Friday, 23 December 2011

Flooer o the mountain...

So here we are then, it's Hogmanay again, an we've made it through anither year. Maist o us made it onyhow, tho many didnae. Hogmanay's aye been a guid time tae stop an mind them that nivver made it through, a sad wee epilogue tae the year, afore we pick oorsels up an face the New Year wi a smile oan oor face...

Here, ah'm feelin a bit darin th'day, why dae ah no chuck caution tae the winds an break oot the Black Bun a bit early, eh? Ah'll nivver eat it aw masel onyhow, ah'm no ower-fond o the stuff tae tell the truth, an Mr Pangloss jist turns his nose up at it. Ah really dinnae ken why ah still buy it, but ye ken how it is, some things ye jist hae tae dae, it's Hogmanay! Ah'll pit the kettle oan...


Right then, here's yer tea. an here's yer Black Bun. Are ye settled then? Guid...

Noo, this bein Hogmanay of course, ah couldnae tak ye onywhaur else except up the High Street tae the Tron Kirk. This is whaur fowk in Embra hae gaithered fer hunners o years tae see in the New Year, tae stand an tae huddle th'gither in the cauld an the wet tae worship the great god o Passin Time, afore gaun first-footin, intae the warm an the dry, tae worship ither, gey cheerier gods...

Of course, if ye gang up tae the Tron th'nicht ye'll no find many fowk, they've aw been shepherded doon tae Princes Street tae listen tae some pop band daein turns at the bandstand an watch fireworks gaun aff fae the castle, an they'll clap their hands an tak lots o photies afore gaun hame, aw weel-behaved. But if ye'd gone up the Tron up until say the 1980s, ony Hogmanay, ye wid've been met wi a different sort o beast. Hunners, thoosans o fowk, aw dressed up in their best, aw jostlin an bargin, aw half-cut, aw singin, aw dancin, aw pals th'gither. Fowk wid be bletherin awa in the run up tae the bells, catchin up wi aw the news. There wis aye somethin worth passin comment oan, somebody that had shown thersels up, got thersels hung or left their man. An ye met fowk ye hadnae seen fae the last Hogmanay, which aye pit me oot a bit back when we aw bided in the same street...

Then some wag wi a watch wid start up a coontdoon tae the actual bells, 10... 9... 8... doon tae twelve o'clock, an then it wis Hurray! Happy New Year! an ye had tae wish it tae aw yer pals, an their pals, an their pals' pals, an so oan an so forth. There were times up at the Tron ah've felt like the hale world wis ma pal, ah wid jist swing fae crowd tae crowd, gaitherin kisses like they were flooers, an ah wis some daft young thing in a dress made fae drapes runnin aboot in a field, bendin ower tae grab a haunfu o edelweiss, the wee flooer o the mountain, er... ... ...where wis ah?

Oh aye, ah wis gettin ye a bit Black Bun. There ye go... Naw, take it, ah've got plenty! Onywys... ah wis tellin ye how guid up at the Tron yaist tae be, except fer when it wisnae...

Ah mind this time, 200 years ago this very nicht, the 31st o December 1811, when ye widnae hae wanted tae be up the Tron. We were aw in a fowl mood. Times were hard, the Tories were in power (again), we'd fell oot wi France (again), there were riots (in England (again))... ye get the picture... no a guid year... Onyhow, fer whitever reason, or fer nae reason at aw, this gang o lads, ca'ed thersels the Keelie Gang, that hung aboot doon the fit o Niddry Street doon fae the Tron, had decided that they fancied some new hats, an that Hogmanay up the Tron wid be jist the very place tae get their hands oan some. So they ganged up wi anither er, gang fae doon the Canongate, an arranged tae meet up at the Fleshmarket Close, jist up fae North Bridge Street, at 11 o'clock...

Their first target wis the polis, who were few in number in thae days, an whit there were werenae awfy weel trained in riot control. Yin o the polis watchmen, Dugald Campbell, wis attacked jist up fae the Fleshmarket Close at the heid o the Stamp-office Close, an beaten tae the groond wi big sticks.  The ither polis jist fled the scene an fae then oan, till aboot 3 o'clock oan New Year's mornin, the gang had the run o the street an rampaged aboot the Tron, attackin onybody that looked like they may hae somethin o value oan them, stealin watches, purses, money, an of course, hats...

Ah wisnae actually aware o ony o this at the time, ah jist thocht it wis a particularly noisy an rumbustious Hogmanay. Me an ma pal Jessie Knox were late in comin oot fae the Gropin-hoose up Parliament Close ye see, oan accoont o her gettin intae a rammie wi some caddie fae up the Castlehill ower whit ah cannae mind noo. She wis aye pickin fechts wi fowk wis Jessie, she had a face made fer arguments. Suffice tae say we were a bit, er oblivious, an we nivver got much past the Mercat Cross that year, an no long efter the Bells wi heided back tae the Gropin-hoose cos Jessie wanted tae hae anither go at the wee caddie...

Dugald Campbell, the polisman, an James Campbell, a clerk, baith died that nicht, an many mair were left wi serious injuries. Though the gang tried tae flee the toun, some o them gettin as far awa as Glesca, they were soon enough roonded up an sent fer trial in March o 1812. Three o them, Hugh McIntosh, Hugh McDonald an Nicol Sutherland were sentenced tae hing, tho only Hugh McIntosh fer murder, the ither twa laddies, an they were laddies, aw atween sixteen an nineteen, got the sentence o death fer stealin watches. Aye, fer stealin watches...

Ah mind their hingin in the April, whit a turnoot, ye couldnae bare move in the High Street. They built a gibbet specially at the top o the Stamp Office Close, jist at the spot whaur the polisman died, an had fower hunner sodjers linin the path fae the Tolbooth tae the gibbet. The laddies had been hard worked at by the meenisters while they were in the Tolbooth an they stood prayin fer near three-quarters o an hour afore the drop. Ah'll tell ye it felt like an eternity, cos their wis a cauld wind blawin up fae the sea an ah'd come oot withoot ma coat, thinkin it wis warmer than it wis cos it hadnae been a bad mornin ye see an the sun had been oot. That's April fer ye ah suppose...

But look, this is January, or it will be efter th'nicht, an we've got a hale New Year tae look forrit tae noo. We shouldnae dwell oan whit's past, but sometimes it's nice tae hae a wee peek at whit we've left ahint us, like hingin weans fer stealin watches, an pay a thocht tae them that huvnae made it this far. But then we hae tae turn an look aheid o us, paint oan a smile, stick a stupit hat oan oor heid an charge oor glesses. Ah hae a guid feelin aboot the future, tho when ah look at the news ah think ah must be gaun doolally, but ah dae, ah really dae, ah've got a feelin in ma waters, an in a guid way. Ah wish ye aw the best o health an happiness in the comin year fer yersel, an ah hope 2012 brings ye aw ye could wish fer. Happy New Year, an lang may yer lum reek!



Wid ye like some Black Bun tae tak awa wi ye...?


Saturday, 15 January 2011

Get oot o ma hoose!

Weel hullo there! Come in come in, ye're jist in time, ah've jist took ma rock-buns oot the oven, so they're nice an fresh fer ye. Ah hope ye like yer currants a wee bit incineratit, that's how ah like ma buns onyroads. Guid an crunchy oan the ootside, light an crumbly oan the inside. Ah hae tae admit it, ah dae a smashin rock-bun so ah dae. Weel there's nae guid hidin yer licht unner a bushel is there? If ye've got a talent ye should flaunt it, as ma auld pal Fanny Craddock yaist tae say. Ah wish ah could make tablet like ma auld grannie yaist tae make, but ye cannae hae awthin can ye? Ah'm no a bad baker if ah dae say so masel...

Whit's that? Ma title? Oh that! Naw naw, that's no aimed at yersel, dinnae be daft. Ye're aye welcome here, onyday. Naw that title's somethin ah heard anither auld wife shout yince, a guid few year ago noo, but ah'll come tae that in time. First tak yer coat an yer hat aff, an let me get ye settled aside the fire. It's still a bit parky oot there is it no? Ah've got a rerr fire gaun th'day, an that's nae mean feat giein the quality o the coal ye get these days. Last week ah got a bag that wis mair dross than onythin, ah had tae hae a wee word wi the coalman when he came roond. He wisnae awfy pleased at me either, ah'll hae tae keep an een oan him noo, tae mak sure he disnae try stickin hauf-bricks in ma coal!

Right, is that ye settled noo? Here's yer tea. An here's yer rock-buns. Aye they are guid, thanks. Ye dinnae think they're a bit hard dae ye? Sometimes, jist sometimes, they come oot mair rock than bun. Ach weel, if they dae then they're aye handy fer chuckin at Mr Pangloss, say if he starts snorin, or if he'll no wash the dishes. He's an awfy man fer baith. He's haein a wee lie-doon th'noo ben the hoose, can ye no hear him? Ah'm surprised ah dinnae get wee laddies comin tae ma door askin tae see ma train! Ah've nivver kent a man tae mak sae much noise lyin oan his back. Ah've aften stood ower him wi a cushion, wonderin if ah could, if ah should, if ah wid hae the strength...

Actually ah shouldnae joke aboot it. Ah'm awfy lucky wi Mr Pangloss, he disnae knock me aboot an ah should be thankful fer that. There's an awfy lot o wummen in worse situations, wi menfowk that batter them aboot or hit their weans, or even worse. Ye read aboot it aw the time in the News, an hear aboot it in the line at the butcher's. Naebody can be blamed fer makin a bad match, but some wummen seem tae mak a habit o it an gang fae yin bad man tae anither, Worse still, some wummen mak the same mistake twice, leavin their man efter gettin a hard time but then takin him back again. They ken whit they're gettin intae but somethin tells them it'll aw be different second time aroond. Let's tak a walk up the High Street an ah'll tell ye aboot a couple o them...

We're gaunnae tak a wee daunder doon the Old Assembly Close. Noo, ye'll mind this place fae when ah telt ye aboot the night ah helped start the Great Fire o Edinburgh. It's aw been re-bigged since then of course. If we'd come doon this close a few year ago durin the summer, we'd hae had tae squeeze past the queue fer the Fringe Festival box-office which stood at the tap o the close, an the wa's wid hae been covered in reviews cut fae the papers. It made fer some guid readin, an it wis aw free! Saved ye haein tae buy a paper.


But we'll no stop tae read them th'day, there widnae be much point anyroads oan account o this no bein August an the shows aw bein feenished. We'll walk further doon the close, past the auld wireworks, an doon tae Tron Square. The lower pairt o the square's a big C-block facin doon tae the Coogate, wi balconies facin the square itsel. It wis a guid bit tae raise a faimly fer ye could keep an een oan yer weans playin oot in the front coort, an ye could staun oan yer balcony an blether tae aw yer neebors.

Noo back in 1954 ah wis stayin ower wi ma auntie's sister's man's cousin's wife, fer the puir lassie's wean wis doon wi the whoopin cough an she hadnae slept in a week. Ah offered tae sit up wi the wee yin while she rested, which wis how ah heard the rammy that night, ower the noise o the coughin. It wis a dread noise ye ken, that noise o a wean fechtin tae catch its breath atween coughs. Ah'd had it masel as a wean, an ah can still mind the worrit look oan ma ain mither's face as she watched ower me. Like her, ah sat there that nicht worryin awa as ah watched ower this lassie's wee yin...

Upstairs fae us, at Number 57, George Robertson had returned tae his wife an faimly fer the last time. Him an Betty had had twa weans, George an Jean, by this time they were 18 an 16. George wis aboot tae start his National Service an Jean worked in a paper mill. Noo Betty had feenished wi George years afore an had divorced an even re-mairrit, but the second mairrage hadnae lastit mair than a few month. George had come back oan the scene, an Betty had let him in, hopin ah suppose that he had mendit his violent ways. Needless tae say, the leopard hadnae chynged its spots, the man wis still a callous an jealous thug, an afore long Betty had shown him the door, again. Sae feart were Betty an the weans o this terrible man that they kept a chair jammed agin the door at nicht, in case he decidit tae come back. Except this nicht, the 28th o February 1954 they had forgot...

Ah'd been aware o somethin gaun oan upstairs fer a wee while, thumpin an bangin an shoutin an the like, whit ah didnae ken at the time wis that this wis George attackin his faimly. Betty wis in aw likelihood deid awready when George the son, jist oot his bed an stabbed in the heid, had made a run fer it. He had ran doon the stairs an along the balcony, leavin wee bloody footprints in the snaw, an jumped in the scullery windae o the Hay's hoose at Number 42, richt through the wa fae whaur ah wis sittin watchin the sick wean. George the faither wis hot oan his heels, follaed his son intae the Hay's an continued his attack. "Get oot o ma hoose!" ah heard Mrs Hay screamin, but there wis nothin they could dae faced wi an angry man wi a knife...

George cairrit his dyin son back up tae Number 57, an thinkin he had feenished aff his faimly, he set aboot feenishin hissel aff. He turned the gas oven oan an lay doon, expectin no tae waken up. The Hays by this time had gethered thersels an run tae the Polis station up the High Street. When the polis arrived they found Betty an wee George lyin deid, Jean terribly woundit but alive, an George lyin unconscious wi his heid in the oven. George's defence at his trial wis that he had suffered a 'brainstorm', but he wis still convictit o double murder an sentenced tae hing at Saughton Jail. Oan the 23rd o June 1954, George Robertson became the last person tae be executit in Edinburgh...

Here, hae anither rock-bun, afore ah eat them aw masel. Naw, ah didnae go tae George's hingin. Weel, it's no like in the auld days is it, when ye actually got tae see the dirty deed yersel. Staunin ootside a jail waitin fer them tae pin up a wee notice, weel it's jist nae fun. Ah think ah went dancin up at the Fountainbridge Palais insteid...

Ah dinnae ken if it wis somethin in the water at Tron Square, but less than 20 year later, anither wumman had mairrit badly, saw sense an kicked him oot, then took leave o her sense an let him back in. Margaret Bain had got mairrit tae Andrew durin the war, but it only lastit till 1948 when the pair had got divorced, no an easy thing fer a wumman tae gang through in thon days. Margaret had suffert a terrible abuse durin the mairrage, bein burnt wi a poker, threatened wi a knife, haein cigarettes stubbed oot oan her airms, awsorts o devilish tortures. Why then, ye hae tae ask yersel, had she allowed Andra back intae her life? But let him back she did, an sure as guns the rows an fechts startit up again...

The nicht o the 16th o October 1973 they'd been haein yin o their rows, her gettin oan tae him aboot gettin a job, him, pished as usual, haein a go at her aboot her cookin. She couldnae help that, puir lassie, we cannae aw be Fannys can we? Durin the row Andra reached up, took a pair o Margaret's nylons doon fae ower the fire, an pit them roond his neck. "Gaun then!" he says, "Tak an end. Hing me if ye want! Ah'd raither be deid than eat yer lumpy mince onyway!"

Noo whether or no Margaret actually strangled her man we may nivver ken, ah dinnae think she kent hersel. She said she did, she turned hersel ower tae the polis sayin "Ah killed the bastard", she even pleadit guilty in the coorts, but durin the case a psychiatrist said it widnae hae surprised him if Andra had done aw the pu'in hissel. In the end, even though she pleadit guilty, the jury found itherwise. Why dae wummen get thersels intae sic situations ah'll nivver ken...

Naw it's like ah say, ah'm an awfy lucky wumman wi Mr Pangloss. He disnae hit me, he disnae bite me, he disnae stub his fags oot oan me. In fact he wid be the perfect man, if only it werenae fer that damned infernal racket! In fact, if ye're no wantin that last rock-bun, ah think ah'll awa ben an chuck it at his heid, or mibbe ah'll stick a couple o burnt currants up his nostrils. Ah ken, he's a puir battered husband an nae mistake...

Monday, 10 January 2011

This wumman's work...

Weel, wid ye look at the time! Ah tak a couple o weeks aff writin, an the next thing it's next year! Ah'm no proud o masel, in fact ah'm black-affrontit. Ah've been hidin in here, squattin ahint ma settee wi a cushion ower ma heid, meanwhile ah've got fowk shoutin at ma door, chuckin chuckie-stanes at ma windaes, postin messages threatenin tae sing bawdy songs in ma stair, ah'll be gettin a bad name fer masel so ah will...

But ye're right, ah've brocht it aw oan masel, ah've naebody else tae blame but me. If ma auld grannie wis still wi us she wid say "Wyte yer teeth if yer tail be smaa" tho tae be honest we nivver kent whit she wis oan aboot hauf the time. Neither did ma granda. Ah think ah owe ye aw an explanation...

Ye see, ah've been sufferin fae an auld affliction. Ma doctor cries it SAD, but ah think o it mair as CAD. Ah hate Christmas an aw that gangs wi it. As suin as December shows up, ma mood gangs doon, an ah turn intae this crabbit auld crone, ye widnae recognise me ah tell ye (an that's enough o the sniggerin at the back) Ah dinnae go oot, ah dinnae answer ma phone, ah sit an shout at the telly when aw thae Christmas adverts come oan wi loads o happy faimilies aw wrapped up in their scarfs an duffelcoats wi their airms fu o presents, an smilin. It's the smilin that gets me mair than onythin. When ye're feelin crabbit, there's nothin worse than bein telt tae smile, tae laugh, tae be happy. Ah'll smile when ah'm guid an ready thank ye very muckle...

Ah wis nivver yin o auld John Knox's biggest fans. Tae ma mind he wis far ower-interestit in ither fowks' personal affairs, he kept gaun oan aboot how God could see through yer curtains richt intae yer bedroom, an richt through yer bedspread, even through yer flannelette nightie! When he stuid up there in St Giles kirk an shoutit at us, ye could see he wis enjoyin the thocht, salacious auld midden that he wis. But ah will say this fer the man, he had the richt idea aboot Christmas. Aw jist popery an frippery he wid say, a confection fer the senses wi nae foondation in fact nor meanin. He banned it alang wi Halloween durin oor Reformation, no that we went in fer it in a big way afore that, an it wis only made legal again in Scotland back in the 1950s, mainly oan account o the BBC wantin an excuse tae pit oan big films an 'Morecambe an Wise' shows. Ah'd happily go back...

Ah used tae be able tae jist pit ma heid doon, ignore aw the tinsel an the flashin lichts, an content masel wi the thocht that we were gettin closer tae Hogmanay. Noo that wis a nicht ah aye luikit forrit tae. Aw the preparations, the scrubbin, the polishin, the washin, the bakin, the cookin, it aw meant somethin tae me. We were cleanin the auld year aff oor backs, ready tae face the new like a fresh-bleachit sheet. Oan the nicht itsel ye had that frantic rush tae get awthin done an dustit, leavin ye jist enough time tae get yer peeny aff, pit yer face oan an fix yer hair afore the bells went. Then ye wid hae a wee quiet toast tae yersel in the hoose afore yer first-fits startit showin up. Then it wis singin an dancin, laughin an greetin, Black Bun an shortbreid, drinkin an mair drinkin, mair singin, mair laughin, even mair greetin, till the sun wis comin up. Ye wid get up oan New Year's Day an dae it aw ower again, mibbe wi yer faimily oan the ither side, an mibbe again the next nicht, till ye had fair broken the year in...

Except its no like that these days is it? Naw, noo it's jist yin big burst o fireworks, wakin the weans an scarin the cats, the streets are fu o drunk teenagers fer a couple o oors, then awbody gangs aff tae their beds. Nae first-fits, nae Black Bun, nae wee turns. Mr Pangloss an masel sat up fer a wee while, but naebody chapped oor door this year. Ah dinnae ken whit we were waitin up fer, naebody's chapped it fer years...

Ach...

See, this is why ah've no been at the postin lately. Ah cannae help masel ye see, ah stairt aff wi guid intentions, but the blackness aye comes doon ower ma een. Ah'm missin the auld days, ah'm missin freens an neebors, ah'm missin the community we aw yaist tae share. Fireworks, nae maitter how many or how big, dinnae mak up fer whit we've lost. So, ah said ah widnae bother ye aw wi ma dark thochts, parteecularly when ye were aw enjoyin yersels. Keep it tae yersel ah said tae masel. Naebody wants tae see yer moanin coupon at their pairty. An that's why ah generally keep ma ain company in December...


But that's enough aboot me. How's yersel? Fer aw that ah've jist said, ah hope ye aw had a happy yin yersels, that ye found comfort in yer faimly an freens, that ye got yersels unco fu an happy, an that ye survived it aw. Ah did, an ah'll be fine till come St Andrews Day, then it's aw doonhill again. Ah'm fu o guid intentions fer the comin year, an tap o ma list is gettin back intae the swing o things an tellin ye mair o ma wee stories. Promise. Until then, an ah'm sorry it's a bit late, ah'll wish ye aw a Happy New Year! Lang may yer lum reek!! Slainte!!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Leave it open...

Ye ken, some fowk tak their games awfy serious. Ye can see it at the fitba maist weeks, an at the bools an aw. Auld Arthur McArthur that yaist tae bide up oor stair, ye aye kent how he had got oan at the bools by the noise he made when he cam hame. If he'd won, he wid be singin auld songs comin up the stair, like "Bonnie wee Jeannie McColl" or "Stop yer ticklin Jock", but if he'd lost he wid clatter his baw-bag against the bannister railins, an ye'd be lucky if ye got a "Be kind tae auld Grannie" oot o him. Then ye wid hear him abusin wee Effie tae aw hoors. He wis an awfy bad loser...

Anither yin that wis a bad loser wis John Porteous. Aye, that John Porteous. No only did he no like tae lose, but he didnae like it if onybody else kent he'd lost, sae ye imagine how bad he felt efter he'd lost a roond o gowf tae wee Alex Elphiston up oan the Bruntsfield links, an they went an pit it in the papers! In fact, that game, the yin he lost, wis the verry verry first "solemn match o gowf" ever tae be reportit in the papers, back in 1724. Fowk follaed him aboot fer weeks efter, shoutin things like "Fore!" an "Loser!" an makin wee L signs wi their fingers oan their foreheids. He hated that. Ah think that's whit made him him turn oot the bad-temperit curmudgeon he wis.

Whitever it wis, he wis weel-kent fer his soor-face. Ye mynd ah telt ye aboot whit he did tae ma puir wee hen Meg? Weel he wis like that aw the time. He wid sweer at fowk in the street, abuse weans an auld wummen, no tak his turn in a line, say, at the fleshers or baxters' stalls, he wid jist push hissel richt tae the front. Of course, naebody wid stop him, fer he wis the heid o the Toun Gaird, an ye didnae want tae get oan the wrang side o them, so a'body jist stuid aside, an mibbe mutterit wee curses he couldnae hear...

There wis this yin time in 1731 when the Kirk were fillin a lectureship doon at the Auld West Kirk, St Cuthbert's. There had been a close contest atween a Mr Dawson an a Mr Wotherspoon. Dawson had won the presbytery, but Wotherspoon had appealed an won at the synod. Feelin wis sae high they sent the Toun Gaird doon tae keep an een oan things when Wotherspoon wis tae deliver his first sermon. When Porteous got there, here had the bold Dawson no turnt up an taken possession o the pulpit! Porteous walked richt up the stairs o the pulpit, grabbed Dawson, an dragged him back doon, batterin lumps oot him aw the way doon. When Wotherspoon shows up, aw Dawson's pals jumped oan him an batterit him better!

Baith the young men died a few days later...

That's the kind o man Porteous wis, hard, uncouth, angry tae the core. If there were sides tae tak, maist fowk in the toun wid tak against Porteous. Sae we come tae 1736. Noo, tae pit ye in the picture, ye've got tae mynd this is ony thirty year efter that damned Union took place, an suddenly there were taxes an laws an awsorts bein landit oan us fae a palace fower hunner mile awa that nane o us had ever seen, an fewer cared fer. Onybody that could get aroond or unner these taxes wis awricht in maist fowks' een. When this couple o smugglers fae Fife were brocht ower an tried, an then condemnit tae hing, Embra took a wee shine tae them. When yin o them, big Andra Wilson, helped his pal Robertson tae escape when they were at a service in St Giles Kirk, by haudin twa gairds wi his hauns, an anither yin wi his teeth, he became whit ye micht cry a 'Local Hero'.

Robertson, by-the-by, managed tae get awa oan account o a'body staunin aside tae gie him a clear run, then gettin in the road o the gairds as they chasit him! He even managed tae get oot the Pottorraw Port when it wis supposit tae be shut, this bein the Sabbath, escapit tae Holland, an wis still runnin his ain pub in Rotterdam twinty year later!

Onyroads, they still had Andra Wilson, an oan the 14th o April they took him doon tae the Gressmercat fer his hingin. The atmosphere wisnae guid that nicht, Andra wis weel-likit, in fact ony smuggler wis in thon days, an there wis a richt ominous grumblin fae the crowd. The hingin went aheid, we aw watched in silence, an ye can imagine how loud a silence comes fae thoosans o fowk crammed intae the Gressmercat. When the hingsman went up tae cut Wilson doon fae the gibbet, ah couldnae help masel ony langer, ah had tae mak ma wee protest. Yin solitary stane flew through the air, an lamped the hingsman richt oan his neb. That wis aw it took...



Eruption. Thoosans o fowk suddenly let their anger oot, an there wis mair stanes, sticks an bottles, an bawlin an shoutin, a great mass o noise that soonded like a muckle monster comin fae its lair. Porteous, wha ah dae believe had been drinkin, didnae drap a second, he bawled oot "Fire an be damned!" an let aff his ain pistol, richt intae a wee laddie that worked in a sweetie-shop up the West Port. Some o the Gaird follaed him an shot richt intae the crowd, ithers thocht they wid play it safe an shoot ower their heids, except they jist shot fowk at their windaes! Porteous had the Gaird mak a retreat up the West Bow, whaur again they turnit roond an fired. There were bodies lyin aw ower the place, aboot a dozen fowk lay deid, an dozens mair injured. The bluid wis runnin doon the gundies...


Lucky fer Porteous, the Welsh fusiliers were oan staun-by up at the Lawnmercat, an they managed tae escort Porteous back the Gairdhoose, which wis the ugly squat wee howf in the middle o the High Street, aboot the tap o Cockburn Street, though Cockburn Street wisnae there then. He couldnae stay there lang tho, an he wis soon taken up tae the Tolbooth tae wait fer his trial...

The trial wis a lengthy complicatit affair. Porteous made oot that the magistrates had allowed the Gaird tae cairry loadit weapons, an he wis ony daein his duty. The magistrates, watchin their backs, said that the loadit weapons were ony tae guarantee that the hingin went aheid withoot anither darin escape, an as suin as it wis compleat, Porteous had nae richt tae open fire withoot the Riot Act bein read. Porteous said that readin o the Riot Act wis the cooncil's duty, an they had aw gaun an hid thersels awa when things got ugly, leavin him an the Gaird tae defend thersels, which they did. Back an forth it went, till at last a guilty verdict wis brocht, an Porteous wis condemned tae hing hissel...

In steps London. The government wis awfy feart o their fragile Union, an had guid reason tae be, fer nane o us were enamourit o that dismal concoction. We had awready had the '15 an the '19, an we werenae far fae the '45, we were quite the rebellious lot, us Scots, an they widnae hae mynded crushin us, if that's whit it took. The King, George II, wis oot the country at the time, he wis back hame in Hanover, an his Queen, big busty Caroline o Ansbach, wi the Prime Minister Walpole, took it upon thersels tae gie Porteous a reprieve, expectin George tae gie a fu pardon when he got back. Embra wisnae gaunnae staun fer that...

The nicht o the 7th o September, 1736, the mob gaitherit at Wester Portsburgh, up fae the West Port. There were thoosans o us, an thoosans mair jyned the crowd as it mairchit through the toun, doon the Coogate an up tae the Netherbow Port. The gate wis taken an secured, tae prevent ony sodjers comin up fae Holyrood. Then we went up an mobbed the Gairdhoose, tyin up the Gaird an takin aw their weapons. Then oan up tae the Tolbooth, where Porteous wis bein held. He kent whit wis gaun oan mynd, cos ah'd laid that wee curse oan him a few year earlier. Puir wee Meg...

The Tolbooth door wis a great heavy thing, an stood up tae a lengthy batterin. Eventually we had tae set fire tae it tae get in, an Porteous wis dragged fae his cell. He wis cairrit up the Lawnmercat an doon the West Bow, aw in near-silence apairt fae the slow thump o the lynch-drum at the heid o the mob. We had awready arranged wi the wife fae the rope-shop oan the Bow no tae lock her door that nicht, but tae leave it open. Yin o the men went in, selectit a guid strang length o towe, an left a nice new guinea oan the coonter. Naebody can say we dinnae pay fer oor pleasures in Edinburgh...

There wis nae gibbet set up fer Porteous, but that nivver stopped us. The rope wis thrawn ower a dyer's pole near the Coogateheid, an Porteous wis strung up. Things got a bit messy at this pynt, fer he wis up an doon an up again, stripped nakit, beaten an battered, even set fire tae, but efter a bit it wis aw ower, we had taen oor justice, an the mob meltit awa, drappin the weaponry, the lochaber axes liberatit fae the Gairdhoose, aw ower the Gressmercat.

Oor leaders in London didnae like this as ye can imagine, an fer a while there wis a threat tae diminish Edinburgh, revoke oor charter, bar the Provost, pu doon the toun wa an aw the Ports, make us suffer, but in the end aw they did wis order the Netherbow Port tae be cleikit or jammed open, an fined the toun £2000 tae be paid tae Porteous' widow. Fer aw the enquiries an rewards fer information, not a soul blabbed in the toun. The wa o silence wis bigger an stronger than ony toun wa...

Porteous hissel wis buried in the Greyfriars burial-groond, his only marker bein a wee stane wi 'P' an '1736' oan it, but this wis replced in 1973 wi the heidstane ye see noo, wi the inscription "John Porteous, a captain of the City Guard of Edinburgh, murdered September 7th 1736. All passion spent, 1973"

Ye ken, thinkin aboot thon nichts, when mobs o fowk could take oan a life o their ain, an commit crimes that individually they wid nivver dream o, has left me feelin the same -

All passion spent...

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Strange phenomena...

Oh hullo, it's yersel... Ye'd best come in... Whit d'ye mean, of course ah'm gled tae see ye, ah wis jist in the middle o somethin that's aw... Sit yersel doon by the fire, jist clear a space wid ye, pit that stuff oan the flair, ah'll be wi ye as suin as ah've fixed ma face... Ah'm sorry aboot the mess, ah've eh, ah've no gotten roond tae daein ma hoosework this mornin...


Ah ken, afore ye stairt oan me, ah've been awfy bad. Keepin ma curtains drawn, ignorin aw the bangin at the door an shoutin through the letterbox, barely settin fit oot the hoose. Ah ken some o ye hae been wantin tae come in tae hear ma stories, but tae be quite honest wi ye ah've no been feelin up tae it. Ah might like tae gie aff like ah'm this happy-go-lucky, aye laughin, aye drinkin sort o wumman, but like maist fowk ah hae ma doon-times. Like every yin o ye ah hae days ah jist want tae pu ma blankets ower ma heid an forget the world. Except mine can go oan fer weeks...

Of course ah've no been shut up aw this time. Aw naw. Ah've had tae go oot tae dae ma messages an the like, pick up ma prescriptions, that sortae thing. Ma doctor telt me ah should go a walk in the sunshine when ah can, tae tak masel oot o masel if ye ken whit ah mean. So ah did. Ah took masel wee daunders roond graveyairds tae lay flooers, doon back-closes tae luik at auld murder-scenes, across bridges tae see how high they are, an alang the Water o Leith...


Ah wis trauchlin alang this day past yin o the weirs oan the Water, an ma mynd wanderit back tae aw the weirs ah've kent ower the years. There wis this yin couple fae a while back, brither an sister they were, an a richt antlin couple they were an aw. He wis a bit obsessed if ye ask me, quite the purist so he wis, aye threapin at fowk tae luik forrit an tae raise their een tae the sunny uplands aheid...




The sister oan the ither haun wis a richt droll doll, she aye wis, she yaist tae spin awsorts o unco tales, supposedly stories fae her past an her upbringin in the aulden days, an here's the queer thing, she thocht she wis a witch...

Oh hing oan a meenit, ah can see whit ye're thinkin. Ye think ah'm talkin aboot Tom an Molly Weir din't ye?

Naw naw, they're no the Weirs ah'm talkin aboot. Naw, ah'm talkin aboot Major Thomas Weir an his sister Grizel Weir. At least, we yaist tae cry her Grizel, though ah think her real name wis Jean. The twa o them hailit fae Lanarkshire an were aff sheep-fermin fowk. Thomas wis born in 1599 an he had focht in the Covenantin Wars ower in Ireland in 1641, an rose tae the rank o Major. When he retired in 1650 he wis apointit heid o the Embra Toun Gaird.

The twa o them bidit in a land near the tap o the West Bow, that awfy steep creukit street that runs fae the Lawnmercat doon tae the Gressmercat. The Bow itsel, or the auld city gate, stood at the first turn oan the way doon, jist aboot whaur Victoria Terrace crosses it noo. There a muckle widden gate hung oan twa enormous hinges, an back in the auld days this gate wis shut fast every nicht. The Bow yaist tae be whaur aw the tinsmiths, silversmiths an hammermen had their shops, an fowk wid talk aboot the 'tinklin o the Bow' fer it wis a noisy wee bit. Some o the hooses oan the Bow had stood langer than maist fowk could mynd, an lookin at the yin at the tap o the street, ye hae tae wunner how they stood at aw!

In the Covenantin days, in the latter hauf o the seeventeenth century, the fowk o the Bow had a reputation fer religious purity second tae nane in the toun, an they were sae up thersels we yaist tae cry them the 'Bowheid Saints'. Major Weir wis the godliest o the godly, the purest o the pure, an his prayers an sermons were sae fervent, sae birsie, that he got the name o 'Angelical Thomas'. He wis byorner a dour man, tall an lanky wi a big neb, aye luikin doon tae the groond, but when he stood up tae pray, leanin oan his cruikit thornwood staff, his een were aw alicht an the power seemed tae thrill through his body as he warned his flock o the comin o the End o Days an the great fecht atween Guid an Evil. He wis a bit dramatic tae ma way o thinkin, but the Bowheid Saints lapped it up an thocht he wis somethin special...

Of course, we werenae aw taken in by the Saints o the Bow, an there were some queer tales went roond, in parteecular aboot Major Weir's thornwood staff. Some said it yaist tae go his messages fer him, some said it answered the door fer him, ithers even said they had seen it bouncin alang the street afore him at nicht, cairryin a lamp fer him! It wis a cursed stick, fowk said he got his preachin powers fae it, some said the verry Devil wis in it, but some fowk'll say onythin fer a laugh...

 But fer aw the gossipin that went oan aboot Angelical Thomas, ye can imagine the stir that went roond the toun when we heard that he had stood up tae preach yin nicht, but insteid o comin oot wi his usual firebrand holier-than-thou sermonisin, he launched intae a confession.
An no jist ony confession it wis either, nane o yer 'ah'm a puir sinner nae fit fer God's mercy' stuff. Naw, this wis a confession o true evil, o bein in league wi Auld Nick hissel, o practicin sins that didnae hae names, sins o the flesh an o sorcery. He claimed tae be a warlock o the worst sort. The first ah heard o it wis the mornin efter, staunin in a line doon at the Fleshmercat doon Halkerston's Wynd. Jessie Knox telt me she had heard it fae her auntie's cousin that had a button stall up the Lawnmercat, an she had heard it fae her neebor's sister's man, him bein a porter doon the Bow. Nane o us believed it at first, it wis jist the sort o tattle ye aften heard in the toun, here th'day gone th'morn sortae story. Even the Provost didnae believe it, an refused tae hae the Major arrestit, hopin the thing wid jist blaw ower...

But then Grizel stepped up, an claimed the twa o them had been th'gither, as man an wife so tae speak, fer years, an had gotten up tae awsorts, an caused aw kind o strange phenomena. She said that they had inheritit their witchcraft fae their mither, an regularly toured the countryside in a fiery coach, gaun tae coven meet-ups. She confirmed that the Major got his diabolical powers fae his cruikit staff. It wis the incest that did it fer them tho, an so the three o them, Thomas, Grizel, an the walkin-stick, were aw locked up in the Tolbooth...

Ah mynd Major Weir's trial weel, fer it wis ma birthday, the 9th day o April, 1670, an ah treatit masel tae a new hat an a nice broch fer ma shawl. It wis fair, quite warm fer the time o year, wi wee fluffy clouds, nae sign o rain. We didnae find oot much mair at the trial than we awready knew, fer the Major widnae let oan. He said he had said aw he had tae say an he wisnae aboot tae say nae mair. When he wis asked if he had ever actually seen the Deil, he answered that 'the only feelin ah ever had o him wis in the dark'. That raised a wee titter, but aw in aw it wis a bit o a disappointment, but ah still had the hat an the broch, which wis nice...

So, anither trip doon tae the Gallowlee oan Leith Walk it wis. Afore they strung the no-sae-Angelical-noo Thomas up, they asked him fer his repentance, but he wid gie them nane o it. "Ah hae lived as a beast, ah will die as a beast!"

An so he did. Efter the hingin they threw the Major oan the fire, as per witchcraft rules, an they threw his stick oan efter him, an ah hae tae admit, it crackled an spat an twistit an louped aboot like, weel, like a stick posessed...

Grizel wis taen doon the Gressmercat fer her hingin, an she managed tae gie us a wee bit o entertainment at the end an aw. She took it intae her heid that she had tae die wi aw the shame she could, an it wis aw the magistrates could dae tae stop her fae rippin aw her claes aff. Puir mad auld sowel...

An that's the tale o the Weirs o the West Bow. Noo ony similarity ye micht see atween them an Tom an Molly Weir is fae yer ain fervid imagination, nothin tae dae wi me. Ah hope ye're gled ye got me tae answer ma door, tae be honest ah'm gled ah answered it an aw. It's nae fun tellin stories tae yersel, fer a stairt ah'm aye askin questions ah dinnae ken the answers tae. So if ye're done ah'll let ye get oan, ah think ah've got some hoosework tae get oan wi masel. Noo dinnae be a stranger, Cheerie!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Runnin up that hill

We hae, or at least we used tae hae, afore the smokin ban cam alang tae kill them aff, a muckle great auld pubs in Embra. Yin that some o ye may be familiar wi is the Guildford Arms, up ahint the auld Woolworth's shop on Princes Street. Aye awricht, ah ken, there's nae Woolies there noo, jist a hamburger shop, but ye ken whaur ah am, up aside the Register Hoose. It's a braw drinkin palace inside, weel worth a visit if ye've no been in, but the reason ah bring it up is the path at the side, oan the right as ye look at the photie. Ye see that wee path? It goes at an angle up the side tae the Cafe Royal, ye wi me? Weel, that wee bit path, that's aw that's left o an ancient auld road ah yaist tae ken weel. Let me tell ye aboot Gabriel's Road...

Ma tale affsets way back in 1607, when yin o King Jamie Saxt's pals, Tam o the Coogate, found siller ore oan his property oot by Linlithgow. Bein the guid pal he wis, the king relieved Tam o his discovery, fer a sma fee of course, opened a mine, an sent the ore tae be refined doon at a new mill he built oan the Water o Leith. Sadly the silvermine wisnae the goldmine the king hoped it wid be, an suin eneuch the ore ran oot an the venture foondert, but fer a few year it gave up ample tae pay its way.

Bein as ah am the whelp o a Black Bitch (an proud o it!) ah grew up no far fae this mine. Ah mynd as a wee bairn playin in the auld abandoned mine-workins, practisin ma yodellin skills an scarin the livin bejeesus oot o aw ma pals. This great daurk gash in the earth, hunkert awa doon at the bottom o a wee glen, we thocht wis the very gates o Hell itsel, an hid aw manner o beasties an monsters, dragons an trolls, daemons an deils. No that there were ony, but ma pals werenae tae ken that...

The Silvermills that King James sent the ore tae are aw built ower noo, but they yaist tae staun doon near Stockbridge, jist ahint St Stephen's kirk. The path fae the toun doon tae the mills wis kent as Gabriel's Road, we cryed it that efter the auld man Gabriel that kept a drinkin-howf doon by the mills. Nane o us kent his real name but he blew a mean trumpet an had sic an angelic wee face. Ah christened him efter a heavy session yin Friday nicht an the name, weel it kinda stuck...

Gabriel's Road struck aff fae the end o the dam that held back the Nor Loch, across fae the fit o Halkerston's Wynd, near tae whaur we dooked Betty Trot yin day. The dam stood roughly whaur the North Brig stauns noo, an the path climbed up the steep slope tae Moultrey's Hill, afore descendin doon the ither side taewards Silvermills. Oan a warm summer's day there wis naethin nicer than takin a daunder ower tae Moultrey's, tae a wee fermhoose inn by the road cawed 'Peace an Plenty', whaur the Royal Bank Heid Office is noo, fer some lovely curds an whey. Nane o yer Mr Whippy or Jerry'n'Ben's rubbish fer us. Aw naw, we had curds an whey! Ah wid get a wee bowl o the stuff, find masel a wee tuffet tae sit doon oan, an ooooh... scrumptious... mmm...

Moultrey's Hill itsel stood at the end o a wee ridge, alang the line o which George Street wis laid oot oan. This wis anither braw bit fer a walk oan a fine summer's day, alang the ridge tae the bit field that went by the name o Barefit's Park. Noo, ah ken whit ye're thinkin, "Whit wis it cryed Barefit's Park fer?" an ah wid dearly love tae tell ye it wis oan account o aw us young hippy lassies skippin merrily through the gress wi nae shoes nor stockins oan oor pretty feet, runnin up that hill singin hippy songs, spreadin hippy free love an gettin up tae awsorts. Ah ken at least a couple o ye that wid prefer that onyroads, pyntin nae fingers...

Sadly tho, it wisnae. It wis cryed that efter the owner, a Mr Bearford fae oot East Lothian. Sad ah ken, but true. Dinnae let that tak onythin awa fae the place tho, it wis a bonnie field. Ah spent mony a summer's day wanderin through the whins, pickin flooers or catchin butterflees, strollin doon the hill an across the Lang Dykes path tae the banks o the Nor Loch. It wis bonnie jist sae lang as the wind wisnae blawin ower fae the Auld Toun, fer it could get a bit smelly in the summer. If ye lay oan yer back an shut yer een ye could imagine ye were awa oot in the country, while in fact ye were ony a hauf-mile fae yer hoose. Ye had tae keep in mynd that onythin ye did in Barefit's Park could be seen fae the back windaes o the High Street, which brings me tae Robert Irvine an his terrible deed.

Noo this widnae be Embra, an it widnae be Shootinfaetheshin, if there wisnae a terrible deed lurkin there amangst the bushes, wid it?

Robert Irvine wis a probationary meenister that had taken up a job tutorin twa young laddies, the sons o a Mr Gordon o Ellon, that bidit doon in Broughton village. Noo like a lot o young gentlemen he enjoyed a wee bit o dallyin oan the side, an he wis dallyin this day wi the Gordon's scullerymaid, when he wis seen by the young laddies. This they happened, in aw innocence, tae mention tae their mither at tea-time.

Of course this upset the young Casanova, thinkin that if word got oot he wid get barred fae the meenistry. He broodit oan this, turnin his anger at the laddies intae a monster inside hissel. Oan the follaein Sunday, efter kirk, he took the twa laddies fer a walk up tae Barefit's Park, an there, in broad daylicht, an in fu view o the back windaes o the toun, attackit an murderit the laddies wi a clasp-knife...




It didnae tak lang tae chase the brute doon, seen as he wis by sae mony witnesses oan the toun side o the loch, an when he wis chasit doon, he wis still coverit in blood fae the terrible deed. He wis caught, as we yaist tae cry it, 'ridd-haundit', that is tae say, wi the blood still fresh oan his hauns. This meant that there wis nae need fer a trial, an first thing oan the Wednesday mornin, the 1st o May 1717, the beast had baith his hauns cut aff, an wis strung up oan the gibbet doon by Broughton toll-hoose...

There's a wee somethin fer ye tae think aboot next time ye're doon Princes Street Gairdens lickin yer Mr Whippy. Oan second thochts mibbe naw. Tell ye whit, jist think oan me dancin barefit through the whins wi ma butterflee net an endin up flat oan ma back in Barefit's Park. That'll dae ye noo, ah'm awa tae mak masel some yummy curds an whey. Cheerie!