Scottish Field


Imparting wisdom on others isn’t as easy as one might have hoped, says Fiona Armstrong

- Illustrati­on Bob Dewar

Fiona Armstrong on the struggles of imparting wisdom on others

In these muddled political times, it is confusing for folk. This comes to light clearer than ever before when the chief and I are in Edinburgh. am there as back-up as he is about to address a roomful of American ladies.

This gregarious group of dames is over here on a needlework-cum-fabric course. They are interested in all things Scottish embroidery, tapestry and textiles, and as part of that The MacGregor is preparing to tell them all about the fascinatin­g history of tartan.

First to be dropped into the equation are clans. Then Queen Victoria. Next, there is the chief ’s favourite subject – the military. Because as we all know, it was the Scottish regiments that helped popularise this iconic Scottish cloth.

All seems to go swimmingly. Nay, the ladies are hanging on his every word. It is a veritable triumph. That is, until we get to the questions.

With a real buzz in the room, one of the ladies shoots up her hand.

‘Can you tell me, Sir Malcolm – are we in Scotland, or are we in Britain here?’

Then another woman chimes in on the chorus. She wants to know the difference between a Highlander and a Lowlander.

The thing is, the chief has given rather an erudite talk. But you cannot assume that everyone understand­s the ins and outs of our country’s long and winding history.

“All seems to go swimmingly – nay, the ladies are hanging on his every word

We all know that Edinburgh is in Scotland, and that Scotland is in Britain. How mystifying this must be for those from a faraway land.

When I entered into journalism, the first thing I was taught to do was to learn how to ‘kiss’. Keep It Simple Stupid.

Because sometimes – actually most of the time – you just have to spell it out. Explain everything. And even then, they may not get it.

My father was a university lecturer. A brilliant orator, he once gave a talk to an auditorium full of internatio­nal students. Up and down the stage he went, imparting facts, offering insights, pointing at the white board, holding his audience in the palm of his hand.

After all, it was a mesmerisin­g topic. The subject, I believe was the great movement of people across continents, for his field was sociology and anthropolo­gy. Anyhow, after an hour or so of serious debate, the lecture was complete and my papa stopped speaking. He was thoroughly spent by his efforts, but happy to know that he had been able to share some of his expert knowledge with the great minds of the future.

To round off the morning he asked for questions, and a single hand went up – that of a young man. He simply said: ‘Thank you, Mr Armstrong. That was interestin­g, but can you tell us how we claim our expenses for coming to this talk?’

You have to laugh, don’t you? Although I think he felt more like crying…

On the topic of Scottish Greats, and on a more sombre note, I read that the Duke of Roxburghe has died. Which is untimely as the man was only about my age. Anyhow, many moons ago I had the good fortune of casting a line with His Grace.

We were filming a series called Fiona on Fishing, which involved us going out on the River Tweed, which runs at the bottom of his Floors Castle garden. Well, if that’s the right word for a 60,000-acre estate.

His Grace showed how he could fish with finesse, with both left and right hands. Quite a feat as angling readers will testify to.

He, too, was a plain-speaking man. But he was also immensely popular – and good on camera – and he will be much missed on his estate.

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