We decided to have an afternoon out in Dundee – well, don’t forget that some think its name means ‘Gift of God’ (donum Dei). First we went to the McManus Gallery to see some drawings by Leonardo da Vinci on special exhibition from the Royal Collection. There were only ten, and they were mostly really tiny, but with incredible detail. What fascinated me was the mirror writing that he used to write his notes at the side. He was left-handed, and right-to-left makes smudging the ink less likely, but mirror-writing calls for another step in mental agiility. or is it – as some say – evidence of neural abnormality?
Anyway, we were soon through with that and went on to some Scottish masterpieces, including gorgeous McTaggarts of Macrihanish Bay which made you want to get out there surfing right away. Plus gems by Raeburn and the Glasgow Boys.
Then on to the Verdant Works – a converted jute mill which tells the story of the industry and its impact on Dundee life. Basically, the Scots found jute in India as a cheap subtitute for flax, and destroyed the local cottage industry by exporting it to Dundee and using complex machinery to process it. Then as labour costs rose here, they exported the machinery back to India and created what is still a very thriving jute industry in Kolkata, who export eco-friendly bags and carpet backing back to Scotland. Well, that’s how it goes.
The jute industry provided much-needed jobs in Dundee, but largely for women (males were dismissed once they reached 18 and had to be paid a man’s wage). Men who couldn’t get other jobs – of which there were many – were called ‘tea-bilers’, who ensured hot water was ready for tea when the women got home. There was a picture of one dad cradling a baby, but I wonder whether they were really ‘house-husbands’. Probably had granny round the corner or even in the next room …