Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Gaelic Medium Education - more evidence for benefits

A new report from Highland Council has detailed the higher attainment of Gaelic Medium pupils. New report, but not really 'news'.

"Pupils learning Gaelic "match and better" their peers in other subjects, Highland Council has said.

It said figures compiled from SQA exam results showed more credit level awards were attained in the language than for English.

The council said youngsters taking Gaelic medium education also performed well at maths."

It really isn't rocket science - not in this day and age. Until the 70s, when Gaelic was still being beaten and ridiculed out of kids whose families and communities spoke nothing else, it was thought by some that belting a child into speaking only one tongue would set him up in the world. Surely in Scotland, in 2009, there is no excuse for leaving a child with only 'one window on the world'. Gaelic speaking kids even speak better English, if that's what matters to you.

In short, monoglots are in the minority in the world. Most people can speak more than one language. Many can speak 3 or more local tongues. The benefits have been documented by the likes of Chomsky, Colin Baker, Richard Johnstone and Sorace. It's been recognised in Wales and in the Basque Country for decades now.

Let's leave the old mindset behind. The full report on BBC Scotland can be read here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Scotland: giving away our jewels

Dougie MacLean & Kathy Mattea - Turning Away

Progress marches on. Anything else is by nature 'conservative', i.e. backward and stuck in the past. But progress can also include a recognition and a will to retain that which is of value. Is it part of the 'Scots cringe' that sees us let that which is of immense value slip away? Gaelic is one example. It is at the heart of our identity as Scots. It is our oldest tongue - already producing classical poetry when the English language was barely an offshoot of Germanic Anglo-Saxon. Many foreigners cannot understand why most Scots don't speak it. Especially in today's age when the cognitive benefits of bi and multi-lingualism are evident - from Chomsky's 'innate grammar mechanism' in children's brains to the advantages of bilingualism as evidenced by Colin Baker in Bangor. Hey! Gaelic and other languages are GOOD for kids. Maybe we were WRONG to waste money and time beating it out of them in the first place?

"On Loch Etive they have worked with their Highland dreams
By Kilcrennan they have nourished in the mountain streams
And in searching for acceptance they had given it away
Only the children of their children know the price they have to pay"

It's also the wee treasures we let slip too - and often without a fight.

Alcohol is important to us apparently. But that doesn't stop multi-national companies like Diageo, who made some £2billion in profit last year, from destroying communities at a whim. They also hold many other fragile and rural distilleries in their hands and we have to be grateful for it. But, when the goodwill runs out...?

Even, our pubs and inns are routinely destroyed - either by voracious 'pub chains' who turn them into plastic, soulless shells or by arrogant incomers with no thought for local culture.

Some examples spring to mind.

The Tron Tavern in Edinburgh. Once a traditional 'Scottish' pub but one without a 'theme'. Different floors, wide selection of drinks, traditional musicians coming and going. Now, it's so shit, even students don't go there.

The latest which has been hitting headlines and forums is the demise of the Glenuig Inn in Moidart. Gleann Uige only got a road linking it to the rest of the mainland in the 60s and has remained a relatively traditional but still vibrant part of the Gaidhealtachd. From it came the three MacDonald brothers - excellent Gaelic-speaking world-renowned pipers in the traditional mold. The Inn too, until recently was oak-lined, warm and welcoming and a hub of the community. However, it's been bought over by a 'blow-in' from England who wants to turn it into a 'niche enterprise' and 'green' business. This translates as, getting rid off the good beers, ripping out the auld oak interior, turning into a cold and characterless shell, farting about with opening hours and literally telling locals and tourists alike to 'take a hike' around the nearby peninsula if they disagree. His latest 'green' venture, as reported in the Times, is to buy the anchorage and rent off the moorings to rich yacht owners and to make sure the local fishermen go the same way as the local inn he has destroyed.

And, our new 'eco-landlord' can't understand why the locals are resisting his Cromwellian attempt to civilise them. This guy was born in the wrong age. Colonial India would've been his very own 'niche'. Surely, it's time for us to take back control? Leave the Scots cringe in the past where it belongs.

"In darkness we do what we can
In daylight we’re oblivion
Our hearts so raw and clear
Are turning away, turning away from here"

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

BBC Alba bliadhna dh’aois/ one year old

Chaidh a bhogadh bho chionn bliadhna aig Mòd na h-Eaglaise Bhrice le comhlan-ciùil mar Na Gathan ga fhàilteachadh gu faramach. Gu dearbh bha cruaidh fheum againn air seo. Carson nach bu choir Gaidheil agus mòr-sluagh na h-Alba gu lèir seirbhis fhaiginn airson an cuid airgid-cise? Bhoill, tha e againn agus ged nach urrainn dhan mhòr-chuid fhaighinn fhathast air teilidh àbhaisteach, bidh aon 200,000 ga choimhead. Chan eil seo gu leòr ge-tà agus se an dleastanas aig ceannardan a’ BhBC a chur air Freeview cho luath sa ghabhas. Tha sianal ‘Tele G’ air Freeview mar-tha, mar sin tha beàrn ann dha. Ach, cò tha ruith Tele-G? Chan eil fhios, a-rèir choltais. Ach, the faileadh North Korea air. Sgrìobh chun nan ceannard is dèan iarrtas airson BBC Alba air Freeview.

It was launched a year ago at the Falkirk Mod with bands like Na Gathan giving it a noisy welcome. There was a dire need for this. Why shouldn't Gaels and the Scottish public in general not have a service in return for their taxes? Well, we do have it now and though it's still not available to the majority of viewers, it still attracts some 200 000 viewers to watch SPL football, shinty, documentaries, Scottish and international news and children's shows. This isn't enough though and the high-heid-yins at the BBC have a duty to put in on Freeview. There is a channel, 'Tele-G', on Freeview already, so there is space for a Gaelic channel. But, who runs it? No one knows apparently. Smells like North Korea. Write to the BBC Trust heads and demand that BBC Alba goes on Freeview as soon as.

BBC Trust Unit, Room 211, 35 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4AA. 03700 103 100

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Islay 'Single Malt' Ale - a challenge to Castrol GTX?

A friend just returned from Eilean Ile with a bottle or two of 'real ale' from the 'boutique' Islay Ales. Interesting, at first. But, if ever there was an example of small not being beautiful, then this is it. In short, the Islay 'Single Malt' Ale is one of the foulest tasting liquids i have ever tasted. Notes? Well, carpet-underlay gives way to motor oil and the general heavy and dark consistency would no doubt go a long way to protecting any natural wood you may have outdoors.

This stuff is virtually undrinkable. Apparently, Bruichladdich provide some of their wort to Islay Ales for production into ale. I hope it turns out better than this. Otherwise Bruichladdich would be better leaving it where it is and distilling it. As to their other products, I have tasted their 'Saligo', which while drinkable, hardly sets the heather alight.

Which leads me on to question the existence of 'Islay Ales'. Apparently a small enterprise set up by a couple of English ex-pats and a German, it seems to offer negligible local benefit, such as employment, to the local community. The locals, as far as i can tell, prefer the 'big bad' brands available in local pubs. If Islay Ales conform to the strict German purity laws, then Scots' Law has interfered somewhere along the line. I'll stick to my Becks, danke sehr.

If you wish a good Scots ale that actually tastes good, then go for the superb Innis and Gunn. Matured in oak for 3 months, as opposed to Islay Ales' bottle-conditioned', it has to be one of the tastiest beers on the market.

Final conclusions? Incomers often bring a lot of good to communities, but is Islay Ales just a pastime for some middle-class English/German ex-pats? Even the Gàidhlig on the label is dodgy - Leann an Ile? - why not Leann Ileach? Unless it's a clever pun on the well-known port-à-beul 'Sann an Ile'? Lastly...
  • not every beverage from Islay is worth buying
  • 'real' and 'small' are often used to cover up 'crap' and 'amateurish'
  • sometimes the native culture - i.e. the Islay whiskies - is far superior to fashionable 'boutique' enterprises
  • Bruichladdich should leave their wort where it is and distill it
  • incomers should have the freedom to develop their little hobbies but it would be nice if it benefited the local community in some way
Now, where can i get some white-spirit to clean those glasses?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Diageo's choice - profit before people

Yes, it's the nature of the beast. Nàdar na beiste rather than Airigh nam Beist. Diageo have just posted £2billion in profits. Sounds good except is was down slightly. The fact that they have made some $2 less than they did last year means that they have to 'rationalise'. And, what could be more rational than a whole raft of job losses?

I'm not a Diageo doomsayer. The nature of the beast is that we live in a more-or-less capitalist society with some socialist reins to make sure the beast doesn't eat everything. Diageo keeps open many small distilleries. But can it ever be justified to sacrifice hundreds of jobs and history in one fell swoop? Let's have the community buyouts.

Yet while Diageo is 'streamlining' in Kilmarnock, it is also unveiling a new Manager's Choice range of single-cask bottlings from it's range of distilleries. 'Good news' thought many when it was announced. Tasting some cask-strength drams straight from the tocasaid from the likes of Lagavulin, Inchgower and even Glenkinchie got many a mooth slavering. Then came the price tag. Between £200 and £300 per bottle!!! An ann às an rian a th'ad?! The Keepers of the Quaich, above, may be pleased but many of us plebes won't get a sniff at it. I can't see the Diageo stall at next year's Whisky Fringe handing out free drams of the Mason's Choice.

Fortunately, we also have 'Our Ane Choice'. So, it's down to places like the Scotch Malt Whisky Society vaults where a huge range of single-cask whiskies can be tasted before bought. The SMWS Vaults aint exactly a proletarian drinking-den along the lines of the Bothan Eoropaidh in Lewis but if you like serious whisky, it's the place to go. Therefore, i picked up one of their new Caol Ila bottlings (cask 53.131 'Turbuso Humo', 9yo, 67.9%) at a mere £38. Diageo will apparently release their Caol Ila manager's choice in March 2010 at a hefty £300. You do the sums.