Apr 112014
 

Charles-Dickens-438x438With thanks to David Innes.

Aberdeen has been selected to host the 2016 conference of the international Dickens Fellowship.

Held last year in France and scheduled for Chicago in July of this year, this annual five day celebration of the life and work of Charles Dickens will be held in Aberdeen in July 2016.

Dr Paul Schlicke, a leading Dickens scholar and retired senior lecturer in English at Aberdeen University, formally presented the bid from the Granite City at a meeting of the Council of the Fellowship in London.

Charles Dickens (1812-70) came to Aberdeen on two occasions, in 1858 and 1866, when he gave public readings in what were then the County Rooms (now the Music Hall), and in 1849 he declined an invitation to stand as rector of Marischal College.

The Dickens Fellowship, founded in 1902, is the biggest fan club of a dead author in the world and has branches all over the world. Aberdeen’s group, started up in 2012, the bicentenary of Dickens’s birth, and affiliated with the international organisation this past autumn. It is not only one of the newest branches but also the only one in all of Scotland.

In the early days of the Fellowship’s existence Edinburgh hosted a branch, but it folded some fifty years ago. The international Conference has been held in Scotland only twice before, in 1929 and 1994, both times in Edinburgh. The decision to come to Aberdeen is therefore a tribute to the dynamism of the Aberdeen Dickensians and recognition of the city’s commercial and cultural importance.

A civic reception will greet delegates, and the conference will be a showcase for all the attractions of Aberdeen and the North-east of Scotland generally. It will be an opportunity to show off the city’s museums and art gallery and to provide excursions to regional castles and distilleries, to the Lewis Grassic Gibbon Centre at Arbuthnott, and to Hospitalfield House, the arts centre in Arbroath, at which a cache of Dickens’s letters has recently been discovered.

The University of Aberdeen will have a central role to play, providing accommodation, dining, and lecture and seminar facilities. An exhibition is planned in the magnificent new Sir Duncan Rice library, which holds one of the richest collections of Dickens materials in the world .

Renowned Dickens actors Simon Callow and Miriam Margolyes hope to perform at Aberdeen’s conference. The broadcaster, Aberdeen’s own James Naughtie, has agreed to speak at the conference banquet.

For more information about the conference including enquires regarding  sponsorship, participation and membership of the Aberdeen branch of the Dickens Fellowship, see the website https://sites.google.com/site/aberdeendickensfellowship/ or contact Dr Paul Schlicke at p.schlicke@abdn.ac.uk, or tel 07864945213 (moble) or 01467643337.

The University of Aberdeen is a charity registered in Scotland, No SC013683.

Oct 112013
 

With thanks to Stevie Kearney.

mag-cover_2A new training course for aspiring NE music journalists is being launched as part of the 57º North web portal, run through community media charity Station House Media Unit (SHMU).
57º North is the online music hub for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire and now, thanks to funding from Aberdeen City Council’s Cultural Grant Awards, free training is on offer for those who wish to learn all about music journalism and have their work published on the website.

Each course will comprise four two hour sessions. The aim is to teach writing skills, interview techniques and develop music industry knowledge, with those completing the course becoming accredited writers for www.57north.org.

Accredited writers will have the opportunity to score press passes for gigs and interview local and touring musicians.

There is no age limit and previous experience is not necessary, although applicants will need to display a passion for writing and promoting the NE music scene.

The classes will be offered on Wednesdays from 1800-2000, starting on October 23, at Seventeen, the city’s cultural hub on Belmont Street,

57º North Project Manager Stevie Kearney said:

This is a fabulous opportunity for people to learn all about music journalism and be part of a ground-breaking project, helping promote music in and around Aberdeen.

For years people have complained that the region’s music scene lacks a focal point – the opportunity is now here with a not-for-profit project and having an army of local music writers providing news, reviews and interviews is central to the successful promotion of the North-east as a hotbed of musical talent and culture.”

Launched earlier this year, www.57north.org provides everything the local music community could want, from gig listings and news, to artist profiles and a massive resources section. Last week the team published The 57º North Guide to DIY Gig Promotion, a free online document detailing the ins and outs of putting on a gig, designed to help develop more promoters and thus a more vibrant music scene.

The not-for-profit venture was set up by SHMU with backing from Creative Scotland and the project has had input from Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, Aberdeen International Youth Festival, Aberdeen College and Aberdeen Performing Arts.

Courses will run until the end of March. Places are limited but all applications are welcomed. For an application pack and more information, e-mail info@57north.org or call 01224 515013 and ask for Stevie Kearney.

May 312013
 

This has nothing to do with Derek McInnes keeping secret a raft of new players destined to bring the Dons trophies next season. Rather, it’s “a fascinating look at the history of the Granite City”, according to Black and White Publishing, learns David Innes.

“From Dr Fiona-Jane Brown, folklorist, educator, storyteller and founder of Hidden Aberdeen Tours, comes a book that will open your eyes to the hidden, the forgotten and the abandoned remnants of the past which lie under your feet as you walk round the city today.”

Our review copy is being digested by one of the Voice team, who almost qualifies as a forgotten and abandoned remnant of the past, and that review will appear in Voice very soon.

You can get your own copy and meet the author at the same time, as she’ll be greeting the public and signing copies of Hidden Aberdeen at WH Smith, St Nicholas Centre on Saturday 8 June and at Waterstones, Union Bridge on Tuesday 18 June.

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May 092013
 

Voice’s Nicola McNally interviews writer Maggi Sale, and explores the fascinating background to her first book.

Nicola: Congratulations on the publication of Dying Embers and Shooting Stars, Maggi. You’re joining the ranks of Scots women authors such as Janice Galloway, JK Rowling, Carol Ann Duffy and Liz Lochhead.

Yet I feel your novel is more comparable with Aberdeenshire author Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song. 

Your Dying Embers and Shooting Stars is alternately forthright and lyrical, haunting and challenging, and beautifully written with a strong narrative voice.

You introduce us to a captivating, resilient and increasingly self-aware character, Margo, a Scots lass like Grassic Gibbon’s Chris Guthrie, whose life also reflects the social, political and spiritual background in her country. So, what inspired the title of your novel?

Maggi: I wanted to convey that sense of circularity and interconnectedness of all things…. ‘out of the ashes, the Phoenix rises’. The book cover also suggests that notion of ‘looking through/beyond’ and hopefully conveys the concepts of space and wonder which are so lacking in our modern lives.

“Margo” is pretty close to home, of course, and there is no doubt that the reader is invited into her head, but I’d like to think that the situations and circumstances that she experiences are recognisable as being fairly universal. Yes, a lot happened to young Margo, but she survived to tell the tale! I write from the perspective of believing that what matters is not so much what happens to you, as how you respond to it!

I’m very honoured that you should link me with the likes of Grassic Gibbon. All I’d really written before this novel were hundreds of Social Background Reports on other people. My role as an inner-city Social Worker gave me the Statutory Duty, but also great human privilege, to ‘do a nosy’ into people’s lives.

This was usually at times of great crisis and I was both fascinated and humbled by the current ‘human condition’ and how different folk dealt with the challenges that beset them. Many were broken by them of course, but some seemed able to tap into something deeper and I would then really enjoy the task of writing fulsome Court Reports that would ‘bring them alive’, or so said the Sheriff! But he still sent them down.

I didn’t set out to write a Book as such. Things happened that I felt the need to record and I would print them out on the work’s printer. Colleagues would pick them up while I was out on a home visit and I’d return to clamours of “more”! They would usually be falling off their seats laughing in the tea room. We really are a heartless lot.

There is nothing quite like walking the length of the country to get the measure of the land and its people

Increasingly though, I was approached by individuals who were personally touched by the ‘story’ and I started to realise that it might have real therapeutic value. So I continued, while working full-time and also hosting a Global Exchange Group from India, and a “Book” was born in exactly five months. Sunday was the only day I could really put aside for it, so the lads cooked….or starved.

Nicola: It’s a real Scots novel, isn’t it, in setting and language, with a great emphasis on traditional Celtic hospitality, set in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and with a Peace March through Scotland via Aberdeen in the plot!

Maggi: There is nothing quite like walking the length of the country to get the measure of the land and its people. I’d like to think that the book reveals the roots of Margo’s sense of common humanity, by which she strives to live. I have no idea whether the images in my head have been conveyed via words on the page to the reader’s inner landscapes, but I’d like to think so.

I think it was the ten years that I spent in Africa that gave me a perspective on this wee country of ours that I might never otherwise have had. My children spent their early years in Zambia and the book gave me a chance to record those early influences that determined many of the values by which we live to this day.

As a Scot, I was often treated differently to my English husband, and I was amazed at the affection that was expressed for the Scots, who have a tradition of living alongside the indigenous people of Central Africa.

The book gave me an opportunity to express my gratitude for being part of the ‘ben-the-hoose’ hospitality that I experienced in my own Scottish childhood and in Central Africa.

There is a theme of water flowing throughout the book and that is no  accident.

When you have experienced water-deprivation while trying to breast-feed your child, you never take it for granted again.

I have been very privileged to have lived in many diverse places and contrasting social conditions throughout my life, so let’s just say that I didn’t have to ‘imagine’ much when writing Margo’s story.

Nicola: So, was it your intention to present the often harsh realities of inner city life from a woman‘s perspective? And in contrast, the most beautiful and enduring aspects of the human condition from a woman’s perspective?

Maggi: Perhaps that’s what came through for you, Nicola, but that was not my intention. The main character is incidentally a woman, but the main thrust of the story is the pain and distress that results from denial, really. That can, and does, happen to anyone who is brought up in a culture of, ‘we don’t talk about that’!

I saw this so much in my professional life too, and it nearly broke me.

Another theme of the book is the help and support that comes from very unlikely quarters, and Margo’s growing realisation of the source of this as she faces many dilemmas. Confidentiality would prevent me from revealing the actual people concerned so the characters are composite and the situations are scrambled; but they reveal a human resilience in the face of adversity that often left me humbled.

I think we have lost our way as a coherent society in recent decades and the book certainly reveals the dark underside of lost generations who are turning to drugs and crime in place of a lost identity. But I hope it reveals their humanity too.

Nicola: There’s a humorous element to the book, in spite of the often painful subject matter. How important is this?

Maggi: Absolutely crucial! I was totally shocked when I first came to live in Glasgow and couldn’t believe it when the toddler would answer the door and call, “Maw! It’s the f…ing Social worker!”…and the reply would come, “Aye! C’min Hen! The kettle’s oan!” Coming from Edinburgh, via Africa and rural Dumfries and Galloway, I didn’t know what to make of it at first.

My colleagues were equally earthy and soon knocked me off my ‘professional’ perch. And really, when you saw some of the truly horrendous social situations and circumstances that we had to deal with, you either laughed, or you cried. And I cried! After four years, I suffered a complete mental and emotional breakdown and felt quite suicidal.

We have to accept that the FOSSIL AGE is OVER….or WE are!

But as is often the case, it was that total collapse that brought me face to face with myself, and the pretensions that held my own pain at bay! It was that earthy, and honest, Glasgow humour that got me back to work. I really learned to laugh, and I haven’t stopped since.

 Nicola: The book is published by Balboa Press, a division of Hay House, and you have very generously promised the proceeds from your book sales to causes close to your heart. Will you tell AV about these?

 Maggi: As a grandmother of nine creative young people, all of whom are gifted musicians, artists, performers and students, I have a huge vested interest in securing their sustainable future. We are living in very troubled, but dynamic, times and my work over the years with VSO Global Exchange has convinced me that we do indeed have a future; but only if we radically change our ways as a species.

I established a small group based on non-violent direct action principles called HOPE, or the Human Order for Peace on Earth. Over the years it has challenged nuclear waste dumping and nuclear weapons, and is currently challenging fracking, which is the chemical extraction of gas from shale, which threatens our very existence.

We have to accept that the FOSSIL AGE is OVER….or WE are! The choice is now water, or oil and gas! Scotland has the expertise, ingenuity and opportunity to seek and develop sustainable alternatives, and we must!

I also teach English as a Second Language to asylum seekers and refugees, and provide refuge and respite in my village home and practical assistance when they are given ‘leave to stay’. I’m a’ body’s ‘Auntie’ and they call me Bumma! We work on the basis of ‘Living Simply, that Others may Simply Live’…. and we are a’ Jock Tamson’s Bairns undivided by creed or culture.

I was also chosen as “Grandmother of the Burning Hearth” by the Grandmothers Circle the Earth Foundation. Their Hopi prophecy states, “When the Grandmothers speak, the World will be healed!” Perhaps my title of “Grandmother of the Burning Hearth” from GCEF had something to do with the ‘Dying Embers’ title of my book.

We now have a Council in Scotland and I’m the Granny of the Grannies, being the oldest at 70 in June! I have now used up all my savings doing this sacred work and any income from my book will allow me to continue.

Nicola: Thank you, Maggi Sale, for talking with us, and many congratulations on your book’s publication. Maybe it’s the first part of a trilogy, a Scots Quair for the 21st century ?

Maggi: As an honorary Glaswegian, my reply to that is, “Aye! Right!”

Further information:

Grandmothers Circle the Earth Foundation is a non-profit organisation that brings together women of all ages and races, cultural, social, professional and spiritual backgrounds, to create practical and sustainable solutions to the most pressing issues they face today.

Its mission is to respond to requests for guidance, resources, professional expertise and administration in creating sustainable Grandmother Councils and culturally relevant Women’s Circles.

These bring together ceremonies, medicines and wisdom teachings of indigenous people from many nations, as valuable tools and bridges for addressing universal issues around the world, such as: Developing Community, Sustainability, Renewable Resources, Elder Care, Developing Youth Leadership, Domestic Violence, Business Development and more.

Voice readers can order a copy of Maggi Sale’s book ‘Dying Embers and Shooting stars’ online. It’s now available on www.amazon.co.uk in paperback and kindle editions.

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Dec 142012
 

A few lucky souls got an advance copy of Oh Myyy! There Goes The Internet, George Takei’s latest literary offering. Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly was one of them, and she’s very glad indeed.

Wielding his pen with the same flair Sulu wielded a rapier in Star Trek, the wit of George Takei cuts grammar Nazis, spammers, homophobes, trolls and other ne’er-do-wells down to size.

Is this book an updated biography? Is it a how-to manual on effectively using social media? A treatise on tolerance and equality? A history of the internet? A philosophical discourse examining issues such as collective intelligence?

Perhaps it is a compendium of memes found on the net that will make you laugh out loud?

Yes to all these, and then some, including an examination of our fascination with the end of the world, and… bacon.

Taking its name from the exclamation of surprise now synonymous with Takei, Oh Myyy! mixes  pearls of wisdom with memes (those cute/funny/cringe-making photos and captions found on Facebook and other social  media websites). One moment the reader is presented with offerings such as:

 “Have we as a society forgotten the importance of satire in our cultural dialogue? Have we grown so afraid of offending that we no longer dare pose the hard questions, or even the easy ones?”

The next, he/she is laughing out loud (perhaps I should say ‘LOL’) at memes of cats or tweets directed to Schwarzenegger.

The book also charts Takei’s journey from his early Twitter forays to becoming the de facto centre of news and fundraising when the 2011 Japanese tsunami and quake hit. No one could have foreseen his meteoric rise as a presence in social media from his early tweets and posts, but his messages and Public Service Announcements have become viral sensations.

Whether tackling an increasingly-fundamentalist element of American politics and its anti-gay legislation proposals, or the insidious and insipid Twilight franchise, Takei sets out to entertain and educate us: this strategy is key to what he has achieved.

Takei is not infallible and is the first to admit this, for instance owning up to accidentally posting Facebook status updates meant for intimate friends which went world-wide instead.

One of the book’s recurring themes is his sense of social responsibility. While he wants to post items on his home page to make people laugh, he also genuinely wishes to help as many deserving causes as he can.

Recognised world-wide as a humanitarian (most recently launching an appeal for the people hit by hurricane Sandy), Takei has been decorated by Japan in recognition for services to Japanese-American relations.

He is heavily involved in his legacy project ‘Allegiance’ – a musical concerning his experiences as a Japanese internment camp detainee in America.  Takei is recognised the world over for his work to bring about equality for LGBT people, notably taking to task high-profile homophobic American figures.

Takei survived early life ordeals (spent in part in an American internment camp for those of Japanese ancestry and subsequent poverty before the family recovered) going on to carve out an incredible acting career, fight successfully for his beliefs, help just causes, and entertain like no  one else can on social media.  I personally think the secret to his tenacity, endurance and success is his sense of humour, which is splendidly wicked.

In the book’s closing pages, Takei asks us to ‘dig a bit deeper on the pressing questions of the day’ and to ‘remember to keep things lighthearted so as not to take ourselves too seriously.’ Truer words were never tweeted. Finally, he describes himself as ‘laughing alongside you as the naughty gay Asian uncle you wish you had.’ Takei is that uncle for several million people the world over.

This collection of gems will repay your attention with laughs one moment and food for thought regarding social issues the next. Fans of Takei (over 3 million Facebook likes) will perhaps appreciate most the author’s winsome tone ringing true in every sentence.

A famous model once said: ‘I never read any books I haven’t written,’ a risible claim as it was well-known her novels were ghosted. Takei may have had some help from his husband, some interns and others – but these are his words and thoughts presented in his own inimitable style.

Takei writes that he is dazzled and inspired by our technological society; this is evident in the way he uses media and in how he writes. It is often hard to remember this is a 75-year-old man; his energy and enthusiastic embrace of technology should inspire people of all ages to push the boundaries of their skills, to learn, and to explore.

Note: in Aberdeen, Silver City Surfers are ready, willing and able to help older citizens get to grips with computers and the internet. Contact them here if you need help getting online: http://www.silvercitysurfers.co.uk/

The downside for some Aberdonians is that, while George once referred to Donald Trump as a douchebag, he now seems to think there is a side to the Donald that is willing to listen. Many local residents will agree with Takei’s first assessment.

Below is a link for buying Oh Myyy! There Goes The Internet. This is not a read for the humourless, easily offended grammar Nazi troll, but it is great fun for the rest of us. As one Amazon reviewer put it:

“I got the e-book a week ago in the pre-sell and have already read it through twice and have directed many of my friends to get it for themselves. You will not be disappointed! Why haven’t you stopped reading this review and clicked on ‘Add to Cart’? ;)”

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AHP5NY6/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B00AHP5NY6&linkCode=as2&tag=ohmy0c-20

The pre-order copy has an extra chapter providing further insight into Takei’s world.  This closes with the words: ‘May we Live Long and Prosper Together,’ a noble sentiment echoing Star Trek’s famous Vulcan greeting.

Live long and prosper together? If more people had Takei’s social conscience, enthusiasm, optimism, humour and energy, then I dare say we could do.

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Nov 302012
 

With thanks to David Innes. 

As the Charles Dickens Bicentenary year draws to its close, a one-off opportunity to view the University of Aberdeen’s unique and priceless Dickens collection has been arranged.
This will be held in the Special Collections Department at the new University Library on the Kings College campus on Thursday 6 December at 7pm.

Dr Paul Schlicke of the University’s School of Language and Literature told Aberdeen Voice:

“Our exhibition is to be held in the reading room in the basement, directly at the foot of the stairs, and we’ll be meeting in the seminar room opposite.

“Several people have asked whether or not the exhibition will be available after our event. The answer is, sadly, no: it is for one night only, with displays carried on the desks in the reading room itself which will need to be cleared for business as usual next morning.  I can offer, however, to recount for anyone who enquires, the anecdote about the item advertising a theatre production in Aberdeen in the 1830s which will be on view, positively for one night only.”

The group of Aberdeen Dickens aficionados, which has been meeting regularly since June this year, will take the opportunity offered by this gathering to discuss the group’s future and whether or not to pursue a more formal structure.  The group will discuss the possibility of constituting itself as a society with formal membership, officers, an advertised annual programme of events and affiliation with the international Dickens Fellowship.

“Time and inclination permitting, favourite passages from Dickens may be read, so anyone attending might want to come prepared with a passage they’d like to perform as a party piece,” added Dr Schlicke.

Feb 102012
 

With thanks to Catriona Yule.

A new creative writing group is being launched in Aberdeenshire.
Grassic Gibbon Writers Group has been set up by Grassic Gibbon Centre manager, Isabella Williamson, and will be led by local poet, playwright and short story writer Catriona Yule.

The meetings kick off on Friday 17 February at 10.30 am and will run for six weeks initially. Each informal session will support and encourage new writers through workshop exercises and constructive feedback. Anyone is welcome to come along.

Catriona told Aberdeen Voice: 

“I’m absolutely delighted to be involved with this writing group and feel that this is an exciting opportunity for any budding writer wanting to learn more and share their experiences. The Grassic Gibbon Centre plays a crucial part in maintaining the heritage of the Mearns area and in keeping Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s legacy alive. It seems only fitting that it should have its own writing group to continue his passion. He was a very gifted writer who achieved an incredible output in his short life,”

For further information, contact the Grassic Gibbon Centre, Arbuthnott. Tel: 01561 361668.

www.grassicgibbon.com

Feb 032012
 

With thanks to Kylie Roux.

YOUR LEANING NECK – SONG AS PORTRAIT – Steven Anderson

Based on an event from November last year at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Your Leaning Neck is a performance project that aims to challenge institutional representations of national identity by giving voice to non-institutional values.

A silent video installation showcasing last November’s event from two perspectives will be shown in the Peacock gallery.

Saturday 18 February – Saturday 10 March 

– Live Performance

Starting off at Peacock’s gallery then moving onto the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St Andrew, visitors will be treated to a live re-contextualisation of the performance event created as a site-specific response to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery’s collection of portraits from the Scottish Enlightenment. Within the performance, oral tradition singers are presented alongside contemporary artists who also use their unaccompanied voice as a means of expression.

Friday 24 February | 7 – 9pm | Peacock Visual Arts | FREE 

GIG IN THE GALLERY – Martin John Henry

Recently praised by Sound-Scotland, as “one of Scotland’s finest songwriters”, Gargleblast Records and Peacock Visual Arts present Martin John Henry.

The Lanarkshire born singer songwriter is best known for fronting Scottish Rock Band De Rosa – critically lauded and championed by John Peel and Steve Lamaq – as well as writing, recording and playing with many of Scotland’s finest musicians including Barry Burns (Mogwai), Robert Johnston (Life Without Buildings), King Creosote and Malcolm Middleton.

Saturday 4 February | 8pm | £8 on the door 

RESIDENCY/PERFORMANCE – ONE MAN UNIT – Paul Wiersbinski and Wieland Schönfelder

ONE MAN UNIT is a hybrid of man and sculpture. Through a variety of outputs, audiences are invited to interact with and experience the spontaneous and unexpected developments of this creative beast, as it evolves during the artists’ two-week residency at Peacock.
You can follow the construction of this half man half machine via their daily blog on Peacock’s Facebook page. The ONE MAN UNIT will then be let loose on the public on two occasions:

Saturday 28 January – Friday 10 February

– Note: Aberdeen Voice updates Peacock info periodically, but there may be recently added events not included in this post. Please contact Peacock direct for the latest information.

Peacock Visual Arts
21 Castle Street
Aberdeen
AB11 5BQ
Tel: 01224 639539
Mob: 07947 490626
e: kylie@peacockvisualarts.co.uk
Website: www.peacockvisualarts.com
Online Print Store: www.peacockvisualarts.culturelabel.com

Dec 232010
 

“We will protect and enhance the city’s wildlife and biodiversity and preserve the land we manage.”

By Ahayma Dootz.

I had almost lost count of the days we had spent struggling through the overgrown wilderness of Allenvale in search of my ancestor’s tomb when D’oad returned from a scouting trip with alarming news. It seemed that this land was indeed inhabited. A few miles ahead he had spotted signs of a small village or ‘clachan’ nestled in a clearing by a small river which he assumed to be a tributary of the mighty D’ee – possibly the Holb’urn.

“The fowk seem tae be peaceful,” he said. “Ah believe they’re the people ye thocht ye saw back at Sk’inner’s gravestone. Ah heard music.”

We decided to approach cautiously, offering trade goods  – ‘tees’, baseball caps, t-shirts from Trumpistan and the like – in exchange for information and fresh supplies. Little did I suspect that this encounter would completely change the nature of my quest!

It was several days later that D’oad and I sat with the headman discussing our plans. It seemed that cousin Walter had also encountered these people. Five years earlier, a man answering Walter’s description had wandered into the village babbling about ‘lost treasures’, a ‘hidden garden’ and a ‘red spire’.

He had been well-equipped but exhausted, and half starved. While he recovered his strength he had told of how, long ago, his own people had once lived in these lands and that while searching for his ‘roots’ he had come across information concerning his family’s lost ‘birthright’. Some fabulous treasure which had mysteriously disappeared causing the time of turmoil that local legends call the ‘Hard Times’.

The headman, G’illie, shook his head.

“Oor aul’ fowk kent a bittie oboot this.”  he explained while D’oad translated ( these people were riddled with the ‘doric’.). “Afore oor fowk turnt their backs on a’ they mad gods – K’ooncil, D’ean, Ah’ksef   an’ the ithers – we kent fine that the tribute gaithered ower the years had disappeared – aye, that the treasury wis toom!”

He explained that there had always been rumours of how this wealth had somehow been hidden in a secret valley called the ‘Gairdens’ guarded by a tall tower –the ‘red spire’. It appeared that after finding Mary McWalter’s tomb, cousin Walter – always prone to obsession –  had gone off in search of these lost riches and that after his arrival here he had pressed on, heading north towards ‘T’oonhoos’.

Despite the corrosion I could make out a shield flanked by two blurred upright figures

I considered my position.  Returning home empty-handed had never been an option for me – Walter and I were family after all – but I knew the native bearers would not venture further no matter how many ‘gowfba’s’ I offered. I was delighted, however, when D’oad offered to accompany me.

G’illie allowed us to study old maps and consult with his storytellers then, supplied with fresh provisions and information,  D’oad and I prepared to follow the Holb’urn north. As we packed, I asked him why he had decided to continue this uncertain journey. Beckoning me to follow, he walked over to an ancient bench which stood outside G’illie’s hut. Looking closely, I realised that although the seat was made of wood, the frame was cast-iron! D’oad pointed to what seemed to be a coat of arms on the backrest. Despite the corrosion I could make out a shield flanked by two blurred upright figures.

“That is the auld symbol of the ‘Deen,” he said, “Div ye see thae twa craturs either side o’ the shield? They were the ancient guardians o’ the ‘Deen – some wid say they’re only myth, ithers that long, long ago, such things walked this land. There is a legend amongst my people that if ever they are seen again, then the lands o‘ Deen shall be healed –  united once again – and returned to their former glory! Noo, ah’ve heard rumours of sightings tae the north. Jist rumours, mind, but if there’s ony hope at a’ then….” , he tailed off.

“But what on earth are they?” I asked.

He told me.

“Aaaaarrrgh!!!” I screeched, “That’s disgusting!” I recoiled from the bench. ”Surely not! Not even here in this benighted land! I mean, medical science…I mean…” words failed me.

D’oad frowned, looking puzzled for a moment; then his face cleared.

“Na, na, na, ya deef gype.” He exclaimed.” Nae lepers, ya bluidy eedjit! Leopards, min, leopards! Muckle big spotty cats, ye ken?” he began to laugh uncontrollably. “Lepers!”

Sheepishly at first, I began to giggle.

Dec 102010
 

“Savings could be made if the council withdrew music services and sold off musical instruments.”

By Ahayma Dootz.

Occasional glimpses of the sun through the leafy canopy above suggested that it was not yet midday when our progress came to an abrupt halt .For some time, stumps of vine-strangled masonry had flanked our hard-won passage through the dense undergrowth and ahead of me now I saw the porters clustered around a particularly large example, their burdens abandoned.

As I approached, they parted to let me pass and I observed that this memorial had been kept free from the surrounding vegetation and that an offering of brightly-coloured flowers lay upon it.

“What d’you make of it?” I asked D’oad who was inspecting a badly-eroded inscription, “And who on earth has been caring for an ancient gravestone in this inhospitable place?”

“Inhospitable, mebbe, but no’ uninhabitit, clairly.” He replied. “An’ tak a scance at this.” He added, pointing to a faint carving lower down.

“Good grief! That looks like a violin.” I exclaimed.

“Aye,” he confirmed, “It’s a fiddle, richt eneuch.” His eyes took on a faraway look. “The man resting here is still spoken of with reverence amongst my people. Sk’ottsk’inner, he was called and it is said that he was the greatest fiddlin’ mannie of his time.

This was in the age before the’ Hard Times’, you unnerstan’, afore the mad god K’ooncil and his minions demanded the sacrifice of all things musical and the skills and arts became lost tae us.”  He shook his head, sadly.

“Did nothing survive?” I asked.

“Legend speaks of some who rebelled, who turned their backs on the harsh gods of that time and, with the instruments of their craft, disappeared from common view.” He paused thoughtfully. “It may be that they found refuge in the ‘baneyairds’ and that their descendants still bide here in these harsh lands. It would explain this offering.” I was touched by the man’s rough dignity.

“Well, let’s get on.” I said. D’oad conferred with the bearers then turned to me.

“We must have a F’lykup.” he announced. My heart sank.Our expedition had all too often been hampered – not to say plagued – by this ritual. Whenever the natives divined that the ‘natural harmonies’ were disturbed, they would perform this propitiatory ceremony and, in extreme cases, the F’uncipeece’ would also be invoked.

My medical kit included water-purifying tablets and my anti-doric medication

The bearers began producing small, garishly-coloured pastries to be ritually exchanged and consumed. Resigned to a long delay, I turned to D’oad. “I shall take no part in this.” I told him,” I respect your beliefs but I do not fear ‘evil spirits’.” He looked at me admiringly and shook his head.

“Yerrachube, M’in.” he said.

“A lucky accident of birth and education.”  I replied modestly as he rejoined his men.

Finding a mossy stump to rest against, I began a careful inventory of the personal belongings in my own backpack. My medical kit included water-purifying tablets and my anti-doric medication. This was an experimental drug produced by my family’s pharmaceutical company. We had been commissioned by the Trumpistani government to investigate the nature of this affliction which was endemic to the entire region. Recent outbreaks in Trumpistan had cost the empire dear in lost revenue from its massive tourist industry.

How the infection was transmitted remained unclear but it appeared to affect the speech centres of the brain resulting in a form of mostly benign (physiologically, at least) dyslexia which rendered the victims unintelligible save to fellow sufferers. I had agreed to’ field test’ the results of our latest research which, it was hoped, would provide protection not only against ‘Doric’ but also ‘Lallans’, ‘Orcadian’, ‘Shetlandic’, so-called ‘Romany Cant’ and Scots (though not Irish) Gaelic. I had been dosing myself regularly since arriving in the country and estimated that there remained enough for several more weeks.

Reclining comfortably, I gazed around at the lush tangle of exotic greenery, and inhaled the unfamiliar perfumes of strange blossoms. My eyelids grew heavy but, just before I fell into a doze, I heard (or thought I heard) wild, joyful music played upon all manner of instruments and I glimpsed (or fancied I glimpsed) figures dancing gracefully beyond the leafy walls surrounding me.

To be continued…….