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Thursday, October 16, 2008


Last night I saw the film Stone of Destiny based on Iain Hamilton's book . It is the story of the taking of the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey back to Scotland in 1950. It is better than Taggert at getting locations right & indeed there are a number of open air scenes around & south of the Kelvin Park where they have gone to considerable lengths to get the right cars & period cars & people standing about. Granted the buildings ar a lot cleaner that they were before the Clean Air Act. The University Quad plays itself, part of the outside of Westminster Abbey & less credibly the entrance to the student Union, but all these are merely nit picks about an honest attempt to portray an important instance in Scottish history - an ultimately successful attempt to change the course of a nation by force but not by violence.

There are some minor inaccuracies put in for narrative purposes. The final scene of them being arrested handing back the Stone is false - they were not so silly as to stay after telling the police they had put it in Arbroath Abbey. In fact, though the police had identified the plotters it is clear they were much less willing to put it to a jury than Iain Hamilton was. Bill Craig did not so much get cold feet as think it needed more organising - certainly it is clear it did but on the other hand as MacHiavelli said once you have a conspiracy it is best to get on with it before too many people talk so it is diffisult to say who was right. Also for narrative purposes it is Alan who persuades the Gyspies to help return the Stone whereas in Iain's book it is Bill Craig (called Neil at the time to hide his identity) in what reads in the book like Victorian melodrama:

"As we drew nearer we noticed that there were two caravans and two fires. It was the first one we were interested in for the blind back of the second one effectively screened the hiding-place from the gipsies at the second fire.

In the leaping flames we could see an ancient gipsy couple sprawled against the fence, their boots outstretched to the blaze. It was clear that the man could have put his hand through the fence & touched the Stone. Their caravan beetled over them and the firelight fell across the black entrance. It was open and winter. The trees leaned uneasily to the warmth and the darkness pressed close in as though trying to extinguish the fire and those who warmed themselves at it. A lurcher pup came at us jumping and fawning, and was called off by the woman. We came close to the fire.

"Can we have a heat at your fire?" Neil asked like a cheery traveller out of the night. The woman invited him in with a "Sir" and a smile. I said nothing. We sat silent for a long time. The firelight danced across the bronze faces of the gipsies in the frosty night. Then Neil started to talk.

He talked of the cold at first and the woman nodded and smiled. He did not go hurriedly and there were many long pauses. Then he asked them how long they were staying & the woman said , "For a day or two." At this the man mentioned that it was late, and the hint was obvious.

Then Neil started talking in earnest while the flames leapt across our faces and the sparks shot up and the lurcher pup crept close to be fondled.

He talked first of all about the gipsies and how they were harried by the authorities. He talked about the free life they lived, and how in these times there were many people who talked about liberty and many more who were soiled of it by denying it to those whom they did not understand. He told them about our country in the north which was a little county, and which, like the gipsies, was striving to preserve its liberty & be itself. Their ways and customs were not ours but the problem was the same all the world over. Darkness was coming down on the world and only a few people like the gipsies and the Scots foresaw that darkness and tried to live like a light. The gipsies made no sound and no movement.

I watched Neil's face, young and earnest in the firelight. He had forgotten that he was playing a game, which was well. The gipsies did not understand the game. They may not even have understood his words, but he was down beyond words to the level of sincerity, and they knew and trusted that.

Then he talked about liberty itself, and how in the end of the day it is the only precious thing. The slaves who would not be free because their masters fed and clothed them were still with us to-day, but food and drink vanished and left in the end only freedom or slavery. Freedom could be preserved not in caravans or houses, but only in men's hearts, and as soon as they stopped valuing it, it disappeared. "We're not like that," he ended. "And to keep our freedom we need something out of that wood. It's not wrong but it's illegal. We are doing right but we will have to go to goal if we are caught." He looked at the gipsy simply & with no defiance.

The gipsy, who had as yet scarcely spoken, answered him.

"You can't get it just now," he said without moving. "There's a local who isn't a gipsy at the next fire and you can't trust him."

For a Long time we followed the gipsy philosophy of staring into the glowing fire as though it contained all wisdom and all knowledge. Then the outside world broke in, in the shape of Alan & Johnny. They pulled the car over to the edge of the road and walked over to see what kept us so long. The gipsy woman looked up with patient serenity, and the lurcher bounded to meet them.

"They are our friends," said Neil, and the gipsy smiled.

"Where is the Lia Fail," whispered Johnny fiercely. I answered nothing & soon all six of us sat silently staring at the fire.

In a little while another gipsy drifted in from the group beyond the other caravan to see, no doubt, who had visited his friends. The two men talked for a little while in their own language, and then the newcomer went back to his own fire.

"It will be all right," said the gipsy. "The stranger will be gone soon."

Shortly afterwards a man came from the direction of the other fire. He mounted his bike and rode off down the road. The gipsy came back from the other fire and told us it was safe.

My excitement uncoiled like a spring and I vaulted the fence. Alan followed with the torch. The Stone was exactly as we had left it. The litter on top of it was frozen stiff and it came off in one piece like the lid of a box. It had protected the Stone well and the frost had scarcely touched it. The four of us got round it and manhandled it up the slope and under the bottom bar of the railing.

When the gipsies saw the weight we were carrying, the two men rushed to our assistance. We carried it bodily across the grass and placed it into the place already prepared for it at the near-side front seat. Alan and Johnny tumbled in. "Go on and wait for us up the road," said Neil."

Melodramatic or not they got the Stone & I can confirm that my father could indeed be that persuasive a speaker and did hold that love of liberty.

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