It was a timeous coincidence that ‘Pìobairean Beaga Bhaile Ghobhainn’ otherwise ‘The Wee Govan Pipers’ featured on BBC Alba over the last few days. At one time Govan was as stowed with exiles from the Highlands and Islands as it is with other exiles in the present day, and the sound of highland pipes a common one. Bringing that sound back to its streets and back closes is as much a mission as Norman MacLean seems to have given himself, as he relentlessly eavesdrops on his younger self, flitting from a Glasgow tenement to South Uist and Benbecula before returning to Glasgow in its still largely unreconstructed days.
In ‘Eavesdropping on Myself, an Outsider’s Boyhood in Glasgow’ (Grace Note Publications £8.50), stand-up comedian, piper and novelist Norman Maclean not only looks back at himself in youth but also at two worlds that have all but disappeared, and perhaps left us the poorer for their passing.
Although some of Maclean’s tales told out of school might be those of any venturesome child, what adds considerably to their interest are his descriptions of the ways in which he and the rest of his family negotiate their way between the culture of a largely monoglot Glasgow and that of the Gaeltacht of the Highlands and Islands.
Maclean, as his other writings bear out, is an entertaining communicator with a rich vein of humour and a certain amount of melancholy running through his narrations. Tales of island life and school day misfortunes produce a mixter maxter patchwork of experience that nevertheless works on the page and maintains the reader’s interest throughout.
Whether winning his first (and only) major boxing match or dealing with another unfamiliar tongue (Latin), Maclean remains his own irrepressible self, and if there is a nod toward the demons that almost destroyed his career, it’s in passing and does little to cloud this celebration of past days.
'Eavesdropping on Myself, An Outsider's Boyhood in Glasgow'- Norman Maclean, Grace Note Publications, £ 8.50 ISBN 978 1 907676 71 0