I don’t remember ever having been to a public lecture before, certainly not of my own accord. Thus, when by incident I noticed the local British Council branch was giving a lecture named Western Scotland: Islands in the Mist, I decided it might be an interesting experience.
It was. But in a different way from what I had expected.
The beginning was promising. The lecture was advertised as “presented in pictures and personal recollections by someone who had lived there and keeps going back”. Indeed, the lecturess, a pleasant old lady, told us she had a soft spot for Scotland, as from 1969 she was spending her university and early employment years in Edinburgh, where she still even owned a house. But then…
I didn’t mind I could probably with the help of my ’97 snaps extemporize as good a lecture myself no sweat (except for my love of digression perhaps). But I don’t like being told things I know to be incorrect. Of course, we all make mistakes and believe in inaccurate pieces of information, but when you lecture on something, your speech shouldn’t be larded with these. Even though it was a lecture for an audience largely consisting of people who later at question time asked things like “What is a typical Scottish food?” or “Are the Scottish as miserly as they are said to be?” (Och ay, there was the one about what’s worn under the kilt.)
To my growing amazement, I was informed that there were around 100,000 Gaelic speakers, that Burns Supper took place on the 21 January, and that the chief of the Glencoe MacDonalds at the time of the 1692 massacre was “the chief of the Clan MacDonald”. Possibly most revealing, however, was the information that, notwithstanding the latter’s having been for more than forty years in his grave, Bonnie Prince Charlie rebelled against William of Orange.
Prior to the lecture I wanted to ask how much the islanders really cared about whether or not the road, street &c signs were bilingual. Some kind of masochism made me at least ask whether the number of such signs was growing and see what would happen. Unsurprisingly, I was surprised. After trying to understand my question as a statement, then to evade it by claiming that as a non-driver she didn’t know, the lady eventually informed us that bilingual signs had always been there, but just as the number of Gaelic speakers was diminishing, so was the number of these signs, as some were getting old and consequently replaced by monolingual ones.
I had no strength left in me to pursue the matter further even for fun’s sake.
But I’ve an unpleasant feeling that my first public lecture was also my last.