***** (5 stars)
Donald Smith, Director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre welcomed us to an evening celebrating the first ever ‘St Andrew’s Fair Saturday’. In a world obsessed by consumption, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday a recent memory, and at a time of global uncertainty with challenges presented by climate, migration, war and prejudice, it was good to come together and celebrate Scotland’s welcoming of diversity and the shared cultures that unite us, while raising awareness of the group that the Storytelling Centre is supporting this year – the Multicultural Family Base in Coburg Street.
The evening’s format was simple – entertainment, first course, entertainment, second course, closing entertainment and farewell – and it was excellent.
Gerda Stevenson, poet, songmaker, singer, musician and so much more read some of her poems from her most recent collection, Quines, which pays homage to the many remarkable Scottish women from Neolithic times to the 21st century, whose stories are told by a narrator, the protagonist, or someone/ something that was part of her story. We heard from Maggie Dixon of Musselburgh who was hanged for the alleged crime of killing her illegitimate child, but startled everyone by knocking on the lid of her coffin at her wake in the Sheep’s Heid in Duddingston and emerging alive. Under Scots law she was regarded as dead, and couldn’t be hanged again [huge cheers]. A young girl, daughter of a Scottish slave owner who brought her to Scotland, spoke about winning a prize for penmanship at the age of twelve, and the Horsehead Nebula commented on the Dundonian astronomer who discovered her, but who the records ignore. Gerda ended her contribution with her song aye the gean blooms from her latest album, celebrating the turning cycles of the world.
We were then treated to an outstandingly good fish pie – St Andrew was a fisherman, after all! There was plenty for all, and the greedy among us made sure the dishes were returned empty… It was the perfect opportunity to get to know our table companions – the ice was broken between us as we passed plates around to be filled, rather than each sitting in front of our own plate, not needing to communicate with anyone else.
Carlos Arrendondo began part two. He’s a poet, musician and songmaker who fled the harsh regime in Chile in 1974 and sought refuge in Glasgow. He reminded us that displacement is not one-way: people have been forced to leave Latin America and Africa, but plenty of Scots have moved the other way, and there are many Scottish surnames in Patagonia, Chile, and Argentina. In una nuvel blanca, written in his early days in Glasgow, Carlos speaks to the cloud that’s floating freely in the sky. It accompanies him everywhere and shares his loneliness: there is no freedom for the people left behind in Chile. An inhabitant of Dungavel spoke movingly of their “Welcome to Scotland” after the horrors they had experienced in fleeing their homeland – refugees flee from wars instigated and supported by nations in the West who then turn their backs on the people whose plight they have created.
Anne Spiers then spoke of the Multicultural Family Base [mcfb]. It’s a family support agency which is doing amazing work available to everyone who arrives in Scotland, regardless of their country of origin or their reason for coming. [See their website www.mcfb.org.uk.] Anne spoke movingly of the work mcfb do with people of all ages, and was most grateful for the Storytelling Centre’s championing of them.
Popular culture brings people together, and one of the most common links is the telling of stories. Brilliant storyteller and Kenyan Scot Mara Menzies began by telling us her own story which began in Kenya and through an incredible chain of circumstances ended in Glasgow. She told us the story of the young, well-intentioned chief of a tribe, whose mother kept nagging him to get married: with the help of his barber and a supposedly magic mirror, the perfect wife was found – but would she consent to marry the chief?
We were left hanging in the air but consoled with the advent of our dessert and the opportunity for further conversation with our fellow diners.
Donald then reminded us that St Andrew was both a traveller [around the Black Sea, probably not as far as Scotland] and a very good social bridge-builder, bringing people to meet Jesus, bringing Greek visitors to meet his early followers. He was also the one who got the party going when a hungry multitude had assembled to hear Jesus: Andrew was the one who found the lad with five loaves and two fishes… He’s the obvious choice for our patron saint, embodying Scotland’s culture of welcoming and making connections between the diverse peoples who arrive here.
Mara Menzies returned to tell us how the wild cat came to live indoors, raising the roof with her concluding revelation of “the most wonderful creature in the world” with whom Wild Cat chooses to live. Carlos sang a moving lament for all the people and places he has had to leave and how “maybe being alive is the greatest miracle of all”.
The whole evening was enormous fun and a joyful celebration both of the resilience of the human spirit and the warmth of the welcome Scotland can offer to the people who seek refuge here.