Tag Archives: Highlands

It costs £105 a night to sleep in the room where I was born in Scotland

Campbeltown & the loch that is not a loch not made of whisky

I blogged recently about coincidences. Yesterday, I was in Campbeltown, Argyll in Scotland, near the Mull of Kintyre.

At the local Heritage Centre, there was a newspaper cutting on display saying:

THERE’S MORE TO KINTYRE THAN A DODGY SINGLE FROM AN EX-BEATLE

I was talking to Roger Clark, the English owner of the Craigard House Hotel which, until 1973, was the Craigard maternity hospital.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Watford,” he told me, “but I was born in Bushey.”

“Oh,” I said, “I live in Borehamwood.”

“You do?” Roger asked, taken aback. Watford is next to Borehamwood, separated only by Bushey.

I told Roger about the coincidences I blogged about in Edinburgh.

“Well,” he said, “Jung’s theory of synchronicity… these outrageous possibilities… billions to one… and they still keep happening. I know an English guy who owns a brewery on the Isle of Arran between here and the mainland. It’s a fairly remote island. For an Englishman to own a brewery over there is pretty remarkable. Pretty odd. After knowing him for a while, I asked where he was from and he told me he was from High Wycombe. But not originally, he said. Originally, I’m from Bushey. It turned out we were both born in the same lane – California Lane – in Bushey.”

The reason I was at the Craigard House Hotel was that I had been born there when it was the Craigard maternity hospital.

“About 1,500 of you have come back to see it,” Roger told me. “People who were born here.”

The building closed as a hospital in 1973, then it became two flats. By 1986, nobody could afford the flats, so the building lay empty for nine years, deteriorating quite quickly. It was deserted, nearly derelict. I know this, because Roger told me.

“Most of the windows in the first and second floors were broken by kids using pellet guns,” he said. “It was systematic.”

“Heavens,” I said. “It must have been awful. Damp, letting in rain. That’s a labour of love, restoring a big place like this.”

“Yes it was,” Roger replied. “Still is. “I bought it for £60,000 at an auction. But we turned it into a business and it now pays its own way. Thirteen bedrooms; we’re full all the time. The big room up there, which used to be the labour ward is £135 a night B&B. The old delivery room where you were born is £105 a night.”

“How long have you been here?” I asked.

“Twenty six years,” he replied. “I had a manufacturing company and I brought it here in 1986 to give it the best possible chance because of what I could see the British government were doing to industry.

Roger at Craigard holding his model aircraft

“I made model aircraft for the world’s airlines, including British Airways. I employed 70-90 people here for 13 years before it finally went under in 1999. I made all the model Concordes for British Airways – anyone who had a flight in Concorde had one of these models given to him. I had a factory in Corby at that point. I’m a plastic technologist basically. I started my own company when I was 27 years old in Aylesbury, then moved it to Corby when the Corby steel business collapsed and then I moved it here to a remote location to give it the best possible chance. I believe things should be made in Britain, not China.

“In 1900,” he told me, “apparently Campbeltown had the highest per capita income of any town in the UK – that was from the herring fishing, farming, coal and above all whisky. There were 34 distilleries in the town but the heyday of those was around 1874/1875 when there were 25 and the town’s population was around the same as it is now: 6,000.”

All the rooms at Roger’s hotel were occupied. The couple in the room in which I was born were in, but the couple in what used to be the delivery room were out, so Roger took me up and showed me the room.

It was… is… a big, airy room with a wide bay window looking out onto Campbeltown Loch – mis-named because it is really a bay not a loch.

The bay window my mother would have sat in before I arrived

“The women waiting to give birth,” Roger told me, “used to sit looking out at the water and the hills and the men on the fishing boats used to wave and toot their horns as they passed by.”

My father might have done that. Waved as he passed. He serviced the marine radar on the fishing boats. That’s why he was in Campbeltown; that’s why I was born there. I left when I was three; we moved to Aberdeen.

But, for some reason, I found it comforting that my mother had lain and sat in this big, airy room which way back then had six beds in it, waiting for me to arrive and she had, perhaps, waved to my father as he passed by in a boat on the waters.

The fishing fleet has long gone. The pier at Campbeltown has workmen and construction work on it. Roger has just bought an 8-ton digger for £9,000 on eBay but his plastic planes will live on beyond us all.

Ars long vita brevis.

Leave a comment

Filed under Nostalgia, Scotland

The Welsh language is just plain silly and is a clear sign of national insecurity

So, tell me, what is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

For the last couple of days, I have been staying on Cardigan Bay in West Wales.

When you walk in the streets and go into shops in Cardigan – or Aberteifi as it is now pointlessly half-re-named – people are sometimes speaking Welsh not English to each other. It was not until I worked in Ireland that I started to think the propagation of the Welsh language is ridiculously pointless.

If a language is dead, let it die. If it is still alive, it will survive without heavy-handed insistence that it must be used.

What is very relevant to this blog is the fact I am Scottish not English. Remember that my mother’s grandmother did not speak English until, in her late teens I think, she came down from the hills. The image of my grandmother coming down from the hills is one a friend of mine finds peculiarly funny but, anyway, my mother’s grandmother originally spoke Scots Gaelic as her native tongue, not English.

I once spent some time in the Outer Hebrides where I admired and was fascinated by how, in shops, people would speak to each other in sentences that meandered almost randomly between English and Gaelic words and phrases. They used whichever words and phrases came more naturally and fitted better. Sometimes the words were Gaelic, sometimes English; all within the same sentence.

I once had an interview for a job with Grampian Television in Aberdeen which basically transmitted to the Highlands while Scottish Television transmitted to the Lowlands. The conversation came round to starting a number of Gaelic-language programmes transmitted on Grampian (part of ITV) and on BBC Scotland. I said I thought it was silly because such a relatively small percentage of Scottish television viewers – by then almost entirely in the Western Isles with a small smattering in the Highlands – actually spoke Gaelic as their natural tongue.

The Grampian TV executive interviewing me was highly miffed.

“Ah! But you’re English!” he said to me.

“I was born in Campbeltown and partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I told him. “Where were you born?”

“London,” he said.

I did not get the job.

Later, I did a lot of freelance work over many years for HTV in Cardiff – or Caerdydd as it is now pointlessly half-re-named. It’s a bit like re-naming Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City when most of the inhabitants continue to call it Saigon.

As far as I remember, when I started working in South Wales, almost all the local signs were in English. I mean the road signs and the general retail shop signs.

At some point, almost imperceptibly, dual language signs started appearing, usually with the Welsh version first.

At around this time, or maybe a little later, there was an extended period where my full-time freelance work alternated between working for HTV in Cardiff and Tara TV in Dublin.

In Dublin, I could see old, rotting, rusting and ignored street signs in Irish Gaelic. All the current signs were in English. This was the period when the ‘Celtic Tiger‘ was on the rise and the Irish Republic had re-discovered its self-confidence.

It is very relevant that I was once sitting in an edit suite at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, directing a trailer for an RTE television programme which included an interview in which someone said a couple of sentences in Irish Gaelic.

“What did he say?” I asked the Irish videotape editor sitting with me.

“No idea,” he told me.

We had three other Irish people come into the suite. None of them knew what the Gaelic words meant. They had all had to ‘learn’ Gaelic at school but, just like British schoolkids who do five years of French at school, they could not speak and could barely understand the language because it was bugger-all use to them in everyday life.

It was at this time – alternating my time sometimes one week here/ one week there/ one week here/ one week there between Cardiff and Dublin – that I began to think the Welsh language was just plain silly.

It was silly because it was a mostly dead language being revived and imposed by a clique on a predominantly non-Welsh-speaking population.

One week, I returned to Cardiff from Dublin to find that the local Tesco store had changed all its signs to dual-language Welsh and English signs. Someone (Welsh) told me in near-disbelief that all the signs at the Tesco store in Abergavenny, where she lived, had also been changed.

“I swear to God, no-one bloody speaks Welsh in Abergavenny!” she told me.

By the time I stopped working at HTV, Lloyds Bank was calling itself Banc Lloyds (it has since re-re-branded itself simply as Lloyds TSB) and other shops and businesses were doing the same: making up their own names in Welsh. Mostly, I suspect, they were English companies trying to be politically correct and liberal, much like that English executive at Grampian TV trying to be so ‘right-on’.

Shortly before Tesco started changing its signs to dual-language Welsh & English, I had been on holiday to Cambodia and, in Phnom Penh, there was a street of hovels and shacks which were all English language ‘schools’. At that time, no-one had any money and there was a very real possibility that the homicidally extreme Khmer Rouge might regain power in the next month or two. But, as in almost all other parts of the world, people wanted to learn English because it was and is the ‘international’ language. If you are an outward-looking country with outward-looking thoughts, you learn English.

My understanding is that, after most of Ireland gained independence from Britain in the early 1920s (let us not get into any pedantic details of dates in Ireland: it will all end in many tears and much wailing), the republicans who ran the country wanted to encourage self-confidence and national pride.

So they called the new country Eire instead of Ireland, painted the red pillar boxes green, changed a few of the royal crests on stone buildings to harps and tried to get everyone to speak Gaelic. The country rotted in inward-looking isolation for decades, admittedly not helped by the fact successive UK governments had every reason to dislike American-born Eamon de Valera and his blindly Brit-hating chums.

But, by the time I worked in Dublin in the mid and late 1990s, the Irish Republic had regained its self-confidence and, although civil servants had to know Gaelic, the English language had taken over all everyday usage except in the extreme west of the country. The few Irish language signs in Dublin were faded and/or rusting.

Irish, like Scots Gaelic, was then and is now effectively a dead language naturally spoken by few people. Though long may they speak Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland. I have nothing against the natural rise and fall of any – indeed, all – languages.

But I am told by Welsh friends that, except in the West and sparsely-populated central highlands of Wales, the Welsh language had pretty-much died out by the late 19th century.

It was re-imposed rather than re-grew in Wales in the late 20th century.

My memory is that extreme Welsh nationalists got publicity in English newspapers by setting off some minor explosions and burning down occasional second homes owned by ordinary English people in Wales.

Then some second-rate people who could not get jobs in media, politics and the local civil service had the bright idea of looking to what their USP was – they could speak Welsh – and they pushed for Welsh-language TV programmes, an entire Welsh TV channel and the use of the Welsh language in the local civil service because, that way, they would have a positive advantage in getting jobs.

The Welsh language was, to an extent, partially revived not by natural growth and usage but by xenophobia and the self-interest of a small clique.

Yes, that’s a very personal view of what happened, but not necessarily totally untrue.

English politicians, frightened of alienating the Welsh, went along with it for electoral gain and you now have a country where people have a TV channel –  S4C – which most of them don’t understand and dual-language signs only half of which most understand – the English language half.

While the rest of the world was moving towards internationally-understood English, a group of self-serving xenophobes in Wales (where English was already established) were pushing for the renewed use of a mostly-dead language known only by some in Wales and nowhere else except some obscure area of Patagonia.

Looking inwards in an increasingly international world is not a good idea. An insistence on trying to spread the Welsh language more widely in Wales is not a sign of national identity. It is a sign of national insecurity.

Right or wrong, that’s my viewpoint. Like I said at the start, What is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

Oh – Abergavenny has now been pointlessly half-re-named Y Fenni.

Really! Give me a break, chaps or – as Google Translate claims that would be said in Welsh – yn rhoi i mi egwyl, chaps.

What sort of sensible language doesn’t have a word for “chaps”?

Dim sense.

18 Comments

Filed under History, Politics, Wales

Exclusive extract – “Killer Bitch – The Novel”

NB THIS BLOG POSTING CONTAINS POTENTIALLY OFFENSIVE SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIAL.

_______________

When the movie Killer Bitch was released last year, it was also going to be published simultaneously as a novel but, when the main supermarket chains and main bookshop chains refused to stock it, the publisher pulled publication of the unfinished book a week before the manuscript was due for delivery. The supermarkets and bookshop chains had not read any extracts from the book and apparently rejected it on the basis of the movie’s pre-release notoriety. This is how the book started… My thanks to James Joyce…

Text is copyright 2010 John Fleming

________________

CHAPTER ONE: THE NAKED GIRL WAS BOUNCING ON TOP OF THE NAKED MAN 

The naked girl was bouncing on top of the naked man, riding his cock to orgasm. The man was a porn star. Hustler magazine had written that he was one of the 50 Most Influential People in Porn. The man was groaning; the girl was screaming; the film camera was quietly whirring; they were on a bed in a room in a warehouse in an industrial estate in Woking, near the M25 motorway that runs round London. The warehouse was used as a hardcore porn studio. There were about 20 sets standing in the empty warehouse: a supermarket, a dungeon, a garage with a yellow Reliant car from BBC TV’s Only Fools and Horses, a Colonial office with a Union flag and a portrait of the Queen on the wall. But this was just a bedroom. There were two bedrooms with two beds in them. This was the red room with the pink bed.

As the man felt the sperm pulse and vibrate up his cock and the video camera watched by the left side of the bed, the naked girl riding him slipped her hand under the pink silk sheet and pulled out a curved jambiya dagger with a polished rhinoceros horn handle and a double-sided blade. The pitch of her screams changed. Higher, sharper, like the curved blade of the knife. High. Sharp. Then down in a curved stabbing movement. The man was confused as he saw a single silver flash of the curved blade before it plunged into his chest and tore into his flesh. His orgasmic groans turned into a single long high-pitched scream.

He felt the white semen pumping out of his cock. He saw the red blood spurt out of his chest, splashing up onto the bouncing perfectly-lit breasts of the naked, now banshee screaming, girl. He felt the sharp pain in his cock and the sharper pain in his chest and then the curved knife was rising again, its blade covered in his own dripping red blood.

“You fuc… aaaarrrgggghhhh!” he screamed as the blade went into him again, closer to his throat.

She stabbed him eleven times; he died on the fourth stab.

She could smell the stench of his insides when she slashed his chest open.

He was Number 3 on her list.

When she had finished, she collapsed on his bloodied, gashed body, gasping for breath.

“You done well,” the cameraman told her.

* * *

Outside the bedroom window, rain was falling. It was falling on all of the British Isles. It was falling on all of England, on Scotland, on Wales, on the island of Ireland, on all the thousand or more islands huddled together in the water off the North West coast of Europe. Water fell out of the sky like a drunk God pissing on his own botched Creation. In Cumbria, in North West England, the rivers overflowed and a policeman was killed when the bridge he was standing on collapsed into the swollen river below. He had four children. So it goes.

Outside the Highland city of Aberdeen, in North East Scotland, on a windy, rainswept Friday night, a junkie called Bill Burrows was sitting in a closed slaughterhouse, waiting to meet his dealer, when two men he had never seen before burst in and one of them shot him without a word. The slaughterhouse already smelled of battery acid and iron because of all the spilled blood from the slaughtered animals and the smell did not change when he died. About two pints of blood came out of him, as it does when you shoot someone. A spit in the ocean in a slaughterhouse.

The two men dragged his half-dead body into a large freezer at the back of the slaughterhouse and left it there until his corpse became a solid block of dead meat. If you want to cut a body up, the thing to do is to freeze it solid; that way, there isn’t so much of a mess when you cut it up – no blood spraying and squirting. It’s much cleaner.

On Sunday night  the two men came back and took his body out of the freezer when The X Factor talent show was on TV; they lay it on the floor and hit the solid, frozen joints with a sledgehammer to break it up at the shoulders, the elbows, the knees, the ankles; then they chopped the body up with an axe. They took the body parts to a huge pressure cooker in the slaughterhouse which could take 50 or 60 lbs of meat at a time and they cooked the dismembered body at very high temperature at very high pressure – 25 pounds per square inch. After an hour, the flesh, the bones and everything except the teeth had turned to gel. On Monday morning, they took the gel to a farm 30 minutes away and fed it to the pigs; there were 200 pigs; they ate everything by the end of the day; Bill Burrows’ teeth were thrown into a nearby river.

Five days later, the police realised he was missing and the last place he’d been seen was near the slaughterhouse. They found a book lying on his bedside table at home: Slaughterhouse Five. The press went wild with the story for two weeks afterwards – they wrote about the Slaughterhouse Five killings. The story staggered on for two weeks but interest in a tabloid tale with no leads and no puns waned and was blown off the front pages by police inaction, political corruption and glamour model Katie Price’s decision to go on the reality TV series I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

Bill Burrows had been Number 4 on the unknown killer’s list. Cut up randomly.; soon forgotten.

* * *

On  the outskirts of Penzance in Cornwall, an elderly man stumbled erratically along a muddy path in the rain, trying to run for his life. His killer strode relentlessly behind him. The elderly man stumbled into the out-building of a farm. A bemused horse in a field watched human life pass by in the rain. The elderly man tripped and fell, sodden and defeated, in a corner then slowly got up again. His killer strode in and stood opposite him. They looked in each other’s eyes. The elderly man looked at his killer in disbelief. The killer looked at the elderly man with resignation. Neither spoke. The killer pulled the trigger six times. The elderly man was jerked backwards against the wall by the force of the bullets, then slumped down dead. His eyes flickered once; he heard his own last sigh. He was Number 2 on his killer’s list.

* * *

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Crime, Movies, Sex

Bad language in Scotland?

Last night I went to a very interesting talk at the British Library by author and publisher James Robertson about The Guid Scots Tongue.

It was a bit like Scots comic Stanley Baxter’s legendary series of Parliamo Glasgow sketches in his 1960s and 1970s TV shows. But with genuine academic credibility.

James Robertson seemed to confirm that Old English developed into Middle English south of the border and into the “Scottish” language north of the border and that, ever since then, people have bemoaned the ‘fact’ that Scots is dying.

I remember Melvyn Bragg saying in his ITV series The Adventure of English that, before Henry VIII, English was a dying language only used by the underclasses. The upper ruling elite spoke Latin and Norman French. But, when Henry decided to split from the Roman Catholic Church so he could knob the wife of his choice, he created the Church of England and commissioned ’The Great Bible’ – the first authorised translation of the Bible into English not Latin. This was distributed to every church in the country and rescued English from its decline and possible extinction.

Last night, James Robertson pointed out that, when King James VI of Scotland took over the English throne in 1603, became King James I of England and brought the Scottish court to London, one of the things he did was to commission the 1611 translation of the Bible into English – the Authorised King James Version of the Bible – which was distributed to every church in England, Scotland and Wales. Ironically, it was never translated into Scottish and this strengthened the hold of the English language in Scotland.

My mother’s grandmother could not speak English until she came down out of the hills. She was born and brought up in the Highlands of Scotland and spoke Gaelic – pronounced Gaah-lick not Gay-lick. She only learned English when she came to the village of Dunning in Perthshire. Or, some might say, she only learned “Scottish” when she moved to Dunning.

Historically in Scotland, after a certain point, Gaelic was the language of the Highlands and so-called “Scottish” was the language of the Lowlands.

I have never believed there was such a language as “Scottish”. To me, it’s clearly a dialect of English (as opposed to Gaelic which IS a different language). Wikipedian debate will no doubt run for decades about it.

If you disagree, haud yer wheesht, dinnae fash yersell aboot it and try no to be too scunnered.

Most languages, dialects and accents are a dog’s dinner of sources. Fash apparently comes from the Old French fascher and ultimately the Latin fastidium. Scunnered apparently has its origins in Middle English. Nothing is pure, not even Baby Spice. Only the French try (unsuccessfully) to keep their language pure.

I was born in Campbeltown near the Mull of Kintyre on the west coast of Scotland. My home town pipe band played on possibly the dreariest song any Beatle ever wrote. When I was three, we moved to Aberdeen in north east Scotland. My parents had friends along the coast in Banffshire where the locals speak to each other in an almost totally incomprehensible dialect which theoretical academics now apparently call Buchan. I call it bloody incomprehensible.

A few years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe, I think I saw a comedy show entitled 100 Shit Things About Scotland though I can’t seem to find any reference to it. Maybe I just imagined the whole thing. But one of the 100 shit things about Scotland I thought I heard was the fact “There are some accents even WE don’t understand”.

Bloody right. Buchan fer yin.

When I was eight, we moved to Ilford in England – it is theoretically in Essex but actually on the outer edge of East London. Over the years, I’ve lost my accent; I never chose to.

So what I’m trying to tell you is I’m interested in language. Perhaps you guessed that.

On the version of the recent Census form distributed in Scotland there is, for the first time, a question about whether you can read/speak/understand not just Gaelic but also the so-called “Scots” language – though how many supposed Scots language variations there might be I cannot even begin to imagine. The words people use in Dundee, Glasgow and Thurso are very different.

There are some great common words. Dreich is almost un-translatable into English in less than an entire paragraph. Crabbit is just a great and appropriate sound. As is Peelie-wallie and many others. But there are amazingly diverse words all over the UK – Perth, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen have wild variations in words, let alone Tyneside, North Norfolk, the Black Country and Devon. They are not separate languages, though.

English is a wonderful language because it has so many variants and has hoovered up so much from other languages – cascade, table and situation are all unchanged in spelling from the original French but pronounced differently. The arrival of radio, movies and then television may have homogenised the English language and be slowly eliminating a lot of dialect and accent variations but, with English now the de facto world language, there are going to be hundreds of variant languages growing up in coming years to rival past pidgin English.

Indeed, this seems to have already happened with BT call centres in India. I don’t know what they are speaking, but it’s no form of English I recognise.

Perhaps I am just mare than a wee bit glakit.

Several times in bookshops, I have picked up Irving Welsh’s novel Trainspotting and looked at the first page then put it back on the shelf. It looks too difficult to read, though lots of English people have, so it must just be wee me. I remember at school in Ilford, for some extraordinary reason, we had to read Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Antiquary and I found it incomprehensible in places; heaven knows what my English classmates made of it. They never said. Must be just me.

When I edited Scots comedienne Janey Godley’s autobiography Handstands in the Darkwhich reads a bit like a cross between Edgar Allan Poe and the movie Gladiator – the two of us had to decide how to write quoted dialogue which could be printed on the page, as she was brought up in East Glasgow where dialect, slang and strong accents prevail. Should we write it with all the dialect words intact or spell words phonetically? Both of those would mean it might be difficult for readers in London, let alone New York or Sydney, to understand.

Eventually, we decided to slightly Anglicise the dialogue but to include Scots words which would be easily understandable to non Scots… and to print some words phonetically so there would be a feeling of accent – for example, we printed the “police” as the “polis” throughout, because that is how it is pronounced in Glasgow and it is a distinct yet not too confusing word. It felt like you were reading genuine Scots dialogue, even though it was slightly Anglicised. I was wary of using the Glasgow word close, which means an indoor stairwell, because, in Edinburgh, it means an outdoor alleyway.

It’s a sare fecht.

Look, I could go on for hours about this. Think yourself lucky it stops here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, History, Travel

Reports of attacks by swarms of midgets

My local papershop owner has a sister or wife who works with him (I’ve never been too sure); next month, she is climbing Ben Nevis for charity. Well, walking up Ben Nevis for charity. She has never been to Scotland before.

Today her brother or husband (I’ve never been too sure) told me he had heard that, in warm, damp weather in the Highlands, walkers can be attacked by swarms of midgets.

He was not joking.

I had to tell him there were swarms of “midges”.

This story is slightly undercut by the fact he thought “midgets” must be the name of some type of flying insect, but the image of swarming midgets attacking wayward walkers is one I will long cherish and perhaps the Scottish Tourist Board should lay them on as an attraction in the years ahead.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Travel