Renfrewshire Council

Musings of the Tannahill Makar: It's good to be back writing again

Brian Whittingham at Pipe Bands 2019 I've recently written a new sequence titled, 'The First Three Months' which relates to the initial timespan that the body and brain can most notably adapt after having come through the trauma of a stroke.

In the sequence, I'm recording the various effects a stroke can have that others may not be aware of, in the hope that this can help readers to understand a little bit more about how our brains are adapting.

It's good to be back writing again. I first read the full sequence at Bianco Nero in Paisley, to a supportive audience as part of an open mic night hosted by local group - the Nights at the Round Table. One person told me "there's nothing an audience enjoys more than a good cry." 






My stroke-brain
is having to discover anew.

Alternative neurological pathways
to familiar destinations.

I know this because
the occupational therapist
asked me to touch her nose
with the tips of my fingers.

Pointing with my right hand.

Instantaneous. Direct. No diversions.
It does as it's told.

However, pointing with my left hand.

My finger wanders in the air
with an apparent mind of its own
in a wavy trajectory
then right
as if a wand casting its spell

as if exploring new-found freedom
like a tourist in a foreign country
discovering an unfamiliar alleyway 
off the map
by a route never before experienced.

The plasticity of the brain 
waits in the wings
stroking its chin
considering when to make an entrance, 
if, it will ever have a mind to do so?

Brian Whittingham

(Neuroplasticity - The ability of the brain to adapt, change and reorganise neural pathways in response to experience.)


Earlier this year I was asked to write a poem after being invited to be the Chieftain at this year's British Pipe Band Championships. It was an honour to read my poem to a captive audience of over 2000 assembled pipers and drummers after receiving the Chieftain's salute from the many bands in attendance. Although the weather was drab, the experience certainly wasn't.

To prepare for the writing of the poem I was invited to see and hear the Kilbarchan pipe-band rehearsing in their local hall and school, where I was able to chat to a variety of band members about their musicianship and camaraderie. The beautiful village of Kilbarchan was warmly welcoming and generous to this pipe-band rookie and I thank them for that very much indeed.


First, there are the watchers.
We crane our necks.
The band emerge.

The Pipe-Major's pride we cannot see
but can feel it fit to burst his chest.

He spearheads the tartan clad ensemble
as they march into their circle
in synchronisation
to their predetermined positions.

Then, there are the players.

The Base-drummer
beats the side of his drum.
The felt-headed sticks
stroke the drum's skin
like a tender caress on a loved-ones cheek. 

Yet, dictates the beat with an assured authority.

The snare drummers do their three-pace rolls
Trrrrrrrrrrt - Trrrrrrrrrrt!

The pipes pick up a tempo
as intimidating as any approaching army
marching into battle or as gentle as
a summer breeze skimming over
the still waters of Castle-Semple Loch.

The tenor drummers twirl
their sticks above their heads,
make them spin
like twisting acrobats leaping from a trapeze.

And as the watchers,
we know little of
the timeless years of practice on drum-pads
and Mammy-Daddys and Paradiddles.

We know little of
chanters, and blowing and squeezing and
the technicalities of drones and reeds and tuning.

We don't see
the nurturing and pulling together
of communities of families and brothers and sisters.

Because we, the watchers, on the day,
though we can't explain it,

it seems by stealth
we have our senses engulfed
by the kaleidoscope of tartan finery
and the emotion surging through our tapping feet
pumping through our veins
and soaring into the pride and place of our hearts,
each and every single one

that will take that emotion home
as if a bottled souvenir
that we can open on tap
whenever our soul's needs arise.


Brian Whittingham