Men are lazy as a rule. It has been said that mankind can reason the same way cats can swim. We can do it, but will generally avoid it if at all possible. So it is with me. Only under the spur of events, unpleasant events, do I find my thinking freed from hidden constraints. So it was a few weeks ago. I was rushing along a motorway heading for Edinburgh. My aim was to find a new venue for the talk by Gilad Atzmon as the original venue had cancelled. This was before he was assaulted in an Edinburgh Street; but, even then, we already knew what sort of opposition was gathering to oppose his ideas.
Those ideas are collected in a slim volume called Being in Time – a Post Political Manifesto. They are thought provoking and prompt questions in the mind of the reader. What they are not, is dictatorial. On the contrary, Atzmon does not lay down rules and solutions, but instead argues that authenticity, honesty, open-ness and debate should take the place of a narrow and sterile political culture that no longer represents anything real.
As I sped along, I passed a familiar landmark; one in which I had never really found any meaning: until that day, that is. The landmark was the Kelpies and suddenly I felt an instinctive understanding of their dramatic shapes. Despite the pressure of time, I took the next exit and went for a quick visit.
The Kelpies statue is of two horses’ heads one on each bank of a recent extension to the Forth and Clyde Canal. They are huge, dramatic sentinels placed either side of the new waterway which reconnects the historic canal with the forth estuary at Grangemouth. This replaces an artery severed, in an act of centrally planned vandalism, by the M9 motorway construction in 1968.
Why horses? Well, on one level, these commemorate the heavy working horses that provided locomotion on the canal and elsewhere. This, it appears, was the major inspiration for the sculptor Andy Scott. The title, however, was selected by the client: The British Waterways Board. It means something quite different.
As the Helix website states:
The Kelpies name reflected the mythological transforming beasts possessing the strength and endurance of 100 horses; a quality that is analogous with the transformational change of our landscapes, endurance of our inland waterways and the strength of our communities.
So we see the common 21st Century political themes; communitarianism and transformation. These are political statements or perhaps that should be POST political statements by a statutory body; a creature of government. And why did they select Kelpies as their subject? There is more than the equine to these beasts.
Douglas Harper, historian and founder of the Online Etymology Dictionary, defines kelpie thus:
1747, Scottish, of unknown origin, perhaps related to Gaelic colpach "heifer, steer, colt;" colpa "cow, horse." The Lowland name of a demon in the shape of a horse that was reputed to haunt lakes and rivers and to delight in causing drownings. But unlike its equivalents in Danish (nøkken) and Icelandic (nykur), it occasionally was benevolent, especially to millers by keeping their streams running.
Or, as wikipedia describes:
Kelpie, or water kelpie, is the Scots name given to a shape-shifting water spirit inhabiting the lochs and pools of Scotland. It has usually been described as appearing as a horse, but is able to adopt human form. Some accounts state that the kelpie retains its hooves when appearing as a human, leading to its association with the Christian idea of Satan as alluded to by Robert Burns in his 1786 poem "Address to the Deil".
And for the poetic, here is the relevant stanza from Address to the Deil:
When thowes dissolve the snawy hoord,
An' float the jinglin icy-boord,
Then water-kelpies haunt the foord
By your direction,
An' nighted trav'lers are allur'd
To their destruction.
What benighted travellers will these Kelpies allure to their destruction?
What was the reason I did not drive past that day? What spoke to me then and not before? It was this: the Kelpies seemed to be a physical form of the strife and turmoil that Gilad Atzmon and I were experiencing. That is why I stopped to gaze at 100 feet high stainless steel colossi. Their meaning was suddenly apparent. And, as I stood there, the detail became apparent too. The pair of heads occupy opposite banks of the canal. Viewed looking downstream towards the sea we have one on the left bank and one the right. Different but the same.
The left bank horse is writhing, tortured, anguished and clamorous. Like the political left it is vigorous in demands and complaints, uncontrolled and wild. Clearly dangerous and operating more on emotion than analysis . In contrast, the right bank horse is calm, serene, dignified and self controlled. Like the right in politics it appears safe, unflappable and trustworthy, but is also disinterested, disconnected and static. Yet they are both the same, both shape-shifting, both deceptive, both with a hint of the satanic in their D.N.A. They are born to deceive.
And who will they deceive? None other than the benighted travellers in the world of ideas. And benighted seems a most apt term for the body politic in the UK, defined as being “in a state of pitiful or contemptible intellectual or moral ignorance, overtaken by darkness”. Was there ever a better description of our people at present?
So, dear reader, whether you are tempted by the dignity of the right bank kelpie or the passion of the left bank Kelpie, remember; they are not what they seem. Like Atzmon, pass them by. Study instead the origin of ideas; test and understand what is being offered to you. Develop your thoughts independently of such cults as political parties. Expand your mind not in private or in echo chambers where all men and women think alike. But instead do so openly, in debate and discussion, always ready to learn.
"Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matt 7:14)
Do not follow the kelpies.