Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Big Sky

Jamie Tytler wis a funny wee earnest sort o man. He aye luiket tired, like he could dae wi a guid nicht's sleep. Likely he nivver had mony o them, fer he wisnae the maist successfu o businessmen, an he wis aye runnin fae his creditors. He cam doon tae Embra fae his hame up north in Angus tae study the medicine, tried tae mak it as ship's surgeon oan the whalers, an endit up in a pharmacy business in Leith. That didnae work oot weel, an he ran aff tae England wi his wifie an bairns in tow. Efter lyin low fer a few year, he cam back tae Embra an took up a job editin the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the 2nd Edition, fae his wee hoose in Duddingston. Can ye imagine writin that book? By caundle-licht? Mibbe that explains his tired-luikin een...

It wis whilst he wis editin the Britannica, the 2nd Edition that is, that Tytler read aw aboot the Montgolfier Brothers an their flyin exploits in a hot-air balloon ower in Paris. They had caused a great excitement aw ower Europe an mony a man wantit tae emulate them, nane mair sae than the bold Jamie. It's likely that he had thocht he could mak some money wi this venture, fer he wis aye runnin intae debts, he had turned by this time tae drink, an the puir laddie's wife had left him, takin the five bairns wi her. He set hissel up in the New Register Hoose at the end o the new North Brig, which we aye used tae cry 'the biggest doocot in the land', it been left empty an hauf-feenishet ye see, oan account o the city runnin oot o money an aw. We were aw runnin oot o money in thon days. Times were hard...

Jamie charged fowk 6d a time tae come intae the hauf-bigget dome tae see his 'Grand Edinburgh Fire Balloon' an whaun the time cam, he took his balloon doon tae Comely Green, ahint the Palace, jist aff the London Road, an oan the 27th o' August 1784 he flew it up an ower tae Restalric village. It wis the first ever manned flight in Britain, an ye'll be gled tae ken that there's noo a Tytler Coort, an Tytler Gairdens jist aff Milton Street, where he took aff fae, tae mark the event.

Ah mynd staunin up oan the Calton Hill that day, ah wis bleachin some sheets, an watchin Tytler's balloon soarin up in the air, an ah thocht tae masel "Oooh! Ah'll hae tae hae a go at that yin day, so ah will." Little did ah ken that ah wid ony hae tae wait a year, fer the follaein September, Embra got a visit fae Mr Vincenze Lunardi, a dashin young Italian gentleman, a flyer, a showman, an a proper charmer. Ah jist happened tae hae popped intae the Black Bull Inn at the fit o Leith Street fer a wee sherry when Lunardi's cairrage arrived fae London. Oh! he wis a handsome young thing, aw clean an perfumed, he smelt like a bunch o spicey flooers, no like yer Embra gadges, an it wisnae lang afore we were sharin a bottle o sherry ower a caundle-lit plate o oysters...

A couple o weeks later Vincenze had set up his balloon in the gairdens o George Heriots Hospital up the soothside. Whit a crowd had gaithered, jist aboot abody in the toun wis there, aw the shops were shut fer the day, the toun cooncil were oot dressed in their finery, the Toun Rats had bothered tae show up, bands were playin, an aw the posh wummen were wearin their biggest 'Lunardi' bonnets, it wis quite the pairty. Ah felt like the cat's whiskers so ah did, as ah stepped up ontae the wee stage, an Vincenze took ma haun (he wis sic a gentleman) an helped me up intae the wee basket affair hingin ablaw his big balloon. Ah ken ye're supposed tae be aw patriotic aboot these things, but oh! did his balloon no luik a damn sicht better than Tytler's auld bag, even if it did hae a big Union Flag aw ower it. Ah wis that excitit ah couldnae hae cared less if it had a big picture o the Pope oan it, ah wis gettin tae fly an that's aw that maittered.

Three o' clock came an up we went. Oh the excitement! Ma wee heart wis poundin as we flew up ower aw the heids o the tounsfowk, an ah wis wavin ma hankie at aw ma wee pals, luikin like wee beasties crawlin aboot oan the grund. The noise o aw the cheerin, an the sounds o the band, that loud they had been startin tae gie me a sair heid, soon drifted aff in the breeze, an it aw went quiet. Silent even. Jist me an Vincenze, up in the big sky, wind rufflin through oor hair, wi aw o Embra laid oot afore us like a wee toy toun. An that's when he startit...

"Ah mi Sophia, siamo come gli uccelli e gli api!" an then "Siete il vento sotto le mie ali" he went oan, aw the while pressin hissel up closer tae me an cooin in ma lug. Suddenly ah wisnae sae excitit. Ah should hae realised this afore ah got intae his basket right enough, but aw men are alike, whether Scots, Italians or Chinamen. They're aw jist efter yin thing an yin thing alane. Well, he wisnae gettin that fae me, no awa up there in the sky, ye nivver kent wha could be watchin ye!

Sae then we startit this wee dance, him pressin up close tae me an makin wee smoochie noises wi his lips, an me shufflin awa fae him. Ye've no really got far tae run in yin o thon wee baskets, sae we jist went roon an roon in wee circles, an him comin oot wi aw this Italian keich. Ah've nae Italian masel, but ah could get the jist o whit he wis sayin, an ah didnae like the sound o it. Whitever ma 'amore-tratta' were, he certainly wisnae gettin his hauns oan them!

The silly eedjit wis concentratin that hard oan chasin me aroon his basket that he hadnae been keepin track o whaur we were gaun, an whaun we luiket doon, suddenly we were ower water!! We had flew richt ower Embra, richt ower Leith, an we were heidin oot tae the North Sea, except we cried it the German Sea in thae days. The ony thing that wis gaunnae save us wis that we were losin heicht, an we were gaunnae ditch in the sea jist aff Inchkeith!

So ah took ma chance, an jumped fer it. We were ony aboot ten fit up, but as soon as ah jumped oot the balloon went shootin up again, an disappeared ower the tap o the island, wi Vincenze wavin his flooery hankie at me an greetin. Ah heard later that he had flew richt ower Fife, an cam doon in a field near Ceres, scarin aw the crofters shitless. Of course he wis feted an celebratit the breadth an length o the country, made member o St Andrews Golf Club an a Freeman burgher o' Embra toun, whilst aw ah got wis drookit wet. Ah swam the wee distance tae the island, trampt ma way ower tae the fort, then had tae wait fower days fer a fishin boat tae bring me back tae Leith.

Ye'll nivver get me back up in yin o thae infernal machines again, guid view or bad. Oor ain wee Jamie Tytler couldnae hae enjoyed his flyin days neither, fer it wisnae lang afore he wis back tae editin the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the 3rd Edition this time. An it wisnae lang efter that either afore he wis oan the run again, but this time it wis fer writin seditious pamphlets, an this time he endit up in Massachussetts in America. But that's a story fer anither time, ah'm awa tae pit ma Ovaltine oan. See yersel oot...

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Symphony in blue

Ah've aye got oan weel wi the polis. Ah wid aye hae a cup o tea ready waitin fer them if they were thirsty, ah wid pynt them in the direction the criminals had run, even if they werenae chasin ony, an ah wis aye at the ready tae blaw oan their whistles fer them. Some o ma freenemies used tae say ah wis a wee sook, but ah jist thocht ah wis bein a guid law-abidin citizen masel. Of course, ah wis right in wi them oan account o ma pal Jean D'Armerie, he had jyned up wi them the meenit they formed in Embra, an he even made his ain uniform, tho ye'll be gled tae ken it wisnae in rid silk. Ah'm gled masel fer he wis meant tae be savin his rid silk fer me!

Some days, ye ken whit Embra weather can be like, Jean wid come up tae ma hoose soaked tae the skin, an it wid tak three, sometimes fower sherries an a guid rub doon tae dry him oot. It wisnae fair, ah used tae say tae him, makin him walk up an doon Leith Walk in aw weathers, wi naewhere tae hide, sae ah wis gled tae read in the paper aboot this new-fanglet idea fae England where they wid gie the polis a wee box tae staun in oot o the rain, an it wid e'en hae a wee kettle fer their tea an a wee phone in it, if they wantit tae ca some biddy up fer a wee blether.

Ah wisnae ower-chuffed tho when ah actually clapped een oan the thing. It wis jist an auld type-40 Tardis! Ah thocht tae masel we cannae be haein thon monstrosities appearin aw ower Embra, fowk'll be thinkin there'll be Doctors turnin up oan every street corner, playin havoc wi the timelines an threatenin Blinovitch limitation explosions aw ower the shop! (Though tae be fair Sylvester Pangloss assures me this ony happens wi Brigadiers, but fowk can get awfy feart regardless) So ah mindit masel tae pit a stop tae it...

Lucky fer me ah kent whit oor Chief Constable luiket like at the time. Roddy Ross wis the spit o the King, this bein the early '30s an the King bein auld King George V. Ah also kent that Roddy bidet up Calton Hill, whaur ah used tae dae the stairs. He had no lang moved fae Whisky Raw (that's Royal Terrace if ye want its Sunday name) roon the corner tae Regent Terrace. Every time ah went up there ah had tae pass the scene o that accident ah telt ye aboot, an ma cheeks burnt every time. Puir auld nag...

But gang up there ah did, every chance ah got, an ah wid hing aboot ootside number 28 till Roddy showed face, an then ah wid chase him doon the street shoutin at him that he must be mad if he wantit tae bring thae blue English monstrosities tae oor streets. Tae start wi he wid stop an talk, wi his funny Teuchter accent, an he offered tae follae the Glesca example an paint them aw rid. Ah tried ma best negotiation technique an offered tae accept them if he paintit them pink, but he jist walked awa, an efter that he wid run as soon as he saw me...

Efter aboot twa month o this ah wis gettin tired o it aw, an ah couldnae be botheret wi climbin that hill every day, sae ah thocht ah had better settle wi the man. Ah waited till he cam oot his door this day, an a waved ma hankie tae show him ah wantit tae treat wi him, so he stopped tae talk. Ah suggestit tae him that he could bring his wee boxes tae Embra, jist sae lang as they fitted in wi aw oor bonnie Neo-classical architecture, an ah wis fair pleased when he said he wid get oantae it right awa. Ah think he wis tired tae, o aw the runnin awa fae me!

Roddy got in touch wi the Corporation, an they pit wee Ebeneezer McRae, the City Architect, tae work oan giein us a box that wid complement oor streets an buildins, an that's how Embra came tae hae its unique Tardises, though tae me they look suspiciously like type-69s. Ah aye had ma doots aboot wee Ebeneezer...

It's funny, well it's no really but ah'll tell ye onyroads, but Roddy wis Chief Constable o Embra fer gaun oan 35 year, an in that time he made great changes tae the safety o Embra's streets, bringin in automatic traffic lights, speed-cobbles, zebra crossins, aw sorts really. Ah say it's funny cos yin day in '34 ah happened tae be up Regent Terrace, ah wis oan ma way tae lay some flooers, an ah saw Roddy comin oot o his front door, so ah shoutit an startit tae run taewards him, jist wantin tae thank him fer his work. Weel, did he no gie a funny wee yelp, tak tae his heels, run richt oot oantae the road, an got hit by an Empire breid-van!!

Post-script:- Ah thocht ah wid add yin o these, ma first, fer a ken some o ye dinnae aye look at the comments, but Mr Conan the Librarian seems tae think ah might hae somethin tae dae wi this wee bit o work. Ah wid love tae be able tae pit ma hauns up an tak responsibility, but ah'm afraid ah cannae, ma back pit me oot o the decoratin business years ago. Ah'm chuffed tho that there are ither fowk in Embra wi a bit o taste an' a sense o fun, it's jist a shame they've no got roon tae daein the rest o the boxes, fer some o them are sorry sichts th'day. Mr Conan, pit yer hauns oot, ah want tae check under yer nails fer pink paint...


Friday, 23 July 2010

Ah'm still waitin...

It's been said lang syne that Embra fowk are a wee bit oan the unfreenly side, that they can be awfy staun-affish an a bit cauld-fishlike. This is usually said when we're bein compared wi the Weegies fae Glesca toun, but aften it's jist said oan its ain. Ah cannae agree wi this masel, ah've aye found fowk in Embra tae be warm an welcomin as much as the next toun's fowk. They've aye welcomed me, even though ah'm a whelp o a Black Bitch masel an no a native Edinburgher, an ah ken fer a fact that they welcomed ma pal Jean. Ah've mentioned ma pal Jean afore if ah'm no mistook, an ah think it's time ah telt ye Jean's story...

Jean wis a Huguenot, yin o the Protestants fae France wha had been sufferin persecution at the hauns o the Catholics. It wis oor ain Queen Mary's guid-mither, Catherine de Medici, wha lay at the centre o this web o persecution, an it wis her that instigatit the Massacre o St Bartholomew's Eve in the August o 1572, a month-lang orgy o murder an wickedness that drove mony o the Huguenots fae their hame. Mary by this time wis enjoyin her time at the Virgin Queen's 'pleasure', an her son Jamie Saxt wis oan the throne o Scotland. Bein o the 'reformed' religion hissel, Jamie invitit some o these Protestant refugees tae come bide in Scotland, an let them big a wee refugee camp at the tap end o Leith Loan jist abune Broughton village. In turn the Huguenots brocht wi them their skills as weavers an manufacturers o cloth an paper. Jean's faither, Monsieur D'Armerie wis yin o their maister-weavers.

Ah first met Jean yin day doon oan the Shore at Leith. Ah wis waitin fer a shipment o sherry tae come in fae Spain, ah aye liked tae hae first-pick, an Jean wis oot lookin fer some fresh fish. Oor een met ower a barrel o deid haddock, an it wis love at first sicht. He had thon dark pools o een that ye jist wantit tae jump intae an droon yersel, a jawline as solid as the Castle Rock, an an erse like twa steamin haggis in a clout. Ah didnae ken whaur tae luik first, an ah wis that flustered at the sicht o the man ah endit up buyin three haddock insteid o sherry! Ah wis fair mad at masel that nicht ah can tell ye...

Ah never got talkin tae Jean that day, luikin as ah did like a cherry-beetroot an haein completely lost the power o speech aw o a sudden, but it wisnae twa weeks later, when ah jist happened tae be hingin aboot up the tap o the Loan, afore ah bumped intae him again, near cawin the puir lad ower an giein him sic a fricht he let oot a big "Merde!" Jist as weel ah kent some o the lingua francais, fer a meenit ah thocht he had cried me a horse, but insteid ah kent he wis jist sweerin. Yince ah'd steadied him oan his feet again we got tae talkin an we hit it aff somethin fierce, like a great big Beltane bonfire that's jist had an auld settee chucked oan it...

We were lyin up oan Mr Moultray's hill this day, up whaur the St James Centre's ugly auld hulk noo stauns, an we were luikin doon the hill tae wee Picardy, whaur Picardy Place still reminds us o the french weavers, an past that doon tae Broughton village an the Canon's Mills ahint, snugglin doon by the Water o Leith. We'd jist feenished oor picnic o corn-breid an cheese washed doon wi a couple o flagons o ale, an a few fresh-picked brambles. We lay back oan the sward an got tae talkin aboot whit gifties we wantit tae gie each ither. Ah says ah wid like tae knit Jean a pair o thon awfy-awfy-ticht cyclin shorts, ah thocht they wid help bring oot his, err, his physique, an then Jean asks me whit ah wid like fae him...

Ah thocht fer a meenit, an then ah says "Jean, ah wid like tae hae yin o thon rid silk petticoats like Rhett Butler gave Mammy in thon story 'Gang wi the Wind', yin that wid rustle when ah walked." "Sophia" says he, "Sophia, votre souhait est ma commande."

Ooh, ah loved his french accent so ah did, it aye made me gang jeely-like at the knees, e'en lyin oan ma back. True tae his word tho, Jean went back doon the hill tae wee Picardy that nicht, had a wee word wi his faither, an they pit in an order tae the auld country tae import some mulberry bushes an a wee colony o' silkworms, which they then plantit up oan the very spot oan that hill whaur we had lain that day...

Jist like the thing tho, oor Scottish weather no bein sae clement as the French, neither the mulberry bushes nor the silkworms thrived, an six month later aw ah had tae show fer it wis a wee rid silk hankie, finely embroideret wi SP an JA in the corner. Ah said tae Jean, tryin tae encourage the puir wee lamb, that ah still wantit that fine rid silk petticoat, but ye ken whit? Ah'm still waitin...

Friday, 16 July 2010

The Confrontation

Oh Hullo there! It's you again, come in come in, sit yersel doon. Oh, afore ye sit doon wid ye pit that kettle oan? Ah wid dae it masel but ah'm a bit wearied. Ah've been sittin here tellin ma stories aw mornin an tae be honest wi ye ah'm right done in. Ye ken, sometimes this storytellin malarkey's like floggin a deid horse so it is. Ah'm a martyr tae ma art so ah am, but then, it's true whit they say, a wumman's got tae dae whit a wumman's got tae dae...

Actually ah shouldnae say that, ah mind ah got intae bother fer sayin that yince. Weel, tae be fair it wisnae actually me sayin it that got me intae bother, it wis the reply ah got an whit happened efter that that did. Oh, let me pit that tea oantae brew an ah'll tell ye aw aboot it.

Noo let me see, this widda been ooh aboot 1904, no, wait a meenit, it wis 1903. That's right, it wis jist a fortnight efter thon Wright Brothers had took their flight in America, an we were aw still buzzin wi the news, no that ah wis buzzin tho, cos if ye mind ah'd awready been fer a fly, but abody ah kent wis buzzin. We wid likely hae been buzzin onyroads, fer it wis Hogmanay, which wis aye a big nicht in the auld toun. Ah wis lookin forrit tae feenishin ma work, gettin the hoose straight, an then heidin up tae the Tron fer the Bells. Ah fair loved the first-fittin, gettin oot the sherry, pairtyin aw nicht, singin alang wi aw the turns, dancin til dawn, gettin loads o kisses aff the boys. But first ah had tae feenish ma work, so ah wis hammerin oan...

Ah had a guid position at the time, daein stairs up alang Regent Terrace up oan the Calton Hill. It wis a nice area, fowk up there kent how tae keep a stair clean. Ah wis scrubbin awa, singin merrily awa tae masel, at the stair ootside number 20 when ah noticed the St Cuthbert's milk float comin alang the street. Ah didnae much care fer the milk-laddie tho, Jimmy Dobbie, big lanky dreep o a boy, his mither stayed up the street fae yin o the lassies ah kent fae the dancin, an she wis yin o thae lippy sorts, aye needlin ye, thocht she wis a cut above, ye ken the sort. Her laddie wis a bit like her an aw...

Jimmy comes by, an ah heard him gettin his joog aff the back o the float an' comin up ahint me. "Ye haein fun there Sophia? Ye've missed a bit there ye ken."

Ah wisnae risin tae him. "Weel, a wumman's got tae dae whit a wumman's got tae dae." says ah. "Aye, an a scrubber's got tae dae whit a scrubber's got tae dae" he comes back. Oh he wis gettin ma goat.

It's likely he wis bashin oan a bit fast cos like me he wis thinkin o the nicht aheid an whaur he wid be seein in the New Year an wha wis gettin his first fit, but that's nae excuse fer whit he did. He swung his joog aroon that fast that he skailt milk aw ower ma fresh-cleaned stair. Oh ah wis beilin! Ah startit layin intae the big eedjit, ca'ed him aw the names o the day. Ah probably shouldnae hae ca'ed his maw a lippy auld mare, but there ye go, ah said it onyway.

He goes runnin back ower tae his float an climbs up, picks up a breid roll, like as no his breakfast, an launches it at ma erse. Ah spun roon an launched back at him - wi ma scrubbin brush!

Weel, ma aim's nae guid at aw, nivver has been, ah've nivver won a sod oan a cocoanut shy, an ah beltit the puir horse slam-bang oan its backside. Up it rears, an taks aff at a gallop alang the street! Up oantae the pavin-stanes it went an the first thing it hit wis the railin ootside number 27. That thump saw Jimmy flyin intae the air, alang wi the maist pairt o his milk.

But that nivver stoapped the nag, an it went careerin alang, till it reached the corner whaur the terrace turns intae Carlton Terrace, whaur it beltit across the road, cairt gaun up oan yin wheel, right intae the rails across fae number 6. Crash! Bang! Wallop! ye could say...

Aw this, mind, is occurrin at 6 in the mornin. Windaes are flyin up aw aroon us as fowk are lookin oot tae see whit the noise is, an number 6 only belongs tae Geordie Mackie, the posh-biscuit manufacturer o the shop oan Princes Street, him that had made biscuits fer the auld Queen, an still made them fer King Edward. His face wis purple, which wis nice fer it matched his language. He had guid reason tae be mad mind, the railins were aw broken tae bits, the cairt wis lyin in pieces, an the horse? Weel ah'm sorry tae say the horse had got an iron railin in the throat an wis lyin deid in the middle o the road richt in front o his front door.

There wis hell tae pay right enough, an a bill o £4/5/- intae the bargain. Jmmy got intae an awfy bother an had tae pay this oot his wages fer the next ten month fer no lookin efter his horse. Ah got let go an aw, but ah wisnae that bothered, there's aye stairs need cleanin, an it saved me the climb up that hill every mornin. At least ah had a story tae tell ma pals that nicht when it cam tae daein ma wee turn at the New Year's pairties.

An if ye're wonderin why ah stuck that sign oan the horse, it's because we were jist up the hill fae the North Back Canongate, an the fowk doon there were awfy puir an mair than a wee bittie rough. The sort that wid flog a deid horse if they got a chance...

Ach look, ah've went oan that lang ah've stewed the tea. Pit that kettle oan again wid ye?


Thursday, 15 July 2010

Night o the swallow

Durin the War, that wid be the Second War, it wis vital that we aw did oor bit fer the country. Ah tried makin a case tae the panel that stair-cleanin wis an integral pairt o the war effort, but they wid hae nane o it, so it wis intae uniform fer me. Ah've nae heid fer heights so the Spitfires were oot, ah'm nae much o a swimmer sae the convoys were oot, an the way ah feel aboot enclosed spaces kicked the submarines intae touch. But ah quite liked the look o the ARP rig-oot, an ma pal Bella Semple said ye got a right laugh wi them. Mind, Bella wis the sort that wid get a guid laugh at Warriston Crematorium. She wis aye gigglin an ticklin yer ribs, nothin ever got her doon. She wis a lady gowfer, an onytime she got a gin-an-tonic inside her she wid kick her legs in the air (she had a tidy pair o ankles) an cry "Dalmahoy!!"

It wis a shame that ah nivver got posted wi Bella, she worked oot o Edinburgh City Control up at Buckstone Drive seein as how she had guid connections through her Uncle Bert, while ah wis pit doon tae Barnton quarry. Here's a wee photie o whit it looks like noo, a bit deid, but it looked better back then when it wis fu o life.

Ah cannae really complain aboot oor lot, we had it easy compared tae some places. The nights aw the bombers passed ower oan their way tae Clydebank were the worst, ye jist kent they were takin a batterin an there wis nothin ye could dae fer them. We had a couple o raids oan the docks, an o course the Bridge wis a big target, but aw in aw we cam aff lightly.

Policin the blackoots wis the major pairt o ma duties. Ah had tae walk aboot wi ma wee slit-torch shoutin at fowk tae shut their doors or fix their blackoot curtains. This yin nicht ah wis patrollin aroon Princes Street, it wis a dark dark nicht, nae moon, an ye had tae be gey carefu whaur ye were walkin. Ah mind passin by the back-end o St John's Church an ah could hear this wierd wheezin an groanin noise, ah couldnae work oot whit it wis, an at first ah thocht it might be a Tardis comin intae land. Yince ah shone ma wee torch ower the railins intae the bushes tho, ah got a better idea o whit wis makin the noise.

Mibbe ah should've stopped them, sent them packin back tae their mammies, but ah didnae hae the heart. They were jist laddies, an they probably didnae ken when they wid get the ca-up tae gang aff tae the fight. In thae days ye took yer pleasures whaur ye could find them...

So ah kept schtum an heided aff alang Princes Street, checkin that aw the cars had their heidlight-dippers oan, an turned up Frederick Street. Ah had jist got past Rose Street when ah felt this ticklin oan ma ankle. Ah yelped, an ma first thocht wis that mibbe it wis a sodjer hidin doon a basement area, waitin tae surprise foxy wummen like masel, so ah cried oot "Stop yer ticklin Jock!" as ye dae. Nae answer. Next meenit ah felt anither tickle, so ah switched ma torch oan an shone it doon at ma feet...

Rats! Big stoaters o rats! An when ah cast the licht aboot ah could see that the pavement wis covered, an the road an aw! There must've been thoosans o them, millions even!

Ye see, it wis at this time that the Corporation were diggin up Princes Street Gairdens tae pit in air-raid shelters, an obviously the rats were movin, en masse, as they say in France, ower tae Queen Street Gairdens. Like as no they wid hae relatives ower there that could pit them up.

Ah'm up oan the railins in a flash, weel, no in a flash obviously fer that wid hae broken the blackoot regulations, but ah wis fast onyroads. If there's yin thing ah cannae stand it's rats, especially at ma ankles. Ah tried screamin fer help, but o course this wis late at nicht an there wis naebody aboot. Ah wis stuck up that lamp-post fer hoors, an aw ah had tae drink wis ma wee hip-flask o sherry. An that didnae last long...

By-an-by tho the rats thinned oot, an ah felt able tae climb doon again. Ah tottered up the street till ah got tae the corner o George Street, shooshin them oot the road, till ah could find a polisman, ah threw masel intae his airms, aw greetin an jibberin so ah wis, an he helped tae get me hame...

The funny thing is, it wisnae lang efter that ma Area Warden cam up tae me an said that stair-cleanin had been re-designated as pairt o the War Effort, an he said somethin aboot me gettin ma bucket oot o his face an gettin back tae ma scrubbin. At least ah think that's whit he said. Humourless wee smout so he wis...

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Deeper Understanding


Oor wee toun o Embra's been hame tae mony a great mind ower the years, an nane greater than the 'eminence grice' that wis Davie Hume. Born up the Lawnmarket in 1711, this wee laddie wis sae unco bright an sharp-mindit that he uptook a place at the University when he wis bare ten year-auld. Can ye imagine ony o oor wee tykes fae the present day bein sae keen oan the learnin when they've got their X-boaxes an their Nintendos tae amuse thersels wi? Ah cannae see it masel.

But study the lad wid, an study weel he did, an by the age o twenty-six he had produced his 'Treatise oan Human Nature' which ah'm telt is yin o the foundation stanes o Western philosophy. Ah say ah'm telt it is fer try as ah may ah couldnae get past the first chapter. Let's jist say its a bit oan the dry side, an some o the words he uses are awfy awfy lang...

Ah'm nae alane in this, fer it didnae exactly set the heather alicht at the time, it nivver selt, an Davie eventually had tae tak up tutorin rich bairns tae earn his livin. Still, he worked up his thoughts, kept oan at the scrievin, an in time he wis grantit the acclamation he deservit. Noo part o the reason he wisnae popular cam fae the fact that the man wis - God forbid - an atheist. There werenae mony o us aboot at the time, an them that there were tendit tae keep it tae thersels. But no oor Davie. In fact, no lang efter the '45 he published his deeply atheist work 'An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding' which upset the kirk sae much he wis charged wi heresy! The ony reason he got aff wi it wis by arguin that, seein as he wis an atheist, he lay ootside the kirk's jusrisdiction! Clever laddie. Lucky laddie tae, fer it wis ony a few year afore this that Tam Aitkenheid, a right smart-alec student up at the University, had got hissel hung jist fer sayin Christianity wis a lot o keich. Served him right tho, ah nivver took tae the jumped-up wee nyaff...

Anyway, tae ma wee story. Yin sunny morn ah wis takin the air wi ma pal Jean an we were walkin the Lang Dykes, which used tae run alang Barefoot's Park jist up fae the Nor Loch. They were layin oot the New Toun at this time, an the Lang Dykes wis soon tae become St Giles' Street, or at least it wis supposed tae become St Giles' Street, till auld King George stuck his neb in, said we couldnae cry it that name fer there wis a slum area in London toun cried that an could we no cry it efter his sons, the bonnie princes? So, Princes Street it became, an Princes Street it still is. Interferin auld bugger so he wis.

We were daunerin alang when we spied a commotion doon in the loch. Noo, tae pit ye in the picture the Nor Loch wis still a big feature in thon days, it hadnae been drained yet, an filled the vale atween the Old an New Touns. It stretched fae whaur Ramsay Gardens stauns noo, doon tae past whaur the North Brig had no lang been built, an it must hae been aboot fower hunnert feet wide in the middle. It wisnae awfy deep though, an jist doon the hill fae the Lawnmarket there wis a sortae steppin-stane-brig across the loch. Geordie Boyd the draper fae Gosford's Close had startit it when he couldnae be bothered walkin aw the way doon the High Street tae the North Brig tae get across tae see the new works, it wis kent as Geordie Boyd's Mud Brig. In time of course it got bigger an bigger an ye'll ken it th'day as the Earthen Mound, on tap o which staun the twa Art Galleries.

Fae whit we could see, some auld bloke had been tryin tae cross the mud brig, slipped or tripped, an tumblit intae the loch. Noo that's somethin ye widnae want tae dae fer it wis a stinkin myre at this time, back in the days o 'Gardy Loo!' an aw the piss an shit fae the auld toun found its way doon the closes an wynds an intae the loch, it wis in effect an open sewer. So we ran doon tae see if we could help the puir auld man.

We got doon there, an as we were nearin we could see that the auld bloke wis that fat he couldnae get hissel up. He wis lyin oan his back in aboot three inch o smelly foul water, yelpin an greetin an cryin 'Help me, ah cannae get up, help!'

It wis Jean that first noticed that the man wis Davie Hume. He bided up Mylne's Court at the time, but he wis biggin a new hoose at St Andrews Square, yin o the first in fact, an wis oan his road ower tae see how the work wis progressin. Jean an I had been, er, partakin o a wee refreshment fae ma hip-flagon o sherry afore this an we were in a jestin mood, so ah cam up wi a wee jape tae amuse wersels. We baith pit shawls ower oor heids an pit oan like we were fisherwummin fae Newhaven, aw rough-like, a bit like yer chavs an chavesses o the present day.

"Whit ye waantin Mister? Ur ye aawright thair? Ur ye waashin yur herr? Div ye waant a wee drinkie innit?" that sortae thing. Jean wis puirless laughin by this, then ah went oan "Wid ye likie a wee haun up? Tell us the Lord's Prayer an the Creed an we'll see whit wee kin dae fur ye!" me kennin he wis an atheist an aw. Ah think it wis aboot this pynt that Jean doublet up laughin an ah'm sure ah heard the tinkle o pish...

Tae the man's credit tho, he lay there oan his back in the dirty water, shut his een, an recitit the prayer an creed, an sae yince we had composed oorsels we hitched oor skirts up, waded in as dainty as we could manage, an hoisted auld Davie tae his feet. Puir auld sowel, he looked a sicht. Ah'm thinkin he must've drunk some o the water when he fell in the loch, fer ah heard that he telt this story tae a pal o his efter this, an described us 'Newhaven fishwives' as "the maist acute theologians ah ever did meet" an the bold man only went an convertit tae Christianity fae that day forth! Bit o an ain goal that if ye ask me, haein spent maist o ma life tryin tae convert fowk the ither way roond! Ah suppose ye cannae win them aw.

Ah'll no bore ye wi ma tales much further, exceptin tae add a wee dessert. A few month efter this occurrence Davie had bigged an moved intae his new hoose. As ah telt ye it wis yin o the first in the area, an the streets hadnae been furnished or named or onythin. Ah had been carousin up the High Street this yin nicht wi ma pal Nancy Ord, her faither wis a big-wig, somethin tae dae wi money, an he wis a Baron, but Nancy wisnae stuck-up like some o them, she wis a rare terr oan the swallae, an me an Nancy were stoatin back doon the road tae Leith when we happened tae be passin by Davie's new hoose. Ah mind sayin tae Nancy aboot Davie's Holy Conversion an how we should commemorate it somehow, an next thing Nancy gets a bit chalk oot her handbag, said somethin aboot aye keepin a bit haundy, but her airms were ower short, so ah climbed up oan the railins ootside his front door, an wrote "St David's Street" oan the side o his hoose.

Ah heard that Davie's auld hoosekeeper-cum-cook Peggy Irvine wis beilin aboot this the next day, she thocht it wis barefaced vandalism, but Davie, bein the tolerant auld sook he wis, jist said "Never mind lassie, many a better man has been made a saint without knowing it".,,

Intit funny how some jokes stick, lang efter ye've finished laughin at them? The cooncil cam along, saw ma wee bittie grafitti, an thocht that wis the street's official name an painted it oan, so St David's Street it remains tae this day...

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Hound o Love


Here, ah'm gaunnae start aff th'day by sayin somethin some o ye may find a wee bit controversial, but ah'll say it onyroads.

Ma auld mither, bless her soul, is a Black Bitch!

She's prood tae be cried yin, ah'm prood that she is yin. Fer ma ain sel, ah can only lay claim tae bein a whelp o a Black Bitch, but that'll hae tae dae me, sae there's nae pynt in greetin aboot it...

Let me tell ye ma wee story. It's a story aboot love an loyalty, it's aboot cruelty an vindictiveness, it's aboot stayin loyal tae the past. Ma story concerns the wee toun o Linlithgow, some o ye may ken it, it sits aroon 16 mile west o Edinburgh in the coonty o West Lothian. Lithgae (as it's cried by the locals) may coont as a wee toun these days, but mony year ago it wis yin o Scotland's foremaist burghs. In fact in 1368 it wis yin o the Court of Four Burghs alang wi Edinburgh, Stirling and Lanark, an it wis langtime a favourite o Kings an Princes. There wis a royal hoose in Lithca fae at least as faur back as King David, weel afore the Wars o Independence, an whit ye see th'day is but a ruin o a great an gracefu Royal Palace. Ma auld pal Walter Scott couldnae hae put it better when he wrote in his novel Marmion:

"Of all the palaces so fair
Built for the royal dwelling,
In Scotland far beyond compare
Linlithgow is excelling."

This Palace sae fair sits in a park upon a hill owerlookin a loch aboot a mile in width, in the middle o which stauns an island, a wee island, an upon this island stauns a solitary tree. This tree played a central role in the life o medieval Lithca, fer it wis the chosen place o punishment fer the miscreants o the toun.

In a less enlightened age it wis the practice o the toun's magistrates tae sentence criminals tae be tied tae this tree, an left tae die. Noo bearin in mind that ye might get sentenced fer as little as stealin a loaf o breid, some wid say that this wis a gey harsh thing tae dae, but then, ye've got tae mind they had less tae entertain thersels wi in thon days, an watchin a puir auld biddy sterve tae death helped pass the time an gied the tounsfowk somethin tae blether aboot.

So ye can imagine their displeasure this yin time when, haein tied this auld bloke tae the tree, ony time they lookit oot at the island, there he wis, bold as brass, hale an hearty. They couldnae figure oot whit wis gaun oan. Until at last yin day some eagle-eye in the toun espied a figure swimmin oot tae the island!

Weel! Wis it no the mannie's faithfu dug swimmin oot, wi a piece in its mou! Noo dinnae ask me if it wis a piece oan cheese, or mibbe a wee ham piece, ah dinnae ken, but either way ye get the gist. The hound wis keepin auld Mr Convict alive, a shinin example o love an loyalty that wid pit wur ain Greyfriars Bobby tae shame. They say that a dug is a man's best freen, an that man sure had whit they nooadays cry a BFF in that dug.

So sure as guns ye can tell whit they did next. That's right, they tied the puir dug tae the tree! Cruel cruel people that they were though, they still endit up celebratin the dug by pittin it oan the toun's crest, which ye can see at the tap o ma story. A black bitch dug, tied tae a tree, oan an island, in a loch.

An tae this very day, if ye're born within the bounds o Lithgae toun, ye hae the right tae ca yersel a Black Bitch, an regardless o the march o politically correct progress, fowk like ma auld mither still haud their heids high an say it wi pride.

"Ah'm a Black Bitch fae auld Lithgae toun!"

Saturday, 3 July 2010

How tae be invisible


Ah wis rakin through ma box o auld photies an ah came across this yin o me an a tram up at Pilrig. That's me wi ma new hat oan, ye can jist see me ower the shooder o the auld man in the bunnet. Ah mind buyin that hat, it cost me seeventeen an six in the New Year sale at PT's up the Bridges. Ah had tae staun in the queue fer three oors listenin tae ma pal Mima McCrudden gaun oan aboot her man an the bother she wis haein wi him. He wis either at the Clan or the bookies she says, an if he wis up at yin, he'd be doon at the ither. He aye went oan aboot how he wis a great yin fer the form an he could pick a winner fae a mile aff, but if he ever did, then he drank aw he won fer nane o it ever got back tae Mima. Aw she had tae feed the bairns wi wis whit she got fae her cleanin jobs. She did offices in Queen Street fae six till eight in the mornin, then stairs up Easter Road efter she'd fed an dressed the bairns, an then she cleaned the school kitchens efter dinnertime. It's nae wonder she couldnae be bothered cleanin her hoose when she got hame. Noo ah'm nae yin fer talkin, but Mima wis a clarty besom. She swore like a trooper, smoked like a chimney, had no a tooth left in her heid, fartit when she felt like it, an she nivver cleaned her windaes. No beatin yer rugs every week, or missin yer brasses noo an again's yin thing, but haein dirty windaes? Well, there's nae excusin laziness is aw ah'm sayin...

Ah'm no even sure why she wis there that day. She wisnae yin fer spendin money, an PT's stuff wisnae her style onyway. She wis mair o a coats-fae-auld-rugs than a rugs-fae-auld-coats sortae wumman. Ah hadnae expectit tae see her there, an jist happened tae end up staunin next tae her in the line. Ah kent her fae when she wis a bairn in Lorne Street an her mither, auld Mrs Fleming, used tae serve in the Alhambra picture hoose ticket booth. She wis a quiet lassie, bonnie wee thing wi long jet black hair, rosie cheeks an bowdie legs. Ah used tae laugh at the bairns when ah watched them aw playin in the street an the laddies wid try tae ride their guiders atween Mima's legs, or get her tae be the goalposts. She jist laughed an telt them they'd be thankin her soon enough fer her legs...

She might no hae been there tae buy right enough, a lot o wummen in thon days couldnae walk past a line withoot jynin it. Ye aye wantit tae find a bargain whether ye needed it or could afford it or no. She might hae been oan the thieve, ye nivver ken. She widnae be the first an it wid hae been easy fer her tae sneak past the flairwalkers, bein sae wee, an ye wid nivver see her in a sales crowd. Mibbe she wis missin her work whit wi the holidays an that, an jist wantit somebody tae talk tae. It can be a lonely life if ye've no got yer work tae go tae. So ah let her rabbit oan. She soundit like she wis haein a right hard time wi her man an the bairns. That still disnae gie her an excuse no tae wash her windaes though.

Whitever she wis daein there ah'll nivver ken, fer ah lost sicht o her yince auld Mr Fraser the commisionnaire opened the doors an we aw rushed forrit. She seemed tae be headin fer ladies' underwear when she jist vanished. Ah ran aw the way up the stairs tae the millinery an found this lovely broon felt hat wi a wee yellae ribbon reduced fae yin pound fifteen shillin, ye cannae see the ribbon in the photie cos it wis oan the ither side. Ah wore that hat tae the kirk fer years, week in week oot, lasted me weel it did. Ah passed it oan tae some bairns fer a jumble sale in Buchanan Street, alang wi some tea-cosies ah'd knitted an three pound o' ma best pink-an-white coconut ice. It wis a grand hat so it wis, see, ah'm mistin up jist thinkin aboot it...

Ah'm tryin tae mind why ah had this photie taen. If ah mind right this wis taen the day they jyned the tramlines atween Embra an Leith, the last day o the Pilrig Muddle. Ye see, fer nigh oan twenty year, Leith Toun Cooncil had been runnin fast new electric trams, whilst Embra Corporation had still been oan the auld cable cars. Consequently, when ye were gaun by tram up tae Embra ye had tae get aff at Pilrig, cross the toun line, an climb oan an Edinburgh Corporation vehicle, which then dragged ye oan up the hill tae Greenside, past the auld Gallow Lee, past whaur stood the elm trees that ah wid meet ma pal Jean fae Picardy under, past the Tabernacle an Admiral Haldane's thrillin sermons. Thae auld cable trams were creaky affairs tho, an they were aye breakin doon, cable snappin or some such, an it wis a joke ye wid hear aw the time tae say that if ye were gaun tae Edinburgh, then yer quickest way wis tae take a tram tae Pilrig, an then walk the rest!

That wis aw many year ago, an even though we voted eighty percent tae stay independent o Embra, wi control ower oor ain affairs, we've accepted the 'union' that wis brought upon us. We Leithers are nae yins tae haud a grudge, not at aw. Let bygauns be bygauns, aw water unner the brig, nothin tae see here. Sae why are Edinburgh Cooncil tormentin us, threatenin tae revive the auld joke?

"Whit's the quickest way tae get tae Leith?"

"Ah dinnae ken, whit is the quickest way tae get tae Leith?"

"Take a tram tae York Place, get aff there cos ye huv tae, an walk the rest."