Horrors on the Cowgate

We’re well into August which means Edinburgh’s population has expanded to bursting point. Every spare nook and cranny turns into either a performance space or a boozer. Last year at this time I was working out of town so escaped the worst of the madness in the Old Town, but this year I have a different job with my office right in the heart of it all. This means that I not only get to experience the best of the cultural offerings on my doorstep, but sadly also see some of the worst.

Edinburgh is well known for the ‘tartan tat’ shops which pervade the Royal Mile and surrounding streets (questionable wool products! bagpipe versions of your favourite pop hits! kilt towels! tartan EVERYTHING!) and as a resident you get used to them. They bear no resemblance to the Scotland or Scottish heritage any of us know, but they clearly serve a purpose to visitors or else they wouldn’t survive (and keep multiplying). It takes something really bad, then, to jump out at you in how ill-informed and misjudged it is. But, ladies and gents, I found something. Hiding away in the Cowgate is Slangevar. A bar and restaurant according to their website, their banners state that Slangevar is “the Gaelic for cheers”. No, no it’s not, that would be Slàinte mhath. Phonetically: slahn-chuh vah.
Here I am, standing in the rain having just seen the sign. As you can see, not very impressed:

I’m willing to forgive not using proper spelling if the phonetic reading of a name or word is accurate and makes sense, but in this case it’s just plain incorrect. It’s so infuriating to see and smacks to me of nothing but laziness. Many people would claim not to know a word of Gaelic, but use the word slàinte themselves whenever they raise a glass. It’s embedded in folks knowledge, much the same way many words of Scots are too.


From the website. Edinburgh has never been this sunny.

I applaud anyone who wants to incorporate some Gaelic into their company identity, but it’s an affront to those of us who are part of that culture when it’s taken for granted. Do your research (you can do worse than starting here) and pay someone if necessary to research it for you. You’ll do us all a favour, and not make a fool out of yourself.


Into a new year


I spent Hogmanay afternoon walking through the city centre, feeling unutterably scunnered with Edinburgh. The city turns into a theme park at this time of year, with large sections barricaded off and constant disruption for anyone just trying to get from A to B. Needless to say, the festive cheer I was clinging onto from Christmas had long gone.

So I went home. The hours passed, some fireworks went off. Wine was drank, sleep was had, the calendar changed. By contrast, the following day, lots of venues across the Old Town were transformed into tasters of places beyond the city limits. Music, video, dance and participation in islands, rural communities and places elsewhere. This is precisely what I needed this New Year; to think of being anywhere else. That this was delivered so nicely to me, and the thousands others in attendence, through beautiful venues in the heart of Edinburgh is suitably ironic. I wished only to escape but ultimately the best of other places was brought to me through this frustrating but peerless city.

My favourite event of the day came from Sea Bird:Land, hosted by An Lanntair in Stornoway. Turas is Tumadh; sounds of the sea, coast, boats with a video projection and live score by Aidan O’Rourke and pals.

Some links for anyone interested:

Full info on the Scot:Lands event here.

A review by Sarah Laurenson of the Tumadh : Immersion exhibition held in 2014.

Bliadhna mhath ùr – happy new year – to one and all.




BA3As the pile of job applications keeps growing and as my annual Winter cold takes an ever stronger grip on my sinuses, I thought I’d take a minute or two to round up some things I’ve been enjoying recently. There surely is no soul on this earth who enjoys filling in job applications with or without a cold.

It’s just a few days ’til the launch of Celtic Connections in Glasgow. It’s always a feast of interesting, challenging and inspiring music and with some of the best horo-gheallaidh you could ask for in the Festival Club. I can’t wait!

BA2I recently read The Silent Weaver by Roger Hutchinson and was reminded of the beautiful and enigmatic works of Angus MacPhee. Some of these are on display in Kildonan Museum in South Uist; I’ve spent a lot of time entirely transfixed by them. The Silent Weaver does justice to the man and his work as well as setting it within the wider context of mental health care in the 20th century.

A winter walk to see in the New Year. We took a trip north, enjoying the snow, trees and frosty landscapes of the uplands around Blair Atholl. I love Perthshire at this time of year. Photos in this post from that walk.BABA4

Yesterday heralded the old new year (interesting article by Angus Peter Campbell in the link) so with that I wish you all bliadhna mhath ùr.

Books unbound

Throughout August, Edinburgh is transformed into a city of endless culture. Multiple festivals run across the month offering every kind of entertainment imaginable. One of these is the Edinburgh International Book Festival. For anyone interested in anything related to books/reading/literature, it is a haven amidst a quite overwhelming number of shows and performers.

Last year the Book Festival started up a series of events called Unbound. These are free evening events where authors appearing otherwise at the festival come along and perform. Last night Kristen Hersh of Throwing Muses was performing songs and doing readings from her book Paradoxical Undressing (released last year in the States as Rat Girl). To my shame, I didn’t know much about Hersh or her musical background before going to this event. I’m not sure why – everything about them is exactly to my taste. I dare say had I known about them as a 16 year old my life would have been transformed…

Hersh didn’t speak much really except to read from her book – a few passages followed by two or three songs, followed by another passage, and so on. From the moment she sat down and began to sing, I was transfixed. I don’t always enjoy reading memoirs so I wasn’t sure what to expect of the readings but I liked that it was more stream of consciousness than anything. Perhaps that it was based on diaries she kept contributed to that. But it was her songs that really drew me in. She has a remarkable voice and is an extraordinary guitarist. In one of her readings she described her attitude towards music. Now, I wasn’t taking notes and a horrible head cold means my memory is fried so I can’t really remember the exact words, nor do I have the book as a reference. Regardless, the description was something along the lines of music being so fundamental to her being that it is almost physical – songs create themselves within her and she has to expel them in order to maintain some kind of wellbeing. Her description was much better than that but you (hopefully) get the idea.

I found her to be a totally engrossing performer. When she sang her eyes stared fixedly ahead, only moving to glance briefly at what her hands and guitar were doing. Though she was singing songs composed years ago and lyrics which she will have sang endless times, it sounded to me like she had never sang them before. There was an incredibly freshness to her performance and her description of her music being something almost elemental seemed apt indeed. It felt completely natural, even the sometimes ethereal noises made in place of actual lyrics. I’m looking forward to listening and exploring Throwing Music and reading the book in due course.

I didn’t take any pictures but there are some nice portraits here from the evening.