LAST WEEK I had to fly up to Scotland on business, anticipating, as one tends to do, though with no good reason, a complicated journey and bad weather at the other end.
Neither fear was justified and by mid-morning, in bright sunlight, I found myself at my destination north of Edinburgh within less than three hours after leaving a dark and overcast Chelsea.
Later the same day I had time to visit nearby Lin tithgow Palace, that "princely home" of former Scottish kings now magnificently restored but filled inside only with haunting memories.
It was, of course, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, the fourth centenary of whose execution occurs next year. Having enquired as to what events had been planned to celebrate this anniversary I found they were so many and varied as to defy enumeration.
But I strongly advise anyone who may be interested to write to the Scottish Tourist Board (23 Ravelston Terrace, Edinburgh EH4 3EU) for details of an imaginative programme of festive and picturesque occasions.
As well as the activities in Scotland, many events and open days will take place in England where Mary spent 19 years of her captivity. The most important locations are Carlisle Castle, Bolton Castle in Wensleydale, Sheffield Manor, Chatsworth, Wingfield Manor, the Old Hall at Buxton, Tutbury Castle and, of course, Fotheringhay in Northumberland, even though the castle has been demolished.
MARY was born at Linlithgow on December 8, 1542, in a room overlooking the beautiful nearby loch. Within a week she was Queen of Scotland as her father, King James V died when she was only six days old. It was said that he died of despair at the crumbling fortunes of his kingdom and family after the defeat of his forces by the English at Solway Moss.
Had she been born a boy, subsequent history might have been very different. As it was she was doomed from her earliest years to be the focus of intense domestic and international rivalry.
Not all agree that the greatest of the many tragedies in her life was that she was prevented from falling in with Henry VIII's plan that she should marry his son Edward. His idea was admittedly pretty brutal, but all such arrangements, right up until modern times, have taken little account of the personal feeling of young royal pawns in the once fiercely contested political-dynastic game.
Mary, in this scenario, would have become the child bride of Edward and would have been brought to England while Henry governed Scotland in her name. Eventually the two thrones would have been united and centuries of Anglo-Scottish feuding would have been brought to an end. This, at least, was the plan.
But the captive Scottish nobles at Henry's Court, having agreed originally to this scheme as the price of their freedom, immediately changed their minds on release. Mary was henceforth the victim (or sometimes provoker?) of endless plots in view of her claim to the English throne. No one was more reluctant than Queen Elizabeth I in agreeing to her execution at Fotheringhay in February, 1587.
The plan for her marriage to the King of England might even have made things worse in the light of events. Perhaps now is the time to reread Antonia Fraser's massive biography of the ill-fated Queen, even if imponderables and mysteries will always abound. Herein lies the sad fascination of that turbulent life.
WHILE I was in Scotland an off-beat but happy incident occurred at the National Library in Edinburgh, the home of Mary Stuart's last letter on the eve of her execution. The library was the recipient of a priceless church document whose rightful ownership has at last been proved through the investigations of Fr Mark Dilworth.
The record in question was the Liber Ruber, or Red Book, recording grants of money and land from royalty and nobility
to Glasgow Cathedral more than 400 years ago. It was one of four books used by the Catholic Church in Scotland in those days to record such grants.
Fr Mark Dilworth is keeper of the Scottish Catholic Archives and managed to dig out a receipt from an eighteenth century antiquary' that the book in question had been lent to him but remained the property of the Catholic Church.
WHY is Lord Forte's autobiography so eminently readable? Perhaps because it is written as he talks — in a direct, no-nonsense style. I liked his description of his fidelity to exercise and can report from personal experience that he has never missed a chance to get in his daily quota.
I once chaired a committee to plant a forest at Cana, in Galilee, in memory of Cardinal Heenan and as a gesture of Christian-Jewish solidarity. Lord Forte was the most prominent member of the committee which, thanks to his generosity, flew over to Israel for the planting ceremony in his private jet.
It was an unforgettable journey during which Charles Forte dispensed Dom Perignon champagne and an extra passenger was Chaim Hertzog, now President of Israel.
One night in Tel Aviv, we were all asked to dinner by a certain well wisher, but couldn't find the flat. Charles said "leave it to me", and suddenly took off like a hare, darting round the various blocks in the vicinity, and returning to announce that he had discovered the right address.
This was only, he explained, what he did every morning round Belgrave Square. No wonder he remains (and long may he continue) to be so fit and alert at all times.
EXTRA early with their greetings to friends this year has been the Salvation Army. This is in order to alert supporters to the need for continuing help so that as few as possible within their reach will spend wretched and lonely Christmases.
The leaflet accompanying their greeting told of Annie (made-up name) who was called on last Christmas by a lady Major in the Salvation Army. Her little room was bare of Christmas decorations, except for one card on the shelf. Inside the Major found the words: "To Annie, from Annie."
Annie has now become a guest of the Salvation Army along with thousands of other men and women this Christmas who would otherwise spend the festive season alone. A gift of £50 will provide shelter and a Christmas meal for as many as eight destitute men and women. (The Army's headquarters are at 101 Queen Victoria St, London EC4P 4EP.)
TALKING of Christmas 1 can report that the cards taken from paintings by the Duchess of Norfolk are better than ever this year. All of them are sold in aid of "Help the Hospices", (61 Clabon Mews, London SWIX OEQ.
Earlier this year the Princess of Wales visited one of the many hospices helped by the organisation of which Anne Norfolk is joint chairman.
Hospice care aims to provide the sort of nursing that hospitals have rarely been able to supply in the past. It is based on the simple philosophy that a dying patient is a living patient and needs dignity, security and calm in that final period.
Such care aims to control a patient's pain and other distressing symptoms while also trying to meet personal, emotional and spiritual needs.
There are now —90 hospices around the country caring for
30,000 patients each year, with a further 40 hospices planned. But 130,000 people die in the UK each year from cancer and other terminal diseases.
"Help the Hospices" is thriving thanks to the generosity of many. But being mostly in the private sector, it desperately depends on continued contributions to extend its vital work.
IT IS said that the Lord gave grapes to Noah after the Flood
as a gesture of apology for having rained down so much water; and thus the vine and the juice thereof came into the world.
The story is particularly popular in the Beaujolais district of France where vines were first planted a thousand years ago.
Next Thursday will see the annual — exciting if slightly ridiculous — race to see who can get the first consignment of this year's Beaujolais Nouveau to Britain.
Timely is the publication of a sumptious book, lavishly illustrated, by Guy Jacquemont and Paul Mereaud (Webb & Bower) called Beaujolais, The Complete Guide. It is easily the best book 1 have ever read about the Beaujolais.
This wine stands somewhere between claret and Burgundy, the latter district having once been a proud kingdom with its capital at Geneva. Messrs Constable are to be congratulated in persuading that urbane diplomat Christopher Cope to write about this fascinating area of France (which he knows well) resulting in a brilliant book called Phoenix Frustrated.
It is the first time the story has been properly told of this romatic kingdom which has repeatedly tried to rise again and so often nearly succeeded.
Of the attempts to raise the kingdom of Burgundy from the ashes, that of Charles the Bold (1467-77) is the best known. The richer half of his magnificent "uncrowned kingdom" has been preserved as Belgium and the Netherlands. The rest is now absorbed in France and continues to produce the "King of Wines".
I NOTICED that on All Souls Day the Catholics of Brightlingsea heard Mass in the Anglican Parish Church of All Saints. This is one of many East Anglian churches regularly used by Catholics, one being the parish church of Great Bentley where weekly Mass is held.
At Frinton, however, an ecumenical (and practical) possibility seems to have been lost. The Methodists want to build a church in combination with some other communion. The Catholics, however, seem to prefer to spend many thousands of pounds in extending their church, originally a hall bought for a few hundred pounds.
Local Anglicans and the Free Church are also spending large sums to extend their churches, all of which are near each other.
Why not less (expensive) extending and more (profitable) sharing?