Part II: Discussion Points

Part II: Discussion Points


It might be useful to print out these pages so, while you are reading, you can simultaneously view the CD-ROM, particularly the Gallery Screens.

Several general points about the CD-ROM's presentation of North East life should be considered:

  • What does performing, teaching and learning traditions mean to participants?
  • How and why do images (photographs, paintings) represent material culture (houses, clothes and equipment)?
  • What does the presentation of oral traditions reveal about traditional culture?
  • Why does oral tradition continue to be relevant to daily life?








How do customs encourage loyalty to a place (your area, village, home)?

  • Why do some customs, like riding the marches in Forfar, physically mark the boundaries of a community?
  • How does marking a custom define or affirm your identity. Does this process continue if you leave or return occasionally to a community, define or affirm your identity?

Calendar customs (celebrated on an annual basis, like Harvest festivals) mark the seasons and help participants make sense of the year.

  • How do customs affect, or anchor, people's perception of time?
  • What are the special roles played by calendar customs?
  • How does the influence of a custom continue between its observances (think about why you might save a piece of the Clavie till next year)?

Rites of passage (customs marking stages of people's lives) can be part of a wider celebration.

  • Consider Lachie and Dan Ralph's accounts of the Burning of the Clavie and how it reflects their coming of age.
  • How do customs reflect family continuity, generations and changing roles (for instance, as you age) within the community?

Customs are regulated internally and externally, overtly and covertly.

  • Think about how a minister cares for her or his flock (compare how the Clavie King cares for his crew to how Alison Jaffrey in 'Belief' cares for her flock).
  • Is danger important in regulating customs? Think about the Burning of the Clavie, and why it is important to show strength and endurance?

Celebrating customs often involves a whole community, or excludes parts of it.

  • How do people learn how to celebrate an event like the Burning of the Clavie?
  • How do roles vary within the celebration of a custom (men versus women, young versus old, those in charge versus the audience)? Why should the Clavie be celebrated by an all-male 'crew' and the Stonehaven Fireballs by a 'team' which includes women.
  • How do customs define, change and incorporate the individual as a member of the community? Consider diverse celebrations such as Christmas, New Year, Hogmanay, Fairs and shows.
  • Why should the Clavie be the most important night of the year for Burghead people?
  • How do people outwith the community, or visitors, experience a custom compared to 'locals'?

Customs must adapt to survive. Or do they?

  • Compare and contrast the experiences of the Burning of the Clavie and the Stonehaven Fireballs.
  • How do local people regard interventions by the 'establishment' (filming by the media, regulations)?
  • If you are familiar with other fire festivals, such as those at Comrie, and Biggar, how do Burghead's, and Stonehaven's, events compare to these?

Custom creates community, by celebrating links between the past and the present and building precedents for the future.

  • How do events like the Burning of the Clavie and the Stonehaven Fireballs define identity?



The landscape of the North East forms a dramatic backdrop to its fishing industry.

  • In fishing communities, one notable feature is the proximity of houses and work (fish processing plants and fisherfolk's houses, harbour): how does this affect lifestyle and worldview?
  • Compare the built environments of the farming and fishing communities.

It is often observed that fishing communities are close knit, and co operative.

  • How might the traditional practices, and composition of a risk-sharing crew, create solidarity? Do men at sea have a sense of shared identity?
  • Ask yourself the same question about women, like Elsie Whyte, involved in the fishing industry.
  • Fishing is both international in operation, with markets at home and abroad and very locally based. How does this affect the fishing community?
  • How are family loyalties reflected in fishing (think about the Whyte family's experience)?

Farming and fishing communities are often seen as separate in the North East, however they are also interdependent.

  • As 'Fareweel to Tarwathie' reflects, farm lads, and others who were not from fishing communities, went whaling. Do you think fishing communities look outwith themselves?
  • How do William Whyte's reminiscences of fishwifies suggest a connexion between the farming and fishing communities?

Religious life plays a vital role in fishing communities.

  • What does 'We Have an Anchor' suggest about North East faith?
  • Sabbatarianism, or the strict observation of Sunday as a day of worship and rest, is still practised by some. What effects did this have on traditional ways of working. Consider Walter Forbes' and Joe Watt's remarks on fishing on a Sunday.

Modern conditions are different from those remembered older fisherfolk.

  • How do fishermen perceive changes in the size of crews, boat technology and family participation? Compare Walter Forbes' experiences with William Whyte's.
  • How has technology changed, and what does this mean?
  • Despite the long hours, and arduous tasks, of fishing, do people draw positive rewards from the industry?



Looking after a home places particular and enduring demands on women.

  • How do women learn how to look after a home?
  • What similarities and differences do you see in the experiences of North Easters from different generations, like Isobel Easton and Elizabeth Curtis?
  • How do the housekeeping experiences of incomers, like Nandini Bahuguna, compare with those of locally born people? Are her experiences of learning to cook, for instance, comparable to Isobel Easton's?

Diets, styles of houses and domestic life in the North East has changed over time.

  • How have changes in subsistence farming affected domestic life in farming communities? Think about Isobel Easton's account of the production of foodstuffs along with the way traditions are passed down.
  • How do people see themselves, in the domestic situation, in relation to the wider community? Can outside work be integrated with domestic life?
  • Isobel Easton gave birth to her first child at home, Elizabeth Curtis outlines practices at 'the Mattie' in Aberdeen. Are there similarities, or differences, between home confinements and hospital ones?

What roles do children play in domestic life in the North East (see the 'Guid Kids')?

  • How do children, like the Eastons, learn to help out at home (and on the farm? Perhaps you could compare these with William Whyte's and Joe Watt's experiences of learning to fish, as children.
  • How has children's leisure time changed in this century? Look at the Mulkerrin children's account of computer games (in 'Entertainment' Gallery).

How has domestic life adapted to wider cultural changes in the North East?

  • Think about changes in diet from that Isobel Easton outlines, to the eating of pastas and Indian dishes today.
  • What do traditional recipes, like Isobel Easton's tattie soup, suggest about lifestyles in the North East?
  • Think about Isobel Easton's different roles in farm life, from the domestic duties of childrearing to the outdoor work of subsistence and cash based market gardening.



There are many varieties of industry in the North East, from the quarrying and shipbuilding to the predominant oil industry of today.

  • Do people's expectations of work change over time?

Incomers import their working culture into the area.

  • How do newcomers, like the Ballantynes, relate to the existing population?
  • How do the experiences of the transient workers of today's oil compare to those of the short term feed workers of the old farm system, as expressedin bothy ballads like 'Drumdelgie' ('Song')?

Is there such a thing as a community based on industry?

  • Compare the experiences of oil workers with those of mill workers (Iris Clarke, 'Entertainment') and fish and farm workers (see 'Fishing', 'Rural Life')
  • How can a community formed from a "shared" experience answer one person's needs but not another's.
  • What impact does industry have on family life, compared to fishing and farming (see 'Fishing', 'Rural Life')?

Consider the monuments to change in our area.

  • Compare industrial buildings like the Crombie Mills (mentioned by Iris Clarke 'Entertainment') with monuments to events or people (The Piper Alpha Memorial, for instance).
  • How do natural monuments, like disused quarries, impact on our daily lives and sense of history?
  • Why do we need monuments as an enduring part in our landscape?

Compare different perspectives on industrial events. Looking at Bob and Pat Ballantyne's experiences of Piper Alpha,

  • How do their words reflect the development of community?
  • How does the global economy affect people's lives?
  • Does first hand testimony give a different impression from the corporate or media history of an event?



In the North East, as elsewhere, there are different varieties of religion.

  • Compare Surjit Singh's experiences of living in the North East, as a Sikh, and A.R.'s of being a Moslem in Aberdeen, with the accounts of Christian faith.
  • Compare Jeannie Robertson's experience of Catholicism with the Presbyterian traditions featured.
  • Think about the place of supernatural beliefs in established religion.
  • Why are rituals of religion, such as Sunday Services, celebrated, compared to a secular ceremony like the Stonehaven Fireballs.

Consider the religious stories of saints in the Gallery.

  • What place do such stories and places have in community life?
  • How do they function, and how do history and belief interact in religious tales?

Religion is an important factor in the creation of community.

  • What do children learn at Sunday School in terms of values, as well as specific knowledge of their faith?
  • Does the church play a social, as well as religious role, in children's lives? How does this change as they grow older?
  • How does the congregation function in daily life, and how does the Church work towards creating and maintaining a sense of community?

Physical Environment

  • Think about the public face of religion: churches, religious markers (from gravestones to Pictish stones), to holy wells in the North East.

Think about the changing role of belief in the North East.

  • Consider Alison Jaffrey's account of being a minister today: how does she see her role? Compare this to Walter Gregor's and Queen Victoria's accounts of ministers in the Gallery.
  • How does private worship (as Catherine Matthews describes it) compare to public worship?
  • To what extent is ethnic identity based on religious affiliation or experience?



Storytelling is part of everyday life. Consider the range of uses that storytelling (from jokes and anecdotes to fairytales) can have:

  • As entertainment
  • As education (moral and social)
  • In constructing the past
  • In passing on traditions of history, and family and community identity.

Explore the varieties of language in the North East

  • Compare Stanley Robertson's North East Scots with Flora Garry's poetry, in the farming Gallery, and with those of incomers like Bob Ballantyne ('Industry') and Mike and Elaine Rodgers' ('Farming').
  • Consider the use of language in diverse situations throughout the CD-ROM. How do Scots use local idioms in everyday speech?
  • Does the inclusion of a language option on the CD-ROM affect how you think about Scottish traditions?

Stories commemorate people and their history

  • Think, in particular, about the traveller traditions of the North East. Can a humorous story, like 'The wee, wee man' have a serious message?
  • How do songs and stories interact, and how do beliefs affect them?
  • Why is telling a story in its family context different, as Stanley Robertson says, from performing in a festival?

Think about the storyteller, paying particular attention to Stanley Robertson's accounts:

  • How does the performer feel, and communicate his or her feelings?
  • What role does the audience play?
  • How are feelings for those the tale was learnt from reflected? Think about Stanley Robertson and his aunt Jeannie Robertson: does tradition bind?



Think about the changing functions and roles of entertainment.

  • Think about varieties of entertainment and commercialisation.
  • How is watching different from participating?
  • Think about people's changing relationship to entertainment as they acquire different responsibilities.

North Easters participate in entertainment on an amateur, semi-professional and professional basis, often mixing styles and instruments.

  • How do entertainers integrate their art in their daily lives.
  • Is there a distinction between the expert and professional musician?
  • What are some of the features that mark out differences between folk and pop music, for example the scale of the events, or the pay involved?
  • What do participants bring to events from their own backgrounds and how does that change the event? Consider, for example, Douglas, Dex and Dale.

Think about the role of children's games in everyone's lives.

  • How do children customise the world around them? How is their creativity expressed (see the video 'Steppin Stones')?
  • How do the assumptions of childhood and youth change as one ages?
  • What are the effects of commercialisation on childhood games (see the Mulkerrin children in Gallery).
  • How does the collecting of current experiences from children differ from recording adults' memories of childhood. Compare, for example, Alex and Iain Mulkerrin with Iris Clarke's memories.

What different images of Scotland and Scots are created through entertainment.

  • Compare the glamourous image of some of the Music Hall stars with the stereotyped image presented by entertainer Alec Findlay?
  • Consider the range of formality in entertainment events, from the Braemar Gathering or a football match to Saturday evening pubgoing. How are communal/shared events different from private or individual experiences?
  • Does the setting of an event affect what the event means to people (compare the footage of 'The Tivoli' with Jock Duncan's performance of 'The Battle o Harlaw', 'Song').



In the 19th century, many farms had large workforces. Today the same farm can be run by one person.

  • How do people characterise their working lives?
  • How did feeing, teamwork, the age range of the workers and their evolving status all play a part in the working of a farm at the time?

It is sometimes said that incomers have a different perspective from that of North Easters of longstanding.

  • Do you agree? Compare the experiences of William B. Strathdee with those of Mike and Elaine Rodgers.
  • Compare life for a young person today with that of a hundred years ago. In what ways is it different? How would life have been for a youth on an estate, in a castle or on a farm?
  • How does waged employment versus self employed or subsistence farming change a person's relationship with the land and with other people (see Andy Burnett and Isobel Easton)?

North Easters have an enduring loyalty to the land.

  • Why is rural life, and the idea of rural life, important to city dwellers. If you are not from the North East, compare this to your own area.
  • Consider how Flora Garry's 'Bennygoak' compares to her 'To Suffie' ('Fishing')? How is the sensibility of the land distinct from that of seafaring life?
  • How does landscape inspire artists of all kinds? See the introductory screens for each section.

The 20th century has seen an enormous number of technological changes, from horses to tractors, from coal to electricity. Enclosure, clearance, forestry, drainage, subsidy and modern ideas of wilderness all have a part to play in today's North East landscape.

  • How has the landscape altered over the last few centuries?
  • What economic factors have influenced this?
  • How has rural life itself changed due to these innovations?
  • How have the roles of men and women changed?



The North East has a huge range of musical traditions: fiddling, piping, moothie, trump and melodeon.

  • Is there a North East style of fiddling, as Carmen Higgins suggests in the 'Music' section of the CD-ROM? Compare her style with that of her uncle, Albert Stewart, and well-known 'stars' like J. Scott Skinner. What makes it distinctive?
  • Skinner's reputation is partly due to his skill in marketing the tradition and himself. How has commercialisation affected our perceptions of the music of the North East?
  • How do regional concentrations of music influence the way it develops, for example with William Marshall in Fochabers and Skinner in Banchory?

The North East is as famous for its Strathspeys as it is for its pipe bands, with their kilts and military sporrans, known around the world. But the influences on North East music are broad and varied.

  • How is North East music related to the music of the Celtic revival?
  • How have modern rhythms and instruments influenced the North East tradition in recent years? Has the tradition become more international?
  • 'Stars' like J. Scott Skinner, 'the Strathspey King', have lead to a typecasting of North East music. Has this been a good thing?
  • How do musical traditions change, and why (through experimentation for instance, look at Carmen Higgins account here). .

The creation of accompanied music requires a relationship between the players which personalises the music in many ways. The music scene in Aberdeen reflects a mixture of influences from all types of music.

  • How does the venue affect the performance? You might consider public versus private settings, or artificial versus naturalistic settings.
  • How does traditional music absorb this range of influence? How has the scene changed since the days of the Tivoli (in the 'Entertainment' section)?

Think about how music is related to dance and song.

  • Can music be separated from dance, or vice versa? How does a dance audience think about music and how aware are they of it?
  • Can song be considered independently of music?
  • How do the rituals of performance vary with class, social context and setting?

Learning music is a complex process that often begins with a childhood acquaintance.

  • Think about some of the ways of learning traditional music. How have these changed?
  • Family traditions play an important role in the learning process. How do these create an awareness of appropriate style and the techniques which create it?
  • How do more formal methods of learning and playing music, such as Strathspey and Reel Societies and competitions, affect the way the music is played?

Music plays an important role both in daily life and on special occasions.

  • Is music as important to those who listen to it as to those who perform it?
  • Think about the celebratory styles of music here.
  • How does Carmen Higgins' playing of 'Farewell tae the Creeks' differ when she plays it as a march as opposed to as a song? Is there an influence from the unsung text?
  • Think about the changing ways of listening to and performing music in Aberdeenshire, as Carmen Higgins outlines ('Music in the North East).



Compare the public and private uses for song. (You might like to look at Stanley Robertson's contribution to 'Storytelling' at this point.) How does someone communicate through song?

  • Do singers talk about songs differently (compare the accounts from different singers in this Gallery)?
  • Why do Stanley Robertson, Jane Turriff, Jeannie Robertson and Jock Duncan have such different styles of performance?
  • What role does song play in people's lives? Is it privileged over other kinds of tradition?
  • Compare Jock Duncan's singing, and version of 'The Battle o Harlaw', with Jeannie Robertson's. What differences do you notice and what effect do they have on your understanding of the song and the event?
  • How do collectors decide which songs are important?

Local songs express local and international culture.

  • How do they do this? Think about local language, local imagery and local names and places. Do these features include or exclude the audience?
  • How can song reflect social and working life? Are they a product of community?

Songs express the legacy of history: from landscape features to communities and their stories.

  • How is place important to songs and the study of song?
  • Who won 'The Battle o Harlaw' and who records history?
  • Think about a song from points of view, eg the historical and personal impressions offered in the Gallery for 'The Battle o Harlaw'.

Consider the material evidence for, and imagery of, bothy and farm life.

  • Think about the dress of the workers, decorative harnessing of horses, the decorative arts (horse paintings, cutouts and decorated horses, grafitti).
  • Think about the conditions that brought about bothy life. Are the bothy songs of enduring relevance? Are their themes more transient than those of the ballads?
  • Bothy songs do not appear until the early 19th century. Why should this be so?