newspapers into a very readable book where he daunders about modern Scotland. There are some women in the book, two even become the subjects of two good stories – barmaid Val of ‘Val at the Crown and Anchor’ and professional cleaner Marie in ‘Extreme Cleaners’ – but mostly, this is a book about men’s lives, and the things they do to get away from the house, in their work, in rituals and in passionate, devoted, obsessive leisure pastimes. It’s also mostly about traditional working-class lives, and the hidden, marginal things that we don’t see from the car or in the shopping centre.
The stories are short, but the book takes a good long time to get through because these are detailed views into people’s lives, and they take time to absorb. Their newspaper origin is a bit too evident: folks’ ages are given like a bad styling habit, and I think Ross overdid his argument for openly using Scots in reported dialogue. Surely we’re past the need to justify that now? There’s not that much braid Scots overall, and what there is seems straightforward enough, though I’m still a bit unclear about some local Glasgow usages. Puggy, anyone?
The stories are notes taken at moments of action in everyday life and at special times in the year. Stories about starlings, lambing, fox-hunting, oystering are about things that happen all year long, all life long. Stories about painting the Forth Rail Bridge, being in an ambulance on call, attending a fetish club night, sitting with the band at the Royal Caledonian Ball, visiting the naturists’ club on an island on Loch Lomond, picking strawberries at top speed with Eastern European migrant workers, are about the mundanity of the remarkable and dramatic when it’s part of someone’s everyday life. The attraction of these stories is their poking about in someone’s life, and seeing what they do that’s normal. I was fascinated reading about Stracathro Services, which was my childhood epitome of the Best Service Station Ever, and still my father’s choice for a good hot meal after a long day’s hill-walking. I was charmed by the monks of Pluscarden, and riveted by the scenes on Ladies Day at the Musselburgh races. I simply had to read on when presented with the Viking transvestites of Up Helly Aa, and the primitive ur-football grudge match in the Borders that’s been going on since the 19th century. There is pigeon-napping, karaoke, shinty matches that let fly balls to dent the cars of the visiting team. In ‘The Cisco Kid lives in Cumbernauld’, I was introduced to a Scottish passion for country & western culture that I had no idea existed. Actually, almost all of the stories in Daunderlust I had no idea existed, because I left Scotland nearly thirty years ago, and only lived in one small corner of it till I was 21. This is a book for the Scottish diaspora, as a refresher course, and a delirious wallow in nostalgia for the bits you do recognise.
I think we need a second volume, but let’s have a bit more about the ladies this time. If Peter Ross can’t get the access to women’s doings that he clearly managed for the lives of men, Scotland on Sunday should commission one of their fine writers with the requisite DNA to start looking at the ways women live now in Scotland, and the hidden, secret lives of women on the margins, and behind the doors, that Peter Ross has only given us hints of here.
Peter Ross, Daunderlust (Sandstone Books, 2014) 978-1-908-73776-2, £8.99 & $16.95 paperback
Kate podcasts about books that she really, really likes at http://www.reallylikethisbook.com