JOHN BUCHAN EXPERIENCE – Tuesday 11th April 2017.
On Tuesday evening in the ‘John Buchan Story’ located within Peebles Cambers Institution, a gathering of some volunteers who man the Museum in Peebles, together with other interested locals, enjoyed an evening of varied literary performance thanks to the efforts of the Pentland Writers Group.
Last autumn, the Pentland Writers had resolved to work on a project of creative writing based on the life, work and interests of Peebles literary hero, John Buchan. The group walked the John Buchan Way, around the hills and countryside between Peebles and Broughton, then spent time in the Museum gathering inspiration from the exhibits collected there. Additional history and background was provided by Lady Deborah Stewartby, granddaughter of the famous author.
In the period which followed, the individual members of the Writers’ Group created their own prose and poetry based on chosen aspects and artefacts in the Museum. The first public performance of their writing brought to life the Buchan past, both real and imagined, with a most interesting and entertaining collection of writing.
First to take the floor was Pete Macnab, who, as Treasurer of the Museum and Secretary of the Writers Group, had initiated the project. He focussed on the brief life of Violet Buchan, John’s youngest sister, who died at the age of 5. Photographs in the Museum show the decline in her health and her sad loss from bronchial illness not only devastated the family, but stole from us a lively mind and spirit.
Archie Hunter described the work of John Buchan in South Africa at the time of the Second Boer War. As a young (and probably ambitious) statesman, John Buchan had assisted in improving camps for the displaced tribes, which had a shocking record of illness and death because of their terrible conditions. Buchan had immersed himself in the work and the area, and a photograph with local tribesmen after a hunting exhibition may have been the source of the inkpot, adorned with the horns of a warthog, displayed in the Museum.
Next to take the floor was Anita John, local poet and author, who had taken as the basis for her work the letters from Alistair Buchan, fighting with the British Troops at Arras, to his mother. Alistair was to be killed on the first day of the battle almost one hundred years ago to the day. While no letters from his mother have survived, Anita imagined her side of the correspondence, and read a very moving series of letters reflecting the anxieties of the mother waiting at home for news, as well as the attempts of Alistair to offer reassurance to her.
With the audience clearly touched by the personal letters of war, real and imaginary, it was fitting that the next link from Stuart Delves, Convenor of Pentland Writers, highlighted the inclusion of Alistair Buchan in a published series of stories of Scottish soldiers at Arras, referring to the centenary of that tragic loss of life.
Stuart then read a passage from Buchan’s “Memory Hold the Door”, illustrating the author’s close affinity with nature and the Scottish Borders landscape which he loved, and in which he was most at home.
In the final section of the Writers’ programme, a varied and entertaining programme continued, with a good dose of humour added. John McCann imagined the author’s escapes as a boy into the hills of the area; Sara Innes wrote with a light touch in fine detail of the elements of fly- tying and brought the particular skills vividly to life; Pete Macnab returned with a lighter and very humorous contribution, apologising to both Burns and McGonagall, before reciting his “From a Fish”; A Canadian Head Dress, linked to the period when Buchan was Governor General of Canada, was the subject of a poem from Anita John; and the evening concluded with an imaginary conversation (with an ostrich no less) in which the ostrich feathers used in ceremonial headgear were cause for examination of the Meaning of Life – a very clever and amusing final piece from the pen of John McCann.
The audience had been thoroughly absorbed and entertained by the varied writings of the Pentland Group, which had brought life and body to the Buchan story and the Museum itself. It is hoped that this performance will be repeated as part of the Peebles Art Festival in late August, and can be heartily recommended if you are able to catch it.
The writers getting inspiration on the John Buchan Way