I’ve not had a lot of time for writing or reading ‘for pleasure’ as my mum would say. Mainly because it’s not that much of a pleasure for me either way. But I have to live up to my ‘commitments’ mum says, and one of those is to turn up at the Clan Gathering and say something.
What I want to talk about is potatoes, because that’s really what I’m interested in. But I know that not many other people (even other farmers round here – and especially girls) aren’t interested in potatoes so… I have to write about something people might be interested in.
Brexit? Oh, come on. The last thing I wrote was for McSerials was my Big Brexit Blethers. You can catch all five episodes starting HERE https://www.mcstorytellers.com/bbb-episode-1.html
But even though it’s hanging around like a bad smell in a byre, I don’t want to say anything else about it. So my topic for today is Catalonia.
Like I said, I’ve read two books. Actually, I’m still reading ‘Homage to Catalonia’ so I can’t tell you how it ends. The other book (which had pictures) about Catalonia I read (this is called research and you have to do it before you ‘pontificate’ about things, mum says) is called The Adventurer in Spain and it’s by S.R.Crockett (some of you will have read his stuff.)
I read the books to try and understand what’s going on in Catalonia. Because I know that if we don’t learn from the past we are condemned to repeat it and I know that we won’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve come from. And I know that clichés are overworked phrases, thanks so you don’t need to point that out to me.
I was interested in Catalonia for two reasons and both of them are INDEPENDENCE. I wanted to know how come Catalonia can declare Independence and Scotland, shall we say, hasn’t got the ‘cojones’? It’s been a big topic in our Modern Studies Class. (But Mr Marker doesn’t like us to use the word balls so we say cojones instead!)
Have you noticed that the news has gone very quiet about it? Mum was at the SNP party conference and everyone was bigging up the Catalans. Then the Prime Minister got arrested and everyone seems to have shut up a bit. And fashion moves on and everyone’s going on about Mugabe and Africa now… but even he’s getting lost in the Black Friday rush, which will become the Christmas extravaganza and before we know it we’ll all be force feeding our resolutions to keep them going until Chinese New Year (when traditionally they eat pork not turkey by the way.)
I don’t feel well informed. I read Crockett first. Maybe I shouldn’t have because it’s a sort of ‘fiction’ and also it’s about Spain a long time ago. But it was quite exciting (and there were pictures) and it wasn’t all fiction because the writer actually went to the places and had most of the experiences with the smugglers and bandits and things. If I didn’t want to be a potato farmer I might think of becoming an adventurer.
Crockett’s book got me wondering if I could be a potato farmer in Spain – in Catalonia if they get independence – because mum told dad that if Catalonia got independence before Scotland we might as well move there. It caused the biggest argument I’ve heard between them since 2014. Shows they are back to normal I suppose.
You’ll maybe remember that my brother John and his girlfriend Heather went to Poland (instead of Canada or New Zealand) to farm. Brexit may mean they have to come home. Or got to New Zealand. So there was a lot of talk about leaving Scotland. Mum wants to be free. Dad calls it deserting a sinking ship. I haven’t expressed an opinion, but in order to keep my options open I thought I should find out whether they can grow potatoes in Catalonia. That was my start point.
Crockett’s book didn’t answer that question, or really help me as to the present day Catalonian situation, though it did show me that this is not just a flash in the pan or a fashion thing, but something that the Catalans have thought and felt for a long time. Like many Scots.
I went to ask Mr Marker, my modern studies teacher, about it and he said I should read George Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’ if I wanted to understand it. So I got the ebook out of the library. I meant to read it before the Clan Gathering but you know, time just caught up with me and, if I’m honest (which of course I am) I found it quite boring in bits.
That’s not me being cheeky to Mr Orwell – he wrote ‘Animal Farm’ after all, and even my dad has read that book. Mr Orwell himself says that some of the chapters are boring – the ones about the various political ‘sides’ in the Spanish Civil War. Because that’s when it’s set, 1930’s during the Spanish Civil War. It wasn’t just boring it was really confusing. I defy anyone to show in an easy diagram, or even in a couple of sentences, what the Spanish Civil War was about. In very simple terms you might say it was the Anarchists fighting the Fascists. And I suppose that’s the thing about Anarchists, they aren’t really suited to being in ‘groups.’ A ‘group’ of anarchists is kind of a contradiction in terms really isn’t it?
Anyway, Mr Orwell went to fight in Spain, in Catalonia, and he couldn’t work it out. Also, he didn’t really enjoy the experience much. I think if people read that book it would quite put them off war. Though perhaps the ‘British’ Army thinks itself much better organised etc etc. But what I’ve read about trench warfare made me think that probably it wasn’t much different in the First World War trenches than in Spain, and I wouldn’t want to go through that. I’d need a much clearer picture of what I was fighting for and how I was going to get it to put up with that.
Which I suppose is why everyone is so keen for the current Catalonian ‘constitutional crisis’ to be resolved without bloodshed (tell that to the police who bashed folk on the head for voting!). And probably why they are all denying any kind of military coup in Zimbabwe… instead saying the Mugabe has gone ‘quietly into the night’ (that’s from a poem my mum read me once)
So I’m not finished with the book, and I still don’t know what to say about the whole Catalan independence thing BUT just as I was about to give up on it, I came to Chapter 6 and it mentioned potatoes. Hurray. So now I know it’s at least possible to grow potatoes in Catalonia. And also, that even if you find a book a bit boring, maybe it’s worth carrying on reading it, because you might miss a good bit later on. He writes about how they had to ‘lift the potatoes lying on your belly – a fatiguing job. If their machine-gunners spotted you you had to flatten yourself out like a rat when it squirms under a door … (which is enough of the horrors of war to put me off.) He also explains that a sackful of potatoes could be swapped for a water-bottle of coffee.
So you see, there’s something for nearly everyone in Homage to Catalonia, and I am going to keep reading it and I can recommend that you do too. Even if he’s a bit boring, he’s a better writer than me, so do yourself a favour this St Andrews Day… pay Homage to Catalonia. (I’m on chapter 10 now and it’s more interesting again!) After all, Brexit will still be there tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day…
Read a selection of Jack's work for Free at McStorytellers
Big Brexit Blethers
Or buy The Complete Tattybogle