Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Jig o' Life

Intit funny how a thing can get ye aw fired up at the time, then when ye luik back ye wunner whit aw the fuss wis aboot? Whether it's gettin intae a lather aboot an Englis prayer-buik, or gettin intae a fankle aboot a poll tax, or even gettin intae a stushie aboot the price o a loaf o breid, we've aw been there, an yet, in the words o a famous doctor we aw "learned tae stoap worryin an love the bomb." Weel mibbe that's pushin it a bit far but ye get ma drift. The sair edges saften in time an the grass graws thick. Jist like the auld quarry-holes oan the Bruntsfield Links aw things get smoothed ower by the passin o the years.

That's no tae say that at the time the bluid disnae bile up in yer heid an gie ye that ridd-mist ower yer een. Ah can mind that mist comin doon a few times ower the years an ah kept up ma membership caird o the Embra Mob fer mony a season. Ah wis mair a pairt o the supporters camp raither than the first team, ah wid help oot whaur ah could but ah wis content tae leave aw the rough work tae the menfowk. Yin o the rammies ah mind o wis when that rogue King Chairlie the First cam tae the throne in 1625. We could smell trouble fae the word go, especially efter he mairrit that French Catholic lassie Henrietta Maria an it wisnae lang afore we were oot oan the street nicht efter nicht riotin. As ah wis sayin it felt like a maitter o life an' deith back then, but noo it disnae seem sic a big deal at aw. We were aw scared o the Popery comin back ye see, feart that Chairlie wis oot tae turn oor precious Reformation roon. There we were, staunin oan the brink o the Enlightenment, an yet we were fechtin ower whit leid oor clerics spake at us in, an whether or no we wummen had tae keep a wee calender at oor bedside...

Talkin o' bedsides ah wis hingin aboot wi a braw wee laddie at the time. Wee Andra Gray wis a fiery wee wirey wee sparkler o a boy, he wid sit in a corner fer a while, smoulderin awa, but he wis aye ready tae burst intae life an terr roon a room, jabberin awa wi his grand ideas an plans fer the future like a sputterin caunle-flame. Andra wis a Leveller, an early-doors Communist, an ah jist loved his passion an frenzy, an he wis a great dancer tae boot. Wi his wild shock o rid hair an his lean frame when he took his claes aff an capered aboot ma room he luiked jist like a wee matchstick man, waitin tae be struck...

Mibbe that accounts fer Andra's weakness, his pyromania thing. He jist couldnae help hissel puir laddie, he wis aye settin fire tae stuff, an it wis nae surprise tae ony o us in the Mob when he set fire tae the Provost's hoose yin nicht, while we were haein a wee riot doon the Coogate. It wisnae an awfy guid riot that nicht, it wis kind o routine an ordinar, but Andra's wee spot o incendiary fairly brichtened things up an made the nicht gang wi a bang. No that the Provost saw it that way. The very next day Andra an a hauf-dozen o his comrades were roundit up by the Toun Rats an banged up in the Tolbooth.

Arson's a serious business at the best o times, but back in the seeventeenth century it wis a gey risky yin an aw. Whit wi aw the widden hooses, dae-it-yersel biggin, an lack o fire-fighters, yin flamin hoose could burn the entire toun doon, so it wis anither yin oan their list o 'capital crimes' an puir wee Andra got the fu weicht o the doomsters ca brung doon oan his heid an efter a speedy trial wis sentenced tae hing fae the Tolbooth gibbet.

It'll likely come as nae surprise tae ye that ah wisnae gaunnae staun fer that. They werenae takin ma wee Andra fae me, nae way Jose! That wee human dynamo had far too much life in him tae end up swingin fae Embra's tree o deith, an ah set tae work oan ma plan...

The nicht afore Andra's execution me an ma pal Josie Lafferty cam stoatin up the Krames next tae St Giles an fell agin the Tolbooth door. We were singin an laughin, an makin oot like we were blind drunk. Noo this wis weel past curfew an were chancin oor airms, by rights we should've been liftit fer oor behaviour. The Tolbooth Gairds though, as we had predicted, liked tae chance their airms as weel, an the next meenit the door opened an we were 'invitit' intae the Gairdhoose. As ah mynd it we were mair dragged than invitit in.

Josie wis aff a lang line o 'wummen-o-th-nicht', her ma, her grannie an her grannie's grannie were aw whoors an prood o it (her grannie's ma didnae hae it in her tho) an Josie kent her trade weel. She starts up wi aw the flindrikin an teasin, gettin the Gairdsmen intae a guid fettle. Meanwhiles ah dae a wee wiggly dance, unbutton ma jaiket, an whip oot twa bottles o fine sweet sherry tae which ah had previous addit a wee dash o hemlock. Ah pretendit tae swig fae yin bottle, then let yin o the Gairdsmen chase me roon the room a bit till he'd managed tae grab the bottles fae ma haun. Thae Toun Gairds were a glaikit lot an nae mistake, an ten meenits later the bottles are baith empie an the Gairds are aw lyin comatose oan the flair. Ah buttoned ma jaikit up, telt Josie tae pit her claes back oan, an riflet the Gairds' pockets till ah found the cell keys.

Ye should've seen the luik oan Andra's wee face when ah opened his cell door. His een lit up wi a dancin flame. "Sophia!" he crys, "Ya Brammar!" The puir laddie thocht he wis seein in his last nicht oan Earth, an suddenly me an a hauf-dressed whoor are at his door, ye could see why he wis fair chuffed. He grabs ma airm an starts tae swing me roon. "Whit are ye daein Andra ye wee monkey ye?" says ah. "Ach Sophia, ah'm daein the Jig o Life, will ye jyne me?" an sae we had a wee dance aroon the Tolbooth, him an me.

We couldnae dance fer lang tho, ah kent we had tae get a move oan, the hemlock wid suin enough wear aff. We chucked an auld shawl ower Andra's heid an hurried him back doon through the Krames, ower the High Street an through Mary King's Close, an doon tae the edge o the Nor Loch. There ah had a pal waitin wi a wee boat tae get Andra ower the loch tae the road tae Leith, whaur he might find a way tae safety. Ah took Andra in ma airms an held him ticht. "Oh ma wee Lucifer-stick, will ah e'er see ye again?" ah whispert tae him, an he replied "Weel Sophia, if ye dae it'll no be in auld Embra toun. By faith ah tell ye, ah'll nivver again set fit in that blasted toun as lang as ah live!"

Ah stood there oan the edge o the loch, aw by masel, watchin the wee skiff fade intae the darkness o the nicht, wonderin whit wid become o ma wee man, he wis ony a bairn really, an whether ah wid ever see thae sparkly een again...


  1. Sounds like a match made in heaven, Sophia, excellent again!

  2. Thank ye Mr Brownlie, he sure wis a bonnie wee lad, an' fer a while ah thoucht ah wid nivver see him again, but then, ye nivver can tell whit's aheid o' ye, can ye?