Ceilidh dancing, cultural crowd-pleasers, and a cruise across a loch for good measure. It can only mean one thing, the annual Scottish Mensa Annual Gathering (SMAG) is just around the corner. From 25-28 August, the historic town of Renfrew will be the base for a three-day celebration featuring walks, talks and a special Gala Dinner.
Since the 1990s, Mensa member Marjorie Sellar has organised quite a few of the SMAG events – all but two of them with her late husband, Derek (former Scottish Officer) – and we asked her what this year’s participants can look forward to.
“Friday is arrival day and we begin the weekend with an ‘Icebreaker’ event,” she explains. “This year we have two – a team Quiz and a Ceilidh. On Saturday, we have a bus tour to places of interest. In the evening, we hold our Gala Dinner, which allows everyone the opportunity to dress in their finery. Sunday is usually a quieter day with a walk and a talk or two. This year, I have included a cruise on Loch Lomond in the afternoon. In the evening, we usually dine in a local restaurant. Monday brings the ‘Farewell Lunch’ and perhaps an event in the morning.”
Marjorie and her husband also organised the British Mensa Annual Gathering in Glasgow in 2015. While BMAG welcomed 200 participants that year, the Scottish gathering usually has between 40 and 60 people, and not everyone hails from Scotland.
“We have a really international group every year and regular attenders,” says Marjorie. “For example, we have one member from the USA, who comes every year because he enjoys the company. He was actually one of the first to book this year.
“We also have members from different European countries, including Hungary and Germany. Naturally, we have some Scots and quite a number of English members, who spend their Bank Holiday weekend with us. Some decide to stay longer and explore other areas of Scotland. People are welcome to bring spouses, friends and family and not all are necessarily Mensans. Everyone is welcome.”
Renfrew is just a few miles from the heart of Glasgow, with its historic architecture and attractions, and a short drive from the idyllic Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. So how does Marjorie go about choosing what to include in the programme?
Marjorie says: “I usually look at places of interest in the area around the hotel where the Gathering is based and try to give people a taste of what that part of Scotland has to offer. Those who return do so because they are meeting up with old friends whilst finding new ones. Of course, they are also seeing different areas of Scotland at the same time, which is a bonus.”
It sounds like a very relaxed and ‘manageable’ event, so what would Marjorie say to anyone feeling slightly anxious about coming along: “If you’re feeling nervous about coming to SMAG, or indeed any event in Scotland, please know that we are a very friendly group. We love to see new faces and you will be made very welcome. You can feel free to contact me and I will introduce you to members.”
The organisation of SMAG itself is fairly straightforward as the weekend has a structure but there is still a prodigious amount of work needed behind the scenes. Marjorie is joined by two highly experienced members, Eileen Munro and former Scottish Officer Janet McAuley, who help create a fantastic weekend for Mensans.
Event organising is not without its heart-stopping moments, however, as Marjorie recalls: “One of the best stories is when Derek and I organised the British Gathering in Glasgow. It was held in the Village Hotel, which hadn’t been built when we arranged the event. We used to drive past every weekend to check on progress. We would be in a panic in case it wasn’t finished in time and even had a plan B (just in case).
“However, all was well and the doors opened the month before our Gathering. We may well be the only organisers to plan a Gathering around a hotel which didn’t exist when we began!”
So what does Marjorie look forward to most about the Scottish annual get-together? “It’s great to meet everyone and lovely to see familiar faces each year. To be honest, it’s what I look forward to at every Gathering. I enjoy organising the event and it makes it all worthwhile when people tell me they enjoyed it.
“The Scottish Gathering is not just for Scottish or British members. Why not come along, have a taste of Scotland and make new friends? I would love to meet you and welcome you to Scotland.”