Words losing their meaning?

30 May

My apologies to the Kenyon Women’s Association and the Dunvegan Recreation Association. Regrettably, Terry and I were in Montreal on Saturday and returned just as the Ham Supper was wrapping up. And then, on Sunday, a lower back pain attack made attending the “Meet Your Neighbours” get-together in the DRA Park impossible. I do hope that both events were a success.

Meaningless drivel

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, I am fiercely opposed to corp-speak and bureau-babble… the meaningless mishmash of highfalutin words and phrases that one so often finds in corporate “mission statements” and consultant reports. Often written by a committee, this drivel invariably contains numerous occurrences of the phrase “going forward,” and has about as much substance as fog.

So it was with great delight that Terry and I recently came across an episode of Rake, an Australian docu-comedy, on Netflix entitled “R v. Fenton.” The program opens with a retired English teacher, Lawrence Fenton, secretly mocking a corporate board meeting he has crashed.

Madame Chair… Let me pose this one simple clear question. Are you as a company, moving forward, as the engine room of the greater organism, genuinely embracing and honouring the fundamentals underpinning the goals expressed in your mission statement? Are you nurturing and cherishing your ongoing commitment to excellence at every level, both in terms of your charter and at your customer interface…” At that point, the police arrive and arrest Fenton for trespassing.

When the former teacher appears in court and his lawyer asks him why he did what he did, he replies, “What these so-called important people are doing with words, the way they use language to actually hide what they mean. It’s a form of corruption… where corporations and governments complicate what they say so much that there is no longer any accountability or integrity. Once we stop believing in what is being said, once language loses its power to connect us, civilisation is finished.”

The script, written by Andrew Knight, is brilliant. Especially the closing scene when Fenton reads from a letter his grandfather wrote… “Sand ate into our skins like an abrading stone, yet we felt nothing. Instead, we stood in ox-dumb awe, diminished and humbled by these weathered, ancient blocks that were once some ruler’s vainglorious grab at immortality.” Fenton goes on to say,“My grandfather wrote that to my grandmother from Cairo in 1915. He left school when he was twelve. Worked all his life on the railways. That’s how people used to communicate.”

This scene haunted me, particularly the grandfather’s letter. I wondered from where Mr. Knight had drawn these words. His imagination? A letter one of his relatives had written? To satisfy my curiosity, I felt compelled to reach out. So I wrote his agent in Australia and asked, with little hope that he would ever reply.

Lo and behold, the very next morning there was an email in my mailbox from Mr. Knight. He thanked me for my interest and went on to say, “That text you quote is sadly my work. My grandfather was in Egypt with the AIF and I remember him discussing it (his time there). I just waxed lyrical. My late dear friend, John Clarke once said ‘if there is a quick way of saying something we will take the coastal route’. And thanks again for your kind words.”

Who knows? Perhaps there is hope yet for the human race, going forward.


If time travel is ever a possibility, one destination I’d dial into the wayback machine is Saturday, July 4th, 1936. That’s the weekend when a horde of over 1,000 massed in Dunvegan for the very first Glengarry Clan MacLeod picnic. Think about this for a second. The 417 wouldn’t be a reality for nearly four decades. In fact, paved roads of any kind were few and far between. And yet, at the height of the Great Depression, members of Clan MacLeod and their fellow travellers flocked to this wee hamlet in the northern-most corner of Kenyon to break bread with kith and kin. It must have been a sight to behold… and a logistical nightmare in an age before port-a-potty rentals.

The picnic of 1936 was held just north of church, at the corner of Stewart’s Glen Road and County Road 30 in the sun-dappled shade of Donald D. Macleod’s maple grove. The gathering was the very first project undertaken by the fledgling Clan Macleod Society of Glengarry. Formed in Dunvegan on November 2,1935, the Society was the first of its kind outside of Great Britain. Over the years, the Glengarry Society has undertaken several other projects, including a stone cairn and plaque to commemorate the arrival of the first MacLeod settlers In 1793, the compilation and publication of The MacLeod’s of Glengarry, 1793-1993and support for local piping and drumming students.

To mark the long relationship between the Society and Dunvegan, the Glengarry Pioneer Museum has put together a new temporary MacLeodexhibit that will highlight artifacts from the collection with a MacLeod provenance and document a Glengarry settlement story dating back to 1794.

The Clan MacLeod picnic is a potluck affair that starts at 11:30 on Saturday, June 2ndand features music, dancing and awards. And the good news is that you need not be a born and bred MacLeod (or even be MacLeod-adjacent) to attend. All are welcome.

Forge A Go-Go

On the weekend of June 9thand 10th, Dunvegan will host the 3rdannual “Smith-In” blacksmith festival. This year, up to twenty blacksmiths from across Ontario, Quebec and the USA will set up their forges on the museum grounds and bend hunks of red-hot steel and iron to their will. This ability to work with metal and fashion everything from ploughshares to firearms is one of the pillars of our modern society. Without it, we’d be carving the Christmas goose with a sharp rock.As I said back in 2016, the museum’s Smith-in weekend provides you with a unique opportunity to explore the world of blacksmithing, a game where little has changed (but the players) since man first learned to smelt ore.

In addition to oodles of demonstrations, there will be games for your kids and grandkids, a horseshoe toss, a craft marketplace with one-of-a-kind gifts and a refreshment area. The museum will also unveil one of the latest additions to its collection – a replica 1812-era military forge on wheels. The portable blacksmith shop, complete with a huge bellows, is typical of what would have been used in military encampments during the early 19thcentury to sharpen swords and bayonets prior to a battle.

Admission to the site is $5 for members of the museum. For non-members, the cost is $10 per head or $25 for a family of four. Children under 12 are free. The price of admission also covers the other museum exhibits and buildings. Food and drink will be available for purchase on site. On the off chance you’ve never been, the museum is located right in the heart of Dunvegan, at the intersection of County Roads 24 and 30.