Engage brain

IMG_20180817_132308683Last time I was writing here here I was living in what seemed like a snowglobe. The small town in which I live was cut off from its neighbouring city for many days meaning there was no option but to switch off and enjoy the dramatic weather. Since then another two seasons have passed and I’m staring Autumn in the face. It has been a busy spring and summer with the pressure of working two jobs equating to a 40+ hour working week (in a good week) taking its toll. There has not been very much extra brain space to maintain this online space, far less write anything of use, interest or purpose.

IMG_20180817_132524543But so it is that a few things have happened in a past little while that have had my mind turning to the niche subject I’ve spoken about here before: Gaelic language and the landscape, heritage, interpretation…

Firstly, I visited a site I hadn’t been to in 20 years and reminded myself of what it is that I love so much about archaeology. It isn’t the ‘strong personalities’ of people who have been in the sector almost twice as long as I’ve been alive, nor is it often incestuous working relationships between different organisations. It’s the sheer majesty of a place like Glenelg, the monumentality of a broch and the pure enigma of a place where we still, ultimately, don’t truly know what was going on. It’s the childlike sense of arriving somewhere, looking at something and thinking “woah, I wonder…”. That experience is missing in the daily grind of my working life and how to go about recapturing it more frequently is evading me at the moment.IMG_20180817_133719798

Secondly, coming across and being involved in discussions of the use of Gaelic in relation to promoting heritage. I have a lot of thinking to do on this subject but I’ve seen a few instances recently of Gaelic-related resources being promoted in good faith but with a use of language (in English) which implies an othering which makes me really uncomfortable. I’m thinking out loud here as much as anything so, no, I’m not naming and shaming (at this point) though the promotional activity has always been from an organisation not an individual. Is it a matter of poor choice of words (likely), a lack of knowledge or understanding (also likely), ill feeling and/or lack of respect (hopefully not) ? Is it simply a case of Gaels being misrepresented (again) and therefore the language and culture, too? I’m not sure where these thoughts are going or, really, ultimately where the fault lies but I know I’ve been feeling deeply uncomfortable – both as a Gael and as a heritage professional.

img_20180817_131903407.jpgTo end on a happier note, the interpretation panels at Glenelg are great – and Gaelic-led! – fitting nicely into the site without distracting from the sheer awe-inducing nature of the site. They’re far from brand new but do everything you want a panel to do, and bilingually as well.IMG_20180817_133558720

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Last gasp of winter

snowrooftops

I cannot sleep. I’m not sure why. Ordinarily I don’t have this problem. I’ve slept through neighbouring houses being struck by lightning (Black Isle, 2000), a marching pipe band rehearsing outside my window (Aberdeen, 2003), waves crashing against the front door (Black Isle, 2005 + Islay, 2012), 90mph winds against my window (Uist, 2014) and the countless, endless noises that come with years of city-living. But at the moment not even the relative silence of suburbia I find myself in can help me sleep.

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This morning I stood awake at 4am, alone, quietly watching the weather outside. I felt like some auld fisherwoman, waiting for her man to return from the high seas. Despite it being the middle of the night, in Scotland, in February, it was quite bright. We are experiencing a late winter burst of weather complete with snow. The snow clouds working hard above us have an almost luminous effect; I find it irresistible.

Later, at an hour most would regard as a bit more human, I went out for a walk with my partner. It was real daytime, not the middle of the night, but that strange snow-light remained, bathing us in the gloom, surrounding us with drifting snow showers.

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I appreciate that unpredictable weather must be a hindrance to so many people, but I adore it. I take little more pleasure than wrapping up for a walk and facing the weather head-on. At those times I feel less like an auld fisherwoman and more like an intrepid explorer. Perhaps I will sleep tonight, cocooned safely from the great white outdoors.

According to Dwelly, February was once, somewhere, referred to as am mìos garbh-fhrasachthe month abounding in boisterous showers. It seems fitting to think of it as such today.

Birds in the garden

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Sparrows, sparrows everywhere. Once a wren and a few times a robin. More starlings than I can count and enough wood pigeon to bend the feeder out of shape.

Having a garden is a joy – even more so than I had anticipated moving into a ‘proper’ house. It is north facing and as such this time of year it is largely just soggy grass but none the less the birds are there and happily going about their business. No thanks for the humans and their food supplies, but none are needed.

In our previous residence, a flat up in skies, we saw birds living in the tops of the trees immediately outside the living room and kitchen windows. It in itself was a pleasure but having no means to support them meant weeks could go by without seeing a single flutter and the nest in the tree alarmingly quiet of young. Not so now with feeder and dishes of various treats and temptations out for the birds. So far none of the blue tits, chaffinches or wagtails I’ve seen elsewhere around here, but there is hope for that yet in 2018.

Sparrow photo © Jose B. Ruiz / naturepl.com

Eun
– bird
ee-an

Eòin – birds
Yaw-yn

Gealbhonn – sparrow
gyall-uh-vun.   Gaelic has an abundance of words where vowel sounds between consonants are pronounced but not written (svarabhakti vowels, for those wondering). That uh between the l and bh in Gealbhonn is such an example.

Druid – starling
droo-tch
Dreathan donn – wren
dreh-han down

Have a listen to this love song from Tobar an Dualchais wherein a woman falls asleep on Ben Cruachan, dreams of a sparrow (and a cuckoo) and her old flame. It’s called Dh’Èirich Mise, Rinn Mi Gluasad and was recorded in 1952. I’m quite fond of it.

Thanks to Arkive and respective photographers for use of photos.

Wren photo © Jim Zipp / www.ardea.com

Of the sea, on the wall

My partner and I bought our first home together earlier this year. After years of living in rented accommodation where even moving furniture is problematic, far less painting walls or heaven forbid actually removing furniture, we’re happily living in something of a white box, with everything being entirely of our choosing.

Shortly after moving in, I took delivery of an antique bureau given to me as a present by my parents for my 21st birthday. It’s installed in a corner of the spare room, and hanging above it the only thing we have up on the walls: an old printers tray.

It’s not yet filled – I don’t think it will be for some years – but each filled space represents a walk, visit or holiday somewhere special. I think it’s quite nice to look at – of course I do, I’ve chosen everything that’s in it – bit more importantly it’s a collection representing places, landscapes and the people I experienced them with.

I enjoy staring up at it as I work at my bureau, trying to piece together where everything has come from and considering future additions.

Some of my favourite pieces:

Conan mara – sea urchin
conan mar-ah

Faochag – Periwinkles, wilks
Fuh-chag. The -ao here is not easily replicated, as it’s just not a sound that exists in English. It’s somewhere between the sounds duh and doo. The -ch is always pronounced as in ‘loch’.

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-Snaidhm ròpa – rope knots
sh-na-im raw-pa

Sporan-feannaig – Mermaid’s purse, an egg case
sporr-an fyen-ak

Faoiteag – Groatie buckies or cowrie shells
Fuh-tch-ak (It is very good luck to find these!)

Names for bivalves, molluscs and the like vary hugely from region to region. All the Gaelic names listed above are fairly ‘standard’ but don’t be surprised if on speaking to someone you find they have almost an entirely different vocabulary for talking about the same thing. It doesn’t make life easy for the Gaelic learner but it does make life more interesting.

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Forestry, lochs but no otters on Skye

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I’m fortunate enough to visit Skye on a fairly regular basis. Having family there means that in exchange for a spot of baby- and animal-sitting I’ve got free accommodation in one of the world’s most famous tourist destinations. So far, so smug. But in realist, family comes first and so it is that most visits to the island don’t involve much sightseeing outwith our own wee area. Even so, there are still places nearby which have eluded us on multiple visits. One of these was,  the Forestry Commission Scotland visitor hide at Kylerhea, famed for expansive views, otters and being right next to the last manually operated turntable ferry in Scotland.

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The surroundings are impressive, we didn’t see much in terms of wildlife. Even so, within the side there was a wealth of interpretation and information about what we *could* have been looking at. The slight sting of disappointment aside, I was taken aback by just now how good the interpretation panels were. The south of Skye, Sleat specifically, is home to a really strong community which has been at the heart of the Gaelic language and cultural renaissance over the past 40 years. Even so, it’s possible to go to many, many places across Skye and not see a word of it.

I think my cynicism was out in full force when we went to Kylerhea as I was so taken aback by the bilingual interpretation that I just stood going “look! look how good this is! Look! Are you looking?” rather than just letting my partner enjoy the views and read as he wished.

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The interpretation uses Gaelic in a way that isn’t just accurate but really meaningful to the language and the inherent connection it has to the landscape. This isn’t just a translation of one piece of text to another but has Gaelic at its heart; it is the place itself that it speaks of. It helps the visitor understand what it is about Gaelic that is important to the surroundings. It’s all very well and good providing the English translation of a Gaelic place-name, but why should anyone care about the name in its original language? Here, such questions were answered, explaining the value of understanding even a little of the language. It’s precisely the kind of thing I’m forever wittering on about to anyone who’ll listen so it’s incredibly edifying to see a national organisation doing the same. I think my favourite aspect of it is that there is no song or dance made about it – it is simply the interpretation that works best for the subject matter, location and the wider landscape. That in itself seems too often a forgotten consideration at so many sites.

Top marks to the Forestry for taking this approach – it’s one that many other places would do well to follow.

– Apologies for the dodgy quality of photos in this post; they were taken on my mobile phone in a fit of excitement with little consideration given to their public usage.