When a ceilidh comes to town

Photograph by Diana Fraser-Mackenzie

It was fast and fun, and in London.

Kilts and fiddle music, a spring in the floor, and a caller to keep the formations whirling. Part Scottish reeling, part barn dance, and two parts of give-it-a-go, enough knew enough, and on it span.

Why did it work? Because the young crowd from Scotland had danced in their PE lessons. Through primary school and adolescence they had kept dancing, now here they were, a decade on, owning the floor and taking the rest of us with them .

It made me wonder, as hearts pumped and bodies got caught in the wrong direction, why is there no dancing in PE in English schools? Or is there? It’s great exercise, social, non-competitive, accessible. Plus it would give everyone a chance to keep up.

Two pieces of advice to anyone contemplating a ceilidh – go for it, but take off your shoes before you start.

Here, is a link to comedian Danny Bhoy’s brilliant description of a ceilidh.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

I saw this film: Women Talking directed by Sarah Polley

Yesterday I saw Women Talking, and it absorbed me in a way no other film has. I loved it, and could watch it again and again.

Women Talking is based on the 2018 book by Miriam Toews. I have not read it, but research tells me that her novel is a response to the sedation and rapes that took place in Bolivia, in a remote Mennonite colony. The day-to-day life of the women and children in this community would have shared similarities with the author’s own conservative Mennonite up-bringing in Canada.

The rapists in Bolivia used a veterinary anaesthetic to sedate their victims. It was years before the abuse was exposed, and finally acknowledged as not being satanic or imagined by the women and girls. The case went to trial in 2011.

If the idea of a film about rape is putting you off, let me tell you that no act of sexual violence is shown. Rather this is a film about consequences, about women, about collaboration and forgiveness. The camera’s focus is on these profoundly isolated and educationally deprived females, who have to decide for themselves what to do, their first act being to find the language to negotiate their collective response.

Polley, with the most extraordinary care and cast, allows the women to feel for the words. Their meetings are set in a hayloft where they address each other across generations and different degrees of harm. The minutes are taken by a gentle male school teacher, who witnesses their discussions – the bitter arguments, the respect, the listening, the anger, the pain and their faith.

Please don’t let any possible reservations you may have stop you from going to watch this film. It is encouraging, despite the trauma at its core.

Here’s a link to an interview with the director and cast.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

Heard an interview with Eliza Carthy on This Cultural Life

Eliza Carthy kept me company on a slow drive through London today. I know her, but only via memories of the annual Sidmouth folk festival where she was always one of the big names. We loved the festival, and the community and generosity around the sharing of music.

The interview began with her childhood, and her folk musician parents, whose music soon swept her up on to the stage with them. Once there her reputation grew and grew. Like her parents, she became one of English folk music’s greats, and was on a roll, until the pandemic struck. Suddenly there was a void where there should have been performances, and in the background her mother was desperately ill. I could feel the courage and cost in her voice when she spoke of that time, saying that being well known in the world of folk music, meant that many assumed they would be well off … but they weren’t. She described folk music as a ‘cottage industry’, and said it received little official support during the pandemic.

The interview left me wondering why we undervalue so much of our cultural life.

The positive news is that, Eliza Carthy is performing again. I think her next performance is at the Barbican on the 4th of February.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023