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!

Friday, 17 September 2010

An dream o sheep...

Weel whit a day that wis an nae mistake. The first veesit fae the Pope fer near thirty year. Wha o us kens if we'll still be here the next time he comes roon tae see us? Ah mynd askin masel that question the last time the Pope cam tae see us, tho in ma favour ah wid pynt oot it had taken him near 2000 year tae get aroon tae it at that time. An noo he comes back barely thirty year later? Popes are a bit like buses ah suppose. Ah wid say trams, but ah bide in Embra mynd, an jist want tae greet onytime trams are mentioned. Pass me that box o hankies oan the sideboard wid ye...

It's awricht, ah'll be awricht, jist gie me a meenit...

Right. Aye. Whaur wis ah? Popes. Aye, it wis nice tae see aw thae happy wee faces shinin wi adoration, aw thae men no feart tae wear dresses oot o the hoose, aw thae Saltires wavin an no a Union rag in sicht, the auld Queen an her man still oan the go, an maist o aw oor beautiful toun, Edina wi the bonnie cheeks. She luikt stoatin in the sunshine so she did, the star o the show as far as ah'm concerned. Ah'm aye fit tae burst wi pride when a big name comes tae the toun, an gets tae see whit a braw wee place we bide in, an they pit yin o thon cameras in the sky tae luik doon ower the toun.

It wis a wee shame tho, that they nivver brocht the auld man up tae see the Auld Toun. Apairt fae Holyroodhoose he nivver got tae see the real heart o the city up close. Tae ma mynd it's a peety they nivver took him tae see the statues o John Knox an Davie Hume, nivver took him up tae the High Kirk o Saint Giles. Ah cannae fer the life o me think why no...

Talkin o Saint Giles kirk, me an ma pal Jenny had arrangit tae meet up there efter work this Saiturday efternin a few year ago. Ah had been daein stairs aw mornin an ma heid wis spinnin, she had been at her stall doon by the Tron sellin cabbages an the like. She wis a greenwife ye see, an selt aw manner o vegetables an fruitstuffs, bawlin oot her "Neeps like succar! Wha'll buy neeps?" an her "Fower-bunch a penny, wha'll buy ma caller radishes?" She had sic a loud voice oan her, ye could hear Jenny's cry aw the way up at the Luckenbooths ah'm nae kiddin ye!

We met up aboot fower o'clock, an it wis sic a hot an sunny day we took a wander doon the Gressmairket an sat oot in the sun an knockit back a wheen o ales. Ye dinnae aye realise how much ye're drinkin when ye're enjoyin yersel. We were aw bletherin aboot the tale o that Betty Trot an her farce o a dookin. As the nicht wore oan we found oorsels up at the Greppa inn ahint the Parliament Close. Even tho it wis a bricht summer's nicht, when ye went doon thae shadowy back-stairs an intae the gloom o that tavern it wis sae daurk ye had tae feel yer way tae the bar. No fer nothin wis it cryed the Gropin-hoose...

Eventually we endit up gaun dancin at the auld Assembly oan the West Bow. It wis a ricketty auld joint by this time, no far fae fawin doon aroon oor ears, but the dancin wis rare, the ale wis flowin, an we were haein the time o oor life. Jenny wis a grand mover, she had slinkier hips than ah could ever dream o haein. Ah'm nae sure whit time we got hame at that nicht, aw ah ken is that the sun wis risin, an even Jenny wis gettin hoarse fae aw the singin an laughin. Ah said cheerio tae Jenny at her stair door an telt her ah wid see her in the mornin fer the kirk...

Oh but did we no pay fer oor sins in the mornin? Ma heid wis loupin fit tae burst, an it wis aw ah could dae but tae splash ma face wi water an drag ma guid frock oan. Ah went up tae collect Jenny, an she luikit as bad as ah felt! Her faither Mr Geddes wisnae best pleased wi us either. He telt Jenny she wis gaunnae hae tae clean oot their cludgie fer a week fer stayin oot sae late, an gied me a bellin-aff fer leadin his dochter astray. Me? Leadin her astray? Chance wid be a fine thing, Jenny wis the rabble-rouser, no me! But ah said nothin, ah jist held ma tung. If truth be telt ah kept quiet cos if ah'd startit tae talk ah think ah wid've chucked up aw ower his guid shoes. Ah jist luikit doon at the flair an kept swallaein...

We walkit up tae the kirk in silence. Ah could tell by the luik oan Jenny's face it wisnae worth startin up a conversation. She wis in yin o her moods. Ah think she had took the hump wi me cos ah got mair gropes in Greppa than she did, but then ah think ye can pit that doon tae her loud voice, ye didnae hae tae grope tae ken whaur Jenny wis. We got tae the kirk, foldit oot oor wee creepie-stools an sat doon. Ye see, ye had tae be somebody tae get a proper pew in thon days, lassies like us had tae bring oor ain seats.

There wis an awfy atmosphere in the kirk that mornin, an it wisnae aw doon tae mornin-efter-nicht-afore sair heids. That auld monster King Chairlie the First wis intent oan sweepin awa oor Reformation an tae oor mynd wantit tae bring the Popery back. He had brung back Bishops tae oor kirk, an this mornin, the 23rd o July 1637 he had decreed that the meenister wis tae read fae a new Englis prayer-buik. Noo Popery's yin thing, but Anglicanism? Noo he wis gaun too far. Fowk werenae happy an ye could feel it in the air, ye could've cut the tension wi a knife...

Ah wis barely aware o aw this tho, haein ony havin had a couple o oors sleep. As suin as the kirk went quiet an Jimmy Hanney, the Dean, had stairtit dronin oan, ah stairtit noddin aff. Ah wis jist gettin intae a guid sleep, leanin against Jenny's shooder, an fer some unkent reason stairtin tae dream o giant sheep, when Jimmy had got tae the meat o the service an began tae read fae the new prayer-buik. He hadnae got twa words oot when Jenny let oot this ear-shatterin yell an leapt up, cowpin me richt aff ma stool an landin me oan ma erse oan the flair!

"Wha daur say Mass in ma lug?" she screams, "Ah hope ye get piles, ye auld fart!"

She picks up her stool an launches it at the pulpit. Suddenly there's uproar in the kirk, fowk are bawlin an shoutin, they're chuckin stools, bibles, walkin sticks, breid rolls, onythin they had tae haun really, an there's me lyin flat oan ma back like a cowpit sheep, no able tae get tae ma feet, nor even tae ma hauns an knees. By this time there wis a riot gaun oan ower ma heid, fit tae match the riot gaun oan inside o it. Ma skirts were gettin tramplit oan in the melee an it wis aw ah could dae tae crawl ma way tae the kirk door an oot intae the street. The door slammed shut ahint me, an sae ah jist kept oan crawlin...

Ah think ah must've crawled aw the way hame that mornin, judgin by the state o ma frock the next day. It seems Jenny had stairtit somethin in the kirk that day. They even pit up a wee memorial tae her, tho ye'll notice they pit the wrang stoll up oan it, that there's a cuttie-stool, no a creepie-stool. Anyroads, the riot went oan aw day lang, an even efter the Toun Rats had managed tae evict maist o the rioters fae the kirk they went oan chuckin sticks an stanes at the windaes till gaun oan six at nicht. The unrest led tae the men o the toun signin up tae a National Covenant the next February, tellin King Chairlie whaur he could stick his ideas, an sae began the troubles that went oan fer twinty-odd years, bringin an end tae Chairlie, the comin o the tyranny o Cromwell, an the birth o Leith Walk. There's aye some guid tae come fae bad is there no? That wid be the same Leith Walk that wis meant tae hae brand spankin new trams wheechin doon it by noo...

Pass me thae hankies ower...

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The waddin list

As a professional stair-cleaner that taks her wark gey serious, ah dinnae mynd tellin ye how gled ah wis when they opent up the New Toun mansions, an efter that the Victorian tenements, fer an awfy lot o them had straucht stairs, ken, aw in a line, apairt fae mibbe wee bends at the tap an at the bottom. They were an awfy lot easier tae clean. Easier that is than the auld turnpike stairs the Auld Toun wis fu o. Efter a mornin o scrubbin turnpike efter turnpike ah tell ye ah wis as dizzy as a heidless chicken an wid be stoatin aw ower the shop. Fowk yaist tae stop an ask me if ah'd been at the sherry, an it wid ony be ten in the mornin!

Of course there wis some mornins fair enough, if it wis awfy cauld say, or awfy hot, or mibbe if it wis awfy wet, or awfy dry....

Anyroads, ah wisnae the worst. There wis some richt dizzy dames bidit up thae stairs. Ah kent this yin wumman, Eleanor wis her name, she wis a scatty besom so she wis, an flirty intae the bargain. She wis fae quite weel-aff stock, moneyed fowk, an she'd mairrit oantae the Primrose faimly, sae she'd done weel fer hersel, but she wis still as wanton as a wet hen an as gullible as a fat goat. Eleanor kent how tae pairty richt enough, she wid hae big crowds at her do's, an made aabody feel like they were her favourites. Ye could say she wis easy wi her favours, but she meant nae hairm, she wis jist haein fun, an she aye kent there wis a limit. Her man tho, he wis a gey rum yin, richt anti-social an door. He had a green streak o jealousy that went richt doon tae his rotten core.

Eleanor telt me how this yin Saiturday nicht, at yin o their pairties, her man had got this thocht intae his heid that Eleanor had smiled ower much at sic-an-sic anither man, that she had been tryin tae catch his een aw nicht, nivver mynd how much she denied it. The next mornin, she had got up, an wis sittin at her dressin-table daein her hair an touchin up her pocks, when she had caught sicht o her man in her wee haun-mirror, creepin up ahint her wi his sword oot, an a murderous look oan his face.

Quick-witted as she could be at sic times, Eleanor reached back an sprayed her can o lacquer in his face, jumpt up, an leapt oot the windae! Lucky fer her she wis ony yin flair up an she landit oan the midden so she nivver hurt hersel. She ran oot intae the High Street, bearin in mynd noo this is near ten in the mornin, she's in her nightie an covert in shite, an aabody else is in their Sunday best oan their wy tae kirk, she waves at them aw an smiles, says 'mornin!', runs ower the street, an up the close whaur her guid-mither bides. Brave wumman.

She gets her guid-mither's protection, fer athoot haein tae say it the auld wife kens whit her son's capable o, an he's sent aff tae Europe tae dae a Tour, in disgrace. His wife Eleanor gets the hoose an the bairns an life gangs oan...

This meant nae mair pairties fer Eleanor tho, nae socialisin an nae flindrikin fer her nae mair, it meant spinster buik-readins, nichts at the fire daein samples, an it got her doon puir sowel. So when ah saw a billpost fer a wee show that wis oan doon the Canongate, ma first thocht wis ma pal Eleanor, "this'll cheer her up" thocht ah, "jist whit she needs"

The show wis yin o thon mediums, that boastit he could answer ony o yer questions aboot fowk ye kent but that werenae wi ye nae langer. Sae we went alang tae the mannie's wee parlour room, doon jist past Pirrie's Close, whaur he had it aw done up like a Turkish bazaar, aw hung wi fancy ridd blankets, an lit wi wee teapot lamps. We're aw crammit in, a crowd o aboot a dozen aw th'gither, an there's a richt expectant hush... The wee dark man in the black silky coat gies a wee shpiel aboot gettin his powers aff some genie he'd trapped in Egypt, dis some hurdie-gurdie incantations, an then says how he could tell ye onyhin aboot onybody onywhaur, onybody at aw... Then he taks Eleanor by the haun, an leads her through ahint this arras...

When Eleanor cam oot she wis as white as a new-bleachit sheet, an she grabbed ma elbae an hurrit me oot an back tae her hoose. Whit a worrit, troublt luik wis in her een. As suin as we were in the door, she gied me a pen an a bit o paper, an made me scrieve it aw doon. When the mannie had took her through, he'd sat her doon afore this mirror, waved his haun aroon, an in it she'd seen, aw fu o colour an movin, like in a dream, this waddin, an then she listit aw she saw...

The Waddin List...

It wis in a kirk
There wis a bride an a groom
The bride wis beautiful
There werenae miny fowk
The waddin stairts...
In runs a man, ah ken him
It's ma brither
He runs up tae the groom
and draws his sword
the groom draws his
it aw goes fuzzie
...

An we baith signed an datit it, she sealt it wi wax, an lockit it awa in a drawer in her desk.

Then aboot three month later, when, aye, ye'll hae guessit it but ah'll tell ye onywy, when her brither comes back fae daein his ain Grand Tour, Eleanor taks him aside, an asks him if he'd heard onythin aboot her husband, wha hadnae been heard o fer ages. He sits her doon an tells her aye, he'd seen him richt enough. When he wis passin through Holland he'd heard there wis a waddin gaun oan wi a man fae Embra, an so he thocht he wid gang alang, see if he kent him. He slaverit somethin aboot bein caught in a canaljam whitivver that wis, an turnin up late, but when he got there did he no find oot it wis his ain brither-in-law that wis gettin hitchit! Sae he said he had enlichtenit the puir lassie, stoppit the waddin, an chasit her man oot the toun...

Then Eleanor made him gang tae her room an get the sealed letter, an open it. Ye've guessed it, this waddin wis aboot tae tak place at the exact time Eleanor had seen the apparition in the mirror...

Eleanor's brither didnae ken whaur the Lord Primrose had run aff tae efter that, but it wis only a couple o year later in 1706 that Eleanor got word that he wis deid, likely, she said, in some ither floozie's airms. She nivver moornt fer him. He'd left her  a wealthy, still young, an beautiful Dowager Lady Primrose. She enjoyed bein a Dowager Lady an wis in nae rush tae get re-mairrit, e'en though she got plenty offers. Eventually though, on 27th o March, 1708, she mairrit John Dalrymple, the 3rd Earl o Stair, an became Lady Stair. Dalrymple wis a hard husband tae haunle tae, he likit his drink, an Eleanor had her work cut oot controllin him. Eventually, efter giein her an awfy batterin yin nicht, he agreed that the only drink he wid touch fae then oan, wid be whit she hersel had passed tae him, an nae mair. He stuck tae it tae...

Eleanor bigged up her reputation as society hostess wi the maistest, an efter she boucht the hoose that still bears her name, doon Lady Stair's Close in 1719, she saw tae it that her pairties were the pairties tae be seen at, she entertainit like nae ither grand-dam in Embra, an wis remenberit lang efter she wis gaun fae this life in 1759.

 Ah still curst her tho when she made me scrub thae turnpike stairs o hers, roond... an roond... an roond... an roond...