Peter Ross – The Passion of Harry Bingo (4 stars)

Peter Ross – The Passion of Harry Bingo

Warm and meticulous journalism from a writer intrigued by the lives of others

'Keen yet kind,' is how Peter Ross would like his journalism to be thought of, the description lifted from the recent Joan Eardley exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, which was viewed by Ross on the day Donald Trump became President. Even his introduction to this new collection of writing – the follow-up to 2014's Daunderlust – is a joy to read in its own right, a manifesto for journalism which is simply intrigued by the lives of other humans for the sake of their stories being told, rather than obsessed with the obfuscatingly sensational and the grindingly political.

Ross cites Orwell as an inspiration, not surprisingly, but it's for his warmth and humanity, rather than the more tub-thumping reasons readily adopted by others. Yet Ross starts with politics here, as if to get it out of the way. 'The whole day felt diseased. Stillborn, diseased, a thing of smirr and haar, hard words and soured dreams.' He's talking of the first day 'After the Referendum' in 2014, and his opening piece takes the temperature of a hangover of a day in a manner which represents all concerned with crisp honesty; such balance isn't dispassionate, it simply funnels the passion of others without getting swept up in their fervour.

More typical subjects for Ross are the men who take part in the Clavie fire ritual on the Moray coast; Stephen Gough, the Naked Rambler, who Ross goes hiking with on the morning of his release from prison; or 97-year-old Partick Thistle fan Henry Calderhead, the 'Harry Bingo' of the title, who Ross shadows, fanning the embers of his subject's lifelong obsession into a slow-burning reflection on life. There are forty-two such stories in the book, each meticulous yet fiercely readable, and possessed – even in tragedy, as some are – of a sense of urging to discover the stories which live all around us.

If Ross' voice is occasionally over-reverent, this feels as though it comes from a sense of privilege at being trusted to carry these stories for others. The main sadness, for fans of such writing, is that most of these pieces are half a decade old and more, the market for such expansive newspaper writing being on the wane in Scotland, in particular. Yet Ross has managed two books now and hopefully he can gather material for more before long, the format giving his writing the increased permanence it deserves.

Out now from Sandstone Press.

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