Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Thon heavy people...

Oh hullo there! Come in, come in an' sit doon, ah've jist pit the kettle oan tae byle. Ah've got some fresh pancakes ah jist made this mornin that'll pit a smile oan yer wee face. Settle yersel doon by the fire, get yersel comfy, an' ah'll tell ye a wee story aboot a couple o' hingings ah went tae up at the Gallowlee oan Leith Walk a few year ago. Noo, afore ye start cryin me a morbid auld craw let me stop ye richt there. Things were different back in the 1750s. Ye've got tae mynd we had nae pictures, nae telly, nae 'Edinburgh Festival' in thon days. Nae fitba matches tae shout at, nae Big Brother evictions tae tak sides oan. We had the penny gaffs aye, if ye wantit a wee laugh, an' there were aye the balladeers up the Mercat Cross if ye wantit tae hear the news, but if ye enjoyed a big crowd an' lots o' bawlin an' shoutin, then the hingins were yer thing.

Hingins were great places tae meet aw yer pals an' catch up oan the gossip. Ye wid see fowk there that nivver cam oot their hoose fer orner, fowk ye had thocht lang-deid. They were great places fer gettin aw the local news, the latest fashion tips, new recipes, an' whit constitutit a 'capital crime' that week. Ye had tae hae that last yin so ye widnae get caught oot yersel. Public mores an' scruples were aye oan the chynge sae it wis better tae be weel-informed oan whit an' whit no tae dae tae avoid the rope. Life an' deith were gey near-neebors back then an' ye were nivver sure ye werenae gaunnae be next up oan the gibbet...

Certain things tho nivver chynge, an' certain crimes were aye seen as beyond the pale. Murder obviously wis nivver luikt kindly oan, an' cannibalism neither, but we'll get tae that in time. First ah want tae tell ye aboot how ye can mak somethin sae bad as murder even worse by tryin tae spin a yarn tae cast a better licht oan yersel.

Wee Norrie Ross had a hard start in life. He wis a bricht young lad fae Inverness, but his fowks baith died when he wis jist fifteen an' he couldnae feenish his education an endit up in service. He managed tae get hissel a guid position as valet-de-chambre tae a young officer in the airmy an' traivellt in Europe wi him durin the war ower Marie-Therese's accession, but he returned tae Embra when peace came in 1748 an' took up as a fitman. It wis at this time that he fell in wi a bad lot an' startit wi the drinkin the sweerin an' the fornicatin. He took up a job wi this auld dowager madame that had a big estate in Berwickshire, but bein the lad he had become, he managed tae get yin o' the scullerymaids in the big hoose pregnant. This caused an awfy drain oan his pockets as he had tae provide fer the lass as weel as hissel, he needit tae get his hauns oan some easy money an' sae yin nicht he decidit tae rob the auld wumman as she wis sleepin.

These things nivver seem tae gang as ye plan them tho. Norrie waitit till aw the hoose wis asleep, climbed the stairs, took his shoes aff an' crept intae the wumman's bed-chamber. Kennin that she kept her safe-keys unner her pillae he drew back her bed-curtains an' tried tae slide his haun in tae retrieve them, but woke the auld bird. She of course startit bawlin. Panickin, Norrie grabbed a clasp-knife fae her dressin-table an' cut the puir wumman's throat tae stop her fae cryin oot. Panickin even mair at whit he had done, he then forgot aw aboot robbin the auld wumman an' jumped oot the windae, runnin fer miles afore he stopped an' hid in a field. He forgot aw aboot the robbery aye, but he had forgot aboot his shoes intae the bargain...

It didnae tak ower lang tae apprehend wee Norrie, an' he wis broucht back tae Embra tae staun trial fer his lady's murder. Here he made a grave error. He tried tae mak oot that the auld wife wis in the habit o' invitin him intae her bed, an' that wis why he had left his shoes at her door. Says he discovered his lady deid in her bed that nicht an' jumped oot the windae tae chase her attacker. Noo murder's a bad enough crime, but castin aspersions oan an auld wumman's guid name in the process wis seen as doublin the sin, an' tae mak the punishment fit the crime Norrie wis sentenced tae hing, but no afore his right haun had been cut aff, an' the murder-knife driven through it, baith tae be hung abune his heid oan the gallows.

Norrie wis taken doon tae the Gallowlee oan the 8th o' January, 1751, an' broucht tae the gibbet. He managed tae draw a fairly big crowd despite it bein a bitter-cauld mornin wi a smirr o' rain in the wind. His right haun wis hacked aff an' speared wi the clasp-knife, then tied up ower his heid, we aw oohed an' aahed a bit, then fower chimney-sweeps hauled oan the rope tae hoist him up. As Norrie's body convulsed he drew his right airm up an' slapped at his face wi the bloody stump. The sicht o' that upset a fair few o' the weaker-mindit fowk in the crowd, which wis a bit rich tae ma way o' thinkin, seein as how we had jist hung the laddie! We watched till he went still, gave him a wee roond o' applause, then we aw driftit aff tae oor work, or tae dae oor messages. We thoucht little mair o' wee Norrie Ross, an' jist got oan wi oor day. Here, hae anither pancake...

There wis tho, this wee story that did the roonds a few weeks efter this. Supposedly this bunch o' men were haein a drinkin session doon yin o' the ale-hooses oan Leith Walk. They were aw fu o' thersels, likely they were still celebratin the New Year, an' haein a braggin contest tae see whit yin o' them wid dae somethin the ithers widnae. Yin o' them, this butcher-man, says there wisnae a cut o' meat that he widnae eat, an' anither yin daurs him tae eat a steak fae the gibbet up the road. Broon the butcher, fer that wis his name as ah heard it, goes an' gets a ladder, climbs up tae whaur Norrie Ross's body's still hingin, an' cuts hissel a hunk o' Norrie's rump, which he taks back tae the pub, grills ower the fire, an' eats wi a slice o' breid an' a tankard o' ale.

Ye heard a lot o' stories like that when oot gettin yer messages, ye were nivver sure whether tae believe them or no. Ah pit that yin doon tae ower much bevvyin an' thocht nae mair o' it. Weel, ah mean, can ye imagine? Cannibalism? In Auld Reekie? Awa an' stop haverin...

Ah wis a wee bit pit oot, ah will admit, when this couple moved intae oor close up the High Street. The Broons were a rough couple nae mistake, him a butcher an' the baith o' them heavy drinkers. He cam fae Cramond an' she fae Ireland, need ah say mair? Ah nivver liked tae run intae him in the common passage, mair sae if it wis a dark nicht, ah couldnae help but think it might be him fae the story ah'd heard, an' her? Well, ye couldnae help but run intae her, she wis aw ower the shop! Fae the luik o' her she could gie as hard as she got, an' ye could hear it o' a nicht. The rammie's the twa o' them wid hae if they'd had a drink in them were legendary up oor stair. Bangin an' shoutin an' sweerin an' crashin. It wis comical tae hear them an' used tae draw a wee crowd oantae the stair tae listen at their door.

There wid've been aboot twinty o' us this nicht, crammed oantae their landin listenin tae the twa o' them at it. We used tae try tae work oot whit wis gaun oan by the noises we could hear, Yell!WheechCrash!! -Aah! She's chucked his tea at the wa, Bang!Thud! -Ooh! He's knocked her aff her chair... We could hear thumps an' bumps, couldnae quite mak oot whit wis happenin, it soundit like they were in a wrestlin grapple oan the flair... Then-

'Murder! help! fire! the rogue is murdering me! help, for Christ's sake! '

Weel that made us sit up! Ah rapped oan the door. "Mrs Broon! Are ye awricht in there?"

Nothin, sae ah hammert hard. "Mr Broon! Let us in! Come oan! Mr Broon!"

Sae ah bent doon tae their keyhole an' peeped in. Oh My God! Ye widnae believe it, whit ah could see wis him liftin her up by the waist wi a big carvin knife in his ither haun, an' stickin her tap-hauf in the fire! Get the polis!!!

By the time the polis got there an' we'd forced the door, Mrs Broon wis lyin hauf-deid oan the flair wi a big gouge oot o' her shooder, an' he wis lyin sleepin in his bed, wi gravy aw ower his lips. When we grabbed him an' he cam tae, he tried tae act oblivious, sayin he didnae ken how it had happened an' she must've fell intae the fire. Weel, ah kent whit ah had seen, that picture'll nae lang leave me, an' we were aw witness tae whit Mrs Broon had screamed. He wisnae gettin aff wi it that easy. Luckily ah wis staunin near enough him tae get in a guid slap or twa afore the polisman pu'ed me back.

We aw had tae gie evidence up at the coort at Broon's murder trial. Ah got a braw new hat fer ma turn. It turned oot a nice day ah mynd. There wis nae contest really, we aw kent whaur he wis gaun, an' sure enough, we had anither wee trip doon Leith Walk tae luik forrit tae. August the 14th, 1754 it wis, beautiful day, hot, but jist a wee breeze tae stop ye fae sweatin ower much. The hingin itsel wis a quick an' unsatisfyin affair. Broon nivver admittit his guilt, nivver showed nae remorse, nae repentance, nothin. Wicked wicked man...

A few days efter they hung Broon his body went missin fae the gibbet. It wis found a couple o' days later in the Greenside burn, taken back ower tae the Gallowlee an' hung up again. A few days efter that it went missin again, but this time they nivver found it...

Are ye sure ye dinnae want anither pancake?


  1. I don't suppose you know where to lay your hands on that nice pair of shoes the laddie left outside the door... and of which you just happen to have a photograph. They'd do fine for my work....

    Another corker of a story Sophia, and I'm glad i dropped by....but I have to wonder, after all you have been through, these murders and fires and over turned milk floats... how on earth do you manage to keep your youthful good looks...

    Yes I will have another pancake, and if you could just top my tea up, that would be... fine.... thank you.

  2. Thank ye tris fer yer kind words. It's likely aw the murders an' fires an' fights wi milk laddies that've kept me lookin young. Ye've got tae pit yer face intae life tae get some life intae yer face. That plus climbin Arthur's Seat every Mayday mornin...

    Ah'm tryin tae picture ye gaun tae yer work wi' a big pair o' bucklt shoes oan yer feet, an' ah'm gigglin tae masel. Unless ye work as a fitman or a sedan porter of course, in which case ye'll be right weel turned-oot. It cannae be lang afore thae shoes are back in fashion again tho, then ye'll be able tae get them fae aw guid shoeshops.

    Here, pass me yer cup...

  3. Must admit, Sophia, I like a bit of rump myself. Co-incidentally, it should be well-hung for at least 28 days. The last time I told my chef "Well-done" he thought it was a compliment. Even if I'd said "rare" he'd have still thought it was a compliment. Probably if I'd said "medium" he'd have delivered Doris Stokes on a platter. You just cannot get the staff now-adays.

  4. I'm sure Sophia gets good staff brownlie.

  5. Ah find masel drawn tae the loins Mr Brownlie, tho ah'm jist chuffed tae ken ye like yer beef, whitiver yer choice o' cut. Ah'll nane o' this namby-pamby vegetabilism in ma boys. Guid red meat. Ah'm sorry tae hear o' yer bother wi yer chef. French, is he? Mynd, if he can serve Doris Stokes oan a platter it's mair than she ever did.

    Ye's may laugh aboot ma staff, but ye's ken that ah'm a yin-wumman business. Ah hae tae dae aw this masel ye ken, an' get ma ain messages intae the bargain. Ah dinnae ken how ah dinnae qualify fer a home-help but that's whit they tell me, somethin tae dae wi 'rehabilitation' ah dinnae ken, gie me back the corporation, nane o' this 'East Kilbride' shite.

    Ah'm sorry but it gets ma goat...

  6. An' Mr Conan dinnae you encourage him.

  7. I am indeed a fit man Sophia... so they'll do me nicely...

  8. I wonder if this is where the modern day expression "hanging out" originated?

  9. tris, ah can only say 'Ouch!'

    brownlie, yer nae better!

    Am ah missin somethin? Is this Bad Joke Day?

  10. Great stuff- it's going in the Roundup for sure. Thanks for letting me know about it.

  11. Thank ye maist humbly misssy m, ah look forrit tae seein it.