We went down to the village hall last night to watch the amateur dramatic society's panto The Enchanted Tattie Bogle. The hall was packed, a ratio of about fifty-fifty kids to adults, although the ratio of noise and frenetic activity was thirty-to-one in favour of the kids. There were maybe a hundred people in total in the audience. Certainly there were no empty seats. The adults got a free glass of wine included in the price of the ticket and there was a bar at the interval.
Production values this year were high. The costumes in particular - all made by Ms Pat Jennings, who also wrote, produced and directed the show - were magnificent. The plot - after numerous scary twists and turns - had a suitably happy ending. This was the first night of a three night run and I have no doubt that by Saturday everyone will reliably know their lines, or even whether they have lines or not. The backstage side of the operation was supported by fourteen people, while over twenty-five actors brought the plot - and the audience -to life.
Acting honours were shared equally by Neil Thomson as the thoroughly Wicked Wizard and a troup of under-fives as the Northern Lights Fairies. The biggest laughs of the evening were garnered by the veteran performer Robbie Marshall - who must be at least sixty- playing the parts of the Tyrone Turtle Dove and Basil the Tattie Bogle, although not at the same time. A Tattie Bogle is an old-fashioned Scots word for a scarecrow. Robbie Marshall is Scots for an old-fashioned farmer.
And it was the laughs that Robbie Marshall got that set me thinking.
Mr Marshall looks like Fred Flintstone after a rough night. Dressed in the full plumage of a turtle dove he looked deliciously ridiculous, notwithstanding a pair of fine-turned calves. The sheepish expression on his face added to the effect. His very appearance, then, raised a smile. But what made people really laugh out loud was whenever he opened his mouth. Mr Marshall you see speaks Doric. Doric is an old dialect native to the North-East of Scotland which is a sort of cross between Gaelic and Scots and it can be pretty impenetrable. Thirty years ago everyone round here spoke Doric, especially the farming community. Anglified Scots was their second language. Now the dialect is a rarity, especially amongst the young. Even young farming lads don't talk like that now. That's not the way they're taught, nor indeed the way the world works.
Of course the world has changed. Farming now employs many fewer people. The village itself is full of commuters. There are many more incomers. Many are English. Thanks to the motor car, and televison and the internet we are no longer isolated. People come and go all the time, especially the young. On the whole this is a good thing, this is progress. But not entirely. Something has been lost.
When you take away a man's language you take away part of his soul. Mr Marhall's grandsons and grandaughters are educated in a foreign language: Scots. They don't talk the way he does. I was born English - working-class English - and I too was educated in a foreign language: Middle-class English. I didn't talk the way my parents did. And of course with the imposition of a foreign language comes the adoption of foreign values and an alien culture. But it's not just the Education System that is foreign to indigenous minorities. The legal system, government, the BBC, most of the Establishment in fact belong to another culture.
I used to get pretty worked up about this state of affairs, what I saw as a massive injustice, this oppression of the minority by the majority, this denial of statehood.
Maybe that's the wrong reaction. Like everyone else in the audience last night I laughed loudly at Robbie's anachronistic accent. Even Robbie laughed good-naturedly at the way he sounded, albeit somewhat sheepishly. I guess he's had sixty years to get used to other people's reactions.
Either that, or he's been educated well in the new ways. Or weel learnt, as they still say up here.