The second in this short series of guest blogs comes from my friend and fellow dark archangel Stuart Delves. Stuart has a relationship with haggis and this has now turned into a play on that subject. Like most things Stuart does it’s unlikely to be a conventional approach to the subject. His play will be on during the Edinburgh Festival at the Scottish Storytelling Centre and you can get tickets here www.scottishstorytellingcentre.co.uk. Do go if you’ll be in Edinburgh in August – and pop along to the Book Festival where you’ll be able to catch one of the sessions that our other archangel Jamie Jauncey will be chairing. Now over to Stuart….
Last week John posted Jayne Workman’s lovely piece ‘Silence’ which she wrote on the very first Dark Angels course run by John and me in Devon. Well, how the pendulum has swung. From petals and meditation to Scottish charcuterie and the rough and tumble of the Edinburgh Fringe. But there’s a link. And the link is Dark Angels.
I met Jo Macsween, third generation head of the family firm that makes the world’s best known haggis, through Dark Angels. She’s an inspired business leader who appreciates the power of story. We’d wanted to do a project together some years ago – poetry on packaging I think was the gist. But at that time her board wasn’t game. Down the line, the advanced Dark Angels course under her belt, her Haggis Bible published to great acclaim, and a dynamic new Chairman with an Am Dram background (and a recent Ashridge ‘dark arts’ management trainee), the climate was altogether more conducive to make a little magic. And, as luck would have it, it happened to be the firm’s 60th Anniversary.
So last June I embarked on a Creativity at Work residency, match funded by Arts & Business Scotland. I became Storyteller-in-Residence at the Macsween factory outside Edinburgh. Although Jo insists it’s a kitchen not a factory. And I chose to be a storyteller in residence rather than a writer as I wasn’t there to stimulate any writing (apart from my own). I was there to gather stories – the stories of the family that journeyed south from Skye four generations ago, denied permission to build a house by the road and therefore unable to make a living, to the stories of the current workers many of whom are migrant workers, speaking another language – Spanish, Hungarian, Polish rather than the Gaelic of the Skye Macsweens.
Using a rather nifty story-gathering technique (which BBC Radio Scotland got wind of and wanted to know more about) I spent hours and hours and hours, as one of Van Morrison’s lyrics goes, blethering with this one and that gathering their stories. From which, I wrote a series of blogs, enlivened the induction presentation and wrote a two-hander performance piece which actor John Nichol from IDEOMS Theatre helped me deliver at the end of this January. It was called ‘Another January’ and as well as telling the story of everyone in the audience, celebrated the end of what is a brutal month in the Macsween kitchen. Brutal because Burns Night, which falls on the 26th January, is a massively popular event all over the world, at which haggis, the haggis, is addressed, attacked with a sgian dhu and then eaten, along with neeps and tatties.
The piece went down a storm. I had macho, irreversibly cynical and immovable Scots men, frae Penicuik and Loanhead, coming up to me, hand outstretched, saying ‘put it there pal’. It was one of the highlights of my working life.
But that’s not the end of the story. Jo had already thrown down the next gauntlet. We need a play, she said. Well, of course. Here’s the poster, with all the details, shouting out what it’s all about. Do come, if you possibly can.