Two Margarets, One Imelda, and Three Thousand Pairs of Shoes
1986 began with a bang – quite literally – as the Challenger Space Shuttle blew up in January only 73 seconds after launching, witnessed by millions of people worldwide on TV; it was especially tragic as the 7-man crew included teacher Christa McAuliffe, the first civilian to go into space, chosen from over 10,000 applicants.
Happier things happened next, with Desmond Tutu becoming the first Black Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town in South Africa, and Imelda Marcos fleeing the Philippines with her husband and having to leave all her shoes behind. As she said later, in 2001, at the opening of the Shoe Museum in Marikina, of which her abandoned collection of 3,000 pairs became the stars:
They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but, thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes.
Not to mention a string of embezzlements, fraud and corruption, through which the Marcos couple amassed a huge fortune while the rest of the country scraped around in desperate poverty.
Perhaps a lady, then, of whom Scottish poet Allan Ramsay, who died 300 years ago this very year, would have approved, judging by one of his more famous poems, catchily entitled ‘Gi’e me a lass with a lump of land’,the first verse of which goes like this:
Gi’e me a lass with a lump of land,
And we for life shall gang thegither;
Tho’ daft or wise I’ll never demand,
Or black or fair it maks na whether.
I’m aff with wit, and beauty will fade,
And blood alane is no worth a shilling;
But she that’s rich her market’s made,
For ilka charm about her is killing.
Oh, you old romantic, you, Allan Ramsay…
1986 is a year further marked by it being exactly 400 years since the Babington Plot was discovered, with its letters and ciphers ultimately leading to the condemnation of Mary Queen of Scots for treason;
It is also 700 years since the death of Alexander III of Scotland, who was succeeded by his granddaughter Margaret, the Maid of Norway.
It had been intended that she would unite England and Scotland by her marriage to the Prince of Wales, but the unhappy lass got ill on the boat taking her from Norway to Leith, on top of which a huge storm blew them off course.
Eventually they landed at St Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsey in Orkney, where Margaret – no hope there - upped and died.
And because she died with no obvious successor, several choices were put forward, resulting in Edward I opting for John Balliol, in the mistaken belief that Balliol would rally the Scots to fight against the French on England’s behalf.
Fat chance of that, and instead Balliol led the Scots the other way entirely, entering into the Auld Alliance with France, which lasted for another 300 years, and led directly to the furious Edward goading up his army and setting off for yet another war on the Scots.
It is also 500 years since the death of a different Margaret, this time of Denmark, who popped her clogs in Stirling Castle, having married James III way back in 1469.
I mention this because, as part of her dowry, she brought with her the gift of Orkney (where the Maid of Norway died) and the Shetlands to the Scottish throne, so a bit of a party is in order to celebrate the coming-in of the islanders, who would otherwise all have grown up as Danes…
Ceud mìle fàilte, and a big welcome to you all!