Diary - Will Self

In Argyle Street on Boxing Day, I find teeming crowds. Clearly the masses can withstand only a few s

A 6am start to get the plane to Edinburgh. I've never flown from London's City Airport, and even at this hour, with somnolent children to load into the car, I'm still struck by the peculiar sense of transposition: flying from the East End, it just doesn't seem right. And as for the Legoland of Canary Wharf rising up out of Docklands, who'd have thought a couple of decades ago that we'd end up with this passe futurity?

In Edinburgh I take our small boys to the castle while my wife finishes off the Christmas shopping. A couple of days later while watching me kvetch on Grumpy Old Men at Christmas, she points out that I don't do anything to facilitate the festival, so my remarks are quite superfluous. She's right, of course; she did all the gift business, while this year my mother-in-law does the cooking. All I contribute is the flatulence.

When we visit my in-laws, who live in Motherwell, we stay at New Lanark. David Dale and Robert Owen created a blueprint for a utopian industrial community here in the 1800s. Workers were paid adequately, children educated, healthcare provided. Now, only the coolly rational mill buildings remain beside the roiling Clyde. Derelict for many years, they've now been renovated. One houses a visitor attraction, another a cut-price woolly emporium, the third is a hotel. It's an OK hotel if a tad austere, but we note a slight atmosphere of decline during this sojourn. The management have pinned their hopes on the conference crowd, and frankly I doubt there are enough corporate customers in the Scottish rust belt to sustain them.

Christmas Day in Motherwell, and I take my six-year-old for a walk down to the banks of the Clyde. Our route takes us past the six high blocks which dominate the town now that the Ravenscraig Steelworks have been levelled. A few years ago these behemoths were re-cladded, and there were accusations of graft and fraud surrounding the works. But despite their shiny new exteriors no one wants to live in them and so they're being hollowed out from within.

On Boxing Day we drive in to Glasgow. My children have got so much new plastic that we have to buy a new item of luggage so we can fly it all back down south. In Argyle Street the crowds are teeming; clearly the masses have only been able to withstand a few scant hours away from the hamster wheel of consumerism. Even at this latitude the teenagers' midriffs are bare, while their face jewellery gives them the appearance of bipedal fish, hooked from the urban mill-race. Trunk purchased, we drive out to Rutherglen to look up a journalist friend. It turns out we're a day early for the party she'd invited us to but she entertains us anyway. I ask her mother, an octogenarian Manx, what life was like on the Isle of Man when she was a girl, but she will answer only inversely: "I'm sure I wouldn't like it now."

Back at New Lanark I'm walking through the bar when I see a newsflash about an earthquake in Iran. Discussing it later, my wife and I note that the last major earthquake in Iran - just 13 years ago - had hardly lodged in our memories at all, though it took 40,000 lives. Yet human-on-human violence claiming mere tens and hundreds was effortlessly recalled. It's as if in a godless world, acts that might once have been regarded as examples of divine malevolence can have no impact; while the fratricide of godlike humanity is elevated to Olympus.

Our final morning in Scotland, and I take my two-year-old for a stroll, all the way up the wooden walkway to the Falls of Clyde at Corra Linn. The ground is lucent with frost, the river yellow with snow melt. On the way back I see that the warden of the nature reserve has sealed the walkway off with tape and a sign reading "Danger Ice". Yet the ice has now melted. This reminds me that the safety industry concerns itself almost entirely with those who are timorous by inclination, and as easily frightened as are Middle Englanders by a potential tax rise.

Will Self's latest book, Dr Mukti and Other Tales of Woe, is published by Bloomsbury on 19 January

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