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Scottish Review of Books 13 August 2016 http://www.scottishreviewofbooks.org/no-belles-de-jour/

WHILST history may be one of the oldest scholarly disciplines, it has, until more recent times mostly averted its gaze from that other so-called ‘oldest profession’, prostitution, particularly in the Scottish context. However, as Louise Settle’s history of prostitution in Edinburgh and Glasgow in the early twentieth century shows, it can hugely benefit from the historian’s scrutiny.  The continuing and often heated contemporary debates about whether or how to regulate, legislate or obliterate prostitution in Scotland and elsewhere are almost as vigorous as those dealing with the ‘moral panic’ of ‘white slavery’ and the plight of ‘fallen women’ in the nineteenth century. The arguments among twenty-first century commentators centre on whether women involved in prostitution are victims of abuse in an unequal world or free agents making legitimate economic choices. Resolution looks a long way off. They might be missing a trick. Settle’s detailed and well researched book provides a welcome addition to our knowledge of this long standing and complex social issue, inviting us to look backwards to see how we got to here.

debunking the myth of free choice by so-called ‘happy hookers

Settle maintains that working class women’s involvement in prostitution in the early twentieth century was a survival strategy when the social, economic and cultural odds were heavily stacked against them.  Prostitution may have been a ‘choice’ but it was one made in Scotland at a time when the available options for many women were severely constrained by prevailing economic conditions and social norms governing women’s behaviour. While the risks were high, the alternatives were worse. Prostitution in Edinburgh and Glasgow in the early twentieth century was not glamorous. There are no belles de jour here.

The growth of clandestine prostitution based around Italian ice cream cafes and fish and chip shops in the 1920s and 1930s is a surprising revelation.

Research into police, court, prison and voluntary social service agency records reveals the reality of prostitution from the accounts of those charged with arresting, prosecuting and reforming the women involved. However Settle’s approach pulls off a remarkable coup. Despite the public nature of her sources and the inherent bias likely in accounts of women’s lives mediated through public officials, the reality of lives in prostitution emerges. A collective biography approach to previously hidden life stories provides much needed insight into the women’s lives. We see their reasons for working in prostitution, its impact and how this was often compounded by the efforts of those determined to prevent it.  We also hear the women’s loud resistance screaming through.

‘Khaki fever’ led to a boost around the docks and railway stations in Glasgow and Edinburgh during the First World War.

The distinctions between the European, English and Scottish legal systems’ approach to prostitution in the nineteenth century clarify the roots of the particularly Scottish approach which emerged in the early twentieth century.  The growth of state regulation of prostitution across Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century was closely linked to efforts to reduce the spread of venereal disease. While many European countries adopted the French system of licensing state-regulated brothels, England regulated prostitution in order to control the spread of the diseases among men in the armed forces. A series of Contagious Diseases Acts passed in England in the 1860s made compulsory the genital examination of women suspected of being ‘common prostitutes’ working in naval ports and garrison towns.  Prior to their eventual repeal in 1886, things had begun to take a moral turn with the 1885 Criminal Amendment Act which responded to British public opinion seething with ‘moral panic’ following reports of the sexual exploitation and abduction of young girls into ‘white slavery’.  The Act raised the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen, made brothel-keeping illegal across Britain while the National Vigilance Association (NVA) in England and the Scottish NVA (SNVA) were charged with upholding and enforcing the new morality laws. However policing remained the key mechanism for tackling prostitution in Scotland.

The 1892 Burgh Police (Scotland) Act and individual Scottish city acts criminalized outdoor prostitution by ‘street walkers’ and ‘common prostitutes’ ‘loitering or importuning for the purposes of prostitution’ and stipulating fines and imprisonment. Licensing laws targeted publicans and others using their premises for prostitution and the 1902 Immoral Traffic (Scotland) Act targeted men who trafficked women into prostitution,  acted as pimps or ‘bullies’ or lived off ‘immoral’ earnings, imposed penalties of up to six months imprisonment and later introduced flogging for these offences.

The Scottish system included cautioning whereby a woman was only arrested after being caught importuning three times. Thereafter she was deemed a ‘common prostitute’. Police made a distinction between the ‘common’ or ‘hardened prostitute’ regarded as a public nuisance who were dealt with in the courts and younger women seen as ‘victims’ or ‘amateurs’ with the potential to be diverted from prostitution. Settle found a degree of sympathy among police officers for young women whose difficult life circumstances drew them into prostitution and whom officers judged as having the potential for change. In 1907, the option of probation became available to courts and with the discretion available to police on the streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow, probation officers and the SNVA and the Magdalene Asylums took the opportunity to ‘reform’ the lives and characters of young women deemed to be at risk. This informal ‘penal-welfare’ system diverted women either to a closed institution or subjected them to close supervision by a probation officer in the community. They aimed to teach young women to conduct themselves in a manner more aligned with middle class morality and expectations of femininity in their working and private lives. While some women undoubtedly responded positively to this approach, others fiercely resisted the interference and all attempts at ‘reform’.

Women were ill-served by an unequal society which targeted them for being the wrong kind of woman whilst turning a blind eye to the men who paid for sex with them.

Who were the women caught up in this system? Unsurprisingly they were working class and experiencing considerable hardship.  Information about their backgrounds shows that many came from poor families and either struggled to find work or survived on very low wages. Once involved in prostitution the women suffered from extreme ill health, abuse, exploitation, homelessness and destitution; they often lived chaotic lives and many died young. Many were single mothers, deserted by their husbands, working to feed their children and avoid the poorhouse. There were many who attempted suicide, or were charged with drunkenness and often being ‘drunk in charge of a child’, breach of the peace, assault or theft; they were frequently in and out of prison, poorhouses, reform homes and hospitals.  In poor working class communities prostitution was regarded simply as a fact of life and a way to make some money – women were not unduly stigmatised. They took whatever paid work was available and in straitened circumstances prostitution could temporarily make ends meet despite the risks.

Prostitution was indeed a ‘choice’ for women desperately short of options.

This pragmatism and sheer determination was at some remove from the opinions of the moralisers and law enforcers who condemned prostitutes as having pathological character flaws. The exploration of the social geography of prostitution in Edinburgh and Glasgow charting the sites known for street prostitution and the location of brothels in both cities is revealing. In Edinburgh, street prostitution was traditionally centred on the Old Town and the Mound, in Glasgow around High Street and Glasgow Green. However by the early twentieth century women moved to the expanding commercial and entertainment centres of the cities to meet new demand. ‘Khaki fever’ led to a boost around the docks and railway stations in Glasgow and Edinburgh during the First World War. The number of brothels also increased during this period with women soliciting in the streets then taking men to flats or private rooms rented by the hour thus blurring the distinctions between outdoor and indoor prostitution. The police seemed unable to deter women from working in the city centres or to make many inroads in closing down brothels or prosecuting pimps. Settle shows that the relationships between the women working in prostitution, brothel keepers and ‘bullies’ was complex. Women working as prostitutes might rent rooms in their own houses for other women to use.  While some women had cruel, controlling and exploitative pimps, others had husbands who played no part as pimps.

Women were ill-served by an unequal society which targeted them for being the wrong kind of woman whilst turning a blind eye to the men who paid for sex with them.

The growth of clandestine prostitution based around Italian ice cream cafes and fish and chip shops in the 1920s and 1930s is a surprising revelation. So too are the links between prostitution and the new craze for dance clubs. This was highlighted by the high profile trial and conviction of Kosmo club owner Asher Barnard and his two managers in 1933 for using the venue to profit from prostitution. The trial shed light on prostitution’s ability to embrace changing technology, survive the economic downturn, capitalise on changing public mores, and expand its reach in novel ways. The Club at 20 Swinton Row in the east end of Edinburgh was one of a number in the city where men could ‘book out’ a ‘dance partner’ for thirty shillings for the whole evening by telephone – the origin of the term ‘call girl’. Telephone calls to a network of taxi drivers, hotels, lodging houses, or flats swung into action to whisk the man and his ‘dance partner’ off somewhere to have sex. Women witnesses in the trial described being coerced into being ‘booked out’, having no access to the telephone to make their own arrangements or control the bookings. Earnings from the ‘booking out’ system however far exceeded those working only as dance partners.  Settle argues that earning differentials, lack of alternative employment, coercion and the economic challenges women faced reveal how problematic the notion of ‘choice’ in prostitution at the time was.

Prostitution is described as the oldest ‘profession’ but its roots lie in one of the world’s oldest oppressions – women’s.

Prostitution is described as the oldest ‘profession’ but its roots lie in one of the world’s oldest oppressions – women’s. ‘Profession’ implies choice. While its academic purpose is clear and important, the glimpses this book provides into the life of women is where it shines while debunking the myth of free choice by so-called ‘happy hookers’.  Early twentieth-century Scotland blamed the women for making bad choices yet failed to address the harm it caused or why men wanted to rent their bodies in the first place. Abuse victims or free agents? Probably both.  Prostitution was indeed a ‘choice’ for women desperately short of options; while dance clubs and brothels may have been preferable to the street, women often made the best of it despite the risks.  This complicated clandestine world was challenging to police. Women were ill-served by an unequal society which targeted them for being the wrong kind of woman whilst turning a blind eye to the men who paid for sex with them.

Sex for sale in Scotland – Prostitution in Edinburgh and Glasgow, 1900-1939

Louise Settle

Edinburgh University Press, £70, ISBN 978-1474400008, PP218
Read more at http://srb.swddev.com/no-belles-de-jour/#D8KxlChgsdtIG3jA.99
Read more at http://www.scottishreviewofbooks.org/no-belles-de-jour/#2msQg3geF5EpEP6O.99

ESHE team and USSA

Equally Safe in Higher Education at the University of Strathclyde.

Project Team and USSA President Raj Jeyeraj and Vice President Gerry McDonnell:

LtoR: Kevin Pilkington, Roisin McGoldrick, Gerry McDonnell, Melanie McCarry, Anni Donaldson, Raj Jeheraj

Read GlasgowAnni’s blog on Scottish Government’s Equally Safe website about a new project at Strathclyde University to prevent VAW on campus:

http://blogs.scotland.gov.uk/equally-safe/2016/03/17/new-toolkit-to-help-reduce-violence-against-women/

RTNhttps://www.commonspace.scot/articles/3649/sexual-harassment-on-campus-to-be-tackled-in-new-project

 

Anni Donaldson: Understanding coercive control and domestic abuse

Amid a storyline on The Archers radio programme, writing in Common Space Anni Donaldson explains coercive control in abusive relationships and how people can seek help

THE ARCHERS’ Helen Titchener really could use an independent domestic abuse advocate (IDA) right now.

If Ambridge was in the west of Scotland she could just lift the phone and call Assist and one of their IDA’s could talk through with her what is really going on in her marriage.

For those not familiar with the excruciatingly well-written, real time entrapment of vulnerable Helen over the past couple of years by her domineering and controlling husband Rob, a quick BBC Radio iPlayer catch up or glance at any online Archers forum will fill you in pretty quickly.

Helen is living in a situation which is all too familiar to IDAs, highly dangerous for her, wee Henry and her unborn child.

Assist is well placed – every year its advocates support over 4,000 women (and a number of men) in exactly Helen’s situation and around 6,000 children all affected by domestic abuse.

Rob is a textbook domestic abuser: the gradual erosion of Helen’s freedom masked as concern and ‘love’, the ramping up of her fear of him and her confusion and anxiety are common responses to the increasingly tight emotional and physical cordon he is placing around her.

Helen is living in a situation which is all too familiar to IDAs, highly dangerous for her, wee Henry and her unborn child.

IDA’s are specialists who understand very well how abusive partners behave and they know also that the longer it goes on, the more dangerous it can get. Men like Rob start by schmoozing and charming, often sweeping women along to an early commitment or marriage, spotting their vulnerabilities and salting them away for future use.

In conversation with Helen, a domestic abuse advocate would find out that she is growing increasingly frightened of Rob.

In conversation with Helen, a domestic abuse advocate would find out that she is growing increasingly frightened of Rob. He ‘polices’ her life, isolating her from friends and family, tracking her movements by phone and text if she goes out.

He has left his job, persuaded Helen to give up working in her successful organic food company and is gradually taking over the business and finances. Helen is pregnant and advocates know that during pregnancy abuse can start or escalate.

Rob’s apparent concern for Helen’s pregnancy hides his final goal – complete control of Helen’s life to suit his needs. He puts her down, tells her what to wear, undermines her ability as a mother and is obsessively jealous of her friendships – gradually, almost imperceptibly, his evaluation of her as a woman creeps into her mind and like a cuckoo jettisons her own sense of herself, her independence of thought and action.

There are suggestions that he could be a serial abuser from the occasional appearances of previous partner Jess – whom Helen has been falsely persuaded is deranged. He has charmed his way into Helen’s family who think he is God’s gift to troubled, single parent Helen who hasn’t had much luck with men in the past.

He ‘polices’ her life, isolating her from friends and family, tracking her movements by phone and text if she goes out.

While there is not much apparent violence, there are hints at a rape. There is plenty of threatening behaviour from Rob, our compelling ultra-macho, homophobic, bad-tempered, narcissistic, arch-manipulating, riding-to-hounds anti-hero.

Hearing all that, it would be clear as day to an IDA that Rob is a danger to Helen. As long as she is frightened into complying, Helen will be fine but men like Rob are never satisfied and Helen will never, ever get it 100 per cent right. His changing moods and standards keep her on her emotional toes.

The romantic bond between Helen and Rob has now become a traumatic one – he has magically transformed her love into a fearful, anxious attachment and very soon he could have the power of life or death over her and the children.

Helen, living with that every day like a captive in a war zone is very likely to be experiencing a real and severe condition with a name: Type 2 Trauma.

Who knows where Helen’s and Rob’s story will end – that’s the power of this well written radio drama. In real life it could end in severe mental health problems, severe injury, miscarriage or death for a woman and possibly her children, too – it happens.

As long as she is frightened into complying, Helen will be fine but men like Rob are never satisfied and Helen will never, ever get it 100 per cent right. His changing moods and standards keep her on her emotional toes.

A trained advocate would sensitively reflect back to women like Helen the reality of their situation. Through careful questioning and professional judgement, advocates assess the risks women like Helen face in similar situations and offer options for safety and support if they want it.

Listeners describe Rob as an arch-villain, a baddie we love to hate. People swing from frustration to sympathy for Helen. In reality, Rob is an old fashioned abuser disguised as a regular guy, hidden in plain sight, nursing a Victorian world view that a woman is a man’s property without full citizenship rights.

Their hyper-vigilant partners trying to second guess their every move, anxiously tiptoe around them to prevent the next blow-up. Rob’s number could be up, though. The law In England and Wales might catch up with his particular form of coercive or controlling domestic abuse.

As of December 2015 this is now a crime punishable by up to five years in prison even if it stops short of physical violence. Listeners await his prosecution with interest. Similarly, The Scottish Government is currently consulting on creating a specific offence to deal with those who commit psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour.

The consultation ends on 1 April 2016. Such an offence could rely on evidence such as is gathered in the course of IDA’s work with victims. This could prove vital in documenting the reality of life within these regimes of domestic terror.

Making that first call for help can make you feel like a traitor, the end of your cherished dreams of a happy family future. Preparing to end the relationship can be dangerous: that’s why women stay put.

Making that first call for help can make you feel like a traitor, the end of your cherished dreams of a happy family future. Preparing to end the relationship can be dangerous: that’s why women stay put.

Over the last 10 years, two women a week in the UK have died at the hands of a current or former partner often at the point of leaving. Women know that losing control could push their partner over the edge and women wisely managing their own safety.

Sometimes it is better to stay put and make careful longer-term plans. That’s where a good advocate can help whether or not the police are involved. Advocates know the law and can pull in a range of other services to help someone at risk.

A national training programme for IDAs is currently under way in Scotland to make the service nationwide through Scotland’s national network of Women’s Aid Groups and other support services.

The demand is not likely to diminish anytime soon with around 60,000 domestic incidents reported to Police Scotland last year.

To find out your where your nearest IDA or domestic abuse support service is:

In Scotland call: National Domestic abuse Helpline 0800 027 1234 – open 24 hours

In England and Wales (including Ambridge) call: National Domestic Violence Helpline 08082000247 – open 24 hours

CommonSpace journalism is completely free from the influence of advertisers and is only possible with your continued support. Please contribute a monthly amount towards our costs. Build the Scotland you want to live in – support our new media.

Picture courtesy of ghetto_guera29

tlinseyandken

This review first appeared in The Lennox Herald 29 January 2016

Linsey Aitken and Ken Campbell pull off a musical world tour at their first Celtic Connections gig.

Like the wild geese taking off above Linsey Aitken and Ken Campbell’s home in Gartocharn on Loch Lomondside, a full house at the Glasgow Art Club on Friday 22 January caught the thermals of their fine opener Northern Winds and were transported on a musical round-the-world-tour. In the art nouveau splendour of the Art Club’s recently refurbished Gallery with its Charles Rennie Mackintosh frieze, panelled walls and breathtaking fireplaces, the accomplished couple created a comfortable and easy feel for this, their first Celtic Connections gig.

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Linsey knows her way around a cello and the rich resonant tones of her arrangements brought the violin’s often shy big sister centre stage to lead and cavort with open bowing, slap base licks and melancholy harmonics. With Ken’s twelve string guitar, Northumbrian pipes and Spanish laud accompaniments and their friendly incidental chat, the pair’s many self-penned songs offered a glimpse of what they do on their holidays.

Whether taking inspiration from local archives for the rousing whaling song Dundee Bound and Ellis Island for Land of Hope, re-imagining a Pushkin poem and a Russian folk tune in Silent and Shy or recreating a day in the life of a Tuscan café owner in the ‘world premiere’ of the distinctly Czardas-esque instrumental Giovanni, Linsey and Ken offer a syncretic repertoire which never strayed far from its Scottish musical roots. This was never more effective than Linsey’s exquisite Achachrome, an instrumental inspired by the croft in Kilmartin Glen from whence Ken’s family were cleared in the 19th century. The duet melted Linsey’s cello at its harmonic and melancholic best with Ken’s Northumbrian pipes which took up the melody to create an ‘droney’ (Linsey’s words) and atmospheric combination evoking the wrench from kith and kin.

With some covers thrown in for excellent measure: their tribute to the late Michael Marra, Take me out drinking tonight, Mick West’s favourite The hills are clad in purple and a sparklingly original arrangement of Wild Rover the crowd were well pleased.  Clearly well-loved and active in Gartocharn with a large local and family contingent there present, Linsey and Ken pulled off the right amount of community singing with their clever chorus handout sheets and managed easily to stay this side of sentimental with their finale Red is the Rose, the beautiful and not often heard Irish version of Loch Lomond.   With that they were back on home turf at the south end of Loch Lomond and all seemed to agree that their Celtic Connections debut was a winner.

 

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Anni Donaldson reviews Celtic Connections’ Songs of Separation for Common Space 26 January 2016

THE sight of 10 women – some of the UK’s most creative and uniquely versatile traditional musicians – walking on stage at the Mitchell Theatre on Sunday 24 January for Songs of Separation as part of Celtic Connections had quite an impact.

The title of the evening was an idea conceived by Jenny Hill, who drew in Karine Polwart, Hannah Read, Hannah James, Mary Macmaster, Eliza Carthy, Hazel Askew, Kate Young, Rowan Rheingans and Jenn Butterworth to an innovative women’s cross border collaboration.

Fine singers and musicians all, they had the packed theatre eating out of their hands and singing from their songsheet. The fare was heavily laced with Eigg-y bread and was a tribute to that blessed isle whence they gathered in an innovative musical project in 2015 to explore the theme of separation.

Fine singers and musicians all, they had the packed theatre eating out of their hands and singing from their songsheet.

The evening, however, was far from a dolorous affair. In a clearly affectionate and sisterly endeavour, the cast of their creative nets and interpretations were wide. In their own words, Songs of Separation is about our shared experience, through songs and poems written by people who preceded us, whose words tell us much about our experience of the world today.

Their music celebrated the joy and connection between women and men, mothers and children, people and soil, land and lore, sea and sail as well as parting. Clearly enjoying themselves on what was the final night of their tour and their album launch party, they packed the evening with self-penned works, exquisite arrangements and lyricism in new and often long forgotten poems and songs which showed off the women’s artistry.

Their range and musicality offered glimpses of their muses and the breadth of their interpretation of the chosen theme. The concert was firmly anchored by the relaxed compering and joyous singing of Karine Polwarth as the concert opened with the crake and croak of the fiddle emulating that illusive bird in Echo Mocks the Corncrake, a song celebrating the bird’s stubbornness against the threat of eviction from its natural habitat.

The lush string arrangements and vocal harmonies of Poor Man’s Lamentation an English broadside ballad adapted from a poem by Uriah Smart and the powerful 10-voice a cappella choral arrangement of the Unst Boat Song, a nordic sea prayer and one of the oldest collected fragments of Shetland song given an almost hymnal treatment were mesmerising.

In a clearly affectionate and sisterly endeavour, the cast of their creative nets and interpretations were wide.

Each woman shone in her own way: Kate Young’s extraordinary vocal range seemed quite at home in a Bulgarian folk song, Jenn Butterworth’s fluid guitar playing anchored the many rich string arrangements and Jenny Hill’s mellifluous double bass spread a rich chocolate base over the evening.

Hannah James gave her accordion its head in a beautiful solo composition dedicated to fellow accordionist Tuulikki Bartosik showing off her instrument’s dynamic range and surprising delicacy with those well-known clog dancing feet making a surprise appearance as her very own rhythm section.

Hazel Askew’s crystal clear voice and melodeon lent extra poignancy to her reworking of London Lights singing the hopes of a destitute young unmarried mother for her new-born ‘blue eyed treasure’. The Salvation Army-esque arrangement gave the song a surprisingly hopeful air.

Eliza Carthy’s composition Cleaning the Stones, inspired by the death of a goldfish, offered as the comic song of the night had more existential depth than she let on. Eliza’s powerful voice offered a rich womanly tenor to the ensemble’s choral range.

Nowhere more effectively than in the powerful synthesis of Over the Border, a song which crossed the marches between England and Scotland, Lowland and Highland and emerged from its time of writing in 2015, post-independence referendum when the call of home and the achingly necessary trudge across borders for folk from the Middle East became yet again more pressing and tragic.

Kate Young’s extraordinary vocal range seemed quite at home in a Bulgarian folk song while Jenn Butterworth’s fluid guitar playing anchored the many rich string arrangements.

The delicate harmonies of Rowan Rheingans’ and Hannah Reid’s The Road less Travelled inspired by a Robert Frost poem were given a delicate backdrop by their banjo and plucked fiddle arrangement.

With regular sprinklings of fairy dust from Mary Macmaster’s harp and her beautifully expressive Gaelic songs, the evening never forgot its Hebridean conception on the Island of Eigg and the importance of its pierhead Tea Room and late night libations for the creative process.

The tribute paid by the women to the island as both inspiration and catalyst for Songs of Separation was loudly endorsed by the enthusiastic Eigg contingent in the audience – an island which has itself become a symbol of self-determination and the power of community.

While inspired by separation, the women conveyed the beauty and power of connection and left their audience with a warm and shared glow.

Click here to follow Anni Donaldson on Twitter, and click here to visit the Celtic Connections website for more information about the festival. Follow Songs of Separation on Twitter: @SSeparation

 

GRCH entrance

This review first appeared in Common Space 15 January 2016

“GIVE us a song!” Growing up in Glasgow in a large extended family of first and second generation Irish immigrants – all good singers – this was an order, not a request.

I grew to realise the importance of song to those not long removed from their homeland and others for whom, without it, home would have become a distant memory. It holds their history, how they used to live and its meaning.

Songs live in hearts and memories. They are our belongings, a precious part of the load. Peter Shepheard, Tom Spiers and Arthur Watson, the founders of the Traditional Song and Music Association of Scotland, recognised that 50 years ago and the anniversary was celebrated with great brio in The Carrying Stream, the opening concert of Celtic Connections 2016 on Thursday 14 January.

The enduring beauty and fun of traditional song was on full display following the powerful opening by the massed pipes and drums of the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland.

The enduring beauty and fun of traditional song was on full display following the powerful opening by the massed pipes and drums of the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland. The cast of performers, young and old, offered a highly appreciative and well-versed audience a powerful reminder of the importance of keeping these songs alive.

The musical director of the show, Siobhan Millar, is one of the finest traditional singers in Scotland today. Still in her 20s, Millar has become a worthy tradition bearer herself and, like every other act on the bill, expressed her debt to foremothers and forefathers in the Scots, Gaelic, travelling and Irish and American traditions.

Accompanied by the excellent house band, Millar’s version of ‘False False’ was a fine tribute to Sheila Stewart, the great singer of the travelling tradition, who died recently.

Barbara Dickson, member number two of the Dunfermline TMSA and long time supporter, returned to her folk roots with a poignant rendering of ‘I aince loved a lad’.

Irishman Tommy McCarthy sang ‘Lady Margaret’, a centuries old ballad in the traditional Irish sean-nos style. His highly ornamented, complex, almost liturgical style used the full range of his extraordinary voice and reduced the hall to a deep silence.

Adam McNaughton’s celebration of the ‘Soor milk kairt’, Misha McPherson’s Gaelic waulking song and Shona Donaldson’s tragic 17th century ballad ‘Edam O’ Gordon’ conveyed the mood and meaning of their times.

The cast of performers, young and old, offered a highly appreciative and well-versed audience a powerful reminder of the importance of keeping these songs alive.

However, although Sam Lee’s tribute to Jeannie Robertson – ‘The moon shone on my bed last night’ – was hauntingly arranged with accompanying hammer dulcimer, Lee unfortunately lost the story in his vocal gymnastics.

Traditional songs accompanied the work inside and outside the home, to express the many emotions – love and sadness of daily existence, to record local and other historical events and to often mark the loss of family and friends whether by death or by emigration.

They also rose from the difficult lives and choices facing ordinary people. The political heart of the folk song was not forgotten in the witty and often pointed repartee of compere BBC Radio Scotland presenter Mark Steven, who reminded us of its importance in sustaining a nation’s sense of itself.

The evergreen Arthur Johnston spoke of the importance of song in political struggles, in giving voice to the injustices of the Highland clearances and the troubles in Ireland. His rendition of Northern Irishman Tommy Sands’ ‘Your sons and your daughters’, singing it ‘because he was tellt’ by Siobhan, was a moving tribute to those working people who ‘sowed the seeds of freedom, justice and equality’ in the minds of their children.

North East Bothy Balladeers Jim Taylor, Sandy Morrison and Joe Aiken were on cracking form with ‘The bonny lass o’ Fyvie’ and its irresistible chorus. With the excellent Malinky, the always show-stopping Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham, who are fast becoming like a comfy pair of old slippers, the show was drawing to a close when Sheena Wellington reprised her performance of ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That’ at the opening of the Scottish Parliament.

The show ended with a grand finale performance of Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom come all ye’ with barely a silent voice in the house.

Described by Steven as a ‘defining moment’ in Scotland – the power of its words seemingly lost on the royal party there present – Wellington’s soaring voice electrified an audience living a quite different Scotland from 1999.

The show ended with a grand finale performance of Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom come all ye’ with barely a silent voice in the house.

The value of song is universal. The TMSA was among friends and Millar pulled off what felt like an intimate, rousing house ceilidh within a majestic packed Royal Concert Hall.

Click here to follow Anni Donaldson on Twitter, and click here to visit the Celtic Connections website for more information about the festival.

accident

It was touch and go for the ham hough.  You never know the  bloody minute… well more the elongated moment…when I was happily but sedately bowling along Loch Lomond-side, already bored with what was on the radio, planning to stop at Tyndrum to get out the Kindle for some decent driving tunes, past the engineering feat that is the stilt borne road-widening marvel at Pulpit Rock.

Pulpit Rock Pulpit Rock

Breathing in at the narrow parts as too-wide trucks and vans stole precious territory on my side of the dotted line, slowing down through the water cascading downhill and forming eddies which regularly threatened to drown the nearside of the road, ever alert on a tricky road, well-travelled over the years, it was the second of January and my first trip out in the brand new year.

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A82 one of the Loch Lomondside narrows

I was heading to see my friend Jan perform in the annual Easdale Island new year panto, curtain up two forty five, ferry at 2.15 – plenty of time, no rush.

Turned out it wasn’t the news quiz on Radio 4 at twelve but the awful Moneybox Live (why live?  Is their news ever so breaking it can never be pre-recorded? Maybe the banking crash gave them a sense of immediacy they’ve never known before.).  I was hoping for the News Quiz to pass the time enjoying the quick-witted giggly MC-ing of Sandy Toksvig until Tyndrum and a slug of my nutri-smoothy made with Jack’s belter of a blender before negotiating Loch Aweside’s mighty glen and the scenic drive onward to Oban.  Carefully around a wide left-ward curving bend, no one in front, a few cars behind then my car suddenly veers to the right refusing my corrections, foot off hovering the brake, gently, go with it I remembered, it was having none of it, wibbly wobbly, my no longer steady, heavy horse of a Saab hurtled for the watering hole that was Loch Lomond on my right, rushing toward the trough it crashed willow, saplings, bramble and flew over the steep embankment, its momentum allowing it one last decision to face back the way we had come, flipped over and landed on its back.

Careering at speed towards the loch, up in the air and through the trees, time really did motion slowly as I contemplated the end of me in a parallel and equally real time.  Simple, pure terror washed through my mind and body. Utter helplessness, hands still pointlessly gripping the steering wheel …nothing I can do….. Eyes wide to see it, inside voice to speak it, scream it, feel it: the river, the trees rushing toward me instantly felled by the car’s speed…I’m heading for the river….! THIS IS IT! THE END! NO…! The horizon flipped and it all stopped….

I’m heading for the river….!” THIS IS IT! THE END! NO…!

In a blink I did a quick body check.  OK…I’m hanging upside down, held fast by my seat belt, the engine’s still running, the radio is still on but I’m not in the water.  With what I was even then aware was a remarkable calm, I thought, turn the engine off,  all that petrol I had just pumped into the tank not an hour before might be pouring out. Slowly I moved the automatic gear stick to P for park, switched the engine off, removed the key and silenced Graham Norton’s wittering. A voice was calling and then a man’s face appeared ahead of me, seeing me seeing him, “Hello!”, I gave him two celebratory thumbs up and shouted “I think I’m ok!”. “He called out, “Stay where you are, don’t worry we’ll get you out, anyone else with you? “, ”No just me.” He turned and called out “Just one woman and she thinks she’s OK”.  Another man’s voice came from behind the car.  “Do you think you can get out?  I’ll try to open a door.  There’s a chair here” [that’s another story].  I felt the rush of air as the door opened, I smelled that strong familiar sodden, woody, decaying smell of fresh riverbank. I braced my left arm, against the roof of the car, hooked my right knee under the steering wheel, wedged the other against the side of the central column, reached across myself with my right hand and pressed the button on the seat belt.  The limb bracing worked. Gravity did its job and I slowly untangled myself from behind the steering wheel one leg at a time thanking thingummy that I’d recently restarted my yoga practice and crawled along the roof to the open door behind me.

“I’ll put the chair out here and you can stand on it,”, the man said, “that’s handy.”  I climbed up, grabbed the door sill then his hand and with one swing of the leg then the other I was out! I barely knew what way up I or the world was. I scrambled and climbed up and through the sinking, stinking mud, grabbing and avoiding the scratching brambles to the road, a line of parked cars and what seemed like rows of concerned helpers on the roadside looking over then taking me, asking how I was, talking on mobile phones, directing traffic and telling me what happened. Men halted the traffic as I was led across the road by a nice woman in a red jacket, “You need to sit down, come on.” She motioned me to sit in her driving seat.

“You were driving quite slowly, I was right behind you,” said kind Nicky from Crianlarach with the wee red car and the bouncing Jack Russell, “Then next thing you were turning right, I wondered where you were going as there’s no turn off there!”  Charlie in the car behind her confirmed all that, “You were driving quite slowly then you seemed to birl off.”

I turned round in her driving seat and saw three lovely, holiday-bright and smiling young faces saying ‘Hello! Are you OK?”  “Yes I think I am thanks.”

The woman in the red jacket said, “My daughter and her pals are in the back. “  “Where you heading then?”   I asked. “We’re going to a hotel in Glencoe for a few days break to get them out.”  “They’ll likely be on their phones all the time!” I said, “Aye probably” she laughed.  “Might not be any signal up there though.”  “Probably not!” we both laughed – the chat normalising, restoring me to the place and time.  I turned round in her driving seat and saw three lovely, holiday-bright and smiling young faces saying ‘Hello! Are you OK?”  “Yes I think I am thanks.” Another woman approached me with a mobile phone.  “The emergency services want to speak to you.”  I took the phone, answered the questions asked by a very kind operator lady about how I was, any injuries, bleeding, can I stand, don’t eat or drink anything until the ambulance gets there, they’re on their way. With thanks I returned the phone to the woman, she asked if I was alright and I said I was. It was true.  I seemed to be.

“You were driving quite slowly then you seemed to birl off.”

Charlie meanwhile offered to stay till the emergency services arrived and to direct them to the Ardlui Hotel where, they all decided, Nicki would take me to wait for the paramedics.  My other first responder offered to get anything I needed from the car.  “A handbag, a holdall, two jackets and can you please look for a poly bag with a ham hough in it!”.  He laughed and a few moments later he appeared with everything I had asked for. The hough wasn’t going to make it to Easdale and Jan’s kitchen after all.

Can you please look for a poly bag with a ham hough in it!”

Assured that all was being done that could, the people gradually drove off and on their way. Previously anonymous drivers and passengers had, in an instant, become a highly organised flashmob rescue team  –  all instinctively knowing exactly the right thing to do in this sudden drama – heroes all.

We’re fine now, the ham hough and I.  While that, my last Saab, nearly did for us both, its now obsolete Swedish aerodynamics also saved my life.   The hough is presently doing what it does best here at home: comforting spirits with the ummistakable smell of what will soon become lentil broth.  Just what’s needed after that loch-side driving drama.

We’re fine, the ham hough and I.

With my deep and sincere thanks  to Nicki and Charlie, all the kind anonymous drivers heading  northwards on the A82 less than a mile beyond the Ardlui Hotel just after midday on Saturday 2 January 2016 and the paramedics from Arrochar who all reassured me,  got me out, checked out and home safe. Immense gratitude goes to my wonderful daughter Emily who drove miles to rescue me, to dearest son (1) Jack for the ham eggs, tattie scones and Stornoway fry he made us on our return, to dearest son (2) Louis for the delicious dauphinois, peas and haggis dinner he rustled up later it seemed out of nowhere, to dearest (1 and only) grand-daughter Maella round like a shot, Cleggie for the hugs, to Lynne for the flowers, for rushing round in a wink and for the kindest of friendship, to Carol for her phone calls, messages and timely Samye Ling remembrances, to cousin Jim for his love and concern, to Jan for being so concerned but the show going on regardless, avoiding breaking a leg and playing a pure blinder, to Gus for trying but failing to keep our secret till it was over, to Alex for his sweet post-party good wishes despite having had a bucket! You are all marvellous.  My life is sweeter because of you.

 It is a Happy New Year. OH YES IT IS!

Easdale Island Panto 2 January 2016 – Jack and the BeanstalkEasdale panto 2016

Photo:  Colin MacPherson

Che poster Havana

“Communism sucks!”, so said the well-heeled and well-travelled English NHS Consultant as we discussed the state of Cuba during my recent trip there.  “Capitalism sucks too though,” I retorted, on reflection, rather too defensively.  “I know where I’d rather live…” he said.  The truth is poverty sucks wherever you live.  As members of a party of eighteen cyclists on a recent cycling tour of Cuba, we had many chances to observe the Cuban hinterland at a leisurely pace.  We also had the advantage of the perceptive and remarkably honest reflections of Angel our highly competent and personable young tour guide about life in the island republic –  his homeland.  Some poverty is relative and relatively speaking, Cubans appear poor.

It is hard to deny with average monthly wages between 500-1000 Cuban pesos (roughly £700-1,400) for all workers including professionals.  Cubans pay all their utility and household bills in pesos but have to convert their pesos into Cuba Convertible Currency to buy anything else.  There is food rationing, state ownership of absolutely everything including land, big business and cattle, and a shortage of oil, cars and consumer goods.

“We were the Soviet Union’s pretty boys, we just sat there and they fed us with oil and all that we needed.”

During the severe depression of the 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed and the flow of oil and roubles stopped, Cuba’s dependent economy, lacking its own industrial base, almost caved in. Oil pumps were turned down to a trickle and people were hungry.  To Angel, “We were the Soviet Union’s pretty boys, we just sat there and they fed us with oil and all that we needed.”  It has been a hard road for ordinary Cubans since the hardships of the 1990s.

working horses

Farm workers in Matanzas

Horses and bicycles again became the mainstay of working life and transport in the countryside. The government monopoly on land ownership inhibits the growth of a vibrant agricultural sector.   Rural buses are converted trucks, doctors moonlight as taxi drivers to earn extra cash; far too much rural land lies fallow, no real industrial base, restrictions on the freedoms of ordinary Cubans leave something to be desired, white goods cost many month’s wages, there’s no credit and yet…and yet…

Che

Che Guevara Mausoleum, Santa Clara

While Cuba may look a bit of a shambles, appearances are deceptive.  The Revolution takes care of its own and its achievements in the face of many attempts at sabotage by its large and powerful neighbour cannot be denied.

Havana hospital

Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital, Havana

Cuba’s health service however is world class and its education system free for everyone from nursery age through to university.  High levels of literacy are clear from the plethora of bookshops and libraries in all cities and most small towns. Radio and TV are free, cinemas charge pennies to view recently released US and European movies. Adult education in later life is also free with television channels, local colleges and universities providing distance learning programmes and evening classes. Unemployment is very low as most folk are employed by the government. When a baby is born in Cuba its parents are entitled to one year’s maternity/paternity leave and pay with guaranteed childcare when they return to work.

“No one starves in Cuba.”

Angel didn’t gloss the flaws, neither did he talk up the Revolution’s achievements unduly.  He was clearly both frustrated and proud of his country just like most people are of theirs.

He claimed that “No one starves in Cuba.” Indeed with universal food rationing, the government ensures everyone has their most basic needs met:  to each citizen a ration book provides a heavily subsidised ration of rice, eggs, meat, oil, bread, coffee, butter, milk and…would you believe…sugar.

Cuban rationbook

Cuban Ration Book

Fruit and vegetables are not rationed and are available in local farmers markets.  I doubt if we could say with Angel’s confidence that no one starves in Scotland or the UK and that anyone can access a university education on ability alone. The government is slowly offering people opportunities for private enterprise:  farmers can take long leases on farms; ‘palades’ offer local people the chance to open little restaurants in their homes.  ‘Casas particulares’ provide bed and breakfast in family homes.  These welcome alternatives to the vast government-run Soviet era hotel complexes like Rancho Luna (built in the 1980s) with their attendant bureaucracies and overblown décor will open a window on ordinary Cuban life and offer a more relaxed welcome to travellers.

tancho luna

Rancho Luna Hotel, Cienfuegos

Soon, as relations with the Yanqui improve, Havana harbour will be transformed into an enormous berth for US cruise ships. The senoritas and senors of Old Havana in their colourful  traditional costumes posing for tourists cameras for one peso, the cigar and moquito sellers and the ubiquitous jazz and salsa musicians will delight droves of the curious from across the water.

Trinidad musicians

Musicians in Old Town, Trinidad

The Yanquis may well love the carefully preserved old Chevvies but how they will take to vast billboards of Che Guevara exorting Cubans to keep the revolution alive is anyone’s guess.

Angel is nervous.  “We need to change the bad in Cuba but we also need to keep the good.”    I wish them well in their next revolution.

“We need to change the bad in Cuba but we also need to keep the good.”

Cuba

 

Women 50:50

Anni Donaldson is a, journalist, blogger, violence against womenresearcher and oral historian. Anni won the award for Best Article in the first Write to End VAW Awards in 2013.

The Women 5050 campaign stands full-square on the shoulders of the women who pushed the equality agenda in the lead up to Scottish devolution and beyond. To everyone’s frustration, while the gender power gap seems to quiver at times on the verge of contraction, it still seems to have settled below the bar. However to keep spirits up, it might be worth reflecting that after over fifteen years of devolution we can look back to a real and fine example of how one corner of the gender power gap closed and achieved lasting change. The campaign for the elimination of violence against women, rebooted during the resurgence of feminist activism during the 1970s has been a long haul. However, looking back…

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