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Would you be able to recognise ‘The Real Mackay’?

By Monique Sliedrecht

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Sketching a rose meant engaging fully with the real world.
Sketching a rose meant engaging fully with the real world.

The other night I could not fall asleep.

Rather than take my phone out to scroll through other people’s photos and news, filling my mind with a lot of unnecessary information, I pulled out my sketchbook and drew a rose that I had picked from the rosebush outside my front door.

In the silence of that moment, I soaked up the beauty of this flower, breathing in the scent while drawing its deep pink petals.

I sent the image to my friend in Australia for her birthday before I went back to bed and slept peacefully.

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Rather than escaping the real world through digital means, and creating a less than real world via our screens, maybe we could challenge ourselves to actually step into the beautiful and inspiring world all around us.

Suddenly life takes on greater depth, and shows itself in a technicolour beyond our imaginings. And it makes us feel lighter too, grounded and more in tune with all that is around us.

One of the problems of the internet is that it is created to keep us entertained and distracted. I find it hard to discern the essentials to my work and daily routine. Not only that, I feel out of touch with who I am and the real things in life.

All this has caused me to swing back to what is at the heart of things. What is my own heart saying? Can I hear it with all the noise? And how can I clear the way to make good choices each day? Life is challenging enough without adding unnecessary tech time!

I noticed how I started to crave the ‘real’ and tactile: a walk on the beach, a chat with a friend, cooking a healthy dinner, reading a book…

One of the challenges of a secondhand “life online” is that it can be very hard to distinguish between what is real and what is false. AI is capable of creating illusions and fakes and many people get taken in. Increasingly I want to celebrate the real and the immediate and the reliable experience of a walk in the woods or wandering along on the beach, or meeting a friend in person.

I had a striking experience of this notion of what is real and false recently. A good friend and author has written a remarkable historical novel called ‘The Real Mackay’. It tells the story of her ancestor, Charles Mackay, who was one of Scotland’s greatest actors and comedians in the first half of the 19th century. As the front cover of the book suggests, he was “Sir Walter Scott’s favourite comedian”. Charles Mackay’s portrayal of the Bailey in the stage adaptation of Rob Roy became very famous and huge audiences would gather in Edinburgh theatres and throughout Scotland to watch the show, particularly to see Charles Mackay who developed hilarious routines around this character. On one occasion, Mackay became ill on the day of a performance and at the last minute was unable to turn up to the theatre. There was no time for the theatre manager to announce that an understudy would be acting that night, but after a few minutes the audience realised that it was someone other than the celebrity actor and a chant filled the theatre ‘It's no’ the real Mackay! It’s no’ the real Mackay!’ There is good reason to believe this is the true origin of the phrase which has gone into the English language.

Helen Graham, the author, gave readings from this book at Freswick Castle and at Strathnaver Museum last week and people were moved and fascinated by the events of Mackay’s life, not least the praise poured on him by Sir Walter Scott. It was wonderful to meet the writer and listen to her read her powerful excerpts from the newly published book. She went on to book shops throughout the Highlands to sign copies. And all these were real live events!

In today’s world, with holograms of Abba on stage and the advancement of technology, will we be able to recognise the ‘Real Mackay’?

Monique Sliedrecht is an artist and blogger based at Freswick. Visit her blog at www.moniquesliedrecht.com

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