A trip to Edinburgh to see the Celts exhibition (magnificent - the Gundestrup bowl is much larger than I had imagined and the carnyx gets a good showing), and to consult an ogam manuscript in the National Library of Scotland. Ogam is an early Gaelic form of the alphabet, well over 1000 years old, but this manuscript is from the 19th century. This is what the ogam alphabet looks like:
Then on to Stirling for the Musica Scotica conference to give a paper on the Scottishness of A.C.Mackenzie. It was a good conference with some excellent papers, and particularly heartening in that several came from younger scholars.
Back home on Sunday to snow. The peats are drying, but Alan Morgan's Highland cows had knocked quite a few of them about with their horns, just for fun, so Bar spent all Monday morning repairing the damage. This is the kind of thing they like to do and on the right, the bog after Bar had repaired it all with sleet coming in from the north. Today it's snow.
The skinning of the third and last bog was accomplished with the help of Alastair Watt who took to the ceapair lar (tool for skinning off the heathery top of the bog) as to the manner born - this notwithstanding the fact that the tool/instrument is Iron Age in design and requires an Iron Age constitution. The only other one I have ever seen was in the museum in Stranraer. Mine was given to me by Ian Grant who took pity upon my efforts with a spade, but I had to replace the old shaft with an ash-wood one I selected from a tree and shaped to the precision (and it is precision) required and then commissioned a beautiful new cutting iron from Rob Miller made of the bluest of lovely steel, so all that is left of the original is the handle at the top which I will never abandon. As I have been using this tool for over a decade, I might offer myself up as an exhibit and save the cost of a funeral: but old age and heart disease have obliged me to share the honours with others - hence Alastair, who proved himself worthy while I, a vile apostate, used the chain saw to mark out the bog for the ceapair lar to do its beautiful work.
The chain saw ploy I have only heard of, never seen. Apparently the lads up in Staffin (north Skye) thought it was a good idea and I am an old dog but can still learn a new trick and this would be a brilliant one, were it not a bit rough on the chain saw which kept losing the chain or otherwise protesting at the conditions of employment. My chainsaw is a Husqvarna and I have to credit it with the utmost willingness and high standards of performance under the most abusive of employers. Anyway "at the heel of the hunt" as they say in Ireland, the job got done, the third bog is skinned and this morning the ground was covered in snow so any hope of starting cutting was abandoned and I laboured on dear old Sir. A.C.Mackenzie instead for the Musica Scotica conference .
Here are a couple images taken by Bar of the Iron Age and post-modernist proceedings on the bog. On the left Alastair proves his Iron Age credentials while I conduct a religious service with the chain saw. On the right, I and the chain saw find mutual joy in disturbing the song of the lark with the fine ripping noises of an internal combustion engine under strain being revved. You really have to be a musician to appreciate these things.
Geoff Allan having performed miracles at CaVa with the recordings from Lewis and Iona; my son Sean having discovered how to save complex Powerpoint images with their various elements at 300dpi so they can be published without having to be re-assembled; and the weather having settled into a dry spell, the PEATS have taken over our lives. This is the first of the three bogs we cut and which we finished today. That's Ben Meabost in the background and one of my favourite birds, the golden plover has returned there this spring. I composed a song called "Golden Plover" for Ralph Shaw, king of the ukelele, and he recorded it quite wonderfully on his CD "Love". Check him out on www.ralphshaw.ca.
And this is the second bog on which Bar and I have made a good start, helped by the cold northerly wind which is drying the peats we cut last week really well.
Meanwhile I have picked up the wooden part of the reconstructed Bekan horn yew-wood instrument the original of which dates from the 9thc AD. Magnus Gunnarsson has carved it out superbly and I am still figuring out how best to thank him not only for his skill and labour, but for the risks anyone takes in working with yew which is potentially highly poisonous. I have a plan, however. I still have to glue the two halves together - the instrument is six feet long and made by splitting the yew longitudinally and carving out its gently conical bore before re-assembling and binding with spiral bronze ribbon. Then a reed will be stuck in the end and we shall see, or rather hear, what happens.
A weekend in Iona recording more bells, this time in St Oran's chapel for Mhairi Killin and Hugh Watt's Re-Soundings (www.Re-soundings.com). Driving there on Friday was horrendous - torrential rain, rivers full to bursting, ferries cancelled, but the weather was kind to us on Saturday and the island as magical as ever. I managed to persuade the participants to take off their shoes and socks so they could walk silently from the chapel outdoors while ringing their bells. A most encouraging display of healthy clean feet . . . We also recorded the rock gong at Port na Fraing.
I spent half of Sunday writing up a first draft of the score for the exhibition music. It started out as a straight line but as the piece is circular it had to be drawn as a circle. This is it.
It's not like anything I've done before and I am depending on Geoff Allan at CaVa studios in Glasgow to make sense out of it when we edit it all together on Friday.
Meanwhile the sun shines and I am stuck indoors dealing with the complexities of publishing images taken from a Powerpoint presentation, for the last Rannsachadh nan Gaidheal - an academic conference proceedings.
John Purser is widely known as a composer, musicologist, poet, playwright, and broadcaster.