Feb 032012

In the concluding part of Voice’s interview with author Maggie Craig, she talks of life as a NE inabootcomer who’s only been here for 20 years. By David Innes.

How do you write? A laptop in a particular place? The classic 500 words every day no matter what, which you go back and edit later on?

Not quite. 500 is a paltry number of words. 2000 is a good total for the day. I have a computer upstairs and I go up there and work for the morning until about one or two o’ clock. I write about ten thousand words, six or seven chapters, and then go back and start shaping it. I think of it like how my auntie used to make butter, patting it into shape.

The book I’m writing just now started because I saw a photo of a man’s face and there was something about his eyes made him look very sad.

He’s turned into a character in eighteenth century Edinburgh although his name’s Catto. His family’s from around the Methlick area, so Aberdeenshire is coming into it.

You’ve said that you admire what Aberdeen Voice is doing, but you believe there’s a lack of radicalism in the North East.

It’s not something I’ve ever been made aware of, although living out here I feel very dislocated from the city. But when I go into Aberdeen I don’t feel a heartbeat. You get that heartbeat in Glasgow although I know because that’s my own place, I would feel it. I was almost surprised when I saw Aberdeen Voice and I thought, “That’s great, there are radicals in Aberdeen!”, but the whole presentation of Aberdeen is that corporate, business “let’s go to the Oilmen’s Ball and we’re all doing charity for Marie Curie”  thing, so you’re not seeing that radicalism on the street.

I’ve been coming to Aberdeen and the North East since I was a wee girl and there’s so much there but much of it’s occult. I’m really interested in the folklore but it needs to be explored. North East people seem to be terribly backward at coming forward. What infuriates me is when you go into the bank or the Post Office and they stand so far back and you go, “Go forward! You’re the bloody customer!” It’s almost like you’ve got your cap in your hand.

Well, let’s discuss the Turra Coo.  Let’s marshal the arguments

When I was speaking to the kids in Ellon, I said, “I don’t think the Turra Coo reflects very well on the North East”, and one girl looked horrified. She’d obviously been brought up to think that the Turra Coo was a great story, but you had to be very careful about political views as you could lose your job.

I have this friend who, when she was at school, only twenty or thirty years ago, was told because she was a farm labourer’s daughter, “You’ll never make anything of yourself”. That’s what’s been done to young minds. She’s an intelligent girl, but doesn’t think that she is because she’s been told she’s a neep. There are a lot of entrenched attitudes, I think. You have to teach people to think for themselves, to give them self-esteem. That’s so important.

The kids at Ellon Academy impressed me. They’re getting a good education, but it’s so focussed on them passing exams and not, “Well, let’s discuss the Turra Coo. Let’s see what you think. Let’s marshal the arguments”. It’s stimulating to change your mind on something you were brought up with. Or not, of course.

There’s a meeting in January about some cultural development in Aberdeen. They’re using the usual jargon, it’s going to be a “step change” in the cultural life of the city and Aberdeenshire, but what I liked was that they’re saying that culture should not always be associated with the money it can earn. Culture and creativity should be there for their own sakes. Aberdeen needs more of that, I think, as it all seems to come down to the bottom line.

I’m sure industry’s highly-successful. I’ve met radical people who have worked for oil companies but you don’t say anything there either, do you? You might be the equivalent of Not Required Back.

It would be interesting to research it, to see who got into trouble for standing up for the laird.

So will you write something about this area?

People always ask if I’m going to write about Aberdeenshire, but I’ve not really got under the skin of it. When I found out my mother was from the Haddo House estate I thought that was interesting and could be something to look into, to find out what was going on, but that’s going to come later.

There are wee snippets. I’m fascinated byAberdeen Harbour, the Shore Porters and so on, so I’d love to write something about that.

I did a talk about a non-fiction book to an Aberdeen Ladies lunch a couple of years ago and that tribal thing was so funny. I don’t sound like I come from the North East, so people make judgements that you’re an inabootcomer. But when I said to them that my mother came from Barthol Chapel, it was like, “come in”, they embraced me.

That’s not always the way though. Naively, I thought that since my mother came from near Oldmeldrum, that might help, but to some people even not that far away from there, it might as well be Istanbul!

Thanks to Maggie for giving her time to talk so passionately about her work and what drives it. We fervently hope that her muse inspires a book about her adopted Aberdeenshire and NE Scotland.

Nov 102011

A quest for recognition for the wonderful Doric comedian, Dufton Scott. By Katie Scott on behalf of the Scott family.

One of my earliest recollections (aged about 6) is nursing an orphaned baby lamb in the kitchen of my Uncle’s Willie’s Cothal farmhouse.  I remember begging his wife, my lovely Auntie Betty,  to ‘speak in  English’ so I could better understand her wonderful stories and tales.

Every long golden summer of my childhood was wrapped in the delightful Doric language of my relatives – we (my mum, sisters, brother and I) travelled the long journey from England each year – my mother’s accent changing with each mile north we travelled till it finally reverted to the language of her own childhood and matched that of the Doric spoken by her sister (my Aunty Betty) and my father’s brother, George Scott.

He used to run the newsagent and booksellers in Inverurie; Dufton Scott and Son. You may remember it? The building belongs to Kellas Solicitors now.

I was born in Nottingham in 1956, the youngest of four children. My father, Gavin Scott (George’s brother), had moved with my mother (Janet Monro) to England after the war.  My father was named after his father’s good friend and colleague, Gavin Greig.  Greig was a folksong collector, playwright and teacher.  My Grandfather (Greig’s friend) was Dufton Scott.

Dufton Scott gained great fame in Scotland as an entertainer and humourist.  (You can read more about him at the North East Folk Archive ).  Dufton died before I was born but I have discovered a lot about him, and I now find myself with a mission – and that mission is to bring my grandfather’s work to the attention of all Doric speakers and lovers of North East Scotland.  I am trying to have a commemorative plaque erected in Inverurie; let me tell you a little bit more about this quest.

In April 2010 my brother (also named Gavin Scott) died leaving no children.  He was the last of that Scott line. (Children born to my sisters and I have taken their fathers’ names).

Gavin’s death provoked a strong desire in me to find my roots. I began to trace our family tree (you may be interested to hear that I discovered that Robert Paterson, of the ‘Turra Coo’ fame, is my second cousin, on my mother’s side).  However, I became more and more fascinated with Dufton Scott and his work.

We sisters, Rosalind, Norma and I, talked for a long time about our childhood memories, and we all vividly remember listening to scratchy old 78 records of Dufton’s incomprehensible language telling his funny tales of farm workers and their masters, men and women, lawyers and farm servants.

We also had a couple of his books – equally impossible for us English youngsters to comprehend (Norma fared a little better, having the advantage of at least being born in Scotland).

It was just an oddity to us then, but as I have grown older, I’ve come to realise the great significance of these stories and of the man, Dufton Scott.

The Quest is going well I am pleased to report – Hamish Duthie from Kellas Solicitors has kindly agreed to the plaque being erected on their property.  Malcolm White, a Development Services Assistant (Buchan & Garioch) is helping me with the legal aspects.  We are hoping to hold a celebration of the unveiling of the plaque during the Doric festival next year.

Several people have offered help and support with this, notably Sandy Stronach, the Director of the Doric Festival: www.thedoricfestival.com, Charles Barron, who is a retired academic and Doric playwright:  www.charlesbarron.co.uk and Lorna Alexander, Doric writer and story teller.

Have you heard of Dufton Scott before now? How do you feel about our quest? Can you offer any ideas or support ? I will write again on this subject when we have more news.

More info about Dufton Scott here: Dufton Scott 1880 – 1944




Nov 122010

By George Anderson.

In these post credit crunch-times, with predicted belt-tightening likely to bring tears to a glass eye, I wonder whether there might be resurgence of the cheap funerals (known in the patois of the north-east of Scotland as ‘froonyals’) of my youth.  A good illustration would be the froonyal of my uncle Chunty in 1968:

Chunty’s family huddle together in the front pew. This is due more to a failure of the chapel radiators than anything related to a group hug. The pews behind the immediate family creak under the combined weight of people to whom Chunty is related through drink. The organist battles his way through a double time version of ‘Abide With Me’.

This has been written specially for low cost funerals by the Reverend Melrose Nochty himself.

Melrose strides in to the chapel and ascends to the pulpit two steps at a time. At the summit, he signals the organist, Mr Leiper, to pack it in—sharpish like, by throwing a hymn book at his head. Melrose starts talking before the final strangled blasts of air struggle out of the organ pipes.

‘Up ye get,’ he says, and lifts his palms toward the rafters. The congregation scramble to their feet.  ‘Dearly beloved, et cetera, et cetera, and et cetera … Matthew, Mark, Luke and John … pearls before swine … Sit doon.’

He fishes an alarm clock out of the dark recesses of his ministerial garments, winds it up, and slams it down on the edge of the pulpit. The congregation sit down.

Melrose is talking faster than an auctioneer at a cattle station in Woolawonga. “Stand up! The Lord may well be my Shepherd, but let’s face it”, he waves a hand toward a plywood casket , “judging by Chunty’s pitiful record of church attendance, it’ll be easier for the Turra Coo to pass through the centre o’ a doughring than for Chunty tae enter the Kindom o’ Heaven.

A thundercloud of Old Testament wrath passes across the Reverend Nochty’s scowling face

Now, sit doon, sit doon for God’s sake. I haven’t got all day.”

From his lofty perch Melrose looks down at the organist’s toupee.

‘Mr Leiper will now play an ex-tremely short extract from the twenty-third Psalm.’ Mr Leiper’s fingers scurry over the keys like mice fleeing a burning barn. Eight bars in, Melrose again signals Mr Leiper to cease and desist, this time by repeatedly banging a hymn book on the edge of the pulpit and shouting ‘All right, that’ll do, this isn’t an organ recital, Mr Leiper.’

Melrose clasps his hands before him and closes his eyes. “Jonah in the belly of the whale…Sermon on the mount… Feeding o the twa thoosan”—’ a voice from the back of the chapel, interrupts.

“Is it nae five thoosan’, minister? The feedin o the five thoosan’?”

A thundercloud of Old Testament wrath passes across the Reverend Nochty’s scowling face. He speaks. “Listen pal, you shouldnae’ even be here. Now sit doon.”

“I am sittin doon!”’

“Well, stand up and then sit doon.”

He pauses, grips the edges of the lectern and looks at the congregation with a measure of contempt normally reserved for the criminally insane. His voice drops an octave. “There’ll be weepin”,’ he says “and there’ll be a fair skelp o wailin’ intae the bargain.” He stabs a finger in the vague direction of the front pews. “An’ by Christ, teeth’ll be gnashed ‘n’ aa! Stand up, sit doon, and pey attention”.

Now it is the widow’s turn to interrupt.  “Will ye be much langer?’ she asks. ‘Only, there’s a steen’ cold cert rinnin’ in the three thirty at Perth and the nearest bookie’s fower miles awa.”

Melrose gives her the vees and gathers from the alarm clock that it is time to wind up the service. “Get up and start prayin, real fast”, he says. He lowers his head fast enough to get whiplash. “Oh Lord, please tak’ Chunty tae yer bosom. In yer own hivvenly time, of course, but seener rather than later, if ye dinna mind. I’ve anither three o these to get through afore lowsin’ time.”

He raises his arms and clears his throat. “Ashes tae ashes, stew tae stew, Chunty’s awa, and so are you”, Melrose’s alarm clock goes off, forcing him to raise his voice. ‘Sit doon, stand up, and shove right off.” The congregation do not have to be told twice; there is a stampede through the chapel doors reminiscent of the opening thirty seconds of a Next sale.