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29 October 2014
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Naomi Mitchison

The novelist and politician Naomi Mitchison was born in Edinburgh on this day in 1897.

A prolific and popular writer, she wrote socially relevant fiction in genres as diverse as the historical novel and science fiction. Her brother was JBS Haldane, the pioneering geneticist. Politically active from her Carradale home on the Mull of Kintyre, she was a lifelong Socialist, Scottish Nationalist and campaigner for women's issues. She died aged 101 in 1999.

Today in 1695, Scotland made a serious bid to enter the lucrative English sea-trading market. The Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies issued a subscription list to stockholders in London. Later known as The Darien Company, £300,000 sterling was quickly raised, but London merchants saw it as a threat to their own East India Company. They put pressure on the King, and the English subscriptions were withdrawn at the behest of their government. Within a year, thanks mainly to the enthusiasm of a misguided company director, Scottish subscriptions brought the capital back up to £400,000 sterling, a considerable proportion of Scotland's entire wealth.

This was the beginning of the ill-fated Darien affair: all the capital was spent, as ships and many lives were lost in a series of disastrous expeditions to a malaria-infested colony on the Panama coast.

Today's recipe: a sharp dressing makes for mouth-watering mussels.

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