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Postcards from Scotland

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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 12/07/2005

Other than reading the Broons and Oor Willie avidly as a child, Dundee has never featured much in my life – until recently. The place most affected by the Tipping Point conference was Dundee. Within a few months of the event in December some people from Dundee who met in Glasgow, many for the first time, organised Go Dundee for the end of February. I was asked to speak and was most impressed by the turn out and vitality of the whole affair. Other things are now planned. Then, much to my surprise and pleasure, I was offered an honorary degree from the University of Abertay in Dundee. This is a university I know a wee bit about and I was delighted to accept. IT is a new university and the Scottish students they attract tend to be people who come from families with little connection to university education. It is easy to look down on new universities, and not see them as properly academic, but I think they are doing some really interesting and relevant work at Abertay. I like the fact they passionately believe in the importance of multi-disciplinary approaches to learning. They are also trying to change the culture of the institution through the manipulation of physical space. For example, they have lots of open plan offices and learning centres where the emphasis is on interaction and conversation. Not typical of universities where it is all too easy for academics to shut themselves away in offices in anonymous corridors.
I collected my honorary doctorate on Friday in what must have been one of the best days of the year. The continental atmosphere of students milling round in the sunshine in the square in front of the Caird Hall was added to considerably by a market in the streets in the Centre of Dundee. Dundee tends to get a very bad press. “Like Glasgow, only smaller and worse”, is how I’ve heard it described. But, in fact, it has so much to commend it. Apart from its superb location on a wonderful river it has some very beautiful buildings. There are also lots of plans to enhance the city further by eradicating some of the horrible 1960s tower blocks which, like many cities, spoil the skyline and detract from the attractiveness of some of the surrounding buildings. Indeed much of the impetus behind Go Dundee is to encourage people to start valuing the city more – to see what is good and could be built on rather than concentrate on all the negative features.
And the third way that Dundee has been forcing its way into my consciousness is through the writer Bill Duncan. His book ‘The wee book of Calvin’ has proved very popular and lots of people have mentioned it to me. Duncan comes from Dundee and is very much seen as a North East writer. In fact the book is subtitled ‘air kissing in the North-East’. I finally managed to read it a couple of weeks ago. Duncan is a witty and accomplished writer. However, I could barely manage a smile. Indeed I found it one of the most poignant, and sad, books I’ve ever read. In fact, I feel so moved by it I think I’ll devote my piece in the next newsletter to Duncan’s analysis. But for those who can’t wait that long here’s a quote to ponder. In the final section Bill Duncan has a test to see ‘if you are a Calvinist’. Most are fairly predictable but one has such a personal note to it: “You have lost someone who loved you but who was unable to suffer your inability to return love and you are aware of the space that his has placed in your life forever and your heart knows that you could not behave in a different way if you could relive this chance of happiness.”

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