Friday, October 17, 2008

AA Gill. You're the man.

AA Gill doesn't usually bother me, mainly because I stopped reading the Sunday Times a long while ago and now only occasionally flick through it online before lunch, but since I can't remember ever being moved by young Adrian quite so much before, I'm a little unsettled.
For those of you who don't know, Jeremy Clarkson's best friend's restaurant column in the ST consists of two thirds rant - about anything really, dependant on who, or what, has annoyed him most that week, and one third review, usually a poisonous attack on bad cooking, or service, or misplaced judgement, on the basis that we're handing over too much money for too little imagination. He's an attack dog on bourgeois values, hired, I think, to satisfy former editor Andrew Neil's faux-republicanism.

But this week he likes Murano, a new London place which I'll try soon because we like new places, don't we, and it's the brilliant, friendly Angela Hartnett's new gaff which has had nothing but good writeups.

But today I'm not reading the review online, nor am I resting before lunch in SW London or even Sussex-by-the-sea, I've picked up a paper copy of the ST in Thurso, in the far, far north of Scotland, before setting off for Sutherland, to drive along the very roof of Britain, the wild and windy coast road that joins John O'Groats to Cape Wrath.

This is Europe's least populated region, and the chances of you bumping into anyone, never mind someone you know, are remote. On a Sunday, cars are so rare drivers wave at each other.
At Bettyhill, the Strathinver Trail has been mapped out to explain the area's past, and in addition to an informative leaflet (available from the Post Office for £2.50) there are twenty little stopping points en route, with placques and signposts to various ruins of old communities. It deals, most pointedly, with the Highland Clearances two hundred years ago when the Countess of Sutherland, and others, forcibly emptied their estates of people to make way for sheep. As brutal a period in British history as you'll find.

The placques spell it out in cold, clear language, indicating various piles of stones and naming the families whose houses had stood there, for how long, before naming the vicious bastard who'd come along and torched them out. And on what day.

By the time I was halfway round, I was all fired up, seething at man's inhumanity to man, but willing to leave it to one side for a moment while enjoying some particularly fine Kinloch smoked salmon and equally excellent Highland sirloin at the Tongue Hotel. After which I turned to the ST and AA Gill's weekly rant.

He's blethering away about the current artworld dilemma to save two Titians for the nation. They're being offered at the knock down price of £100 mill -pah! - but by no less a person than the Duke of Sutherland. And Gill's not in some Belgravia salon in tete a tete with Tracey Emin, he's up in Sutherland too, out on the hill shooting the living breath out of a stag or two, discussing matters of import with posh pals .

But he allows the ghillie to interrupt - presumeably standing on a hill staring malevolently into the middle distance - who suggests that the best solution is to stab the Duke, kill all his relatives, in recompense for the vicious, marauding catalogue of murder and mayhen his forebears perpetrated on his forebears here in Sutherland. In the Clearances.
Gill gives full vent to the man's rage, paragraph after paragraph, it was like reading some revolutionary manifesto, where the heads of cruel landowners end up on spikes in village squares so small children can throw turnips at the them .

I nearly didn't finish my coffee. My blood was on the boil again and I swear if an absentee Highland landlord had walked through the dining room at that point we'd have had him swinging from the rafters pronto. Despite the fact that the Tongue Hotel has a jazz band on Sundays.

I went back out onto the trail, filled with revolutionary fervour, relieved that hand weapons are illegal in this country otherwise...otherwise. As I stared into the distance, I promised at that moment that the instant I got back to London I'd write a blog about this. It's just that I've been a little busy since Sunday.

Anyway, AA Gill. You're the man.





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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Despite what he's just done/said to The Modern Pantry.