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11 Jul 2019

Morton Writing Competition – Part I: The Pend / Farpais Sgrìobhaidh Mhorton – Pàirt I: Am Bealach

Written by Lily Barnes – Morton Documentation and Digitisation Officer
A black and white photograph of a small boy standing beside a stone wall in the Pend, Forfar, Angus.
An unidentified boy in the Pend, Forfar (c1950) / Balach neo-aithnichte sa Bhealach, Farfar (c1950)
We asked you to write short stories and poems in response to one of four images from our photographic collections. Here are the winners and runners up who were inspired by ‘The Pend’. Dh’iarr sinn oirbh sgeulachdan goirid agus bàrdachd a sgrìobhadh a’ togail air ìomhaighean às an tasglann againn. Seo an fheadhainn a bhuannaich agus a bha san dàrna àite a thagh ‘Am Bealach’.

Am Balach Brònach

Poppy MacDonald

Am faod mi cluich leat?
amaidh, càite bheil thu?

Bheil duine ann?
m faod mi cluich sa phàirc?
atha dona, tha mi nam aonar.
bheil dèideagan ann?
àite bheil mo charaidean?
alò, càite bheil sibh?

Ball mòr dearg gleansach, bhiodh sin math.
uith le mo charaidean, bhiodh sin math.
rainsear blasta, bhiodh sin math.
athair seunta, bhiodh sin math.
-mach à seo gu tràigh, bhiodh sin math.
luich le cù, bhiodh sin math.
-uile duine toilichte, bhiodh sin math.

Runner-up in the Gaelic 0–11 category / Dàrna àite sa Ghàidhlig aois 0–11
(A sad wee boy longs for playmates and toys in this clever acrostic.) 

Street Corner Angel

Sheila Scott

I’ve told him to stay put, they’ll be along for him soon. He doesn’t know I’m watching through a crack in one of the panels of this door, but I see his face slowly folding. His bottom lip is jutting out now, quivering like one of Ma’s jeelies, and my breath catches.

Dougie trusts me. Now Da’s gone, I’m the man of the house. Billy and I work down the pit and Ma takes in sewing and washing but, with the eight of us, nothing stretches far enough. Especially our home; all crammed in, a single room for living, loving, despairing, dying.

Through the flaw in the wood, I see Dougie twisting his wee hands together. It’s one of his habits, one of the things I need to remember.

Ma’s done him up best she could. He howled as she combed out the thick brown midden of his hair but she’s trimmed it up neat. That jersey’s been on half the family but she’s gifted with the darning and it doesn’t look half bad. Alice, two years younger than me, bawled her eyes out as she buffed his shoes.

I want to break down the door, scoop him up and race back home, but this way he’s got a chance.

The guttering sound of one of those motor vehicles echoes in the narrow alleyway. Its chrome front stops just outside my hiding place. On the top is a silver figurine, leaning towards my brother, its wings unfurled. I’ll tell Ma when I get home that the family that took him have an angel watching over them.

A man and woman get out the motor. Their clothes don’t fit our streets and it’s like they glide rather than walk towards Dougie. The woman bends down in front of him and holds out gloved hands. In one she holds a beautiful stuffed bear and, with the other, she strokes my brother’s hair. I can see a fine sheen of tears on his ruddy cheeks. He wipes his face with a sleeve before reaching a tentative hand towards the toy.

She’s talking now. Though I can’t make out the words, her voice is soft, soothing, refined. Dougie takes her hand, his tiny mitt engulfed in her white silk grasp. His face is a knotwork of fear and fascination as she leads him towards, and into, the motor vehicle.

Now I can no longer see his face, only the tiny stubby fingers running along the pristine rim atop the door.

The car retreats around the corner and the man stands alone. I open the door and nod at him.

‘You be kind to him, please, sir. He’s a good kid.’

He doesn’t say anything, just hands me an envelope fat with small change for him, a lifeline for us. After touching the brim of his hat, he strides off in the direction of the motor and is gone.

In the sunlight I stare at the bundle of blood money and pray.

Winner in the English 18+ category

Balach air chall

Jessica Hood

Aon latha bha mi anns a’ choille còmhla ri mo phàrantan. Chluich sinn le na duilleagan agus thoirt sinn dealbhan. Chunnaic mi rudeigin. Bha e mòr agus bha e a’ coimhead sean. Choisich sinn nas fhaisg. Bha ballaichean fhast air ach cha robh mullach air. Bha mi dhen bheachd gun robh e na chaisteal. Choisich mi a-staigh. Bha fàileadh grot air. Chunnaic mi rudeigin a’ ruith agus chuala mi fuaim mar bìog. Choisich mi nas fhaisge. Bha beagan iongnaidh orm gun robh balach ann. Balach beag. Bha e a’ coimhead sgeunaichte. Bha falt bàn air agus sùilean gorm.

Cha robh e ro àrd. Cha robh e a’ coimhead nas sine na 3 no 4. Dh’èigh mi airson mo phàrantan. Ruith iad. Iarr sinn air a’ bhalach tighinn nas fhaisge. Cha robh e a’ bhruidhinn ach bha e a’ caoineadh. Dh’fheuch sinn a-rithist agus a-rithist ach cha robh e a’ bruidhinn fhathast. Mu dheireadh thall thuirt e gun robh e air chall. Thuig mi an làmh agus choisich sinn a-mach às a’ chaisteal. Fhuair sinn faochadh agus stad a balach beag a’ caoineadh. Sheas e suas agus ruith e. Ruith mise còmhla ris. Leam e a-staigh làmhan de fear agus tè. B’ iad a phàrantan. Ruith mo phàrantan. Chunnaic iad gun robh am balach beag sàbhailte agus dh’èigh iad ruim. Choisich mi ri mo phàrantan. Chaidh sinn uile dhachaigh toilich

Runner-up in the Gaelic 12–17 category / Dàrna àite sa Ghàidhlig aois 12–17
(A child out for a family walk spots a little boy who looks lost and worries about him. Will his parents find him again?)


Rowan Pateman

Every time I walked past, he was there. I didn’t know his name so I called him boy. Although many weeks passed us by, and 5 out of 7 days of those weeks I passed him by, we never spoke a word to each other. Instead it was the silent glance we shared each morning and evening, his innocent, grey-blue eyes meeting mine, that led me to develop a fondness for him; a fondness I wasn’t aware I felt until I noticed my glance had become a nod and then even a smile. He didn’t reciprocate; he instead maintained his silent and expressionless look, only glancing in my direction because of the echo of my footsteps before he returned his eyes to the floor.

It never occurred to me that his presence was unusual, after all he was just a child. I had assumed he lived in one of the houses upstairs; that he was waiting for someone, perhaps his mother or father. Looking back the days blur into one, that same repeated image of him in my mind. Except now I’m not sure I can call it my mind. I am looking at that boy, but I am looking down at the ground beneath his feet. And I am looking out through his eyes.

It was like any normal evening, only it was as though the sky had lost hope and swamped the air with grey and a harsh wind was coursing through the alley. I saw him standing there in his usual spot but he didn’t look up. I was running later than usual so was surprised he was still there. The wind wrapped round me and brought with it a paternal urge to care for him, so I crouched down and wrapped my scarf around his slouched shoulders, my hand gently brushing his cheek as I stood back up. I was used to our silence so didn’t question him as I placed some change at his feet just in case. As I turned to leave, the wind became increasingly harsh. I gave him one last pitiful look and left.

By the time I was due to walk past the next morning, I am instead standing against the whitewashed walls underneath the staircase that had long been the back drop of our encounters. My breaths are weak and raspy against the icy air and my head is bowed. I hear the echo of footsteps approaching and lift my eyes to see. I am greeted by a familiar face smiling at me, he approaches and unwraps the scarf from my neck before placing it on his own. He crouched down and plucked the money off the floor, I heard a faint tinny noise as it landed in his pocket. His footsteps begin to leave me as he angles his head to meet my gaze. It’s the last time our eyes ever meet. I am unable to move. A solitary tear rolls down my cheek and the echoing image of my own face smirking at me dances before my eyes. Before his eyes.

Winner in the English 12–17 category

Mach an Geata

Iain Macrae

Mach an geata. Bha mi airson a dhol a chèilidh air daoine, mar a bhios Dadaidh is Mam a’ deanamh.

Dhìrich mi an dà steap suas gu starsach bhuth Mhàiri Flòraidh. Sguir na boireannaich a’ bruidhinn ri chèile agus sheall iad orm. “Càil do mhamaidh?” dh’fhaighnich Màiri Flòraidh.

“Dh’ fhàg mi aig an taigh i. Tha mi airson cèilidh air daoine.”

Rinn na boireannaich gàire. “Thàinig thu dhan àite ceart son sin.” thuirt tè dhiubh.

“Seo suiteas dhut. Air ais dhachaigh leat a nis.” thuirt Màiri Flòraidh. Dà bhon-bon. Chuir mi aon nam phòcaid is am fear eile nam ghob. Thug mi smèid dhaibh ’s mi cromadh na steapa.

“Watchaig mus tuit thu,” dh’èigh aon dhe na boireannaich.

“Watchaig mus tuit thu fhèin.”

Nach e seo a tha math, a bhith cèilidh air daoine, a’ faighinn bon-bons. Thèid mi a chèilidh air Mamaidh Eile, bithidh bainne aicese. ’S maithte suiteas a bharrachd.

Chùm mi orm, seachad bùth Bhean a’ Watch, bùth Grainger an Ranger, bùth Dholaidh Phàdraig, seachad an eaglais bheag gus do ruig mi taigh mòr faisg air taigh Mhamaidh Eile. Bha staidhre mhòr na bhroinn, nas motha na gin a chunna mi riamh. Thàinig boireannach a-mach. Sheall i orm. Bha gruag oirre mar ad churracaig.

“’N ann leats an staidhre sin?”

Bha i fhathast a’coimhead orm. “Yes” ars ise. Cha robh cus còmhradh aig a’ churracag.

“Tha mise dol a chèilidh.”

Thionndaidh Mamaidh Eile bho a h-obair aig an t-sinc nuair a ràinig mi. “Càil do Mhamaidh?”

“Thàinig mi son cèilidh. Bheil suiteas agaibh?”

Sheall i orm greis agus rinn i gàire, “Tapadh leat son tighinn a chèilidh. Chan eil suiteas agam, ach bheir mi dhut botal bainne agus faodaidh tu sin a thoirt dhachaigh leat.” Sheall mi oirre a’ dòirteadh a’ bhainne bhon a’ chuinneag.

“Cha do dhòrt thu aon bhoinneag air an làr.”

“Feuch am bi thu fhèin cho faiceallach air a rathad dhachaigh” thuirt i, ’s mi a’ gabhail a’ bhotail gu cùramach le dà làmh.

Air an rathad dhachaigh, leig mi orm gur e bèibidh beag a bh’ agam. ‘Nuair a ràinig mi taobh an taighe, chunnaic mi Mam aig staran a’ gheata a’ coimhead suas a’ bhaile gu bùth Mhàiri Flòraidh. Thionndaidh i rium.

“Tha e an seo” dh’éigh i. “Dhòmhnaill! Tha e air tilleadh.”

Bha coltas air a h-aodann nach fhaca mi roimhe.

“D’ athair a’ sguabadh creagan a’ chladaich. Dol a chur fios chun na poilis. Dùil againn...”

Thàinig Dadaidh na ruith. Bha aodann dearg, muilchinnean a lèine air an trusadh.

“C’àit idir an robh thu?”

“Chaidh mi a chéilidh air Mamaidh Eile. Fhuair mi bèibidh bainne.”

Thug Dadaidh bhuam am botal. Bha Mam air a bhi a’ caoineadh.

“Oh, ’s e thusa.” Phaisg i mi fo a gàirdein. “Chan eil feum agad mamaidh sam bith eile. Agus cha bhi feum agads dhol a mach an geat ud cho fad ’s beò tuilleadh thu.”

Cha d’fhuair mi mach an geata son greis, ach cha tug e cho fada sin dhomh faighinn lorg air am bon-bon eile agam.

Winner in the Gaelic 18+ category / Neach a bhuannaich sa Ghàidhlig aois 18+
(A wee boy decides to go visiting his neighbours in search of sweets, milk and other treats, little realising how his parents must be panicking.)

The Boy 

James Macadie

It was a dreary day in Scotland,
A little boy stood in a street cold and wet.
With bright blue eyes and a little nose,
A little boy on the street that I met.

He stood in a little alleyway,
With tattered clothes and messy hair.
Worn out breeches and a dripping face,
I saw a boy over there.

He looked miserable and downcast,
sombre and humble.
Timid and anxious,
“Look at him”, people started to mumble.

Is he a ghost, is he a mirage?
Or is he even there?
Is he there for fun?
Or is he there for a scare?

Nobody knows,
And nobody cares.
About that little boy,
Standing under the alleyway stairs

Runner-up in the English 0–11 category

See the responses to ‘The Cat and the Crayfish’ in Part II

Faic na pìosan air am brosnachadh le ‘An Cat agus an Giomach’ ann am Pàirt II

Special thanks to the Gaelic Books Council for their assistance with judging, and their generous offer to provide prizes for the Gaelic runners-up. If these stories have made you interested in learning Gaelic, find out more about the work of the Gaelic Books Council or find them on Twitter at @LeughLeabhar

The Morton Charitable Trust has been funding fieldwork on the National Trust for Scotland’s photographic collections since 2014. In 2018–19, this work will further raise the profile of the collections through research, articles, talks and dedicated projects. The project will also involve the digitisation of the Margaret Fay Shaw photographic archive of mid-20th-century Hebridean life, leading to an updated database with high-quality images.

Banner of four different images: Kellie Castle tower; two girls; cat and crayfish; small boy in front of wall