The annual report season, Starling and caoraich dubha

The annual report season is now upon us and I am now more or less fully booked for translation work between now and the end of April, So far it’s going well much thanks to having a competent project manager, who is taking care of the big picture so that I can concentrate on translating. I don’t often work at full speed these days but I still enjoy doing so occasionally, feeling very focused and buoyed up by the euphoria when the cloud on the horizon of all the work to do starts to disperse and I know that I am going to make my deadline.In my 70s, I aim at being a long-distance runner and not a sprinter but I have to break my own rules from time to time (there wouldn’t be much point in having rules otherwise…).But now a little pause while I wait for more text, all the tables and figures at the end of the report, which will hopefully melt away.I’ve started to prepare for a trip to the Outer Hebrides later this year. This time I’m not going to try to learn Scots Gaelic as I did last time, making sounds that no self-respecting native speaker of Scots Gaelic would allow to pass their lips. I won’t aim to be able to explain in Gaelic that my great grandfather on my mother’s side was William McKeown of Ballymena, County Antrim, uber protestant, and later a soldier and prison warder on Portland Dorset, where he presumably oversaw hard labouring convicts in the quarries. Had he been a dab hand at Irish Gaelic, I might have warmed to him but his heart was probably as orange as they come. And I regard him as a black sheep of the family or least a “caoraich dubha.” At some point, he met a Mary Starling and they produced my grandmother while he was working at the prison on Hardy’s Isle of Slingers. She was the second Starling in my life after my mother told her wondering seven year old son that Starling was dead in 1953.But I won’t be able to leave Gaelic alone altogether. I’m going to try to learn to pronounce the place names correctly, which will fit in well with my aim of learning the phonetic alphabet. The broad consonants look terrifying at first sight but once I get used to the idea that “mh” is pronounced as “v”, that “fh” is silent and that “sh” and “th” are pronounced as “h” (inter alia), things might get easier . I’d like to understand the problems that Gaelic speakers are trying to solve with these combinations. We have after all “gh” in English, which is pretty weird but gets easier to understand when you realise that French speakers were trying to get their heads around how to write down a Germanic sound that they didn’t have in French, But this can hardly be the explanation for these combinations in Gaelic (and come to think of it, bearing in mind the impact of the German-speaking Franks on Northern French, one wouldn’t have thought that the French would have had to cross the channel to get from nacht to night either- Life is full of mysteries).Uppsala, as Sweden’s centre of Celtic Studies, is a good place to be for this project as the answer to my questions can no doubt be found in some dark cavern at Carolina Rediviva (hopefully not minotaur-infested or the wrong side of the Styx).I can’t get too deeply involved with Scots Gaelic as I am already struggling with Bengali, And also reading “Manosque-des-Plateaux”, in French by the Provencal author Jean Giono in his pantheist period. It’s not an easy read with frequent new characters that pop up and disappear, tangled imagery and an approach to vocabulary not fettered by convention. Maybe I’ll try Finnegan’s Wake afterwards for some easy read relaxation.

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