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!)

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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.

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.

The Scottish Parliament

I’ve just returned from a (literally) flying 48 hour visit to Edinburgh. The weather was stunning – I even caught a touch of sunburn – and although I’ve lived in Canada for a more than half my life, the trip reinforced how much Scotland holds my heart.

I spent the time with a friend I made many – many – years ago when we were both students at Aberdeen University; she studied Politics and International Relations while I majored in Social and Economic History. Having both lived in Edinburgh at various times in our lives, we felt we knew the city well, but one place neither of us had ever visited was The Scottish Parliament building at the foot of the Royal Mile by Holyrood Palace.

Parliament

The  building itself caused lots of controversy when it was commissioned; designed by a Spanish architect, it ran horrendously over budget.

What were those images of whisky bottles on the walls? we asked the guide.The famous quote by Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns came to mind; Whisky and freedom gang th’gither.

‘Aye,’ the guide replied, ‘that’s what everyone thinks, but it’s supposed to signify people looking over the politicians’ shoulders, so they know they’re always being watched.’

whisky bottles

And then we came across a copy of poem, Open The Doors, written by Sottish makar Edwin Morgan for the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in 2004. Although it was written specifically for the re-opening of the Scottish Parliament, there are lines in there that every politician around the world- be they local, national or federal – should recite every day before they begin their day’s work.

A Poem by Edwin Morgan
For the Opening of the Scottish Parliament, 9 October 2004

Open the Doors!

Open the doors! Light of the day, shine in; light of the mind, shine out!

We have a building which is more than a building.
There is a commerce between inner and outer,
between brightness and shadow, between the world and those who think about the world.

Is it not a mystery? The parts cohere, they come together like petals of a flower, yet they also send their tongues outward to feel and taste the teeming earth.
Did you want classic columns and predictable pediments? A growl of old Gothic grandeur? A blissfully boring box?

Not here, no thanks! No icon, no IKEA, no iceberg, but curves and caverns, nooks and niches, huddles and heavens syncopations and surprises. Leave symmetry to the cemetery.

But bring together slate and stainless steel, black granite and grey granite, seasoned oak and sycamore, concrete blond and smooth as silk – the mix is almost alive – it breathes and beckons – imperial marble it is not!

Come down the Mile, into the heart of the city, past the kirk of St Giles and the closes and wynds of the noted ghosts of history who drank their claret and fell down the steep tenements stairs into the arms of link-boys but who wrote and talked the starry Enlightenment of their days –

And before them the auld makars who tickled a Scottish king’s ear with melody and ribaldry and frank advice
And when you are there, down there, in the midst of things, not set upon an hill with your nose in the air,

This is where you know your parliament should be And this is where it is, just here.

What do the people want of the place? They want it to be filled with thinking persons as open and adventurous as its architecture.
A nest of fearties is what they do not want.

A symposium of procrastinators is what they do not want. A phalanx of forelock-tuggers is what they do not want. And perhaps above all the droopy mantra of ‘it wizny me’ is what they do not want.

Dear friends, dear lawgivers, dear parliamentarians, you are picking up a thread of pride and self-esteem that has been almost but not quite, oh no not quite, not ever broken or forgotten.

When you convene you will be reconvening, with a sense of not wholly the power, not yet wholly the power, but a good
sense of what was once in the honour of your grasp.
All right. Forget, or don’t forget, the past. Trumpets and robes are fine, but in the present and the future you will need something more.

What is it? We, the people, cannot tell you yet, but you will know about it when we do tell you.
We give you our consent to govern, don’t pocket it and ride away.
We give you our deepest dearest wish to govern well, don’t say we
have no mandate to be so bold.
We give you this great building, don’t let your work and hope be other than great when you enter and begin.
So now begin. Open the doors and begin.

Edwin Morgan

Wartime Rations – Day 26

burgerDinner tonight was real hot comfort food before going out into the cold Hallowe’en night trick-or-treating; homemade hamburger, roasted squash and mashed potatoes.  Burger: ground beef, breadcrumbs, chopped onion and seasoning to taste, bound with a little tomato ketchup.  For the squash; I chopped it into  bite sized pieces, sprinkled the pieces with a tiny bit of sugar and cinnamon, tossed them in some melted butter and roasted them uncovered in the oven at 190C for about 35 minutes.

For dessert, my husband and I chopped up one of the toffee apples I made yesterday into pieces and shared it. It tasted so delicious that we decided we’re going cut up the apple next time before dipping it into the syrup and leaving it to harden. Sounds decadent… but within our wartime ration allowances!

I’m heading out trick-or-treating with my granddaughter shortly (her first time!) so a very quick catch up with The Glasgow Herald for October 31st, 1944.  One article in particular caught my eye.

The Population Problem:  Scotland is definitely a younger country than England or Wales, but an examination of the Registrar General’s figures show that in both countries the population is ageing. Women of child bearing-age between 15-45 in 1937 formed 24.2% of the population but within the next generation they will drop to 18.5%.

At the end of the South African War, children formed 1/3 of the population, today they form 1/4. If the same story continues, in 70 years time the number of children in Scotland would be halved to 1/6th.

Population breakdown: Scotland 1944
Population 5 million
2 million live in 4 cities.
1 million live in 26 large towns
1/2 million live in 66 medium towns
1/2 million live in small towns
1 million live in rural areas.
2/5 of the population live within 20 miles of Glasgow

Given that it’s now exactly 70 years since that report looking into the future, I thought I would check out the current statistics. It makes for interesting reading.

In 2011, the population of Scotland was 5.2 million.

The population of the 5 major cities was as follows:
Glasgow:   592,820
Edinburgh: 486,120
Aberdeen:  217,120
Inverness: 56,660
Stirling:  89,850

If children are defined as aged 0-19 years of age, they made up 22.39% of the population in 2011.

If children defined as aged 0-14 years of age, they made up 16.14% of the population in 2011, almost the exact prediction from 1944.  Fascinating!