It seems to be a series of anniversary events this month. Today marks the seventh century to pass since the brutal execution of the Scots patriot William Wallace (the real Wallace, not to be confused with Mel Gibson who is shorter than Wallace’s sword, fun though the movie was). He was betrayed at Robroyston on the outskirts of Glasgow, just a few miles from my childhood home and close by the Wallace Well, one of hundreds of parts of Scotland named or associated with him. Once again the old chestnuts of historical accuracy was raised, with historians having a bash at Bravheart and Blind Harry’s Medieval epic poem, The Wallace (isn’t it funny how many heroes accrue ‘the’ before their name, becoming more than a person, becoming a symbol. The Wallace, The Bruce, The Batman).
Well, neither of those were histories – what both did was to use the scarce facts of Wallace’s struggle then re-interpret them to make suitable entertainments for their respective eras. And both helped to secure and preserve the myth for future generations – historians may whinge about Braveheart, but I know for a fact how many more Scottish history books I sold to the public on the back of it and it still fuels the expansion of the very market those same historians write for. Yes, as a devourer of history I laughed at the innacuracies, but I enjoyed them anyway and was happy more folk wanted to read the real histories afterwards. And Blind Harry’s Wallace is a riot – think a medieval Scots Iliad crossed with the over-the-top violence of Slaine or Conan.
What is more important with Wallace, as with all heroes (real and imaginary, from Hector and Achilles to Washington or the Dambusters or the NYC firefighters), is the mythology. It doesn’t mean we should ignore the history but the myth is more important; characters like Wallace are no longer just men, they are symbols on which each generation can impose and draw upon according to their times and needs; they are larger than life (and judging by the size of his sword he was pretty large to begin with!). The symbol, the myth, is far more important than the person; it gives us support in our personal beliefs, reassurance that the greatest obstacles can be overcome, inspires us when things look dark and answer that deep-seated human need for heroes. I think if the real Wallace knew that 700 years after his death he would continue to be an inspiration and symbol for freedom he wouldn’t mind that at all. Like much of our history he is half wish-fulfilment and myth and half actual history, but by god it’s still a terrific tale.
On the other anniversary fronts this month (in no particular order) I have an aunt and uncle celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. 50 years together, pretty amazing; hard to think when they were hitched Gagarin’s spaceflight was still 6 years in the future and there was no such thing as Beatlemania. And since my dear uncle (affectionately known as ‘comrade’ to me because he is old school left-wing) has been fighting cancer for the last few years you can imagine how much it means to our family that he’s here and reasonably healthy to celebrate this event with his wife. Hot on their heels my mum and dad’s anniversary is this month – I was a little taken aback on learning it is their ruby anniversary! 40 years for mum and dad… I’m flabbergasted… How can this be? Surely they’re far too young and I’m still just a boy…
Just to make me feel even older is the fact that its now ten years since I became Joe Gordon BA Honours. Yup, ten years since I graduated – wow, where did those years go? Oh yeah, I drank my way through a fair chunk of them… And I’m guessing if I total them up the movies, books and curries must account for a fair percentage of that particular decade too. Personally I take as a productive use of my decade. Actually I’m not bothered about it so much – I think if I had still been where I was last year then I might have felt more downbeat about it, but actually I’m in a pretty good place and don’t mind it – it is, after all, another excuse for a few drinks. And that’s the best way to look at it – sod the glass half-full or half-empty, just finish the bloody drink and get another round in!