Sunday, 14 June 2009

Celebrate Ayrshire

“Interesting” is an interesting word. As is “nice”. They are both dipped in positivity, while at the same time being non-committal. Yet there are times when no other words will do the job. Take today at the “Celebrate Ayrshire” event in the grounds of Culzean Castle. It was both nice and interesting.

The whole event was part of Ayrshire’s year-long run of events for The Homecoming. If this event has passed you by, this is the Scottish government’s big thing for 2009 to remind the rest of the world what a fabulous country Scotland is. The message is (more or less) if you haven’t managed to visit, get your arse over here, you’ll love it.

Early summer is often the best part of the year, weather-wise in this corner of the globe and to prove it the sun was in attendance. As were we Makar Press Poets (Sheila Templeton, Rowena M Love and moi). We were part of the entertainment throughout the day as a variety of groups showed off their wares. Strathclyde Police and Fire Brigade had displays as did Ayrshire Beekeepers, Organic gardeners from Stair, Ayrshire Ice Cream from Catrine House, and a Rare Breed butchers was flogging rare breed burgers and steaks.

There was also an archery exhibition and few others bibs and bots. Among the bibs and bots was a cow. A muckle beastie tethered to a trailer. Why? Not sure. The cow, let’s call her Jessie was just hangin’ out taking in some rays and nibblin’ a few shoots of grass. She was positioned next to the ice cream stand so maybe they were going for a before and after thing. Sheila was for standing behind Jessie with an arrow pointing to her udders, while I was to make the milking motion, with Rowena bringing up the rear (so to speak) making shivering shapes and noises. We decided this might be misconstrued and decided to satisfy ourselves with oodles of the after product.

The Marquee was where you could find the poetry and we featured in 20 minute time sandwiches between Maybole Pipe Band and Johnstone Silver Band throughout the day. The day ran from 11am till 4pm. We also had a Robert Burns impersonator kitted out in the gear we’ve come to associate with Burns, complete with ponytailed wig and a ploughman poet’s sideburns and he pitched in now and again with the likes of Tam O’Shanter and My Luv is Like a Red, Red Rose.

The presence of “Rabbie Burns” had a confusing effect on some people. Not with Rabbie himself, but with us. One Irish guy said that one of my poems was so good he thought it was a modern rendering of a Burns classic. Which was nice (oh, there’s that word again) but we had to state on several occasions that we were readin our own original work.

This next comment might be tantamount to treason, but Scottish poetry has more to offer than just oor Rab. Wonderful as he is and absolutely something to be proud of, the danger is that as a nation we concentrate on him just a tad too much. There are a great number of fine writers living and working in Scotland today who could do with some attention and the wherewithal to make a decent living. By all means we should celebrate Burns and the impact he has had on the world, but let’s listen to other voices. Right, that’s me off my soapbox.

It is fair to say that I’m knackered. It takes energy to read poetry in these surroundings, dontcha know. Normally our readings are in confined spaces and we build up an atmosphere in which we and the audience feed off each other’s energy. Reading in a marquee to a transient audience is quite a different matter. First off the acoustics are shit. Secondly, at an invited reading the audience tends to have chosen to be there; in this kind of scenario the attendees were mostly taking a seat and shelter from the sun. There was also the odd barking dog, screaming child and whoosh from the flames at the Fire Brigade stand to compete with.

To be fair, there were lots of people who fully appreciated what we were doing and clearly enjoyed it, particularly earlier in the day. But there were also lots of bemused expressions. Some of which set Sheila off on a teenage giggle. You could see the thought – but it diznae rhyme, passing across some people’s expressions.

There I was reading my poem about the woman whose teeth fell out when she was eating a scone (I cover such a wide topic range. Nothing is sacred, not even the regal scone) which normally gets a big laugh. I got to the funny bit and this elderly couple right at the front (who had just arrived, nursing an ice cream cone each) were looking at me as if I had just announced that Christmas and Easter were changing months, but Santa and the Easter Bunny would stay as is. They were sitting mouths open wondering what the hell was going on. I swear I could see the vanilla ice cream melting among their fillings.

Being brutally honest, by the time it came to the last set, I really couldn’t be arsed. After 4 hours of intermittent poetry readings I’d had enough. I was all for untethering Jessie and asking for a ride home. Sheila was on the fence (yes, you were) and Rowena was up on her feet brandishing one of her collections, with all the energy of a zealot.

However, I am nothing if not a pro and we performed our last set for the afternoon.

Did I enjoy my day? Yes. It was nice. And interesting.


  1. Michael

    I totally agree...I was on the fence! In complete comfort too. But I want some credit for hissing in your ear 'Just pick a bloody poem, Malone and get your ass up tae the mic!' When you were whining 'Ah'm too TIRED. Wanna go HOME...' And all that was required was to read one more pome....

    Oh...and to all those who remember Michael's fit of the giggles in Aberdeen when we did 'Oor Bill'? I have to report today, he did it perfectly. But he still had to buy the icecreams! Thank you Michael! Sheila xx

  2. Makes me long for another trip to Scotland. And I think I used the word interesting on my blog about Ayr! So it must be. Sounds like you had a great time.

  3. Nice and interesting post Michael, wish I had been there to pull faces and put you off stride when you were in full swing.
    Shame on you for your comments on Rabbie - it may not be treason, but it's certainly sedition.
    Now go away and say three Tam O'Shanters and beat yourself with a copy of the Bard's complete works.

  4. what's it like to live in a place that has neat castles in almost every town? do you take it for granted?

  5. Thea, I love that side of our culture. Culzean is one of my favourites - and that's where Eisenhower used to go for his holidays.