It’s here

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After much ado, Literary Corstorphine is here. It’s taken too long, I know… but further details will follow, when I get a few more things ironed out. Many thanks for your patience.

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Umbrellas of Edinburgh (2016)

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As an old Tennents’ advertisement used to have it, Scotland is “where umbrellas go to die”. Edinburgh is no exception, but in this case, the umbrellas in question are a collection of poems and a few short prose pieces about Edinburgh from Blackness to Portobello. Some of these come over as sturdy golf umbrellas, but some of them are cheap & nasty and a bit blown in.

Umbrellas resembles This Collection, which came out in 2009, and which I reviewed on this blog earlier. There is also a degree of overlap in the authors, notably Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir and Rob A. MacKenzie. That said, Umbrellas seems to have a bit more money put into it, although its publishers Freight have been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently.

As this blog is unrepentantly local, I’m going to concentrate on material relevant to Corstorphine and the surrounding areas.

Her Last Laugh by Iyad Hayatleh

This is a very personal poem talking about loss, exile and family relations amongst the Palestinian Diaspora set in Edinburgh Airport.

Animals by Theresa Muñoz

This poem attempts to link the characteristics of zoo animals to the author’s own:

Like honeybees we danced — like hippos we gorged
Like pigeons we homes — to our sea-facing house

Vanishing Points by Andrew J. Wilson

This poem is specifically about Corstorphine and attempts to set the area’s history in deep cosmic time. Some of the images work very well:

A run away wallaby
Waits at the bus stop

Others not so well, e.g. “spawn of the tongue twisters” puts me in mind of some shapeless prehistoric monster that H.P. Lovecraft might have written about, probably not the intention.

Nothing is guaranteed to “trigger” Literary Corstorphine more than some of the etymologies of Corstorphine. In this case, “Coriestiorfionn” is not only a misspelling, but a misspelling of a misspelling, based on “Coire Stoir Fionn”, which is highly dubious. I discuss all this in the book!

Amphitheatre by Andy Jackson

This poem’s about a game at Murrayfield. This piece contains some of the most interesting poetry I’ve seen about rugby – or most sports. Players are “pudding-headed pachyderms” (an animal image more successful than any in Muñoz’s poem) competing in “the night mine of the scrum”.

(Fans of heidbaw will be delighted by the Zen and the Scottish Long-ball Game poem which immediately follows it about Tynecastle, which talks about “Sloop John B-tuned witticisms”. A reference to the Famine Song, sung by people who don’t realise large numbers of Protestants died in the Irish Famine.)

Ath-Thogail by Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir

The poet discusses the task picking up his children from school in Tollcross, something many parents will relate to. The school is, of course, the Gaelic-medium primary that used to be there.

As with a lot of Gaelic work these days, there is a mystery about why some words are translated from English, but some aren’t – Tollcross is translated, but Haymarket isn’t, “sweeties” are, but “crisps” aren’t. But this is no matter, as most of the readership will be judging the poem on the English version beside it.

Uisge Beatha by Anne Connolly

Last but not least Uisge Beatha is an English-language poem about the Water of Leith. It contains descriptions of the tennis club down by the river and lines such as:

“But there is a melting in the March-bound air that irrigates

For me it’s one of the more interesting poems in the collection. And I’m biased towards anything which features herons.

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

Corstorphine, Midnight, Cowboy?

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This collection” [sic] came out in 2009, and featured a hundred poems by Edinburgh writers, each a hundred words in length.  The full set can be accessed by clicking on this blue link. There are three poems of local interest here: their brevity makes it difficult for me to quote much from them. You can thank copyright law for that!

Rob A. MacKenzie’s Corstorphine, Midnight can be found here. It paints a slightly grim picture of the area, through which a burning “Underwood” wanders seeking his ex-lover. MacKenzie’s Corstorphine is the land of “charity shop” (accurate), “supermarket aisles” (accurate) and “the vigil of neon alphabets” (a bit exaggerated). Even a short piece like this has several different interpretations – is the name “Underwood” actually a reference to the dark wild element which underlies human civilisation, and which is always waiting to come forth, or is it some backhanded reference to the 1990s sport? He shares his name with a couple of England rugby players of the period, but the poem also refers to the “Mexican Wave”, which was fashionable in football back then. This just goes to show all of the strange, and possibly unintended, meanings one can derive from poetry.

For those of a bus spotting bent, The Number 31 bus taken from Lasswade Road on a late summer’s evening may be of interest. Sure, Nick Goodrick’s poem focusses on the wrong end of the 31 route, but he appears to be heading into the city, and the bus route ends up in East Craigs…

Last but not least, Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir has a poem called Dùn ÈideannanI have discussed Mac an t-Saoir on this blog previously – he has lived in Broomhall, and seems to have written a novel Gymnippers Diciadain which appears to be inspired by the CYCC.

Crafty Green Poet

I can’t remember whether I have mentioned her on here before, but “Crafty Green Poet” (true identity unknown to me) writes regularly on her walks around Edinburgh – these include places such as Corstorphine Hill, Cammo etc. Her blog can be found through this link.

Update

The book of Literary Corstorphine is long overdue. Why? In short, two things – this is the first time I’ve been involved in such a project and secondly, a bit of a financial blip I don’t want to go into. I have found the writing and editing easy enough – it is the design and formatting which have been an issue. I’m sorry if folk think I’ve gone down the mañana route – but it will be here sooner rather than later!

Picture Credits

Corstorphine Milestone (kim traynor) / CC BY-SA 2.0

 

One that got Away

One that got Away

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Of Brownyis and of Bogillis full is this Buke.” – Gavin Douglas*

You know when you think you’re (almost) finished, and something else comes up? Well, recently I was delighted to find out about Belle Robertson’s quirky Book of Beasties, which should appeal to cryptozoologists and local historians alike.

This one fell into my lap, due to my involvement in a Leith soundscape/walking tour, which Citadel Arts Group have been running. Liz Hare (or was it Stewart Emm?) of Citadel had made a few photocopies of articles which s/he thought were of interest. An Evening News article on Book of Beasties appeared amongst them, since it discusses the inappropriately named “Fairy Boy of Leith”. It turned out from this article that Belle Robertson is based in Murrayfield, and grew up in Corstorphine which falls within the remit of this blog and my forthcoming book Literary Corstorphine. As stated earlier, I don’t just aim to deal with Corstorphine proper, but also the surrounding areas. (The illustrations are by Canadian artist Larry MacDougal.)

Anyway, it looks as if I’m going to have to update the Literary Corstorphine book, again, before it comes out. Belle Robertson will get an entry, as will Book of Beasties, and she’ll have to be mentioned in the entries on Murrayfield and Women’s Literature.

This one also came in slightly late for my Halloween post, but it looks as if it shall entertain folklorists, cryptozoologists, local historians, monster hunters, ghost watchers, older children, fantasy fans, and Scottophiles alike. The review in the Press and Journal states:

“Fusing fantasy and Scottish history, this enchanted book of sketches and stories will appeal to children and adults alike with a universal story-telling appeal. Legendary creatures making an appearance include the Giant of Bennachie, the Unicorn of Stirling Castle and Morag, monster of Loch Morar.”

The Evening News mentions “The White Stag of Holyrood”, “the Pentland Imp”, and that the book “examines the otherworldly creatures said to haunt the hills, glens and cities of Scotland – from naughty imps to bone-crushing giants.” It further states that Ms Robertson got the idea “after living in Brittany and seeing how the French** celebrated their local myths.”

Belle Robertson says “Visualising Scottish myths and legends is a part of our history – but we’ve sort of lost it. We really do have such a strong Celtic culture and we don’t really do that much with it.” This is perfectly true, and I totally agree with this sentiment. In the recent referendum debate, philistinism and ignorance of our history were visible on both sides. The mainstream media is dismal on this score, and sadly, as are some of the books documenting the local history of this area. As for our Celtic identity – this seems to be sadly conflated with Glasgow football, and New Age misrepresentation!

Placename origins and Murrayfield info

Murrayfield was originally called “Murray’s Field”, and was originally a polo ground. The whole area has various different sporting connections, most notably rugby union. Apart from rugby, there is an ice rink, which hosts the Edinburgh Capitals ice hockey team, bowling clubs, a tennis club, and on the grounds surrounding the stadium, you can often see cricket and football being played.

The stadium has been mentioned in numerous books about rugby – too many for me to track down or even mention – and has also hosted association football (Hearts are based nearby at Tynecastle, and “borrowed” the stadium for a while), the lacrosse world cup, American football (when the doomed Claymores were still in existence), and even the rival code of rugby league.

Picture Credits

The cover image provided is under “fair use”. I do not own the copyright on it, and trust that the author, illustrator and publisher shall understand is used in good faith.

Footnotes

* As quoted at the beginning of Robert Burns’ Tam o’ Shanter.

** The Bretons are a Celtic nation who pre-date the French state by a number of centuries. Although France has made a very good job of assimilating Brittany/Breizh, I strongly would dispute whether they are “French”, even if some self-identify as such!

External Links

The Heretics

John Herdman reading at Saltire Society, August 2015
John Herdman reading at Saltire Society, August 2015

Apologies if I leave anyone out of the lists here. It is not due to any ill will, more my atrocious memory. Sorry folks! 

Aly Bain, Liz Lochhead, Billy Connolly, Sorley MacLean, Phil Cunningham, Norman MacCaig, Derick Thomson, Robert Garioch, Dolina MacLennan… many of these are pretty well known names from the Scottish folk and literary scenes. Billy Connolly has gone on to bigger and not-always-better things since. (I still maintain that Dolina is a much better actor than he is though! Check out how he upstages the others in just about every film he makes an appearance in. Back then, Connolly was still actually funny, and was a musician – with a heavy influence from Matt McGinn.)

All of the people mentioned (and many others) were involved with a group called the Heretics, back in the 1970s. Not heard of it? You’re not alone. Very few people seem to be even aware of it, despite the fame of many of its members – at least within Scotland.

John Herdman’s book, Another Country was the inspiration for Craig Gibson and Peter Burnett to revive the group. After many years running the bookshop in Blair Atholl, he is now based in the Clerwood/Clermiston area.

John Herdman is not the only stalwart of the group to have had local connections.

William “Willie” Neil (Uilleam Nèill) used to stay out on South Gyle Road in the 1970s. Neil, who was originally from Ayrshire, and latterly of Galloway, wrote in all three of Scotland’s indigenous languages. Like Herdman, he deserves much greater fame for his work. I first came across William Neil in Cothrom magazine, a bilingual Gaelic learners’ magazine. He was discussing the Gaelic heritage of the far south west of Scotland – a land perhaps associated more with Burns and Covenanters than Gaeldom. Later I found out that he was the editor of Catalyst during the seventies, the magazine of the 1320 Club, and that he had lived within a fifteen minute walk of where I currently live.

In August 2015, there were three Heretics events, all held in the Saltire Society, which lies on a little close round the back of the Waverley and World’s End bars in the old town.

After 35 years in cold storage, the baton was handed over, something which Dolina MacLennan referred to it as the slowest relay race in history. Herdman and MacLennan were both prime movers in the revival. And yes, there was a literal physical baton.

* The first featured members of the 1970s Heretics who are still with us.

* The second featured “Dead Poets”, or at least readings from members of the Heretics, who are “no longer on this plane. Appropriately enough, a ghost tour went past the venue during the smoking break.

* The third featured the new manifestation of the Heretics. Young(er) members, who are going to continue on the tradition.

William Neil got an outing in the “Dead Poets” event, and John Herdman, featured in all three.

The newer Heretics are led by Peter Burnett (Leamington Books, and author of Scotland or No) and Craig Gibson (creator of The One O’ Clock Gun, and author of the forthcoming novel Cider Camp). The founder members of the new manifestation include the following – Anita Govan, Kirsty Law, Lorna ?Waite (gabhaibh mo leisgeul), Mark Jardine, Colin Donati & Robin Mason (a.k.a. Various Moons), and The Range of the Awful Hand. Yours truly was supposed to feature, but due to events outwith my control this did not happen.

Poster from the original Heretics. Note the ticket price.
Poster from the original Heretics. Note the ticket price.

The name “Heretic” is a pun on “heritage”, and also suggests an outsider status. The 1970s Heretics aimed to keep a thread of traditional Scottish culture going at a time when a lot of Scottish literature and music was heading away from it (usually in the direction of Anglo-American culture).

Some of the original members who turned up for the revival include the aforementioned John Herdman and Dolina MacLennan, and also Adam MacNaughton, Alan Riach, David Campbell, Donald Campbell, Liz Lochhead (who put in a surprise appearance), Rory Watson, George Brown and a lady whose name escapes me now, but who was good with a guitar.

Heretics meetings come out of the whole ceilidh/scoriach/come-all-ye/hootenanny etc aspect of Scottish culture, i.e. having good fun indoors, when it’s probably dark, wet and cold outside. This means a mix of different items, whether music, literature, comedy etc. It’s a social, a sesh or session in a relaxed atmosphere. Hopefully, the Heretics will keep our positive Scottish traditions alive, and also won’t peddle to the po-faced folk music crowd which seem to be increasingly common in Scotland.

External Links (including video)

‘The Heretics’ celebrate historic Edinburgh comeback

The Heretics

The Heretics Revival

Cultural collective rolls back the years after absence of 40 years (The Herald)