Am Bratach No. 302
December 2016


Graeme at large
by Graeme Mackay

"Deck the halls with boughs of holly" - Christmas is fast approaching and for some of us it is a stressful time deciding what to buy people, who to buy for and how much to spend. The truth of the matter is that most of us would be happy with a visit, a card or a phone call but regardless it is the time of year to think of others and appreciate those who mean a lot to us.

November was a very busy month, but I managed to enjoy a weekend away with a friend to the city known for its jute, jam and journalism: Dundee. We arrived impressed to our quayside hotel, overlooking the area soon to house the famous RRS Discovery - the last traditional wooden three-masted ship to be built in Britain. Built as a Royal Research Ship which set sail on the British National Antarctic Expedition, carrying Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first, successful journey to the Antarctic.

Dundee is definitely the place to watch. With a billion pound city waterfront transformation underway, the city quayside will develop 8km of land stretching alongside the River Tay to boost the city to international acclaim. The waterfront project encompasses five distinct areas that connect the city to its waterfront. These include a hub for digital media and cultural industries, an award winning Victoria and Albert Museum, a working port, and an area with hotels, restaurants and entertainment. All in all they are investing in its future and in their people, which is something all towns, villages and cities should aim to do.

We headed out of the city for an afternoon, calling in at the Scottish Antiques Centre at Abernyte. I know I've written about this place before, but I love it. One side of the Antiques Centre is packed with original pieces where you could (and I did!) spend hours sifting through crockery, paintings and furniture - I would be dangerous if I had money or indeed a house (I've still no intentions of settling down!). The other half of the centre is a gift shop and restaurant. That reminds me: a couple of weeks back I went to an antiques store near St Cyrus (just outside of Montrose), aptly named "Steptoe and Sons". It was a mixture of junk and antiques spread out over an old farmyard - the barns were near to bursting with tat, outside there were baskets full of old tea sets and gardening equipment and everywhere you look was a health and safety nightmare. I loved it! You're frightened to sneeze in case you disturb anything and send everything into a tumbling mess. Steptoe and Sons is the quintessential "one man's junk is another man's treasure" and a great place to find a retro Christmas gift.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to Lairg Gaelic Choir's fortieth birthday celebrations in Golspie last month and what a wonderful evening it was. Looking back over the past forty years of singing and competing in the local and national Mods, it was easy to see that the choir is more than a club. It is a community with a sense of belonging, companionship and moreover good old fashioned fun! I joined the choir back in 2008 and wasn't sure what to expect, and with no Gaelic or singing experience, I was thrown into the bass section - and I couldn't have been made to feel more welcome. It really is open to anyone with enthusiasm, enjoys singing, and is willing to learn a few Gaelic words (or sound effects!) for each song. Then along comes the National Mod once a year and as a member of the choir you feel like you are off on holiday with friends. After the important business of competing passes, the celebrations start and the ceilidh gets underway including the infamous "budgie", a tradition within the choir (and if you want to know what it is, then you will have to join!). The Lairg Gaelic Choir is open to everyone and you don't need to be from Lairg to join. They meet in Golspie and Lairg, so it's very inclusive to all those willing to travel within East Sutherland.

The birthday celebrations were well attended and after a delicious buffet, the evening was spent with plenty singing and dancing. Entertainment included James Graham, Rogart Ceilidh Band and a number of choir members from over the years giving solo performances. The church hall in Golspie proved acoustically and aesthetically to be the ideal venue to celebrate the birthday in style. We are so fortunate to have such rich culture and heritage in Sutherland and with 2017 branded as the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology - it would be great to see the numbers of the choir increase to keep them in tune for the next forty years.

As we venture into the New Year, I've decided not to set myself New Year's resolutions. I failed entirely on my pre-set ambitions for 2016 and have decided that living a full and happy year is better than setting myself unachievable tasks! So on that note, I wish everyone a very Happy Christmas. If you are still struggling for gift ideas you could always buy tickets to come and see me appear in the King and I at Aberdeen's His Majesty's Theatre this January. Sadly I am neither the King nor I, but I do play the part of a "mute" monk - and I must admit that I give an Oscar worthy performance!

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