Sharing things

Tom and Kirsty: The joy of listening, extreme expeditions and the Portuguese concept of longing.

November 05, 2020 The University of Edinburgh Season 3 Episode 7
Sharing things
Tom and Kirsty: The joy of listening, extreme expeditions and the Portuguese concept of longing.
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, guests Tom Raine and Kirsty Duncan talk about the joy of listening, extreme expeditions, the Portuguese concept of longing and more.

Tom is a fourth-year Spanish and Portuguese student and Head of Music at FreshAir student radio. Putting his language skills to good use, he presented El Norte Inglés, a radio show focused on the best Indie bands, while on exchange in Salamanca, Spain, last year. At the start of 2020, Covid-19 cut short his time studying in São Paulo, Brazil, but during self-isolation, he launched Saudade, a radio show exploring all aspects of Brazilian music, spanning years, genres and cultural scenes. 

Kirsty is Member of Parliament for Etobicoke-North and Deputy House Leader of the Government of Canada. She previously served as Minister of Science and Sport and is committed to strengthening science and evidence-based decision making and fostering a culture of curiosity in Canada.  Before entering politics in 2008, Kirsty worked at three universities in Canada over 16 years. A medical geographer, she spent a decade leading an expedition to remote Svalbard, Norway, to search for the cause of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed upwards of 50 million people worldwide. 

Each episode of Sharing things is a conversation between two members of our university community. It could be a student, a member of staff or a graduate, the only thing they have in common at the beginning is Edinburgh. We start with an object. A special, treasured or significant item that we have asked each guest to bring to the conversation. What happens next is sometimes funny, sometimes moving and always unexpected.

Find out more at

Richenda  0:05  
Welcome to Sharing things, the podcast that takes a closer look at the people that make up our University of Edinburgh community. Each episode starts with two invited guests and an object, which can be something personal, treasured or significant. It's something that unlocks a story and starts a conversation. We take it from there. I'm Richenda, your new host, conversational guide and a final year medical student. Today, as with all this season's recordings, I'm sat at my kitchen table in central Edinburgh. In this episode, I've invited along for a chat Tom Raine, a Spanish and Portuguese student and Head of Music at Edinburgh's student radio station in FreshAir, and Canadian politician and Deputy Leader of the government in the Canadian House of Commons, Kirsty Duncan. Let's take a listen. 

[Theme music]  0:48  

Richenda  0:50  
Hello, and welcome to sharing things and our nice little virtual studio we have here that you've called into. So I think just to start and sort of set ourselves and ask whereabouts is it that you guys are calling in from?

Tom  1:01  
I'm calling in from Edinburgh, I've just moved back to Edinburgh yesterday. Um, so my room is still an absolute tip. I've not sorted anything out. The kitchen is done but I'm back in Edinburgh now and I'm loving being back. I've been on my year abroad so it's been a year away from the city and it's just amazing to be, to be back here.

Kirsty  1:23  
And Tom, I'm calling in from Toronto, Canada which is my home and I'm envious to hear that you have just moved back after this incredible year abroad. And ah I was hoping to be in Edinburgh right now ah...

Tom  1:43  
Yeah I know what's coming [laughs].

Kirsty  1:44  
[Laughs] with COVID -- ah, I try to come back every summer because I love the city. I love our University and it has this incredible pull for me.

Tom  1:59  
Amazing. What, what brought you to Edinburgh initially?

Kirsty  2:02  
Well, it was to study and it was my dream to study there since age nine. My Polish Ukrainian mother played bagpipes, and my birth announcement was sound the pipes. She went back to playing bagpipes a week after I was born. I grew up at the Highland Games, I'm a Highland dancer, I speak Gaelic and um when I first heard of the university when I was nine, I knew that's where I wanted to go. My dad and my grandmother taught me old Scottish songs and I remember the first time -- I was 21 when I finally got to go to Scotland, my best friend and I went across the border in a bus and we crossed to the other side and I cried.

[Theme music]  2:55  
Richenda  2:57  
What objects did you guys bring? Because I'm so intrigued.

Tom  3:01  
You go for it Kirsty.

Kirsty  3:03  
Okay, um, so there's a bit of a story here so bear with me. I have brought an eagle feather. And in Canada, our First Nations the eagle is one of the most spiritual animals. And the eagle is thought to be the messenger of the Creator. And an eagle feather is the link between the Creator and the people. And you can't gather eagle feathers. Uh they come to you through ritual, and you have to be given one, you have to be awarded one and it's a very great honour to receive one. And the way I received the eagle feather. A few years after I finished at Edinburgh, I was asked to give a lecture on climate change and I said to First Nations and I said well, I will come and we'll have a discussion. And when I got there, there were rows of chairs. And I asked if we could make a circle. And I asked the people, what things are they seeing with climate change? What are they seeing on the land? What are they seeing in the water in the forest? What changes are they seeing? And I couldn't write down those answers quickly enough. And I asked the people, how do I acknowledge that this is your knowledge you have given me? You have taught me? And at the end of the day, an elder came to me and he said, I am one of three sons, my father died many years ago. And each of the sons was given an eagle feather. He said, I am the last remaining son. And the night before he came, he said he had a long dream and he said father came to him in that dream. And he asked him to bring the eagle feather to this meeting. And the man said, I didn't know why I brought the eagle feather until I met you. And he lifted it up and he said, I'm giving you the eagle feather. And I was very, very overwhelmed. And I asked him why. And he said because you were the first person who came to listen to us, and not to lecture us. And I keep the eagle feather with me because it teaches you to go through life in a good way.

Tom  5:39  
That's a really incredible story and sentiment, I feel, um with, especially with the very complicated histories that em both of our countries have, and I think that is, I mean, I know you must have felt so overwhelmed, but um, it must have taken you a bit of time to really to think about that this gift and, and what really, um what it all meant, because you might have I imagine you might have felt like, you know, what, I don't know, quite, like unable to explain the emotion that you were feeling.

Kirsty  6:16  
Tom, you're absolutely right uh. I mean, the tears were pouring down my face. Uh, it's such an honour. And as a result, they asked me to come and serve on an indigenous board for Canada and, and as you said, Canada has a very -- we have a lot of work to do in our country where reconciliation is concerned. And I learned more from the people -- I can't tell you board meetings were five days long. In the first two days, you learned, no business is done, you become friends, you don't do business until you know each other, and then you would smudge so you come with clean eyes, clean ears, a clean heart and you call on the grandfathers to ask, um, for their help, because you come with questions and not the answers. And with that Tom, I'd love to hear what object you brought.

Tom  7:27  
Um well, I have also brought an object that was gifted to me. And it is an object called, um here we go, it's called medida de la Nuestra Señora del Pilar, maybe I'll say it again, medida de la Nuestra Señora del Pilar. And it is, I've got it right here, there's a little band. And it means the, the measure of Our Lady of Pilar, which is the patron saint of the city of Zaragoza in Spain. And this was gifted to me, in 2017, I was on an exchange over there, um it was maybe I think a couple of weeks actually before my last Spanish exam before going to university that I needed to, to get a high grade in to get to Edinburgh. And it was, it's basically the band is the same length as the, the Our Lady of Pilar statue that is in the cathedral in Zaragoza. And it is a band that is gifted to people who visit the city as a way of, as a blessing of giving you health and a way of carrying the city within you forever. And I'm not a religious person. But I really felt touched by this, it's a thing, that you can only buy this on the side at the cathedral from this little shop. It was a really, really touching thing because it, it's, it kind of reminds me with all the places I've been now in the past few years and the places I've gone and I've always taken it with me, it's reminded me of, of, of acceptance of a different community that you're living in. And that feeling is really, really beautiful. No matter if you had, no matter if you take anything from home whilst you're travelling around or you're going to a different place, having this from another place is really quite meaningful to me. And so I do take it everywhere with me, whether it's travelling or just walking to uni and, yeah, it's it's a really nice object that I have.

Richenda  9:35  
So you said that it was a gift, you didn't buy it yourself did you? So who gifted it? I'm so nosy about that.

Tom  9:40  
So this was given to me by my host family that I was with. 

Richenda  9:44  
Oh lovely.

Tom  9:45  
I was staying in their house for a week, um and they were just incredible. Most attentive, they asked me so many questions, I asked them so many questions. We learned so much about each other, each other's politics, each other's histories and, and I still visit them. You know, you sometimes you hear these stories about, oh I went on exchange in France, and I never spoke to them again. But I've been in touch, like, since, since you know, three years since I've visited a few times in Zaragoza. And, oh, it is it's something that does really mean a lot to me.

[Theme music]  10:21  

Richenda  10:23  
You guys both seem very passionate about human connections, both of you, I think that's something that very much links you two. So what is it that actually fascinates you about, just learning about other people?

Tom  10:34  
Well, I think everyone has a story and I think that it's, so many, everyone deserves to be able to tell their own story I believe. So it's, particularly with languages, um, languages have been oppressed for centuries and languages have been, have been wiped out, and peoples have been wiped out and I feel that it's, it's our duty to, to allow everyone to be understood and allow everyone to have their own voice. And part of it as well is just I enjoy, I enjoy talking to people, I think it's come from my family, my dad especially is a massive, he's, you know, he's just a massive talker, he'll, you will be a stranger in the street, and you'll be there an hour and you won't get anything done. But, um, it's, yeah I mean, I think human interaction and human connection is just such a really important thing. And you must feel that every day I suppose being an MP, and having to, to talk to people from all walks of life and, um, how -- do you find that -- have you found that difficult in some stage of your career? Or do you feel like it comes naturally to you?

Kirsty  11:49  
I think, uh, you talked about your dad, just loving people, wanting to know their story. My mom's the same way and, ah, from the time I was a child she would be just like your dad. I have that same interest. I love to travel. When I go to a city or a new place, the first thing I do is walk every street so I get a feel for the place, I talk to the people. And in our community it's what you said, everyone has story, everyone. And in our community, many people have left war torn countries. It takes such courage to leave where you come from, and start in a new place. And to build a new life, to get to know a language, to get to know the culture, and to build that life and it takes courage and in, in our community where people have often left very difficult circumstances to do what they have so they build a better life for their children. And, um, I learn from them every day. I think that's what you were saying, Tom, there's not a person you don't learn from.

Tom  13:09  
Exactly, you know, and every single person has, um, has experience and stories from their grandparents and traditions and food and, you know, those things are important and special, really.

Kirsty  13:22  
It's music. It's, it's the music, it's what you said, when you know the language then you become part of a family. And, and you know, when even when we go door to door during an election, I, uh, I election in Punjabi and Hindi and Urdu and Somali and Tamil, and because you know the language, it's come in, come sit, come have tea, and sit down and the grandmothers tell you their stories and you had that same thing in Spain.

Tom  14:00  
I'd love to know what the best reaction you've ever had is from you speaking someone else's language.

Kirsty  14:06  
It, a lovely one was two nights ago. We were at a restaurant and a young woman, um, she was from India and she was struggling with the language. So I flip to Punjabi. And I said a few words in her language. The whole body language changed, the beat, the smile across her face and she said how do you know my language? And I said because I love your culture, I love your poetry, I love the people, and she she said she was a newcomer, she's going to be going to school in the fall and it was the first time she had heard her language

Tom  14:55  
That happens, that can happen quite a lot especially for English speakers. I was just in Brazil for my year -- for second part my year abroad, and I found that whenever I spoke Portuguese to a new person so many, especially if it was something like like a Ub--, like a taxi driver or Uber driver, or someone who was working in a shop, and I'd speak in Portuguese, and they'd kind of look at me like, what? You, you, you s -- what, what's going on here? This this English guy has walked in to my taxi and start speaking Portuguese and it's, I don't know, it's um, it's quite nice um, feeling, mutual feeling that you have in that situation when you you've learned someone's language and you, you kind of can understand them on a different level, you know?

Kirsty  15:41  
You come to know someone.

[Theme music]  15:45  

Kirsty  15:47  
Tom, I, what, can I ask a question? 

Tom  15:49  

Kirsty  15:50  
Tell me what you're most proud of?

Tom  15:52  
Oh man. That was quite a, yeah um, it would probably be an award at school I got, um, called the Captain Richard Holloway Award, um, and it was for in memory of a fallen soldier in Afghanistan, whose mother was from our village and at my school and, um, and it was an award that she gave me for -- it was to do partly with a trip we'd been on, like a volunteering trip and showing leadership and, and those kind of qualities and it was just, it was a really touching speech that that she made, that really made me very emotional. And it was about, you know, accept, accepting difference and, you know, even, even though my, my son and Tom aren't completely similar, you know, they have shared certain characteristics and it was also, it was that moment really made me proud. It was actually in the mid--first week of Edinburgh, came back down for it, um and she said, oh we'd love to see you there, and that, that's probably my proudest moment I think, thinking about it

Kirsty  17:04  
That was a huge honour. I'm glad you, you had to go, you had to be there.

Tom  17:09  
Yeah, I know. I felt, I kind of, I didn't know what was --to expect but yeah, I was so glad that I went in the end and yeah, I suppose that all, all even come-- getting to uni--like coming to university even, you know, that I feel that's, that's really something I'm proud of, you know, it's, it took a lot of effort, yeah.

Richenda  17:32  
Yeah, both those milestones overlap for you because you said it was in your first week of being in Edinburgh. How'd that feel?

Tom  17:36  
Yeah and I came back home and then yeah, it was kind of strange, but it was really amazing, um, I'd say that was, yeah. What about you Kirsty? I'd love to know.

Kirsty  17:49  
I guess I have one that's very similar to yours. Um, in high school, um, we had lost a young woman and, um, and her family had done an award in her name. And I was given it, it was for leadership and citizenship. And it's what you said, it's humbling when their daughter, you're, you're given an award in her name. And later in life, I led an expedition to the Arctic, uh, 500 miles from the North Pole, um, to Svalbard, Norway, in um, which is a group of islands north of Norway and we exhumed six bodies in order to look for the cause of the 1918 Spanish flu. And Spanish Flu killed upwards of 50 million people, more people than the Black Death in the Middle Ages, and more people than all the fighting of the First World War. And after that I led a team of 17 men, and they're junior by 25 years, I had some challenges and, um, but that work now has allowed me um, I did a lot of work on preparing for pandemics. So right now I serve on the cabinet committee for our government to lead the COVID-19 response.

Tom  19:38  

Kirsty  19:39  
Which means looking after the health and safety of Canadians and making sure they have the support that they need.

[Theme music]  19:44  

Tom  19:48  
I had to come home from my year abroad when I was in Brazil at the time when, when everything kind of started to, to come in. Um, I think the most stressed I got was the week before I left because I didn't know what was going on and what was going to happen. And I had a few friends who'd already left, they decided to go and my original plan was I'll stay, I'll try and, I'll see what happens, I'll stay with the host family that I was with, and hope for the best. But it was then that the consulate in, in São Paulo said, you, you, we really strongly advise you to go home. So that was really quite upsetting. Um, but--

Kirsty  20:29  
It must have been very hard to leave Brazil and how is the family that you'd been staying with? And have you been able to stay in touch with them? 

Tom  20:38  
Definitely, yes, they, they're all well, as well, which is great. And they, um, they have not been affected, which is fantastic and they're doing um-- they were a lovely, lovely family and yeah, really, really pleased for them. Obviously, the situation in Brazil is really awful right now and I-- and if anything it's more, more so than, than feeling, um, what I'm f-- like how I felt is, is just really worried and quite sad of, of the situation over there and

Kirsty  21:09  
Is there a way you could help, help people during this time? What would you do?

Tom  21:16  
I'd try and, I would try and look for a way, I think with a um, I knew there was a couple of NGOs in Brazil. I'd kind of, I'd been there two months, and I'd just found my feet, um, in university and things like that so I didn't get a chance to do much outside of that. But I would have loved to have been helping out in whatever way I could whether it be volunteering somewhere in a food bank or delivering food or some way. Yeah, I mean, it's, I don't know, whatever, whatever I could do on a small level, at whatever way I can, I think I'd try, I would have tried my best to have done, um, and for you is, I suppose it has been a much more of a task to, to being on the committee and managing sorts of these sorts of things. How, I mean, you have experience with a pandemic but what, what-- has this, how is this been different for you? In any other political or non pandemic related challenge that you've had.

Kirsty  22:25  
I think you're absolutely right. There's the work we do that you roll, you know, what policies need to be put in place? And how do you ensure the health and safety of Canadians and in the community, it's very different. This has been really hard. It's been hard because for the first time in 12 years, I'm away from this community that I love and the families that I love. Normally, we'd be sharing birthdays and anniversaries, we're there on the good times and we're there on the hard times. And it's really hard to be away from the people and you try and find ways to stay in touch. We've just celebrated Eid this past Friday, and normally Eid's a glorious day in our community and we go from mosque to mosque to mosque, um, spending time with the people. And this year, only one mosque was trying to open. So you make phone calls. It's not the same as being-- sitting down for dinner with families.

Tom  23:42  
It's really inspiring to hear from you how, um, you know, how close you are with your community.

[Theme music]  23:49  

Richenda  23:52  
I think you have kind of been helping out in your own way over Covid because you've been doing a lot of your own sort of Radio Podcast stuff, haven't you?

Tom  23:59  
Yeah, definitely. Well, when um, and when I was over in Brazil, I, I just fell in love with Brazilian music. It was, it's a, it is so diverse, so rich. There are so many influences from around the world, from Africa, from the indigenous tribes of the north, and it's such an incredible music with an incredible history. And as you know, I do, I do radio. I've done radio since-- maybe two years, I think I've done it for two years now. And I decided that I would do a radio show on Brazilian music. I've done a couple of radio shows, um, in, I did one spin on indie, indie music, which was in Spanish and that was a lot of fun. And that was more of me, talking about British and American indie in Spanish for the university community but during lockdown this has been a really fun project to do. All about Brazilian music and culture and history and it's called 'Saudade', which basically means longing in Portuguese. And it's a word, I think it's the most used word in, in the Portuguese literature. It's a word that has a lot of meaning for Brazil, you know, when you when you say you miss someone, it's like I have saudade for you in how it literally translates. And it's, it kind of, you know, it came from a longing to be back there, and also a longing, I suppose, for things to get better. And it is, yeah, it's been a really fun thing to do and to keep myself occupied, I guess, during, during the lockdown. And it's, it's allowed me to really discover and learn a lot more about music and culture and history, despite the fact that I wasn't, I'm not, I wasn't there,  I was, not I wasn't in 10 million city population São Paulo but in 500 population little village in County Durham. So it was, yeah, kind of strange. But a lot of fun.

Richenda  26:01  
It must have kept you connected to that though? 

Tom  26:03  
Definitely. I mean, it kept me, kind of, I'll still talk with my closest friends that I made over there. And my host family, who I really value a lot, who, they, they were there for me if I was ever had, feeling anxious about a certain situation, or if I had, you know, something had happened to me in the day and I wanted to talk about it, or I wanted to question about Brazilian politics, and I valued that a lot that when I was there that the family were, they had lots of experience with children doing host, host family stuff. And the fact that they were giving me so much information and giving me so much help and helping me, helping me engage with a culture and developing a culture. It felt nice for me to then be back home, trying to still, you know, learn as much as possible about the place that I'd been in. So, in that sense, it was a really fun thing and I mean, that's still doing it on and off now, so it's not, yeah.

Kirsty  27:02  
Tom is the word Saudade? I didn't say it the way...

Tom  27:06  
Saudade. Yeah s a u d a d e.

Kirsty  27:10  

Tom  27:12  

Kirsty  27:12  
Is that better?

Tom  27:13  
That's it, that's perfect. It's basically fluent.

Kirsty  27:17  
Saudade, thank you for teaching. I have that for Scotland. That's the longing I have for Scotland. And it's, it's like an ache and I need to come home and I need to walk the streets of my beloved Edinburgh and I need to go walk through the meadows and I need to travel to the highlands. And like you I live for the music. I love Gaelic singing, uh pipers.

Tom  27:50  
Do you like Julie Fowlis by any chance? 

Kirsty  27:51  
Absolute [laughs]. Do you like Capercaillie?

Tom  27:52  
I haven't listened to much Capercaillie, I need to get into them.

Kirsty  28:00  
Yeah, absolutely, do you know the song An Eala Bhan? The White Swan?

Tom  28:06  
I'm not sure. 

Kirsty  28:08  
Oh, you must listen to, oh this is a song for both of you. We're gonna have to send back and forth playlists.

Richenda  28:17  
Alright, speaking of music though, do you mind playing us a little bit of guitar? And then I have one more question after that.

Kirsty  28:23  
Yes, yes please Tom, please.

Tom  28:27  
I don't know what to play. I haven't played in so long, let's see. I'm gonna go and get it.

Kirsty  28:31  

Tom  28:33  
Right. I can't remember all of this so it might only just be like, a little bit, but um...

Kirsty  28:40  
No it'll be great. 

Tom  28:41  
Let's see how much of this I can remember [starts to play guitar].

Sonia (producer)  28:47  
We'd have liked you to listen to Tom playing his guitar but, unfortunately, we can't due to rights reasons.

Tom  28:53  
And I can't remember the rest unfortunately.

Kirsty  28:55  
Tom you just made my-- I didn't know you were a Beatles fan.

Tom  29:01  
Oh, massive, massive, massive Beatles fan.

Kirsty  29:05  
Me too. Me too. And the Rolling Stones. I do both.

Tom  29:09  
I've been brought up on the Beatles all my life. And it's, it's one of the main things, I mean my parents are quite musically similar. But that's probably the band that really glued them together. And I'm just moved into my flat and the rest of my flat are all big Beatles fans. I've brought a rec-- my record player and a load of old records from my parents, as has my flatmate. And so we have, I think we're on maybe 10 now, of Beatles albums we've brought up so it's gonna be a lot of fun.

Kirsty  29:42  
Tom you are talking-- first of all can I just say how much I enjoyed your guitar, how much I enjoyed your playing, it was beautiful to hear that song and I am a diehard Beatles fan. Absolutely diehard. And you know, that's not my generation but grew up on it. There's not a song I don't know. And every time I get the opportunity to hear Paul McCartney, I never miss the concert.

[Theme music]  30:19  

Richenda  30:19  
Do you guys mind if I ask the final question? I feel like we could talk about music for a long time. So yeah, the final question we always ask on Sharing things, is what one word would you use to describe your object that you brought along just to round it all up?

Tom  30:34  
Yeah, I think I'm gonna say, community for mine. It makes me feel, making me feel accepted by a new community of people and something that I can then take with me for you know, wherever I go. That's something that means quite a lot to me. So I think that's a, yeah, sentiment for the object.

Kirsty  30:56  
I love what Tom just said. Um, story. But what I'd really like to say, is, in a good way, and I hope I'm allowed to use those words, because those are the words of our First Nations. And you take that feather and you go through life, in a good way.

Richenda  31:21  
Hmm, that's beautiful, yeah. 

Tom  31:23  
That is really nice. 

Richenda  31:24  
Yeah. I love that both of your objects are very linked to community and also the fact that both of you carry them sort of through life with you and you've learned from them as well.

Tom  31:32  
Definitely. It kinda it's, it's like a leap frog, you know, it allows you to, you take it with you, and then maybe you grab other things along the way, but..

Kirsty  31:40  
It's that you take it with you. And the feather you're supposed to share the meaning with people and about how to live your life. And I have to say, having the opportunity to share with both of you this morning, has just been one of the best experiences.

Richenda  32:03  
Well, thank you for coming on to Sharing things as well.

Tom  32:05  
It's been an absolute pleasure to meet you, Kirsty, and hear all your stories and I guess good luck for the, for the rest of this situation and for, for everything. It's been really inspirational to hear from you and hear your perspective.

[Theme music]  32:21  

Richenda  32:26  
Thanks for listening to Sharing things. If you enjoyed our podcast then please tell your friends, colleagues and neighbours and it might even be a good excuse for getting in touch with a university mate you haven't talked to in a wee while. If you'd like to listen to more episodes, you can find us on Spotify, iTunes, your favourite podcast platform, and we also have a website. Take care and see you next time.

Transcribed by