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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Gawsy and furthy

There was a diverting piece by Andrew Marr, a political journalist, in one of the broadsheets recently in which he described his means for removal of surplus books. In summary, phase one consisted of discarding university and other textbooks which had been kept solely for the purpose of proving he had once read them; step two was for novels which he admitted to himself would never be read again; after all stages were complete he was left with classics and poetry. If only I could do the same! I produced the last catalogue of my modest collection in 1988 and since then there has been a steady acquisition policy and little has been sent to the charity shop. How could I let go my copy of Hardy’s Pure Mathematics even if I never read it again and have not done so for 40 years? Imagine consigning actuarial classics such as Fisher and Young or Day and Jamieson to a skip! Personal Computing on the VIC-20 may, I admit, have few uses nowadays but it’s not the publications filed under ‘Maths, Statistics and Science’ that are the real problem. Within ‘Sociology’ is The Female Woman by Arianna Stassinopolous. This 1973 tract is now a museum piece as far as I am concerned but she once courted Bernard Levin whose newspaper columns were required and witty reading. The connection having been made the book is now secure. As for fiction you should know I live in hope that my 1968 first edition of Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge will one day be worth a fortune.My books are currently boxed pending decorative works to the house by a firm of local painters – all that is except my core classics collection which was rehoused, separately and reverently, very recently. Therein are the volumes collected by my father in the 1930s when he was in his 20s and undertaking his process of self-education, having left school at the age of 14. I found myself reading Annals of the Parish by the Scotsman John Galt (1779–1839). First published in 1820 it became number 427 of the 934 titles in the Everyman’s Library launched in the early 1900s by JM Dent & Sons. I suspect thousands of these trim tomes are secreted in bookcases and attics clutching within their covers memories of minds opened by their availability and modest cost. The Annals describes the observations of a fictional parish minister in coastal Ayrshire for a period of 51 years from 1760 to 1810. It is gentle, wry and light, and depicts the impact on the ‘simple habits and manners of remote rural life’ of events such as smuggling, the rebellion in America, the French Revolution, and Bonaparte, or the construction of the first factory. It was Galt’s Scottish response to The Vicar of Wakefield before he was involved in the Canada Company which brought settlers to the western part of Upper Canada (now Ontario). Galt, indeed, founded the city of Guelph. His career as a writer was inevitably overshadowed by Sir Walter Scott and the Waverley novels. The Annals is written in the vernacular dialect and it’s similar to reading Shakespeare in that the whole makes sense but occasional words do not. I am obliged to a Scottish pal who enabled me to determine that a woman described in the book as ‘gawsy and furthy’ was probably plump and affable.

Caledonia soulThis Caledonian excursion was concluded at Christchurch Priory, Dorset where Harry Christophers and The Sixteen performed sacred music as part of a tour which began at Southwark Cathedral last October and concluded at Paisley Abbey, Glasgow in June. The concert included works by Robert Carver, a canon at Sterling College, whose compositions range from 1513 to 1546 and whose ‘O bone Jesu’ is a pre-Reformation Scottish jewel. The programme featured a new, extraordinary, and memorable setting of this same motet by the contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan which I hope will last another five-hundred years. It certainly deserves to.