Term is over, teaching done, the sun is shining and the rain falling. But there's a shard of ice in this morning, in the news that Ian Bell - redoubtable voice he was - has died. As Bella says, his writing "gave a rhythm to the week." He was constant, smart, and smiting, sometimes cantankerous but always idiosyncratic in the best sense of the term. I struggle to remember a time reading Scottish newspapers, when Ian's insistent, dryly-humourous prose did not feature. Throughout my adult life, he has been there.
A column like Ian's was a sustained engagement with another person's humanity. Across months and years. With their preoccupations and their inclinations, their sympathies and antipathies, their blind-spots and the things they see with a penetrating clarity all of their own. I'm reminded today of this verse from one of my favourite poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, As Kingfishers Catch Fire:
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.
Selves is absolutely right. Ian spun a life from words. No doubt elements of his personality, his feelings, himself remain elusive. Writers always reserve something of themselves. That's as it should be. But many, many people will be stricken by today's news. People like me, who never met him, yet nevertheless felt a keen sense of a whole personality, won over months, column by column. We worked our way back from the ink, to the hand, to the man. And we can only be heartsick today.