This is very interesting and enjoyable. In providing a view of a life in Scotland between 1926 and 2011 it is an asset to our understanding of our culture and its recent history. Anyone can learn from it.
Irvine is an example of the Scottish `lad o' pairts': from a humble background he struggled upwards out of poverty reaching the upper strata of society wherein he became an influential force for good and latterly a celebrity, internationally known as a public speaker. How was the transformation achieved?
The family, partly dysfunctional though it was, the community, the local school and chance all played their part. So too were a good memory and a pleasing soprano. In the thirties, before television, entertainment had to be supplied within the community. The child was put on stage and enjoyed the experience. He loved the language (had attended elocution lessons, learned the value of spoken verse) and made others do so because of his performance. It was the rector of Falkirk High School who suggested he become a lawyer, after first reading history, a favourite subject. The influences of people he met were strong: a St Kildan Free Church minister, a choirmaster who introduced him to music ( an intellectually enhancing factor all his life), a dominant grandmother and an aunt who was a well-travelled governess of the great and the good, among others.
Though a local authority grant covered fees, his attendance at Glasgow University was only possible because he could travel from home every day; a second degree in law funded by a part time job as librarian for £300 a year (more than twice the pay of a manual worker); and, reading for the bar, a bursary awarded by the university.
Surprisingly, even at this early period, he managed to belong to a wining and dining club, which resembles, in a way, the dinners the young legals were required to eat in preparation for the English bar. His talent for friendship was nurtured here and will have served him all his life which is enviably full of friendships, all of them enriching and developing, many made at dinners when he was a speaker.
Irvine defended 5 people in capital murder trials, for which they might have hung, one of whom was. In the first, when he was a junior of just 4 years standing, he was chosen by Len Murray as solicitor ahead of many seniors and fully justified this confidence. These and many other cases, some of them civil and esoteric, are discussed in detail. One of the most notable is the Ibrox disaster on 2nd January1971, when 66 people were killed and 200 injured leaving the stadium by stairway 13, all with the same cause: too many people crowding into a confined space in a downward direction. If one tripped, the others piled on top of him. Alcohol so soon after New Year was a factor. The pursuer, widow of one of the deceased, got £27,000 in compensation. The attitude of the football club is unbelievable. There had been 4 accidents in the same place during the previous ten years and nothing had been done except (once) to compensate the victims with 2 complementary tickets, afterwards withdrawn! In 1961, 70 were injured and 2 killed. In 1967, 11 were injured. In 1969, 29 were injured.
The directors and officials of the football club had no care whatever for the spectators in this Glencoe massacre of 1971, were fully responsible and their evidence was a juvenile fabrication of lies. Oddly, fervent support for Rangers meant too many could not understand that their football club had let them all down.
This is a very interesting account of the Scottish Legal system during the second half of the last century. It reveals a life which has been and is full of rich friendships and, therefore, interesting and some of them very able people. One of the most interesting is an Italian prisoner of war who worked without wages during it on a farm in the Denny hills. After the war he continued there on the same basis, refusing wages because it would mean paying income tax. He enjoyed the life, the family and his needs were few. He lived until he was 91. A lesson there?
This is a life worth reading about because it enriches those reading it. There is advice on public speaking and we see his choices and critical decisions. It is a life of many enjoyments, despite the stresses of defending people whose lives are at stake which actually damage the practitioners. There is music, ballet, opera, poetry, conversation and good food and wine, these are Irvine's world; and walking the hills with dog and gun and lecturing on Scottish Legal History and performing, speechifying and reciting to music. A full life spiced with humour. From the dreary Falkirk tenement near the Ironworks to Sir William MacEwen's mansion beside the great majesty of Arran: uphill all the way.
Question: Does Falkirk High School now provide the same stimulus in Shakespeare and poetry generally? I doubt it! How many will have heard of Sir Toby Belch? Any?
What is missing? A chunk cut by the publisher, a typical mistake by folk anxious to leave their marks on things they do not fully appreciate or understand. An index. More examples of that excellence of insight and argument which can be found in the law and which are probably ( I have no connexion with it) its gemstones, the finest productions of it. I think of 3 opinions about a case in contract law I once read in a volume of Appeal Court Cases. One was labyrinthine and I gave up trying to understand it; another seemed a short hurried blast which did not illuminate the problem. But the third was a revelation: the mind that wrote it shone a bright light into a confusing mess and suddenly everything was as clear as day. Where are the beautiful arguments?