Friday, 28 May 2010

Ran Tan Waltz

When ye bide up a stair ye get tae ken a lot aboot fowk. It wis nae secret up oor close that Mary wis a bit o a drinker. Ye wid catch her gaun fer her messages at fower in the efternin. Far too late tae get fresh fish ah wid say. No that ah wid say it tae her face mind, ye widnae speak tae her then, no afore she'd been doon the street, or she wid bite yer face aff. She aye had her heid doon an wid hurry by ye. She wis aye half-runnin, fashin tae get everythin done afore her man got back fae his work. Big Tommy McGuigan wis a dark-lookin cloud o a man. He looked like it wis aye jist aboot tae rain. He rarely went oot, bar fer his work an tae the kirk. When he telt Mary he wis gaunnae get rid o her, ah couldnae help but feel a wee bit happy fer her, fer she wis never gaun tae be settled till he wis deid an buried, an she'd been sae happy a bairn, everybody's pal, aye smilin, an she remained sae till she met him an got snuggled in under his thumb. We aw kent she wis drinkin, ye could see fer yersel it wis obvious, no gettin up till aw hoors, no pittin her washin oot till it wis gettin dark, she wis aw erse-afore-elbae, it's a wonder she got oan at aw!

We'd heard a whisper right enough, some weeks back, that she'd been seen hingin aboot doon the fit o' Leith Wynd yin nicht. Bold as brass, jist staunin there at the auld Trinity kirk corner. Ah ken it's hard makin ends meet, but hawkin yersel oot's no the answer. Mary wis jist lettin hersel doon, an half o me wonders if she did it purely tae get Tommy riled up, whit wi him bein aw strict Brethren an that.

Well, if that wis her game it worked a treat right enough, mair than she wis bankin oan ah expect, for ah doubt she coulda foreseen whit wis comin. God only knows whit fear he must've pit intae her, or whitivver else he pit in her drink, fer she must've walked aw that way, fae her hoose tae the Grassmarket, wi that sign roon her neck. Can ye ever imagine the shame o it? Hats aff tae the lassie, fer yince she wisnae half-runnin, naw, this night she wis jist shufflin alang at Tommy's side, lookin even weeer than usual. Aw the way up the High Street they walked an doon the West Bow. We were aw gethered in the Grassmarket, some o the shows were up, an it wis a grand nicht. Bein as it wis a Wednesday it wis half-day, an it had been too hot tae dae much in the way o' hoosework. Me an some o' the lassies were sittin up at the fit o the Bow haein a right laugh, joshin the wee laddies an pu'in faces at the auld wummen. Tae be honest we were aw half-cut, we'd been there since dinner, an ah wis oan the sherry, ah think ah must've had aboot fower pints, an some o' the faces ah wis pu'in ah nivver meant tae...

There they came doon the Bow an right past us. Him big, dark an stridin, wi his guid suit an hat oan, her wee shilpit bauchle o a figure aside him, wi this cardboard sign aroon her neck "To be sold by public auction" an an auld rope aroon her waist, him leadin her alang like a coo gaun tae market. Seems Tommy had awready fixed this affair up an had an auctioneer oan haun ootside the White Hart pub. Ah think the wee man had been inside the White Hart since it opened that mornin, fortifyin hissel, likely kennin whit wis comin his way that nicht. McGuigan must've paid him weel, but smellin as much like a brewery as wee Jocky did cannae hae come cheap, an he'd be lucky if he had a ha'penny left o his 'fee' by the time it came tae gettin up oantae his box an tryin tae start the sale.

Whit ah rammy there wis gaun oan doon there that nicht. Thoosan's o folk, aw shoutin an bawlin, awbody had sumthin tae say tae it. Some were haranguin Mary fer her so-ca'ed 'crimes'. Noo, how could it be a crime tae be a drunk? We were aw half-pished back in thae days! Sherry an beer wis aw ye had tae drink. Nane o yer bottled watter or Barcardi Breezers then. Aw Naw. No even Irn-Bru, they hadnae invented it yet. Ye got pished, or ye went dry. Ye could try the watter fae the wells if ye wanted, but it smelt o horse manure if ye asked me. Ah aye went fer Harvey's Bristol Cream if ah wis in the hoose, but ah wid drink onything if ah wis oot, no wantin tae get a name fer bein high-falutin. Other folk were shoutin at her that it wis awright tae be a lush, but she shoulda nivver hae tried sellin her body. "That wis the limit!", they were shoutin, an "Jezebel!" an suchlike. There wis anither bunch, sittin ower by the Corn Exchange, haein a sit-doon demonstration in support o drunken-sex-industry-workers-rights. They were only sittin doon cos they couldnae stand up straight mind. Ah think they had come doon fae the Art College. Ah ask ye, why dae thae lassies dae that tae thersel's? Dae they no want tae get a man?

By-an-by, wee Jocky manages tae get things quietened doon, mainly by bangin twa biscuit tins th'gither. Fowk eventually shushed each ither, an it aw went a bit quiet.

He calls oot "Dae ah hae ony bidders fer this fine wife?" an there's shouts here an there amangst the crowd. First this auld Shepherd fae the Heelan's, an then a Pig Jobber fae Killarney mak their bids. Yin pound ten bob, noo can ye imagine bein pit up fer that price? £1.50 in th'day's money. That's no funny. Mary didnae deserve that...

This is where it got wild. This braw big muscley Irish soutar comes bargin oot o the Black Bull, he's heard aboot the £1/10, an he's no happy. Ah heard efter that this big Irish laddie had a thing fer Mary, an as weel as that ah heard that he haed been yin o her 'clients' doon Leith Wynd. Whitiver the reason, he pushes up tae the auld pigger, an lamps him yin in the bread-bag! The wee fat pigger's doon oan the grund, squealin like a, weel, like a wee piggy. Aw hell breaks loose!

There's screamin an bawlin, folk are gaun "Fight! Fight! Fight!" like as if they were back at school. Next thing, this big Irish guy's up oan the auctioneers box, tells him he wants tae buy Mary, then punches wee Jocky in the heid! Knocks the wee man right aff the box an splits his heid! Merry Hell ensues. At least this pits a smile oan Mary's face, an she starts hee-hawin awa, ah'm thinkin she must've kent this Irish laddie efter aw, an the crowd's aw laughin alang, ye could barely hear yersel think such wis the kerfuffle.

It wis at this point that ah became aware o thon lassies fae the Art College. They had aw gaithered up aroon the Cowgateheid, an had massed a crowd o hunners o wummen an lassies th'gither. They were startin up chants o "Nae sellin o wifies!" an "Doon wi men!", an haein wee impromptu workshoaps oan 'Raisin yer self-esteem through shoutin' an 'How tae get black-lead oot o yer hankies' A section o them had hi-jacked a builder's cairt, an were passin oot muckle big stanes an hauf-bricks tae the ither lassies. They were pittin these stanes intae their hankies an shawls, some were drappin their knickers an turnin them intae slings. Then at a loud cry fae yin o them, yin that ah hae tae say looked parteecularly peed-aff, they aw come steamin across the Grassmarket, straight at the auction...

Fowk were gettin pushed oot the way, knocked aw ower the shop, by this monstrous creature, formed fae hunners o lairy lassies, screechin like banshees an swingin their knickers abune their heids. Never let onybody tell ye the Grassmarket's gettin awfy rough. It wis nivver ony other way. Ah'm right up fer it by this time, aw the excitement had got tae me, that an the sherry, so ah'm aff wi the knickers an ah'm up an runnin wi them.

"Doon wi men!" ah'm screamin, "Gie us oor hoosekeepin'! Aw ae it! Gie us it noo!" Ah'm haein a rare time tae masel. Some o the wummen hae set upon Jocky an they're giein him a right batterin. Aw o a sudden ah find masel staunin square in front o big Tommy McGuigan, if ah may say the real villain o the piece. He's the man that thinks he can jist pick up a wummin, an drap her jist as easy if he's no happy wi her. Whit aboot Mary ah say? Where does she gang? Whit dis she dae if he turns her oot? It's nivver the man's problem, is it?

Big Tommy's glowerin afore me like a thunderheid aboot tae burst, an ah've got a hauf-brick in ma haun. Well, the invitation wis wrapped up wi bows oan it, so ah battered him. Flat-oot. Kyboshed...

Untill he got back up an skelped me in the face. Ma nose wis aw burst, ah'd cut ma lip, the paper said ma een came up like twa October cabbages. No that ye should aye believe whit ye read in the papers, but ah neednae tell ye that. It said ah wis a sweep's wife! Jist cos ah hadnae had a chance tae wash ma face that mornin, ah'd slept in an ah wis in a hurry tae get ma messages in. Ah'll sweeps wife them...

It wis guid o Lachie the Lum tae step in fer me tho, ah'll hae tae mind him come Hogmanay. Luckily he had his brushes an poles wi him. He wis jist aboot tae lay intae big Tommy when the polis arrived, late oan the scene as ever, an things startit tae quieten doon again...

Still, efter aw that bother, Tommy insistit oan gaun through wi the sale, an it aw startit again fae scratch. Jocky got some young laddies fae the Scouts tae staun guard fer him, they did it fer sixpence atween them, whit they'll dae fer a bob ah've yet tae find oot. The twa Irishmen pu'ed oot o the auction as bein mair bother than it wis worth. First this camp auld sailorman comes up, slaverin oan aboot his tarry top-lights, an makin crude references tae her tight riggin. Mary? Tight riggin? Ah've nuthin against the lassie but the only ship ye could compare her tae wid be the Vital Spark. Aw puffin an blawin an nae amount o scrubbin's gaunnae turn her intae a Maid o' th' Mist...

We were aboot tae turn oan the auld sailor, jist tae shut him up, when up rides this fermer fae Ecclesmachen, says he lost his wife tae the pox September past an needs a new yin. Here he says, he's got two pound five shillin an could he hae her?

So, £2.25 it wis. £2.25 eh? It's no much is it? Fer a wumman's life. Still, Ecclesmachen's supposed tae be a nice place, an Mary aye said she fancied livin in the country. The last ony o us saw o Mary Mackintosh wis her sittin oan the back o a horse ahint her new man gaun through the West Port, swggin fae a bottle o Buckfast fortified. Ah hope she settles...

If ye dinnae believe me that this aw happened, jist tak a look at the newspaper. Ah'm tellin ye it wis aw aroon 6 o'clock oan Wednesday the 16th o July, in the year 1828, in the Grassmarket in Embra. Because it wis in the papers awbody wis talkin aboot it fer weeks efter. It's no a night ah'm likely tae forget in a hurry. Tae this day folk are aye comin up tae me an askin how come ma een are sae cabbagey. If ah've got a hauf-brick in ma haun an a sherry in ma belly ah show them...


  1. I'm wondering what an October cabbage is Sophia.....

    You can't half tell a story.

  2. October's when yer cabbage is at its best, aw green an' reachin' oot its big, green, veiny leaves, wishin' ye tae poach it ower a slow heat fer 20 minutes wi' lashin's o' fresh black pepper, slatherin' it in meltit butter, an' bitin' intae it.

    Ma een must've looked awfy sair.

  3. Sophia,

    Splendid tale and beautifully told - must say I expected nothing less so I'm glad I popped in! Aleady looking forward to your next epistle!

  4. Thanks youse, ah hope ah can keep ye entertained, an' at the same time educate ye a bit aboot ma eventfu' life in Embra. If thae setts could talk...

  5. MMMMMMMM you made me hungry for cabbage now.... (I like it with some lardons through it, nice and crispy.)

    Oh and thanks for the explanations... I see now.

  6. Christ Sophes, I was reading that and thinking to myself, what age is this lassie? That cannae be her photo at the top surely? I'm glad I managed to get to the bottom to find out the truth!

  7. Aye, it wis quite a lang tale, ah'll grant ye that Mr Lochnagar, but it wanted tellin'. Ah'll no aye be sae lang-winded. As far as ma age goes, ah stopped countin' years ago. It's only a number efter aw, an' there'll be plenty time tae count when ah'm deid.

  8. Braw, jist braw. They fowk frae Edinburu ken how tae hiv a ficht. Knicker aff? Widnae happen in Dundee. The wind blaws that much aff the watter.

  9. Aye Mrs Subrosa, there's mair than yin reason Embra's ca'ed Auld Reekie. Mind the way that wind blaws!