At the Mòd
Writing that, I wonder when the accent (which I've cunningly included) became a Thing - I feel sure at least one of my Blipfoto friends will be able to tell me. Anyway, this year The Royal National Mòd (Scottish Gaelic: Am Mòd Nàiseanta Rìoghail), the most important of several major Mòds that are held annually, mostly in Scotland, and the main festival of Scottish Gaelic literature, song, arts and culture is taking place in Dunoon. The shops are busier than usual, the ferries certainly are, and groups of people in kilts and assorted tartanry can be seen marching purposefully from one venue to another.
Despite a brief foray into Gaelic singing when I was young, before I left Glasgow, it's not my thing, but today found me in the large Church of Scotland building just along the road to listen to a choral competition because one of our friends was singing in it. You can see I was sitting in the gallery, looking at the vast array of seats and wondering if there was a time when a Sunday would see them all filled. I've seen the church full, right enough, but that was when Mr PB put on Britten's Noye's Fludde for three consecutive nights with a cast of hundreds, back when all the world was young.
My other reflections included the reason why the competitions at the Royal Mòd leave me cold. If you've never sung in one, you may not know that choirs are not judged primarily on their musical ability, the sweetness or vigour of their singing, their ability to stay in tune ... No. The main consideration is the Gaelic. It even says - or used to - on the sheet music: "Gaelic vowels take precedence". That means that you can't adapt a vowel, be it never so difficult to sing on a high note. You can go as flat as you like, but if the Gaelic shines impeccably (I don't know which - Skye Gaelic? Lewis?) you're in with a chance.
I'll just leave that there, with the last verse of Norman MacCaig's wonderful poem Aunt Julia as finale:
Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic
very loud and very fast.
By the time I had learned
a little, she lay
silenced in the absolute black
of a sandy grave
at Luskentyre. But I hear her still, welcoming me
with a seagull's voice
across a hundred yards
of peatscrapes and lazybeds
and getting angry, getting angry
with so many questions
And my extra photo is of the pond in Benmore Gardens this afternoon. Golden leaves have fallen on the black water, and the red of the tree is unbearably lovely.