Some stray observations on speaking about Scots language and Flemish immigration at the Edinburgh Book Festival this week.
1) People are a lot more interested in the influence of Flemish immigration on Scots language than you would think. The event at the Garden Theatre was sold out, despite my earlier, gloomy prognostications. (Apart from three seats near the front, ostentatiously reserved for “Alexander”.) Interestingly, not many of the folk in the audience were of Flemish ancestry themselves, which means that either A) people were there just because they were genuinely intrigued, or B) Patrick DeWitt, who was on at the same time, had sold out.
2) I also met Scotland’s newest Flemish immigrant, who had just moved here on Saturday. He was very nice, and a much better argument in favour of Flemish immigration than anything I might have said.
3) An hour is a lot less time than you think. From having assumed that the event would incorporate a good half-hour of staring silently, pleadingly into the audience for somebody to ask a question, we went on to overrun by quite some time. The questions were very good, very interesting, and I learned quite a few things myself – someone suggested a possible connection between the French word “drache” and the Scots word “dreich”, and another audience member speculated about a possible Flemish/Dutch influence in the Hawick pronunciation of the word “mei”.
4) The Book Festival would not be the Book Festival without my getting a bit carried away telling someone how much I liked their book. This year’s victim was the aforementioned Patrick DeWitt, who I spotted in the Authors Yurt and proceeded to gush to about The Sisters Brothers until I was literally dragged away. (For a photoshoot, I should point out.) If I’d been permitted to stick around for a little longer, instead of having to go away and talk about Flemish or something, I might even have bumped into Gordon Brown behind the scenes, although I haven’t read any of his books so I’m not sure what I would have said to him. Something about how well Raith Rovers are doing, probably. I wouldn’t really know what to say about the prime minister stuff.
Thanks to everybody at the Festival for looking after me, and for inviting me in the first place, and also to my fine partners for the event, Roger Mason and Willie Kelly. Roger is spearheading some fantastic work in the field of Scots-Flemish relations at St Andrews, and I look forward to reading the fruits of his labours in the not-too-distant future!