Saturday, 29 November 2014

Elgin

We're currently sitting in Emily and Jack's house, on a hillside above a very charming little Northern Scottish town called Elgin. I'm reliably informed we're in a county called Moray. Who'd've thought?!

We stayed in a lovely B and B last night which is run by two former professional figure skaters. It was an absolute delight to spend an evening chatting to them whilst sipping Scottish whiskey. We actually had a number of people in common, including Colin Retushniak, a Canadian skater who happened to work as a producer on Our Gay Wedding: The Musical.

We opened the curtains this morning and were greeted by a view of moorland, farmland, pine woods and distant glowing mountains. The area is really rather quirky because it's filled with army and RAF bases. In the dell of one of the hills, a load of aeroplanes and hangars were poking through the mist.

Today's lecture went incredibly well. Gordonstoun School is situated in stunning grounds. I was expecting a somewhat stuffy institution, possibly ostentatious, with brand-spanking new facilities like the many public schools I've previously visited, and wept over. Instead, we pulled into a rather charming, laid-back, happy kind of place which felt like a sort of wonderful 1950s holiday camp.

We delivered our lecture in a little hall to about 200 sixth formers, who were hugely polite and attentive. We spoke for about an hour without incident, but for a tiny technical mess-up which meant we had to ditch one of our film clips.

Afterwards, a group of LGBT kids from the school came and chatted to us, one of whom was a young girl from Hong Kong. She'll be a wonderful ambassador for LGBT rights when she returns to her home country. Actually, I felt that about all the kids we met today, who come from countries all around the world. Many of them will be future leaders and ambassadors, and will hopefully return home with enlightened attitudes.

Over lunch, a young Russian lad came to talk to us, wanting to take issue with us for criticising his country's anti-gay laws. "The laws" he claimed, "aren't homophobic, they are there to protect straight people from being converted." We tried to argue with him, but his eyes glazed over like a Born Again Christian. With any luck, during his time at the school, a more enlightened attitude will slowly embed itself in him, but his aloof, almost arrogant self-belief made me realise what a steep uphill climb LGBT people in other nations will have on their journey to equality.

One of the Indian students at the school told us his cousin had come out as gay, and subsequently disappeared, which was deeply chilling.

After lunch, Jack, who is the head of drama at the school, took us on a tour of the site. The high point was almost definitely the extraordinary "round square" and entirely circular 17th century building with an entirely circular courtyard within. If you stand by a stone in the very centre of the courtyard, an extraordinary acoustic effect rings out; a curious tinny echo, the like of which I've never heard. There's actually a smaller stone, which sits on the larger one, specifically so that you can strike one with the other to make a noise to test the acoustic. Brilliant.

We walked around the edge of the grounds, along the "silent walk" and to a beautiful little school chapel in a little copse. It's so odd to think that this is the school of most members of the royal family... A school of kings, and princes and dukes... And yet, humble somehow.

Jack took us back to his little farmhouse, through Elgin and past all manner of curios, like a deer farm with hundreds of the animals peering out from a hay barn.

The house is absolutely fabulous. We sat and ate cous-cous with Emily and Jack's polite, witty and highly intelligent children, in front of the wood burning stove, whilst one of their dogs ran in circles in front of us like something from a brilliant comedy drama. A perfect day.

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