>> Whisky Galore
I Know Where I’m Going <<
This week’s postings features two movies from the 1940s, both set in Scotland, both of which helped to fix an image of rural West Coast Scotland in the imagination of the cinemagoer. Whisky Galore, based on Compton Mackenzie’s novel Tight Little Island, was released in 1949. It portrays the devious and cunning islanders of fictional Todday in securing and concealing a shipwrecked cargo of whisky from the authorities during a time of wartime rationing. It’s a great ensemble piece featuring some of the great names of the Ealing Studio stable. I Know Where I’m Going, released four years earlier, was a romance from the pen of Powell & Pressburger telling the story of ambitious Englishwoman Joan and Scots naval officer Torquil, who fall in love while caught in the teeth of a Hebridean storm. It was praised for its realism and wild beauty, and even contemporary auteurs such as Martin Scorsese have described it as a masterpiece. Both movies romanticise Scotland to a certain extent, and while one is a kind of Hebridean Brief Encounter and the other a rural farce, both movies capture the truth of the Scots character – resourceful and resolute, whether driven by love, or by thirst.
Aisling an Aird nam Murchan (or Uisge beatha gu leòr)
by Anna Crowe
—Airchie, Airchie, are you awake at all?
Ach, that was a fine dream
I am after having, mo chridhe!
It was just the best dream
a body could have, surely!
Just wait till you hear it, Airchie.
—Hrrrumph! Weel, now that you have woken me
good and proper, no doubt I will have to be hearing it.
—Eisd. I dreamt I was walking on the beach at Sanna.
I came to a cave I did not remember and went inside.
And what do you think was in it, Airchie?
—How should I know, Peigi?
Was it a selchie you saw, perhaps,
singing in the light of the moon?
—No then, it was not, though a selchie does
come into it, right enough. No, the cave
was full of cases of uisge beatha,
up to the very roof, I am telling you!
And sitting on an open case was a stranger,
it was no one from Kilchoan. He smiled at me,
and a most beautiful smile it was, surely.
Like an angel! —What is all this uisge beatha,
I am after asking him, and who does it
belong to at all? And he smiles again.
—It belongs to the future, Mistress.
What you are seeing here is the uisge beatha
of centuries to come. Look!—
And he pulls out some bottles. I am after looking,
and I am reading the labels, but not one do I recognise.
And the bottles are all kinds of strange shapes.
—And what were the names on the labels, Peigi?
Do you remember them at all?
—I do, Airchie. Never will I forget
those beautiful names. There was Tobar na Gàire.
That made me laugh, I am telling you.
There was Soirbheas, a name like poetry itself, surely?
Port a Beul, and Tràigh an Òrain, music,
both of them, to my ears! Selchie’s Blessing,
Nechtan’s Nectar, Osprey, Harp of the Gael;
Brown Wren and Old Otter. That one
made me think of you, mo bhodach! St Tod’s Finger,
Flower of Morar, Glen Orchy, Summer Isles;
Bròg na Cuthaig, and Golden Hare of Islay—
names enough for a poem, I am thinking.
—Yes, indeed, eudail, and you should write it down.
But now I am going to pour each of us a dram
or never will we be getting any sleep the night.
There is still a bottle of Aisling an Aird nam Murchan
in the press, I am thinking, mo chridhe. . .
Notes on Gaelic words:
Aisling an Aird nam Murchan Dream of Ardnamurchan
Uisge beatha gu leòr Whisky galore
Mo chridhe My heart
Tobar na Gàire Well of Laughter
Soirbheas Fair wind
Port a Beul Mouth music
Tràigh an Òrain Shore of Songs
Mo bhodach My old man
Bròg na Cuthaig Harebell or Bluebell (literally Cuckoo’s Shoe)
I Know Where I’m Going
Or so she thinks,
Wendy Hiller with her clipped tones
and jaunty leopard-skin hat, sure
she’s headed to her fiance’s private island
for their wedding
but the wind whipping around Carsaig Bay
is in cahoots with the Corryvreckan whirlpool,
and they have something else in mind for her:
Roger Livesey, a dashing young kiltie
to show her a good time
with his wild ceilidhs and wilder friends
trailing packs of deerhounds
and bewailing a lost eagle they know by name.
We all know how it’ll end
but before the denouement
there’s a curse to contend with,
the jaws of death to avoid
and a case of mistaken identity,
for our Roger is a closet toff.
He’s a good sort though
and the only laddie for her,
putting her right
with some home truths:
the locals aren’t poor,
they just haven’t got any money.
how can she marry a man we’ve never met?
Anna Crowe is an Honorary President of StAnza, a poet and translator, and the author of two Peterloo collections and three Mariscat pamphlets. Figure in a Landscape won the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award in 2011. Arc and Bloodaxe have published her translations of Catalan poets Joan Margarit and Josep Lluís Aguiló, and Mexican poet Pedro Serrano. The Society of Authors awarded her a Travelling Scholarship.
Nancy Somerville, a Glaswegian who lives on the Isle of Mull, writes mainly poetry and short stories. Her poetry collection Waiting for Zebras was published by Red Squirrel Press (Scotland) in 2008. The first draft of a novel is in a drawer, nagging at her to hurry up and get it finished.