On Norman MacCaig and a bit of controversy

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MacCaig at Edinburgh Park, South Gyle

“To be a poet, you need to be able to talk whilst holding a cigarette in one hand…”

Norman MacCaig (1910-1996) was a tall, thin, wiry character, hard to miss by all accounts. And even today, he has better name recognition than many of his poetic contemporaries, with his work being a staple of the Scottish school syllabus…

In Edinburgh, we tend to associate MacCaig most with Milne’s, on the corner of Hanover and Rose Street, where he would meet with the likes of Robert Garioch, George Campbell Hay and Hugh MacDiarmid etc. There’s even a well known painting of them all being kicked out of there. But these days Milne’s seems more than a little shy of promoting its literary heritage.

One might further associate MacCaig with his tenement at Leamington Terrace in Bruntsfield, where he would be photographed usually with his tab in hand.

MacCaig as Teacher

“When I was a teacher, teachers would come into my classroom and admire my desk in which lay nothing whatever whereas theirs were heaped with papers and books.”

MacCaig was also a teacher… But not of poetry, because he believed that could never be taught. He compared its teaching to giving a propellor to a bird. Nor was he one for long poems, by his own admission, for he suspected many people no longer had the stomach for them.

What kind of teacher was MacCaig though? An old version of his Wikipedia article from around a decade ago suggests he taught locally and had a fearsome reputation. (See image)

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Is this true? Some Wikipedia editors thought not, and had it removed. Or at least they thought this claim wasn’t well enough supported. So was MacCaig a bit too keen on the tawse? Was he even a teacher at Carrick Knowe Primary? The media loves to dig the dirt on the dead. And Norman MacCaig isn’t around to defend himself – he’s been gone over twenty years. I caught the tail end of corporal punishment myself and I can’t say my memories of it are fond ones; it was something which was clearly part of the system and had been for generations.

If you have any information on this particular subject I will be glad to hear from you as always.

Picture Credits

  • Public domain image from Wikipedia. Taken by “MacRusgail”.

External Links

Another link to Elizabeth Gaskell

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Gaskell in 1860

In a previous article I discussed the local links of Elizabeth Gaskell, née Stevenson (1810-1865). Gaskell is best known as the author of such works as North and South, and Mary Barton.

Since I wrote the article, it has struck me how few people are aware of her link to Saughton & Corstorphine, or indeed Edinburgh in general.

Tyler’s Acre

The origins of place names have always fascinated me, and I have discussed quite a few on this blog already.

One that I haven’t looked at before is “Tyler’s Acre”. It gives its name to several streets between old Corstorphine and Carrick Knowe. It is to be found between Saughton Road North and Lampacre Road, and lies to the north of Union Park.

It turns out that the “tyler” (tailor) in question was a member of the Stevenson family, who farmed at Saughton Mains. He was a close relative of William Stevenson, Elizabeth Gaskell’s father.

 

External Links

The Scots Tongue in Corstorphine

Today is the European Day of Leastcraigswyndgreyanguages ( #edl2017 ), and so I thought it appropriate to write a little about the influence of Lowland Scots on the west of Edinburgh. There are a few folk locally who have used it in writing such as Helen Cruickshank, but the spoken language is fading away a bit. You can hear bits and pieces of it here and there, but it is no way as broad as some places out in the countryside.

I’ve written a bit about Gaelic already, and I include some info on that in the links below.

Areas and (former) physical features

  • Broomhall, Broomhouse – “Hall” and “house” are common elements in the Lothians, and would have presumably have been “ha” and “hoose” originally. “Hall” may be a corruption of “haugh” in some cases.
  • Carrick Knowe – The first part is a Celtic word for a rock, and the second related to the English word “knoll”. Presumably these were the same feature.
  • East Craigs, West Craigs etc – “Craig” is a loan from the Celtic word for rock.
  • Gogarloch“Loch” is a loanword from the Gaelic word for “lake”.
  • GogarmountMount has two meanings 1) similar to “muir” below, from the Gaelic “monadh”, and 2) is confused with the English for mountain, leading to names such as “Beechmount”.
  • Gylemuir – A muir is a moor, or a grazing area near a place. Barnton used to be known as “Cramond Muir” for similar reasons.
  • Roddinglaw“law” is a type of hill.
  • Roseburn“Burn” meaning a small river, although Gogarburn probably deserved the name better.
  • Saughton“Saugh” means a willow tree.
  • Stank – Common word for a drainage ditch (Gaelic: staing)
  • Wester Broom – The words “Wester” and “Easter” are more traditional than “Western” and “Eastern”.
  • Wester Coates“Coates” means “cotts”, small houses sometimes used for animals.

Streets

  • Broomlea Crescent – A lea is a low lying field.
  • Burne Cruik – A very recent name (2010s), which means the bend of a stream or river. There hasn’t been anything like this round there for a while.
  • Gogarloch Haugh – A modern name. Haugh means a meadow or the land in the bend of a river. The “gh” should be guttural. There are a few other “haughs” around Edinburgh including “Deanhaugh” in Stockbridge.
  • Gogarloch Syke – a syke is a type of ditch or spring.
  • Hill Park Brae – The “brae” is a bit redundant here because of the first bit, but means a hill or slope. This is a recent name. “Drumbrae” is a Gaelic name.
  • Kaimes RoadKaime(s) means a steep hill. Certainly applies.
  • Kirk Loan – Church Lane
  • Manse Road – A “manse” is a church minister’s home.
  • PaddockholmPuddock + holm, i.e. a dry piece of land in a marsh, which frogs live on.
  • Ravelston DykesDykes means walls.
  • Redheughs Avenues
  • Roull Road – named for Roull of Corstorphine, a mediaeval poet who wrote in this tongue.
  • South Gyle MainsMains is the main farm of an estate. Davidsons Mains nearby used to be called “Mutton Hole”.

A few previous articles on Scottish languages