MY grandmother, Catherine MacLennan, died at the age of 96. She was born in a little village on the North Applecross coast, in which there was no electricity or running water or even a road to link it with Shieldaig, eight miles away. She used to tell me stories about her own mother watching the cottages being burned by the factor and the people being moved down to the coast and onto worthless bits of land where, in fact, my grandmother was born and raised.

Consequently when she married her husband, who came from the neighbouring village, they had to move down to Clydebank so that he could get work at John Brown’s Shipyard as a ship’s carpenter. He helped to build two liners, named after queens, which were Mary and Elizabeth.

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They lived through two world wars, the first of which could have been avoided if European royalty had not fallen out. The first war caused the second. Both wars took the lives of millions of innocent people. My grandparents lived through the Great Depression in which every penny was guarded so that they could raise their two children. They took cover in a wee air-raid shelter and took turns holding the door closed with a rope as Hitler’s bombs devastated the houses around them. They watched their only son go off to war, later to be told that he had been “lost in action”. Some weeks later he was located, alive, but had been badly wounded.

When my grandmother died, she was buried back home in Applecross. Those attending her funeral all knew her well and loved her. They were there because of that deep affection for a wonderful lady who had struggled all her life to care for others and who had suffered poverty without complaining.

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Last week, another old lady died at 96. She had lived a life of luxury surrounded by unimaginable wealth, and the very best of health care whenever it was needed. An ancestor of her own had led the brutalisation of the Highlands and islands in the 18th century, when approximately 40,000 people were murdered after the battle of Culloden. The regime set in place by the Duke of Cumberland brought about the destruction of these communities, the culture and the language and was the reason my grandmother was born on a worthless piece of land by the coast.

That lady’s ancestors were actively involved in the European royal family disputes which helped to bring about the First World War and, by its outcome, initiate the Second World War. That lady’s ancestors were great supporters of the Nazis in the 1930s and there are photos of them taking the Hitler salute. The same family has been involved in scandal after scandal down through its history.

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My grandmother was mourned by those who loved her, because they knew her and had shared her life. We are, currently, in a period of enforced grieving for a lady who had, I’m sure, plenty of admirable traits but only those who lived with her will really know. Millions of people are instructed to show grief by what they do, what they wear, what they watch on TV, how they dress, whether they play sport and what world news they are permitted to view. A lengthy period has been set for this enforced, visible mourning.

Grief is a personal thing. It cannot be enforced. Symbols of grief can be displayed in all their grandeur and millions can be spent to create a mourning environment. A state can force an army of soldiers to march exactly in step towards a battle. It doesn’t mean that these soldiers support the war.

May both ladies rest in peace. They are now equal.

Alasdair Forbes
Farr, Inverness-shire