Dreaming Scotland


First thoughts……

I am on the train to Edinburgh Waverley from Queen Street, Glasgow, enjoying the views.

To me, the Campsie hills look like a geological tidal wave. I try and spot the green towpaths of the Forth and Clyde canal as they duck and weave from one side of the railway to the other. Then the red oil-shale bings of East Lothian loom like giant sculptures.

As we hurtle through this dramatic landscape, you can’t help noticing how human hands have re-shaped it to meet our needs for transportation, energy, food and fodder. I wonder what we have put back.

At my table sit a young French couple. They aren’t looking out of the window. They are poring over a thick guidebook to Edinburgh.  We get chatting in my bad French. I ask them what they already know about Scotland.

They look at each other, giggle and say, “Loch Ness. Haggis. Whisky.”

When the profile of Arthur’s Seat  appears, everyone gathers up their things in anticipation of the great flourish of Edinburgh Castle towering above the train as it enters Waverley Station.

My day passes. I reflect on their expectations.

Is this all there is to it – a reiteration of the old clichés?


On the return train journey, I realize that myths – like the Loch Ness Monster – cast their spells across boundaries of time, of geography and language. Myths marinate in the imagination and develop exotic flavours that need to be sniffed and tasted.

And so the question  ‘What does ‘natural Scotland’ mean to you?’ was already out there – just waiting to be asked.

Our Dreaming Scotland pilot project sets out to share new perspectives of natural Scotland by contrasting the impressions and expectations of new arrivals with those of established residents. We will be presenting the results as an installation at the Imagining Natural Scotland Conference on August 27th.


All photos © Karen Gordon

The Dreaming Scotland Team:

Lowri Potts – writer http://flyingpizza.wordpress.com/

Tam Treanor –  Software Developer/Sound Designer www.tamtreanor.com

Karen Gordon – photographer http://www.karengordonphotography.co.uk/

Adviser: Dr Jennifer Smith – Senior Lecturer, English Department and Convenor of School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow. http://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/critical/staff/jennifersmith/

Interview support: Sadie Ryan – Masters in Linguistics, University of Glasgow.

Friday 21st June – First Meeting

It’s that time of the year again. The Byres Road pavements are cluttered with blackboards offering free glasses of prosecco with every graduation lunch. Mums teeter about the campus in new high heels. Beside them, dads loosen formal ties and collars.

It’s our first Dreaming Scotland team meeting at Glasgow University. I’m feeling slightly nervous as I enter the dignified gloom of the English department – carved dark banisters, jewelled stained glass and a flurry of notices advertising earnest gatherings and Word Cloud software.

Up a couple of flights of stairs and we’re there. Dr Jennifer Smith welcomes us into her office with coffee and carrot cake.

Moments later, we’re deep in a discussion about the value of socio-linguistics, the potency of the single word, the tensions between dialect and received pronunciation, the interview environment, the mimicry of birdsong …..whoa, whoa….where’s my agenda going?


© Karen Gordon

Ideas are slippery to handle and Dreaming Scotland is still just an idea.  We need to plan our interviews, our photos and time to develop the installation.

But it’s holiday time – and the conference date suddenly seems pretty close.

So we decide to choose our interviewees from the Glasgow area – two groups, newcomers and residents. OK – it’s the city, but we have an open mind about what ‘natural Scotland’ might be.

We don’t know what we’ll find. Whatever it is, Karen Gordon will take pictures as we go along.  I set about compiling a list of questions……….

Monday 24th June

I meet Sadie Ryan, a Masters student in the linguistics department at the University of Glasgow. She is going to help with the interviewing. We agree to copy our sound and Word files into Dropbox for Tam Treanor, our sound designer, to pick up.

We find our subjects through contacts and friends, through refugee networks and employment schemes, trying to get a rough balance of age, gender and nationality.

We won’t be using all the recorded material, but at this early stage, we don’t know what the material will be like. It’s all unknown, but quality-control issues are going through my head:

The technical quality (audibility, no coughs etc, doors banging or fiddling with microphone)

The length (we need stand-alone sound-bites)

The topic (how relevant will the comments be in relation to the Imagining Natural Scotland brief, and our own Dreaming Scotland brief?)

The way our subjects speak (will they offer content that is unusual, vivid, entertaining, enlightening, surprising, funny? Will each voice resonate with enthusiasm or sound weary with fatigue? Will it matter?)

Clarity (Our audience need to understand it first time around)

Will we have enough? (We need enough evidence to make the pilot work, but not so much that we don’t have enough time to edit, rehearse and prepare…………)

7th July

Interviewing is underway.

Karen is with me, capturing head-shots of people talking and gesticulating. She will catch up with other settings when she’s heard the interview, got a feel for the personality and the opinions.

Our challenge is to find very quiet places to get good clean sound quality.

Today I’m interviewing Giulia, an Italian violinist recently joined the orchestra of Scottish Opera. I’m feeling pretty chuffed that I’ve found a quiet meeting room at the top of WASPS studios in Osborne St.

Just as we start, a refrigeration van starts whirring in the street below us.  We decamp to the internal corridor.  By a lavatory it turns out. Someone goes for a pee. Pulls the flush. We wait for the cistern to fill.

Ah…quiet at last.

A door bangs in the middle of an anecdote – I have to get Giulia to repeat. Not so good but maybe it will do…rehearsing spontaneous reaction is never quite the same.


Giulia IMG_0033

“I just had this image of green, water and cows, animals, free–ranging animals – green most…………..  And people take care of it. Very much. Like they are proud of this present from God……It’s amazing.”

Friday 12th July

Our interviews are surprising, evocative, appreciative.

At our next team meeting we discuss the nature of the ‘experience’ we are proposing. Tam’s first idea was to enable visitors to interact with a map of the world projected from the ceiling, triggering responses from interviewees coming from the country on which the visitor stood. But we can’t do that for the pilot because the ceiling at St Andrews is too low. We discuss other ways of incorporating the map idea and the interaction, and how to analyse the interviews.

Hands expressing low

Do we concentrate on the analysis of single words using Word Clouds, or do we offer a narrative-led experience, sharing the variety of expressions, dialects, accents, the phrasing, the humour – the ebb and flow of each individual’s testimony?

We decide to do both. We will make a Word Cloud for each group – residents and newcomers – made up of the five words each most associates with the phrase ‘natural Scotland’.

Editing will be a challenge. The sound bites will need to flow. Sadly, the interactive map will have to go.

But Tam is already thinking of ways around this problem, devising ways to link the interviews and how the ‘visitor’ might interact with the content.

We have to leave him to juggle with software, writing code, projectors and focal lengths while we get on with interviews and photographs.

Tam at computer low res

26th July

‘I like a view of Glasgow’

Everyone has their own interpretation of what the phrase ‘natural Scotland’ means.

In Glasgow, it includes the green of the parks – and for Carmen from Spain,  it includes the smells of vinegar and beer. For Melanie from New Zealand,  nostalgia for her home is triggered by the rolling hills.

Grace grew up in Glasgow and became attached to ‘the crazy little stream of water that always rusty….. It’s just all these little things that you’ve known your whole life. And it’s just kind of nice that they’re still there.”

For Moira, it’s the West of Scotland that draws her back: “There’s something about the light, the softness of the air which is very appealing and when I’m away from it, I miss it and think about it and when I come back, it’s just nice – it’s home!”

For newcomers, the city that will become their home isn’t that familiar yet. Some have never left Glasgow and don’t know what lies beyond the city.

Impressions vary from wonder to confusion as they adjust to their new environment, so ‘natural Scotland’ means many different things – friendliness and safety, but also the challenges of communicating, and in Ahmed’s case – the cold compared with Somalia.


…”even you put on one jumper and it’s not enough! You put on a second and it’s still not enough. Ah – you try a kind of another jacket on and when you walk you still don’t feel comfortable to walk around all winter or when the snow is coming… “

The Dear Green Place

Glasgow is derived from the Gaelic meaning ‘dear, green place.’  And it’s full of parks.

Carmen from Spain was amazed at the greenness of University Avenue in Kelvingrove Park which was like “a bomb of leaves, like an explosion….!”

For Owen, walking in Rouken Glen Park http://www.roukenglen.org.uk/  with his grandfather taught him the names of the plants before he could even read. The park was his earliest memory of nature.  Now a cabinet-maker to trade, he has a garden of his own which he has planted with native trees.


Eight trees, oak, ash, birch, lime, copper beech, maple, rowan …. I like the different speeds they develop…I’m much more aware than I was before, when I was younger. I used to do a lot of hill walking but I don’t think I ever sat down and really looked in great depth, and said ‘what am I looking at?” (Owen from Glasgow)

“It’s skills – there’s not enough people passing on traditional skills”

I didn’t associate the concept of ‘natural Scotland’ with skills, or with pride. But perhaps I should have expected it from a ship-building city?

Mark works at Galgael www.galgael.org. He made a Celtic harp out of an old kitchen unit he found in the street.


mark 1 low

“Taking pride in your work is a skill you’ve got to learn.”  (Mark from Glasgow)

“ Aye, I’m part of that thread.”

And history seems to be creeping into the definition of ‘natural Scotland’ too. Apart from the association of a landscape dotted with ruined castles and,  there’s a more personal connection at work – something to do with a sense of history unlocking a sense of self, of what feels ‘natural’ about the place in which you live and maybe come to call home.

“I definitely think we make our own history. Aye, we do make our own history…. I’m part of that thread. Hopefully in a hundred year’s time someone will say ‘…that guy Mark  built that!’”  (Mark from Glasgow)

Are ruined castles just rocks with trees growing out?

For Greg, a ruined castle represents part of the natural landscape too. “ When the castle was made, it wasn’t nature, but I would say that after a while it becomes ‘natural’……I suppose everything has to be made at some point…..when you think about it, all the animals make stuff as well…like a bird’s nest…and we would say that was ‘natural’.” (Greg from Glasgow)

Ruined castles, standing stones seem to be man-made essentials that form part of the landscape of natural Scotland.

Kilts, haggis and baked potatoes

Kamila’s view of natural Scotland was unexpected.

“It seems very natural for everyone in here to go to the pubs either for some kind of a party of to ‘pop in for a pint’….”

“If everybody wore kilts, it would be natural. You get used to it maybe, you don’t have a shock anymore. When I see a guy in a kilt, I actually quite enjoy it.”

 kamilla 1 low res

“But I do like haggis! I eat that a few times. I like it. I don’t know if it’s natural Scotland!….it might sounds funny but I actually get the baked potatoes first in here. I love them!” (Kamila from Poland)

Water, water, everywhere…

Perhaps we take our water for granted? Even when it pours down the mountain and into the nearest distillery, or bubbles up in the form of a bog which Giulia discovered with her mum on a trip to Mull

”I don’t know how you call it in the English, I don’t know, it’s just, um, the ground is soft and full of water. So basically, it’s not water, it’s actually the earth. You put your feet and ‘Plop’ – it’s not solid…”

Landscape low res(2)

And weather, weather everywhere….

Giulia (from Italy) continues:  “it’s always interesting how the weather changes in Scotland. Like in the morning after an hour, it’s different, and then three hours and it’s different again.  You have to be prepared for everything – so when you go out of the house you have the umbrella and the flip flops…”

“It’s like everything’s wiped clean”

Grace used to go on retreats with other families to Dhanakosa on the shores of Loch Voil. This embedded a deep sense of the spiritual, passed on to her by Buddhist parents. And this ‘passing down’ the generations comes out in her memories of adopting her own pet hedge in her grandparents’ garden, and her father greeting the Spring season when the cherry trees blossomed in Kelvingrove Park.

Sheep lowr res 0006

For Mark, it’s about disappearing into the hills.

“Kept me sane I think. Just getting into thinking space. Instead of being stuck in yer wee box in the city.”

Myths and Monsters

Monsters and myths make us smile. Stories travel across the world without us having to do much to help them along.

Carmen from Spain wants “to go to Inverness and see the Loch Ness…that’s very famous as well, the Loch Ness! This monster. So I want to go there!”

“It’s a good people”

For Ahmed from Somalia, ‘natural Scotland’ was all about the people who came before him, and how they arrived in Govan, way back when it “was empty space, was ice and snow”.  It’s also about the people he encounters around him now.

“It’s a good place. It’s a good people….people who care, and you know, have a faith of people.”

Giulia was advised to go to Scotland rather than England by her Spanish friends who were already here, “…they told me that the people are very nice, very open and a bit warmer like in Spain, you know.

Tuesday 20th August

Very exciting day! Tam is building the installation and experimenting with projection surfaces, speakers and animated Sound Clouds.  We have one week left to get it right……..we are tentatively calling it the ‘DreamCube’….the amazing Charlie Macintyre from Vision Mechanics  http://www.visionmechanics.org/  is helping.

Tam and Charlie low res Tam and Charlie low res 2

Thursday 22nd August

A.M.  Final sound edit – working on sound files at home with tree surgeons working on a tree outside my window with circular saw and crashing branches. Wish Tam was here to grab some actuality sound effects…..

P.M.  Tam works his digital magic through the night……..


SUNDAY 25th August

Tomorrow we head to St Andrews to set-up!

Tam recording on beach copy low res

See you all there…………..not forgetting a


Vision Mechanics for lending us their warehouse to build the installation

Kevin Hay and the University Of Edinburgh Sound Design Department for letting us borrow microphones

Owen Green for his help with datapath x4 and Max MSP communication

Anne from Warehouse Sound (Edinburgh)

Charlie Macintyre, Gavin Taylor, Tom Simmonds and Kevin Macintosh for help with DreamCube construction

Rock at Warpro for Projecyor hire and Datapath X4 screen splitting knowhow

COmputer screen low res






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