Friday, 13 August 2010

Night Scentit Stock.


That wis the cry ye wid hear aw ower Auld Reekie, ten o'clock at nicht an six in the mornin. They were the twa times ye were allowed tae chuck yer refuse oot the windae doon intae the close, aw that ye couldnae burn. If ye were in luck it wid reach the bottom an the scaffies wid shovel it awa, if yer aim wis oot, or it wis windy weather, then yer slops widnae reach the groond, but wid end up splattered doon yer wa, an ye wid hae tae wait fer rain tae clean it aff. It gave the toun quite a scent at nicht, but it didnae smell like a bouquet o' flooers.

Ye'll hear fowk maintain that Auld Reekie got its name fae aw the smoke belchin fae a thoosan chimneys an envelopin the toun. That's mince. The toun wis ca'ed Auld Reekie lang afore we could aw afford tae buy coals, an cam fae the stench o the daily ootpoorins fae aw the windaes. Oan a hot summer's day, wi a Sooth wind blawin, were ye tae staun ower the Nor Loch in Bearford's Park, whaur they bigged the first New Toun, the smell wid've knockt ye oan yer back. Ah wis aye endin up oan ma back in Bearford's Park, but that's anither story fer anither day...

The scaffies, wi their wee barries, wid come an take maist o the dirt awa, but in the auld days we had ither ways o cleanin the closes an aw. A lot o fowk kept swine an hens, sometimes in their ain hooses, sometimes in an oothoose, an they wid grub aroon in the mess eatin whit pickens they could find. Ah kept a few chickens masel, mainly fer their eggs, but haundy fer a roast come the Daft Days. Noo an again ah wid leave the eggs an let a docker raise a brood o chicks ah could sell or pass oan tae ma neebors.

Ah had this yin braw hen fer years, ah cryed her Meg efter the big gun up the Castle fer she shot oot eggs the size o cannonbaws, an she wis a grand layer, kept me gaun in chicks fer as lang. Ah got quite attached tae Meg, she wid aye come runnin when ah ca'ed her name. It didnae maitter how far doon the close she wis, up she wid trot, wi a wee train o chicks ahint her aw cheepin merrily. Meg wis great, Meg did awthin richt, Meg wis the best hen in aw Embra. She had ony yin fault, an that wis that she wid aye get under yer feet when ye least needed it. When ah wis in the hoose say, an ah wis mibbe brushin ma flair, everytime ah turnt roon she wid be at ma ankle, gettin tanglt up in ma skirts, if ah wis wearin them. Ah warned her time an' time again, but she widnae listen. Peety that, or she might hae been wi us still...

Ah wis hingin oot ma windae this night, it wid be aboot seeven o'clock, an ah wis watchin aw the bairns playin doon Libberton's Close. The close ran aff the High Street doon tae the Coogateheid, near enough whaur the George IV Brig noo stauns. Ah stayed up the stair fae John Dowie's alehoose an there wis aye somethin gaun oan in the close, somethin tae watch. Ah wis watchin this auld boy haein a pish in yin o the doorways when ah noticed this figure comin up the close. Ah recognised him richt awa, it wis that Captain Porteous fae the Toun Gaird. Bumptious big eedjit that he wis, a'body hated the man, an ye could see fowk joukin tae get oot his road, pressin thersels intae doorways an the like. Exceptin Meg. Ah saw her jist at the last meenit come wanderin richt oot intae the middle o the close, an ah tried tae shout, but too late.

Porteous tried tae avoid her by takin a wee trip-step, but still managed tae catch her, did a wee skip an a birl, spun roon an landit hard oan his erse in the gundie runnin doon the middle o the close. A dozen heids lookin oot fae their windaes aw laughed at yince, sic wis the popularity o the man. He got hissel tae his feet, his face like thunder an looked aroon fer the hen that caused his fa fae grace, then he liftit his walkin-cane up, an brocht it hard doon oan Meg's wee heid! The murderous rogue!

Ye could see by fowk's reactions, an the sounds o their bawlins an cursins, that Meg wis a weel-loved hen. Men an wummen were appearin at every door an windae barrackin the arrogant Captain. Ah wis fair blazin masel, an near tae greetin. Ah yelled a torrent o unprintable assaults doon at him, an then shoutit that "As God is ma witness ah wish ye hae as mony fowk celebratin at yer ain hinter-end as there were feathers oan that puir chicken!" an ah picked up ma chamber-pot an emptied it doon oantae his heid.

By rights he could've come right up the stair an arrestit me, it wis far too early fer poorin-oot, but the cheerin that wis resoundin roon the close wa's made him see better sense an he jist brushed doon his shooders, shook his heid, and struttit aff up the close. Leavin me tae collect ma puir deid Meg an bring up her brood o chicks oan ma ain sel.

It wis a couple o year efter this that Captain Porteous met his ain sorry hinter-end. He had been locked up in the Tolbooth, that dark an dreary pile oan the High Street, whilst he waitit fer word o his appeal tae come through fae London. That wis the appeal against his sentence o execution fer openin fire oan a crowd o us that were haein a peaceful riot yin nicht. It's a lang story. When the messenger arrived, the nicht o the 7th o' September 1736, wi the news that he had been reprieved, Porteous startit celebratin wi his pals, an telt them the story o ma hen an how ah had cursed him. Called me an auld witch so he did. Said he had cheatit the curse so he did. Said ma pish smelt o' roses so he did, which wis nice o' him...

Ten meenits later, while they're still aw carousin awa, laughin an jestin, they hear the sound o the 'deid-drum' thumpin its doleful beat at the heid o his lynch-mob oan their way up fae the Grassmarket.

Porteous, kennin whit the noise meant, crys oot "Damn the auld wife! She wis right!!"

An' ah wis. It wis a busy nicht in the Grassmarket that nicht. There were as mony fowk there as feathers oan a hen...


  1. Awww poor wee Meg.... Still at least in chicken heaven she'd be looking down and thinking what a bra job you were making of bringing up her brood... There's always a wee bit of mercy in everything, I suppose.

    I'd be quite interested to hear about the times you were on your back in Bearford's Park... if you ever have a minute...or maybe you think I'm a bit young to hear tales like that?

  2. Puir wee martyrt Meg richt enough tris. Still, at least she didnae go tae waste. Nothin went tae waste in thon days, an' Meg kept me gaun fer a fu week. Needs must as they say...

    Ah'll hae tae tell ye someday aboot Bearford's Park, or Barefit Park as we aften cryed it. An aften ah wis...

  3. What a delight to be able to come back after being marked absent and read your lovely and lurid tales of Auld Reekie. Along with Tris I can hardly control my excitement waiting for your tales of star-gazing in Bearford's.

  4. Ah Mr Brownlie it's fair barrie tae see ye back, ye had me awfy worrit, ah hope yer keepin weel. Ah tell ma stories tae try an' bring a wee smile intae the world, an' if ah've brought yin tae yours ma work is done.

    Ah'm touched that you an' tris are sae fascinatit wi whit ah got up tae in Barefit's Park, an' ah wid be temptit tae leave it tae yer imagination if no fer the fact that ah've got ma reputation tae think o'!