• John Dempster

An evening with the Makar and Scriever.....


Again, we had a great HighlandLIT meeting last night, when, in an event presented in collaboration with the Federation of Writers (Scotland) we welcomed the Federation’s 2022 Machar Beth McDonough and Scriever Moira McPartlin. They led a workshop on the theme ‘Migration in Language’ which they are presenting in a number of locations in Scotland this year.


About this theme, Moira wrote before the event. 'Language is an evolving thing, in Scotland we have three principal languages; English, Gaelic, and Scots but within these three there are many regional variations as well as words and phrases introduced by immigrants to Scotland. In the workshop, we want to invite participants to explore the different words and influences in their own families and to play around with the colour and texture of these words.’


The evening began with a short video presented by Moira and Beth at the Japanese Garden outside Dollar which formed a starting point for our exploration into language migration. We saw the concepts of the traditional Japanese garden flourishing in a Scottish context beneath the Ochil Hills rather than mighty Mount Fuji. In the same way words can flourish in a new cultural context.


Moira and Beth then led workshops – Moira’s on prose, and Beth’s on poetry, where we explored, discussed, played around with and generally had fun with words from our own childhood background, and new words we had discovered later in life. One exercise involved listing words we knew referring to landscape, and given the backgrounds and knowledge of the folk attending, we created a huge list with words from many parts of the UK.


Personally, I reflected on our use as kids in Lanarkshire to use the word ‘shunkie’ to refer to the toilet. (Only in mid-life did I discover that this was a reference to Shanks of Barrhead, manufacturers of porcelain toilet-ware: by synecdoche, ‘shunkie’ or ‘shankie’ was used to refer to the whole miserable toilet block.) And is it just in Lanarkshire that coal slag-heaps were called ‘bings’? And at our school we used the ‘cally-code’ variant to describe a piggy back (as in ‘Gimme a cally-code’). Fascinating stuff!


It was a lovely evening – and we began our new practice of running the event from 7pm to 9pm to allow time for socialising from 6pm-7pm, which gave us a chance to ‘catch up’ with one another.


Once again, I was conscious of a sense of writerly fellowship. Moira and Beth were friendly, inclusive, warm – and ‘real.’ The Federation of Writers (Scotland) describes itself as fostering ‘a safe and constructive space’ for writers. I was conscious of the ‘safeness’ of the space last night – we were writers among friends and allies – and the constructiveness of our interactions. I’m sure we all saw how the palette of our vocabulary could be enhanced by the half-forgotten words which emerged in the course of an inspiring evening.


Thank you so much, Moira and Beth.


John Dempster


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