Thursday, 17 June 2010


Some o ye might hae heard o ma pal Margaret fae Musselburgh. Ah bumped intae her yin Auld Year's Night up at the Tron an we hit it aff right awa. She wis a right tearawa when she wis a lassie, her mither near sent her tae the Puirhoose mair than yince. She wid come up tae the toun oan a Friday efter dinner, an nivver got hame till early Sunday. Ye could say she had 'smilin een', though ah think grinnin wid be closer tae the mark. We had some rare times, drinkin up the Bow, dancin at the Assembly rooms, an canoodlin doon the back closes. If Maggie couldnae get a click she wisnae happy, but thae times werenae aften. We were young, life wis hard, an ye had tae take yer pleasures whaur an when ye could.

Through the week Maggie selt fish fae her sculley, like her maw an her grannie afore her, trudgin up the Fishwife's Causey o a morn, an back doon every night, bent double wi a load o herring oan her back, an it wis nae surprise when she mairrit ontae Wullie Dickson, a fisherman fae Inveresk. No lang efter their waddin though, did he no get the ca up fae the pressmen tae fight fer King George, leavin Maggie oan her ain. There wis nae social in thon days, sae Maggie got a position servin in a pub near Kelso, hopin Wullie wid mak it back tae her, an wonderin how tae fill her time till then...

Maggie, bein the lass she wis, didnae tak lang tae mak freens, an she only took five meenutes mair tae get compromised. It wis either the landlord or his son, Maggie wid nivver let oan, but either way, she didnae want tae admit it, Wullie bein awa an' aw. So she hid it, the daft sow. Ye see, back then, they wid hing ye as soon as look at ye, an gettin pregnant an then hidin the fact wis yin o their 'capital offences'. She lastit as lang as she could afore she startit showin, but then she had tae leave, an wandert the streets. Noo, Maggie aye swore that her bairn wis born still, an that's as it may be, but leavin it sittin oan the banks o the Tweed wisnae her brightest idea, an the basket wis soon discovered, alang wi her prayer-book, the yin wi her name, written in copperplate, in the inside cover.

They couldnae prove murder, no that they had tae, concealment o the pregnancy an the birth wis enough, an puir Maggie Dickson wis tried an condemned tae hing in the Grassmarket, right near tae where she used tae pairty sae hard. Well ah couldnae very well jist stand by an dae nothin, could ah? Lucky fer Maggie, ah kent the rope-maker's sister's laddie, so ah ca'ed in some favours an got him tae fiddle wi Maggie's noose, if ye get ma drift...

The next mornin wis awfy, ah dinnae like tae think oan it. They hung Maggie up oan the gibbet, oh ah wis greetin, fer whit seemed like an eternity, the gallow-boy pu'd doon oan her legs twice, an Maggie gurgled a bit, then went aw limp an silent. Efter a bit they cut her doon.

Ah saw then that Maggie had obviously been tryin tae grab at the rope an had managed tae get her wrist caught in the noose. It didnae seem tae hae saved her onyroads, nor did the supposedly 'fixed' noose. Ah wis gaunnae hae tae hae words wi that laddie. Nae mair favours fer him. So, we put Maggie in her kist an put her oan the cairt. The meenister at Inveresk had said he wid bury her, which wis awfy guid o him, oan account o her bein a hung wumman. So aff we set, we were gaun tae Inveresk by the auld drover's road, oot Bristo Port an roon by Craigmillar. Nae sooner had we got tae the tap o Candlemaker's Raw though, did this mob o surgeon's laddies no come runnin through the entry fae Argyle Square an set upon the kist! We had tae fight them aff, me wi ma whip an Shuggy an Peery wi clubs. They were tryin tae get her body fer thon anatomists tae butcher an were jumpin up oan the cairt, yin even took a swing at me, but ah shimmied oot the road an he slammed at the kist wi his hammer! Split it open at the end! Ah mind at the time thinkin 'oh, ye'll thank me fer that Maggie" Ah jist thocht she had, ye ken, passed wind as she'd passed awa, but oan reflection that wis jist Maggie. She farted a lot.

They were jist laddies, an a bit saft at that, sae we soon had the back o them, an aff we set again. We got through the Port an took the auld road tae Dalkeith. It wis hard gaun, fer the road wis only fit fer kye an sheep, we were gettin shoogled aw ower the shop, an we'd only got as far as Peffermill by dinnertime. So we stopped fer a wee sherry an a filled roll. While we were inside, twa joiners cam ower tae the cairt, yin o them said they had heard somethin, but ah think they had their een oan Maggie's knockers masel. They were at the cairt when we cam oot, an here, right enough, there wis moanin an bumpin noises comin fae the kist! When we got the lid up, up sits Maggie, aw gaspin an greetin an slaverin an' prayin, an breathin...

Peter Purdie happened tae be drinkin in the pub at the time, so we got him oot an he opened a vein oan Maggie's airm tae let the blood oot. That made her sit up, though she wis still ravin an greetin. We took her doon tae Musselburgh that night, an then tae her brother's hoose the next day, where great crowds o nosy neebors an fisher-wummen flocked tae see her an brocht her cairds an floo'ers an bars o tablet. The very same crowds that wid hae happily sat in kirk an sniggered an pointed at her as she sat there at the front oan the penance stool, while the meenister tormentit her fae the pulpit fer gettin spoiled, which wis why she tried tae hide her condition in the first place. She couldnae staun the shame o it.

Whitever it wis that saved her, or whitever it wis that revived her, Maggie nivver gied me a word o thanks ye ken. The selfish besom widnae even let me in when ah went doon tae see her the next week. She wis too busy, sittin up in her bed wi a wee bed-jaiket oan, surroundit wi blooms an writin 'thank-ye' cairds tae aw her pals an weel-wishers, drinkin port an lemon an giein interviews tae the Evenin News. Ah ken this cos ah saw her through the windae. In fact it wis me that named her Hauf-Hingit Maggie when ah wis talkin tae the News reporter ootside her gate. Ah had tae pit the record straight, Maggie had been spinnin the laddie a line aboot divine intervention an how she didnae ken whit she wis daein wis a sin, but noo she did cos she wis 'saved'. She wis gaunnae tak a new name an spend her life helpin puir bairns. She wantit tae be kent as "Saint Margarita Cervica, Queen o' folk's necks" Ye've got tae mind she had jist had her neck hauf-broke an her brain wis addled wi lack o oxygen an surfeit o port an lemon! It's jist as weel ah kent that reporter's grannie's Avon Lady.

Noo, ah've pit up yin o the English papers that covered the story,  tae gie ye a flavour o how it wis seen doon there, fer there wis a lot o interest in Maggie's tale. The funny thing is, an ah've checked ma diary twice, is that Maggie wis hung in 1728, nae doobt aboot it, an yet this paper says it wis in 1813. Mibbe news disnae travel as fast as whit fowk aye say it dis, or mibbe 1813 wis jist a slow news year...

Maggie thocht she wis somethin special efter that, "Hauf-Hingit Maggie Dickson" wis the name she aye went by, she opened an alehoose in Musselburgh an folk came fae aw airts an' pairts tae see her. Her man Wullie even cam back tae her fae the war. They had tae hae anither waddin, fer Maggie wis legally deid, which wis why they couldnae hing her again. They had seeven bairns an Maggie kept the howf gaun till she wis an auld wummin. Ah nivver went but ah heard it wis an awright pub. Bit tatty. Sortae run-doon an' dirty. But that's jist whit ah heard, an ah'm sure it couldnae hae been true...


  1. Sae ye an Maggie used tae hing oot thigither?
    Gettin oot yer box an sich like?

  2. Maggie wis the only yin that could keep up wi me at the karaoke. Ye had tae hae a big voice in thon days, afore thae microphones. It wis jist yersel an' an auld man oan the box. Ye had tae sing intae a tin can fer the echo.

  3. I heard tell of a man who was tragically hung for a sheep as well as a lamb. It's believed he said to himself "I might as well....."

    What is this devilish new-fangled thing called microphones?

  4. Sophia,

    I can't remember if the man was well-hung or whether it was a botched job as in your excellent yarn.

  5. They used tae hing ye fer a lot less than a sheep in times past. There wisnae much oan the telly back then (this wis afore there wis even yin channel) so folk wid say aw sorts tae get some other puir blighter hung. Anythin fer a laugh.