Tag Archives: whisky

Don Roberto Myths

23 Nov

Celebrities are always going to attract myths and Don Roberto was no exception.

I was still at Prep School when I heard the first anecdote, and had recently started secondary school when I heard the second, and the third is from a book published in 1940.  Thus, in less than 30 years after his death, there were mythical anecdotes and stories being told about him.  Here is a very brief selection of the myths I have heard.

An Anecdote

I remember being gleefully told by a family acquaintance, who was old enough to have known Don Roberto in his old age, that the great man had often said, “In every house there should be three taps: one for hot water, one for cold water and one for whisky!”  Unfortunately, my informant was seemingly unaware that Don Roberto had taken the Temperance Pledge and so did not imbibe, making the quote highly improbable.

An Equestrian Tale

A tale, which I heard from an elderly neighbour who was in his 90s, concerns Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  The story he loved to relate to us young Cunninghame Grahams was as follows.

One day, when Don Roberto was visiting the Wild West Show with his friend Col Alexander Maitland Gordon, they were shown a horse that was unrideable.  Maitland Gordon, a cavalry officer, bet Don Roberto he could ride the beast without being thrown and duly arranged to return the next day to make the attempt.

The following evening, Maitland Gordon, dressed in riding attire and accompanied by Don Roberto, returned to try and win his wager.  However, whenever Maitland Gordon approached the horse it would buck and kick and he found he could not get close enough to even mount it.  In frustration, he turned to Don Roberto saying, “Well I wager not even you could ride that brute!”  Don Roberto, who was wearing evening dress, calmly lit a cheroot and eyed the horse.  Then he casually approached the horse quietly talked to it and gently stroked its nose before leaping on its back without touching the stirrups.  So poor Maitland Gordon lost two wagers in one evening.

The first problem with the tale is, if the horse had never been ridden, why did it not do as all unbroken horses do when mounted, buck and jump to try to dislodge the rider.  The tale is designed to embellish Don Roberto’s skills as a horseman, and though he undoubtedly was an excellent horseman, even he got thrown badly on occasion and suffered injuries from it.

Second, it is highly unlikely that the Wild West Show would keep a horse that was completely unrideable as it would be of little value to the show (unless for comic value as hapless cowboys chased it around the ring).  Furthermore, given the skills of the Native American Indians and Cowboys at breaking horses, it would not have stayed unmountable for long.  The whole point of the show was to demonstrate the skills of the participants.

Third, I have never been able to find any Alexander Maitland Gordon, let alone one who was a cavalry officer.  Nor can I find any Maitland Gordon (Alexander or otherwise) among Don Roberto’s friends and acquaintances – there is certainly no correspondence between them which is highly peculiar given Don Roberto’s proclivity for letter writing.  Thus, if one of the main protagonists of the tale is fictitious, the whole must be suspect.

A Tall Tale of a Trouncing

The Glaswegian engineer, Samuel Mavor, in a longer reminiscence of Don Roberto, relates the following tale:

An incident narrated to me by the late Professor George Forbes illustrates the fiery energy of Cunninghame Graham.  Don Roberto and his wife spent the summer at Pitlochry and while there he was called to London where he had to remain for two weeks.  During his absence, an acquaintance, son of a well-known Church dignitary, was persistent in unwelcome advances to Mrs Cunninghame Graham, and on Don Roberto’s return she told him of the annoyance she had experienced.  Don Roberto went immediately to the residence of the lothario, and inquired for him, but was told he had gone to Perth in the morning, and would return in afternoon.   Don Roberto strode straightway to the station where he ascertained the time of arrival of the afternoon train from the south; he also found that by taking the train to Dunkeld he could arrive there before the northbound train was due, so off he went to Dunkeld, where on the platform he paced impatiently awaiting the train from Perth.  On its arrival he found his man, opened the carriage door, dragged him out and to the amusement of the other passengers administered a severe beating, then leaving his enemy prostrate on the platform he leapt onto the moving train for Pitlochry.

Indignant at the public thrashing of his son, the irate father insisted on action for assault being raised against Don Roberto.  It fell to George Forbes, who was a friend of the offended family as well as of Don Roberto, to take the part of the mediator, and try to placate ruffled tempers.  Not without considerable difficulty was he able to have the matter smoothed over and further publicity avoided.” (Mavor, Samuel (1940), Don Roberto, “Memories of Men and Places”, London: William Hodge and Company Ltd, pp79-80.)

While Mavor is a masterful storyteller, his reminiscence is riddled with errors and there are numerous problems with the supposedly “secondhand” tale.

First, there is no evidence that Don Roberto and George Forbes were friends, though it is likely they had mutual acquaintances; nor is any reason given as to why Don Roberto & Gabrielle were summering in Pitlochry.  Furthermore, Forbes did not build his Pitlochry house (The Shed) until 1906, the year Gabrielle died.

Second, from the cameo rôle Mavor assigns Gabrielle, it is clear he did not know her.  He has her a meek, docile wife, lacking the nous to ask assistance from Forbes, or even to send a telegram to her husband, but having to await his return to defend her honour.  This does not accord with the historical record of a woman who had run away, not once but twice, to go on the stage; who as a newlywed ranched in Texas and travelled by wagontrain to Mexico City; who roamed Spain with just her Galician maid as her companion; and who was an experienced political orator.  Moreover, if as Taylor speculates in her scholarly biography of Don Roberto, Gabrielle had had to support herself through prostitution when her stage career foundered, she would have been more than able to spurn the unwanted attentions of a spoilt, lovelorn swain.

Third, Forbes does not come out of it as well as Mavor might imagine.  While Forbes brokered peace, he failed to protect his guest from the persistent pest (was he blind and/or mute?) and was obviously so unapproachable that Gabrielle could not ask for is assistance but had to wait for Don Roberto’s return.

Fourth, though one could easily imagine Don Roberto catching a train to intercept his wife’s erstwhile suitor, the fisticuffs does not so readily come to mind.  While Don Roberto undoubtedly had fiery energy and was a man of action, there are no other recorded incident of physical violence (notwithstanding Trafalgar Square, where he was more victim than perpetrator). Don Roberto did not need to “administer a severe beating”, the weapon of choice of the inarticulate, as with the devastating wit for which he was widely renown, he could have so humiliated the poor youth with a haranguing that he would have wished he had had a thrashing instead.

In short, Mavor appears to have uncritically taken his friend’s anecdote and used it to add vividness to his pen-portrait of one of the most colourful characters of his age.

A Family Fable

Much later, when I was an adult, I was told about a Clydebank family which believes that their grandfather, Andrew, son of one Janet Munro, was the illegitimate child of Don Roberto.  They surmise that she had been seduced by Don Roberto while working as a maid at Ardoch.  And this tale has been passed down through the generations as family history.

The family’s genealogist, however, is more sceptical.  He readily admits that Janet was of dubious reputation and the “black sheep” of the family and that the family cannot provide a single shred of evidence she ever met Don Roberto, let alone had any kind of sexual relationship with him.

The facts prejudicial to the Munro claim are insurmountable.  First, at the time the baby would have been conceived, the family were not using Ardoch, which was leased to a tenant; second, Don Roberto, who was newly married, was incontrovertibly abroad (first at Bremerhaven and then at Vigo) at the critical juncture.

Of course, all those who claimed to have personal knowledge of the affair are all safely dead and beyond interrogation, but the myth persists despite the slew of facts which make it utterly impossible.  But when did facts ever deal a deathblow to a rollicking good tale?

These examples make me wonder whether there are any other myths about Don Roberto out there waiting to be collected and debunked.

Out of Touch Cameron Begs rUK to Lovebomb Scotland

8 Feb

Having had time to think through the “wee feartie’s” speech, delivered from the safety of London, here are my thoughts:

This Government has set out a long-term economic plan for Britain, getting behind enterprise, dealing with our debts, a plan to give the people of this country peace of mind and security for the future.

I’m sure that for his pals from Eton and the Bullington Club, there is peace of mind and security for the future, but for too many there is no peace of mind or security for the future as they face unemployment, foodbanks, bedroom tax and the hounding of the weakest and most vulnerable in society.  While that may be acceptable to Tories – there are more Pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs – it is not acceptable to the majority of Scots who have rejected the Tories in both Westminster and Holyrood.

He also ignored the fact that the economic benefits of independence have been repeatedly shown to be greater than those of remaining in the UK (eg see the FT article, OECD Factbook), especially given that the Westminster parties have said that they will scrap the Barnett Formula in the event of a NO vote and the promise of further £25bn of austerity cuts.  Missing was any mention of oil, which if the Barnett Formula is scrapped (as Westminster have stated is their wish), will add greatly to UK finances as little will get back to Scotland.

While Britain may have greater clout in the world, it doesn’t extend to Scotland as the democratic will of the Scottish people is negated by the in-built majority and centrality of the interests of the city-state of London.   As DEVO Max was removed by Cameron from the options, the only way for Scotland to get more powers is to vote YES in September.  Furthermore, an independent Scotland would have twice as many MEPs as it currently has, thus, in Europe our clout is actually reduced by membership of the UK.  Either way, there is a hypocrisy in the attitude of Cameron regarding his desire to keep Scotland in the UK with no renegotiation, but his willingness to take the UK out of the EU if he does not get the renegotiations he wants from the other 28 member states.

The only threat to “connections between people”, connexions which existed long before the Acts of Union in 1707, comes from the Unionist side who claim that we will be expelled from the EU, NATO, etc, that they want to erect border posts and treat Scots  as “foreigners” if they dare to vote for the right to run their own affairs .  Despite Portugal winning her independence from Spain, Norway breaking free from Denmark, Belgium rejecting Dutch rule, or even British-American relations, there are still marriages, families in the other country, trade and joint defence between  each of these nations.  It should also be remembered that Scotland and England’s separate history is as long as their joint history.

As for the impact of UK culture, in my experience (especially from abroad), it is that so called “British” culture  is principally “English culture” to which the rest of the home nations are meekly expected to conform.  This view is borne out by the Prime Minister’s claim that his favourite childhood book, which he is so desperate to pass on his 3 children, was “Our Island Story”, which is in fact subtitled  “A History of England for Boys and Girls“.   This glaring Freudian slip reveals how Cameron really views Scotland – as a part of  England; and Britain as merely England writ large.  This view is not something that is likely to make Scots wish to remain in the UK!

Cameron’s listing of UK-wide institutions and icons is equally suspect.

The  BBC, which  has shown    itself to be a  tool of the  Westminster  government  through its  biased reporting  of the  independence debate thus far, as has now been demonstrated by the independent research carried out by the University of the West of Scotland, is losing the respect of the Scottish people along with the English owned “National” press.

The NHS is not UK-wide and never has been.  Scotland has (and always has had) a completely separate NHS from England & Wales – the only way that the Scottish NHS can be protected is through voting YES; and the armed forces have, in Scotland, been disproportionately cut in relation to other parts of the UK under Cameron’s government.  In fact, it has recently been revealed that the MoD is reduced to using Twitter to obtain information about Scottish coastal waters.   Let us not forget that, during the time of his mentor, Thatcher, the only successful British Steel plant, Ravenscraig, was closed to try and save English Tory votes.

And just since when has Scotch Whisky been a British cultural icon?  The name Scotch makes it clear that it is a Scottish icon (like the kilt and the bagpipes!).  While we are on the subject of whisky, there was more nonsense about British Embassies promoting it (they did nothing for St Andrew’s Day last year and charge for promotion days!);  it is clear that Cameron’s real interest is the £135/sec that Scotch Whisky brings to the UK Balance of Trade, which EWNI will lose if Scotland becomes independent.

Hypocritically, Call me Dave has the audacity to quote Mandela, a man his party wanted hanged as a terrorist, who said,  “I have great respect for British political institutions, and for the country’s system of justice. I regard the British Parliament as the most democratic institution in the world…”.  Mandela made that comment in 1964, long before the merging of policy which made the Conservative and Labour parties almost indistinguishable; before the exceptionally punitive sentencing of English rioters in 2011; and he never had to live in Scotland under that “most democratic institution” where the electoral will of the people is ignored in favour of English voters.  Of course, in comparison to the South African institutions and systems that imprisoned Mandela, his comments are understandable. Cameron’s speech makes me think that an alternative view, from a 19th century member of the House of Commons, is more apposite: “…that smuggest and most Philistine of legislative assemblies – the British House of Commons.” [1]

Yet again Cameron trotted out the spurious, negatively emotive “separation” in an attempt to imply that the aim of independence is alienation rather than the very normal desire for “self-determination” which is what independence is actually about.   As a great man once said: “Every nation since the beginning of the world, has preferred, and rightly, indifferent government by one of its own citizens, to any rule, however beneficial, imposed from the outside.” [2]   How much more preferable when the Scottish government is so much better than the far from beneficial one imposed by Westminster?  Dave’s reiterating his plaintive dirge that the decision would “be forever” is meaningless as I cannot find any country in the world, which once having gained independence, has begged to return to their previous vassal state.

As for his phone a friend plea: he couldn’t sound more desperate and more out of touch if he tried (notice that the first question was about the flooding in Somerset, showing how little independence matters to the average non-Scot).  Little wonder the Better Together campaign cringe whenever Cameron opens his mouth on the topic of Scottish Independence and are so supportive of his refusal to debate with Salmond, who, after all, doesn’t have to quote Mandela or embarrassingly mimic Martin Luther King, to get his message across.

To reduce a country as ancient and proud as Scotland to a mere brand, even the suppposedly “powerful brand” UK, is to add insult to injury! Currently, Scotland is so submerged in the  GB that it is almost as invisible to the rest of the world as the waters of the River Tweed are to a casual observer 5 miles out into the North Sea! and that will always be the case when the smug, self-satisfied, Westminster elite confound Britain with England as Cameron does.

The plain fact is that, without Scotland, EWNI’s place in the world would be diminished, but Scotland’s would be enhanced.  Cameron knows this and it gives him the collywobbles.

[1]  R B Cunninghame Graham, “A Plea” in The Nail and Chainmakers, Labour Platform Series (1888)

[2]   R B Cunninghame Graham, “José Antonio Páez“, London: William Heinemann (1929), p 217