You can’t really say you’ve popped your Gaelic Mod cherry.
It isn’t the sort of hip activity to which that vile phrase is usually applied.
Rather than virginity, it always makes me think of cherry lip-balm and those disgusting cherry lip sweeties we used to get (read: other children used to get and I used to trade for) at school.
However, I have attended my first ever Mod.
I did so accidentally, which I think is the way you are supposed to approach these things. We went to see a play my Dad was lighting on Mull, and as it turned out we were on the ferry over with a number of participants.
How did we know? It was the ventriloquist dolls of ‘Granny Island’ and the heavy drinking that gave it away.
I was of course screamingly jealous, because I miss getting pissed with choirs. Hopefully, should London surrender a choir I can be part of (one that opens its arms to poor sight-reading, frequent tonsillitis and a predilection for 16th century religious music) then I can once again behave badly in the company of those who can break out in song.
As it was, I listened in eagerly to the slippery rhythms of Gaelic and wished that my abiding memory of Gaelic lessons wasn’t the tuck shop we were allowed to go to at break time. Worth saying, even my sugar-starved childhood self probably avoided those gross cherry sweets.
The Mod has, of course, a set of social rules as intricate as the language, all totally baffling to an outsider. I find any group of people and their coded social interactions magnetic – none more so than the really insular ones, like the St Andrew’s society of Bangkok, or far-flung branches of the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute (Competition, Victoria Sponge, 3 Egg Recipe, as we saw on the Tobermory Post Office Window).
So, on a rainy Saturday afternoon when we went to see competitions 73-75 (Women’s Choir, Mixed Choir and Puirt a Beul) the room was teeming with rivalries, sneaky passions and weekend indulgences.
Women were done up in tartan skirts and white shirts and men in glorious kilts and everyone had that static electricity that comes from competing against people you rather like and want to go to the pub with.
Later, we ate in the pub they all retired to and the singing – of probably 100 Gaelic singers in a small room together- was amongst the most moving and glorious I have ever heard.
It was fantastic. We were the only audience members not involved in the Mod in some way, and it was like peeping through a door into another world, an amazing musical community who supported one another and passionately believed in what they were doing. Given that I went to Ceilidh later that night, it was probably the most Scottish day I have ever had.
It was also full of typical island behaviour: the Mod catering consisted of a vegetable soup made in a tent with massive bits of ham in it, bugger the vegetarians.
There was colding over who won the raffle (‘an inside job’).
Tensions were running high and community politics was revealed with the telling line ‘Thanks to the Tai-Jitsu society of Mull for giving up their slot in the community hall for the Mod’.
Our landlady, who had worked in the Conservative Party Offices as a secretary and who had refused promotion because she didn’t want to be a ‘blue-stockinged spinster’, liberally sprinkled copies of ‘The Lady’ magazine all over our rooms.
Culinarily speaking, faux-vegetarian soup aside, we ate in Cafe Fish, which was given Best Fish Restaurant 2012 by the Good Food Guide and won gold in the best restaurants of the UK. Deservedly so. It is absolutely delicious, and I don’t even really eat fish. I had three types of smoked fish as my main, and was in smokery heaven.
We then went to see the play we’d come to see, and the less said about that, the better. We moved swiftly on, to the Ceilidh which, at half ten, was barely getting started.
The Ceilidh highlights were: a litre-and-a-half bottle of whiskey as a prize; a Morticia Addams meets Harley Davidson-esque glamourpuss passed out in a corner, only to come violently to life when the band struck up, dance an aggressive round with a frightened looking conductor, and promptly pass out again when it finished; several women from the committee complimented at such length by the compere (who had perhaps supped from the whiskey prize) that they stood up and manoeuvred him into a seat in order to regain order, and a staggeringly accurate male mouth music chorus, unaffected by drink or the rigours of the day, sounding out into the night.
It is, characteristically, incredibly cheerful music, apparently developed when repression of indigenous culture in Scotland and Ireland meant that instruments were forbidden, and so this style of singing was developed for dancing to.
The first video is – I think – one of the set pieces that was actually sung at the Mod. That is probably wrong, given that I don’t speak Gaelic at all and might be remembering wrong. Either way, all of these are really incredible and crucially, a lot of fun. Listen to it and pretend you are tramping home through torrential rain on a beautiful island. Perfect.