A Wee Bit Chat wi Bella Caledonia

Here’s a transcript o an interview A did wi Bella Caledonia aboot O is for Hoolet fir their airticle aboot Scots at the Fringe. 

Furstly, whit can the readers o Bella expect gin they come tae yir shaw?

They can expect a variety o chairicters wi different viewpoints aboot Scots leid – the likes o Robert Burns, Jean Redpath, David Crystal. They can expect a variety o leids (though it’s maistly English). They can expect laughs, an personal stories, an buiks aw ower. Thir’s een a sang. The clatter maistly cams gin a trip oan the buiks. It’s aboot Scots at its core, but it’s aboot politics and pooer – aw leid is. Minorotised cultures the warld ower hae shared experiences. Ye can think aboot it whether yer a broad Doric speaker, or a Staunard English speaker, or from doontoon Detroit. Ha. A like the phrase ‘doontoon Detroit’.

Whit wir ye ettlin tae achieve when furst ye screivit Hoolet?

Thir wis the personal aim. A’d hid a furst go at scrievin Scots in Spring 2014, an the wey it left me trauchelt broucht me tae thinkin o the contradictions o ma ain experiences wi Scots – ma fear, ma prejudice, ma shame, ma sacred respect, ma love. A wantit tae get ma ain feelins sortit bi pittin it aw doon, bi collectin ither fowk’s opinions an research an seein whit cam o it. Ma external aim is efter haein a luik at ma ain linguistic prejudices, A wantit tae gie ither fowk a chance tae luik at thir ain predjudices, thir an culture, thir ain history. A’m no duin yet. Daein this shaw is daily self-examination.

2015 an 2016 hae seen ye stravaig east tae west, clachan tae clachan an toon tae toon. Whit did aa this galavantin reveal anent the state o Scots in Scotland?

Aye. Scots is as complex aw ower the country as it wis in ma ain hairt afore A sterted this. Een noo. A hud Scots speakers wha hid nae idea whit they were speakin wis a leid. A went tae scuils whare the teachin an support staff hud nae bother talkin with the bairns in Scots, whether it wis aboot no cuttin across the grass, or settin up the animation saftware oan the computer. Some fowks wis angry aboot Scots no bein mair unitit. Some fowks was angry aboot Scots no revellin in its differences. A fun that non-native speakers wis wantin tae learn, but felt they’d nae richt tae. But, A fun that fowk wis prood o it an aw, thocht in it, cherished it, mournt it. But it’s no deid. Hoo can it be  whan we can see, hear, think, write, speak it ?

Whits the maist memorable scuil yiv been tae, an whit made it special?

We wis at Buckie High an the attitude tae Scots there wis amazin. The hail o Buckie seemed tae be Doric spikkers – the wummin at the Post Office, the Coop – een whan fowk spak English tae them, they spoke Doric back, an thir wis nivver ony problem. Dr Michael Dempster, wha wis oor heid o Creative Learnin oan the tour, he liked ane o his scuils in Ayrshire whare they’d trilingual signs up wi English, Scots and French – aw the leids they learn. Braw stuff.

Were the dominies mair or less receptive tae Scots than ye’d hoped?

Thir wis a richt mix! Buckie was gran, an fowk wis excitit tae hae us. It wis maistly Michael wha warkit directly wi the scuils and the domines, an he’d a wheen o stories! In ane scuil, he’d been brocht intil the Staff Room an gien a seat when a dominie comes breengin in: ‘I’ve got this Scots language rubbish on today, I can’t be bothered with that guff’ (though her exact choice o leid wis no as decorous). It wis a bittie a awkward introduction atween the twa a thim aifter thon, though Michael fun it hilarious!

Yiv pleyed tae mony fowk, young an auld. Dae ye hink thit bairns tak a different view o Scots than aulder generations?

In some weys, aye. A’d say the young is yaisin Scots mair in their scrievins thin thir parents did – A aye quote David Crystal oan this, ‘the internet isnae subedited’. But mony o the same poisonous an self-hatin attitudes exist in the younger generation as in the aulder. Aulder fowk aften complain that the young’s losin the leid, but wha else is tae blame bit the auld ? We continue the same auld cycles o violence agin oor ain culture. Bit we can try an step in an tak anither road. Mak it new.

Whits the maist common hing fowk spier at ye anent Hoolet, an whits yir response?

The single maist common spierin A’ve hid aboot Scots is : what does the word baffies mean and is it Scots ? It’s frequency is, A think, connectit wi the fact that Scots isnae visible ootside the hame. A’m aye finnin oot that a word or turn o phrase isnae jist ma mither’s, or ma faimily’s – bit it’s aw ower Scots, an it’s written in a dicitonar – thon mark o officialdom. The visibility o Scots is sic a bone o contention. We’re tryin tae mak a wee collection o visible Scots at the Fringe – hings written oan posters, or cafe blackboards, or signs in shoppies. Visibility an audibility halps wi the reality o a leid. We wannae celebrate it. Gies a haun tae collect it bi taggin photies oan Twitter or Instagram wi the hashtag #FringeScots

Gin thir wis ae myth aroon Scots ye could dispell fir evermair an ae truth ye would hae abdy in scotland ken, whit wid they be?

Jingso. A myth wuid be that it’s ‘Old Scots’. Een reviewers wha hid seen the shaw last year wid talk aboot Old Scots – it’s ainly as auld as English is auld ! Whan fowk say stuff like ‘bairn is the old Scots for child’ A wannae sae, ‘Aye, the ward bairn wis yaised in Anglo Saxon an can be fun in Beowulf scrievit in the saxth century, an the furst citation o ‘child’ is in Cynewulf’s Christ poems frae the eight century, but sin ‘child’ his the same Indo-European base as the Gothic word ‘kalbo’, A think we’re aiblins splitting hairs oan which is the ‘old’ one.’

As fir a fact A wish awbody kent ? That human beins are made tae bi multi-lingual. It disnae matter if yer different tongues is ‘leid’s or ‘dialects’. The leid/dialect hing bothers fowk, but ma view oan it noo is this : fuck it. A speak it. A learn it. A yaise it. A teach it. It’s mines.

Does Hoolet hae a message?

Aye, three.

The furst twa gae thigither,

  • Pinched frae Tom Leonard : Aw livin language is sacred.

  • Leid chynges.


Tell yersel thae mantras ower an ower whan ye laugh at kids sayin the word ‘like’ ivry 3 seconds or whan ye get someone tae say the ward ‘poem’ cause they say it ‘po-yum’ or when ye want tae say, ‘You can’t have literally died – you figuratively died.’ An if ony ither numpty tells ye aff for ony o that, luik up hoo Tom Leonard finished his poem wi the phrae, ‘all living language is sacred’ in it.

Second : it’s hard tae escape the prejudice aroon ye whan ye were growin. It wis hard fir yer parents, an yer teachers, an the perfect strangers wha correct each ither’s language. But it’s no impossible. Be kind, be unnerstaunin, be firm, be brave.


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