We were disappointed recently to find that – somehow – we had missed National Tartan Day. I know! We’ll do better next year.
Although you might think National Tartan Day is a Scottish endeavour, it actually stems from North America and seems to have developed into rather a massive Celtic festival. Which leads us to wonder, what exactly is tartan and why is it so important?
When we think of tartan, we generally think of a woven patterned cloth which belongs to a particular Scottish clan. Most clans will tend to have both a dress and hunting tartan, the hunting tartan being a sombre version made up of dark colours whilst the dress usually swaps a colour from the pattern out for white, making it much brighter. There is a lot of etiquette around tartan, and I for one would not try to wear a tartan that I had no connection with, sticking instead to the tartans from my family’s history.
Or, I might wear a Cornish tartan, because in recent times tartan has become increasingly used by regions, ethnicities and businesses. Cornwall’s tartan was created in the 1960s and has really caught on, being widely available on tourist knick-knacks and formal clothing. At a wedding I recently attended, the groom and best men were all wearing Cornish tartan waistcoats, and the Cornish tartan kilt is not an unusual site at a festival. What is perhaps especially nice about this regional tartan is that anyone Cornish is entitled to use it- there’s no difficulty in etiquette- and even if you’re not Cornish but want to celebrate Cornwall, you’re more than welcome to help yourself to some Cornish tartan, as long as you can stand the slightly weird and bright mustard yellow of it…
If you want to wear tartan but don’t really feel a particular affiliation with a particular clan, then a good option for British and Commonwealth citizens is the Hunting Stewart tartan which, being Queen Elizabeth II’s personal tartan, can be used by all of her subjects. The other good option is Black Watch, also known as Government Tartan, which is traditionally available to those who don’t have a tartan of their own.
Do you have a particular tartan you wear, or thoughts on tartan etiquette? We’d love to hear from you!
The Scottish Government has committed to every child learning a second language at the age of 5. Alongside this, they’ll learn an additional language in P5, which means children will know 3 languages by the time they leave school. It’s called the 1+2 policy and we think it’s a great pledge, as there are so many reasons why children should learn another language.
Increase their skills
Earlier this week an article came out stating that ‘bilingual babies are smarter’. Growing up learning or hearing a second language helps to increase their learning capabilities including problem solving and memory. This means not only do children benefit from knowing a second language; it also helps them improve across all other subjects that they’re learning.
This may seem like extreme forward planning, but as the world continues to internationalise, employers are looking to their potential employees for language skills. Business is conducted worldwide and the need to understand and communicate with other cultures is massive. Having the ability to learn a language at a young age is an excellent skill to have.
Secondary schools in the UK teach a foreign language in years 7 to 9, with it being optional for students to take a language at GCSE. Starting languages in primary schools could create the enthusiasm needed to help with the uptake of GCSE and A-level languages. It can help to show students that languages aren’t necessarily a risky option at GCSE/A-level, instead they are fun and there are ways that you can learn a language and do well with it!
Primary schools that have been a part of the Junior Language Challenge have found children love to learn languages. Those that get to the final of the challenge have had the chance to learn three new languages; many of them have chosen to enter again the year after too!
There are such a large variety of cultures in the UK, in one primary school there are 20 different languages spoken. Not one of these speak English as a first language, so equipping children with the skills to learn a language will make it easier for them to pick up English and communicate with each other.
In 2012 the European Commission report found only 9% of English students were reaching ‘independent learner’ level when it came to languages. This is tiny compared to Sweden’s 82% level; the UK is actually joint bottom when it comes to learning foreign languages. In Luxembourg children are offered the chance to learn 3 languages during their time at school. Clearly learning a language is an area the UK needs to invest in more – and Scotland are leading the way!
Last weekend, EuroTalk was in Glasgow for the Language Show Live. And – don’t tell our boss! – we almost didn’t come back.
That’s because Glasgow is the best place in the world. Full stop. End of discussion. We loved it, and here are our reasons why:
1) Everyone is enormously friendly
I know that sounds like a bit of a generalisation, but seriously: every single person we met, from the train manager to the taxi drivers to the hotel staff to the Hibs football fans in the pub, to all the people we talked to at the Show – all of them were so friendly. Being used to the anonymity of London, where you’re lucky to make eye contact with people on the street, this was a very welcome change. One of our taxi drivers took us on an impromptu tour of the city centre, pointing out interesting (if sometimes dubious) architectural facts, and even the show’s bagpiper was happy to visit our stand for a photo:
2) The food is amazing
We didn’t even need to do any research on where to eat – just flopped out of the show each day and into the nearest pub, restaurant or cafe. The West End is famed for its great places to eat out, but as we were staying central, we took a chance in the centre of town and got lucky every time, as Glasgow is riddled with wonderful nooks and quirky bars to grab a bite or a drink in. I think our collective favourite was The Butterfly and The Pig, a bustling, cosy basement pub which offered warming food and comfy sofas at the end of a very long day. With the obligatory pint of Belhaven Best, of course.
3) The Central Station
It’s been a longstanding dream of mine to one day stay in the hotel in Glasgow’s Central Station. I’ve no idea what the hotel is like, but from the outside you imagine waking up in the mornings and looking out over the glass and dark wood interior of the station, with trains departing on early morning journeys. We weren’t staying there, of course, but we did arrive and leave from the stunning Central Station and what better introduction to the city could you hope for?
To be fair, as we were mostly inside the SECC, we didn’t visit any cultural icons, but then that’s all the more reason to go back again. Just walking down the Clyde between the Transport Museum and the BBC, with the Hydro to your side, and sneaking a peak at the School of Art and the Rennie Mackintosh street lamps spilling onto the street, then savouring a cup of tea in the Willow Tea Rooms and walking past the Tenement House, gives you a brief introduction to the depth of culture going on in this city. And that’s without mentioning the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, the Burrell Collection, The Hunterian, The Lighthouse…
Maybe it sounds a bit corny, but partly because we were there for the Language Show and everyone who attends the language show tends to be hugely enthusiastic about languages, we really did get a massively positive boost from being in Glasgow. Added to that, the show was also a forum for discussion of Scotland’s new Curriculum for Excellence and Primary 1 + 2 policy on languages, so there was a lot of enthusiasm about the exciting new path Scotland’s eduction system is taking. This country seems to have it all sussed out!
So thanks to Glasgow for making three slightly exhausted ladies feel very much at home- we can’t wait to see you again soon!
‘Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae the Lord be thankit!’
It’s January 25th, the night that no haggis is safe! Lock up your neeps and tatties, and hide the good whisky. The hungry hordes are on the way!
In my family, Burns Night has always been an annual tradition, with my Nan hosting the festivities and always inviting a few new (and unsuspecting) guests each year. Now that she’s gone, I host my own Burns Nights, and always stick to her menu of a cullen skink starter, haggis, neeps and tatties, and cranachan for dessert. Never having been to a Burns Night outside my family, I’ve always suspected that we might do things a bit differently to everyone else, but then that’s part of the appeal: as long as you include a few essential components, every host will have their own twist on the rest of the night.
The elements that can’t be forgotten, in my book, are the piping in of the haggis – although, as nobody I know has any bagpipes, we tend to use whatever musical instrument is closest to hand, including the tin whistle, violin and, perhaps most successfully, the harmonica. The Address to a Haggis has to be delivered by the host, who will stab it as theatrically as they can when they reach the line ‘His knife see rustic labour dight / An cut you up wi ready slight,’ and ideally a spewing out of the haggis’ delicious-smelling ‘gushing entrails bright’ sees an end to any misgivings the guests had about trying their first haggis. (Little side note – if you haven’t ever had haggis before, go and buy one immediately: it’s the one thing that makes me seriously question my commitment to vegetarianism).
In my house, we then tend to relax a bit while everyone gets their teeth into the haggis, but at the arrival of the seriously creamy, very alcoholic cranachan (lots of oats, lots and lots of whisky, lots of cream, with a few raspberries interlaced), some unsuspecting guest will usually be asked to honour Rabbie Burns by reading a poem. Ideally somebody English is chosen so that the attempt to read fluent Scots has maximum effect. My favourite surprise poem to launch on guests is ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’, but ‘To A Mouse’ does the trick as well: by the time they get to the line ‘To thole the winter’s sleety dribble, An’ cranreuch cauld!’, all social boundaries tend to have broken down and everyone’s the best of friends.
After that, it’s just a case of more whisky, more whisky and more whisky still, until the wee hours see everyone singing and dancing arm-in-arm around (and occasionally on) the kitchen table.
I recently spent a lovely weekend in the sunny seaside port of Aberdeen. Well, maybe not that sunny (in fact I recommend a very wooly hat), but I still have a strong top 10 things to do there:
- The Maritime Museum
Far and away the best thing to do with your time in Aberdeen- and it’s free! And it’s open on a Sunday! The focus is largely on the oil industry (and when you’re wandering round Aberdeen you find yourself asking all sorts of questions about rigs and life aboard, which are all answered in the museum). As you wind your way up to the impressive viewing platform on the top floor, you’ll not only pass plenty of interesting displays on diving vessels, safety standards, drilling techniques and the various types of oil rig, but also have chance to get really involved in some of the techniques yourself, thanks to the interactive games. Just elbow the kids out of the way (I’m pretty sure these games are for adults too) and then have a go at manoeuvring a diving vessel through the murky water to locate an oil leak, or trying to guide a huge virtual ship into dock in Aberdeen harbour.
- The Ashvale Whale
Just out of the centre is a famed Fish N Chip restaurant, The Ashvale. Order an Ashvale Whale and take on the challenge to defeat the whale- by eating it. Winners are rewarded with the offer of a second, free Whale (really?) or a free desert, as well as a certificate testifying that you did, in fact, eat the said whale (actually a pretty huge bit of fish, for all of those who are worried!).
Local to Aberdeen is the ‘buttery’, or ‘butt’ as I heard it called, a very flat bread roll sold in most bakeries for around 30p a piece. Very salty and chewy, they were originally made as a food for fishermen- something that wouldn’t go stale at sea.
- Macaroni Cheese Pie
Whilst ordering your butts, add a cheeky macaroni cheese pie to your basket. More local to Scotland than specifically Aberdeen, the macaroni cheese pie is absolutely the best combination of two wonderful foods (macaroni cheese and pie!) in one handily pocket-sized snack
If you walk all the way around the town to the northern headland, through all the desolate rubble of the working harbour, you’ll quite suddenly find yourself in the little oasis of Footdee (Fittie to locals). This tiny fishing village, moved repeatedly as the harbour expanded, is a grid-work of incredibly well-kept cottages, all looking inwards on each other, with beautiful courtyards and pristine allotments
- Marischal College
Often referred to as the granite city, Aberdeen is full of imposing, giant buildings, and the main street is one very long testament to granite. Make sure you walk by Marischal College, the second biggest granite building in the world and the most stunning building in Aberdeen, with its intricately decorative granite spires.
- Some very varied and old pubs
There are, of course, plenty of pubs in Aberdeen- this is a student town and a working port. Ma Cameron’s, a rabbit-warren of a pub with a very cosy ‘snug’ bar tempting you in from the street, is highly recommended.
- Doric Scots
Aberdeenshire is famous for its own language, Doric Scots. Don’t be too alarmed if you’re addressed with the phrase ‘Fit like?’, (‘How are you?’) and proceed to be slightly baffled by the rest of the conversation. To learn some essential Scots phrases, get uTalk.
- Whisky tour
In Aberdeenshire, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to distilleries. Although you have to go a couple of miles out of the town to get to one, the region is scattered with distilleries both big and tiny, and it would be a shame to visit the town without making time for a tour and learning a little bit more about how the water of life is made.
10. Aberdeen harbour
The harbour at Aberdeen is endlessly fascinating and there is a fairly constant activity of large ships and pilot boats. To see the comings and goings of the ships, I recommend walking around to the southern peninsula, via Greyhope Road- a very relaxing afternoon stroll- where you’ll get a clear view over Fittie and the harbour mouth.
Have you ever been to Aberdeen and tried any of the local delicacies? We want to hear about your experience.