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.

writers museum

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.

writer quote

Happy Hallowe’en

Growing up in Scotland, Hallowe’en was the most magical of nights. First would come the carving of the turnip; two triangles for its eyes, a twisted slash for a grin, a candle perched inside, and string worked through the sides to create a handle.

turnip

Party pieces perfected, we’d get dressed up in weird and wonderful homemade costumes and go out guisin’, the glow from our turnip lamps lighting our way down streets glittering with frost, to visit friends and neighbours.  (No knocking on strangers doors and definitely no calls of Trick or Treat back then.) Invited inside, we’d then have to perform our poem or song, and if our audience was pleased with the recitation, we’d be rewarded with an apple, orange, peanuts, or best of all, a silver coin… or two!

Back home, Mum would have slathered crumpets in treacle and attached them to the pulley in the kitchen.  With our hands behind our backs, the game was to see who could be first to eat them.  That would be followed – fortunately – by dookin’ for apples.  If you didn’t manage to grab an apple with your teeth, at least the treacle was washed from your face.

dookin

According to some historical accounts, it was Scottish and Irish immigrants who brought these traditions to North America. They developed over the years to the Hallowe’en celebrations kids enjoy now.

And talking of the Scots, it turns out that Robert Burns wrote a poem capturing the Hallowe’en rituals of 18th Century Scotland.  No, I’m not talking about Tam O’Shanter, but another entitled, simply, Hallowe’en, which describes the lingering pagan traditions in the Scotland of his time. Even I found myself struggling with the Scots version, so here’s an English translation.

Whatever your traditions, have a Happy Hallowe’en everyone!