Birnam Book Festival

Today the Troubadour and I had a brilliant visit to Birnam and then Dunkeld (joined on, as you cross the Telford bridge) – a cold walk in the town, a bit of culture, a heart-warming book-signing, a very typically Scottish lunch, and a bit of retail therapy. This photo may not be the cheeriest view of the town, but I wanted to capture the way the cloud lay across the valley like a cat with no intention to budge.

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Briefly let me explain my absence from the blogwaves for the last month – I’ve been writing a novel! I signed up to NaNoWriMo, an online challenge which involves writing 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. So I have become a bit of a hermit. However this morning I reached 43,800 words and am well on course for finishing on time, fingers crossed ; hence taking a day off for a fIMG_0363.JPGun outing.

Birnam, for those of you not local, is well known for its mention in Macbeth – one of the witches assures him of his brilliant future: “Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care/Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are./Macbeth shall never vanquished be until/Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill/Shall come against him.”

In other words, never. But alas, Macbeth fell for a dastardly witches’ trick as we find out later in the play. Nowadays, Birnam is a small southern Highland town with lots of pleasant amenities, only about 20 minutes’ drive north of Perth. This weekend they are hosting their first ever book festival, and we managed to get tickets to see Peggy Seeger being interviewed about her book by Fiona Ritchie (Wayfaring Strangers).

IMG_0356.JPGThe title of Seeger’s memoir ‘First Time Ever‘ comes from the song written for her by her long-time life partner Ewan McColl, and made famous by Roberta Flack and a host of others who have covered it over the years. In interview she was open, charming, honest, witty and downright entertaining. Now in her eighties, she informed us that back home in London, she wears a community alarm pendant in case she falls; and yet she clearly had the courage and drive to travel north to a (today at any rate) freezing foggy Highland town, and talk for over an hour then sign books – and tonight she’s on stage, singing. This is a woman with absolutely no claptrap in her veins. She has a strong record as a feminist and environmental campaigner as well as being a key figure in British and Scottish folk song revival. Folk isn’t my first choice of music, but I’d heard her recently on Radio 4 singing her great song about not being allowed to be an engineer, and I was hooked. Even better, she told us all that she had read Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’ to prepare herself for writing her memoir – exactly what I did a couple of months ago – so now I feel I am standing on the shoulders of giants.

Fiona Ritchie was an excellent interviewer, and the dialogue flowed like a spirited conversation, with nothing forced and nothing held back. There was time for just two questions from the audience at the end – both of which were inspired, and generously responded to. I’m including them here because they really added to the experience: Q1 was asking her to relate her experience as a child when she met Elizabeth Cotten, the black singer (‘Freight Train’), in a department store; and Q2 was about the place of folk and traditional song in politics. I won’t rehearse her answers here; buy the book!

IMG_0361.JPGI mentioned lunch and retail therapy. Oh dear. I have at last succumbed to the lure of the (I blush to admit it) deep-fried Mars Bar. It was that cheery, scrubbed-face, clever waitress at the Dunkeld Fish Bar who enticed me. And the Troubadour who made me. Well maybe not exactly. We shared it (his half was bigger than my half, honest!) What really worried me was that I’d enjoy it so much that I’d want another one. Well, it was gooey and sweet and I couldn’t honestly say I didn’t enjoy it. But its similarity to a deep-fried sausage in batter was less than prepossessing so I think I have now laid this ghost and it’ll never happen again. Unless we have any more cold Scottish November days, and how likely is that?IMG_0366

Retail therapy involved a browse round a great second-hand book shop where I purchased ‘From Petticoat Tails to Arbroath Smokies: Traditional Foods of Scotland’ by Laura Mason and Catherine Brown. I will review this book further in due course; it fits very well with another historical tome I’ve been working my way through. Further shopping entailed a new wok from Kettles of Dunkeld, a great ironmongery emporium. Also a potato-shaped potato-scrubber (clever), a vinegar bottle, Christmas napkins and one or two other wee delights. The wok needs seasoning so I’m away downstairs now to get on with that. Stir-fried veggies coming up. And wish me well for my final 6,200 words!