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...

4 comments:

  1. Ha ha ha ha ha... our Sophia was nearly the first to join the mile high club...

    Lovely story Sophia. Just what I needed before going to bed!

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  2. Ah think that's the only reason Mr Lunardi built his balloon tris, he must've read aboot the mile-high club in yin o' thae racy Italian magazines an' thocht he wid hae a bit o' that. Ah guess it could've been worse fer me, wee Jamie Tytler could've offered me a ride in his balloon!

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  3. Yeah Sophia... funny lot these foreigners; can't be trusted with an innocent girl. Well, certainly not after a few sherries. It's in their blood you see... all these Roman orgies and such like....

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