Friday, 23 December 2011

Flooer o the mountain...

So here we are then, it's Hogmanay again, an we've made it through anither year. Maist o us made it onyhow, tho many didnae. Hogmanay's aye been a guid time tae stop an mind them that nivver made it through, a sad wee epilogue tae the year, afore we pick oorsels up an face the New Year wi a smile oan oor face...

Here, ah'm feelin a bit darin th'day, why dae ah no chuck caution tae the winds an break oot the Black Bun a bit early, eh? Ah'll nivver eat it aw masel onyhow, ah'm no ower-fond o the stuff tae tell the truth, an Mr Pangloss jist turns his nose up at it. Ah really dinnae ken why ah still buy it, but ye ken how it is, some things ye jist hae tae dae, it's Hogmanay! Ah'll pit the kettle oan...


Right then, here's yer tea. an here's yer Black Bun. Are ye settled then? Guid...

Noo, this bein Hogmanay of course, ah couldnae tak ye onywhaur else except up the High Street tae the Tron Kirk. This is whaur fowk in Embra hae gaithered fer hunners o years tae see in the New Year, tae stand an tae huddle th'gither in the cauld an the wet tae worship the great god o Passin Time, afore gaun first-footin, intae the warm an the dry, tae worship ither, gey cheerier gods...

Of course, if ye gang up tae the Tron th'nicht ye'll no find many fowk, they've aw been shepherded doon tae Princes Street tae listen tae some pop band daein turns at the bandstand an watch fireworks gaun aff fae the castle, an they'll clap their hands an tak lots o photies afore gaun hame, aw weel-behaved. But if ye'd gone up the Tron up until say the 1980s, ony Hogmanay, ye wid've been met wi a different sort o beast. Hunners, thoosans o fowk, aw dressed up in their best, aw jostlin an bargin, aw half-cut, aw singin, aw dancin, aw pals th'gither. Fowk wid be bletherin awa in the run up tae the bells, catchin up wi aw the news. There wis aye somethin worth passin comment oan, somebody that had shown thersels up, got thersels hung or left their man. An ye met fowk ye hadnae seen fae the last Hogmanay, which aye pit me oot a bit back when we aw bided in the same street...

Then some wag wi a watch wid start up a coontdoon tae the actual bells, 10... 9... 8... doon tae twelve o'clock, an then it wis Hurray! Happy New Year! an ye had tae wish it tae aw yer pals, an their pals, an their pals' pals, an so oan an so forth. There were times up at the Tron ah've felt like the hale world wis ma pal, ah wid jist swing fae crowd tae crowd, gaitherin kisses like they were flooers, an ah wis some daft young thing in a dress made fae drapes runnin aboot in a field, bendin ower tae grab a haunfu o edelweiss, the wee flooer o the mountain, er... ... ...where wis ah?

Oh aye, ah wis gettin ye a bit Black Bun. There ye go... Naw, take it, ah've got plenty! Onywys... ah wis tellin ye how guid up at the Tron yaist tae be, except fer when it wisnae...

Ah mind this time, 200 years ago this very nicht, the 31st o December 1811, when ye widnae hae wanted tae be up the Tron. We were aw in a fowl mood. Times were hard, the Tories were in power (again), we'd fell oot wi France (again), there were riots (in England (again))... ye get the picture... no a guid year... Onyhow, fer whitever reason, or fer nae reason at aw, this gang o lads, ca'ed thersels the Keelie Gang, that hung aboot doon the fit o Niddry Street doon fae the Tron, had decided that they fancied some new hats, an that Hogmanay up the Tron wid be jist the very place tae get their hands oan some. So they ganged up wi anither er, gang fae doon the Canongate, an arranged tae meet up at the Fleshmarket Close, jist up fae North Bridge Street, at 11 o'clock...

Their first target wis the polis, who were few in number in thae days, an whit there were werenae awfy weel trained in riot control. Yin o the polis watchmen, Dugald Campbell, wis attacked jist up fae the Fleshmarket Close at the heid o the Stamp-office Close, an beaten tae the groond wi big sticks.  The ither polis jist fled the scene an fae then oan, till aboot 3 o'clock oan New Year's mornin, the gang had the run o the street an rampaged aboot the Tron, attackin onybody that looked like they may hae somethin o value oan them, stealin watches, purses, money, an of course, hats...

Ah wisnae actually aware o ony o this at the time, ah jist thocht it wis a particularly noisy an rumbustious Hogmanay. Me an ma pal Jessie Knox were late in comin oot fae the Gropin-hoose up Parliament Close ye see, oan accoont o her gettin intae a rammie wi some caddie fae up the Castlehill ower whit ah cannae mind noo. She wis aye pickin fechts wi fowk wis Jessie, she had a face made fer arguments. Suffice tae say we were a bit, er oblivious, an we nivver got much past the Mercat Cross that year, an no long efter the Bells wi heided back tae the Gropin-hoose cos Jessie wanted tae hae anither go at the wee caddie...

Dugald Campbell, the polisman, an James Campbell, a clerk, baith died that nicht, an many mair were left wi serious injuries. Though the gang tried tae flee the toun, some o them gettin as far awa as Glesca, they were soon enough roonded up an sent fer trial in March o 1812. Three o them, Hugh McIntosh, Hugh McDonald an Nicol Sutherland were sentenced tae hing, tho only Hugh McIntosh fer murder, the ither twa laddies, an they were laddies, aw atween sixteen an nineteen, got the sentence o death fer stealin watches. Aye, fer stealin watches...

Ah mind their hingin in the April, whit a turnoot, ye couldnae bare move in the High Street. They built a gibbet specially at the top o the Stamp Office Close, jist at the spot whaur the polisman died, an had fower hunner sodjers linin the path fae the Tolbooth tae the gibbet. The laddies had been hard worked at by the meenisters while they were in the Tolbooth an they stood prayin fer near three-quarters o an hour afore the drop. Ah'll tell ye it felt like an eternity, cos their wis a cauld wind blawin up fae the sea an ah'd come oot withoot ma coat, thinkin it wis warmer than it wis cos it hadnae been a bad mornin ye see an the sun had been oot. That's April fer ye ah suppose...

But look, this is January, or it will be efter th'nicht, an we've got a hale New Year tae look forrit tae noo. We shouldnae dwell oan whit's past, but sometimes it's nice tae hae a wee peek at whit we've left ahint us, like hingin weans fer stealin watches, an pay a thocht tae them that huvnae made it this far. But then we hae tae turn an look aheid o us, paint oan a smile, stick a stupit hat oan oor heid an charge oor glesses. Ah hae a guid feelin aboot the future, tho when ah look at the news ah think ah must be gaun doolally, but ah dae, ah really dae, ah've got a feelin in ma waters, an in a guid way. Ah wish ye aw the best o health an happiness in the comin year fer yersel, an ah hope 2012 brings ye aw ye could wish fer. Happy New Year, an lang may yer lum reek!



Wid ye like some Black Bun tae tak awa wi ye...?


Saturday, 15 January 2011

Get oot o ma hoose!

Weel hullo there! Come in come in, ye're jist in time, ah've jist took ma rock-buns oot the oven, so they're nice an fresh fer ye. Ah hope ye like yer currants a wee bit incineratit, that's how ah like ma buns onyroads. Guid an crunchy oan the ootside, light an crumbly oan the inside. Ah hae tae admit it, ah dae a smashin rock-bun so ah dae. Weel there's nae guid hidin yer licht unner a bushel is there? If ye've got a talent ye should flaunt it, as ma auld pal Fanny Craddock yaist tae say. Ah wish ah could make tablet like ma auld grannie yaist tae make, but ye cannae hae awthin can ye? Ah'm no a bad baker if ah dae say so masel...

Whit's that? Ma title? Oh that! Naw naw, that's no aimed at yersel, dinnae be daft. Ye're aye welcome here, onyday. Naw that title's somethin ah heard anither auld wife shout yince, a guid few year ago noo, but ah'll come tae that in time. First tak yer coat an yer hat aff, an let me get ye settled aside the fire. It's still a bit parky oot there is it no? Ah've got a rerr fire gaun th'day, an that's nae mean feat giein the quality o the coal ye get these days. Last week ah got a bag that wis mair dross than onythin, ah had tae hae a wee word wi the coalman when he came roond. He wisnae awfy pleased at me either, ah'll hae tae keep an een oan him noo, tae mak sure he disnae try stickin hauf-bricks in ma coal!

Right, is that ye settled noo? Here's yer tea. An here's yer rock-buns. Aye they are guid, thanks. Ye dinnae think they're a bit hard dae ye? Sometimes, jist sometimes, they come oot mair rock than bun. Ach weel, if they dae then they're aye handy fer chuckin at Mr Pangloss, say if he starts snorin, or if he'll no wash the dishes. He's an awfy man fer baith. He's haein a wee lie-doon th'noo ben the hoose, can ye no hear him? Ah'm surprised ah dinnae get wee laddies comin tae ma door askin tae see ma train! Ah've nivver kent a man tae mak sae much noise lyin oan his back. Ah've aften stood ower him wi a cushion, wonderin if ah could, if ah should, if ah wid hae the strength...

Actually ah shouldnae joke aboot it. Ah'm awfy lucky wi Mr Pangloss, he disnae knock me aboot an ah should be thankful fer that. There's an awfy lot o wummen in worse situations, wi menfowk that batter them aboot or hit their weans, or even worse. Ye read aboot it aw the time in the News, an hear aboot it in the line at the butcher's. Naebody can be blamed fer makin a bad match, but some wummen seem tae mak a habit o it an gang fae yin bad man tae anither, Worse still, some wummen mak the same mistake twice, leavin their man efter gettin a hard time but then takin him back again. They ken whit they're gettin intae but somethin tells them it'll aw be different second time aroond. Let's tak a walk up the High Street an ah'll tell ye aboot a couple o them...

We're gaunnae tak a wee daunder doon the Old Assembly Close. Noo, ye'll mind this place fae when ah telt ye aboot the night ah helped start the Great Fire o Edinburgh. It's aw been re-bigged since then of course. If we'd come doon this close a few year ago durin the summer, we'd hae had tae squeeze past the queue fer the Fringe Festival box-office which stood at the tap o the close, an the wa's wid hae been covered in reviews cut fae the papers. It made fer some guid readin, an it wis aw free! Saved ye haein tae buy a paper.


But we'll no stop tae read them th'day, there widnae be much point anyroads oan account o this no bein August an the shows aw bein feenished. We'll walk further doon the close, past the auld wireworks, an doon tae Tron Square. The lower pairt o the square's a big C-block facin doon tae the Coogate, wi balconies facin the square itsel. It wis a guid bit tae raise a faimly fer ye could keep an een oan yer weans playin oot in the front coort, an ye could staun oan yer balcony an blether tae aw yer neebors.

Noo back in 1954 ah wis stayin ower wi ma auntie's sister's man's cousin's wife, fer the puir lassie's wean wis doon wi the whoopin cough an she hadnae slept in a week. Ah offered tae sit up wi the wee yin while she rested, which wis how ah heard the rammy that night, ower the noise o the coughin. It wis a dread noise ye ken, that noise o a wean fechtin tae catch its breath atween coughs. Ah'd had it masel as a wean, an ah can still mind the worrit look oan ma ain mither's face as she watched ower me. Like her, ah sat there that nicht worryin awa as ah watched ower this lassie's wee yin...

Upstairs fae us, at Number 57, George Robertson had returned tae his wife an faimly fer the last time. Him an Betty had had twa weans, George an Jean, by this time they were 18 an 16. George wis aboot tae start his National Service an Jean worked in a paper mill. Noo Betty had feenished wi George years afore an had divorced an even re-mairrit, but the second mairrage hadnae lastit mair than a few month. George had come back oan the scene, an Betty had let him in, hopin ah suppose that he had mendit his violent ways. Needless tae say, the leopard hadnae chynged its spots, the man wis still a callous an jealous thug, an afore long Betty had shown him the door, again. Sae feart were Betty an the weans o this terrible man that they kept a chair jammed agin the door at nicht, in case he decidit tae come back. Except this nicht, the 28th o February 1954 they had forgot...

Ah'd been aware o somethin gaun oan upstairs fer a wee while, thumpin an bangin an shoutin an the like, whit ah didnae ken at the time wis that this wis George attackin his faimly. Betty wis in aw likelihood deid awready when George the son, jist oot his bed an stabbed in the heid, had made a run fer it. He had ran doon the stairs an along the balcony, leavin wee bloody footprints in the snaw, an jumped in the scullery windae o the Hay's hoose at Number 42, richt through the wa fae whaur ah wis sittin watchin the sick wean. George the faither wis hot oan his heels, follaed his son intae the Hay's an continued his attack. "Get oot o ma hoose!" ah heard Mrs Hay screamin, but there wis nothin they could dae faced wi an angry man wi a knife...

George cairrit his dyin son back up tae Number 57, an thinkin he had feenished aff his faimly, he set aboot feenishin hissel aff. He turned the gas oven oan an lay doon, expectin no tae waken up. The Hays by this time had gethered thersels an run tae the Polis station up the High Street. When the polis arrived they found Betty an wee George lyin deid, Jean terribly woundit but alive, an George lyin unconscious wi his heid in the oven. George's defence at his trial wis that he had suffered a 'brainstorm', but he wis still convictit o double murder an sentenced tae hing at Saughton Jail. Oan the 23rd o June 1954, George Robertson became the last person tae be executit in Edinburgh...

Here, hae anither rock-bun, afore ah eat them aw masel. Naw, ah didnae go tae George's hingin. Weel, it's no like in the auld days is it, when ye actually got tae see the dirty deed yersel. Staunin ootside a jail waitin fer them tae pin up a wee notice, weel it's jist nae fun. Ah think ah went dancin up at the Fountainbridge Palais insteid...

Ah dinnae ken if it wis somethin in the water at Tron Square, but less than 20 year later, anither wumman had mairrit badly, saw sense an kicked him oot, then took leave o her sense an let him back in. Margaret Bain had got mairrit tae Andrew durin the war, but it only lastit till 1948 when the pair had got divorced, no an easy thing fer a wumman tae gang through in thon days. Margaret had suffert a terrible abuse durin the mairrage, bein burnt wi a poker, threatened wi a knife, haein cigarettes stubbed oot oan her airms, awsorts o devilish tortures. Why then, ye hae tae ask yersel, had she allowed Andra back intae her life? But let him back she did, an sure as guns the rows an fechts startit up again...

The nicht o the 16th o October 1973 they'd been haein yin o their rows, her gettin oan tae him aboot gettin a job, him, pished as usual, haein a go at her aboot her cookin. She couldnae help that, puir lassie, we cannae aw be Fannys can we? Durin the row Andra reached up, took a pair o Margaret's nylons doon fae ower the fire, an pit them roond his neck. "Gaun then!" he says, "Tak an end. Hing me if ye want! Ah'd raither be deid than eat yer lumpy mince onyway!"

Noo whether or no Margaret actually strangled her man we may nivver ken, ah dinnae think she kent hersel. She said she did, she turned hersel ower tae the polis sayin "Ah killed the bastard", she even pleadit guilty in the coorts, but durin the case a psychiatrist said it widnae hae surprised him if Andra had done aw the pu'in hissel. In the end, even though she pleadit guilty, the jury found itherwise. Why dae wummen get thersels intae sic situations ah'll nivver ken...

Naw it's like ah say, ah'm an awfy lucky wumman wi Mr Pangloss. He disnae hit me, he disnae bite me, he disnae stub his fags oot oan me. In fact he wid be the perfect man, if only it werenae fer that damned infernal racket! In fact, if ye're no wantin that last rock-bun, ah think ah'll awa ben an chuck it at his heid, or mibbe ah'll stick a couple o burnt currants up his nostrils. Ah ken, he's a puir battered husband an nae mistake...

Monday, 10 January 2011

This wumman's work...

Weel, wid ye look at the time! Ah tak a couple o weeks aff writin, an the next thing it's next year! Ah'm no proud o masel, in fact ah'm black-affrontit. Ah've been hidin in here, squattin ahint ma settee wi a cushion ower ma heid, meanwhile ah've got fowk shoutin at ma door, chuckin chuckie-stanes at ma windaes, postin messages threatenin tae sing bawdy songs in ma stair, ah'll be gettin a bad name fer masel so ah will...

But ye're right, ah've brocht it aw oan masel, ah've naebody else tae blame but me. If ma auld grannie wis still wi us she wid say "Wyte yer teeth if yer tail be smaa" tho tae be honest we nivver kent whit she wis oan aboot hauf the time. Neither did ma granda. Ah think ah owe ye aw an explanation...

Ye see, ah've been sufferin fae an auld affliction. Ma doctor cries it SAD, but ah think o it mair as CAD. Ah hate Christmas an aw that gangs wi it. As suin as December shows up, ma mood gangs doon, an ah turn intae this crabbit auld crone, ye widnae recognise me ah tell ye (an that's enough o the sniggerin at the back) Ah dinnae go oot, ah dinnae answer ma phone, ah sit an shout at the telly when aw thae Christmas adverts come oan wi loads o happy faimilies aw wrapped up in their scarfs an duffelcoats wi their airms fu o presents, an smilin. It's the smilin that gets me mair than onythin. When ye're feelin crabbit, there's nothin worse than bein telt tae smile, tae laugh, tae be happy. Ah'll smile when ah'm guid an ready thank ye very muckle...

Ah wis nivver yin o auld John Knox's biggest fans. Tae ma mind he wis far ower-interestit in ither fowks' personal affairs, he kept gaun oan aboot how God could see through yer curtains richt intae yer bedroom, an richt through yer bedspread, even through yer flannelette nightie! When he stuid up there in St Giles kirk an shoutit at us, ye could see he wis enjoyin the thocht, salacious auld midden that he wis. But ah will say this fer the man, he had the richt idea aboot Christmas. Aw jist popery an frippery he wid say, a confection fer the senses wi nae foondation in fact nor meanin. He banned it alang wi Halloween durin oor Reformation, no that we went in fer it in a big way afore that, an it wis only made legal again in Scotland back in the 1950s, mainly oan account o the BBC wantin an excuse tae pit oan big films an 'Morecambe an Wise' shows. Ah'd happily go back...

Ah used tae be able tae jist pit ma heid doon, ignore aw the tinsel an the flashin lichts, an content masel wi the thocht that we were gettin closer tae Hogmanay. Noo that wis a nicht ah aye luikit forrit tae. Aw the preparations, the scrubbin, the polishin, the washin, the bakin, the cookin, it aw meant somethin tae me. We were cleanin the auld year aff oor backs, ready tae face the new like a fresh-bleachit sheet. Oan the nicht itsel ye had that frantic rush tae get awthin done an dustit, leavin ye jist enough time tae get yer peeny aff, pit yer face oan an fix yer hair afore the bells went. Then ye wid hae a wee quiet toast tae yersel in the hoose afore yer first-fits startit showin up. Then it wis singin an dancin, laughin an greetin, Black Bun an shortbreid, drinkin an mair drinkin, mair singin, mair laughin, even mair greetin, till the sun wis comin up. Ye wid get up oan New Year's Day an dae it aw ower again, mibbe wi yer faimily oan the ither side, an mibbe again the next nicht, till ye had fair broken the year in...

Except its no like that these days is it? Naw, noo it's jist yin big burst o fireworks, wakin the weans an scarin the cats, the streets are fu o drunk teenagers fer a couple o oors, then awbody gangs aff tae their beds. Nae first-fits, nae Black Bun, nae wee turns. Mr Pangloss an masel sat up fer a wee while, but naebody chapped oor door this year. Ah dinnae ken whit we were waitin up fer, naebody's chapped it fer years...

Ach...

See, this is why ah've no been at the postin lately. Ah cannae help masel ye see, ah stairt aff wi guid intentions, but the blackness aye comes doon ower ma een. Ah'm missin the auld days, ah'm missin freens an neebors, ah'm missin the community we aw yaist tae share. Fireworks, nae maitter how many or how big, dinnae mak up fer whit we've lost. So, ah said ah widnae bother ye aw wi ma dark thochts, parteecularly when ye were aw enjoyin yersels. Keep it tae yersel ah said tae masel. Naebody wants tae see yer moanin coupon at their pairty. An that's why ah generally keep ma ain company in December...


But that's enough aboot me. How's yersel? Fer aw that ah've jist said, ah hope ye aw had a happy yin yersels, that ye found comfort in yer faimly an freens, that ye got yersels unco fu an happy, an that ye survived it aw. Ah did, an ah'll be fine till come St Andrews Day, then it's aw doonhill again. Ah'm fu o guid intentions fer the comin year, an tap o ma list is gettin back intae the swing o things an tellin ye mair o ma wee stories. Promise. Until then, an ah'm sorry it's a bit late, ah'll wish ye aw a Happy New Year! Lang may yer lum reek!! Slainte!!