Sunday, 20 December 2015

In search of Gaelic - Glasgow

I would love to have the time and resources to devote to a full-time course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, but my job in London and my wee dog Dougal put paid to that. Fortunately, living simply in an Airstream trailer means that I only have to work 50%, and as I work in the travel industry I can do a ton of extra shifts during the holiday seasons, then take extra time off during term time.

That is exactly what I did this autumn. I took time off which meant I only needed to go back to London every fortnight, giving me four clear runs of 10 days in Glasgow. Commuting was done on the Caledonian Sleeper, and what a wonderful way to travel that is:

On the first set of days off, I headed on up to the Isle of Lewis in search of Gaelic (see earlier blog entry), then on the next three blocks I stayed in the city itself.

What a brilliant time I had. It is fair to say that if you have the time, and the devotion, you can find a stack of Gaelic in the city.

If you look at the Gaelic Map of Glasgow, you'll see that there are opportunities galore for structured learning, but not so many 'drop in' sessions of the kind I was looking for.

A great place to start when looking for more informal Gaelic events is the An Lòchran website (click on the name) where you can find a list of events coming up. Be warned that many events are only listed a week or so before they take place, so keep checking back. 

I hit jackpot as soon as I landed in Glasgow, as there was a stack of events going on.

First off was the Gaelic music session at the Lios Mòr (Lismore) pub in Partick on the first Wednesday of the month. I went along and for the first hour enjoyed the music but didn't really know anybody. However, Calum (of Beag Air Bheag fame) introduced himself to me and we had a good chat for half an hour in Gaelic, then I met a really nice guy MB who was also a more advanced learner, and we chatted for the rest of the night. It was a brilliant evening. I guess, though, like any pub night, you will have some nights that are quiet and others that are terrific.

Two nights later on the Friday night I was in the basement of the Argyll Hotel on Sauchiehall Street at Àdamh O' Broin's event, the An Gealbhan social. The night I went was a quiet night and my Gaelic wasn't quite up to the fluency of the others there, but it was a fun and interesting evening.

Next day, by pure luck, the Irish/Scottish group Gaels Le Cheile put on a day of language classes, aimed mainly at those looking to learn Irish Gaelic but also with sessions for those of us looking to improve our Scottish Gaelic. As such, I spent a fantastic day with the brilliant Joy Dunlop, going through a ton of pronounciation exercises and other really useful stuff. The event was, sadly, under-subscribed but I wonder if that's because there wasn't a huge amount of advance notice given. I would seriously take a day off work and make the trek from Dover to Glasgow for another session like that.

Finally, the following Wednesday, I made the journey back to Partick for the lunchtime session at the Gaelic Bookshop (An Lèanag) with Inbhich gu Fileanteas, a structured two hour weekly session for those looking to improve their Gaelic fluency. It was a super crowd and I was made to feel warmly welcome. The two hour session is led by two separate fluent Gaelic speakers and it was a really worthwhile experience; so much so that I shall be heading back hopefully once every month or two just to catch up with them all as work and finances allow.

Let's not forget that there are plenty of other opportunities in Glasgow to put your Gaelic skills to test, whether it is craic at the Park Bar or one of the many other formal learning events that take place through the university or through An Lòchran.

Sadly, the combination of migraine attacks and needing to go to work at weekends curtailed my activities and I didn't get to as many events as I had originally planned. But I have to say, if you're looking for somewhere to go and practice your Gaelic and you are prepared to 'put yourself out there', Glasgow is definitely the place. 

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Beag Air Bheag - The Broadcast

So... following on from the entry about 'Learner of the Week',  the interview itself has now been broadcast! Don't worry if you missed it, here are a few links for you:

To play the entire programme (Series 3, Programme 9) click on this line here. The interview on the finished programme is split into three parts, and you can hear this at 01:54, at 18:18, and at 52:12. This link and timings are correct until 10/1/16.

Or you can download the podcast by selecting Series 3 Programme 9 from the page clicking this line here. Interview timings may change as the music gets cut from the podcast.

Or, if you're REALLY REALLY bored, you can listen to the entire 26 minutes of interview (which was not broadcast in full due to time constraints) by clicking on this line. 

Needless to say, when it was broadcast on Sunday night I was very, very excited and more than a little bit nervous.

It is at this point I digress to mention a bit of TV work some friends of mine did. They were approached by a downmarket TV company and asked if they could be filmed to make a programme about caravanning. Some of my friends agreed, thinking it would help promote a pastime that they enjoyed.

What happened? About 20 hours of footage was edited to a preconceived agenda and it portrayed everyone in a really, really, bad light. If they said 98% good things and 2% daft things, the 98% of good was edited out, and the 2% daft was left in, to sensationalise the subject and portray the people involved in a negative light. Exactly the same footage could have been edited to produce a completely different portrayal. It was trash television at its worst.

My interview with Iain for Beag Air Bheag lasted about 35 minutes. Again, this could have been edited one of two ways for the 10-15 minutes that was finally broadcast. A cheap sensationalist who wanted to make me look stupid could have taken out all the good bits and left in all the pauses, stutters, and mistakes.

However, I was absolutely delighted (and more than a touch relieved) that the interview had been edited as kindly and as sympathetically as possible, editing out some of the massive clangers and stutters, and leaving in the bits that make me sound like I actually know what I'm talking about. If you listen to the full 26 minute interview, you'll hear that I'm nowhere near as fluent and correct as the 'final cut'.


It wasn't just Beag Air Bheag and the lovely people on the team there that helped pull me out from being down in the dumps where I had previously spent a couple of self-pitying weeks, not feeling the love for Gaelic.

I really thought that the last entry ('What goes Up...') would attract a couple of comments such as 'Oh stop moaning you self-pitying whingebag!' but there was nothing of the sort. All there was in response was kindness, support, and - sadly - thanks from other learners. It seems that 'bad days' affect most learners and the fact that nobody else seems to undertand can make us feel a wee bit alone and isolated.

I guess part of the challenge is that many Gaelic learners are learning remotely by distance learning. As such, there does not seem to be anywhere to turn for support when the going gets tough. This can especially be a problem for those whose friends and family do not support their Gaelic endeavours. I think there is another blog entry to be made about this at some point in the future.

But right now I am still basking in the warm glow of being part of a great radio programme which I cannot rate highly enough. Resources for 'upper intermediate/advanced' learners are scarce, and Beag Air Bheag is a terrific and much-needed asset.

If you fancy playing a part in the programme, you'll be treated with kindness and respect, and the experience is one of the best things that will happen to you on your Gaelic journey. Iain, Fiona, and Calum who work on the programme are absolute stars. Without Gaelic, I would never have met them. Just think about that for a minute. Without Gaelic I would never have met these and many other lovely, lovely people. If that isn't reason enough to enroll on An Cùrsa Inntrigidh at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig right here and now if you're not already learning Gaelic, I don't know what is. 

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

What goes up...

What goes up, must come down. Sunshine follows the rain. Night follows day.

For some reason, media and society seem to expect a 'constant' from us human beings, and we end up beating ourselves up if we're not always on top form. Lunch is for wimps. Feeling below par? Take a pill and be happy and productive. Unhappiness is an avoidable state.

Me, I don't subscribe to this 'always up' culture that we are pressured into believing is real.

There probably are people out there who can bumble along in a constant state of industriousness and discipline. I, my friends, am not one of them.

We all know that the best way to learn something, Gaelic included, is to go for the 'slow burn' and do a little bit every day, learning just one new word or phrase a day, and keeping refreshed on what we already know.

For some reason though, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this, my Gaelic learning seems to follow an intense 'crash and burn' cycle. Crash, burn, repeat.

Over the summer period this year I had plenty of time to devote to Gaelic revision. I basically re-sat my entire course from the previous academic year in my own time, hiding myself away for days on end and immersing myself in the Gaelic.

Then, come September, I simply stopped. It's a bit like that Forrest Gump scene from the film where he runs and runs and runs and runs and then one day, he just stops. After weeks of running, he suddenly doesn't want to run any more.

My ever-patient and understanding Study Buddy MR gave me some space, I did the minimum possible to keep my head above water in the new term of college, and slowly the momentum returned.

This time, the carrot dangling afore me was the interview for Beag Air Bheag that I did a few weeks ago. As the interview approached, the urgency to become as fluent as possible grew at an alarming pace, and by the end of October I once again had all my trotters in the trough and even started to dream in Gaelic. 

Then, after the interview, the music stopped. I didn't want to hear Gaelic or speak it for a while. Irritations and setbacks that I had previously managed to ignore or laugh off started to irk and cripple me.  Meanwhile, some charming young lad left a comment to a video I'd posted online proffering '...your attempt at Gaelic is actually insulting!' Curiously enough, he answered my Gaelic response in English.

I even contemplated the thought of jacking it all in. I'd had enough of being looked down on, people turning their backs to me, and being treated as very much an outsider. And people I thought would be supportive turned out to be anything but.

Fortunately, my true friends MR in London, CF in Dundee, and RK Inverness offered their empathy and support and have gently nudged and cajoled me back into action. 

For others who go through similar cycles, the important thing to remember when you are not 'feeling the love' is to be your own best friend. Don't be too hard on yourself, be kind to yourself, allow yourself a wee break, and don't feel pressured into doing anything. If, after a couple of weeks has elapsed, there is no improvement, you then do what your own best friend would do and give yourself a good kick up the backside and get out there again.

I am supremely confident that now the rain has stopped, the sun is about to come out again. To me, that's a more natural way of 'being' despite what we are told otherwise. The most important thing is just to hang in there when the rain falls, knowing that it will eventually pass. 

Anyway, if you want to hear for yourself just how much of an insult to the language my Gaelic really is, tune in to BBC Radio nan Gàidheal at 9.30pm this coming Sunday 13th December 2015, when my interview on Beag air Bheag will be broadcast. You can then at least make your own mind up if that's an acceptable level of fluency after two and a half years of learning.