Belinda Rathbone's controversial journal reviewed
THE REVEREND Sydney Smith once wrote, "I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so." That, I fear, is also the attitude of some scribes in other parts of Scotland who had their attention directed to one or two sentences in Belinda Rathbone's book 'The Guynd', and who then thought they could incense the natives in Arbroath by reading them a few connected words, asking them if they thought that was terrible, and then writing down that they did.
In 'The Guynd' Belinda Rathbone describes her courtship and marriage to John Ouchterlony of The Guynd, and her growing understanding of the fact that not only had she married John, but also that The Guynd ran through his veins as surely as his blood did and she had married both man and estate.
Despite the inference from previous references in the press to the book, Belinda Rathbone writes not waspishly but sympathetically, with understanding and even affection. She understands the old world, in which the estate was self-sufficient, and all its dwellings were populated by farm workers.
She describes the economies that must now be practised at The Guynd because there is not enough money to bring the mansion house up to modern standards or to save the even older house from decay. For example, she found a drawer full of lengths of string, carefully put away for re-use, by her husband's late mother. There was a nest of egg boxes.
But the writer does not ridicule, and she adds that her own mother would have understood perfectly, having been brought up as an equally 'careful' householder.
Far from being the American 'socialite' that one newspaper reporter described, Belinda Rathbone rolled up her sleeves with gusto and enthusiasm, more like a P.G. Wodehouse aunt than a cocktail-sipping free-loader, and made many improvements to the house; modernising, binning, painting,
A son was born, Elliot, named after the burn that runs through the grounds. The first 10 years of his life were spent at The Guynd and he learned about and loved the outdoor life - he and his friends made full use of the freedom offered. Now he lives with his mother in America, but one day he will inherit The Guynd.
The writer has a sharp insight into the mysterious and irrational ways of tenants. Some (not all) of those who came to and left The Guynd during her time there prompted her to write, "The cottages are still inhabited, not by farmworkers but by an erratic population of fugitives from the poorer quarters of Dundee and Arbroath." She speaks of the promises made by many of those who proposed to rent cottages, which turned to dust once they were installed.
Estate owners and factors locally will nod their heads knowingly as they read this part of the book - these tenants are the ones who arrive full of promises, and depart laden with light bulbs. I was once shown an estate cottage whose interior had been painted bby a former tenant purple - walls, ceilings, kitchen units, radiators, electric switches - quite literally everything but the panes of glass and the light bulbs.
The writer's knowledge of the area around the Guynd is delightfully comprehensive, as would be the case with anyone with a child to ferry about; she even found herself teaching her husband shortcuts he didn't know about, for example, from The Guynd to Lunan Bay.
The book is an antidote to the kiss and tell rubbish that passes in some places for literature. It charts the happier parts of a marriage which is now over, but it is not bitter about either The Guynd or its owner. It is a warm book, it is an affectionate book, and it is a wistful book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading 'The Guynd: A Scottish Journal' and, unless you are from that part of society which believes that landowners are there to be taken advantage of, I hope you will, too. As well as being an eminently readable and revealing historical document, it is at times hilariously funny.