Sometimes MayFest creeps up on me too fast and I do nothing, but this year I managed to be organised enough actually to book three events and drop in to a couple of others. The first event was Farm to Fork with the Kilted Chef, Craig Wilson. I’m not a watcher of cookery programmes, for the most part, but Craig has a column in our local magazine, The Leopard, and I’ve enjoyed his recipes – and in addition, this was a cause close to my heart, using local produce. A nutritionist from the university was on hand to tell us how the food was good for us (while we salivated), and there were also a couple of farmers, one of whom makes Ola oil, a great Aberdeenshire product. I fancy pursuing the Aberdeenshire Diet – like the Fife Diet, I think it should consist only of what is produced in our local county. Aberdeenshire includes Mackie’s, who make superlative ice cream, crisps and chocolate – surely this must be part of our local diet? (particularly the crisps).
I took the opportunity to pop into the festival’s food fair, and picked up some Ola oil, soap and hand cream, and some wonderful smoked haddock and hot smoked salmon.
Next slot was a quick reading by Helen Lynch, author of the short story collection The Elephant and the Polish Question. Helen teaches literature and creative writing at the university – as well as being a quarter of successful local all-female ceilidh band, Danse Macabre. Apart from the opening of The Elephant and the Polish Question, she read us parts of her current work-in-progress. She has recently published an academic work on Milton but up to now has not felt willing to try historical fiction – people in the past did not think like us because they did not write like us, and did not write like us because they did not think like us, she said. However, with this new short story she has ventured into the field, writing in seventeenth century prose. She was anxious that she might have rendered it completely incomprehensible, but I don’t think anyone in the audience had a problem with it – it flowed along in her usual colloquial, thought-provoking style.
This afternoon the wonderful poet Kathleen Jamie gave a reading of both her poetry and her prose. I like her poetry very much but find her two prose collections, Sightlines and Findings, completely inspirational. Her descriptions of nature (particularly birds), travel amongst the Scottish islands, archaeology and ecology, and the messages she derives from them, make me want to paint and write and just be, with so many more layers than I seem to achieve in everyday life: she really makes you look twice and three times at the world around you and find new value in it. She also came across as a really nice, humorous person!
After that I popped back into the food hall only to find it transformed into a hands-on science festival with occasional craft stalls. I managed to find a kindly lady who showed me how to make a hairst (harvest) loop out of straw, weaving it into a ribboned plait that looks much more complicated than it is! No doubt Kathleen Jamie could derive a profound poem from a complex, simple, harvest ring where the ears of corn fan out amongst its own stalks, but I am a shallower person, and brought it home sheltered under my coat from the bucketing rain, to show it off on the bookcase.