Author Archives: paulmclem

About paulmclem

If you want to know about me then please read my blog. If you want to read my creative fiction then read my blog. If you want to know my opinions on stuff then read my blog. If you want to know more about Scottish Islands then read Lonely-Isles. If you don't want to read about any of these things then it doesn't appear that I have anything for you. Either way thanks for looking at my Gravatar.

The Road to Riccarton Junction

For over 100 years passengers and freight were conveyed up and down the Waverly Route between Edinburgh and Carlisle. In January 1969 the route closed to passengers, with freight continuing for another few months before the track-lifters finally moved in. In recent times a new “Borders Railway” has opened between Edinburgh and Galashiels (Tweedbank). An extension south to Hawick, and even Carlisle has been mooted, but as of yet the disused trackbed beyond Galashiels remains quiet. One of the most well known points on the Waverly Route is also one of the most hidden, lying as it does three miles from the nearest road. Riccarton Junction was a station which existed to connect the Waverly Route and the Borders Counties Railway, which ran from Riccarton to Hexham. All of those who worked at Riccarton Junction lived in the houses which sat on the hillside overlooking the station. Other than a long walk, the only way in or out was by the iron road.

Looking South from Whitrope – next stop Riccarton Junction

I have plans to visit Riccarton Junction but today I decided to stop one station short as I made for Whitrope Sidings, about 3 miles north-west of Riccarton. Whitrope isn’t the easiest place to get to, nestling as it does in unspoilt and remote countryside between Hawick and Newcastleton. One of the real treats of a trip down this narrow, twisting road is to see the magnificent Shankend Viaduct. Even if a connection is fully restored between Edinburgh and Carlisle it’s unlikely the Viaduct will ever see another train, as any new route would likely be diverted westwards to Langholm. However, it remains a truly spectacular sight and a living tribute to the engineers and labourers who raised its 15 spans over the Langside Valley back in 1862.

Shankend Viaduct

A couple of hundred yards south of the viaduct is Shankend Station. Like several of the Waverly Route stops south of Hawick, the station is extremely isolated and seems to serve no visible community, other than perhaps the surrounding farms.

Shankend Station

A mile or two south of Shankend Viaduct lies Whitrope Sidings, which these days is the site of a Heritage Railway (https://wrha.org.uk/) which has ambitious plans to run trains between the sidings and Riccarton Junction.  The sidings are currently closed to the public, but having travelled 60 miles to get there, I hope nobody minded me taking a walk along the platform – there certainly wasn’t anybody around to ask or object.

The sidings are home to several locos and carriages – one of which serves as a shop and café when the site is up and running. I certainly look forward to going back when it re-opens. The hope is that Whitrope will also act as the starting point for the walk to Riccarton, as nothing beats walking over the actual trackbed.

The station after Riccarton Junction is in Newcastleton. This was the site of vociferous protests when the line closed as locals blocked the level crossing gates to stop the final train from progressing south to Carlisle. These days there is no sign of the station, but the level crossing site, trackbed and Station Master’s house are all still there to see.

Site of the level crossing gates at Newcastleton (trackbed to the left)

Station Master’s house at Newcastleton (car is where track would have been)

After Newcastleton I made a brief stop in Kershopefoot which entailed a trip south of the Border. Thankfully Scotland doesn’t as yet have England on its quarantine list so I won’t need to self-isolate when I get home!

Picture taken from where the trackbed once lay – house over the hedge is the main station building

After Kershopefoot I made my way south and headed back to Biggar via the M74. On my next trip down the Waverly Route I will hopefully make it all the way to Riccarton Junction. When I do I will of course publish words and pictures from the day.

Thanks for reading.

What am I doing with my Gaelic?

Deagh cheist (good question) – what have I been doing? Well, there was never any real plan after An Cùrsa Inntrigidh other than to enjoy having Gaelic as a hobby. The whole point of doing the course was to give me a foundation upon which to build in my own time – over many years, in amongst doing other things I enjoy. So that’s what I’m doing. Don’t expect fluency any time soon! After ACI I worked through Scottish Gaelic in 12 Weeks which covered the areas ACI didn’t cover, but would have been covered on the following course An Cùrsa Adhartais, which I chose not to do. Therefore I have the vast majority of the grammar covered and the focus over the next year or two will be:

Improved Vocabulary – Not looking to swallow a dictionary, but I’m trying to develop a vocabulary which is relevant to the words I need i.e. no point in trying to remember the Gaelic for a word I’ll barely use. 

Improved Idiom – What’s Idiom? Well idiom is the way a language chooses to say something with a structure which may be unusual to non-native speakers. For example there are a lot of idiomatic phrases involving the verb cuir (put).

  • Tha mi airson crìoch a chur air an leabhar seo – I want to finish this book
    • literally: put an end on this book
  • Bu toil leam eòlach a chur air Barraigh – I would like to get to know Barra
    • literally: put familiarity on Barra

Idiom is the bit which means solid grammar foundations and a good vocabulary isn’t enough. You need to know how things are said. Until you do you will always come across as a learner. That said, until you know the idiom you can only go with what you have, and in time you will learn the idiomatic phrasing when you come across it. As long as you’re understood, you have a foundation to build on.

Improved Listening – At the moment this is not good. I still struggle to keep up with anything other than really basic conversations. The plan for later this year, possibly next, is to start working through the Beag air Bheag podcasts on Rèidio Nan Gàidheal. These are not for beginners but the hope will be that my knowledge of grammar backed up by solid vocabulary and improving idiom will serve me well.

To help with the first two goals I have started to read through Leabhar nan Litrichean (Book of Letters). This is a collection of the first 200 letters of an on-going series. The letters so far have been primarily old tales of where, when and how the Gaelic language was used. The writing can be a bit poetic at times but it has helped me add some much needed idiom as well as some useful vocabulary.

To date I’ve read letters 1-5 and the intention is to read and work on 5 before doing something else – including write blog pieces and working on other resources i.e. letters 6-10 will be tackled in a few weeks.

Key point in all of this is that there is no magic wand. It’s going to take time and effort – both of which I will give willingly. However, the results will be slow but that was always the idea. Gaelic is now something I have in my life which I enjoy greatly and it’s something I will work away at for the rest of my days, even if the outside world doesn’t see much evidence of it!

Taing airson leughadh!

General Election 2019 – A Union Divided

On Thursday (December 12th 2019) the UK had its third General Election in five years. The 2017 incarnation was a failed attempt by the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, to get an increased Tory majority to progress Brexit. That ended in a muddled disaster of DUP collusion, Common’s defeats and ultimately her resignation. In Theresa’s place came the marmite figure of Boris Johnson – a man you either think is an out of touch, gaffe-prone Etonian who only cares for himself and his rich right-wing enablers, or you seem him as the People’s Champion. Generally speaking, Scotland sees him very much as the former, while England inexplicably leans to the latter. Anyway, as with May, Johnson suffered a series of defeats on Brexit and so decided to repeat Theresa’s trick of calling a General Election. The purpose was the same, to get a majority to push through Brexit. This time though they succeeded. However, the cost is undoubtedly a further weakening of the withering ties that bind Scotland (and possibly N. Ireland) to the now openly far-right UK establishment.

In Scotland the campaign fought by opponents of the SNP was fairly predictably around Scottish Independence. Despite this election being the UK Tories hunt for a Brexit mandate, the Scottish Tories chose to pretty much ignore Brexit – something they prefer to do as Scotland voting overwhelmingly to Remain in the EU. So the Tories focused all their energies and bottomless pit of money on “No to indyref2”. The SNP didn’t have a mandate they claimed. The results were as you can see. The Tories lost over half of their seats and the SNP recorded what was in many observers view their most impressive General Election showing. Seats which had thin majorities after 2017 now returned to several thousand vote margins. The Tories only managed to hold on in their traditional Borders and North East of Scotland heartlands – and even there with reduced majorities. A mandate well and truly secured by the SNP to progress indyref2.

Elsewhere Labour were all but driven off the Electoral map with only one seat for local favourite Ian Murray. The Lib Dems overturned an SNP majority of two to retake a seat in rural NE Fife. However, in the result of the night, their leader, and potential Prime Minister (her words), Jo Swinson lost her East Dunbartonshire seat for the second time – with 27 year old skin cancer survivor Amy Callaghan scoring a remarkable win.

Amy Callaghan (centre) defeats Jo Swinson (right)

In England the story wasn’t much better for the LibDems, and certainly not better for Labour.

England spoke and the their voice was loud and clear. They wanted to “Get Brexit Done”. Why they wanted Brexit, whether their reasoning actually made sense doesn’t matter. They wanted the Tories and they got the Tories, and ALL that comes with the Tories. Therefore as always, Scotland gets the Tories too as we always get what England wants – so much for a Union of equals. The main headline from the English results was the meltdown of the Labour vote in areas they historically took for granted. Former mining areas voted Tory. Areas devastated by Tory policies voted Tory nonetheless. All sense of perspective and rational simply appears to have been thrown out the window in the desperate urge to “Get Brexit Done”.

What all of this shows is a Union at breaking point. Scotland has once again rejected Boris Johnson, the Tories and Brexit. Northern Ireland has for the first time more Nationalist MPs than Unionist. However, as polls have shown, English voters prioritise leaving the EU more than maintaining the United Kingdom. Brexit has triggered a re-birth of English Nationalism and this is the first real result. It probably won’t be the last. Hopefully, Scotland can soon find her own path.

Thanks for reading.

Am bu toil leibh Gàidhlig na h-Alba ionnsachadh? (Would you like to learn Scottish Gaelic?)

With the release of the Duolingo course for Scottish Gaelic there seems to be a buzz in Social Media circles for our wonderful language. I therefore thought it might be a good idea to give potential new learners some thoughts on how to start their Gaelic journey.

Websites/Apps

LearnGaelic

A superb, and recently redesigned website which is many learner’s first experience of Gaelic. Has lots of beginner lessons, an excellent dictionary (which includes sound files) and an exhaustive list of Gaelic classes – there should hopefully be one near you. If not then there is always the distance courses!

Duolingo

As mentioned in the intro, the recent surge of interest in learning Gaelic has come about due to the release of a Scottish Gaelic course on the language app Duolingo. As with all apps like this there is a free and a premium option. Not looked into the premium option so don’t know what it costs. More than happy to deal with adverts and use the free version. I’ve done about half of it so far and I’d imagine it’s a typical language learning app i.e. very repetitive and really all about remembering phrases and less about learning underlying grammar.

For me as a grammar nerd I could never have used Duolingo as the basis of my learning. However, for those looking for something to use a gentle introduction to the language, or for something to use as a bit of practice, then it’s all good. Basically anything which brings people to Gaelic is good, no matter the flaws it may have.

Distance Courses

After initially attending a local class I quickly opted for this option. There are a couple of main places people go.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

This is where I went. They run several distance courses with the main beginners one being An Cùrsa Inntrigidh. This runs for 18 months. It’s a mixture of learning on our own, weekly phone calls and end of session tests (written and oral).

There is then a follow-up course called An Cùrsa Adhartais which runs for two full academic years. I personally didn’t feel the need for this second course as two years seemed an overly long commitment for a hobby. Instead at this point I moved to Teach Yourself Books and have now covered pretty much everything An Cùrsa Adhartais would have covered.

However, if you have the time and motivation then do as many courses as you can. Just bear in mind they cost around £300 per block (Earrann) and An Cùrsa Inntrigidh had 3 blocks.

Atlantic Gaelic Academy

Don’t know much about this other than it has Skype hosted classes which last three hours. That’s way too long for me, but perhaps it would work for others. The AGA though, is about more than just the language, it offers many courses and events based around Gaelic culture. It is based in Canada but some of the tutors are from Scotland as far as I am aware. Like Sabhal Mòr Ostaig you would need to factor in cost and time if this is an option you think might suit you.

Teach Yourself Books

Not sure I could have learnt solely from a book – well, I know I couldn’t because I tried. However, maybe it will work for some. For me these books are best used as an accompaniment to a course, or for use once you already have a decent grasp of the basics. Two books I would recommend are:

Scottish Gaelic in 12 Weeks

I have two people on Twitter who I regard as my Gaelic gurus. One is a native speaker (and author), the other is a learner, but a seriously good leaner who has themselves written several books in Gaelic. Both of them, independently of each other, recommended this as the best Teach Yourself book on the market. I bought it on their recommendations and wasn’t disappointed.  Just be aware of a couple of things:

  1. Ignore the title. You will not read this book in 12 weeks unless you already know a lot of Gaelic. I read it in about 2 months but by then I had already completed An Cùrsa Inntrigidh before I started, and therefore already know a sizeable chunk of the content. Instead regard it more as 12 chapters, not 12 weeks.
  2. The book is very grammar dense. It’s kind of a bare bones look at what makes up the Gaelic language. For me that was perfect. However, I know from reading other people’s comments that it can seem a bit “dry” and tough to get into. I would say it’s maybe not a book to be your one and only source of learning – more as an aid to a course, or as a book to fill in the gaps, and extend your knowledge, after a course.

This is a book I will never stop going back to as there is always something to refresh or rediscover.

Teach Yourself Gaelic

This was the second Teach Yourself book I owned and I didn’t get too far with it. However, in revisiting it I can see that it was actually very good. One of the authors is Boyd Robertson, someone who was a key driving force behind the success of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. You can actually see this in the book. The chapters are set out like the Aonadan (units) in An Cùrsa Inntrigidh i.e. a conversation, followed by a list of the key vocab, an explanation of the grammar used and then some exercises. Again as someone who has done a fair bit of Gaelic, I now enjoy going back to this book and using the conversations for practice. As with 12 Weeks, you always pick up something when you read a book like this i.e. an idiom, a construct, a new or forgotten piece of vocabulary etc.

As with Scottish Gaelic in 12 Weeks, I wouldn’t necessarily advise brand new learners to use this as the only basis for their learning. Perhaps using this with 12 Weeks for more grammar depth/explanation would work. Either way it’s a very handy book to have in your collection, and one I would recommend.

Facebook Groups

There are several groups on Facebook. The one I contribute to is the Let’s Learn Scottish Gaelic group. The group has lots of links to learning resources allied to the chance to ask questions and start discussions. Like all groups it can be quiet at times, and there can be phases when conversation gets stuck at the Madainn mhath level. However, there are a few posters, such as me,  on there who are happy to dig deeper into the language, as well as helping others with their queries. Overall it’s a good group and something I would recommend you joining.

Any questions please don’t hesitate to ask – even questions on Gaelic grammar!

Thanks for reading.

Dè th’ ann Eileanan Aonaranach?

Tha làrach-lìn agam air a bheil “Lonely-Isles”. Tha i mu dheidhinn eileanan na h-Alba. Ach chan eil mu dheidhinn a h-uile eileanan na h-Alba. Tha na h-eileanan air an làrach-line trèigte no chan eil ach corra dhuine a’ fuireach an sin an-dràsta. Faodaidh sibh tuilleadh a leughadh mu dheidhinn “Lonely Isles” nam briogadh tu an dealbh.

Chaidh “Lonely Isles” a sgrìobhadh anns a’ Bheurla a chionn tha Beurla agam!  Ach dh’fhaodeadh gum bruidhneadh na duine a bha a’ fuireach air na-eileanan seo a’ Ghàidhlig. Bha mi a’ smaoineachadh gum biodh e na dheagh bheachd tionndadh Gàidhlig a sgrìobhadh. B’ e seo aon dhe na rudan a thug dhomh brosnachadh Gàidhlig ionnsachadh.

Bidh e na slaodach obair ach tha mi an dòchas gun leugh is tuig sibh e nuair a nochdas na duilleagan Ghàidhlig.

Taing airson leughadh.

Cò Pòl Cliaman?

Fàilte chun earrann Ghàidhlig de fromheretorhere.

…cò Pòl Cliaman?

Uill, is mise Paul Clements agus is mise Pòl Cliaman cuideachd! ‘S e Paul Clements a th’ orm anns a’ Bheurla ach ‘s e Pòl Cliaman a th’ orm anns a’ Ghàidhlig. Tha sin math ach s’ docha gu bheil sibh a’ smaoineachadh carson a tha mi a’ sgrìobhadh anns a’ Ghàidhlig? ‘S e deagh cheist a th’ ann agus tha an freagairt furasta gun robh mi airson a-riamh Gàidhlig na h-Alba ionnsachadh.

Tha mi air a bhith ag ionnsachadh Gàidhlig o chionn an t-Samhain 2017. An toiseach chaidh mi a chlas ann am Biggar agus chòrd e rium. Bha an tidsear glè mhath agus chaidh mi an-sin airson còig no sia seachdean. An toiseach bha mòran duine ann ach mu dheireadh bha dà no trì ann fhathast. Sguir na clasaichean aig Nollaig ach bha mi airson tuilleadh ionnsachadh. Roghnaich mi An Cùrsa Inntrigidh a dèanamh aig Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.

Faodaidh sibh tuilleadh a leughadh mu dheidhinn a’ chùrsa an seo.

Dè bhios mi a’ sgrìobhadh mu dheidhinn anns a’ Ghàidhlig? Tha mi an dùil gum bi mi a’ sgrìobhadh mu dheidhinn mòran rudeigin – mo bheachdan, mo bheatha, gràmar na Gàidhlig agus rudeigin eile cuideachd. Tha mi an dòchas gun còrd e ruibh.

Taing airson leughadh.

Next Man Up

Dave MacKay (Pic. courtesy of Stirling Albion)

The latest incumbent of the proverbial “hot seat” at Forthbank has left the building following a truly toe-curling 3-0 defeat to Albion Rovers at Cliftonhill. The Wee Rovers had a single point and an extremely negative goal-difference pre-match, but that mattered not as they cantered to a three-goal victory against a thoroughly dis-spirited looking Stirling Albion side. This horror of this performance and result, allied to Stirling being on a run of 3 wins in 21 matches, saw things come to a head. Without much ceremony, an incredibly brief statement simply stated the obvious i.e. Goodbye Mr MacKay. Nobody was surprised, and reaction amongst Stirling fans has been fairly universal – there was no other decision to take.

Was a bit of a strange time under MacKay. He replaced the disastrous “project” that was Stuart McLaren and, really, things didn’t get much better. In his first full season, we started well and led the table after a dozen or so games. Unfortunately, the wheels kinda came off and despite a brief spurt to make the play-off spots we slumped again and only just hung on to achieve post-season action. However, we lost both legs to Peterhead in the semi-final and actually ended the season on a run of nine matches without a win. Moving on, an uninspired off-season, with a lack of anything remotely resembling a “marquee” signings, tempered expectations somewhat for the new campaign.

One win in four in the league-cup was then followed by two wins in eight in the league (plus defeat at Alloa in that nonsense tournament with the Welsh, Irish, English non-league sides). Worst of all was the manager’s continual bemusement after defeats. Time and again he just had no answers and you got the feeling that whatever happened next week would be down to luck more than judgement. Sadly for Dave that luck ran out for good at in Coatbridge.

Who next? Well, time will tell. Whoever it is we need to finally find someone who can lead us out of the doldrums. For far too long we’ve drifted. For too long we’ve watched sides get promoted who we should be getting promoted ahead of. Stirling is a decent sized town and has the potential for so much more. Those who turn up to watch the side deserve so much more than has been delivered over the last few years.

‘Mon the Beanos and thanks for reading.

Daniel Thomas – AKA PeeWeeToms

A few months ago a vlog by a lad called Daniel Thomas appeared on my YouTube suggestions. Out of curiosity I clicked the link and began to listen to Daniel’s story. Dan, known affectionally as “PeeWeeToms” was suffering from a rare form of cancer called a Sarcoid Carcinoma. In layman’s terms it seems that people normally get one of these two types i.e. a sarcoma or a carcinoma. However, poor Dan was one of only 16 cases recorded world-wide to have both. I won’t go into the details of his condition as I’d probably get my facts wrong. The blog below was one of the first Dan published, and gives you an introduction into what he was going through.

In a nutshell, Dan had an incredibly rare terminal cancer. He was going to die, probably within months at most, and there was next to nothing medical science could do for him. However, Dan was an incredible fighter and he simply wouldn’t take no for an answer. Every avenue was explored. He’d be given hope only for the latest round of scans and tests to show that hope didn’t really exist. But undeterred Dan kept looking for answers. All the while his tumours became more prevalent and his body more infested by cancer. Nothing was stopping it.

Despite all this Dan maintained a remarkably upbeat persona. No doubt we saw him in his better moments. Most of the time he was in pain and suffering terribly at the hands of this vicious disease. Over the last month or so there was a heartbreakingly marked change in his appearance. Weight loss was shocking and he began to look like the end must be near. Yet, instead of giving in and accepting his fate he fought more than ever. He fought right up to his final breath. Even at the end he kept death waiting until he was ready to leave.

Rest in Peace, Daniel.

Friday Fictioneers – False Hopes

A bright orange digger snarled and smoked – its demolition ball swaying gently in the warm breeze. Inside the cab a workman perspired as he talked on his 2-way radio. This row of cottages was once home to some of the town’s most outwardly upstanding families. Now it was home to terminal decay and manicured lawns long-turned to wispy seed.

A piercing whistle sounded to lurch the digger into action. Yet as the red bricks began to crumble into dust I felt nothing. Maybe I had expected release, however, I knew what happened in that house would live with me forever.

friday-fictioneers

These words form this my entry into this week’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt challenge.

A bheil Gàidhlig Agam?

Well, after nearly 5 months on Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’s distance learning course for beginners – An Cùrsa Inntrigidh – the answer is I have a lot more Gaelic than I did at the start. The course is primarily focused on grammar, which I like, and so far we’ve learnt several key building blocks which allow relatively basic sentences to be constructed. What I am now able to say, while sounding quite impressive, is limited to the kind of conversation featured in the course.

What you see below is an example of what I can come up with based on some of what we’ve been taught so far. It’s a bio of a made-up friend, which was something I wrote for one of the weekly phone tutorials a few weeks back. The plan is to keep writing about this character, and as my Gaelic gets better more will be written about Emil and his family.

“Tha caraid agam. ‘S e Emil Nielsen a th’ air. Tha Emil à Copenhagen anns an Danmharc. Tha Emil a’ fuireach anns an Tòb anns na Hearadh a-nis. ‘S e baile mòr trang a th’ ann an Copenhagen ach ‘s e àite glè bheag sàmhach a th’ anns an Tòb. Tha Emil ag obair air an aiseag eadar an Tòb agus Beàrnaraigh – ‘s e MV Lochportain a th’ air an aiseag. Tha e pòsta agus ‘s e Màiri-Anna a th’ air a bhean. Tha Màiri-Anna à Bagh a’ Chaisteil ann am Barriagh. Tha i ag obair ann am bùth anns an Tòb.

Tha a theaghlach anns an Danmharc agus anns an t-Suain. Tha a mhàthair agus athair a’ fuireach ann an seann taigh mòr ann an Copenhagen. Tha dà phiuthar agus bràthair aige. Tha a phiuthar bheag Sofia agus a bhràthair beag Jesper a’ fuireach fhathast ann an Copenhagen còmhla ri am pàrantan. Tha a phiuthar mhòr Freja a’ fuireach ann an Stockholm anns an t-Suain. Tha Freja ag obair ann an coimpiutairean ann an oifis ann an Stockholm fhèin.

Tha nighean agus mac aig Emil. ‘S e Murchadh agus Mòrag na h-ainmean a th’ orra. Tha Murchadh còig agus tha Mòrag tri a-nis. Tha cù agus cat aca. ‘S e Bonzo agus Bobby a th’ orra. Tha bràthair aig Màiri-Anna. ‘S e Fionnlagh a th’ air agus tha e a’ fuireach ann an Èirisgeigh. Tha a pàrantan a’ fuireach fhathast ann am Barraigh. Tha Hyundai aig Emil agus Màiri-Anna. Tha rotharan aig Murchadh agus Mòrag.

Tha caraid aig Emil agus Màiri-Anna air a’ Thairbeart. ‘S e Seumas MacLeòid a th’ air. Tha Seumas ag obair anns a’ bhùth-èisg anns a’ bhaile. Tha carabhan aig Seumas anns an Tòb cuideachd. Tha Seumas agus a theaghlach a’ fuireach anns a’ charabhan aig deireadh na seachdain.

Agus sin mo charaid Emil Nielsen.”

Translation

“I have a friend. His name is Emil Nielsen. Emil is from Copenhagen in Denmark. Emil now lives in Leverburgh in Harris. Copenhagen is a large, busy town but Leverburgh is a very small, quiet place. Emil works on the ferry between Leverburgh and Berneray – the ferry is called the MV Loch Portain. He is married and his wife’s name is Mary-Ann. Mary-Ann is from Castlebay in Barra. She works in a shop in Leverburgh.

His family is in Denmark and Sweden. His mother and father live in a big, old house in Copenhagen. He has two sisters and a brother. His little sister, Sofia, and his little brother, Jesper, still live in Copenhagen with their parents. His big sister, Freja, lives in Stockholm in Sweden. Freja works in computers in an office in Stockholm itself. 

Emil has a son and a daughter. Their names are Murdo and Morag. Murdo is five and Morag is three. They have a cat and a dog. They are called Bonzo and Bobby. Mary-Ann has a brother. His name is Finlay and he lives in Eriskay. Her parents still live in Barra. Emil and Mary-Ann have a Hyundai. Murdo and Morag have bikes.

Emil and Mary-Ann have a friend in Tarbert. His name is James MacLeod. James works in the fish-shop in the town. James has a caravan in Leverburgh too. James and his family stay in the caravan at the weekend. 

And that is my friend Emil Nielsen.”

Impressive? Maybe not, but I’m fairly pleased with the progress so far. Yes, my canvas isn’t particularly large but once we begin to explore verbs things should begin to open up. Over the summer I will be spending time reviewing what I’ve learnt so far, as well as adding some new vocabulary and brushing up on my pronunciation i.e. when the second part of the course starts I’ll know what I need to know, and a bit more.

That’s all for now, but I will post another blog in a couple of weeks covering my thoughts on the course itself i.e. what I liked, what I didn’t – that sort of thing. Until then, as always, thanks for reading.

Le deagh dhùrachdan.

Pòl.

An Cùrsa Inntrigidh – Aonad a H-Aon

Fàilte air ais!

It’s been a good few weeks since I blogged about my decision to start a Gaelic beginner’s distance learning course offered by Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s only Gaelic language college. Well, in those few weeks the course has begun and we formally completed Aonad a H-Aon (Unit One) last week. We are now getting stuck into Aonad a Dhà (Unit Two) – in total there are six units in this block, ending with Aonad a Sia, which wraps up in mid-June. There are then a further two blocks which will take place in the Autumn and then early next year. I haven’t yet signed up for these other blocks, known as Earrann a Dhà and Earrann a Tr­ì, but probably will. However, one step at a time.

Content-wise, the course is made up of one hour long tutorial per week allied to roughly 10-12 hours of my own time reviewing the relevant notes. At the moment the tutorial still contains a fair amount of English language conversation, with the clear aim being that over the coming weeks it will become almost entirely Gaelic. To do this we are currently learning to be able to say handy things like:

  • Ciamar a tha thu ag ràdh …?  How do you say …?
  • Ciamar a tha thu a’ sgriobhadh …?  How do you write …?
  • Gabh mo leisgeul, can sin a-rithist!  Excuse me, say that again!

At the moment my range of conversation hasn’t moved much beyond initial pleasantries i.e. how are you, what’s your name, where do you live etc. However, I get the feeling that the pace will ramp up over the coming weeks and so hopefully by the end of Earrann a H-Aon I will be able to make Gaelic small talk that reaches into areas more akin to what I might actually say to someone in English.

One thing I am very keen to do is to have conversations with other learners outside of the class. This would be in the form of Skype calls. Nothing elaborate, just 15 minutes of chat in which we cover a combination of class notes and ad-hoc conversation. There are a couple of very lively Facebook pages, primarily Let’s Learn Gaelic, which will hopefully provide one or two willing accomplices. Pronunciation is one of the hardest things to master in Gaelic and the more conversations you have the better.

The last thing I will say, for now, is that you need to want to do this sort of course. There is quite a lot of work, and with most of it being done on your own, you have to have the right motivation. I like to think I do and so far I’ve really enjoyed getting to know every new word and grammar rule.

Le deagh dhùrachdan.

Pòl.

Speaking Our Language – ag ionnsachadh Gàidhlig na h-Alba

At least twice before I’ve attempted to learn (Scottish) Gaelic. However, on each occasion, I’ve given up without too much of a fight. Learning a new language, particularly one where pronunciation isn’t intuitive to English speakers, can be difficult. For all that the fire has still burned and at the third attempt, I’m hopeful that I finally have lift off.

In my hometown, a Gaelic Conversation class started in early November. The class is run by a native Gaelic speaker from the Isle of Lewis who has kindly given up her Friday nights for the cause. After an initial surge of interest, the class has trimmed down to half a dozen or so who seem keen to learn. Think to start with people turn up and are immediately put off by the quirky pronunciation and sentence constructs. At that point, if the motivation isn’t strong you could be put off. That said, learning anything new will have an initial knowledge curve, but that shouldn’t put people off if it’s something they truly want to do, and importantly, have the time and drive to commit to the process. My personality may have many flaws but one I do have is a stickability to see something through when it truly interests and intrigues me, especially when there is genuine motivation allied to an intellectual challenge.

Well, why do I want to learn Gaelic? Several reasons. First and foremost because I still believe that Gaelic is Scotland’s language. For many reasons lost in the mists of time, the language was pushed away from the mainland out to the Island fringes. However, the language has never died and I want to play a small part in making sure it never does. It’s not about creating a difference between  Scotland and other countries, it’s about holding onto something Scottish. Something in which much of our history and culture remains wrapped – for example, there are many lowland (and indeed border) towns which have place names rooted in Gaelic. On a more direct level, I  want to make my Scottish Islands website (www.lonely-isles.com) bilingual. I want to blog and read Gaelic. I’d also like to speak it, if and when chances arrive.

While I continue to plan on attending my local conversational class I have also decided to strike while the iron is well and truly hot. Scotland’s only Gaelic language college, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on the Isle of Skye, runs a three-part introductory course in Gaelic. It is a distance learning course and will be spread over 18 or so months. Hopefully, by the end, I will have a solid foundation on which to build on over the coming years.

I will, of course, write a regular diary on my blog so those reading can keep up to speed on my progress. I warn you now that you may be seeing more and more Gaelic on my blog, but fear not, an English translation will always be provided. Finally, as this is going to be my last blog of the year then it seems only appropriate to end with the following greeting:

Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr!

(Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!)

Thanks for reading.

Friday Fictioneers – Born Evil

Dick and Perry weren’t like normal kids. Normal kids didn’t spend hot summer afternoons locked away in their folk’s garage. Normal kids hung out at the store, went skinny dipping down by Sawyers mill, went on first dates to MacAfee’s malt shop on Reinbold St. Dick and Perry did none of these things.

All kids shoot birds. All kids pull rabbits apart. It’s just them being inquisitive their parents said. Leave them be.

In 59 when Dick and Perry drove a grey Chevy into Holcomb, Kansas, society had deemed them safe; Deemed then Normal.

On her farm, Nancy Clutter finished baking a cherry pie.friday-fictioneers

These words form this my entry into this week’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt challenge.

I’m currently reading Truman Capote’s true crime classic, In Cold Blood. My story is a fictional response to what I’ve read so far, in particular, to the two perps, Dick and Perry.

The Final Shutdown

Date: 26th April, 2016

For the first time in over 10 years Alexander Akimov turned the black switch which sent all 211 boron control rods into the core of Reactor number 4. To those who had worked at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant for as long as Alexander, there followed a familiar sound: the sound of a mighty RMBK fission reactor winding itself down. Probably none of the others gathered in the busy control room could hear it. Perhaps only his long-time friend and colleague Leonid Tuptinov will have shared in the moment. Alexander and Leonid had shared many moments in the intimidating space which formed Control Room 4. Panel after panel filled with switches and buttons. All available wall surfaces covered in lights and gauges – the biggest of them all the top down view of Reactor 4 itself. Each glowing light representing one of the behemoths’ veins, whether it be a control rod or one of the 1661 pressurised fuel channels filled with Uranium. Some of the others gathered were friends, but most were colleagues, a few barely even known to Alexander. They had all been invited to the plant this April afternoon to witness an event, the ceremonial shutdown of Reactor 4 for the final time. After today only the fifth and six reactors would remain in service at the plant, providing a mere fraction of the power once generated for the people of the Ukraine.

The sound of the reactor winding to a halt was swiftly followed by polite applause. Alexander had been chosen to perform today’s task as the reactor’s longest serving shift captain. For 15 years he’d led his team in performing their duty. In keeping the power on; in keeping the people of near-by Pripyat safe. There had only been one near catastrophe in his 15 years in charge. That day was 30 years ago to this. The events of that Saturday morning were swiftly marked as classified and left to gather dust in government vaults, and it was likely that only Alexander and Leonid even knew this was the 30 year anniversary of that moment – a moment when a nearly new Reactor 4 looked set for potential disaster. However, the quick thinking of the young shift captain had saved the day and possibly re-written history. While others in the control room that night panicked and seemed at a loss to explain what was happening, Alexander took the sole decision to hit the AZ button – to initiate an Emergency shutdown. It was a risky move to undertake. On that evening Alexander had been outranked in the control room as the plant’s deputy engineer was on hand to oversee an apparently routine test on the reactor. That test had caused some dissension in the control room and with the reactor becoming increasingly unstable Alexander chose to bring it to an end. The deputy engineer was initially furious and threatened holy retribution on his insolent subordinate. For the better part of two months Alexander was under investigation, his entire career on the line – his young family’s life in the worker’s town of Pripyat in the balance. However, the team from Moscow’s Kurchatov Institute eventually completed their analysis of the reactor data from the night of the test, and it proved Alexander had been right to shut the reactor down. If he hadn’t the reactor would likely have boiled dry and exploded. The consequences would have been unthinkable. But not many of those who continued to smile and applaud knew anything of this. To them Soviet reactors had been state of the art – nothing could or indeed had ever gone wrong.

‘Congratulations, my friend’.

The man who came forward to shake Alexander’s hand was Vladimir Pravik. The tall, dark-haired man had started his working life as a trainee fire cadet at the Pripyat No. 6 station. He soon progressed to become part of a team at the nuclear plant’s own station. By the age of 24 he had risen to command of that team. Vladimir’s family were very close to his own. Alexander’s wife, Luba helped to care for Vladimir’s mother when she was in her final years. Vladimir and his family had moved to Kiev as his career in the fire service continued to progress. He now stood next to Alexander as the head of all fire services in the Kiev Oblast. He was a very important man, yet more important than any of that was that he remained Alexander’s friend.

‘Thank you, Vladimir’ replied Alexander. ‘Part of me is very sad to see this time come. Our country once led the way in this field, now years of effort, determination and invention are being put to sleep. It doesn’t seem right.’

Vladimir nodded. ‘I agree it is sad, but it’s the way of the world, Alexander. The world has decided there are better ways. Safer perhaps, less waste.’

‘Yes, I know of the concerns. We all did, but things were getting better. I’m sure ways would have been found to make it cleaner and safer. I’m sure. This didn’t need to happen.’

Before Vladimir could answer the pair were interrupted by the woman from the Energy commission. ‘One group photo please,’ she said, ushering the assembled grouping together, with Alexander and his proud wife Luba at the front.

***

With the photo shoot over the ceremony was also soon at an end. Alexander and Luba said their goodbyes and were walked back to the main reception by the director of the plant. Waiting for them was the same black limousine which had brought them to the plant earlier that day. While the Akimov’s blue VW remained outside their apartment block on Hidroproektovska Street in Urban Area 5, today they had been accorded the full VIP treatment. They had once been offered another apartment, when Alexander was promoted to Deputy Chief Engineer, in a prestigious block overlooking Lenin Avenue. However, Alexander liked living where he lived. The Avengard Stadium was only a five minute stroll and Alexander and his sons were devoted followers of FC Stroitel Pripyat. The local team had once reached the top division in the region and were only one match away from promotion to Ukraine’s premier football competition. Crowds of over 15,000 were the norm as people came from as far away as Poliske and Ovruch to watch the team. However, when their chance came the match was cruelly lost and since then they’d never again reached such heights. Yet Alexander remained loyal and along with 4-5000 other fans he continued to cheer on the “builders” of Pripyat.

Passing the bus station they soon reached Lenin Avenue. Once draped in Soviet flags and pictures of glorious leaders, the avenue wasn’t quite the sight it was back in the heyday of the Soviet Union. The town of Pripyat wasn’t quite what it was. At its peak with all six reactors online producing almost all of the power required for the Kiev Oblast, there were over 50,000 inhabitants. The town was truly a city and it was a city many others wanted to live in. From a distance it was seen as a place of luxury. Shops were always full, the apartments spacious and immaculately maintained. Pripyat even had a riverside cafe and sailing club. Hydrofoils sped up the Dnepr and Pripyat rivers . It really was a place of, and for, the future – the USSR’s model nuclear settlement. Those were days Alexander sorely missed. With the plant in shutdown and only two reactors remaining active there simply wasn’t the work to go around that there once was. People had moved away, some apartments now lay empty, areas of the city almost ignored and overgrown. The population was now under 30,000 and each year another few hundred would leave. Some were worried that this model city could become a ghost town. Alexander though remained optimistic new opportunities would be brought to Pripyat. The city couldn’t be allowed to wither and die.

The Akimov’s transport turned left onto Kurchova Street before a right onto Serzhanta Lazarieva Street. Skirting the edge of the main square they were soon passing the back of the Post Office. Some children played on the pavements. On a bench an old couple argued over an almost empty bottle of vodka. In its prime these streets would have been filled with young families. Mothers pushing prams. Father’s rushing to get the bus to the plant. Glimpses of the Ferris Wheel in the amusement park appeared fleetingly between buildings. The Wheel had somehow survived thirty harsh East Polesian winters. The cabins had changed from yellow to blue and now a faded red. But the wheel still went round each Mayday, even if one or two of the joints creaked – a common occurrence for everything which is old, as Alexander knew well. His own bones were stiffer than you’d expect a 65 year old man’s to be. Luba was convinced it was because of radiation he’d soaked up over the years at the plant. Alexander though wasn’t having any of that nonsense. He was just getting old.

The limousine came to a halt. A woman and her small child came out of Alexander’s block. She didn’t stop to say hello – he’d told his neighbours what was happening today and asked them not to. Luba would look forward to filling them all in later. Alexander and his wife got out of the limousine and waved the driver on his way. Nearby the flags atop the Avengard Stadium walls fluttered in the midday breeze.

‘Come on’ said Luba. ‘Let’s get inside and I’ll get dinner ready’.

***

Luba sat engrossed in the flickering TV set. These days satellites meant that the residents of Pripyat could watch the same programmes as those anywhere else in the world. Luba’s current favourite was something about a rich American family, the Kardashians. As best as Alex could work out they were famous for trying to be famous, he just didn’t get it. Alex very rarely watched the television. For much of his life what had come out of the screen had simply been one form of state propaganda or another. Not that Alexander had ever been anything than a totally committed communist, but that didn’t mean he had to enjoy watching what such a society served up to its population. Alex much preferred listening to classical Russian music on the wireless, reading science-fiction novels and doing what he was doing just now – sitting out on his balcony, smoking his pipe and watching over his city.

In the distance the lights of the power plant chimney stacks flashed red to warn low flying aircraft. Even from this far away Alexander could clearly make out one particular stack. One very specific red and white painted chimney, that of Reactor 4, his reactor. Even though he’d known for over a year that today would see the reactor enter the decommissioning process, it still broke his heart. Alex had always been a staunch advocate of nuclear power, no matter the flaws, perceived or otherwise. To him today didn’t mark progress, it signalled regression. A day when man chose to give in to the challenges of the future.

At moments like these he would remember all those who had shared the hopes and dreams of a young, vibrant nuclear industry. His great friend Leonid, the long serving plant manager, and to many “Mr Pripyat”, Victor Brukhanov. There was also his superior for several years, Anatoly Dyatlov. He was of course a man who once tried his best to get Alex removed from his post, but after that the two men developed an understanding and slowly a begrudging respect was formed. There were many more, most of whom had slipped from the forefront of his memories, but they remained in there somewhere. They too would have shared his sadness, his disbelief that days like today were even considered, let alone come to pass. It really was an unspeakable travesty.

A piercing chill suddenly ran through Alex’s body. The stars above shone bright and clear against a dark sky. Looking down from their 7th floor apartment, Alex watched as a car revved and sped away towards the city centre. Luba then joined her husband and placed a warm blanket on his legs. She smiled as she pulled up a seat next to her Alex. Across the city a child’s cry echoed in the still night air.


This story is a short re-imagining of a world where the Chernobyl disaster didn’t happen. When pressing the AZ button in control room 4 didn’t cause the worst nuclear accident the world has ever seen. I wrote it as a fictional contribution to my new website all about exclusion zones, of which the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is one. For more please go to exclusionzones.

Thanks for reading.

Corbyn

Always felt that even the best of hands can be overplayed. Perhaps it’s just me but I can’t help but feel that “Corbynmania” is in danger of being overplayed. Jeremy is a decent lad. A real old school Labour leftie. Nothing wrong in that, nothing at all. While his party’s policy positions on areas such as Scottish Independence, Brexit and retention of Trident are at odds with mine and many in Scotland, there are still areas of common ground. However, Scotland isn’t really his issue. To win a General Election you need to win in England and at the moment I’m honestly struggling to see how this actually happens – I’d like it to, but I don’t see how.

While Labour are indeed ahead in the latest batch of opinion polls, and PM Theresa May is about as popular as a dose of the runs, the fact is we’ve just had a General Election (the second in two years) and the Tories “won” it. The Tories are unlikely to even contemplate another test of public opinion unless they are confident of winning again. While the Tories tend to have a solid core who back them in all weathers, the Corbyn factor undoubtedly has them worried. And so I don’t see another election any time soon. If and when that day does come though, I still have one major nagging concern with Corbyn and UK Labour in general.

Corbyn does not support Nuclear weapons BUT his party does.  For me it’s inconceivable that the leader can have a different opinion to their party on such a key issue. Based on some of the recent General Election TV output, the big problem appears to be that many, particularly in England, do support a nuclear deterrent. To not support one is to risk being portrayed as unwilling to “defend the realm” from invading hordes who would presumably swarm our Nuclear free shores. As mad as this may seem, it’s clearly something which plays with those in the key seats Labour needs to win i.e. traditional Tory shires. If Corbyn could get Labour into step with his CND roots AND win an election then we really would be in new ground. Can that happen? I don’t think so.

My feeling is that Corbyn will always be at the mercy of an establishment backing media who will portray him as being weak on defence and soft on terror. Jeremy’s biggest strength is also his biggest weakness – he’s different, and different while luring in some, frightens off others. In time, Corbyn’s legacy will likely have been to say there is another way to do politics. There is an electorate out there waiting to be engaged. However, in presenting something different you also need to ensure those who are afraid of change go with you. This is something the Scottish Independence movement continues to wrestle with. I think Labour will perhaps eventually return slightly more to the centre ground, but certainly not back to the days of Blair and Brown. The way the electorate are in this country you can’t simply win from the margins, unless it’s the right.

Thanks for reading.