Saturday, 20 November 2010

Leave it open...

Ye ken, some fowk tak their games awfy serious. Ye can see it at the fitba maist weeks, an at the bools an aw. Auld Arthur McArthur that yaist tae bide up oor stair, ye aye kent how he had got oan at the bools by the noise he made when he cam hame. If he'd won, he wid be singin auld songs comin up the stair, like "Bonnie wee Jeannie McColl" or "Stop yer ticklin Jock", but if he'd lost he wid clatter his baw-bag against the bannister railins, an ye'd be lucky if ye got a "Be kind tae auld Grannie" oot o him. Then ye wid hear him abusin wee Effie tae aw hoors. He wis an awfy bad loser...

Anither yin that wis a bad loser wis John Porteous. Aye, that John Porteous. No only did he no like tae lose, but he didnae like it if onybody else kent he'd lost, sae ye imagine how bad he felt efter he'd lost a roond o gowf tae wee Alex Elphiston up oan the Bruntsfield links, an they went an pit it in the papers! In fact, that game, the yin he lost, wis the verry verry first "solemn match o gowf" ever tae be reportit in the papers, back in 1724. Fowk follaed him aboot fer weeks efter, shoutin things like "Fore!" an "Loser!" an makin wee L signs wi their fingers oan their foreheids. He hated that. Ah think that's whit made him him turn oot the bad-temperit curmudgeon he wis.

Whitever it wis, he wis weel-kent fer his soor-face. Ye mynd ah telt ye aboot whit he did tae ma puir wee hen Meg? Weel he wis like that aw the time. He wid sweer at fowk in the street, abuse weans an auld wummen, no tak his turn in a line, say, at the fleshers or baxters' stalls, he wid jist push hissel richt tae the front. Of course, naebody wid stop him, fer he wis the heid o the Toun Gaird, an ye didnae want tae get oan the wrang side o them, so a'body jist stuid aside, an mibbe mutterit wee curses he couldnae hear...

There wis this yin time in 1731 when the Kirk were fillin a lectureship doon at the Auld West Kirk, St Cuthbert's. There had been a close contest atween a Mr Dawson an a Mr Wotherspoon. Dawson had won the presbytery, but Wotherspoon had appealed an won at the synod. Feelin wis sae high they sent the Toun Gaird doon tae keep an een oan things when Wotherspoon wis tae deliver his first sermon. When Porteous got there, here had the bold Dawson no turnt up an taken possession o the pulpit! Porteous walked richt up the stairs o the pulpit, grabbed Dawson, an dragged him back doon, batterin lumps oot him aw the way doon. When Wotherspoon shows up, aw Dawson's pals jumped oan him an batterit him better!

Baith the young men died a few days later...

That's the kind o man Porteous wis, hard, uncouth, angry tae the core. If there were sides tae tak, maist fowk in the toun wid tak against Porteous. Sae we come tae 1736. Noo, tae pit ye in the picture, ye've got tae mynd this is ony thirty year efter that damned Union took place, an suddenly there were taxes an laws an awsorts bein landit oan us fae a palace fower hunner mile awa that nane o us had ever seen, an fewer cared fer. Onybody that could get aroond or unner these taxes wis awricht in maist fowks' een. When this couple o smugglers fae Fife were brocht ower an tried, an then condemnit tae hing, Embra took a wee shine tae them. When yin o them, big Andra Wilson, helped his pal Robertson tae escape when they were at a service in St Giles Kirk, by haudin twa gairds wi his hauns, an anither yin wi his teeth, he became whit ye micht cry a 'Local Hero'.

Robertson, by-the-by, managed tae get awa oan account o a'body staunin aside tae gie him a clear run, then gettin in the road o the gairds as they chasit him! He even managed tae get oot the Pottorraw Port when it wis supposit tae be shut, this bein the Sabbath, escapit tae Holland, an wis still runnin his ain pub in Rotterdam twinty year later!

Onyroads, they still had Andra Wilson, an oan the 14th o April they took him doon tae the Gressmercat fer his hingin. The atmosphere wisnae guid that nicht, Andra wis weel-likit, in fact ony smuggler wis in thon days, an there wis a richt ominous grumblin fae the crowd. The hingin went aheid, we aw watched in silence, an ye can imagine how loud a silence comes fae thoosans o fowk crammed intae the Gressmercat. When the hingsman went up tae cut Wilson doon fae the gibbet, ah couldnae help masel ony langer, ah had tae mak ma wee protest. Yin solitary stane flew through the air, an lamped the hingsman richt oan his neb. That wis aw it took...

Eruption. Thoosans o fowk suddenly let their anger oot, an there wis mair stanes, sticks an bottles, an bawlin an shoutin, a great mass o noise that soonded like a muckle monster comin fae its lair. Porteous, wha ah dae believe had been drinkin, didnae drap a second, he bawled oot "Fire an be damned!" an let aff his ain pistol, richt intae a wee laddie that worked in a sweetie-shop up the West Port. Some o the Gaird follaed him an shot richt intae the crowd, ithers thocht they wid play it safe an shoot ower their heids, except they jist shot fowk at their windaes! Porteous had the Gaird mak a retreat up the West Bow, whaur again they turnit roond an fired. There were bodies lyin aw ower the place, aboot a dozen fowk lay deid, an dozens mair injured. The bluid wis runnin doon the gundies...

Lucky fer Porteous, the Welsh fusiliers were oan staun-by up at the Lawnmercat, an they managed tae escort Porteous back the Gairdhoose, which wis the ugly squat wee howf in the middle o the High Street, aboot the tap o Cockburn Street, though Cockburn Street wisnae there then. He couldnae stay there lang tho, an he wis soon taken up tae the Tolbooth tae wait fer his trial...

The trial wis a lengthy complicatit affair. Porteous made oot that the magistrates had allowed the Gaird tae cairry loadit weapons, an he wis ony daein his duty. The magistrates, watchin their backs, said that the loadit weapons were ony tae guarantee that the hingin went aheid withoot anither darin escape, an as suin as it wis compleat, Porteous had nae richt tae open fire withoot the Riot Act bein read. Porteous said that readin o the Riot Act wis the cooncil's duty, an they had aw gaun an hid thersels awa when things got ugly, leavin him an the Gaird tae defend thersels, which they did. Back an forth it went, till at last a guilty verdict wis brocht, an Porteous wis condemned tae hing hissel...

In steps London. The government wis awfy feart o their fragile Union, an had guid reason tae be, fer nane o us were enamourit o that dismal concoction. We had awready had the '15 an the '19, an we werenae far fae the '45, we were quite the rebellious lot, us Scots, an they widnae hae mynded crushin us, if that's whit it took. The King, George II, wis oot the country at the time, he wis back hame in Hanover, an his Queen, big busty Caroline o Ansbach, wi the Prime Minister Walpole, took it upon thersels tae gie Porteous a reprieve, expectin George tae gie a fu pardon when he got back. Embra wisnae gaunnae staun fer that...

The nicht o the 7th o September, 1736, the mob gaitherit at Wester Portsburgh, up fae the West Port. There were thoosans o us, an thoosans mair jyned the crowd as it mairchit through the toun, doon the Coogate an up tae the Netherbow Port. The gate wis taken an secured, tae prevent ony sodjers comin up fae Holyrood. Then we went up an mobbed the Gairdhoose, tyin up the Gaird an takin aw their weapons. Then oan up tae the Tolbooth, where Porteous wis bein held. He kent whit wis gaun oan mynd, cos ah'd laid that wee curse oan him a few year earlier. Puir wee Meg...

The Tolbooth door wis a great heavy thing, an stood up tae a lengthy batterin. Eventually we had tae set fire tae it tae get in, an Porteous wis dragged fae his cell. He wis cairrit up the Lawnmercat an doon the West Bow, aw in near-silence apairt fae the slow thump o the lynch-drum at the heid o the mob. We had awready arranged wi the wife fae the rope-shop oan the Bow no tae lock her door that nicht, but tae leave it open. Yin o the men went in, selectit a guid strang length o towe, an left a nice new guinea oan the coonter. Naebody can say we dinnae pay fer oor pleasures in Edinburgh...

There wis nae gibbet set up fer Porteous, but that nivver stopped us. The rope wis thrawn ower a dyer's pole near the Coogateheid, an Porteous wis strung up. Things got a bit messy at this pynt, fer he wis up an doon an up again, stripped nakit, beaten an battered, even set fire tae, but efter a bit it wis aw ower, we had taen oor justice, an the mob meltit awa, drappin the weaponry, the lochaber axes liberatit fae the Gairdhoose, aw ower the Gressmercat.

Oor leaders in London didnae like this as ye can imagine, an fer a while there wis a threat tae diminish Edinburgh, revoke oor charter, bar the Provost, pu doon the toun wa an aw the Ports, make us suffer, but in the end aw they did wis order the Netherbow Port tae be cleikit or jammed open, an fined the toun £2000 tae be paid tae Porteous' widow. Fer aw the enquiries an rewards fer information, not a soul blabbed in the toun. The wa o silence wis bigger an stronger than ony toun wa...

Porteous hissel wis buried in the Greyfriars burial-groond, his only marker bein a wee stane wi 'P' an '1736' oan it, but this wis replced in 1973 wi the heidstane ye see noo, wi the inscription "John Porteous, a captain of the City Guard of Edinburgh, murdered September 7th 1736. All passion spent, 1973"

Ye ken, thinkin aboot thon nichts, when mobs o fowk could take oan a life o their ain, an commit crimes that individually they wid nivver dream o, has left me feelin the same -

All passion spent...


  1. Magic, I'm glad I came round. I was transported back to Edinburgh in your youth, I could smell it, feel it, taste it, hear it, everything. You tell a hell of a story Sophia...

    It's a pity folk today didn't have the passion of your young day to deal with the Imperial power.

    By the way, did you do all that with these stilettos on?

  2. If Ah bangit mah baw-bag oan the bannister, ah'd be a grumpy auld git masel.

  3. tris ah'm sorry aboot the smell, when ye've let yer hoosework go it can tak a while tae get that spring-fresh smell back. Ah'll stick oan a smelly caunle...

    As ye say there wis passion in thon days. Yince the feelin got intae the mob there wis nae stoppin us. These days ye're lucky tae get fowk oot tae their pollin-booths, nivver mynd chuckin stanes!

    An aye, of course ah had ma heels oan, ye didnae think ah wid slum it did ye? They're aye haundy if ye get intae a fecht...

  4. Mr Conan, ah bet ye wid! Ye wid hae a gey queer gait an aw ah widnae mynd bettin. Mibbe it wid help wi yer bowlin, if yer legs were bowdie like...

  5. Sophia,

    A ghoulish tale about goolies, beautifully told again.

    Baw-bags and bannisters, especially spiky iron bannisters, are not a good combination and could easily damage your prospects. Actually, "Baw-bags and bannisters" sounds like a Rod Stewart song. Who would have thought that a bannister would break the four-minute mile - what a strange world we live in.

  6. Ye ken, come tae think o it, Arthur McArthur soondit a bit like Rod Stewart, an if ye chapped his door awfy early in the mornin he luikt a bit like him an aw...

    Ye dinnae need tae tell me we live in a strange world Mr Brownlie, ah can vouch fer that masel...

  7. Who's Rod Stewart? One of your neighbours Sophia?

  8. tris,

    I think you'll find that Rod is younger than Petula - you granny grabber! Sorry, I should not be repeating rumours.

  9. subrosa,

    Come on, get blogging again. I've finished reading the People's Friend and Mrs (Iain) Dale's Diary.

  10. Yeah, but Petula LOOKS younger. Mind you, their hair seems remarkably similar.

    Anyway, I don't mind being a granny grabber when the granny is as glamerous (and rich) as Mme Wolffe. If you want to grab Rod, you go ahead.... rather you than me.

    Goodness, fancy that. You have finished that People's friend already? I only gave it to you last week.

    Did you like that nice woollie jumper pattern, the one with Annabel Goldie's face knitted into it?

    I wouldn't mind it for Christmas, so get yer needles out. Dean'll probably have one too... and Sophia maybe.

  11. Sssssssh, Sophia already has Goldie's knickers - haven't we all? - and she certainly much too trendy to wear a woolie jumper. I knew a woolie jumper once but now she never phones or writes. Where am I going wrong?

  12. Eh! ah'll mynd you tae keep yer thochts aff ma knickers Mr Brownlie, aw ah said wis ah got them aff ma Auntie Bella, no THAT Bella, the auld yin that had a humpy back an a built-up shoe, lived wi her 'sister' mynd, an they were awfy religious, jyned yin o thon happy-clappy kirks, d'ye no mynd? did aw the weans' Sunday School an the like, aye went aboot th'gither in a wee mini, naw? aye wore tight wee tweed suits an wee tweed hats, stayed in a tenement oan the Links, naw? weel she died a few year back, ah cannae mynd why, ah guess it wis somethin tae dae wi the hump, puir auld sowel, she did weel fer hersel...

    Who were ye oan aboot?

    Ah'm no actually a knitter masel, ah hae tae be honest wi ye, ah cannae staun the noise the needles make...

  13. No point in getting you the people's Friend then is there Sophia, unless you like these bonnie stories, but then you could write your own, and they are better...

    Och well, it was just a thought.

    I hope you're wrapping up warm with the weather being so inclement Sophia, and mind yer heels in that snow, specially after a sherry or fou.... erm, a small sherry.

    We don't want broken hips and the like, not with all these stairs to do.

  14. Dinnae worry, ah wesr hip-protectors an tak ma Calcium supplements every day...

  15. I hear that parts of that Calcium report will be forced onto Scotland. I didn't know that there were supplements involved. Do supplements make you supple?

  16. Certainly don't make you subtile.

    I thought we were going to be burning all that Calcium report nonsense anway. It's all hot air, might as well make good use of it in this cold winter.

  17. Ah'm nae sure we could burn the Calcium report tris, it wis sic a flabby damp piece o work ah think it wid jist sit there an steam...

  18. Ha ha. Yes, you have a point there Sophia.

    But then mr Brownlie would probably be steaming too, so at least it would have company...

  19. Tris,

    mr Brownlie(?) is totally abstemious except in days that have a "y" in them. At least I don't have blog profiles confessing falling in love with the "little fella" or indeed ones that confesses to be interested in "Sottish History". I wonder if by "sots" she's having a crafty dig at us? Anyway, love to your mum and thank her for the out-of-date bottle of mead she found in Munguin's cupboard.

  20. Mr Brownlie (?) is, is he?

    Oh come on, no one could fail to fall in love with that Wall E. He's just brilliant. Much much nicer than any human I ever met, ‘cept Pet of course.

    OK so where does it say Sottish, I won't deny it probably does but I can’ see it. Anyway don't you nitpick at me or I'll be inclined to nitpick back, and all the things my mum has told me, let me tell you, would make a story the “People's Friend” would blush to publish (but I’m negotiating with "Chat” right now, if we can only get Cheryl Coal!! off the front page (I call her that coz I think, should the weather turn much worse, we should burn her. It would be a kindness).

    I wouldn't touch anything I found in Munguin's cupboard if I were you. You have no idea what that little beast does in his cupboard when the door is shut. Just a friendly piece of advice, mind you.

    Who’s is "she" by the way?

  21. Apparently, Sophia is interested in Sottish history. Anyway, a new entry in Sophia's blog is like visiting Conan and finding a rare book, especially one of Norman McCaig's poetry.

  22. Ah, well Sottish History is Scottish History after a few sherries, and when I say a few I don't really mean a few as in not many, I mean a few as in a guid belt...

    But I'm with you, A NEW ENTRY hint) is always something that kinda brightens up the day...specially if you see it in the morning and promise yourself to read it after you've had your tea. That way you get to look forward to it all day.

    Moi, I've never had an invite to Conan's... huh.

  23. Awright awright, ma neck's a nice shade o scarlet ridd noo, ye'll be happy tae ken...

    Ah'm rotten ah ken, startin a blog an then no pittin up a new story every day. But there's ma hoosework, ma messages, lookin efter Mr Pangloss, aw thae stairs tae scrub...

    Ah ken they're only excuses, but they're aw ah've got! Ah promise ye, ah'll extract ma finger an pit it tae work oan ma keyboard (that's true actually, ah can only type wi yin finger) so ye baith hae somethin tae look forrit tae efter ye've had yer tea. An ah'll see if ah can get a wee gless o sherry intae the code, ah'm sure there must be an HTML tag fer it. That'll warm yer cauld banes...

  24. That, as my gran would say, is the ticket for tattie soup!


  25. tris,

    Damn, there's a Mr Pangloss! Tell your Mum I can make this weekend after all!

  26. Doubtless my mother will be over the moon.

    But she'll ask me to get in the drink for you, and that'll probably put my back out.

    Still, it will get the pair of you out of my hair... so it's worth it.

    (You see Sophia, that ruse about Mr Pangloss worked a treat... I'll be round about half past 4 for ma tea.)

  27. Yer welcome ony time Tris, jist bring a boattle.

    Ye'll huv had yer tea o' course.

  28. Did you get yer script from Mr B, Conan?

    It's just what he says, word for word...except for the "welcome" bit. Hmmmm

  29. tris,

    If I had a fifth of Conan's abilities I'd be more than happy.

    Come on, Sophia, I'm awa on Tuesday.

  30. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  31. OK OK. Except for the "welcome" bit and the "talent" bit.

    Have you told my mum you're away?

    Peterheid or Perth this time?

    (Sorry about the post above Sophia. Letter order malfunction. I even managed to find a letter that wasn't in the word at all this time!)

  32. Tris,

    It's a place called Guantanamo Bay and I'm told the weather's really nice there at this time of year. I've been fitted out for the uniform and somebody mentioned something about, I think, water-skiing!

  33. Oh brilliant. I wish I could come with you, but I've got a dental appontment.

    I didn't know you were into water sports...

  34. tris,

    Actually, I'll be in Windsor, not as Queenie's guest but for a wee conference for a week. I'll give your regards to the boys in the barracks.


    Hurry up, your dead-line is fast approaching.

  35. Aye say hello, although it was actually the royals who will most remember my last visit...

    Gie the wumman a chance will ya. It's no like it s wan o mey posts... this is ART ye ken... Art, I tell ye.

    Anyway... have a good time and keep safe and warm in the awful weather John.

  36. Eh cudnae say it better masel Tris. Art it is. Braw post Sophie.

    Brownlie, eh'm hivin' a wee rest. Semi-retired kind o' if ye ken whit eh mean. Braw it is.

  37. We're coming round on Saturday night whether you like it or not... and if you don't let us in, I'll get Mr Brownlie to sing dirty songs outside your kitchen window till you let us in.... OK? (and to my knowledge he has a fine repertoire of them... )