>> Skara Brae
Other than the ‘Brae’ connection, there may seem little to link the two paired themes for this week. However, both are good examples of how a version of Scotland has become frozen in time, either through the protecting hand of nature or the preserving eye of television. Skara Brae, an abandoned Neolithic settlement on Orkney’s northern shores, was covered by sand dunes sometime between 2000-3000 BC and only revealed in the mid-19th century by a storm over the Northern Isles. It has since become one of the world’s most important archaeological sites, offering a compelling glimpse into the lives of our distant forebears with its preserved structures and furnishings. Compare that with Tannochbrae, the small town at the centre of A.J. Cronin’s medical melodrama Dr Finlay’s Casebook, captured vividly on film in the BBC TV series of the 1960s (where Callander doubled for Tannochbrae) and again in the 1990s STV remake (this time filmed in Auchtermuchty). The two places are separated by 4,000 years, but both serve as fascinating time capsules for a younger, arguably simpler and barely knowable Scotland.
by Lindsay MacGregor
Trace the passage of planets and stars
scratched with talons of scavengers
on to the corridor walls as you creep
past the doors of the old, snecked
against darkness and cold. Bow
low as though crossing the threshold
to kindle the fire in the home
of your soul. Don’t stand in the shadows,
filling that dresser with bric-a-brac,
betting slips, black and white photos
of family fishing trips; measuring beds
for duvets and memory foam mattresses.
You won’t make it your own without limpets
softening in troughs, an axe in each alcove,
ancestors under your feet. Don’t envy
our diet of venison, barley and lobster –
henbane’s not optional, living half-buried
in midden material. And though everything’s set
in stone, this is not Scotland – just water and sand
where survival’s an accident
waiting to happen.
Romantic Rural Village
by Sally Evans
Janet rolls her r’s at a rose-pruning Doctor.
The overplayed actor, old Cruickshank
hides in his smart London home
but will never escape Doctor Finlay.
In the house in Durham the English lady
insists upon silence, decides to tour Scotland.
At the Station (what Station?)
the young assistant Cronin
arrives in his parish
“the sweet stretch of mountain and river”,
departs for Glasgow with casework salted away.
– The writer of multiple novels.
In Doctor Finlay’s Casebook
his Hippocratic oath is stretched –
for are not these his rustic patients,
the “Characters of Old Callander”
with aunts and nieces, fathers, sons,
each chapter a separate tale?
Yes! shout the researchers.
The teuchters don’t speak English, never mind,
our script-writers will sort it –
Romantic Rural Village
with personal stories – perfect
for England’s black-and-white TVs.
Few now can distinguish
the fictional lies that were truths
from truths that were betrayals,
today’s doctors incredulous,
as Arden House relies on distant fame
and somewhere, somewhere, Janet rolls her r’s.
Lindsay MacGregor completed an MLitt in Writing Practice and Study at the University of Dundee in 2013 and in 2015 she was a recipient of a Scottish Book Trust New Writer’s Award. She co-hosts Platform, a regular poetry and music night, at Ladybank Station in Fife. Her debut pamphlet, The Weepers, is published by Calder Wood Press.
Sally Evans has lived in Callander since 2000. Recent books include Bewick Walks to Scotland (2006), The Bees (2008), The Honey Seller (2009), Poetic Adventures in Scotland (2014), The Grecian Urn (2015) and Anderson’s Piano (2016). She has edited 89 issues of Poetry Scotland broadsheet. She likes driving and keeps chickens and bees.