Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Runnin up that hill

We hae, or at least we used tae hae, afore the smokin ban cam alang tae kill them aff, a muckle great auld pubs in Embra. Yin that some o ye may be familiar wi is the Guildford Arms, up ahint the auld Woolworth's shop on Princes Street. Aye awricht, ah ken, there's nae Woolies there noo, jist a hamburger shop, but ye ken whaur ah am, up aside the Register Hoose. It's a braw drinkin palace inside, weel worth a visit if ye've no been in, but the reason ah bring it up is the path at the side, oan the right as ye look at the photie. Ye see that wee path? It goes at an angle up the side tae the Cafe Royal, ye wi me? Weel, that wee bit path, that's aw that's left o an ancient auld road ah yaist tae ken weel. Let me tell ye aboot Gabriel's Road...

Ma tale affsets way back in 1607, when yin o King Jamie Saxt's pals, Tam o the Coogate, found siller ore oan his property oot by Linlithgow. Bein the guid pal he wis, the king relieved Tam o his discovery, fer a sma fee of course, opened a mine, an sent the ore tae be refined doon at a new mill he built oan the Water o Leith. Sadly the silvermine wisnae the goldmine the king hoped it wid be, an suin eneuch the ore ran oot an the venture foondert, but fer a few year it gave up ample tae pay its way.

Bein as ah am the whelp o a Black Bitch (an proud o it!) ah grew up no far fae this mine. Ah mynd as a wee bairn playin in the auld abandoned mine-workins, practisin ma yodellin skills an scarin the livin bejeesus oot o aw ma pals. This great daurk gash in the earth, hunkert awa doon at the bottom o a wee glen, we thocht wis the very gates o Hell itsel, an hid aw manner o beasties an monsters, dragons an trolls, daemons an deils. No that there were ony, but ma pals werenae tae ken that...

The Silvermills that King James sent the ore tae are aw built ower noo, but they yaist tae staun doon near Stockbridge, jist ahint St Stephen's kirk. The path fae the toun doon tae the mills wis kent as Gabriel's Road, we cryed it that efter the auld man Gabriel that kept a drinkin-howf doon by the mills. Nane o us kent his real name but he blew a mean trumpet an had sic an angelic wee face. Ah christened him efter a heavy session yin Friday nicht an the name, weel it kinda stuck...

Gabriel's Road struck aff fae the end o the dam that held back the Nor Loch, across fae the fit o Halkerston's Wynd, near tae whaur we dooked Betty Trot yin day. The dam stood roughly whaur the North Brig stauns noo, an the path climbed up the steep slope tae Moultrey's Hill, afore descendin doon the ither side taewards Silvermills. Oan a warm summer's day there wis naethin nicer than takin a daunder ower tae Moultrey's, tae a wee fermhoose inn by the road cawed 'Peace an Plenty', whaur the Royal Bank Heid Office is noo, fer some lovely curds an whey. Nane o yer Mr Whippy or Jerry'n'Ben's rubbish fer us. Aw naw, we had curds an whey! Ah wid get a wee bowl o the stuff, find masel a wee tuffet tae sit doon oan, an ooooh... scrumptious... mmm...

Moultrey's Hill itsel stood at the end o a wee ridge, alang the line o which George Street wis laid oot oan. This wis anither braw bit fer a walk oan a fine summer's day, alang the ridge tae the bit field that went by the name o Barefit's Park. Noo, ah ken whit ye're thinkin, "Whit wis it cryed Barefit's Park fer?" an ah wid dearly love tae tell ye it wis oan account o aw us young hippy lassies skippin merrily through the gress wi nae shoes nor stockins oan oor pretty feet, runnin up that hill singin hippy songs, spreadin hippy free love an gettin up tae awsorts. Ah ken at least a couple o ye that wid prefer that onyroads, pyntin nae fingers...

Sadly tho, it wisnae. It wis cryed that efter the owner, a Mr Bearford fae oot East Lothian. Sad ah ken, but true. Dinnae let that tak onythin awa fae the place tho, it wis a bonnie field. Ah spent mony a summer's day wanderin through the whins, pickin flooers or catchin butterflees, strollin doon the hill an across the Lang Dykes path tae the banks o the Nor Loch. It wis bonnie jist sae lang as the wind wisnae blawin ower fae the Auld Toun, fer it could get a bit smelly in the summer. If ye lay oan yer back an shut yer een ye could imagine ye were awa oot in the country, while in fact ye were ony a hauf-mile fae yer hoose. Ye had tae keep in mynd that onythin ye did in Barefit's Park could be seen fae the back windaes o the High Street, which brings me tae Robert Irvine an his terrible deed.

Noo this widnae be Embra, an it widnae be Shootinfaetheshin, if there wisnae a terrible deed lurkin there amangst the bushes, wid it?

Robert Irvine wis a probationary meenister that had taken up a job tutorin twa young laddies, the sons o a Mr Gordon o Ellon, that bidit doon in Broughton village. Noo like a lot o young gentlemen he enjoyed a wee bit o dallyin oan the side, an he wis dallyin this day wi the Gordon's scullerymaid, when he wis seen by the young laddies. This they happened, in aw innocence, tae mention tae their mither at tea-time.

Of course this upset the young Casanova, thinkin that if word got oot he wid get barred fae the meenistry. He broodit oan this, turnin his anger at the laddies intae a monster inside hissel. Oan the follaein Sunday, efter kirk, he took the twa laddies fer a walk up tae Barefit's Park, an there, in broad daylicht, an in fu view o the back windaes o the toun, attackit an murderit the laddies wi a clasp-knife...




It didnae tak lang tae chase the brute doon, seen as he wis by sae mony witnesses oan the toun side o the loch, an when he wis chasit doon, he wis still coverit in blood fae the terrible deed. He wis caught, as we yaist tae cry it, 'ridd-haundit', that is tae say, wi the blood still fresh oan his hauns. This meant that there wis nae need fer a trial, an first thing oan the Wednesday mornin, the 1st o May 1717, the beast had baith his hauns cut aff, an wis strung up oan the gibbet doon by Broughton toll-hoose...

There's a wee somethin fer ye tae think aboot next time ye're doon Princes Street Gairdens lickin yer Mr Whippy. Oan second thochts mibbe naw. Tell ye whit, jist think oan me dancin barefit through the whins wi ma butterflee net an endin up flat oan ma back in Barefit's Park. That'll dae ye noo, ah'm awa tae mak masel some yummy curds an whey. Cheerie!

Friday, 17 September 2010

An dream o sheep...

Weel whit a day that wis an nae mistake. The first veesit fae the Pope fer near thirty year. Wha o us kens if we'll still be here the next time he comes roon tae see us? Ah mynd askin masel that question the last time the Pope cam tae see us, tho in ma favour ah wid pynt oot it had taken him near 2000 year tae get aroon tae it at that time. An noo he comes back barely thirty year later? Popes are a bit like buses ah suppose. Ah wid say trams, but ah bide in Embra mynd, an jist want tae greet onytime trams are mentioned. Pass me that box o hankies oan the sideboard wid ye...

It's awricht, ah'll be awricht, jist gie me a meenit...

Right. Aye. Whaur wis ah? Popes. Aye, it wis nice tae see aw thae happy wee faces shinin wi adoration, aw thae men no feart tae wear dresses oot o the hoose, aw thae Saltires wavin an no a Union rag in sicht, the auld Queen an her man still oan the go, an maist o aw oor beautiful toun, Edina wi the bonnie cheeks. She luikt stoatin in the sunshine so she did, the star o the show as far as ah'm concerned. Ah'm aye fit tae burst wi pride when a big name comes tae the toun, an gets tae see whit a braw wee place we bide in, an they pit yin o thon cameras in the sky tae luik doon ower the toun.

It wis a wee shame tho, that they nivver brocht the auld man up tae see the Auld Toun. Apairt fae Holyroodhoose he nivver got tae see the real heart o the city up close. Tae ma mynd it's a peety they nivver took him tae see the statues o John Knox an Davie Hume, nivver took him up tae the High Kirk o Saint Giles. Ah cannae fer the life o me think why no...

Talkin o Saint Giles kirk, me an ma pal Jenny had arrangit tae meet up there efter work this Saiturday efternin a few year ago. Ah had been daein stairs aw mornin an ma heid wis spinnin, she had been at her stall doon by the Tron sellin cabbages an the like. She wis a greenwife ye see, an selt aw manner o vegetables an fruitstuffs, bawlin oot her "Neeps like succar! Wha'll buy neeps?" an her "Fower-bunch a penny, wha'll buy ma caller radishes?" She had sic a loud voice oan her, ye could hear Jenny's cry aw the way up at the Luckenbooths ah'm nae kiddin ye!

We met up aboot fower o'clock, an it wis sic a hot an sunny day we took a wander doon the Gressmairket an sat oot in the sun an knockit back a wheen o ales. Ye dinnae aye realise how much ye're drinkin when ye're enjoyin yersel. We were aw bletherin aboot the tale o that Betty Trot an her farce o a dookin. As the nicht wore oan we found oorsels up at the Greppa inn ahint the Parliament Close. Even tho it wis a bricht summer's nicht, when ye went doon thae shadowy back-stairs an intae the gloom o that tavern it wis sae daurk ye had tae feel yer way tae the bar. No fer nothin wis it cryed the Gropin-hoose...

Eventually we endit up gaun dancin at the auld Assembly oan the West Bow. It wis a ricketty auld joint by this time, no far fae fawin doon aroon oor ears, but the dancin wis rare, the ale wis flowin, an we were haein the time o oor life. Jenny wis a grand mover, she had slinkier hips than ah could ever dream o haein. Ah'm nae sure whit time we got hame at that nicht, aw ah ken is that the sun wis risin, an even Jenny wis gettin hoarse fae aw the singin an laughin. Ah said cheerio tae Jenny at her stair door an telt her ah wid see her in the mornin fer the kirk...

Oh but did we no pay fer oor sins in the mornin? Ma heid wis loupin fit tae burst, an it wis aw ah could dae but tae splash ma face wi water an drag ma guid frock oan. Ah went up tae collect Jenny, an she luikit as bad as ah felt! Her faither Mr Geddes wisnae best pleased wi us either. He telt Jenny she wis gaunnae hae tae clean oot their cludgie fer a week fer stayin oot sae late, an gied me a bellin-aff fer leadin his dochter astray. Me? Leadin her astray? Chance wid be a fine thing, Jenny wis the rabble-rouser, no me! But ah said nothin, ah jist held ma tung. If truth be telt ah kept quiet cos if ah'd startit tae talk ah think ah wid've chucked up aw ower his guid shoes. Ah jist luikit doon at the flair an kept swallaein...

We walkit up tae the kirk in silence. Ah could tell by the luik oan Jenny's face it wisnae worth startin up a conversation. She wis in yin o her moods. Ah think she had took the hump wi me cos ah got mair gropes in Greppa than she did, but then ah think ye can pit that doon tae her loud voice, ye didnae hae tae grope tae ken whaur Jenny wis. We got tae the kirk, foldit oot oor wee creepie-stools an sat doon. Ye see, ye had tae be somebody tae get a proper pew in thon days, lassies like us had tae bring oor ain seats.

There wis an awfy atmosphere in the kirk that mornin, an it wisnae aw doon tae mornin-efter-nicht-afore sair heids. That auld monster King Chairlie the First wis intent oan sweepin awa oor Reformation an tae oor mynd wantit tae bring the Popery back. He had brung back Bishops tae oor kirk, an this mornin, the 23rd o July 1637 he had decreed that the meenister wis tae read fae a new Englis prayer-buik. Noo Popery's yin thing, but Anglicanism? Noo he wis gaun too far. Fowk werenae happy an ye could feel it in the air, ye could've cut the tension wi a knife...

Ah wis barely aware o aw this tho, haein ony havin had a couple o oors sleep. As suin as the kirk went quiet an Jimmy Hanney, the Dean, had stairtit dronin oan, ah stairtit noddin aff. Ah wis jist gettin intae a guid sleep, leanin against Jenny's shooder, an fer some unkent reason stairtin tae dream o giant sheep, when Jimmy had got tae the meat o the service an began tae read fae the new prayer-buik. He hadnae got twa words oot when Jenny let oot this ear-shatterin yell an leapt up, cowpin me richt aff ma stool an landin me oan ma erse oan the flair!

"Wha daur say Mass in ma lug?" she screams, "Ah hope ye get piles, ye auld fart!"

She picks up her stool an launches it at the pulpit. Suddenly there's uproar in the kirk, fowk are bawlin an shoutin, they're chuckin stools, bibles, walkin sticks, breid rolls, onythin they had tae haun really, an there's me lyin flat oan ma back like a cowpit sheep, no able tae get tae ma feet, nor even tae ma hauns an knees. By this time there wis a riot gaun oan ower ma heid, fit tae match the riot gaun oan inside o it. Ma skirts were gettin tramplit oan in the melee an it wis aw ah could dae tae crawl ma way tae the kirk door an oot intae the street. The door slammed shut ahint me, an sae ah jist kept oan crawlin...

Ah think ah must've crawled aw the way hame that mornin, judgin by the state o ma frock the next day. It seems Jenny had stairtit somethin in the kirk that day. They even pit up a wee memorial tae her, tho ye'll notice they pit the wrang stoll up oan it, that there's a cuttie-stool, no a creepie-stool. Anyroads, the riot went oan aw day lang, an even efter the Toun Rats had managed tae evict maist o the rioters fae the kirk they went oan chuckin sticks an stanes at the windaes till gaun oan six at nicht. The unrest led tae the men o the toun signin up tae a National Covenant the next February, tellin King Chairlie whaur he could stick his ideas, an sae began the troubles that went oan fer twinty-odd years, bringin an end tae Chairlie, the comin o the tyranny o Cromwell, an the birth o Leith Walk. There's aye some guid tae come fae bad is there no? That wid be the same Leith Walk that wis meant tae hae brand spankin new trams wheechin doon it by noo...

Pass me thae hankies ower...

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The waddin list

As a professional stair-cleaner that taks her wark gey serious, ah dinnae mynd tellin ye how gled ah wis when they opent up the New Toun mansions, an efter that the Victorian tenements, fer an awfy lot o them had straucht stairs, ken, aw in a line, apairt fae mibbe wee bends at the tap an at the bottom. They were an awfy lot easier tae clean. Easier that is than the auld turnpike stairs the Auld Toun wis fu o. Efter a mornin o scrubbin turnpike efter turnpike ah tell ye ah wis as dizzy as a heidless chicken an wid be stoatin aw ower the shop. Fowk yaist tae stop an ask me if ah'd been at the sherry, an it wid ony be ten in the mornin!

Of course there wis some mornins fair enough, if it wis awfy cauld say, or awfy hot, or mibbe if it wis awfy wet, or awfy dry....

Anyroads, ah wisnae the worst. There wis some richt dizzy dames bidit up thae stairs. Ah kent this yin wumman, Eleanor wis her name, she wis a scatty besom so she wis, an flirty intae the bargain. She wis fae quite weel-aff stock, moneyed fowk, an she'd mairrit oantae the Primrose faimly, sae she'd done weel fer hersel, but she wis still as wanton as a wet hen an as gullible as a fat goat. Eleanor kent how tae pairty richt enough, she wid hae big crowds at her do's, an made aabody feel like they were her favourites. Ye could say she wis easy wi her favours, but she meant nae hairm, she wis jist haein fun, an she aye kent there wis a limit. Her man tho, he wis a gey rum yin, richt anti-social an door. He had a green streak o jealousy that went richt doon tae his rotten core.

Eleanor telt me how this yin Saiturday nicht, at yin o their pairties, her man had got this thocht intae his heid that Eleanor had smiled ower much at sic-an-sic anither man, that she had been tryin tae catch his een aw nicht, nivver mynd how much she denied it. The next mornin, she had got up, an wis sittin at her dressin-table daein her hair an touchin up her pocks, when she had caught sicht o her man in her wee haun-mirror, creepin up ahint her wi his sword oot, an a murderous look oan his face.

Quick-witted as she could be at sic times, Eleanor reached back an sprayed her can o lacquer in his face, jumpt up, an leapt oot the windae! Lucky fer her she wis ony yin flair up an she landit oan the midden so she nivver hurt hersel. She ran oot intae the High Street, bearin in mynd noo this is near ten in the mornin, she's in her nightie an covert in shite, an aabody else is in their Sunday best oan their wy tae kirk, she waves at them aw an smiles, says 'mornin!', runs ower the street, an up the close whaur her guid-mither bides. Brave wumman.

She gets her guid-mither's protection, fer athoot haein tae say it the auld wife kens whit her son's capable o, an he's sent aff tae Europe tae dae a Tour, in disgrace. His wife Eleanor gets the hoose an the bairns an life gangs oan...

This meant nae mair pairties fer Eleanor tho, nae socialisin an nae flindrikin fer her nae mair, it meant spinster buik-readins, nichts at the fire daein samples, an it got her doon puir sowel. So when ah saw a billpost fer a wee show that wis oan doon the Canongate, ma first thocht wis ma pal Eleanor, "this'll cheer her up" thocht ah, "jist whit she needs"

The show wis yin o thon mediums, that boastit he could answer ony o yer questions aboot fowk ye kent but that werenae wi ye nae langer. Sae we went alang tae the mannie's wee parlour room, doon jist past Pirrie's Close, whaur he had it aw done up like a Turkish bazaar, aw hung wi fancy ridd blankets, an lit wi wee teapot lamps. We're aw crammit in, a crowd o aboot a dozen aw th'gither, an there's a richt expectant hush... The wee dark man in the black silky coat gies a wee shpiel aboot gettin his powers aff some genie he'd trapped in Egypt, dis some hurdie-gurdie incantations, an then says how he could tell ye onyhin aboot onybody onywhaur, onybody at aw... Then he taks Eleanor by the haun, an leads her through ahint this arras...

When Eleanor cam oot she wis as white as a new-bleachit sheet, an she grabbed ma elbae an hurrit me oot an back tae her hoose. Whit a worrit, troublt luik wis in her een. As suin as we were in the door, she gied me a pen an a bit o paper, an made me scrieve it aw doon. When the mannie had took her through, he'd sat her doon afore this mirror, waved his haun aroon, an in it she'd seen, aw fu o colour an movin, like in a dream, this waddin, an then she listit aw she saw...

The Waddin List...

It wis in a kirk
There wis a bride an a groom
The bride wis beautiful
There werenae miny fowk
The waddin stairts...
In runs a man, ah ken him
It's ma brither
He runs up tae the groom
and draws his sword
the groom draws his
it aw goes fuzzie
...

An we baith signed an datit it, she sealt it wi wax, an lockit it awa in a drawer in her desk.

Then aboot three month later, when, aye, ye'll hae guessit it but ah'll tell ye onywy, when her brither comes back fae daein his ain Grand Tour, Eleanor taks him aside, an asks him if he'd heard onythin aboot her husband, wha hadnae been heard o fer ages. He sits her doon an tells her aye, he'd seen him richt enough. When he wis passin through Holland he'd heard there wis a waddin gaun oan wi a man fae Embra, an so he thocht he wid gang alang, see if he kent him. He slaverit somethin aboot bein caught in a canaljam whitivver that wis, an turnin up late, but when he got there did he no find oot it wis his ain brither-in-law that wis gettin hitchit! Sae he said he had enlichtenit the puir lassie, stoppit the waddin, an chasit her man oot the toun...

Then Eleanor made him gang tae her room an get the sealed letter, an open it. Ye've guessed it, this waddin wis aboot tae tak place at the exact time Eleanor had seen the apparition in the mirror...

Eleanor's brither didnae ken whaur the Lord Primrose had run aff tae efter that, but it wis only a couple o year later in 1706 that Eleanor got word that he wis deid, likely, she said, in some ither floozie's airms. She nivver moornt fer him. He'd left her  a wealthy, still young, an beautiful Dowager Lady Primrose. She enjoyed bein a Dowager Lady an wis in nae rush tae get re-mairrit, e'en though she got plenty offers. Eventually though, on 27th o March, 1708, she mairrit John Dalrymple, the 3rd Earl o Stair, an became Lady Stair. Dalrymple wis a hard husband tae haunle tae, he likit his drink, an Eleanor had her work cut oot controllin him. Eventually, efter giein her an awfy batterin yin nicht, he agreed that the only drink he wid touch fae then oan, wid be whit she hersel had passed tae him, an nae mair. He stuck tae it tae...

Eleanor bigged up her reputation as society hostess wi the maistest, an efter she boucht the hoose that still bears her name, doon Lady Stair's Close in 1719, she saw tae it that her pairties were the pairties tae be seen at, she entertainit like nae ither grand-dam in Embra, an wis remenberit lang efter she wis gaun fae this life in 1759.

 Ah still curst her tho when she made me scrub thae turnpike stairs o hers, roond... an roond... an roond... an roond...



Friday, 10 September 2010

Atween a man an a wumman...

Weel hullo! It's guid tae see ye again, come in an sit doon. Ye'll be gled tae ken ah'm in a guid mood this mornin. Ah dinnae ken whit's got intae me, mibbe it's the darker nichts drawin in an the cauld weather comin back. Ah've nivver really been yin fer the heat o summer ye see, ah prefer the winter masel. Noo, ah've been haein a luik at me wee stories, an tae be honest they've been gettin gey grim hae they no? Weel ye can relax, th'day ah'm gaunnae tell ye a cantie wee tale that ah howp'll pit a wee smile oan yer face. Weel it's twa tales, but they baith hae happy endins, an they shouldnae gie ye nichtmares...

Ah'm takin ye th'day, doon the hill fae the High Street, doon the wynds tae the auld Nor Loch. Noo, ah dinnae hae tae remind ye that through the years, as Embra got bigger an busier an mair crowdit, that the Loch got dirtier an smellier an fouler an- weel, ye get the picture, it wis a rank puddle withoot a doot. Mynd when St Davie Hume fell in? It wis nivver really yaised as a pleasure-groond, fowk didnae gang doon there fer a wee paddle or a swim, weel, no willinly at least. There were some that went fer a swim in the Loch, but they tendit tae dae it agin their wills. Ye see that wis whaur we yaised tae dook oor witches, tae see if they were in fact witches efter aw. Ye ken the score, if they drooned, then they were innocent, but if they floatit, then that must've meant Satan wis protectin them, sae we took them back up the hill tae the Castlehill an burnt them. Ye cannae say fairer than that...

Hunners o puir wummen, an a fair few men, went through the 'worryin' ower the years. It wis aw the rage durin the time o King Jamie Saxt, him that ran awa tae England the meenit auld Queen Bess wis deid an nivver cam back, he had a thing fer witches. That an smokin, but let's no gang there, it'll jist get ma blood pressure up again. Naw let's leave the witches fer th'noo, ah'll tell ye aboot them some ither time. Ah'm gaunnae tell ye aboot anither use the Loch wis pit tae, an that wis as punishment fer mair earthly sins. Back in the 1560s the toun cooncil wis gettin awfy worrit aboot the rise in fornicatin an ither misbehaviours gaun oan in the toun, an how tae punish them that widnae mend their ways, an sae in 1565 they erectit a dookin stool doon at the fit o Halkerston's Wynd, richt at the deepest pairt o the Loch. If ye gang intae the Waverley Station these days, in the back entrance fae Mairket Street, then ye're near enough at the spot.

Up in the Lawnmairket there wis this wife, Betty Trot wis her name, right gob oan her she had. She wisnae unlike that Big Mo oan the Eastenders show oan the telly, aye shoutin the oods aboot somethin or ither, an aye oan the make. She had a dirty wee stall whaur she selt odds an ends, buttons, ties, hairgrips, semmits, aw that sort o stuff, an unner the coonter bits o jewellry. Ye had tae be wary when ye boucht owt fae Betty's stall, ye nivver kent whaur it had cam fae, though ye could guess that maist o wis pinched or purloined fae somewhaur. Then, in 1635, there had been this fire in yin o the lands, an a load o jewellry had gaun missin fae the hoose. When the missin jewels were foond in Betty Trot's stall, it wis decidit that the wumman wis tae be dookit fower times in the Nor Loch as punishment fer her an as a warnin tae ithers. Betty wis nane too pleased, an let aabody ken it...

Picture it, we're aw gaitherit doon by the lochside fer the show, an the toun hingsman's leadin Betty ower tae the dookin stool. She's bawlin an shoutin "Get yer hauns aff me! Ah'm an innocent wumman! It's a set-up! Ah've nae idea whaur that stuff cam fae!" aw that sort. Then, jist as they're at the stool, she taks a breenge at the hingsman, knockin him aff the wee jetty they've got there, an richt intae the water hissel! Then she taks aff alang the lochside tae whaur there's a wee boat sittin, no far fae the yin ah pit wee Andra Gray intae, jumps in, an starts rowin aff ower the loch.

Some o the men jump intae ither boats an gie chase. The first yin that reaches her, Betty grabs the side o it an yanks it up, cowpin the puir laddie in it richt ower an he ends up gaun heidfirst in the stinkin water! By this time, us staunin oan the bank, thinkin we were gaunnae get the entertainment o a dookin, were laughin an cheerin at this muckle better spectacle. "Gaun yersel Betty!!" But then three o her pursuers catch up wi her an it luiks like the game's up. Betty pits her hauns in the air "Awricht, it's a fair cop, ye've got me." she crys, an they come up alangside o her. Twa o the men tak haud o her by the airms. An then she dis it again! She chucks the fu wecht o hersel, an Betty wis nae shilpit wee sparra let me tell ye, agin the men, upendin baith the boats an launchin aw o them intae the foul spume! It wis that funny watchin them aw splashin an thrashin an fechtin their way tae the shore, we were aw doublit up screamin an cacklin. Ah near wet masel it wis that funny! Even the cooncillors there were creased up, an they decidit that, seein as how Betty had gied us aw sic a merry laugh, an in effect had dooked hersel, that they widnae push the maitter ony further, an she wis bound ower tae behave hersel in future, if indeed she survived efter takin even a moothfu o that skanky ditchwater...

But here, ah said ah wis gaunnae tell ye aboot a happier tale, an this yin's aboot love. Aboot the love an loyalty atween a man an a wumman. It wis ony a couple o year efter Betty's wee circus-show that this young lassie moved intae oor stair fae somewhaur oot in the country. Naebody kent muckle aboot her. She wis a bonny wee lassie, unmairrit, gentle-spoken, weel-behaved, an quiet. Quiet wis the word richt enough, fer it soon becam obvious that she had a lot tae keep quiet aboot. The puir lassie, nae man mynd, began tae show that she wis wi bairn. Noo that jist wisnae the done thing back then. A mither athoot a man? Naw. She wis pit upon a lot tae gie it up an tell us wha he wis, this man that had left her in trouble an then vanished. Aw she wid say wis "Ah hae done nae wrang" That wis aw, nae names, nae details, nothin. Accordin tae the kirk an the cooncil tho, she had broke the Seeventh Commandment, that's the yin oan adultery fer aw you heathens oot there, an she wis sent fer a dookin.

Sae yince again we aw gaitherit doon at the fit o the fleshmairket at the dookin-stool. The puir lassie wis led tae the stool, tied in, an the hingsman, fer it wis aye him that got tae dae the dookin, let oot the rope, sendin the wee sowel under the filthy water...

But then this amazin thing occurrit. This man oan a horse cam chargin alang the lochside, leapt aff his horse, barged through the crowd, knockin fowk helter-skelter intae the water, an jumped intae the loch hissel, picked the wumman up in his airms an cairrit her tae the shore. "Wha daur dook ma wife?" he shouts. "An wha the hell are you like?" crys the baillie in chairge o the dook. "Ah'm William Stewart, Baron o Ochiltree, that's wha ah am, an this is Lady Stewart!"

It turns oot ye see, that the young lassie wis an orphan that the auld Baron o Ochiltree had taken intae his hoose. Noo, he had set his mynd tae marryin his son aff tae some high-falutin heiress fae the aristocracy, but his son had fell heidlang in love wi the young lass, an so they had mairrit in secret. The auld Baron, suspectin some funny business gaun oan, had sent his son abroad tae Europe oan yin o thae Grand Tours. Meantimes the fair lass had startit tae show, an sae the Baron had turnt her oot o his hoose, which is how she cam tae Embra. Tae the puir lassie's eternal credit she nivver broke her vows o silence tae the young man, even efter the auld Baron had passed oan an she could've claimit the title o Lady Stewart. She wid ony speak yince he had releasit her fae the promise, which thank the lord he cam back jist in time tae dae. Weel, he micht hae cam back jist that wee bit sooner an saved her the dookin, but at least he did come back, a lot o men didnae...

That lassie wis the talk o the toun fer weeks efter, she wis aw that a wumman should be we said, bonnie, loyal, an patient. Her young man took her back oot tae Ochiltree an ah dae believe they spent miny a happy year th'gither. In't that sweet?

See noo, no aw ma wee tales are gruesome dark an morbid. Maistly, ah'll grant ye that, but ye need a wee ray o sunshine here an there tae pit thae daurk clouds intae perspective. Noo, awa ye gang, an mynd an keep smilin...

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

In the warm room.

Oh! Ah wisnae expectin ye th'day! Ye've caught me ridd-haundit haein a wee fly puff, gie me a meenit tae feenish it will ye? Ah ken, ah ken, ah shouldnae really smoke, no wi ma chest, but we aw need oor wee indulgences dae we no? an the menthol fair clears ma passages...

There, ah've pit it oot. Noo dinnae get oantae me, ah've been guid lately, ah've cut doon quite a bit, an ah dinnae smoke in ma bed ony mair. Weel ah'm nae wantin tae be burnt in ma sleep am ah? Even tho ah've got ma smoke detector an ma fire extinguisher, ye can nivver be too carefu can ye? No like the auld days. Naw, no like then, when we were aw at risk o gaun up in a puff o smoke at ony meenit. Ye mynd ah telt ye aboot wee Andra Gray settin fire tae the Provost's hoose an how he could've burnt the toun doon? Weel, let me tell ye how close we cam tae that back in 1824...

It wis a great day fer Embra, the day that Geordie Drummond laid the foonds fer the North Brig back in 1763, fer it opened up the fields tae the north fer the auld toun tae expand intae. Afore that day, abody in Embra wis crammed intae the tenement lands oan the High Street, an the ony way tae big wis up. Lords an ladies, merchants an wrights, labourers an servants, we were aw packed cheek by jowl intae great towerin edifices. It got sae owercrowdit that eventually it wis mair like erse-cheek by jowl! As soon as the New Toun development took aff, them that could afford it moved oot, leavin them that couldnae tae suffer in the Auld Toun. The lands got a bit dilapidatit, but nae less crowdit fer it.

Anyroads, tae get tae the pynt, ah had been oot drinkin this nicht wi ma pal Jessie Knox, ye mynd her? We had stairtit aff doon in John Dowie's alehoose in Libberton's Wynd, but it wis a bit deid in there that nicht sae we went oan a crawl, endin up doon in the Gressmairket, an by the end o the nicht ah wis fleein ah hae tae admit it. We were in the Last Drop, an ah wis richt in the mood fer a laugh an a cairry-oan, but Jessie wis haein nane o it. Her face had been trippin her aw nicht, as per usual, an ah'd jist aboot had enough. Ah telt her her girnin wis gettin oan ma wick an she'd be as weel gettin back up the road tae her mammy, an so she did, she upped an left, leavin me sittin oan ma tod...

Ah wisnae oan ma ain fer lang tho, an this fit young lad came an sat aside me. Turns oot his name wis Lachie, he wis a richt teuchter fae up north, an he worked in Kirkwood's the engravers up at the Auld Assembly Close. When he offert tae walk me hame ah jumped at the chance, bein left in the lurch as ah wis. We climbed up the West Bow an he telt me aw aboot his wee hame up in the Heelans, how he missed his hills an his lochs an his sheep. 'How can ye miss a sheep?' thocht ah tae masel, but ah nivver let oan, ah wis enjoyin his funny accent that much. We were saunterin doon the High Street past his work, when he asked me if ah wid like tae come up tae the workshop fer a cup o tea an tae see his etchins? Weel, it wis a cauld nicht, this bein November, an ah could've done wi warmin up, plus ah'd aye wantit tae ken whit an etchin wis, sae ah goes "Aye, ah'll come up, but ah'll hae nane o yer funny business mynd". "Oh no Sophia, ah'll behave masel" says he.

Ah wis michty disappointit ah can tell ye, when he brung oot aw these wee drawins o hills an lochs. "Here's sic-an-sic a mountain" an "That's sic-an-sic a loch" he went oan. Tae ma mynd they aw luikt alike. Ah nodded an smiled an tried no tae yawn. Efter whit seemed like an age ah'd seen enough, an ah wis chitterin wi the cauld. "Whaur's that cup o tea ye promised me then?" says me. "Come awa through tae the warm room wi the stove an ah'll pit the kettle oan" says Lachie, an he taks me through tae this dark smelly workshop.

There's tins o paint an bottles o spirits an bits o metal an sheets o widd aw ower the shop. Lachie lichts up the big black stove, pushes a big pot sittin there tae the back an sticks this battered auld kettle oan. Then he stretches up like he's reachin fer a cup aff the shelf abune me, pressin hissel up agin me, an tries tae plank a kiss oan me!

Aw here we go again! Ah dinnae ken whit it is aboot me, ah aye seem tae attract men like this, ah must hae 'mug' or 'floozie' written aw ower ma face. "Er, Lachie, gaunnae show me some mair o yer braw drawins will ye?" says ah. Onythin tae chynge the subject an get oot o his clutches. He luikt a bit disappointit at this, but took me up oan it, ah think he wis flatterit that ah thocht somethin o his art. So back through we went tae the cauld room an startit luikin at mair hills, an mair lochs, an mair hills...

Sniff... "Whit's that smell? Is that burnin?"... "Oh Jings! Crivvens!! Help ma Boab!!! Ah've left that linseed oil oan the stove!" crys Lachie, an goes runnin through. But he wis too late. The flames fae his pot o linseed are shootin up the wa an yin o the shelves is awready aflame. Lachie wis aboot tae run in tae try an pit the fire oot, but ah grabbed the scruff o his neck. There wis nae way he could dae onythin aboot it, tins an bottles were startin tae explode, an the smoke wis chokin us awready. Ah dragged the lad back an slammed the door, opened the windae an screamed "FIRE!!!"

Fire, as ah've said afore, wis a big problem in the Auld Toun, an 1824 had been an awfy bad year fer them, we'd had a fire every month that year. Indeed, it had been that bad that the Toun Cooncil had set up a municipal fire brigade, the very first onywhaur in the world, under a young builder by the name o James Braidwood. Unfortunately, it had ony been set up the month afore this an they werenae quite prepared fer a big blaze. It took the men aboot an oor tae get their machines oot, an when they did they werenae awfy organised. Aw the cooncillors, sodjers fae the Castle, an Braidwood hissel, they aw thocht they were in charge, an consequently naebody wis.

Within a few oors abody wis oot oan the street, or else they were tryin tae save their furniture an chattels fae tenements in danger. The wind got up, fannin the flames an blawin embers fae hoose tae hoose. Ah mynd at yin pynt ah wis staunin doon in the middle o the street an a saw these twa men oan the roof abune the auld Fishmarket Close wavin doon tae me an shoutin. So ah'm wavin back, as ye dae, wunnerin wha they were, an whether mibbe ah kent them fae the dancin. It wis hard tae mak them oot, whit wi aw the noise an the smoke an the dancin licht fae the fire. Turns oot, ah later discoverit, that they were shoutin doon fer a hose, tae play water oan the roof tae try an stop the fire spreadin. Ah felt that stupit.

The fire burnt aw through that nicht, the nicht o Monday the 15th, it wis terrible tae behold, burnin aw the hooses oan that stretch o the High Street, richt doon tae the Coogate. We thocht we were through the worst o it when it petered oot aroond noon. But then the cry went up again, "Fire!" an this time it wis the Tron Kirk. The Tron had a widden steeple in thon days, wi a leed coverin. It wisnae lang afore the steeple wis a roarin furnace an the leed wis runnin doon like molten lava. Some fowk thocht this wis a sign o divine retribution oan the toun, an yin auld wumman ah heard said it wis a judgement oan us fer haein a wee musical festival a few week afore this. God only knows whit she wid mak o the toun if she were alive th'day. Ah'm assumin she's deid like...

Thankfully the firemen managed tae pit that fire oot afore the entire kirk went up, but we still lost the steeple an maist o the roof. That Tuesday efternin the toun wis in shock. Hunners o fowk were millin aroon in the street, faimilies that had naewhaur tae stay, that had lost aw their possessions, their jobs, their hooses. It's funny, durin the nicht ah mynd this auld Irishman had come runnin oot yin o the entries, cryin that his hoose wis gaunnae burn an he wid lose aw he had. Me an a few ithers had gaun runnin up his stair tae see whit we could save fer him, an yet when we got tae his room, aw that wis in it wis a pile o straw an an auld chair! "Aye!" says he, "But it's still aw mine tho!"

We thocht things were bad enough, but when the cry "Fire!" went up again at ten that nicht we could bare believe it. This time the fire wis up at the Parliament Square, up whaur the highest tenements in the toun were, some o them eleeven stories high at the back, higher than ony fire hose wis gaunnae reach, an so it burned an burned, aw nicht lang. Fowk were weepin an wailin, thinkin the world wis comin tae an end, naebody had slept fer twa nichts, the licht fae the flames wis turnin the sky a fiery ridd an playin oan the Castle an the Crags. It wis like livin in sheer Hell...

That fire burnt aw through the nicht, an by the time it abated there wis hardly a buildin left untouched fae St Giles' Kirk aw the way doon tae the Tron, an aw the way doon the hill tae the Coogate. Utter devastation. We'd been blitzed.

Fower hunner faimilies had lost their hames, an a dozen fowk had lost their lives. Thankfully there were a lot o lessons tae be learnt thae nichts, an James Braidwood wis the man tae learn them. He wis a pioneer o firefechtin, an efter knockin the Embra fire brigades intae shape he went aff an did the same thing in London toun, sadly losin his life in a fire at the age o sixty. Ah wis awfy gled when they pit up a wee statue o the man in Parliament Square a year or twa syne, he's yin o Embra's treasures an nae mistake.

An as fer me? Weel ah nivver got ma cup o tea that nicht, an Lachie nivver got whitivver he wis luikin fer either, mair fuil him. If ony he'd stuck tae brewin up...

Whit ah did learn thae nichts wis that ye cannae be too carefu whaur fire's concerned. Ah went hame efter that an took the ashtray oot o ma bedroom, an it's nivver gaun back in. Ah've aye been fu o thanks fer oor firemen syne then tae, fer athoot them the Great Fire o Edinburgh wid've been an even greater calamity, respect whaur it's due...