Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Invisible Gift Horse

Awaiting the Right Away, Scotland Bound again

There are many rewards, and frustrations, with learning Gaelic.

One of the frustrations I'm finding at the moment is that nobody within the Gaelic speaking community appears to acknowlege the existence of a very powerful asset that they have. Nobody appears to be looking outside the long-established bubble.

Anti-Gaelic bigotry is real, and I've only come across it in Scotland. Right now, some very narrow-minded and blinkered folk are working themselves up into a state about bilingual road and rail signs.

Yes, really!

Personally (maybe I'm biased) I love to see the bilingual signs. To my wide eyes they add a sense of place to this beautiful country, a 'uniqueness' that you only find outside England. It's also a daily reminder to non-Gaelic speakers of their native language's existence.

The bigots will argue that to support Gaelic is a waste of public money. In retort, the pro-Gaelic lobby will argue with the facts and figures that would suggest that money spent on the language is but a drop in the ocean. We could all find public projects that we don't agree with, but the joy of living in a democracy is that we need to allow others to enjoy their passions, skills, and creativity even if we don't understand. Even stuff we don't necessarily like or agree with adds to the fantastically rich and diverse culture of Scotland and of Great Britain in general. Me, I have no interest whatsoever in football. I don't really agree to my taxes paying to Police football matches, but a few million football fans would disagree with me. We live and let live.

Recently there was a survey about Gaelic learners. The study focussed soley on learners based in Scotland. During a recent course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, we were asked by a third party to give our feedback and ideas for BBC Alba. My form was whipped away from me when I said I was resident in England, as my views would be null and void. This is slightly ironic as a licence fee payer who mainly watches BBC Alba, albeit by the wonder of the internet or satellite.

My major source of frustration, as I hinted earlier, is that I don't really exist in the wider Gaelic picture. Neither do my friends R, M, M, J, and E in London. Or R in Wales. Or M&C from Misouri. Or S from Germany. Or anyone else living outwith Scotland who spends a considerable amount of their income on Gaelic.

It's not just the Cùrsaichean Goirid and the Cùrsaichean Air Astar that we pay (non-Scottish rates) for. There's the travel, the food and accommodation, and the countless cultural trips to Glasgow, the Highlands, and the Islands that we make. Ever since my discovery of the Outer Hebrides in 2009, I have been hemhorraging my hard-earned English pounds in Scotland. Like many of my learner colleagues and friends, learning Gaelic is a way for us to get right underneath and into this beautiful country and its culture.

For the fact and figure lovers, here is my spending over the last 12 months:

Cùrsa Adhartais, 4 x modules @ £450 = £1800
Cùrsa goirid, two weeks at approx £500 p/w including board & lodging: £1000
Food, lodging, site fees, fuel, ferry, accommodation in Glasgow, Highlands & Islands: £2,200

So that's £5000 or thereabouts from me alone. November/December last year was Harris and Lewis. January was Celtic Connections in Glasgow. Mar/Apr/May was a three month island tour. I'm intending to sneak a wee trip or two to Staffin and/or Tiree before the end of the year, as well as basing myself in Glasgow for 10 weeks just to improve my accent.

There are hundreds of us making the pilgrimage to Scotland every year to immerse ourselves in the Gaelic language and culture. Coming to Scotland - where the landscape speaks Gaelic - is a ritual we enjoy. We spend lots of money while we're doing it, as do visitors who are not Gaelic learners, but see the language and the culture as part of the very fabric of Scotland that they find so attractive.

I may be wrong, but as far as I am aware we are not being counted. I cannot find evidence of our existence in any report or study that I have come across. Here is this wonderful, gift-wrapped present for the pro-Gaelic lobby to exploit and highlight; this body of non-Scottish learners demonstrating that Gaelic can be, and is, a money magnet as well as a cultural asset.

Yet despite our contribution and commitment, we seem to remain invisible.

I'd love to be proved wrong. I hope I will be.