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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Consolation for summer

I’VE already commented on how exceptional this spring has been for wildflowers. Now the profusion has continued into our so-called summer. Maybe the plants have fared better than we have from all the rain. What a treat it was to tune in to the BBC TV programme Blethering Scots and hear celebrities telling how they enjoy using Scots words.

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Let’s hope these wild foxgloves, on a bank by the old A7 just outside Canonbie, survive

Travelling to Carlisle by bus has given me time to appreciate the floral displays. The first show to catch my eye was before the junction at The Hollows along the new road where the trees had been felled on the banking.

The cratties, which we all miss and which we were told would be replanted but never were, have given way to the oxeye daisy or dog daisy. The Scots word for this flower is gowan, as in Burns’ Auld Lang Syne: “We twa hae run aboot the braes, And pu’d the gowans fine.”

In England gowans are often called moondaisies or moonpennies.

The next day, as I motored past, they were gone – fallen victim to the strimmers wielded by contractors. But further along the route, on the previous day I’d seen, from the bus, another colourful spectacle.

This show of purple was just beyond Canonbie on the old road and was the result of foxgloves taking over the ground where there had been a wood. I’ve never seen such a dense patch of these fairy thimbles or tod-tails.

Actor Bill Paterson commented on the fact that we knew how to say these Scots words but didn’t know how to spell them as we hadn’t seen them written down; they were simply handed down through the generations.

I worry that soon they’ll be lost, although the Scottish government is making positive moves towards ensuring Scots is recognised as a language. In the 16th century Scots was spoken in parliament.

One contributor, Rab Wilson of Sanquhar, is the Robert Burns Fellowship writer for Dumfries and Galloway and always speaks as well as writes in Scots. I sat opposite him at a MacDiarmid lunch and lecture a few years ago and heard him talk all the time in broad Scots while the rest of us were “pittin’ oan the fine tongue”.

Rab has translated into Scots the Persian classic The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam and is proud of our language.

Another Scot who spoke on the programme was poet and novelist Jackie Kay who called the Scots language a great cauldron full of riches, producing a big boost of flavour, lots of character, a sense of uniqueness, a sense of time and place.

She said it was strange that when people left a country, what they missed most was the language they left behind. With this in mind, she’s written a poem Old Tongue and I’m putting it in my jotting for those readers, and there are many, who’ve moved away to a’ the airts and keep up with the Langholm paper.

“When I was eight, I was forced south.

Not long after, when I opened my mouth, a strange thing happened.

I lost my Scottish accent.

Words fell off my tongue:

Eedyit, dreich, wabbit, crabbit

Strummer, teuchter, heidbanger,

So you are, so am ur, see you, see ma ma,

Shut yer geggie or I’ll gie ye the malkie!

My own vowels start to stretch like my bones

And I turn my back on Scotland.

Words disappeared like the dead of the night,

New words marched in: ghastly, awful,

Quite dreadful, scones said like stones.

Pokey hats into ice-cream cones.

Oh where did all my words go –

my old words, my lost words?

Out in the English soil, my old words buried themselves.

It made my mother’s blood boil.

I cried one day with the wrong sound in my mouth;

I wanted them back;

I wanted my old accent back, my old tongue.

My dour, soor Scottish tongue.”

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