My computer likes to be kept up-to-date with respect to my latest activities. Our conversations tend to be of a spontaneous nature - and somewhat undisciplined. We certainly do not adhere to any fixed agenda, but on the other hand we avoid gossip.
With that said he was, without doubt, interested in hearing the details and tit-bits of my telephone interview with Jill Daley on her radio programme for Insight Radio. (http://www.insightradio-net.com/)
The programme was live and I was one of a panel of four ‘writers’ discussing their books. We were all blind or visually impaired and I was in very good company as there was Sue Townsend, discussing her latest novel about Adrian Mole, there was a Canadian professor who had a string of books to his name, a marvellous 87-year-old lady from Gigha discussing her first book and, of course, yours truly discussing his book “I’m Beginning To Forget What I Look Like."
I enjoyed the interview and I think it could be said that it was a very attention-grabbing programme and I was paying notice to what the other members of the panel had to say but it became obvious that I was the only one who was completely blind. What I would give to be just visually impaired.
A few days later Joyce and I accepted the invitation to attend the launching of the new station of Insight Radio, formerly VIPONAIR. It was introducing its new FM channel on FM101 in the Glasgow area. It was a well conducted affair, various speeches, quite a few people with guide dogs but, here again, they all seemed to me to have at least some vision - no matter how little, to allow them to move around and circulate. I must guard against becoming paranoid about my complete blindness!
The reception was held in The Lighthouse in Glasgow; a Rennie Mackintosh tower which, at one stage, was part of the Glasgow Herald building in Mitchell Street. I remember some years ago being invited to the formal opening of the refurbished Lighthouse. At the top was the observation tower, which gives one a panoramic view of the Glasgow city roofscape. At that time I was sighted and so could take advantage of the spectacular and, indeed, quite impressive views, and identify two or three of my flagship office developments which I could say, with some modesty, added to, and very much enhanced, this view of the city.
My computer was unaware that, as a student at the Royal Technical College one of my subjects was architecture and, of course, my knowledge and understanding of same, was added to considerably thereafter. He was somewhat surprised at my familiarity and great interest in Rennie Mackintosh, not only as the architect and designer but, as a painter, along with his wife Margaret. I could tell him I know a great deal about Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his work - particularly the Glasgow School of Art, (1897, completed in the year 1909), Hillhouse in Helensburgh, (designed for the Blackie family), and other Glasgow buildings such as the Willow Tea Rooms, (designed for Miss Cranston), his school in Scotland Street, his Queen's Cross church and very many other notable buildings.
Glasgow City from the Lighthouse
I am reminded that in the mid-70s, some 30 years ago now, Joyce and I, with two friends, attended an auction sale in that very same church. The auction was held on behalf of the Mackintosh Society, which was then endeavouring to recreate interest in the works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. As we consider the present, strong Mackintosh fashion it can be said that they certainly succeeded - and that is putting it mildly. As I recall there were no Mackintosh items in the sale but the auctioneer, at one point, having achieved a price of some £800 for some article, made the statement that that was the exact fee that Mackintosh's practice received for the design of that very church - Queens Cross, Maryhill Road, Glasgow.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh was undoubtedly a remarkable designer, and I am quite sorry that similar effort to revive interest in one of our other great Glasgow architects has not been as equally successful. I refer to Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, one of the outstanding voices of 19th-century architecture, renowned for his churches, houses, warehouses and public buildings. His designs initially were certainly distinctly individual and, whilst rooted in the Greek revival, he looked for inspiration in architectural styles well beyond Europe. He was one of Glasgow's architectural giants until the rise of modernism. His position in history places him as a major architectural figure; unique for his talent in expressing intelligent use of materials.
It is interesting that the Mackintosh-designed Lighthouse, (refurbished by my son Andrew), was chosen in 1999 as the venue for an exhibition of Greek Thomson's work. I was invited along and was tremendously impressed with the many examples illustrating his work, particularly the church in St Vincent Street, Glasgow, with its regrettably rarely seen spectacular interior. The inaugural exhibition of this prolific and inventive architect illustrated many examples of his great work but, regrettably, only one of his three churches survived - one of which was destroyed by a German's incendiary bomb in 1944.
Victorian Glasgow had a well-earned reputation for producing many fine architects; indeed some great architects, whose work can be seen today. However, there can be no doubt that the two that have created truly, international fame are Greek Thomson and Rennie Mackintosh.
As a change of subject my computer and I moved effortlessly from talking about broadcasting, architecture and design to literature.
The Royal National Institute of the Blind has a marvellous library of unabridged audio books and they ensure that I have, at any given time, five talking books of my choosing but, that notwithstanding, the fact that he, (my computer), could give me access to his library of many thousands of the classics stored in his memory bank, nevertheless shows a great interest in my reading.
I was telling him about one of my latest books, which was ‘Heart and Science’ by Wilkie Collins. His better-known works are probably ‘The Woman in White’ and ‘Moonstone’. I was very impressed with the way Collins built up his characters, and while the romantic plot was a little light, and the young lovers somewhat improbable, one could not say that about the part dealing with signs, psychiatry or the diseases of the mind. Considering that Collins was a contemporary of Dickens, and writing in the 19th century, his perception is quite remarkable and, furthermore, was clearly then campaigning on behalf of all anti-vivisection. The book as a whole is thoroughly readable, the physiological part of it is remarkable; the details are more or less accurate and dramatic effects excellent – if, at times, slightly flawed.
I note that time is running out for this session of one-to-one conversations with my friendly computer however, before returning to more mundane duties, I feel compelled to tell him about my recent dream. It transpired, I think, as a result of reading the book. I rarely dream, but when I do, it is in colour and I can see - at least up to the point at which someone asks me to read or sign a document or what have you. At that point I have to admit to being blind and wake-up. I suppose if I were blind in my dream I would not be able to see the dream. My computer interrupted me with a question saying, “That is interesting. Does that mean someone born blind, with no image of the world around them, would not be able to dream?" I said, "That is a good question. I do not know the answer but I must try and find out. However, let me tell you, albeit briefly, about my dream."
I found myself at a Victorian soirée, or a sort of conversatoire of quasi-academic and scientific figures; a mixed crowd of noisy argumentative people, seemingly characters from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries
There was one woman, who I think was Madame Curie, there was Isaac Newton saying to Einstein, "Yes, yes I accept your theory of relativity, but of course I would have gone further. Think of imagination; take it through time and you have the fifth dimension."
Behind me, Conan Doyle was arguing with Charles Darwin saying, "Your theory of evolution is true, as far as it goes, but the soul continues the process into spiritualism.“ Darwin said, "That is the spiritualist, not the writer, in you talking. Be careful, I had much trouble with the church in my time." Conan Doyle was not listening and cut in saying, "When the spirit leaves the body it is no more than the continuation of evolution. I promised to come back and tell them, didn't I?"
He did indeed make such a promise, but that was to tell the living, now he was only talking to the dead. My dream was quickly turning into a nightmare, I wondered what I was doing in their midst, since they were all dead. I was now terrified, paralysed and felt I must move before it got too late - or was it already too late?
Thankfully, and before any conclusion was reached, on the sometimes loud and angry debates, I wake up in a cold sweat, none the wiser but grateful to be back in my unseeing black world.
Anyone who has read the book will, I am sure, agree that the connection between it and my dream, while somewhat tenuous, is there.
By their very nature dreams are dysfunctional but I was left with the impression that those geniuses, jealous of their place in history, were single-mindedly in pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge, (for its own sake), and any benefit to mankind was, by the way, just a diversity of interest.
I wonder, would Einstein tell them about the horrors of the ‘bomb’? Would anyone tell them about the present state of our planet and greenhouse gases? And, if they were told of the dreadful state of our civilisation, would they express little more than just an academic and scientific interest? Is it that those giants, those geniuses, are really too self-centred to care?
My computer, in his usual unfeeling, but reasoned, manner, brought me back down to earth by summing up thus: "Interesting. Indeed a very interesting dream but, rather than put it down to the book, may it not be the result of one of your port and cheese late night sessions?"
I will leave him with the last word!!
Posted on 19 July 2007 – Arts And Science