The Economist - probably the best edited periodical on the planet - has a weekly obituary. Sometimes it's a famous statesman, a political philosopher, or an economist. But engagingly often, it's a writer, artist or collector - perhaps someone you've never heard of, but who lightens your day with their achievments and the recognition thus bestowed.
One of these occurred last week - on Stanley Robertson, of whom I'd never heard (yes, I'm an ignorant Sassenach), but who captured my imagination immediately through this brilliant obituary. Stanley Robertson was a fish filleter in Aberdeen for 47 years, but he was also a traveller (not quite a gipsy or a Romany, but close in spirit), a folk singer, a story teller, and a guardian and creator of this folk tradition, speaking a language which was Scots (a dialect of English, in case you're wondering), Doric, Gaelic, and Cant.
He wrote a book of stories, Reek Roon A Camp Fire, which I feel I must read, and you can hear him on a pair of CDs of his singing and storytelling.
I cannot improve on the prose of The Economist, so here are two brief extracts. First, time to go on the road:
Since 1945 or so his family, weary of a life of gathering flax or hawking rabbit skins, had settled ... in an Aberdeen tenement. But a time would still come every year when Mr Robertson knew in his bones that it was time to go away:I’ll tak’ ye on the road again
When yellow’s on the broom.
They would go up the Old Road at Lumphanan, a green drove road peopled with spirits and with a venerable oak tree, Auld Craobhie, who had to be greeted each time they passed. (“We ca’ them the guid folk,” Mr Robertson said, “for they can dee ye an awful lot of damage.”) There they would camp, light a “glimmer”, or a fire, sing songs and tell stories, with each teller throwing on a piece of peat as they began.
And second, a one sentence summary of his life, working and storytelling:
... kippers hoisted on tinter-sticks, fish baskets swirled in water, one herring every second dropped into the splitting machine - all that his busy, careful hands were doing, while his head was in Fairyland.