Attention all Gaelic speakers: Aire – a luchd-labhairt na Gàidhlig!

March 16, 2016

O chionn ghoirid, rinn Iain Howieson -neach-fèille Comann Daonnairean na h-Alba – agallamh do “Air na Tablets” air Rèidio nan Gàidheal. ‘S urrainn dhuibh an t-agallamh a chluinntinn ana-sheo:


Attention all Gaelic speakers! Humanist Society Scotland Celebrant John Howieson recently gave an interview for Air Na Tablets. You can listen to the interview here.

English translation of the interview below:

Intro – “On the Tablets” – this week, a man who won the award for Gaelic Learner of the Year in 2014 – Iain (John) Howieson – doing his best to answer the questions.

Aonghas Rothach (Angus Munro – AR): Welcome. Each week, we’ll be speaking to people who make use in their daily lives of computers, mobile phones and tablets. This should show the effect technology has on them. Apps they like, mistakes they may have made. This week, a man from Dumfries, now living in the Highlands, working as a humanist celebrant and living on the Isle of Skye – Iain (John) Howieson.

First, Iain, a bit about yourself. What brought you to Skye?

IH: I was born and brought up in Dumfries, then went to university in Edinburgh. After that, I worked as an English teacher in and near Edin. I came to Skye in 1998 as head teacher of Portree High School. I did that for nearly ten years, enjoyed that, then retired, and did my training as celebrant with the HSS.

AR: We’ll hear more as the programme goes on. Q1 – what’s your favourite picture on your phone or computer?

IH: I haven’t got a tablet, and my phone is just a phone – not a smart phone – but I do use my laptop to keep photos – pictures of events I’m been involved in, events in my personal life and at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig – especially whenever something has happened of which I’m particularly proud. As you said, I’m a humanist celebrant, doing weddings and funerals. And last year, I married my daughter in Edinburgh, and that was great. We took lots of photos that day, and my daughter looked so happy with a smile on her face every time, but the groom looked full of apprehension, and that’s what shows in the photos.

AR: You’re a humanist celebrant. How did you come to that?

IH: After I retired, my wife got fed-up that I was just sitting about the house. She thought I was a bit lazy, maybe. And she found an article in the paper about humanist celebrants. She showed it to me, I read it, and I thought, “Maybe I could do that.” So, I went to the HSS web-page, and it was very helpful to me – making clear to me that indeed I was a humanist. I’d always just thought I was an atheist, but humanism means that you think people are kind to one another by nature, and that’s what I have believed all my life.

AR: What brought you to conducting ceremonies – funerals and weddings? What satisfaction do you get from the work?

IH: Well, especially funerals – you’re helping a family through a day that’s particularly difficult for them, and that gives me great satisfaction – to be involved in that sort of day. Weddings – they’re just good fun. Always fun and happy. I must say I like both.

AR: We started off asking about favourite pictures, and if you go to Twitter there’s a gallery with a picture of IH at @BBCRnG.  Many people nowadays use their mobile phones to listen to music. Do you have a song on yours which you like, though you might not be prepared to admit it?

IH: Well, because I don’t have a smart phone I’m maybe a bit different from others. But I use my laptop for playing CDs, when I’m doing other things, maybe. And I go to websites in which there are lots of songs. When I was still in my teens I must admit I listened to the Corries, even though even at that time I knew they were a bit “pop”. I don’t like superstars at all, but I do still like some songs like “The Wild Mountain Thyme”.

(Song played.)

AR: Communication technology. Who do you speak to most often, and what do you use to do it?

IH: Again, no smart phone, but on my ordinary phone, it’s most often my wife – especially when I’m away from home, obviously. But when both of us are away from home, but in different places – for example, if she’s doing some shopping, often I wouldn’t be with her. Maybe I’d be in a museum, or in the pub, and we keep in touch with our mobiles. Other than that, technology is really useful to me in my work as a humanist celebrant. We always try to make our ceremonies personal, and so when you’re a celebrant, you have to get to know a bit about the people you’re speaking about or to whom you’re speaking. So, you have to communicate with them somehow, and email is incredibly useful. I write to them, and they send useful information to me which I use in saying for them the things that they want said on such a significant day. Sometimes also I use skype, so that we can meet face-to-face, even when we’re in different countries. In that way I’ve spoken with people in America, Canada, South Africa, Abu Dhabi – throughout the world. On top of that, I use the social media. I don’t use Twitter – I don’t understand it – but I use Facebook, especially with people with similar interests to mine: humanism, politics, literature, culture, songs, Gaelic and Scots too. There are pages on Facebook that let me communicate with people throughout the world on subjects like that. I’ve got friends throughout the world in that way.

AR: You said you use FB for lots of different things. What post did you put up that the largest number of people liked?

IH: I was delighted a wee while ago when over fifty people Liked my birthday. But in terms of Statuses – I put a status up if I have strong feelings about something. Being from Dumfries, I’m a lifelong supporter of Queen of the South. (It’s a good job I’m not overly competitive!) One time, I remember, we lost (and that isn’t a common occurrence!), and I was cross, because our opponents had scored but I hadn’t thought the ball had crossed the line. So I was angry, and when I got home I got onto FB and put a status up about technology. I said it would be much better if there were technology at every game – whatever the level – even the level where we play, the Championship. In relation to Gaelic, I’m always speaking to others in Gaelic. For example, one of my FB friends is the author Alison Lang, and from time to time I speak to her in Gaelic. I speak to folk I know personally, too. It’s nice to do that at times.

AR: Is there an app, or website, or account which you visit repeatedly?

IH: Again, no apps because no smart phone. But I do indeed visit websites often, such as Tobar an Dualchais (“The Well of Tradition”) which is a repository of songs and stories which I often listen to just for fun. I also use these in the course I’m doing. I’m a full-time student, doing a degree in Gaelic at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. I often go to Tobar an Dualchais for information, and to Bliadhna nan Òran (“The Year of the Songs”) – there’s lots of information there too that’s very useful in the course I’m doing. Other things that concern the university itself, like Blackboard, which is a resource for students with poetry, and advice, learning support in general. And of course the Queen of the South website. I’m often there. It’s really useful. Who are we playing next Saturday? Is the game going to be on BBC Alba? Who’s the referee? That’s important. Is anybody injured?

AR: So you’re using these technological supports in your course at Sabhal Mòr. What’s it like being a student again, after retiring? Is it difficult?

IH: Maybe you should ask the young people who are students beside me, but who were pupils at the school when I was there, as head teacher! To me, it’s just so good. I’m enjoying it greatly. My first year was a present. I was coming up to a significant birthday, and my wife said, “I’d like to buy you a special present. Would you prefer a bungee jump or a year at college?” I opted for the latter. I went just for one year, just to bring my Gaelic on a bit, but I enjoyed it so much that I returned for second year, and as I said I’m now in third year.

AR: There are dangers in are using communications technology. Did you ever send anything by mistake, or make a mistake in a message?

IH: I must say I’m always pretty careful about that. Having been a head teacher for nearly ten years, I became used to being careful about what I was saying and writing. So I’m always pretty careful on the social media. When I have to communicate difficult or delicate things, I use the phone.

AR: Going back to music and songs, what’s your favourite song on the computer?

IH: I like traditional songs best, and I prefer live songs. So, I don’t listen all that often to recorded songs which I like. My wife Brenda and I are both in the Strath Gaelic Choir, and we sing solos and duets, but when I use technology I go into soundfiles which are useful for learning those songs and the harmonies. Sometimes, too, I use Bliadhna nan Òran to make sure of how the tune goes, for example.

AR: What song have you chosen?

IH: My favourite song in the world is “Nuair Bha Mi Òg” (“When I Was Young”), by Màiri Mhòr nan Òran (“Big Mary of the Songs”)

(Song played.)

AR: “Nuair Bha Mi Òg”, sung by Cathy Ann Macphee. Iain, you’ve become a bit famous as a singer.

IH: Famous! I can’t sing like Cathy Ann Macphee.

AR: But you are a good singer. You’ve won prizes.

IH: You’re very kind. I won the Silver Pendant in 2006 in Dunoon, and I was very proud. I’m not competitive at all, but I do the competitions because it’s a sort of excuse to be learning these songs which are so beautiful, and which I love. I love singing them, even though I’m not in any way a professional singer. I started singing in the folk club in Dumfries when I was about 17, and I sang over the years when I lived in Edinburgh, and in other places – always just for fun. And for the fun of learning the songs, so they’d be in my head.

AR: You’re very modest about this, but you’ve been pretty close to winning the Gold Medal.

IH: Well, since I won the Silver Pendant, I’ve been taking part in that competition. I have enjoyed that because it’s been so good to be on the stage alongside real singers – the likes of James Graham, who won one time I was involved. I’m just happy to be there.

AR: Last question: what would happen if you didn’t have the electronic devices? Could you do the business without them?

IH: Absolutely not. They’re so useful to me. In terms of my work, it’s entirely dependent on email and skype. And after that, I type on the laptop, and I print off each ceremony on my printer at home. In terms of my course, with Blackboard and Tobar an Dualchais and Bliadhna nan Òran, and others like that too. When I was at university the first time, I used many pieces of paper and a pen, to take notes and to write essays. But now, back at uni, I use my laptop every day. I compose onscreen, I save work on my USB stick, and I submit essays by email. It’s so useful to me.

AR: Thanks, etc.

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