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Listening to Édith Piaf slowed down and memories of my childhood Sundays
09.01.2013
04:37 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Scotland
Édith Piaf

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Sunday was empty. Sunday in Scotland was always gray and cold and huddled at home over a two-bar electric fire—even in summer—watching its plastic coal-fire display, lit by orange bulbs.

Sunday was empty. The shops were shut, the sky rubbed out, the streets dead. The TV flickered black-and-white war films, Jack Hawkins in a duffle coat and binoculars, watching-out for German U-boats, mouthing orders as Édith Piaf sang “La vie en Rose.”

The best thing about Sunday was Édith Piaf. That was the day my father commandeered the gramophone, and played records by Johnny Cash, Tijuana Sound of Brass, and the “Little Sparrow.” Sunday was Édith Piaf.

Sunday was also church, and we always walked the two-miles there-and-back, my brother, my mother, my father and me. Past the prison, under the canal and railway bridge, the abattoir with its strange sweet smell and Judas donkey eating grass in the field outside its closed, spiked gates. The gray row of pre-fab houses along towards a 1950’s built primary school, where I sat Monday-to-Friday dreaming of being grown-up, breathing-in the smell of the brewery over-the-road, with its malting floors, where you could see through small hand-sized windows, men hunched spreading grain.

The church was fake Gothic, built by subscription at the turn of the century, framed by yellow privet, and a green-painted fence. Inside, a high-ceiling, soot-colored columns, and a beautiful stained glass window full of misery and suffering. The chairs were hardwood, wicker seats, hard lino-covered kneelers. I could never understand why anyone came to this cold, grim place to celebrate god. I thought at least god might have central heating or a few easy chairs, or maybe even a proper hi-fi with stereo speakers. I thought I understood why when I overheard people talking about something that had happened, something described as bad thing.

In the priest house, a man had shot and killed his wife, before shooting himself in the head. The priest had been offering marriage guidance counseling.

I thought about this, and thought about what it meant and when the priest talked about my immortal soul I pictured the white mushroom-shaped buttons on my mother’s white coat, ridged, and whorled like fingerprints.

Sunday was Édith Piaf, and walking home from church, wondering what my soul was like.

Slowing-down a classic Édith Piaf track doesn’t do much, other than to make me go and listen to the original songs that warmed my childhood.
 

 

 
More from the Little Sparrow, after the jump…
 

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Aleister Crowley: How The Great Beast unleashed the Loch Ness Monster

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The myths of a country travel better than its truths. Once, in a bar in Downtown Los Angeles, I got into a conversation with a man whose teeth were all gold caps. He asked me where I was from.

‘Shit. You’re from Scotland. You ever see that Loch Ness monster?’

‘No.’

‘But you know about it, right?’

‘Oh, yeah.’

‘Yeah? You know all about it, hm?’

‘Not really.

‘No? Then you don’t know who made it?’

‘Made it?’

‘Yeah, that’s what I said.’

I thought for a moment.

‘You mean Crowley? Aleister Crowley?’

‘Yeah, that’s the man, that’s him. That’s the evil motherfucker that made it.’

Crowley allegedly “made” the Loch Ness monster when he failed to complete a complex Magick ritual at Boleskine House. His failure was said to have unleashed a demon.

Crowley had purchased Boleskine House, on the south-east shore of Loch Ness, in order to carry out a series of rituals from The Book of the Sacred Magick of Abramelin the Mage. He had chosen Boleskine because he required:

...a house where proper precautions against disturbance can be taken; this being arranged, there is really nothing to do but to aspire with increasing fervor and concentration, for six months, towards the obtaining of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.

Boleskine suited Crowley’s needs, and he later described the place in Confessions:

The house is a long low building. I set apart the south-western half for my work. The largest room has a bow window and here I made my door and constructed the terrace and lodge. Inside the room I set up my oratory proper. This was a wooden structure, lined in part with the big mirrors which I brought from London.

For Crowley, Boleskine House was a “Thelemic Kiblah”, a “Magical East”, where he could practice the Black Mass and summon demons. It is these demons which are believed by many to have caused the strange, monstrous disruption to the loch. Crowley later stated in his autobiography:

...the spirits he summoned got out of hand, causing one housemaid to leave, and a workman to go mad. He also insinuates he was indirectly responsible for a local butcher accidentally severing an artery and bleeding to death. Crowley had written the names of some demons on a bill from the butcher’s shop.

Aleister Crowley and the Other Loch Ness Monster is an engaging short documentary, directed by Garry S. Grant. It contains fine interviews with Kenneth Anger, Colin Wilson, Neil Oram, Head of the UK OTO, John Bonner and Mogg Morgan. And the commentary is read by former Jesus of Nazareth, Robert Powell.

Back to my American friend. As we headed off into the night, in search of another bar, he said, ‘You ever think that monster was maybe Cthulhu?’

 

 

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WTF?: An outdoor toilet in Scotland?
06.14.2013
11:09 am

Topics:
Amusing
Unorthodox

Tags:
Scotland
Toilets

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Santa delivering his presents early?

Either that, or perhaps some disgruntled customer taking revenge on the emporium below? Fish & Shits?

Not much else to be said about this picture other than to reassure Dangerous Minds’ readers that we do have indoor toilets in Scotland. I should know—I live in the Bonnie country.
 
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Via The Poke (25 Reasons Why We Love Scotland)
 

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The Musician from U.N.C.L.E.: Chill out with the music of David McCallum

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David McCallum has long been a much-loved actor and TV icon. From his early days as the pin-up secret agent, Illya Kuryakin, acting alongside Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., through to the excellent Colditz, the wonderfully, bizarre Sapphire and Steel, The Invisible Man and now “Ducky” Mallard in today’s NCIS.

But what is perhaps less known about this talented actor, is the fact McCallum is a classically trained musician of the highest caliber, and for a long time the blonde-haired Glaswegian seriously considered a making his career in music, as he explained to 16 magazine back in 1966:

The wonder was that David ever became an actor at all—for he was trained to be a musician from the age of four, playing the oboe with classic clarity. An appreciation of music ran deep in the McCallum family. David’s father, a famous violinist and leader of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, was taught classical music at his mother’s knee.

The McCallums came from a little Scottish mining village, Kilsyth in Stirlingshire, where David’s paternal grandfather was the village grocer. It was a deeply religious community, and David’s grandmother hoped her son would learn the harp. But no one there could play the instrument, so young David Fotheringham McCallum was taught violin instead. And his own son, David Keith McCallum—born on September 19, 1933, at 24 Kersland Street, Glasgow—inherited this musical tradition.

When the family moved to Bracknell Gardens, Hampstead, in London, David went to University College School, and musical evenings became a feature of this childhood. He was taught violin and piano, but it was the oboe that he mastered. However, David secretly harbored a longing to become an actor, so when one of his uncles needed an oboe, David offered his—cheap!—and started out on his acting career. Though he laughingly calls the oboe “...an ill wind nobody blows good,” David still admits, “I always knew that I could turn to music if I failed as an actor.”

McCallum was given a recording contract, and between 1966 and 1968, released four albums on Capitol Records: Music…A Part Of Me, Music…A Bit More Of Me, Music…It’s Happening Now!, and McCallum. However, rather than singing his way through these discs McCallum, together with producer David Axelrod, created a blend of oboe, French horn, and strings with guitar and drums, for musical interpretations of hits of the day. These included “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”, “Downtown”, “Louie, Louie”, “I Can’t Control Myself” and his own compositions, “Far Away Blue”, “Isn’t It Wonderful?” and “It Won’t Be Wrong”.

The best known McCallum tracks today are “The Edge,” which was sampled by Dr. Dre as the intro and riff to the track “The Next Episode,” and “House of Mirrors,” sampled by DJ Shadow for “Dark Days”.

 

“The Edge” - David McCallum
 

“House of Mirrors” - David McCallum
 

David McCallum introduces TnT Show with ‘Satisfaction, while Ron and Russell Mael (Sparks) watch from the audience
 
Bonus clips (with Nancy Sinatra) and tracks, after the jump!...
 

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A Guide to Hobo Symbols

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I don’t remember if we called them “hobos,” but I do recall occasionally seeing “hobo marks” made in chalk or charcoal on walls or the sides of houses, when I was a child growing-up in Scotland. The marks were mainly lines, circles, or arrows, and rarely anything elaborate.I thought there was something exciting, even romantic, about these simple marks, mainly because I knew here was a secret code that denoted some act of kindness or, gave a warning to others who followed. 

These few men were itinerant workers, who chapped doors in search of odd-jobs, or offered to sharpen tools, mend fences, mow lawns. They passed through towns in summer and fall, moving on to farms, where they picked fruit. My grandmother told me of how she had made “jeely pieces” for such men, and had given them sweet tea and a “tanner” for their pocket. She said some were ex-military, who had lost their way after the War.

There was also Highland travelers (“Summer walkers”), who migrated south for work, and “onion Johnnies,” traders who cycled over from France to sell onions and garlic. All of these men seemed to have a nobility and were different from the “jakeys” or winos, who congregated around railway stations and town centers, mooching for change.

In America it was different, hobos first appeared at the end of the Civil War, and they moved across country in search of work with the arrival of the railroad. By 1911, it was estimated there were 700,000 hobos in America. By the 1950s, this number had dramatically fallen—as Jack Kerouac, who was no stranger to the hobo-life, noted in Lonseome Traveler:

“The American hobo has a hard time hoboing nowadays due to the increase in police surveillance of highways, railorad yards, sea shores, river bottoms, embankments and the thousand-and-one hiding holes of industrial night. - In California, the rat pack, the original old type who goes walking from town to town with supplies and bedding on his back, the “Homeless Brother”, has practically vanished, along with the ancient gold-panning desert rat who used to walk with hope in his heart through struggling Western tons that are now so prosperous they dont want old bums any more. - ‘Man dont want no pack rats here even though they founded California’ said an old man hiding with a can of beans and an Indian fire in a river bottom outside Riverside California in 1955.”

Today, the hobo life continues, and every second weekend in August, a Hobo Convention is held, with races, carnivals and the crowning of the Hobo King and Queen.
 
With thanks to Sig Waller
 

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The Mystery of the Dog Suicide Bridge
05.07.2013
11:07 am

Topics:
Animals

Tags:
Dogs
Scotland
Suicide
Myth
Overtoun Bridge

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Over the past 5 decades more than fifty dogs have jumped to their deaths from Overtoun Bridge, near Dumbarton, in Scotland. An incredible statistic, but one made more impressive by the detail, which gives this tale substance: all of the deaths occurred at the same spot, on the right-hand side of the bridge; the dogs were all long muzzle breeds: Collie, Labrador, Greyhound; their deaths all took place on clear days.

The frequency and inexplicable nature of the deaths has lead to this scenic location, to be called the “Dog’s Suicide Bridge.” Over 6 months in 2005, 5 dogs leapt to their deaths. One bereaved owner, Donna Cooper was out walking with her family when her dog, Ben leapt over the parapet and fell fifty feet onto the rocks below.

‘His paw was broken, his jaw was broken and his back was broken and badly twisted. The vet decided it wasn’t worth putting him through the pain, so we had to let him go,’ recalls Donna.

Such tragedies led to claims the bridge was haunted by an evil spirit. In 1994, thirty-two-year-old Kevin Moy threw his baby off the bridge after claiming he was the Anti-Christ, and his son was Satan. Shortly after he tried to end his own life with an unsuccessful suicide attempt from the same bridge. Moy was remanded to Carstairs State Hospital, a maximum-security psychiatric facility.

This being Scotland, there has also been a claim that the bridge is situated in, what we Celts call, a “thin place” - a meeting of two worlds. Cue mist, howl of wolf, and craggy featured old Scotsman saying, “Ye dinnae want tae go doun yon road, naw.” Indeed, B-movies have been made with flimsier plots.

In recent years, a more persistent but equally unlikely theory has emerged, which suggested dogs were committing suicide. But as leading Animal Behaviorist, Dr David Sands, who investigated the story has pointed out, “it is impossible for a dog to premeditate its own death”.

Sands uncovered the most likely explanation to the dog deaths, the onset of mink farming in the area, which started fifty years ago:

Evidence of mink was confirmed in the area not only by a naturalist, who spotted droppings beneath the bridge, but also by [an angler], who explained that the top hill quarry had lakes that contained trout (perfect mink diet).

The intense scent of mink aroused each dog’s curiosity, leading to the fatal leap of faith.
 

 
With thanks to Tara McGinley
 

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‘I am officially very poorly’: Author Iain M. Banks has terminal cancer

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Author Iain Banks announced today on his website that he has cancer of the gall bladder, and is unlikely to live more than a year.

Banks is recognized as one of the most talented and original writers of his generation. His work divides between novels—such as The Wasp Factory, The Crow Road, and The Bridge; and Science-Fiction (written under the name Iain M. Banks)—Consider Phlebus, Surface Detail and The Hydrogen Sonata.

Banks wrote in his statement:

I am officially very poorly. After a couple of surgical procedures, I am gradually recovering from jaundice caused by a blocked bile duct, but that – it turns out – is the least of my problems.

I first thought something might be wrong when I developed a sore back in late January, but put this down to the fact I’d started writing at the beginning of the month and so was crouched over a keyboard all day. When it hadn’t gone away by mid-February, I went to my GP, who spotted that I had jaundice. Blood tests, an ultrasound scan and then a CT scan revealed the full extent of the grisly truth by the start of March.

I have cancer. It started in my gall bladder, has infected both lobes of my liver and probably also my pancreas and some lymph nodes, plus one tumour is massed around a group of major blood vessels in the same volume, effectively ruling out any chance of surgery to remove the tumours either in the short or long term.

The bottom line, now, I’m afraid, is that as a late stage gall bladder cancer patient, I’m expected to live for “several months” and it’s extremely unlikely I’ll live beyond a year. So it looks like my latest novel, The Quarry, will be my last.

As a result, I’ve withdrawn from all planned public engagements and I’ve asked my partner Adele if she will do me the honour of becoming my widow (sorry – but we find ghoulish humour helps). By the time this goes out we’ll be married and on a short honeymoon. We intend to spend however much quality time I have left seeing friends and relations and visiting places that have meant a lot to us. Meanwhile my heroic publishers are doing all they can to bring the publication date of my new novel forward by as much as four months, to give me a better chance of being around when it hits the shelves.

There is a possibility that it might be worth undergoing a course of chemotherapy to extend the amount of time available. However that is still something we’re balancing the pros and cons of, and anyway it is out of the question until my jaundice has further and significantly, reduced.

Lastly, I’d like to add that from my GP onwards, the professionalism of the medics involved – and the speed with which the resources of the NHS in Scotland have been deployed – has been exemplary, and the standard of care deeply impressive. We’re all just sorry the outcome hasn’t been more cheerful.

Very sad news indeed.
 

 

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A Great Jock ‘n’ Roll Swindle?: Film fame for Scottish Hip Hop Hoaxers

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It was the author of Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie, who said it best:

‘There are few more impressive sights in the world than a Scotsman on the make.’

As a Scot, I believe this to be often the case, and am pleased, therefore, to report the premiere of a film at SXSW, which tells the story of 2 Scots on the make with their very own Jock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.

The Great Hip Hop Hoax tells the story of friends Billy Boyd and Gavin Bain, who duped ‘everyone from Sony Music to MTV into believing [they] were LA-born rappers Silibil N’ Brains, tipped for the top in the hip hop industry.’

As blog site Arbroath reports the would-be Hip Hop duo were:

‘Angered at the sneering from London record industry executives searching for the British Eminem, the duo set out to fool the music business into believing that they were brash Californian rappers. The deception began after a disastrous audition in London in 2001. Speaking in the documentary, Dundee-born Mr Bain, 31, aka Brains, describes how “the vibe just changed horribly” the minute they started “talking in a Scottish accent”.

Getting nowhere fast, Mr Boyd, aka Silibil, adopted an American accent as a joke, and the lie began. “Out of spite we decided to develop these characters and that’s when Silibil ‘N’ Brains were really born.” Taking their inspiration from MTV music videos, they prepared for “the biggest role that we’d ever play”. The Great Hip Hop Hoax, which has its world premiere at the South by South West (SXSW) Festival in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, tells the story of their rise and fall. By 2003, the duo were back in London with a spot at a music industry showcase. A management deal followed and they soon had a six-figure recording contract with Sony. Tipped as the “next big thing” by MTV, they played with Eminem’s D12 band at Brixton Academy, and partied with Madonna and Green Day.

Their plan was to make it before coming clean, to show that if you have talent, your nationality shouldn’t matter. But in the world of hip hop, which is all about “keeping it real”, they forgot who they really were. They lived in constant fear of being exposed. “We believed that if we got found out that we’d have to pay all the money back …. We didn’t know if we’d go to jail for fraud,” said Mr Bain. “We completely forgot that we were Scottish ... I was definitely going a little cuckoo.” They were trapped – never releasing a record in case their lies were exposed. “It drove us from being best friends to hating each other,” Mr Boyd recalls. Things came to a head in June 2005, when the pair had a furious fight. The next day Mr Boyd returned to Scotland. There was no big announcement and no outcry, as they had never released a record.

The resultant film The Great Hip Hop Hoax was made in conjunction with the BBC and Creative Scotland and is described as:

Californian hip-hop duo Silibil n’ Brains were going to be massive. What no-one knew was the pair were really students from Scotland, with fake American accents and made up identities.

The Great Hip Hop Hoax (92 minutes) is a film about truth, lies and the legacy of faking everything in the desperate pursuit of fame. The American dream, told by people who’d never even been to America.

The Great Hip Hop Hoax a film by Jeanie Finlay will premiere at SXSW, more details here.
 

 
Via Arbroath and The Courier, with thanks to Tara!
 

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A brief introduction to ‘Sean Connery’s Edinburgh,’ 1982

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An all too brief extract from Sean Connery’s Edinburgh, a promotional documentary for the ancient Scottish capital, directed by Murray Grigor and starring the city’s most famous milkman.

This wasn’t Connery’s first documentary, back in 1967 he presented, produced and directed a brilliant (and rarely seen) documentary called The Bowler and The Bunnet, which examined the political tensions between the workforce (“bunnets”) and the employers (“Bowler hats”) at Fairfield’s shipyard on Glasgow’s River Clyde. Scripted by Cliff Hanley, the film revealed Connery’s natural mastery of documentary film-making, and it is only a pity that he didn’t continue to make similar films on other social and political issues.

Perhaps, with the imminent referendum on Scottish independence, Connery may yet return to make a documentary on the future of Scotland?
 

 

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David Bowie: Extracts from his first TV drama ‘The Looking Glass Murders’

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When his debut album flopped in 1967, David Bowie thought his pop career was over. The years of practice and ambition had sadly delivered nothing but the indifference of the public (who preferred The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s) and the bewilderment of critics, who could not quite understand this young singer (who sounded like Anthony Newley) and delivered such diverse and original songs. Bowie had discovered the width of his talent, but not its depth. Understandably, disheartened, Bowie considered packing it all in and becoming a Buddhist monk at the Samye Ling Monastery in Scotland, but fate played a hand and he soon found himself under the influence of a charismatic fan - the brilliant dancer, performer and choreographer Lindsay Kemp.

Kemp loved Bowie’s first album, and used one its tracks “When I Live My Dream” for one of his shows. Kemp offered Bowie a new career - as dancer, actor and member of Kemp’s dance troupe

On 28 December 1967, David Bowie made his theatrical debut in Kemp’s mime Pierrot in Turquoise or, The Looking Glass Murders at the New Theater in Oxford. Bowie wrote and performed the music, and co-starred as Cloud, alongside Kemp’s Pierrot, Jack Birkett’s Harlequin, and Annie Stainer’s Columbine.

The production was still in rehearsal when it played for its one night at the New Theater, which perhaps explains why the Oxford Mail described the show as “something of a pot-pourri,” though it highlighted Bowie’s contribution for praise:

David Bowie has composed some haunting songs, which he sings in a superb, dreamlike voice. But beguilingly as he plays Cloud, and vigorously as Jack Birkett mimes Harlequin, the pantomime isn’t a completely satisfactory framework for some of the items from his repertoire that Mr Kemp, who plays Pierrot, chooses to present….

...No doubt these are shortcomings Mr. Kemp will attend to before he presents Pierrot in Turquoise at the Prague Festival at the invitation of Marceau and Fialka next summer. No mean honour for an English mime troupe.

The mime told the story of Pierrot and his attempts to win the love of his life, Columbine. Of course things are never simple, and Columbine falls for Harlequin, and is then killed by Pierrot.

After a few tweaks, Pierrot in Turquoise or The Looking Glass Murders opened at the Rosehill Theater, Whitehaven, before its proper run at the Mercury Theater, and Intimate Theater, both London, in March 1968….
 

 
More on Bowie & Kemp in ‘The Looking Glass Murders’, after the jump…
 

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Happy Burns Night: Here’s a documentary on the People’s Poet Rabbie Burns

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Today is Robert Burns’ birthday, and across the world traditional suppers are held to celebrate the life and poetry of Scotland’s national Bard.

I have never been one for those couthy ritualistic gatherings, where toasts are given to the lads and lassies, and where some elder with a tartan to match his face, gives an address to the haggis. For me these suppers have little to do with Burns the man and poet, who could write such beauty as:

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom
is shed;

Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white - then melts
for ever;

Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;

Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm. -

Nae man can tether time or tide;

No, I prefer to see Robert Burns as great poet, a revolutionary, a socialist, an egalitarian, who believed ‘a man’s a man for a’ that’ and wrote to inspire a better world:

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

That man to man, the world o’er,

Shall brithers be for a’ that.

Burns’ idealism was often compromised by the financial demands of his everyday life - and what a life. A poet, a ploughman, a lover, a drinker, a revolutionary, a government lackey, a hero, a destitute. As Andrew O’Hagan points out in this excellent documentary Robert Burns: The People’s Poet, Burns was the equivalent of a rock star in his day, a writer of songs (“Auld Lang Syne”, “Ae Fond Kiss”, “My Luve is Like a Red, Red Rose”, “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye”) and poems (“Tam O’Shanter”, “Holy Wuillie’s Prayer”, “To A Mouse”, “Cock Up Your Beaver”) that enchanted a nation and the world.

It was his ability to touch the heart and mind of his readers and to make them empathize with his subject matter, whether this was love, revolution in France or simply a mouse:

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,

Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

He was idolized by the public, and was a hero and inspiration to the likes of Beethoven and Byron. At a time of great oppression he spoke out against slavery, inequality, and poverty. Burns wanted liberty and fairness for all. Yet he died in poverty, hounded by creditors, and near-broken as a man.

That Rabbie Burns is still read, performed and celebrated 200 years after his death, says all about his importance as a poet and the relevance of his belief for a better world, where all are equal and share the common wealth.

O’Hagan’s documentary Robert Burns: The People’s Poet is no hagiography, but controversially questions many of the assumptions made about this radical poet, and examines the incredible dramatic and often tragic circumstances of his life.

A selection of Burns poems read by the likes of Brian Cox, Robbie Coltrane and Alan Cumming.

Portrait of Burns by Calum Colvin.
 

 

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All the Colors of the Night: Beautiful Aurora Display, Caithness, Scotland

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Maciej Winiarczyk’s beautiful time lapse photography of an aurora display on Sandigoe Beach in Caithness, Scotland, from January 17th, 2013. 

Winiarczyk explains that ‘each frame was exposed for 8 sec. with ISO 3200 and lens aperture set to f/2.8. All frames were shot in RAW and later postprocessed in Adobe Lightroom 4.3 and LRTimelapse software.

‘Equipment used, Canon 7D with 10mm Sigma diagonal fisheye lens.’

See more of Maciej’s work here.
 

 

 

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‘Whaur Extremes Meet’: A Portrait of the poet Hugh MacDiarmid

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When Hugh MacDiarmid died in 1978, his fellow poet Norman MacCaig suggested Scotland commemorate the great man’s passing by holding 3 minute’s pandemonium. It was typical of MacCaig’s caustic wit, but his suggestion did capture something of the unquantifiable enormity of MacDiarmid’s importance on Scottish culture, politics, literature and life during the twentieth century.

Hugh MacDiarmid is perhaps best described by a line from his greatest poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926), in which he wrote:

‘I’ll ha’e nae hauf-way hoose, but aye be whaur
Extremes meet - it’s the only way I ken
To dodge the curst conceit o’ bein’ richt
That damns the vast majority o’ men.

It explains the contradictory elements that merged to make him a poet.

Born Christopher Murray Grieve, on August 11, 1892, he changed his name to the more Scottish sounding Hugh MacDiarmid to publish his poetry. He was a Modernist poet who wrote in Scots vernacular. One might expect this choice of language to make his poetry parochial, but MacDiarmid was a poet of international ambition and standing, who was recognized as an equal with T. S. Eliot, Boris Pasternak and W. H. Auden.

In politics, MacDiarmid had been one of the co-founder’s of the National Party for Scotland in 1928, but was ejected when he moved towards Communism. He was then ejected from the Communist Party for his “nationalist deviation.” He maintained a Nationalist - in favor of an independent Scotland - and a Communist throughout his life.

As literature scholar and writer Kenneth Butlay notes, MacDiarmid was:

..as incensed by his countrymen’s neglect of their native traditions as by their abrogation of responsibility for their own affairs, and he took it upon himself to “keep up perpetually a sort of Berseker rage” of protest, and to act as “the catfish that vitalizes the other torpid of the aquarium.”

 
In 1964, the experimental film-maker Margaret Tait made short documentary portrait of Hugh MacDiarmid, which captured the poet at home in Langholme, his sense of childish fun, his socializing his the bars and public houses of Edinburgh (the Abbotsford on Rose Street).
 

 
More on Hugh MacDiarmid, plus poetry and reading, after the jump…
 

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‘The Man Behind the Bass’: Excellent documentary on the legendary Jack Bruce

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You can never judge a man by his knitwear, as Jack Bruce proves in this documentary Jack Bruce: The Man Behind the Bass, in which the legendary musician returns to his homeland of Scotland, to give a guided tour through his life and career, and re-interprets 6 of his classic songs. Here are the ingredients:

Jack Bruce fronted the Sixties supergroup Cream alongside Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker, and has played with everyone from Marvin Gaye to Jimi Hendrix and from Lulu to Lou Reed. ArtWorks tells the story of his life, from childhood in Scotland to global superstardom, through some of Jack’s favourite songs and with contributions from Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Flea of Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Adam Clayton of U2.

The story encompasses some of the biggest riffs and rifts in rock, taking in family tragedy, drugs and near death. A specially chosen set of six songs mark crucial moments in Jack’s life, including Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love”. Jack rerecorded the tracks with some of Scotland’s finest musicians including folk trio Lau, percussionist Jim Sutherland, keyboard player Andy May, guitarist Taj Wyzgowski, drummer Chris Peacock, his nephew Nico Bruce on bass and string ensemble Mr McFall’s Chamber.

This is an excellent documentary, which showcases some of the best of the brilliant Jack Bruce.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

‘Rope Ladder to the Moon’: Solo genius from Cream’s Jack Bruce


 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Heaven Knows He Was Miserable Then: Morrissey’s first postcard to a pen-pal from 1980

morrissey_penpal_1980
 
This is Morrissey’s first correspondence to his Scottish pen-pal Robert Mackie, from 1980.

21-year-old Morrissey was writing in response to a personal ad placed in Sounds magazine, and his message, written on the back of a postcard featuring a picture of James Dean reads:

Steven Morrissey
384- Kings Rd
STRETFORD
Manchester- M32 8GW

Dear Person,

So nice to know there’s another soul out there, even if it is in Glasgow.

Does being Scottish bother you? Manchester is a lovely little place, if you happen to be a bedridden deaf mute.

I’m unhappy, hope you’re unhappy too.

In poverty,

Steven

Morrissey and Mackie remained pen-pals for 18 months, shortly before the formation of The Smiths in 1983.
 
morrissey_letter_of_note_1980
 
With thanks to Letter of Note
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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