The Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies at the University of Otago offered a course on Scottish Literature since Burns.  I signed up on the last day of applications giving it the minimum number of people required.  Just as well, as it was an enjoyable day and a half of teasing apart Scottish poetry and literature, and its politics.

The poem presented below by Kathleen Jamie is pertinent for archives and museums.  It’s about the fate of mementos after the death of Mr and Mrs Scotland for whom they are personal memories.  The living are cruel to the dead, willing to exorcise them from their drawers and cupboards after their creators have been consigned to their fates.  Affection is no defence as their executors make space for a new generation of memories.  In this case the sentimentality of Mr and Mrs Scotland has no place in the changing political landscape of the Scotland of a new century.  Their memories are buried in the coup, a Scottish word meaning the tip.

Archives have to decide how much of a personal collection is worth rescuing from the dump as a legacy of a life.  Would Mr and Mrs Scotland recognise the collection we have kept from their summer holidays in rainy sea-side towns if they dropped by for a visit?

By Andrew Smith

Mr and Mrs Scotland Are Dead

On the civic amenity landfill site,
the coup, the dump beyond the cemetery
and the 30-mile-an-hour sign, her stiff
old ladies’ bags, open mouthed, spew
postcards sent from small Scots towns
in 1960: Peebles, Largs, the rock-gardens
of Carnoustie, tinted in the dirt.
Mr and Mrs Scotland, here is the hand you were dealt:
Fair but cool, showery but nevertheless,
Jean asks kindly; the lovely scenery;
in careful school-room script −
The Beltane Queen was crowned today.
But Mr and Mrs Scotland are dead.
Couldn’t he have burned them? Released
in a grey curl of smoke
this pattern for a cable knit?  Or this:
tossed between a toppled fridge
and sweet-stinking anorak: Dictionary for Mothers
M:- Milk, the woman who worries...;
And here, Mr Scotland’s John Bull Puncture Repair Kit;
those days when he knew intimately
the thin road of his country, hedgerows
hanged with small black brambles’ hearts;
and here, for God’s sake, his last few joiners’ tools,
SCOTLAND,SCOTLAND, stamped on their tired handles.
Do we take them? Before the bulldozer comes
to make more room, to shove aside
his shaving brush, her button tin.
Do we save this toolbox, these old-fashioned views
Addressed, after all, to Mr and Mrs Scotland?
Should we reach and take them?  And then?
Forget them, till that person enters
our silent house, begins to open
to the light our kitchen drawers,
and performs for us this perfunctory rite:
the sweeping up, the turning out.

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