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Tag: Scotland

Bos Taurus bossing

Monday, 13 August, 2018

The genus of wild and domestic cattle is called Bos, from the Latin bōs: cow, ox, bull. Arguably, the best known Bos Taurus breed is the black Angus from Scotland.

Bos Taurus

The Black Angus Bull

Out there in the paddock I hear the black bull
He never stops bellowing when the moon is full
I wonder does the moon affect him in some strange way
For I’ve never heard him bellow in the light of the day
The full moon does affect people ’tis said
It has an unsettling effect in the head
And if a mental weakness in humans the full moon can find
Why not it too affect the animal kind
He has his herd of cows with him yet I do wonder why
He bellows all night when the moon’s in the sky
During the hours of day he is always so quiet
And I’ve never heard him bellow on a dark night
But he never stops bellowing when the moon is full
Out there in the paddock the black Angus bull.

Francis Duggan


Done is a battell on the dragon blak

Wednesday, 28 March, 2018 0 Comments

Easter approacheth. Time for a preparatory poem and our choice is a masterpiece of Scottish medieval verse, Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro (Christ is risen from the grave), by William Dunbar (1460 – 1520). This is one of the greatest of early Easter poems in English and it has one of the greatest of all opening lines: “Done is a battell on the dragon blak” (The battle against the black dragon is done). The theme is the Resurrection and Christ is cast in the role of a noble knight.

Some of the language is easily decrypted but the gulf between our 21st global century and Dunbar’s early 16th-century Scotland is apparent. Here’s how he depicts evil:

The auld kene tegir, with his teith on char,
Whilk in a wait has lyne for us so lang,
Thinking to grip us in his clowis strang

In modern English, this can be rendered as, “The old sharp tiger with his teeth ajar / Which has lain in wait for us so long / Hoping to grip us in his strong claws.” Those “clowis” give bite to Dunbar’s language, which is a miscellany of elemental sounds and delightful alliteration: “Whilk in a wait” is wonderful. By the way, here’s a modern translation of the poem. And now, a snippet of the original:

Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro

Done is a battell on the dragon blak,
Our campion Chyrst confoundit has his force;
The yettis of hell are broken with a crak,
The signe triumphall raisit is of the cross,
The divillis trymmillis with hiddous voce,
The saulis are borrowit and to the bliss can go,
Chyrst with his bloud our ransonis dois indoce:
Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro.

Dungin is the deidly dragon Lucifer,
The crewall serpent with the mortall stang;
The auld kene tegir, with his teith on char,
Whilk in a wait has lyne for us so lang,
Thinking to grip us in his clowis strang;
The merciful Lord wald nocht that it were so,
He made him for to failye of that fang.
Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro.

The Dragon Blak


When A. A. Gill ate mutton in Scotland

Sunday, 28 January, 2018 0 Comments

It was October 2015 and it led to this memorable sentence: “Scotland remains the worst country in Europe to eat in if you’re paying — and one of the finest if you’re a guest.”

Background: A. A. Gill was an English journalist who died of cancer in London in December 2016, at the age of 62. Adrian Anthony Gill was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29 and he followed the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “12-step plan” to recovery. In tribute to the fellowship, he began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. His finest writing is collected in The Best of A. A. Gill and it covers his observations on food, television, life and travel. In Scotland, he met Peggy McKenzie, “a retired gamekeeper’s wife who was one of the most naturally in-tune, modestly perfect cooks.” Both discovered a mutual passion for… mutton.

“I, like you, had forgotten mutton. With a great marketing and agri con, it was replaced by lamb. If you look at 19th-century cookbooks, you’ll see very few recipes for lamb and hundreds for mutton. Wool is what made England its first fortune. Fluffy gold, sold to the merchants of Ghent. Sheep weren’t slaughtered until they were four or five years old. The most valued were gelded rams. But today, wool has no value, and farmers want an immediate return on their animals, so the sooner they can slit their throats, the better. And the more they add value to young, tender meat, the better. Except it isn’t better. Lamb is a bland, short, monoglot mouthful compared with mutton’s eloquent, rich euphemistic flavour. We’ve been cheated by agri-expediency to eat an inferior, flannelly, infantilised alternative. In fact, we’re led to believe that younger is better for all meat, when the opposite is the truth. Flavour, richness, intensity and complexity come with age. Mutton is the true, base taste of our national cuisine, and it’s gone.”

This is excellent journalistic writing. Staccato sentences that hit the reader between the eyes: “Wool is what made England its first fortune. Fluffy gold, sold to the merchants of Ghent.” Factual and musical is his description of worthy wool as “Fluffy gold”.

Mutton and child


Scotland the most beautiful

Sunday, 10 September, 2017 0 Comments

1. Scotland: And finally, the world’s most beautiful country is revealed: Scotland. Who can deny that these wild beaches, deep lochs and craggy castles are some of the most wonderful and beautiful sights in the world?”

That was the result of a poll of readers conducted by the Rough Guides travel publisher in a bid to determine “the most beautiful country in the world.” Angus Wright dutifully wrote up the result for The Scotsman, but it’s the comments on his article that take the Walkers Shortbread biscuit:

Rank Bajin: “It’s quite nice when the rain stops. Usually that’s March 28 and June 30 at 3:30pm. The rest of the time you can’t see anything”

Stewart Mckirdy: “Seriously ??? Who did Rough Guides ask ? people from Scotland presumably”

14152956259: “Not Scottish unionists, that’s for sure.”

Paolo Tognini: “Italy has 53 UNESCO World Heritage sites, highest number in the world on a country basis. Scotland has 6. It is obvious that none of the voters has ever visited Italy….. Mind you, I do like Scotland but this survey result needs a reality check.”

RejeanLavoie: “…or…Scotland needs more UNESCO sites and Italy has a complex?”

Ed Watts: “Paolo, with all due respect why “It is obvious that none of the voters has ever visited Italy…..” – I have visited Italy, and had little, if any, interest in UNESCO sites. Italy’s nice, undoubtedly – Scotland’s better.”

Filmmaker Adam Stocker would agree with Ed, there. After driving around Scotland in his (white) van, he made a short video titled “Scotland – Lochs, Mountains & Light”. He included lots of the most beautiful rain, too.


A sense of place

Monday, 10 July, 2017 0 Comments

Landscape is a mirror that reflects life. Those fields, woods, rivers and mountains reveal the soul of a place. The English filmmaker Max Smith began his “Sense of Place” series of videos in the Argyll Forest Park on the Cowal peninsula in the Scottish Highlands, and he’s just added the Cairngorms, a mountain range in the eastern Highlands that forms part of the Grampians. The two clips offer a combined seven minutes of sublime place.


Tweeds and tweets

Saturday, 3 December, 2016 0 Comments

Hackney-based filmmakers Jack Flynn and Nick David are Dog Leap and their fashionable clients include Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Sons Of London and the Harris Tweed Authority, which represents the weaving traditions of the Outer Hebrides islanders of Harris, Lewis, Uist and Barra. “The Big Cloth” is a short Dog Leap documentary about an industry that is transforming itself with new looms, young weavers, lighter tweed for the needs of a global market and tweets.


Danny MacAskill’s Wee Day Out

Thursday, 13 October, 2016 0 Comments

The Scottish bike artist Danny MacAskill from Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye leaves no trick unturned when he takes a two-wheeler trip around Edinburgh.

The background song is National Express by Neil Hannon and The Divine Comedy from their 1998 album Fin de Siècle. National Express is based on Hannon’s observations of life as seen from the window of a British National Express bus. Critics have accused him of sneering at the English working classes in the song:

“On the National Express there’s a jolly hostess
Selling crisps and tea
She’ll provide you with drinks and theatrical winks
For a sky-high fee
Mini-skirts were in style when she danced down the aisle
Back in ’63 (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
But it’s hard to get by when your arse is the size
Of a small country
And everybody sings ‘ba ba ba da’
We’re going where the air is free
Tomorrow belongs to me.”


Hodge and his lexicographer

Sunday, 18 September, 2016 0 Comments

On this day in 1709, Samuel Johnson was born. The poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer spent nine years writing his Dictionary of the English Language, which was published in 1755 and continues to enlighten and amuse: “Oats: a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”

The drudgery of lexicography was alleviated somewhat by Hodge, a cat the good doctor loved, and his friend and biographer James Boswell found Johnson’s relationship with Hodge so important that he preserved it for posterity:

“I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat; for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants, having that trouble, should take dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presences of this same Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying why, yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this; and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.”

Hodge is remembered by a bronze statue outside the house at 17 Gough Square in London he shared with Johnson and Barber, Johnson’s black manservant and heir. The statue shows the cat sitting next to a pair of empty oyster shells atop a copy of Johnson’s dictionary, with the inscription “a very fine cat indeed”.

Hodge


Film of the Year

Sunday, 20 December, 2015 0 Comments

On the outer edge of desolate Highland battlefield, a trio of witches predict that the Thane of Glamis will one day become the King of Scotland. Inspired by their prophecy and goaded into action by his wife, Macbeth murders the monarch and takes the crown for himself. What follows is classic Shakespearean tragedy.

This year’s screen adaptation by Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel of the 400-year-old work wins the Rainy Day Film of the Year award. Kurzel’s interpretation revolves around a pair of truly powerful performances by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Her fair is an ideal match for his foul and the film captures perfectly their intimate treachery as they plot to take the throne and keep it.

Justin Kurzel is equally good at depicting the psychological consequences of their crimes. When Macbeth confesses to his wife, after the murder of King Duncan, that his mind is “full of scorpions,” one can empathize with the director’s theory that this Macbeth is suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. Were those witches a hallucination? What about the fact that he can’t get any sleep? When he begins to talk to Banquo’s ghost, Lady Macbeth tries to calm the frightened nobles at the feast: Don’t worry. He’s had these turns before, she says. It doesn’t work, though, and the guests depart.

Macbeth is about power and the evil that people will do to get it, keep it and bequeath it. But all the cruelty of Mr and Mrs Macbeth begs a critical question: What’s the point in brutally grabbing a crown if you’re going to lose it within a generation? Tragedy.

Macbeth

Tomorrow, here, the Rainy Day Post of the Year award.


Drink of the Year

Thursday, 17 December, 2015 0 Comments

And the Rainy Day award goes to Caol Ila 12 Year Old Single Malt. Why? Because winter is here and ‘flu prevention measures have to be taken. Seriously. And this is a seriously medicinal single malt. Check out the Official Tasting Notes: “Nose: Subdued, citric fruitiness; a whiff of bath oil and dentist’s mouthwash. A little water raises almond oil and old-fashioned oilskins; still a fresh fruitiness (lychees?), a trace of olive oil, and after a while pot pourri or scented hand-soap.”

Kills bad breath, doubles as a deodorant and protects against the hospital bug — what more could one want? But that’s not all. Based on personal tasting, we can confirm that this remarkable whisky also delivers a tang of seaweed, a whiff of smoke, a glimpse of green barley, a hint of lemon pudding, a taste of treacle, a perception of salt, a smidgen of creosote and, depending on one’s temperament and temperature, wellness. Seriously.

Caol Ila

Tomorrow, here, the Rainy Day Video of the Year award.


The poetic game

Sunday, 23 August, 2015 0 Comments

The Scottish Lowland League football club Selkirk FC has hired a poet in residence. Thomas Clark, 35, will be the team’s wordsmith for the season, with his verse appearing in match day programmes and an end-of-season anthology. His published works include Intae the Snaw, a collection of Chinese poetry rendered into Scots, and a Glaswegian retelling of Alice in Wonderland. This is the business.

Take Shelter

It’s Scottish Cup day in Selkirk
An aw things are richt;
The redness on the leaves like yon,
The shinin on the watter like yon.
Och, it is a perfect day,
A joke for the guyin o the cynic an the pessimist
Wha woke up sure it would be comin doon;
An no a clood in the sky, nor a drap on the breeze,
Hints at the troubles aheid.

Thomas Clark

Facts: The people of Selkirk are known as Souters, which means cobblers (shoe makers and menders). Selkirk is twinned with Plattling, a town in Bavaria that was the home of SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler. On 1 May 2011, Plattling hosted veterans of the US 65th Infantry Division, who joined local people for the dedication of a memorial to the Division’s role in liberating the Plattling concentration camp in April 1945.