It’s one of the paradoxes of lockdown that with all the time in the world to do it, I can’t seem to get stuck into anything that requires even a modicum of concentration.
But a tweet about someone looking forward to a lovely afternoon of reading has encouraged me to give it another go so I have invested in a history of Scotland by Magnus Magnusson.
As we’re seeing at the moment with the culture war over Britain’s colonial heritage, history can be intensely political, so I thought it would be really interesting to see what an Icelander, albeit one who grew up in Edinburgh, makes of Scotland’s story.
As a Brucie Bonus (a Robert-the-Brucie-bonus, perhaps?) Magnus has chosen to link history and landscape in his re-telling with a really strong focus on archaeology and the physical traces of Scotland’s story, so even though I’m only at Chapter 5 – Malcolm Canmore and St Margaret – I’ve got a list of things that I really do need to go and see, from the Pictish stones of the North East to the hill fort of Dunadd in Argyll.
I’ve shied away from making plans for journeys once the lockdown lifts. Like John Cleese’s character in Clockwise, it’s the hope I can’t stand. But this tiny list – which I’m sure will grow as I get through the book – might give me something to look forward to after all.
Like everything I start in lockdown, this endeavour has ended in failure with the disappointing revelation on page 65 that Mr Magnusson (and his editors) can’t tell the difference between Henry I’s wife Matilda and Henry I’s daughter the Empress Matilda. If you’ve watched (or read!) Cadfael or The Pillars of the Earth – the daughter is the one fighting King Stephen for her right to the throne of England. So it’s not exactly a trivial mistake.