Edinburgh – City of Writers

You’ve got to love a city that has a museum dedicated to writers.  The three celebrated in Edinburgh’s Writers’ Museum – Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and R.L. Stevenson – remain widely read and revered even today.  Sir Walter Scott has been credited with ‘inventing’ the historical novel with tales like Kidnapped and Ivanhoe, we all sing Robert Burns’ most famous song, “Should Auld Aquaintance Be Forgot,” at New Year, and who hasn’t dreamed of finding their own Treasure Island or been frightened by a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde character.

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For a small city of less than half-a-million people, Edinburgh has produced (or been the home to) an amazing number of writers.  Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, Irvine Welsh, J.K. Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith, Iain Banks, Ian Rankin, Robert Fergusson, Muriel Spark, Kenneth Grahame.

Outwith Edinburgh, the list of Scottish writers includes J.M. Barrie, Val McDermid, Louis Welsh, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Nigel Tranter, Alistair MacLean, A.J. Cronin, Dorothy Dunnett, George MacKay Brown… it goes on and on. and on…

For a wee country, Scotland delivers a ‘muckle’ literary punch.

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SCOTTISH WISDOM

castle-campbellAlthough I was born and brought up in Scotland, I’ve lived overseas for so long now, that sometimes I forget just how rich and humorous and wise some Scottish sayings are.

Here’s just a sampling.

WE’RE A’ JOCK TAMSON’S BAIRNS. (We’re all Jock Tamson’s children.) We’re all the same under the skin/ We’re all God’s children. (Here’s an interesting link as to who Jock Tamson might have been.)

ANE AT A TIME IS GUID FISHIN’. (One at a time is good fishing.) Be content with your life. Don’t look for everything at once.

MONY A MICKLE MAKS A MUCKLE. (Many small things make a lot.) Lots of little things add up into big things.

AULD CLAES AN’ CAULD PORRITCH. (Old clothes and cold porridge.) After a period of expense, it’s back to basics. Or… after a holiday, it’s back to real life.

WEANS WI’ BIG LUGS TAK IT A’ IN. (Children with big ears take it all in.) Watch what you say in front of the children.

YER JAICKETS’ ON A SHOOGLY PEG. (Your jacket is on a wobbly hook.) You’re close to being fired from work.  (Maybe not a wise saying, but I love the imagery!)

Visiting Glasgow – Byres Road

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All cities have their iconic streets. One of my favourites is Byres Road in Glasgow’s West End. It stretches from the working class district of Partick at one end, to the beautiful Botanic Gardens and mansions of Great Western Road at the other. With both the University of Glasgow and, until their recent move to Pacific Quay, the BBC Scotland studios close by, it has a vibrant, diverse feel to it.

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Visiting Byres Road on my trips back to Scotland, it remains familiar, and yet new enough, to still excite me. I love how Byres Road honours its past by not knocking down ‘old’ buildings, but by repurposing them, turning an old church into a theatre,  and an art deco cinema into a restaurant.  The city – and street – is alive!

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My grandparents used to live about halfway up Byres Road, and I spent a lot of time there when I was a wee girl. Much has changed since then. The pork butcher shop, which I remember having tiled walls, carcasses hanging from hooks which dripped blood onto the sawdust covered floor, is now an Oxfam shop, while Colquhouns, where we used to go for lunch on a Saturday, now houses a Pizza Express.

Across the road from their flat was Ashton Lane, now a trendy mews, with the famous Ubiquitous Chip restaurant and entrance to the Grosvenor Cinema.

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Byres Road has many of the stores you expect to see on any High Street – Boots, Marks and Spencer Food etc – but there are some great independent shops too where you can buy  unique gifts.

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And if you fancy getting a cup of coffee from ‘The Tardis’ you’ll find that there too!

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The butcher shop I remember has long gone, but down near the Partick end there’s another butcher with a good sense of humour.  I used to hate potted meat!  Yes, I guess that means I was a ‘toff’.

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And if you fancy stepping back into history, pop into Curlers Rest (formerly Curlers) for a drink. Established in the 17th century, it used to stand beside a pond where – you guessed it – they curled in the winter.

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Ross Ainslie

As an emigrant from Scotland, and with Burns Night almost upon us (January 25th), it can be all too easy to get caught up in twee images of Scotland and its music.  You know what I mean – pipers marching through the glens, kilts a-swinging, belting out Scotland the Brave.

And while there is definitely a place for all that, my visit back to Scotland for The Perthshire Amber Festival last October, really opened my eyes to the vibrant contemporary Folk Scene that currently exists in Scotland. Especially in the world of piping, where I was introduced to the music of Ross Ainslie.

What can I say apart from – What a musician! With his tattoos, long hair and ripped jeans, he is definitely not your traditional image of a piper.

Unfortunately, none on the photos I took at his concert turned out, but here’s a wonderful clip of him performing from Youtube. Check it out. The energy of the music is intoxicating and exciting.

But Ainslie can also play beautiful, mellow and traditional.  Below, you can hear him playing on my most favourite song, Caledonia.  (at 2mins 46secs and 4 mins 22secs.)

 

Swimming Cows

Visiting a museum in Dunkeld, Scotland, a few months ago, I came across the term ‘swimming cows’ for the first time.

Back in the day, droving cattle from the Highlands down to the markets in Crieff and Falkirk was huge business and the major source of income in the Highlands. From Crieff, the cattle were herded south to England, where their meat was in great demand.  At the peak of the industry, 100,000 cattle left the Highlands every year. The droving way of life only fell into decline with the arrival of the railroads in the mid-19th Century.

But what has this to do with ‘swimming cows’?  In the days before bridges were available – or their tolls affordable – the cattle had to be swum across rivers. If the lead cow could be persuaded into the water, the herd would follow. But occasionally, if his herd balked at crossing a particular river, the drover might hire a local ‘swimming cow’ to lead the cattle safely across. This ‘swimming cow’ would then be returned home to await being called on by another herd.

Even in this day and age, cattle are still swum across rivers or seas to fresh pastures. I came across this article about a farmer in Skye who swims his herd across the water to fresh pastures every year.  Now in his 80s, he used to swim alongside them, but now accompanies the herd in a row-boat.

And if you’re wondering what happened to the drovers when their industry collapsed, many travelled to America and became cowboys on the famous Cowboy Trails.

If you’re interested in learning more, please check out this documentary of a modern-day recreation of a drove from the Isle of Skye to Crieff.

Shakespeare By The Bow – The Tempest

We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.

I’ve always found this quote by Shakespeare both inspiring and comforting, so it was wonderful to hear it spoken aloud yesterday evening at Theatre Calgary’s production of The Tempest, performed in an outdoor setting amongst the trees of Prince’s Island Park.

Shakespeare By The Bow – formerly Shakespeare In The Park – is a quarter-of-a-century old Calgary tradition, giving newly graduated drama students the opportunity to practise their skills under the direction of a professional theatre company.

And flex those acting muscles they certainly did last night, with performances that were energetic, funny, thoughtful, considered and assured.

And magical.

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With a female Prospera replacing the traditional male Prospero, the setting was perfect and the costumes inspired. The audience captured all ages. (And species! I spied a few dogs there too.) Many audience members had come prepared with blankets, deck chairs and picnic baskets, while others, cyclists and joggers out for a run, or families out for an evening stroll, stopped to take in the entertainment.

This is the final week for Shakespeare By The Bow  – it ends on Sunday 16th – and I highly recommend taking a trip down to Prince’s Island Park to catch one of their final performances.  Please check out Theatre Calgary’s website for further information.

IT’S A BRAW, BRICHT, MOONLICHT NICHT, THE NICHT.

scottishblogIf I’m being totally honest, there are probably places in Scotland where they really do talk like that.  In fact, many years ago, when visiting Aberdeen, (150 miles from Glasgow where I lived) I struggled to figure out the nationality of the people sitting at the table next to me in the restaurant. Were they Dutch? Scandinavian?  Turns out they were Aberdonians, but with their Doric accents, I could understand very little of what they said.  (Eg Fit like?  –  How are you?)

Writing accents in a novel is tricky. Too much can turn readers off by pulling them out of the story as they try and work out what you’re trying to say. Too little can have a diluting effect as your story could be set anywhere.

As a Scot who’s lived in Canada for many – many – years, here are some common contemporary phrases I notice when I go back to Scotland on holiday. If you’re writing a modern day novel set in Scotland, you might find some of them useful to add a little colour to your setting.

WORDS:
Wee – Scots use this a lot.  Wee monster.  Wait a wee minute.  Wee boy.  It’s a wee way up the road.
Wean – (sound like wane)  A small child.
Rubbish – Garbage/trash.
Hiya! – Hi!  Hello!
Outwith – eg Outwith my control. – Outside (out of) my control.
On your tod – On your own.
Suss out  – Figure out
Uh-huh – yes
Aye – yes
Wheeching along – moving very fast.  eg wheeching along the road
Scooshie cream – Canned whipping cream.
Dead – Very.  eg dead nice
Toilet – Washroom
Bahookie – Butt
Cooker – Stove
Hoover – vacuum.  (I’m going to hoover the carpet)
Messages – groceries.  (I’m going for the messages. I’m just going for the shopping/groceries)
Kirk – church
Chum you – Accompany you.  eg How about I chum you along the road?
Go down the town – Go downtown.

OBSERVATIONS:
irnbrulolliesIrn Bru is Scotland’s soft-drink equivalent to whisky. In fact, I think I’m right in saying that Scotland is the only country in the world where its own homemade soft drink outsells the other ‘big two’ soft drink companies. The adverts claim it’s ‘made from girders’, and I have it on good authority that it’s great for treating a hangover. As you can see, you can also buy Irn Bru in ice lolly/popsicle form. (Check out this classic Irn Bru Commercial and see how many Scottish landmarks you can identify.)

Alcohol is sold in all supermarkets and village stores. The only time it’s not available is on a Sunday morning until 12.30pm – when you should be in church.

Children are usually allowed in lounge bars and pubs – with their parents – until 8pm.

Midgies (Scottish mosquitoes) arrive in May and go right through the summer until August. They are a tiny, but major, irritation and can spoil a holiday if you’re not prepared. To avoid them, stick to the beach, make the most of a windy day, or make sure you’re wearing repellant.

The longest running police drama in the UK was ‘Taggart’, set in Glasgow.

Glasgow Kiss/Glasgow Coma Scale. One leads to the other. A Glasgow Kiss is a vicious headbutt. The Glasgow Coma Scale is the scale used in hospitals worldwide to assess consciousness (or lack of it!) following a head injury.

There’s a (friendly!) rivalry between Scotland’s two major cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Depending on where you’re from, you might say that the best thing about Glasgow is the road to Edinburgh, or…  You can have more fun at a Glasgow funeral than you can at an Edinburgh wedding.

Back in the 18th/19th centuries, Glasgow was a major centre for the international slave/sugar/tobacco trade and was known as the ‘Second City’ of The Empire.

The three major Scottish Banks (Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank) all issue their own banknotes.

The Screen Machine is a truck that brings a mobile cinema to the Scottish Isles and remote Highlands so locals can catch up on the latest films.