Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 481

Issue # 481                                            Week ending Saturday 8 December 2018

Today I Reveal Why We Are All Interested in A No-deal Brexit and Ask If Uist Sheep Have Hands by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

We moved house a couple of years ago and a few companies have not got the message and are still faithfully keeping in touch very regularly - but at our old address. I have emailed, phoned and even resorted to that paper, ink and postage stamp procedure. Still, Argos, two banks and the other offenders from the insurance industry send their latest amazing offers and important stuff too - but to our old house. If they don’t quit it, I will bill them for the petrol.

Marketing is a big part of these companies’ business. They should treat it as a priority to keep the records of customers and potential customers up to date. Yet some of them are very sloppy at doing that. They should not forget important stuff like that. What if we were all as slapdash? What if I wrote a column for the Press and Journal each week without fail but then always never quite got round to finishing the job by sending it in. Actually, there were a couple of times that I came close to failing. The first time I was very ill with the bug but I managed to drag myself out of my sickbed - a very damp sickbed at that - and the other time that power cut went on for quite a few long, desperate hours.

You have to trust that people will do their job properly most of the time. It doesn’t always happen. Take yon Theresa May, by the way. Did she do her job well when she was negotiating a good Brexit deal for Britain? Some say yes and others say it is the worst possible deal because it is not a deal? That was the science minister chap who quit on Saturday who said that. His name? Dunno, there’s been so many. We are all fed up of Brexit but a survey has found that one possible price rise has sparked interest. Fuel prices? Steel? Computers? Nope, it’s wine. We are not bothered about a no-deal Brexit until we hear it will put up wine prices. That is what made us sit up and look about.

I can’t look at anything if I don’t have the right glasses on. Of course, I have reading glasses. For everything else I have looking glasses. There’s an old pair in the drawer and I call them my bad looking glasses but I usually wear my good looking glasses. Everyone says they make me appear good looking too. OK, not everyone. Maybe a few. Maybe it’s just myself myself when I look in the mirror. Then I put on my bad looking glasses and, oh, help.

We should be assured the Prime Minister has done the best she could do. We all have intelligence and the point is whether we use it. You even have to credit some animals with intelligence. Science is finding out more and more about how all creatures think. As that young crofter in Uist said on the crofting programme on BBC Alba last week: “Sheep are very canny. They know the hill like the back of their hands.” Hands up anyone else who thinks sheep have hands?

Recently I discovered that scientific tests are regularly carried out on people in public life like politicians, civil servants and, yes, even animals too to try and suss out how they think. They still can’t say what they think or why. They try and work out their priorities by asking questions with no right or wrong answrs. An example is: If you had to choose between a really nice car or a really nice wife - which would it be? Ooh, that’s tough. I’m glad I do not have to answer that one. If I had to answer, it would be a toss-up - petrol or diesel.

I was telling you earlier about the firms that will not update their records and are still sending bumf to my old address. The airline Flybe is just as guilty but in a modern electronic way. You will recall they used to ply the Glasgow to Stornoway and the Inverness to Stornoway routes but they got into a price war with comparative minnow Loganair. It was a hard-fought scrap between the two carriers. Flybe came second. However, they forgot to tell their own marketing people who have started sending me details again of all their latest offers.

Do they not realise that Flybe do not fly from Stornoway any more? They flew the coup. I want to know about Loganair’s best deals, not Flybe’s. Flybe’s behaviour reminds me of that time in Only Fools and Horses when Rodney returns to work after his honeymoon with Cassandra. After a hard day at the office, he cycles home as usual. He gets into the flat and asks DelBoy what was for tea. “Dunno,” he answers. Then Del Boy says he will give his younger brother advice that will help him for the rest of his life. He goes right up to him and says: “Er, how shall I put this? You don’t live here no more.”

Giving Life to A Woman Found in A 4,250-year-old Grave in Caithness
Researchers have gained new insights into the life of a woman who died more than 4,250 years ago.  Known as "Ava", her bones were found in a grave cut into solid bedrock at Achavanich in Caithness in 1987.  New ancient DNA research has shown that she was descended from European migrants who arrived in Britain a few generations before she was born.  The analysis also suggested that she likely had brown eyes and black hair, and that she was lactose intolerant.  The research, published in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and led by archaeologist Maya Hoole, has shed new light on previous ideas on Ava's appearance. She was found to be from an earlier date than previously thought. The new analysis of her genomic data has resulted in the making of a new facial reconstruction of Ava by a forensic artist, Hew Morrison.  The original reconstruction interpreted Ava with red hair and blue eyes.  Ms Hoole said the new ancient DNA evidence, gathered by experts at the Natural History Museum in London and Harvard Medical School, had revealed more accurately what Ava would have looked like.  She said: "Archaeologists rarely recover evidence that indicates hair, eye or skin colour but these new revolutionary techniques allow us to see prehistoric people like we never have before.  The revelation that her ancestors were recent northern European migrants is exciting, especially as we know that she has no, or very few, genetic connections with the local Neolithic population who resided in Caithness before her."  Ava, who was aged between 18 and 25 when she died, lived in an Early Bronze Age community in an area forested with hazel, pine, alder and birch trees.  The community farmed cattle, ate a meat rich diet, was likely using local flora for medicinal practices and were highly skilled at crafting tools and objects.  Ms Hoole said: "Ava was a healthy young woman who was likely involved in physical labour.  We don't know what caused her death, but the way she was buried suggests that extra effort was put into the creation of her grave. She was either well respected, greatly cared about or both."  The archaeologist added: "I never dreamed we would be able to do and learn so much from Ava."  Mr Morrison, a graduate of the University of Dundee, said great care was taken in creating the facial reconstruction.  He said: "As the skull was a very old and delicate artefact, the approach used to reconstruct Ava's face was the two-dimensional method.  This is a less intrusive approach to the traditional three-dimensional method of when a plaster cast is made of a skull and the face is built up manually by hand."  The process the artist followed included photographing and taking measurements of Ava's skull and teeth, using information from a database of modern European tissue depths that correlated with Ava's age, sex and ancestry and drawing the shape of the woman's head and facial features.  Mr Morrison said: "When I received the results of the DNA testing from Maya, which showed that Ava had straight dark hair, brown eyes and a less-fair complexion, I was presented with the opportunity to revise the first facial reconstruction. Whilst the overall shape of Ava's face and facial features remained as they were previously, darkening her eyes, her skin tone and giving her totally new hair made her look very different to what I initially imagined when I received the DNA results."  He added: "I did not feel that she looked typical of what a person from Bronze Age Britain would have looked like, but perhaps that of a person from a more southern part of Europe."  Ava's bones, including a skull and teeth, were discovered during a quarrying operation near what is now the A9 trunk road, between Latheron and Thurso.  She was buried in an unmarked rock-cut grave rather than underneath a cairn or in a grave dug into soil, which are the most commonly discovered burial sites from the Copper Age and Early Bronze Age.  A piece of pottery, known as a Beaker, was among a small number of items Ava was buried with.  Archaeologists studied the finds at the time and established that she was part of a European group known as the Beaker people, who spread across the European continent and into Britain in a massive migration event.

Sturgeon Wants 'Workable' Brexit Alternative to May's Deal

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called for an extension to the Article 50 process. Speaking after a meeting in London with Prime Minister Theresa May, she said the Brexit choice must not be reduced to the PM's divorce plan or no deal.  The prime minister spoke of the "fishermen, farmers and business leaders" who back her plan.  She urged the first minister to listen to them or risk a no-deal Brexit or "going back to square one".  The first minister said "I used today's meeting with the prime minister to reiterate that it cannot - and must not - be a false choice between her proposed deal and a no-deal outcome, which threatens to be utterly disastrous for jobs, business and living standards.  Instead, there must be a recognition that, if the PM's deal is defeated in the Commons as is widely expected, then a workable alternative is urgently needed." She added: "That means there should be an extension to the Article 50 process, and we will join with those from other parties in trying to secure such an extension."  Theresa May's office stressed the support her compromise deal had already received.  The meeting between the two leaders came as MSPs prepared to reject a no-deal scenario and Mrs May's own withdrawal plans at Holyrood this week.  If Mrs May's plans are voted down by MPs, Labour is threatening a vote of no confidence in the government, in the hope of forcing a general election.

Worsening Weather Will Leave Scots Islanders Marooned
State-owned CalMac - the nation's main ferry operator - said its skippers were now facing longer and increasingly frequent storms amid what scientists say are dramatic changes in the wind systems over the North Atlantic.  The company has always had to call off some of its lifeline services because of bad weather - especially in the winter - but has warned passengers to expect more disruption this coming year and in the future  CalMac’s Captain Mark Thomson said: “As a major ferry operator delivering lifeline services in areas that experience some of the most challenging environmental conditions in Europe, we are increasingly aware of significant changes in prevailing weather conditions and their impact on our ability to deliver reliable services.  In recent winters, our masters have witnessed an increase, not only in the severity of extreme weather events but also in their duration and frequency, all of which have impacted on our fleet's ability to operate services safely. Such extreme weather events also have a considerable impact on the ability of the ports and slipways we operate from to safely support the delivery of our ferry services.” Problems relate to a complex climate system which brings wet and warm weather across the Atlantic to Scotland on westerly winds. Scientists call this the North Atlantic Oscillation or NAO. The prevailing winds have always been from the west, with some from the north-east in the spring.  However, as the NAO changes, skippers report encountering far more from the south and north.  Crucially, Scottish ports and harbours are located and designed to protect ships from westerlies.  Climate scientists and oceanographers have been concerned about these fluctuations, and on their impact on Scottish ferry services, for years. Five years ago, an academic paper led by John Coll, of National University of Ireland, said: “Worsening storminess in the North Atlantic associated with future NAO changes has been proposed as a possible regional manifestation of wider global warming.  For coastlines exposed to the long Atlantic fetch and the passage of deep depressions, the impacts could be considerable.” Mr McColl and his colleagues, writing in the Journal of Applied Meterology and Climatology in 2013, added: "Allied to their influence on sea state, days with gales can also severely hamper ferry operations.  The sea state is sensitive to the NAO, and the winter wind climate of the region is also closely linked to the behaviour of the NAO. Any changes in the seasonality or frequency of deep cyclones have implications for transport infrastructure and other marine and coastal activities.  With a disproportionately large increase in the risk of rough seas associated with an increase in mean wave height, ferry services could face increased levels of disruption.  A deterioration of the wave climate through either natural variability or anthropogenic climate change could adversely affect the future economic development of the region."  Maritime sources say such predictions are starting to affect sailings.  Between January and the end of July this year, 2,326 out of 79,203 Calmac scheduled sailings were cancelled.  Of these, 327 were for mechanical reasons, amid criticism of decades-long under-investment in its fleet.  Most of the rest were because of bad weather.  Captain Thomson hinted that any rise in gale days - as well as change in gale directions - could have long-term costs for ferry providers.  Successive Scottish Governments have been accused of under-investing in ferries and ferry infrastructure, despite huge spending.

Piping Centre Plan for Culloden Site
The Highlands could have its first bagpipe centre near the scene of the Jacobite rout at Culloden in 1746 that led to our national musical instrument being outlawed for years.  Bagpipe makers Burgess Bagpipes have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £45,000 to start the first phase of the Highland Bagpipe Centre near Culloden Battlefield. Burgess Bagpipes is a Scottish family business who design and manufacture Scottish small pipes, Border pipes, and the Great Highland Bagpipe.  Burgess Hay, his wife Fiona and son Scott who run the business, are the only Highland bagpipe makers in the region.  They transform blocks of African blackwood into high-quality instruments with a high degree of skill. Burgess said: “Our family piping history dates back to the 1700s. The skill, knowledge and experience we’ve obtained comes from an accumulation of an authentic Scottish ancestral mix of world champion players, skilled engineers, artists, tutors and judges.  It is usually a surprise when we tell people that there are three different types of Scottish Bagpipe used in Scotland today. They are amazed at how different they look and sound. We would like everyone that leaves the Highland Bagpipe Centre to be informed and inspired.  It will be a place to learn about how bagpipes are made, what they sound like and also how they are played.  Visitors will have a fully immersive experience as we passionately share our history, tradition and culture.”

Salmon Farm Was Hit by 'Perfect Storm' of Events

A salmon company has admitted that a "perfect storm" of events caused it to lose nearly a third of its fish at its flagship Sutherland site in a single month.  Loch Duart salmon is lauded by top chefs and was served to guests at Buckingham Palace when Prince William married Kate Middleton in 2011.  But the producer has now earned the unenviable distinction of recording what is thought to be the highest monthly mortality rate ever documented, after 30 per cent of fish died at its Loch Laxford farm in September.  Loch Duart said staff had been rearing "the fittest, best-looking salmon that we had ever produced" when disaster struck. However its "amazing" staff did manage to save two-thirds of the fish thanks to their "skill, determination and care".  Tens of thousands of fish were killed by a deadly combination of disease, suffocation and a freak jellyfish attack according to the firm, which said the effects of climate change are proving challenging. It blamed plankton and algal blooms for depleting oxygen levels.  A spokesman for the company said: "Unfortunately in late September a combination of small jellyfish, low dissolved oxygen and gill issues resulted in a sudden spike in fish mortalities on one of our sites.  These conditions arrived dramatically and rapidly and subsided within 10 days, with the site quickly returning to normal operations. None of our other nine sites were affected. Unfortunately, changing sea water temperatures are now producing challenges such as this that didn't exist previously and the company is investing and changing practices to refine its farming methods during warmer months.  This is really sad news for the fish and the husbandry staff who had been rearing some of the fittest, best-looking salmon that we had ever produced.  All the relevant authorities work with Loch Duart in analysing any fish health issues and Loch Duart is entirely transparent, publishing all our health figures online, in advance of the regular industry health updates. We are confident that through our commitment to environmentally low-impact solutions, we will continue to refine our practices and rear fit healthy fish loved by consumers worldwide.  It is devastating to suffer such a 'perfect storm' of several environmental challenges at the same time. However it is testament to the skill, determination and care of our amazing team that they were able to turn things around at this site and save two-thirds of the fish."  But anti-salmon farm campaigners said the scale of fish deaths was "astonishing".  "We are not aware of a bigger percentage loss of fish at one salmon farm during a single month," said Andrew Graham-Stewart, director of Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland.  Loch Duart insists that salmon are reared to exacting standards that have attracted the endorsement of the French quality assurance scheme, Label Rouge, and quality assurance from the RSPCA. It said mortality rates on its sites are published in advance of the regular industry health updates.  The RSPCA confirmed that Loch Duart reported the high mortality rate and has worked with the firm "to find additional ways to help better protect the fish in future". A spokeswoman for the animal charity, added: "We are satisfied that action was taken by the company to swiftly address the problems in line with our scheme requirements. We are also reassured that a thorough review of all processes and procedures at the affected site has since taken place, to help better prevent and manage similar problems."  Loch Duart's salmon has appeared on the menus of celebrity and Michelin-starred chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Raymond Blanc and Rick Stein.

Runrig Honoured for Services to Gaelic At Scots Trad Music Awards
Rock group Runrig have been honoured for their services to the Gaelic language at Scotland’s annual traditional music Oscars – months after bowing out from playing live. The band, who appeared for the final time before 45,000 fans in Stirling in August, were formed in the Isle of Skye in 1973.  They went on to break a number of records for live concerts in Scotland and toured regularly around the world.  Runrig were recognised at the climax of the Scots Trad Music Awards in Perth.  Simon Thoumire, founder of the "Na Trads," said: “Runrig forged the way for so many other bands.  They showed how Gaelic could be used in many different ways and wasn’t just something that was spoken in living rooms or used at ceilidhs.  They also showed that Gaelic songs could be performed in stadiums and taken around the world.  They never, ever stopped working hard. They kept touring, they had great material and people kept coming back out to see them.  It was also amazing how many young people that bought tickets for their final gigs.  There hasn’t been another band like them.”  Runrig’s percussionist Calum MacDonald said: “It’s a tremendous honour for us to receive this award and not just any award.  Gaelic has been important to Runrig – and part of Runrig – for 45 years. If we’ve been able to give the language even a little support, it’s something of which we’re extremely proud and something that gives us a great deal of pleasure.  We write songs and we play music. It was only natural for us to want to do that in our own language.” A stage show honouring Scotland’s First World War effort which Barbara Dickson led on a tour to mark the 100th anniversary of the conflict was named “event of the year”.  She took part in memory of her uncle David Dickson, who enlisted despite being underage and was killed in the Battle of the Somme.Skye-born Eilidh Cormack fought off competition from her brother Ruairidh to be named best Gaelic singer. Iona Fyfe, from Aberdeenshire, was best Scots singer.  Inverness outfit Elephant Sessions won the coveted best live act prize, while fiddler Duncan Chisholm, who is also from the Highland capital, secured double glory after winning the best album and best composer awards.  The best folk band award was won by "Gaelic supergroup" Daimh, who are fronted by Inverness-born singer Ellen MacDonald. Talisk, who were named best folk band at the event a year ago, were named as the winners of a new traditional music bursary worth £25,000. One of Scotland's most lucrative prizes, it was launched this summer by Belhaven Brewery to allow up-and-coming acts to raise their profile.

Dunkirk Little Ship to Be Floating Museum on River Clyde

A Dunkirk Little Ship, which rescued 600 Allied troops during World War Two, is to be restored and turned into a floating museum on the River Clyde.  Skylark IX will be saved thanks to £404,000 of funding from The National Lottery.  The work will be carried out by a specialist boatbuilding team working with recovering drug addicts.  The boat, built as a passenger cruiser in 1927, become part of the Dunkirk Little Ships fleet of 850 boats. It was built to hold 75 cruise passengers but ended up sailing from Ramsgate in south-east England to Dunkirk in France between 26 May and 4 June 1940 as part of Operation Dynamo.  The Little Ships helped rescue more than 336,000 British and French soldiers who were trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk.  However, due to disrepair, Skylark IX sank in Loch Lomond in 2010.  It was raised by the Royal Navy following a campaign by veterans supporting the Skylark IX Recovery Trust.  It is currently located at the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine.  Lucy Casot, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said Skylark IX was "a part of Scotland's WW2 history".  She added: "As part of her recovery, others will recover too, learning skills that will help secure them a better future.  I look forward to seeing this little ship's transformation and the enjoyment and learning she will bring to very many people."  The scheme to rebuild the boat is part of a skills development programme run by Dumbarton-based charity, Alternatives.

Brexit: MSPs Vote to Reject Draft Deal in Holyrood
The Scottish Parliament has voted by 92 to 29 to formally reject the UK government's draft Brexit deal.  SNP, Labour, Green and Lib Dem members at Holyrood backed a motion rejecting the proposals, as well as the prospect of leaving without any deal.  However, the parties have not come to a consensus on an alternative plan.  The vote was held as MPs at Westminster continued to debate whether to accept the withdrawal plan agreed between UK and EU negotiators.  Prime Minister Theresa May is facing a struggle to get the agreement through the Commons, with opposition being voiced across the political spectrum ahead of a "meaningful vote" on Tuesday of next week.  The SNP, Labour, Greens and Lib Dems came together to pen an agreed motion ahead of the Holyrood debate, saying in a joint statement that it would demonstrate that the "overwhelming view" of MSPs was against the deal.  The motion stated that both Mrs May's plan and a no-deal Brexit would be "damaging for Scotland and the nations and regions of the UK as a whole".  It concluded that the parliament should "recommend that they be rejected and that a better alternative be taken forward".  The Scottish government's Brexit secretary Mike Russell said the draft deal was more about saving Mrs May's job than the good of the country, saying that "Scotland needs and deserves better than the prime minister's blindfold Brexit".  The MSP said it was a "fact" that "the choice is not between May's deal and no deal", adding that "reasonable people are now moving to make sure that a better way is found".  He said that the government "regards membership of the EU as the best outcome of the current chaos, and believes that aim is still achievable".  He also said the SNP would support having a new referendum, a general election, or continued membership of the single market and customs union.  Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins said the prime minister's plan was the "only credible proposal" which anyone had come up with since the Brexit vote.  Labour's Neil Findlay said his party would not support the prime minister's "doomed" deal, which he said had "united leavers and remainers" alike.  He called for a general election, which he said would usher in a government led by Jeremy Corbyn.  Green MSP Ross Greer said Brexit had become a "profound national crisis", saying Mrs May's blueprint was "bad deal for every part of the UK" which was "dead on arrival".  And Lib Dem member Tavish Scott said it was "ludicrous" of the Scottish Conservatives to defend the deal, as it would ultimately be voted down by Conservative MPs.

Huge Cave System 'Could Be Scotland's Longest and Most Spectacular'

It has remained out of sight for an unknown length of time and has aquatic species living within that are believed to never have seen daylight.  But two Scots have discovered what is believed to be the country’s longest cave after coming across the nettle-choked entrance by chance as they explored the area.  Geologist Iain Greig of Aberdeen and Neal Menzies from Stonehaven were exploring an area about two miles south of Durness in Sutherland last June. Around 500 yards from the road in the North West Highlands Geopark, a geological area which is home to a number of limestone caves, they stumbled across an innocuous looking entrance which was blocked by vegetation.  The experienced cavers believe that it could directly to the world-renowned Smoo Cave near the village which is a distance of around four miles away.  When the men entered what has now been called the Cave of the Black Stones, they found the way blocked by silt but it was heading northwards towards Smoo Cave, following the course of River Dionard.  Experts have long believed the thin line limestone rock which is flanked on either side by harder rocks has had the potential to be full of cave formations as surface water drains straight through the soil even in the heaviest rain. Now a team of cavers is to mount an expedition to drill through the silt which will allow them to explore the system in full.  But during the initial visit they discovered a freshwater eel which they believe has never been exposed to sunlight.  Mr Greig, 34, said: “We were not expecting what we found. It was full of nettles and less than a metre wide. We managed to enter it and there was a section of boulders – we moved them out of the way and then there was a 17ft drop. That led to a spectacular chamber 15 yards by 16 feet – big enough to stand up in. The stones were blue and purple. It was some incredible sight.  We managed to explore 150 yards before finding the route choked with sediment. We plan to return with a team in the New Year to dig it out and explore further.  The theory and hope is it could extend all the way to Smoo Cave which would make it by far the longest cave in Scotland and with the most spectacular of entrances – or exits, depending on the start point – at Smoo.”  Scotland’s longest cave is currently the Cave of the Sloping Rock in nearby Assynt which is 1.782 miles long.  The longest cave system in the UK is the Three Counties System in the Yorkshire Dales, with 53.9 miles of passageway, while the longest in the world is the appropriately-named Mammonth Cave in Brownsville, Kentucky with more than 400 miles explored.  Smoo Cave is the largest coastline cave in the British Isles and has provided shelter for thousands of years. It is believed to have been a Stone Age home more than 5,000 years ago with Norse settlers later gathering here to repair boats and fish for herring. It has one of the largest entrances to any sea cave in Britain at 50 ft high. It was formed by a burn that runs down into the rear chamber, as well as erosion caused by the sea.  Mr Greig added: “If it links up to the new discovery it will be one of the best caving experiences in the UK. It is a treasure trove for geologists. Over the two days we have explored the new cave we even found a white freshwater eel which has never seen sunlight.  The drought helped us because the cave floods in wet conditions, and up to the roof in places. It’s like a big treasure hunt, but we do not know what the treasure is yet. It is what most cavers dream of. This is the final frontier of exploration in Scotland. Every inch of the country has been mapped by satellite – it’s what remains under the surface that remains the big mystery.”  Fellow caver Colin Coventry, who for more than 30 years has led tours at Smoo Cave, added: “For many years I have been convinced that Smoo was linked to one long cave. We believe the biggest cave in Scotland is here and waiting to be found.  This looks like it. But it is spectacularly dangerous. I would certainly not take tours there. However this is one of the most exciting finds for many years.”

“100 Oran Le Rob Donn Macaoidh (100 Songs of Rob Donn Mackay)”, edited by Ellen L Beard. Taigh na Teud, 2018. £20.
A selection of Rob Donn’s poetry has been long overdue: apart from a few poems and songs in anthologies of Gaelic verse, his work has been out of print for far too long, particularly considering he is one the most important eighteenth- century Gaelic bards. The wait is over, thanks to Ellen Beard, a former American lawyer who received a doctorate from Edinburgh University and is herself descended from Sutherland’s greatest poet.

And what an impressive volume she has produced! She has brought together the musical notations and words in both Gaelic and English of one hundred Rob Donn songs, ranging from the wellknown to the more obscure. Not only that, but many of the English translations are her own. Each song is accompanied by notes detailing her sources for the music and words, and with comments that put the poems in their historical and cultural context. She provides a brief biography of Rob Donn, a relevant extract from her PhD and notes on sources and editorial principles.  She tells the reader that Rob Donn himself composed thirty of the seventy- eight different melodies used, and he took others from not just Gaelic sources, but also from Scots, English and Irish songs. Beard has divided the songs into five broad sections: elegies and laments; social and political commentary; love, courtship and weddings; satire and hu-mour; and praise, nature and sea songs.  Through this great poetry the reader gains an insight into what life was like in eighteenth-century Sutherland: what people found important; how they related to the world around and beyond them; the ways they marked and celebrated important points in life such as birth, courtship, marriage and death; what sorts of moral codes they adhered to and what sanctions were used against those who flouted them; and how the political and economic structure of society affected individuals.

We also discover much about Rob Donn himself: he wasn’t afraid to express views that went against the prevailing orthodoxy (as in his poems supporting the Jacobite cause); he both respected and was critical of authority; he had a sense of humour, sometimes expressed through satire, sometimes almost slapstick in nature and sometimes bawdy; he had no time for pretentiousness; he could use his talent to get back at those who belittled and criticised him, and he was clearly something of a rascal. All this he has in common with many poets, including Robert Burns.  In “Elegy for Rev Murdo Macdonald” he wrote: “Outright flattery for payment/ Or caution through fear of danger/ Never was or will be/The basis for the opinions in my poetry”. So when, as in this poem, he praised someone we can be confident he meant what he said. He was quite prepared to criticise the dishonest, even in death, as in “Elegy for John Grey of Rogart” and those who lacked humanity and generosity, as in “Elegy for the Rispond Misers”.

On the other hand, we have the beautiful “Elegy for John Munro and Donald MacKay” which mourned and praised two much admired people, a teacher and a minister, who died within a few weeks of each other. In one stanza he wrote: death “struck us only a partial blow” because “many a wise mouth/Will recite to each generation,/What they spoke and sang and read”. What finer memorial could there possibly be? In “To Lady Reay” he praised her for helping a deserter escape from his regiment by inviting his pursuers to Balnakeil House and getting them drunk.  His support for the Jacobites, and, in particular, his poem “The Black Cassocks”, in which he criticised the punitive laws brought in after Culloden, did get him in trouble. He avoided prosecution for treason and later wrote of his experience in “The Court at Tongue”: “A judge and a clerk were there/Without reason or justice in them”.  He was also often in trouble for poaching deer, something he addressed in “Song to the Local Gentry” with typical lack of deference: “But if it be ungodly work/To kill the deer in the glens,/ Many a worthy member of your family/ Has fallen into grievous error”.  Much of his love poetry emphasised that compatibility and companionship were more important than wealth. For example in “Advice to a Young Bachelor” he wrote: “If you turn away from the one you love,/You will be unhappy even with a pile of goods”. There was also much humour at the expense of others, as in “The Breeks of Rory’s Son” in which a wedding guest got so drunk he lost his trousers.  The collection also includes pibrochs, dialogues, poems written from different points of view, accounts of journeys on land and sea and much more. Not only will poetry lovers enjoy this book, but so will those who enjoy singing Gaelic song. This volume should prove invaluable to Gaelic singers and choirs, and perhaps we can look forward to hearing some of these songs performed at a future Mod.   “100 Oran Le Rob Donn Macaoidh (100 Songs of Rob Donn Mackay)”, edited by Ellen L Beard. Taigh na Teud,  ISBN:   978-1-906804-66-4

New Scottish Film Studio Site Announced
An enormous industrial building in the Port of Leith has been identified as the home of a major film and television studio for Scotland.  Screen Scotland, the publicly-funded body tasked with boosting the industry, is now trying to find the right private developer to take it on.  It has launched a tender process for a developer to lease, refurbish and run the "big blue shed" port building.  Screen Scotland said the studio could be up and running by the end of 2019.  It said public money could be available to assist with the refurbishment but the amounts would be determined by the responses to the tender process.  The building, just three miles from the centre of Edinburgh, was built in 2000 for engineering firm VA Tech but closed four years later.  Last year, the building was temporarily turned into a film studio as part of the production for Disney/Marvel's blockbuster Avengers: Infinity War.  Screen Scotland now wants the building to be a permanent large-scale film and TV production facility.  There have been concerns that the lack of suitable studio space meant Scotland was losing out to other parts of the UK in the race to attract major film and TV productions. Although scenes for several major films and TV dramas have been shot in Scotland in recent years, the productions are often based elsewhere - with crews only travelling to Scotland for a few weeks for filming.  The major exception has been the popular series Outlander, which is filmed at the Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld.   It has also been looking to expand to help it attract "top end productions".  Ms Davis, of Screen Scotland, said there was currently a "global production boom" driven by the rise of streaming sites such as Netflix and Amazon. Last month plans for another Scottish film studio were halted by a court's decision that a tenant farmer could not be removed from his land.  A £250m studio, which was to feature six huge sound stages, had been planned for about 100 acres of greenbelt in the Pentland hills outside Edinburgh.  The studio project was described by the Scottish government in 2017 as being "of national importance".  But a Scottish Land Court ruled that land from two smallholdings could not be used for the development.