Search Results for “byron”

April 11, 2017

The day young Byron was nearly lost in a snowstorm

Engraving based on the Kay portrait

Engraving of Byron as a boy based on a painting by John Kay

Into the midst of a great snowstorm and winds of unusual strength emerged a group of schoolboys. It was a wild wintry day during the late 1790s and the folk of Aberdeen had never before seen anything like the ferocious gusting blasts swirling hale and the driving snow that fell with such intensity that stepping out into it was fraught with danger. Yet at twelve mid-day pupils from Aberdeen’s Grammar School set off as usual towards the St Nicholas Street school where they were due to attend Mr Duncan’s writing class.

The Grammar School was in Schoolhill and the boys thought to follow their normal route cutting through St Nicholas kirkyard. By luck the high wall there offered a degree of protection from the windstorm and drifting snow but still progress was tricky. It was when they came to where the wall finished, to the gate, the boys were taken by surprise by the intensity of the tempest, a hurricane it was described, against which the smallest boys could make no progress but were driven backwards and scarcely able to keep their feet. So they retreated to the relative safety of the wall too petrified to move. One of the wee boys was George Gordon Byron.

Two of George Gordon Byron’s bigger classmates took hold of the his hands and they tackled the blinding snow together but the ferocity of the wind proved too much and it became every boy for himself. Poor wee George Gordon’s hands were let go of and he was swept back into the graveyard by the hurricane.

When by evening he failed to return home one of the servants was sent out in search of him. At the home of one of his fellow-pupils she was told about the struggle at the height of the snowstorm and how it might be the poor lad was still in the churchyard, hiding under one of its many large flat ledger tombstones.

leaves in St Nicholas graveyard cropped

Ledger tombstones in St Nicholas Kirkyard

A party of men was hastily dispatched, lanterns in hand, to search the now dark St Nicholas kirkyard and eventually they found the lost and tearful George Gordon Byron shivering and on the point of collapse under a ledger. And so the world of poetry was not deprived of a genius of verse.

However, as an old man, another of Byron’s school friends told a different version of the incident.

“No such thing! I was with him,” he recalled, “the weaker boys could not get into the churchyard at all. We could not leave the Schoolhil, and we found shelter in Mr Leslie Cruickshank’s hosiery; in whose kitchen we were dried and warmed, and sat waiting till our friends fetched us in the evening, when they could get to us, and found where we were.”

Of course both accounts could be largely true; that the boys battling through the unrelenting storm were so exhausted and frightened they gladly retreated to the warmth of the hosiery while the bigger loons (Aberdeen Doric term for boys) continued on to Mr Duncan’s writing class. And there is no dispute that several boys, including George Gordon Byron, had still not made it home by the evening.

One of George Gordon Byron’s fellow- pupils, of the name Cruickshank, remarked many years later that it was while sheltering at the hosiery they became aware of Byron’s ability as a story-teller when he captivated them with his rendering of “a beautiful tale out of the Arabian Nights.”

 ***

Mither Kirk St Nicholas

As an adult George Gordon Byron’s behaviour was frequently looked on askance so it is little wonder he was a mischievous wee devil as a child in Aberdeen.

Late in his life one that knew George Gordon Byron at the Grammar School criticised him for having a “most damnable disposition” and told of the day they were sitting together in a classroom when Byron cut the buttons off the boy’s coat. He added that he gave the young Byron a “good hiding” in return.

The same man also recalled that Byron loathed ‘dumpy women’ although this man commented that Byron’s own mother was ‘the dumpiest woman I ever saw in my life.’

 ***

Morven

Morven

Byron spent his childhood in Aberdeen close to his mother’s family estate north of the town and loved the bonnie countryside out to the west* – returning there to renew acquaintances and walk up the hill of Morven one last time. It was in Aberdeen he learnt to swim and became an accomplished swimmer by all accounts; as an adult he swam the Hellespont Strait between Europe and Asia. In Aberdeen he also became a proficient boatman.

George Gordon Byron and his mother left Aberdeen when he was ten and became the 6th Baron Byron of Rochdale. The boy’s friends discovered his inherited knighthood when the attendance was being taken at the Grammar school and instead of the teacher calling him George Gordon Byron he referred to him as Georgi, Baro de Byron. Instead of his usual reply Adsum (I am present) the boy burst into tears and ran out of the classroom.

His nurse May Gray stayed behind when Byron and his mother left for the south and young George Gordon gave her his watch as a parting gift along with a full length portrait of him painted by Kay of Edinburgh in 1795 in which he posed with a bow and arrows and long hair falling about his shoulders.

Finishing his education in England Byron then left for Lisbon and the Mediterranean at the age of 21, famously taking part in the Greek civil war and it was in Greece he died in 1824 aged 36.


*Lochnagar

Away, ye gay landscapes, ye gardens of roses!
In you let the minions of luxury rove;
Restore me the rocks where the snow-flake reposes,
Though still they are sacred to freedom and love;
Yet, Caledonia, beloved are thy mountains,
Round their white summits though elements war;
Though cataracts foam ‘stead of smooth-flowing fountains,
I sigh for the valley of dark Loch na Garr.

Ah ! there my young footsteps in infancy wandered;
My cap was the bonnet, my cloak was the plaid;
On chieftains long–perished my memory ponder’d,
As daily I strode through the pine–covered glade;
I sought not my home till the day’s dying glory
Gave place to the rays of the bright polar star;
For fancy was cheered by traditional story,
Disclosed by the natives of dark Loch na Garr.

“Shades of the dead! Have I not heard your voices
Rise on the night–rolling breath of the gale?”
Surely the soul of the hero rejoices,
And rides on the wind, o’er his own Highland vale.
Round Loch na Garr while the stormy mist gathers,
Winter presides in his cold icy car:
Clouds there encircle the forms of my fathers;
They dwell in the tempests of dark Loch na Garr.

Ill–starr’d, though brave, did no visions foreboding
Tell you that fate had forsaken your cause?
Ah! were you destined to die at Culloden,
Victory crowned not your fall with applause:
Still were you happy in death’s earthly slumber,
You rest with your clan in the caves of Braemar;
The pibroch resounds, to the piper’s loud number,
Your deeds on the echoes of dark Loch na Garr.

Years have rolled on, Loch na Garr, since I left you,
Years must elapse ere I tread you again:
Nature of verdure and flowers has bereft you,
Yet still you are dearer than Albion’s plain.
England! thy beauties are tame and domestic,
To one who has roved o’er the mountains afar:
Oh for the crags that are wild and majestic!
The steep frowning glories of dark Loch na Garr.

George Gordon Byron

Mad, Bad and Dangerous

FICTION – The Gowk

February 4, 2015

Mad, Bad and Dangerous: Lord Byron the Aberdeen laddie

Come and see the twa laddies with the twa club feet going up Broad Street

If Aberdeen had been any other city it would have laid claim to Lord Byron long ago. The ‘English’ poet who by reputation was mad, bad and dangerous to know.

Few Aiberdeen loons aren’t.

He is English by a technicality. He was fathered by an Englishmen, a drunken ne’er do well who abandoned his wife and baby son only seeking them out, in Aberdeen, to get the last of his wife’s fortune out of her.

Mrs Byron was Katherine Gordon from Gight near Banff, and heiress to the estate there and a direct descendant of James I to boot, a family of greater substance than  gold-digger  Johnnie Byron’s.

She changed the spelling of her name to the English Catherine but she lost more than the K from her name. Her husband immediately began divesting her of her money, then the estate was sold off. A child was born but within two years the Byrons or Gordons, for he had to adopt her family name in order to sell off the family wealth, were living in Aberdeen with the bairnie George.

The money was now all gone and so too was Johnny-waste-of-space-Byron.

The loon grew up around Broad Street and Virginia Street. His first school was in Longacre and then he went onto the Grammar where he carved his name on one of the benches.

He used to chum about with another boy with a hurple and together they’d chant,

Come and see the twa laddies with the twa club feet going up Broad Street

When he was ten Geordie Gordon inherited the title Baron Byron from his now dead father’s uncle and the loon moved to England for a few years before moving abroad where he died in 1824.

He returned once to the area, to Ballater, and from there he climbed Morven for the last time. It is said that he never lost his Scottish accent; meaning Aberdeen and the Doric.

He was, of course, half Scots, indeed he claimed so himself, and so at the very least is a British, not English poet. His roots were very much in northeast Scotland and the land and language is said to come out in his poetry, and just possibly his reputation for raising the roof.

In February 1876 a letter to a local newspaper described something of the poet’s boyhood in Aberdeen

The author refers to a Byron memorial which I’ll come back to and goes on to describe something of the poet’s boyhood in Aberdeen which you can read for yourselves.

Byron copy 1

Lord Byron, Aberdeenbyron 3 againByron 4

And as far as I know there never was a Byron memorial built but in Aberdeen there’s aye Byron Square – where it’s not unknown for mad, bad and dangerous happenings to occur of a weekend. I’m sure Geordie Gordon would have been happy with that.

The Gowk

 

 

 

 

November 11, 2016

Foo Far Doon?

by Dunter

lochnagar-crater

Lying at the hole’s lip the stonecutter marvelled at the works of men: he had after all spent his working life with granite and knew well what hard graft could achieve.

  Aye, it must hae teen a damned lot o explosives and muscle ti howk this ane oot.

  Guarded respect was his first feeling but he was puzzled.

  There’s jist something a bit different fae aa the places faar I’ve tyauved. There’s the rauchle aa roon, nae doot, bit the soonds, surely nae fit yi’d expeck? That’s nae steam craan wheezing as it heists steen, nae dreels and haimmers, and far’s the scraich o the blondin rope lowering the skip tae the fleer? I hear men richt aneuch, and aye it myndes me o yoking time wi a puckle chiels nae sae croose in the craa at haen ti ging back t’it, and ithers, resigned ti gettin on wi the jobbie in han; still an on it’s an unca sicht..

  His thoughts wandered off, seeking a firm foundation; bedrock of where and why. Back, back he went to his first day at work in the granite yard.

  Up and oot afore sax o’clock, I wannered doon the Gallowgate, and timorous as a moosie wis into Chairlie MacDonald’s Froghall Works (a queer like name it seemed ti me). Timid but prood, prood that I’d been gien a chance ti be a mason. MacDonald’s wis nae jist ony yaird Na, the wirks wis braw, lang boasting fine conditions even gaan as far as biggin sheds wi fower waas ti keep weet and snell wins oot. But that day wis fine and me a bauch-hertit loon faa kent nae muckle mair than fit a haimmer looked like.

  The foreman took me roon the wirks faar I expeck ti see mannies stannin, cutting and carving. I wis dumfoonert, hid I wannered into a dairk deevilish mull an nae a place of craft and skeel? On ae side o the shed a saa wis swingin back-an-fore, pechin at every lurch wi clarty watter pouring aneth the beast’s teeth. Jist ayont wis a thing like an airon brander fleein roon, wi sic a souch and mair clart (gie’n me a blink the foreman said it sang like Jenny Lind). Nae seener had I teen this in than my lugs caught the soond o a machine makkin a stoor, aneuch ti smoor a body: a dunter, a bauld thing that clouted granite sae hard that the steen surrendered.

  For the life o me I couldnae oonerstaan, faar were the steencutters? Telling me nae ti fash the gaffer said saas, polishers and dunters were needed as much as wis the man wi the haimmer and puncheon. But I wisnae there ti become a mere machineman I wis ti be a mason. And there, in the next shed, were the steencutters, ilka man at his banker, wirkin on crosses and heidsteens . Some hid han haimmers ithers were cutting wi pneumatic chisels; the din wis constant and dist aawye. This wis fit I wanted: ti maister steel on steen. But siccan skeels were nae easily won.

  An so I thoaled the years o it wi split thooms, raxed back, stoor in the een, aye and wirse in ma thrapple. There were times fin I thocht ti caa it a day and mony anither apprentice wis o the same myn. But they were peelie-wally craturs faa up-tail and were aff ti look for greener girse. Me, I’d hae neen o this. If it wis girse I wis aifter then I’d hae feed ti een o the fairmers that gaithered by Hadden Street. I hungered ti ken aathin aboot cutting granite and hid the gweed fortune ti be pit wi a cutter faa’d bin on the tools ower fifty years. An auld man, though he micht hae lost some o his speed he’d lost neen o his skeel. He could cut and carve by han in a wye that wid mak an airtist heave his mell ti the fleer. This wis the man faa telt me hoo ti ging wi the steen: “granite can only be gaared sae far and nae mair. Hans and een is the wye” he said, “feel and see the grist in the glintin granite. There’s a reed and a hem, find this and the wye ti cut is clair”. And damn if he wisnae richt.

  Above the hole, amidst the confusion, the stonecutter’s reverie continued taking him further back to his childhood when his grandfather pulled ghosts from memory.

  The images came, flickered in ma heid, as if back in the Alhambra packed into the het guff o the picter hoose. There’s granfaither, a douce lang-heidit man, wabster by trade, faa’d been brocht up in the Denburn. I’d sit wi him for oors as he telt me o the lang, slow deeth o han weaving and hoo the eenjustice o it aa guidit him into Chartism. He’d seen nae jist his skeel as a wabster connached bit wirse, hail faimlies beggin for wirk ti cam their wye. Nae muckle mair than a loon granfaither wis doon at the Links, miscaain the Provost and his cronies and aa the sichts and soonds o priveelidge. Oh he kent fine that the bonnie Chartists didnae win through but so fit? aa’s important wis that fowk widnae bou doon ti the laithsome few faa’d want coorse wirkers keep their moos shut. In his wye granfaither wis nae doot dooncast but being a man faad seen mony a warsle he wis gey stoical and kent that looms and wabsters and aa that wis the Denburn were awa. “Aye”, he telt me, “there’s been mony cheenges but this only means wirkers hae ti find new wyes o deein things. But ae thing disnae cheenge, the need for fowk ti stick the gither. Britherheed is aathin”.

  There’s me, jist a laddikie, sittin wi granfaither, like some drouthie nyagg aye gaan back ti the troch for anither suppie. Mither lauched telling me that I’d drink the Don dry an then sook the banks for mair. But granfaither hid me. Skeels and smeddum wis his wye and dang if it widnae be myne. Aiblins the auld man saw his youngsel in the loon wi mizzlet shins sittin at the reenge hingin on his every wird; and the tales kept comin, tales o muckle gaitherins wi aabody kittelt-up by the braw speechifying. But he took me back ayont his days ti lang, langsyne fin his faither hid been wi Aiberdeen fowk, fechtin agin thieving dealers faad beamfill their girnals, huddin meal back, aa the better ti mak extra siller. Great granfaither an aa the rest, weel breid wis there richt as they saa it. They micht be poor bit they wernae feart so it wis aff ti the hairbour faar they caad doon the doors o the thieves and tyeuk fit wis theirs even fan the militia wis on the streets.

  And that wis me, draain fae the kist o memories and then it wis on ti granfaither’s beuks. A smaa library but wi choice wirks. He wisnae Christian an put my wye Tam Paine’s Age O Reason a grand tale that made me suspeck aa the fine words o meenisters. There wis anither Tam, Carlyle, a Scotchman, a sage some said, and I’ve nae doot he was verra clever bit there wis something aboot the gabby man that made him seem mair feel than pheelosopher. The man seemed ti think that in times fin knights were galloping aa ower the kintraside, well he seemed ti think this wis grand and we hid ti find a wye of re-kinlin a gowden age. Granfaither was fair teen by him but for me keeking backwart an girnin about the wye of the warl wis jist wind. As the auld man said aboot meenisters and their hivven, you micht jist as weel look for partans in mosspots and puddocks in the sea. But ae thing Carlyle got richt, this wis his gweed words for skeeled chiels wi hans, hert and brain aa wirkin the gither; wis this nae jist fit a steencutter did? Granfaither’s library hid the poems o Wullie Thom, a wabster ti trade and an Aiberdonian. He’d kent the poet and said he wisnae the easiest body ti get on wi but the man’s words, weel they brocht haim ti me the muckle cheenges needed.

  Beuks and granfaither’s tales, maist o this wis fin I wis gey young and still withoot a noshun o foo the hale jing bang micht hing the gither. But a bit later I cam upon the screeves o Wullie Morris and for him the wye wis forrit, wirkers fechtin for socialism and haen han skeels that wid turn fit they made inti airt: a soond veesion, biggit on granite foons, nae sand.

  At the crater’s lip, the mason could see figures moving, struggling, far below. They appeared to him like quarrymen, working their way through the debris of an explosion gone wrong.

  Wrang – there wis sae much wrang wi the warl but noo that I’d served my time and become a journeyman, as I saa it, I wis ready ti dee mair than shape steen; noo I’d fashion wirkin men into socialists. I’d been gaan ti peelitical meetings o the SDF, ance Morris’s pairty, faa were verra keen on haen the bawbees fae the pooches o the weel-aff. I wis affa fierce and fit I widnae dee if I got hud o them but I foond that maist o the men in the yaird wid raither thole me than jine me. Fooivver, as a journeyman I could jine the operatives’ union, the finest craft society in the toon and fae there I began fechtin for better conditions in Aiberdeen yairds and in kintra quarries. Wi my brither operatives we tyauved ti get an extra maik or twa and even a shorter wirkin wik. Stoor fae dunters, that wis anither lang sair fecht. These muckle skelpers o granite were gweed at makin a profit for the maisters. But they turned men deef and wirse the stoor wis teen into their lungs Yairds were full of wirkers faas lungs wis rived by fit we caad the kirkyaird-hoast and fit the quacks said wis the soond o phthisis brocht on by dist. We tried ti gaar the maisters tak tent but verra little cheenged.

  Nae maitter, as my granfaither wid hae said, we hid ti keep trying. And I did. Fooivver, this gave me tribble. On ae han I wis trying ti win a hantle o cheenges ti mak things tholeable but on the ither I wis looking ti caa doon the maisters an aa their wirks. As you micht say nae seeking ti tak a puckle crums, gaan instead for the loaf and the gullie ti pairtit. Wis ther ony wye o yoking the twa sides the gither? At nicht fin I wis aff doon ti Belmont Street wi my SDF freens pittin the warl ti richts, kennin the maisters’ days wid seen be ower; well britherheed seemed affa easy. Then aifter the claik it was haim and up in the morning into the yaird wi the argie-bargie stairting again. This wis like haen twa heids, ain for socialism and anither for the tyauve o wirk and the union Aiblins I should hae seen the gate I wis on but ony anxeeity I hid wis seen through a damn mirkie gless.

  A puckle o my socialist freens said it wis aa for nithin, that I’d spend my time in the parlours o maisters, bunnet in han jist waiting for a han-oot. I widnae hae this. The union did mak things better, maisters supplied tools, wirkin oors were shorter and even wages had gin up. Wis this nae the wye forrit, and onwye britherheed amang wirkers surely this wis the union? Some o these socialist billies didnae unerstan. Maisters could be a hard-faced lot, a puckle o them widnae want ti gie onything ti the men, grippy disnae dee them justice, they would hae raiked hell for a saxpence. An fan this happened it wid be neives heisted, us threetnin strike and them lock-oot. But some of the employers were fair-hannit and we wid find wyes roon tribble: give-an-tak as you micht say. Och aye, we widnae win aathin but fit did my freens expeck: ging ti the maisters and demand socialism?

  What would his friends now think of the mason in a world where give and take had transmuted to something far beyond the tactful diplomacy of a negotiating table? His vision of internationalism and brotherhood dissolving and re-forming much as the dust around him settled and rose.

  Wirkers fae aa the airts gettin the gither, this wis my granfaither’s dream and it wis myne. The union, weel it wis a stairt. But the streetch o my veesion o britherheed wis sair tested faan steen fae Norway came inti Aiberdeen. Och aye some o the maisters were contentit, they wid mak some siller but nae aabody wis happy, especially merchants wi quarry interests. They said only oor granite should be wirked; or at warst Scotch, or at verra warst British steen. Aa foreign muck wis ti be stopped itherwise trade in yairds and quarries wid be lost. This vext me and like a thoom that’d been skelped by a haimmer ma conscience began ti stoon, winnerin far britherheed came inti this? I sair needed, something ti tak the pyne awa.

  I hid a freen Wullie, oot by Alford, secretary o the union at Cluny. A fine man, gweed at his trade and nae feart o stannin up for his preenciples and fyles he’d bin a soondin board for my thochts. So it wis awaa doon tae the station. On the rinnie oot in the train I hid a chance ti think aboot this britherheed. My workmates were unca happy tae fecht and tak fit could be won but a fair puckle o them were jist as contenit ti keep the men on saas and polishers doon (mere machinemen I’d aince caad them). Britherheed in a yaird seemed hard aneuch withoot takkin on the warl. Gaan oot in the train wis aye a trait and my speerits lifted as we steamed into quarry kintra faar fowk hid howkit at coorse and rochsome grun ti mak a living. Nature can hae a bonny face but only ance the faimly is hoosed and his mait on the table .

  Wullie had been brocht up in the Vale and he kent as weel as onybody the hardships o quarriers. Toon wirk, weel it seemed safter. For a stairt in Aiberdeen we didnae hae the fell winters that hit the quarries wi grun beeriet under deep snaa an men getting peyed by the piece for steen wirked and naething for staanin up ti their oxters in fite pouther. In Aiberdeen cutters were peyed by the day. I speired ti Wullie fit wye the Donside men didnae wint redd o piece work. This wis nae mystery, he telt me, twa gweed reasons for keeping it were, auld near-caad-deen quarriers were able ti tyauve on an mak a puckle bawbees and keep the maisters happy and anither thing, a chiel wi a craft could ging aff in a quait spell an wirk their lan and nae loss ti onybody. But I saw it as jist anither wye o the dirt o property skaillin the sharny-bree o oonjustice ower common fowk. Nae doot there were honest an gweed-hertit quarry maisters, but they were catcht in this guids-an-geer fankle. Wullie agreed that men like Fyfe o Kemnay were dacent aneuch bodies faa didnae draa bleed fae men, even if in winter wirkin in the slabber o snaa an dubs the bleed wid come. But there were ithers he said, lairds, men sleekit in their beesiness and faa gripped on tae lan and if they hid their road wid close the quarries and be rid o the dirt of quarrymen. “Fur and fedder o Bennachie and roon aboot”, said Wullie, “this is their interest nae men and wirk. Pheasants and rubbits dinna spik back. Lairds want the moos o quarrymen stapped and fowk ti beck an bou afore their betters.” Aa this wis hinnie ti my lugs, a sweetness o thocht but a clearance o the clart o lairds still left me raivelt aboot britherheed. Spikkin ti Wullie I felt a bit like a loon again, sittin in a neuk by the fire, a micht even had mizzlet shank. “Things in Donside”, he said, “arenae gweed. Dreelers, cutters, settmakkars are aa streevin for wirk, maist are fit wi caa loafin” and “men are gaan across the pond ti America in the howp o job. And for them that hinna shipped west it’s a maitter o inti an Aiberdeen factory or aff ti be third billies at twa-horse fairm toons.” Soondin like granfaither, Wullie raged at the eenjustice, “ if things ging on like this the quarries’ll be seelent, as if the warl had teemt the men fae the holes”. For a meenit I couldnae meet his een for I kent fine that like ithers I’d wrocht Norwegian granite and even if I’d makkit the grandest o heidsteens I jaloused that it could mark the deeth o the quarries. Faar wis britherheed here?

  Wullie calmed my anxeeity and for him the answer wis ae step at ae time. Socialism and britherheed wid hae tae start at oor ane front door. There wis nae eese in being vext aboot steencutters in Norway or ony wye else if the granite beesiness here wis feenished. We hid ti hud oot for oor ane fowk afore aathin else argued Wullie and ti mak his case he pynted ti the Navy buying foreign steen for biggin hairbours. Turning aa poetic he pit a verse ti me,

“If for our Fleet we feel it meet
With natives true to man it,
Why make a dock of foreign rock
Inferior to our granite?”

  It wis like licht gaan on in my heid: a wye forrit wis seen, ane that conneckit wi aathin I’d deen as pairt o the union. Fechtin that hid ti ging on, but fyles ca-canny and wirk wi the maisters for the steen industry itherwise we could wak-up wi, nae yairds and even fewer quarries.

  And as the dust around him settled and the noise ebbed and flowed he could see that the Cluny man’s arguments had been sufficient to propel him further along a path upon which he had already embarked. This was the path that led him to the hole.

  I teuk my thochts on aa men being brithers and union wirk and wupped them the gither ti mak a stepledder o richts and loyalties, wirken up fae the yairds ti aa the warls ayont. It wis at the Mairket Stance fan the fou meanin o the cheenge wis brocht haim ti me. Jist anither day, haen a dauner ower the plainsteens, keekin up at the braw sicht o the Toon Hoose, a work o airt in granite but wastit on Cooncillors. My scance at the fine Kemnay steen wis distractit by a stramash at the Cross. Gaithered there were kiltit sodgers surroondit by local billies an it wis plain as porritch this wis nae stoorie atween Aiberdonians an militia, scantlin an inklin o meal riots o langsyne. Aabody respectit the sodgers and winted ti jine them. Granfaither wid’ve been scunnered but I kent that ance a waar stairts fowk aften rin ti the flag. And a waar hid stairted. I got ti thinkin, and wis clair that I hid tae tak a puckle steps up the loyalty ledder and look ti britherheed wi fowk ootside the yairds. I widnae jouk the deecision aifter-anaa wis it nae the case it wis my ain kintra, and the great chiel Hyndman, ance o the SDF, hid screeved it wis a man’s duty ti fecht against the Hun faa wis ettlin ti pit Britons in thirl ti Germany. It wis only a step or twa ti the Barracks tae tak Geordie’s shillinn.

  Sic a few smaa steps but they took me a lang wye. On this new gate I wutnessed muckle things, men fechtin ower pooshened grun, aneuch ti mak a plooman greet. In the mirk o aa this I did find britherheed at least wi aa the Britons and French fowk but universal? weel that wid hae ti wait. Gey blaik noshuns swirled in ma heid as I watched britheheed gaither in heeps afore my een: some micht miscaa the waar, bit ae thing aboot this ledder o fraternities, at the hinner-en o the slauchter there’d be damn gweed beesness for masons an maisters, aa the heidsteens wid keep them at the bankers and the order beuks weel past the dainner oor. Ah weel I’d chosen my gate an I jist gid on wi it.

  The stonecutter was at Mametz when off to the west there was a sound of such force that even amidst the carnage he was awed. Distracted with his mind wandering to ghosts of far-off places and knowing not how, he found himself at the lip of the hole and the enormity of his journey all but overwhelmed him.

  I looked doon and I could see this wis nae quarry, nae a place far men tyauved ti win bonny steen fae the ooncarin airth – na this hole wis far caring men focht ti win ither treasures. And as I dwalled on this, like the grun aneath, I shuddered.

  I survived the waar and foond oot that the hole wis caad Lochnagar Crater, made by moudiewart men wi ower twenty tons o explosives. Neen o Byron’s frowning glories here, dairker than onythin the hirplin Laird could hae imagined; the braw days o spikkin tae granfaither, anither warl, sae far awaa.

  Foo far doon? A helluva lang wye.

August 29, 2016

From the Cock o’ the North to Commissioner Jim Gordon via Huntly Castle

Huntly Castle mid 15th - early 17th centuries

Huntly Castle from the mid-15th to early-17th century

Huntly Castle is a ruin but what a ruin. It is big and bold and sits in a green park surrounded by trees and the rivers Bogie and Deveron.

DSC03465

The calm side of the River Deveron

Motte where the first motte and bailey castle of Strathbogie was built in the late 1100s

Motte where the first motte and bailey Strathbogie castle was built in the late 1100s

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next to what remains of the castle is part of an extant motte site of the original 12th century Strathbogie castle – built for an earl of Fife. This first castle was wooden and was burnt down by the Black Douglas clan in 1496. Out of the ashes emerged first a tower house built soon after the fire and gradually more buildings were added until the great hulk of castle we see now – bigger and bolder than the earlier one emerged and to be on the safe side it was constructed of stone; mainly sandstone and freestone, altogether more resistant to fire than wood. Practically nothing remains of the tower house but the later castle, though tumbledown, hints at what it must have been like – something pretty amazing.

stables, brew house, bake house and other lost buildings including where an L-plan tower house once stood built in the early 15thC to replace the lost wooden castle

Stables for the short garron ponies, brew house, bake house and other remains including  the area where the L-plan tower house was erected in the 15th century to replace the lost wooden castle

King James IV used to make annual pilgrimages to the shrine of Saint Duthac in Tain, north of Inverness, and he often stopped off at Huntly en route. During one visit, in 1501, he watched the stonemasons at work building or biggin the castle as they say in the northeast of Scotland and so impressed was he with their handiwork he gave them some tokens in the way of money and I’m not surprised because they made a grand job of it; the stone carving is superb.

A fragment of the original roughly paved road made up of pebbles and boulders which led to the eastern part of the castle constructed in the 17thC

The spectacular ruin that stands in Huntly belonged to the Gordon family. Many of you will know that the name Gordon is very much associated with Aberdeenshire although scratch around and you might disturb some French roots in the guise of Gourdon (there is a place of that name farther down the Aberdeenshire coast) and a nod to Berwickshire where a bloke by the name of Sir Adam de Gordon thought he would like a bit of a change – and having shifted allegiance during the Scottish Wars of Independence he eventually ended up on the right side and was promptly rewarded with parcels of land in Strathbogie by Robert the Bruce. Such is how land came to be distributed – ending up in the hands of powerful families – handed out like sweeties. Cronyism has a long pedigree. Doing someone a favour, raising troops to fight their cause once secured immense tracts of land for families who prided themselves on their ability to accumulate piles and piles of the countryside. Some of them are still determinedly clinging on to land they acquired in all manner of dodgy ways in the past and will fight anyone who suggests they don’t have fair claim to their estates – in the courts not on the battlefield anymore.

The Gordons - not shrinking violets

The Gordons were proud of their lands and the great muckle house built at Huntly. George Gordon the 1st Marquess of Huntly had pride a-plenty which probably explains why plastered his and hers names right across the front of their impressive pile – akin today of installing neon lighting on the front of your house. The bold inscription reads:

GEORGE GORDON FIRST MARQUESS OF HUNTLY 16
HENRIETTE STEWART MARQUESSE OF HUNTLY 02

Not forgetting the hand of God pointing out each name. Well if you have it, flaunt it, said God.

The hand of God points out George Gordon's name and points out his wife's name as well

 

The hand of God points to the names of the Gordons who owned the castle

All generations of Gordons included a George so the story of the George Gordons can get very muddled and as the Gordons were always in the thick of the action, more than your average family, I will avoid going into detail. However, I cannot entirely.

three storeys

Three storeys of the castle

Old door

Original studded oak door

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the several George Gordons – the one who wrote his name across his house – was an influential political figure in Scotland, attached to the royal court, and a nephew of James V. He was no shrinking violet as you may have deduced and earned himself the nickname, the Cock o’ the North.

 

The oldest wooden toilet seat in Scotland

Certainly one of the oldest wooden lavatory seats in Scotland

The great fireplace was disfigured by Covenanters who disapproved of its Catholic imagery

The great fireplace was disfigured by Covenanters who disapproved of its Catholic imagery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This epithet transferred to the Gordon Highlander regiment who came to be known as the Cocky wee Gordons and not-so-long-ago a popular ditty was oft sung across Scotland – ask your granny or maybe your great granny and watch her face light up with the memory.

A Gordon for me, a Gordon for me,
If ye’re no a Gordon ye’re no use to me.
The Black Watch are braw, the Seaforths and a’
But the cocky wee Gordon’s the pride o’ them a’.

Stairs in castles were usually built to give advantage to the castle family in the case of invading swordsmen (usually right-handed) and disadvantage to their enemies

Mary of Guise, Mary Queen of Scots’ mother, was involved in a plot to clip the wings of the Cock o’ the North. I should have said the Gordons were Catholics and so was Mary of Guise but then she turned on some other Catholics at the time of the Reformation because – well, because that was the politic thing to do – and heads were optional extras in those days.

Gordon the Catholic was ambushed by a party of royalist Stewarts and he was killed. His corpse was then embalmed and put on trial for treason. I can assure you stranger things have happened. His castle was looted and religious carvings relating to the old faith found there, including two medallions above his front door – most unusual in Scotland, were destroyed.

cropped carving at door featuring family and Scottish national heraldry

The main doorway beautifully carved

 

Oriel window high up on the south-facing wall with spectacular views acrosss the countryside

Oriel window high up on the south-facing wall with spectacular views across the countryside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you will have gathered people, let’s be clear men, were pretty bloodthirsty all those centuries ago – and that’s without video nasties – and there was a definite trend for Scotland’s landed families to go at it hammer and tongs against their neighbours. You would think history has been a constant power struggle for land and political influence and you’d be right.

Remnant of ornate plaster work. The whole castle was packed with ornate work

A remnant of ornate plaster work. The whole castle once was adorned with such intricate craftsmanship

Back to the castle. Medieval palaces tended to expand over the centuries ending up in a melange of architectural styles. Huntly Castle is no different. Building was still going on when the Scottish civil war broke out in the 17th century. All these centuries on and the Gordons were still fighting anyone and everyone; family, strangers, neighbours – everyone.

 

Graffiti is there in abundance in the castle with some beautifully written letters

At the Battle of Aberdeen in 1644 at the time of the Scottish Civil War the Gordon clan fought on both sides – Covenanters and Royalists so that at least some of them would be on the winning side.

Details of another fireplace with medallion portraits of George Gordon and his wife Henrietta Stewart

Another fireplace with medallions of George Gordon and Henrietta Stewart

George Gordon, 2nd Marquess of Huntly, (son of George Cock o’ the North and Henrietta Stewart) brought up a Protestant Episcopalian at the court of James VI, was on the winning, royalist, side at the Battle of Alford in 1645 at which he fought alongside his son, also George, who was killed. George the 2nd Marquess had, in 1639, been secretly appointed to oppose the Covenanters in the north of Scotland and at Turriff he led a force of 2,000 in a show of strength against a gathering of 800 men led by the Marquess of Montrose (then in support of the Covenanters.) The two sides sized each other up but a tense situation passed without the spilling of blood.

 

Stone stairs lead to all kinds of interesting nooks and crannies. Some original joist ends have survived and the later castle from the north side

The peace was not to last and there followed a game of cat and mouse between Montrose and Gordon who was none too keen on getting dragged into the whole difficult affair with the Covenanters.

One day Montrose said to Gordon, “Do you fancy a trip to Edinburgh?”

Gordon smelling a rat replied, “No, not really.”

Montrose, however, wouldn’t take no for an answer and so Gordon was taken to the capital to intimidate him into behaving but he shrugged off the threat and travelled north again and fought in a battle at the Brig o’ Dee at Aberdeen. As a punishment Huntly Castle was plundered and the fate of both castle and the Gordons thereafter followed a downward trajectory. Gordon/Huntly was again a wanted man who embarked on the 1640s equivalent of trains, planes and automobiles to make his escape – by horse, foot and boat. He kept on the move – all around the north of Scotland but was captured at Strathdon in a violent incident that saw both his servants and friends killed. Gordon ended up back in Edinburgh, locked up in the tolbooth until in March 1649 he was beheaded.

prisoners

Prisoners abandoned in a deep, dark hole beneath the castle had no chance of escape

Life was one long power struggle for wealthy families in past centuries but there were occasional intermissions when peace broke out long enough for a game of football to take place or even a marriage. Football was a popular pastime with the rich and powerful in Scottish society in past centuries – less so today.

 


The Gordons enjoyed a game of fitba and like most landed gentry they also liked to keep their options open by shifting allegiances according to where their interests happened to lie on any particular day. They were split as a family during the Jacobite risings in 1715-16 and 1745-46 when once more royalist/government troops took over Huntly Castle and the gentle decay that had begun in the previous century continued apace following the unfriendly attentions of anti-Jacobite government troops.

It’s hard to get an impression of how opulent Huntly Castle must have been in its heyday – reputedly no expense spared and very grand indeed with all the main rooms highly decorated and beautifully painted ceilings. John Anderson was the painter responsible for some of the ceiling work, not sure if he was local, might have been and so impressive were his efforts he was commissioned to work on Falkland Palace and Edinburgh Castle. Of course Huntly Castle set the standard. The few remaining carvings tease us into regretting what has been lost but Historic Scotland have done a grand job both with the preservation of the place and a highly informative glossy booklet available in the shop.

landscape window frame

As for the Gordons they were scattered across the country and the Continent some settled in Poland. There are still an awful lot of Gordons around Aberdeenshire and some famous ones around the world – and the most famous of all surely Commissioner Jim Gordon of Gotham City unless you think Lord Byron better known – he was half-Scottish – a Gordon through his mother’s family and known as – well what else but George Gordon before England claimed him.

Swallow on nest Huntly Castle

The castle is now home to nesting swallows

Enjoy Huntly Castle.

October 18, 2015

Scotland’s First Oil Boom – the Greenland Whale

Greenland whaling

Scots seamen have been hunting down whales for goodness knows how long and commercially since the middle ages. Aberdeen’s association with whaling is chronicled from the 1750s but its activities are dwarfed by Scotland’s main whaling ports of Dundee and Peterhead. (Curiously and sadly our most significant whaling centres are not featured in the Great Tapestry of Scotland) .

In 1788 the brig Robert, under Captain Geary, sailed out of its home port of Peterhead heading north towards the inhospitable waters that flowed down from the Arctic and home to the great Greenland whales. The lure was precious whale oil and the great fortunes that might be made from it but Geary and his crew did not make their fortunes, not then, but when the good times did come, they came with interest. Their most lucrative year was 1799 when they returned to harbour laden down with 96 tons from 8 whales.

Peterhead Whaling Crew

Peterhead whaling crew

Notable northeast whalers were the Grays from Peterhead , Captain William Parker of the whaler Bon-Accord and Captain William Penny who skippered the first steam whaler out from Dundee (which did not endear him to his fellow traditional whalers who threatened to have him tarred and feathered). Penny was also ‘the first man to winter purposely in Davis Straits’. Greenlanders would normally sail early in spring and return late summer . Traditionally men leaving port would take a cut ribbon from their wives or sweethearts, both holding a half, and the men would knot them together and tie them to the mast where they would stay until the end of the trip.

Penny established a whaling station at Cumberland Sound, part of the Labrador Sea, an area rich in whales and seals. A native of Peterhead he was the son of a whale skipper and his life at sea began when he was 12 years old but despite his adventurous life Penny died in his own bed, at Springbank Terrace, Aberdeen. Many Greelanders were not so fortunate but Penny knew to quit while ahead, retiring as a relatively young man, to Aberdeen.

The Active leaving Dundee

In 1850 Penny led an expedition to find traces of the doomed Franklin expedition that had searched for the North West Passage. He found evidence of their winter quarters and three graves at Beechy Island but little else.

Captain Geary’s eventual successes encouraged other northeast seamen try their luck in the frozen seas off Greenland among them the crews of the Eliza Swan of Montrose and the Hercules and Layton from Aberdeen and the Jane.

On 11th August 1810 the Jane, under its Captain Jameson, scooped the largest cargo of whale oil ever landed in Aberdeen: 17 whales and 383 casks brim-full with oil. It emerged the Captain had captured so many whales he gave part of his catch away to another vessel.

The Jane’s success was commemorated in song:

We’ll gae into Jean MacKenzie’s,

And buy a pint o’ gin,

And drink it on the jetty

When the Jane comes in.

And in 1814, Peterhead whalers killed 163 whales which translated into a huge quantity of oil.

 Cutting up whale

Cutting up a whale onboard

The government paid bounties to the largest of the whaling vessels for it required the oil to lubricate the machinery in the manufactories that powered the Industrial Revolution. Whale oil was used also to light street lamps in an increasingly urbanised country, and later for soap and margarine. In addition to the valuable oil, whale baleen and the flesh were marketable too but for the government having relatively large numbers of men skilled in the toughest of conditions who could then be used to man the navy when required was an additional attraction of the industry. What better school than the treacherous seas around the Davis Straits?

Peterhead ship Hope was in receipt of bounties – a mighty £480 for every voyage she made on top of whatever else was taken for the oil and baleen sold. Baleen, the comb-like filter plates whales use for feeding on krill were eagerly sought-after for use in clothing, including corset ‘bones’ , for umbrella spokes and carriage springs and could fetch £2000 per ton.

Cutting up walruss tusks

Cutting up walruss tusks onboard

The rush for whale oil gave rise to a free-for-all with ships stalking whales and others stalking whaling vessels, to steal their catches. Many a Scottish whaler crew had to fend off privateers from France and Denmark in particular. The Elbe from Aberdeen was attacked on more than one occasion by pirates. The Latona, too, again from Aberdeen, found itself battling Danish pirates. On one occasion it took the intervention of a London whaler to drive off the determined privateer. Later the same year the ill-fated Latona was crushed on ice in the Davis Straits and sank within minutes.

Hope at Aberdeen 1873

Privateers, weather, ice, storms, icebergs, the perilous Arctic waters and the long months away from home made whaling a trying as well as a highly hazardous activity. Many lost their lives, their toes and fingers and their sanity while crewing these great wooden ships.

An average whaler had around 50 of a crew although some carried far more. Usually they were local men from whaling ports but northeast boats often dropped in by Orkney and Shetland on their northward journeys in hope of picking up some of these islands’ hardy and experienced boatmen, greatly valued for dealing with the hardships that lay ahead.

Eclipse of Peterhead

Whaling ships were notorious for their stench of oil and blood that could be smelled long before they returned to harbour and of course made them extremely slippery and dangerous for the crew. They were often painted black and white and had six or seven whaleboats suspended from the sides of the ship. When a whale was sighted the whaling boats were lowered and the lead harpoon man threw his harpoon with a rope attached at the whale. The barbs on the harpoon would attach to the whale’s body and grip tighter as the animal thrashed to free itself. Each boat would have men shoot harpoons at the whale until it was secured to several smaller boats. The danger for the men was if the whale dived below the surface and dragged them with it. Whales can swim at around 20 miles an hour so it was imperative not to be dragged away, too far away from the ship, especially in poor weather such as fog. Whales fought to free themselves but eventually, exhausted, the parties in the small boats would advance to pierce the mammal through its heart or lungs. This was a long process – maybe as long as 40 hours but a successful kill would end with the whale swimming around and around, like a dying fly spinning uncontrollably. This flurry was followed by the whale thrashing the water with its tail then with a final shudder it died and floated over onto its side. The captured dead whale was then towed back to the ship.(If the ship could be found again.)

By this time the small boats may have travelled a considerable distance and had to return to the ship towing the whale behind them. The whale was secured to the side of the ship while the crew flensed it – stripped off its blubber with knives and sharp spades. An average whale provided around 30tons of blubber. The blubber was cut into smaller chunks and stored in containers.

Harpoon gun

Harpoon Gun

In 1830, 19 out of the 91 British ships working the Davis Straits and Baffin Bay were sunk and 21 others returned home with nothing to show for risking their lives for half a year. Many that did make it back had suffered damage to their ships. Peterhead lost the Resolution and Hope that enjoyed so much success in previous years and all in all 1830 was a dismal year for Peterhead whalers.

In atrocious weather the Mazinthien was wrecked at South Bay, Peterhead on her way to the Davis Straits from Dundee in 1878. Its crew were only rescued by breeches buoy after many hours. The ship was eventually salvaged and returned to Dundee as a wreck.

 

Aberdeen’s whalers fared even worse, losing four from ten whalers: Alexander, Laetitia, Middleton and Princess of Wales while one came back with an empty hold the remainder took only 5 whales.

By the mid-1830s it was clear that whalers had largely destroyed their own industry through greed. In response Peterhead captains looked to sealing around Newfoundland and in that they created a lucrative industry out of one that was taken up to cover whaling losses. Sealskin was hugely popular especially the soft skins from very young cubs which were clubbed to death.

Dundee crews were said to be ‘fitba mad’ and made footballs from seal skins. Teams from different ships competed on the ice. On one occasion in 1875 a bunch of men from the Victor had gone well away from the ship so as not to disturb those who remained on board. In the middle of the game a polar bear emerged through the fog and was seen dribbling the ball. His human team-mates ran as fast as they were able across the ice and fought to climb the only ladder hanging down from the ship’s deck.

Such were the times the poor bear was shot dead.

Captain John Gray

Captain John Gray

Into the 19th century there was a shift away from wooden to iron vessels and by the late 1850s steam was beginning to supplant sail. This did not please Peterhead Captain Gray who blamed the noise of steam engines for driving whales north out of reach rather than accepting the whale hunters were themselves to blame for the wholesale slaughter of too many whales. Later he did change his mind but placed blame on earlier generations of whalers for massacring immature whales before they could reproduce.

Mangled harpoons taken from a whale

Mangled harpoon arrows taken from a whale

Meanwhile Dundee shipbuilders Stephen eschewed iron for timber, designing a wooden barque-rigged screw steamer that proved highly effective navigating ice-strewn waters. Others copied the design, including the world’s leading clipper shipbuilder Alexander Hall & Co. of Aberdeen who, in 1867, built the Eclipse for Peterhead’s whaling dynasty the Grays.

The whale jaw bones arch was a the Footdee (Fittie) home of Alexander Hall the Aberdeen shipbuilder. There were many such arches in Aberdeen and across Scotland.

A second whaler ship named Hope followed, again for a Gray, Captain John Gray, brother of the Eclipse’s captain. These two ships dominated Peterhead whaling and sealing during the 1870s and ’80s but were still no match for the whaling fleets of Dundee.

Doyle diary 2 (1)

From Conan Doyle’s diary

It was on the whaler Hope that the Scottish writer Arthur Conan Doyle sailed as a 20 year old medical student for the ship’s 6-month voyage to Greenland waters, under Captain Gray in 1880. As the ship’s surgeon Doyle was paid £2 – 10shillings per month and 3shillings a ton oil bonus.

Doyle diary 2 (2)

Pages from Conan Doyle’s diary

The Eclipse, too, had a famous passenger. Walter Livingstone-Learmonth was an Australian born to Scottish parents with a reputation as a ‘keen hunter’. Others might describe him as a butcher. His lust for shooting birds and animals took him aboard the Eclipse, to get to species he had so far not been able to kill. He and Captain Gray did not get on. He also sailed on the Dundee ship Maud from which he shot 26 walruses and seals and 4 polar bears.

polar bear

A proud Livingstone-Learmonth

The Eclipse was sold to the Norwegians and then on to the Russian navy who changed her name to Lomonessoi. She was sunk in 1927, raised and went on to become a research vessel in Siberian waters after that before being finally sunk in 1941 by the German Luftwaffe.

 flencing

Flensing a whale tied to the side of the ship

In 1901 the Hope was lost at Byron Island but the 194 on board were rescued. By this time the northeast whaling industry was all but finished although British whaling did not officially end until 1963.

The industry that had been battling decline found the Norwegians were predominant by the beginning of the 20th century. For the men from Aberdeen, Peterhead and Dundee the tide had turned on an occupation in which they risked their lives on a daily basis, sustained by the potential riches to be made from pursuit of the poor whale.

Where these men’s fathers and grandfathers had taken to treacherous waters in the frozen north to engage in a somewhat equal battle with the magnificent leviathan the whale hunters of the 20th century armed with explosive charges turned whale hunting into nothing short of slaughter.

 Tay Whale at John Woods yard 1884

Whale at John Woods yard, Dundee

 

 

October 9, 2014

Now you see it – now you don’t – Marischal Square

 

The vote was taken at once, and it was agreed by an overwhelming majority that rats were comrades.                                                                                                                                                                (Animal farm)

Aberdeen City Council has reinforced the belief that it is surely one of the most disgraceful and sleekit of local authorities.

It has played a dirty game over the development that it once boasted would be Marischal Square – a great opportunity for a civic space it once promised – an idea that captured the mood of the city’s citizens browned off by a recent diet of lacklustre plans lacking in ambition and confidence.

Did they say square? They did. Did. Not any more. Because square there aint. Unless you follow the logic of Cllr Boulton who, in reply to being challenged on the great disappearing square, muttered something along the lines of – the whole area is a kind of square.

 The erm, Square

Quite.

There used to be a distinctive old street there called Broad Street. Lord Byron, Geordie Gordon, bade there as a child. The old Aberdeen Journals occupied a large property there and Bissets bookshop was there at the other end. There never used to be a square and there sure as hell isn’t going to be one in the near future. Not until these eejits running the council are dead and buried.

So square is now a former concept of a square. This wonderful civic square that would become a hub (councils love the term hub) for city folk and so the idea of Marischal Square was born – no not born, conceived.

Then the council had a think and it thought – hey min there’s nae cash in an empty space.

Come on you didn’t think they’d stick to their word – did you?

 COUNCILLORS'  BRAIN

Average councillor brain

There’s been a lot of talk – encouraging the public to get involved, implying citizens’ views would be taken note of in drawing up the final design. That is until people said,

Yes we want a square – ken fit I mean, min?

Well you ken fit want gets.

It is clear the Labour-led coalition which includes a Tory and Independents while happy to provide a blank sheet for the developers eager to build shops, offices and a hotel is less interested in what the people of the city want. Did I say less interested? Not interested.

Of course councils ignoring the wishes of the people is not a new phenomenon but disappointing nevertheless whenever it occurs and when it doesn’t even try to modify the commercial aspects of the design as a sop to public opinion.

The final decision was taken away from the Planning Committee and put to full council to ensure the commercial proposal went through, as councillors would be more or less voting along party lines. This was nothing short of politicising the scheme and a scandalous manipulation of power on a project that is so controversial.

Cllr Willie Young is reported to have indicated on July 17th this year that the decision had already been taken to go ahead with the Muse development causing consternation among opposition councillors opposed to the deal.

Squares are good

Squares are good

Squares were good

Squares were good

Squares no good

Squares no good

Squares were good but concrete is better

 

What we want is concrete and more concrete. Can’t get enough concrete. Our aim is to concrete over Aberdeen. Concrete is money. Fill the mouths of those who dare to speak out with concrete. That’ll shut them up.

Cllr Jenny Laing tells the world this vibrant developments of offices and shops will prove that Aberdeen is open for business, as if one of the most economically dynamic areas of the UK isn’t already open and doing a grand line in business.

Do people actually vote for these people who speak in banalities?

ACC ratings

Aberdeen Evening Express

Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure.

On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility.

Contrary to what the Labour group say there is nothing , absolutely nothing in this design to attract people into the city. On the other hand a large photogenic square would most definitely become a tourist attraction as well as a potential gathering place and area for music and entertainment. Think of what some photographs of a fine square with the magnificent Marischal College, the second largest granite building in the world,  in the background and those fine old properties of Upper Kirkgate along one side, would do to enhance the attractiveness of Aberdeen.

Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer – except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs.

April 7, 2014

Move along now, nothing to see here – Aberdeen’s latest Civic Square debacle

marischal square plan 1

REVEALED! the latest vision aiming to regenerate Aberdeen city centre.

Yes plans for the hugely anticipated Marischal Square is moving on apace and it is worrying.

The publicity comes studded with those all-too familiar V words promising us a vibrant vision no less. Let me add a V or two of my own  – vacuous, vile, vulgar, very vulgar, vomitory.

Vibrant is usually a tag attached to something decidedly un-vibrant, hence the need for a tag to persuade people the emperor really is wearing clothes. For vibrant read bog-standard,  unexceptional and ordinary, very, very ordinary and here, dated designs.

marischal college old pic (2)

Marischal College is a magnificent building, world-class, a testament to the granite masons who sawed, carved and polished its fabulous frontage. It is the second largest granite building in the world and size matters in these things. It is the worthy public face of the city that has become Scotland’s economic powerhouse, a role reluctantly shouldered and modestly underplayed by the players who should be using the current economic climate to highlight its best features.

Brasov

Brasov

Consider Marischal College as the backdrop to a large expanse of nothingness but charm and wonder, let’s call it a square, in which people could congregate and marvel at the granite tour de force before them – this square would become a magnet for locals and visitors alike – on a par with squares in, and let’s be modest here, Brasov, Nuremberg and Sibiu.

Nuremberg

Nuremberg

 

Sibiu, Romania

Sibiu, Romania

The current version of the proposal from Muse Developments is to partially conceal Marischal College with dated looking boxy offices, shops and a hotel.

This is risk-averse bog-standard city centre development at its weakest and will convince no-one to come to Aberdeen, instead confirm to exasperated residents of the city and shire that Aberdeen’s decision makers really should not be allowed out on their own but be secured in a place of protection. They are recidivist dullards who never tire of displaying their woeful lack of civic self-confidence.

There have been the usual ‘consultations’ over the Broad Street proposals which has been development-led . What should have been done was to let the public come up with ideas for the gap left by the demolition of the St Nicholas House complex.  The people of the area, not developers, are better placed to inform the council that works for them (supposedly) how best to preserve and flaunt both Marischal and the 16th century Provost Skene’s House. After all the people who live and work in the city are the ones whose lives will be most affected by the changes to this environment. Once it became clear what the majority wanted the concept should have been put out to an international design competition.

Broadgate, later Broad Street, where Lord Byron lived as a child

Broadgate, later Broad Street, where Lord Byron lived as a child

 

What we got was a developer, Muse, ‘incorporating’ we are told the wishes of the public following their initial design.

It is no secret in Aberdeen that people want a square i.e. an open area where they can congregate and absorb the magnificance of Marischal.What they don’t appreciate is having the wool pulled over their eyes by a developer and council banging on about Marischal Square when that is precicelsly what is not being offered.

IT IS NOT A SQUARE – IT IS A STREET – LIKE ANY OTHER ZILLIONS OF STREETS.

marischal plan 2

This ‘public space free from traffic’ is council and Musa otherwise known as a street.

It is a street with hotels, shops and offices – how unique and brilliant a concept is that?

Marischal College will again be mostly hidden and so will the 16th century Provost Skene’s House relegated to a corner at the back much as it was with the St Nicholas House development.

16th century Provost Skene's House

16th century Provost Skene’s House

Where the traffic will go is chaos waiting to happen.

Marie Boulton is an independent councillor and the council’s deputy leader who tells us the plans have reached an ‘exciting stage.’ There are a lot of people who view the refined plans as depressing more than exciting. Nothing Councillor Boulton, nothing about this proposal is in the least exciting.

Don’t believe the propaganda accompanying this latest architectural outrage threatening the city. Pedestrianised shopping streets are ten a penny around the country, around the globe.

Aberdeen had an opportunity to make its mark with a real show stopper of a civic square. If retail and hotel space are essential why couldn’t they be designed to run around an open square instead of closing in the area?

Why can’t the many unused storeys above shops along the length of the decaying magnificence of Unions Street be turned into hotel rooms and offices or even shops?

Regenerate Union Street and create a civic square worthy of the city and Marischal College.

It is clear from statements coming from the council that the very people trusted with responsibility for taking vital decisions affecting the future of Aberdeen  are not up to the job. Is there anyone among them who knows anything about world quality architecture? Anyone of them with ambition? (aside from personal).

Remember the dreadful design chosen for Union Terrace Gardens? Well they haven’t raised the game since that.

The council administration has changed but no lessons have been learned in terms of design or aspiration. This administration for all its criticism of the last one who pushed the misguided Union Terrace Web fiasco are pursuing civic irresponsibility in their own right. Are these people stupid?

Muse Developments controversially became the Labour-led administrations preferred bidder for the Marischal site. There were questions raised at the time over the bid process but it was declared legal by the Court of Session.

marischal plan 3

Last year criticisim was made of Muse’s design to develop Chester’s city centre, their plans described as ‘a missed opportunity to create a high quality and attractive area within the city.’ Quite.

http://www.chesterfirst.co.uk/news/120411/3-000-jobs-but-critics-warn-chester-development-is-missed-opportunity-.aspx

In both cities business backed Muse’s plans in the hope of realising promised economic returns. Should short-term economic interests rather than civic integrity really be the driver in sensitive civic sites? Depressingly Chester’s experience is being repeated in Aberdeen.

Move along now, nothing to see here – nothing bold, nothing striking only a bleak row of boxes cutting through the splendour of Marischal and Skene’s.

Really could there be any design more out of sympathy with these architecturally interesting buildings?

Where is the cultural sensitivity? Where is the architectural merit, a sense of aesthetics in all of this?

Demolition of St Nicholas House complex reveals interesting aspects of Aberdeen

Demolition of St Nicholas House complex reveals interesting aspects of Aberdeen

This is a plan designed for people of a nervous disposition – frightened of change.

If you’re looking for an architectural legacy for Aberdeen’s children and future generations don’t look to this development – there is none.

It would make you weep.

 

Some comments on this proposal.

‘No surprise the Aberdeen Mafia aka HFM have been let loose on yet another swathe of the city. Sorry guys but this is still a truly grim proposal. You are really just replacing like for like in terms of the city scape. Not just the design of the buildings themselves but the whole site strategy – the same windswept square in the centre, blocked from any daylight and surrounded by windfunnels. There have been dozens of student projects that have come up with vastly more enjoyable and viable spaces for this same site.’

‘Reintroducing Guestrow is a nice idea but given the scale, massing and footprint of the new buildings it seems pretty disingenuous. If this is really to be reintegrated into the townscape and street pattern surely the site needs to be broken down further – this is still essentially one large building, mixed-use or not.’

‘Aberdeen city continues to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Aberdeen was one of the most architecturally beautiful cities anywhere in Europe but gradually it is being replaced with poorly designed concrete and steel monstrosities that are not in scale with the surroundings and clash with the design of the historic buildings. It is deeply depressing! We are consulted and then ignored which makes it worse.’

‘Contemporary, stunning, sympathetic, sustainable, long term, visionary, well considered… Some of the things that seem to have been missed with this one.’

‘You say that this is a refined design? i am afraid that it is still failing….a very poor design response to the opportunities presented by this site. What you have produced to date, lacks creativity and shows a complete insensitivity to the adjacent listed buildings. This design proposal is repeating the mistakes of of the 60’s/70’s. We have come a long way since then in our understanding and management of scale, relationship, materials etc.  The architectural solution on this site should be an iconic building which reflects the dynamic nature of the city not some bland compromise which fails to excite. Stop “refining ” your original concept for the site. Scrap it and start again. Employ an outside creative architectural design agency if your in-house people cannot respond to the requirements of this brief . The people of Aberdeen want an exciting aesthetic solution.’

 

 

 

November 10, 2013

FICTION – The Gowk

 

If it hadn’t been poetry at the school that afternoon I might never have encountered Sandy Park. There he was; shakkin a scrawny fist at me. And there was I, pechin’ hard and runnin’ as fast as my bad leg would allow.

I spied him – the lanky, loupin’ creature wi that splodge o’ hair as ochre as any crock at Potter’s Creek. I’ll admit I regarded the beanpole as my possible protector and the ploy appeared tae work in my favour for the pair that had chased me cruelly stood off at a safe distance. So I tarried amusin’ myself with chucking stanes intae the waters o’ the Dee. Suddenly my enemy changed.

‘I’ll mash ye – ye hirplin’ wee feel,’ the ungainly creature squealed.

I glowered back at him. Nae common barefoot loon would abuse me and get awa’ wi’ it.

‘Ye’ll tak that back, ye big bully,’ I cried, more sure o’ handlin’ this ane than the twa gypes on my heels since Broad Street, aye spyin’ doon on us.

The lang shank wi’ a face as freckly as a speckled hen streetched doon within an inch o’ mine, his heid cocked tae squint at me wi’ his ane good eye.

‘An’ if I’ll nae?’ asked he.

I held his cycloptic gaze and boxed his freckly kneb by way o’ reply. He let oot a shriek nae handy and grabbed at his bloody cooter.

‘Look fit ye’ve done ye coarse wee devil.’

This boy was the most impertinent fellow I’d met in a lang whilie and I was sair put tae check my anger. He saw frae the glint in my eye that I wasn’t a laddie tae meddle wi’ as he dichted blood and snotters off his moo wi’ the sleeve o’ his sark.  The other twa crept closer so discretion bein’ the better part o’ valour I ventured tae appease my impudent challenger.

‘I am George. To whom have I the pleasure o’ addressin’?’ ventured I, offering a haun’ tae the young knave.

Cyclops took a step back. ‘Fit is it ye want?’

‘Tae be your pal,’ I replied and when he held back I added, ‘I never intended tae alarm you.’

‘Ye sunk King Harald’s langboatie, an’ flegged the lax,’ retorted the lanky loon sulkily.

‘The stane I hurled into the water might have scared off the salmon I grant ye, but

yer weel wide o’ the mark accusin’ me o’ regicide.  There never was a king on that

bitty o’ the Dee, loonie.’

‘I’ll nae answer to loonie.  Ye can ca’ me Sandy.’

‘An’ you can ca’ me George.’

‘I’ll ca’ ye Doddie.’

‘Ye’ll nae.  Ye can ca’ me Geordie for that’s how my Mamma addresses me.’

‘Weel, Geordie, if yer tae be my friend, ye’ll hae tae find me another boatie for King

Harald.  He’ll nae tak kindly tae bein’ capsized by a wee Aberdeen laddie when he’s

minutes frae pillagin’ the toon,’ he grinned.

Despite his rough tongue I believed I had the measure o’ my new acquaintance.  Here was a simple fellow; a dreamer with little in his heid but playin’ boaties an’ layin’ hand-lines for unsuspecting fish swimming up the Inches.  I sneaked a keek at the bullies standin off, keen eyed.

‘I think they mean us mischief, Sandy.’

Sandy gawped at them. ‘An’ why would they turn on me, I dinna ken them?’

‘It’s me they’re after but they won’t shy from havin’ a go at you, Sandy – noo yer my

friend.’  I gave him my best smile.

‘Will they nae?  Weel, we’ll see aboot that.’

He gave a dangle o’ his lang shanks so he was at his full height an’ glowered o’er at the pair who sloped off back toward the toon.   I was grateful for havin’ found such a useful fellow, an’ one that might give me a few hours pleasure intae the bargain.

The shore was strewn wi’ a’ kinds o’ wood an’ I took up a piece of board and handed it tae Sandy, ‘For yer boatie,’ I explained. He examined it then hurled the discard carelessly intae the river.

‘It’s a boatie we’re lookin’ for nae a bitty plank.  A boatie for a king,’ he bellowed intae my lug.  Then he caught sight o’ my books secured by string.

‘Fit’s that?’

‘My school books.’

‘Is that far yer supposed tae be – the school?’

I shrugged.  ‘Don’t you ging tae school?’ I enquired.

‘Whiles. Got my letters.  An’ I have the readin’. It’s a’ a body needs.  Yer gettin’

bitty auld for school, are ye nae?’

‘I’m ten.’

‘An’ fit is it there’s still tae learn at ten, tell me?  Can ye read?’

‘Very well since I was five.  In English an’ Latin,’ I told him proudly.

‘Latin?  Weel, fan we finds a new boatie for King Harald ye might hae a wordy wi’

him for I fear he’s nae likely tae be acquainted wi’ the Aberdeen tongue.’

I considered any exchange might be brief for my Latin was wanting. Still the lad would be none the wiser what I was sayin’.

‘Why is King Harald comin’ to these parts?’ asked I.

‘He’ll nae be comin’ here at a’ if we canna find him a boatie.’ Sandy toed rough fragments of driftwood. ‘Here’s a fine-like bitty.’

I was ready to take his word for it though the thing looked nae different from the one I’d presented him wi’ earlier.

‘Ye can launch it if yer canny,’ he cautioned.

I took the jetsam frae him and attempted to have it sail when Sandy pulled it oot o’ my hand.

‘Nae like that.  Look where yer puttin’ yer feet, man.  Far are ye gaan wi’ it?  Get yer

muckle boots aff my line.’

And with that he gave me a great shove that had me near off my feet.

‘I’m nae certain what’s in them books o’ yers for yer aye glaikit.   Ye’ve tae set doon the boatie canny-like intae the water.  Nae too far mind that I cannae reach it wi’ the stickie.’

And so Sandy set doon the boatie wi’ a’ the gentleness o’ launchin’ the babe Moses so that it drifted lightly o’er the water.

‘An’ keep awa’ frae my line,’ he barked at me.

‘What is it yer tryin’ tae catch?’ I asked.

‘I’m nae tryin,’ I am catchin’, the cyclops pouted, ‘a fine lax for oor supper, if you keep yer sheen aff my line.’

I stepped back frae the side o’ the river.

‘D’you aye come here to catch your supper?’ I enquired.

‘Aye, it’s nae such a sair fecht as catchin’ a fishy in thon grassy bank or the tap o’ my stair. Far else would I catch fish ye feel?  Are ye a stranger tae the fishin’ an’ a’?’

Sandy made it sound as tho’ he had never before come across such a fool as I.

‘I’ve catched trout, farther up the Dee,’ I bragged. ‘My friend William Clark o’ Pannanich showed me how to tie flies tae a line.’

‘Weel this is nae that kind o’ fishin’. I’ll let ye have a shotty ance I’ve landed my

supper. Ye might get a fry for yer Mither an’ Faither.’

‘My Mamma will be happy to receive a fine salmon but I have nae Faither,’ I admitted. And it struck me it might raise Mamma’s suspicion if I arrived home wi’ a fish from Mr Leith’s poetry lesson.

We played wi’ the boatie an’ line but I declined Sandy’s suggestion to remove my shoes tho’ I did take off my blue coat for its yellow cuffs were by then grubby an’ wet through.

Stealthily the lang-boatie wend its way up river wi’ a dozen mair sleek bows at its stern, brakkin through the foamy wave. The King’s boat made a fine picture wi’ its fierce dragon-heid sendin’ oot a warnin’ to the fowk o’ Aberdeen to expect nae mercy frae Harald o’ Noroway as he approached sanctionary o’ the harbour at the end o’ a lang voyage. The King, nae mair than a bairn, yet tall an’ fair, cast a cauld blue eye on the Green, lined as it was wi’ vexed souls – alarm smoulderin’ in each eye.

‘He looked on Aberdeen an’ Aberdeen looked back at the king,’ Sandy began reciting.

‘An’ keekin’ frae my rocky brow

I counted oarsmen that by shore wid horsemen be

I dreamed that Aberdeen might yet stay free

For standin’ on my kinsmen’s graves

I couldnae deem myself a slave.’

‘I like yer story well enough,’ I admitted, ‘ but tell it plain for I’m fair skunnart wi’ poetry – that’s the very reason Mr Leith is missin’ me frae lessons this very afternoon.’

‘It’s nae poetry Geordie but tales I’ve oft heard my Da repeat. An’ he was telt them by his Da. My Da’s nae a grand haun’ at rhymes and such dirt but he’s a dab haun’ tellin’ tales o’ lang syne.’

‘Well ken it or nae that’s what’s called poetry a’ the same an’ I’ll appeal to ye Sandy tae stop recitin’ yer yarns in that rhyming way,’ I ordered my long companion.

Sandy swung the pole so it splashed through the water, soakin’ my dress waistcoat. I was about to give him a good duckin’ when he let forth a bloodcurdling shriek.

‘I’ve a catch,’ bawled the scamp as he bent ower his line. A silvery tail flapped back an’ fore as Sandy landed the handsome lax then skilfully slipped a hook oot its moo’.

‘That ane’s mine but I’ll see if I canna get a bite for ye Geordie.’

But fish was the least on my thoughts. I was resolute that the toon should be defended frae the norsemen’s attack. King Harald’s langboat was workin’ up betwixt gravel an’ reed. His oarsmen battled tae hold a safe course along the shallows but I was determined Aberdeen would be saved frae these northern barbarians. They had the wind wi’ them an’ the black raven shivered on the great sail in angry defiance o’ me; war whoops pierced the air frae Harald’s fierce warrior oarsmen.

Nae one life nor kirk nor hoose would be spared if I would fail. I prodded the stern, then the keel wi’ Sandy’s stick. The river Dee was doin’ its bit tae rid the land o’ this Norse pest. King Harald’s langboat was snatched by the current drawin’ it seaward. Hot-blooded invaders yelped a’ the mair. I tossed back my head an’ crowed wi’ delight.

‘Ye young ruffian.  I’ll box yer lugs.’

I imagined one o’ the foe had landed doon river an’ was comin’ helter-skelter at me. The pole fell frae my haun’ as I looked tae Sandy but o’ him an’ his fish there was nae sign, only a ravelled bitty line discarded on the bank.

‘Ye impertinent wee scamp. Steal oor livin’ would ye? An’ brazen wi’ it.’

A lax fisher from along the Inches made a grab for my arm as I took up my school coat an’ string o’ books an’ hirpled off as swift as I was able, leavin’ Aberdeen to its fate.

***

The next I saw of Sandy was a Sunday afternoon when I was amusin’ myself by droppin’ rotten apples I found in lyin’ in the gutter ontae the heids o’ Blin’ Jock Rennie an’ his cronies rapt in full debate by the Bow Briggie. It was Sandy who spied me frae the side o’ the brig.

‘If it’s nae Geordie!’ he cried before gatherin’ up handfulls o’ my own missiles and peltin’ them back at me a’ the while till he was up by me. ‘Geordie!’ he roared, ‘how’re ye doin?’

‘Braw, man, braw,’ I replied.

‘Nae at the school the day, Geordie?’

‘Nae on the Sabbath, do ye nae ken that, laddie?’ I smirked.

‘A loon like yersel’ might be at the Sabbath school.’ Sandy squinted at me frae his great height.

‘I was at kirk this very morn, wi’ Mamma.’

‘An’ did ye pray for the soul o’ a wee lax poacher?’ asked the cheeky young imp.

When I made no reply he prodded me.

‘Weel?’ he persisted.

‘It never crossed my mind tae pray for you, laddie.’

‘I was meanin’ yoursel’,’ smiled the rascal, ‘I seen the bailiff catched ye thon day.’

‘Well there wasn’t muckle tae catch. It wasn’t me who made off wi’ the fish.’

‘Neither it was Geordie an’ fit a peety – an awfu fine bitty fish, man. Never

tasted better. Still ye’ve nae come tae harm. So fit are ye doin’ wi’ yerself’, apart

from hurlin’ rotten aipples at decent fowk on the Sabbath?’

And wi’ that he tossed his last fruit bomb intae the horse pool drenchin’ my good Sabbath sark an’ breeks.

‘Lookin’ for a chum,’ I chanced.

‘Well that’s a fine coincideence. Sandy Park at yer service,’ he grinned back at me.  Fit have ye in mind? Och but wait, I nearly forgot, I’m lookin’ after the mannie Glennie’s sheltie.’

‘For how lang?’

‘Till he shows up.  He’s in the tavern.’ Sandy gestured behind him wi’ his thumb.

‘We’ll take the pony wi’ us.’

‘Glennie wouldnae like that, Geordie.’

‘He’ll never ken,’ said I.

Twa contented laddies astride the sheltie trotted amidst geans an’ plane trees in auld Corby Woods.

‘Watch this,’ Sandy yelled and stretched for a rope hangin’ frae a branch so he could hoist himsel’ clear o’ the sheltie’s back.

‘Turn him aroon’,’ he instructed.

I tugged at the beast’s mane and heided him back doon the pathy. Sandy hoisted

himsel’ higher up the rope an’ went frae side tae side swingin’ like a pendulum.  As the pony passed beneath he dropped ontae its back.

‘Gie me a shotty,’ I demanded.

‘Just one mair,’ called Sandy and hauled himself back up the rope for further go. I turned the beast an’ skelpt its flank. The pony flew like the wind as Sandy hurled himsel’ at its broad back but he’d misjudged the speed o’ the animal and made a desperate grab for the tail, a’ the time scramblin’ tae right himself.

Doon through the Denburn dashed beast an’ loon, heidin’ back towards the tavern wi’ me in hot pursuit.  Sandy’s loud bawlin’ added tae the pony’s panic an’ off it went at a terrific lick wi’ fowk fleein’ in terror as we heided their way.  Amidst this great consternation appeared the figure o’ Glennie.  Seein’ his master the pony came tae an abrupt stop but Sandy’s momentum carried him forth, square intae the pony’s doup.

Glennie rocked on his heels an’ peered stupidly in disbelief, rubbin’hard at his eyes. Sandy nearly ran me doon so desperate was he tae evade Glennie. And so we retreated to the welcome refuge o’ Corby Haugh once mair.

‘Today’s the 24th July,’ I announced.  Three hundred an’ eighty-seven year tae the day the Battle o’ Harlaw was fought. I’ll be the Earl o’ Mar, son o’ the Wolf o’ Badenoch, leadin’ the brave men o’ Aberdeenshire, Angus an’ the Mearns intae battle against Donald Lord o’ the Isles.  Sandy, you can be Reid Hector, defendin’ the Highlanders; though my forces are pitifully ootnumbered my men will defy the audacious onslaught from your bloodthirsty caterans.  Look – see Provost Davidson an’ his citizen army come to augment my numbers.’

‘But I want tae defend Aberdeen,’ whined my wretched companion.

‘It’s my game so ye’ll bide the enemy.  Have ye nae ten thousan’ men tae my

twa?’

‘Aye, but I ken fa wins an’ it’s nae fair I have tae fight my ain fowk.’

‘They’re my fowk an’ a’.’

‘Ye were nae born here, I was.’

‘I’ve been here syne I was a babe in arms.’

‘It’s nae the same.  Yer Faither’s an Englishman.’

‘I make nae secret o’ my late Faither bein’ English.  But Mamma’s family is ane o’

Scotland’s most distinguished, wi’ connections tae King James himsel’.

‘An’ fit good has that done ye or yer Mither?  Ye’ve nae lands an’ nae fortune.

Nae since yer English Faither gambled it a’ awa’.’

‘That’s a lie!’ I cried. Then in defence o’ my Father’s reputation, I punched Sandy Park hard on his freckly beak. His left hand swung against my heid and we fell tae the grass howlin’ like wild animals, landin’ blow on blow till Sandy sought oot a stout gean an’ climbed it as nimble as any monkey.  Peering doon frae his lofty perch my erstwhile friend began chanting a verse which was sadly familiar tae me.

‘O, whare are ye gaun, bonnie Miss Gordon

O, whare are ye gaun sae bonnie an’ braw?

Ye’re gaun wi’ Johnny Bayron

Te squander the lands o’ Gight awa’

I clapped my hands tae my lugs.  I would settle my score wi’ this urchin.  Vigilant that

he was nae able tae sneek awa’, I descended tae the bank o’ the burn an’ took up a puckle stanes as artillery with which to assault my impertinent adversary. My eye was keen an’ my aim true.  Sandy proved a stark target, a muckle cuckoo exposed on the branch, pitchin’ this way an’ that to evade the rocks aimed his way. While waitin’ on his surrender, I passed the time on a game o’ Carl Doddies which resulted in King George’s glorious victory o’er a Jacobite army.

When the last rage was oot o’ me I was ready tae extend the haun’ of friendship tae poor Sandy. He was after a’ a pitiable, ignorant creature and he was only repeatin’ a verse of which poor Mamma had often enough confirmed its accuracy.

Sandy had grown strangely silent. But I soon detected from him another refrain and one I happily joined in.

‘Noo back tae back twa fierce lords

They went amangst the throng

They hewed doon the Heilanmen

Wi’ swords baith broad an’ lang.’

Sandy dropped doon frae his treetop roost and we twa rivals fell intae step as we retired frae the battlefield on the Haugh an’ followed the track back intae the toon;  half singin’, half chantin’ verses frae the auld ballad.

‘An fan they sa’ their chief wis deid

Wi’ him they ran awa

An carried him an’ buried him

A lang mile frae Harla’

Gin onybody spier at ye

Whaur’s the men that gaed awa

Ye micht tell them plain, an very plain

They’re sleepin’ at Harla’.’

***

As things turned oot, I thought that was tae be the last I’d cross swords wi’ the laddie

but later that summer fate would have it otherwise.

Mamma had given me money tae purchase a book for my erstwhile teacher James Ross, in appreciation o’ his contribution tae my education, for it was he that stimulated my passion for history; an’ tales o’ the Turks in particular.  There was I having left  Broon’s bookshop, wi’ its Homer’s head  danglin’ o’er the door, an edition o’ Cantemir’s History o’ the Ottoman Empire under my oxter, an’ had stepped onto Broad Street when I was alerted to a commotion from the direction o’ Schoolhill.

Next I knew a familiar gawky figure collided full intae me; cries o’ ‘stop thief’ in his wake. There I noticed, resting on my copy of Cantemir, were twa clay tobacco pipes. I

dropped them intae my pocket an’ wandered innocently through tae the Guest Row.   Presently I was joined by the wee nickum himsel’.

‘If it’s nae Geordie Gordon!  Are ye thinkin’ o’ sharin’ oor booty maister Gordon?’

We went off, arm in arm, suckin’ on oor cutties like a couple o’ auld mannies as we ambled amidst closes o’ tenements.   I saw Sandy eyein’ my Cantemir.

‘Mamma and I are quite the bookish pair,’ said I. ‘Literature an’ politics are the very

being tae Mamma.  Indeed she is the very epitome o’ a revolutionist for the Friends o’

the People have nae mair ardent a supporter.  An’ we are regulars at the theatre.  Have

you ever been tae see staged dramas, Sandy?’

‘Ance or twice.  I like it weel enough.  Just think what a pretty life it must be for an

actor tho’ it’ll be a road I’ll never tread.’

‘We never ken what future lies ahead o’ us, Sandy.  You might be a leadin’ Romeo one day.’

Sandy grinned and scratched his rusty thatch. ‘Mair likely me than yersel, Geordie, eh?’  Wi’ that he flexed his muscles and tapped my lame foot.

Angrily I snapped back at him, ‘I’d rather have my pale skin and small noble hands than your ruffian’s complexion an’ gangling limbs,’ then turned my back on him. I would have left him there but managed tae catch my rage. The thing I had tae tell him would not keep.  I chewed hard on my pipe.  It’s here in Aberdeen ragged Sandy would bide; pilferin’ an’ gettin’ by, while sweet destiny had smiled on me. I couldn’t but feel wretched for my fellow scamp so hunkered doon at his side an’ began tae recite the verse popular wi’ my fellow pupils at the Grammar School.

Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta,

Aff te Greece for we are free.

Helter, skelter, melter, pelter,

We’re the lads for mirth an’ spree.’

Sandy’s eyes sparkled as he nudged my ribs wi’ his elbow and we repeated the rhyme in unison till he had it off by heart.

‘Ye seem tae be comin’ intae the way o’ poetry Geordie.  Mind fan we was first

acquainted ye couldn’t stand it; noo yer volunteerin’ it!’

‘I didn’t think one o’ the ancient poets would lay claim tae that couplet,’ said I.

Sandy cocked his heid an’ gied me a smilie.

‘But ye like fine the ballad o’ the Battle o’ Harla’.  An’ fit’s that if it’s nae poetry?

Listen tae this Geordie. I’ve cried it, King Harald’s Pilgrimage.’

Sandy Park drew a piece o’ paper frae a frayed and patched pocket o’ his ragged coat an’ falteringly he read:

I came intae the Green wi’ the bonny Bow Brig

Touch the cauld smooth granite wi’ ma haun’

I saw frae Windmill Brae the arc o’ her structure rise

As frae the stroke o’ the enchanter’s wand

A thoosand year that people chased the land

Aroon’ me an’ a dyin’ glory smiles

O’er far times, when mony a man might stand

Lookin’ tae the green rise an’ smooth coils

Far Aberdeen sat in state, thron’d on her hunder isles.’

He squinted at me tae see what I made o’ it.

‘I like it fine, Sandy.’ I admitted. ‘Touch the cauld, smooth granite wi’ ma haun,’ I repeated. That’s Aberdeen right enough.  But yer nae tae convert me tae poetry for I lack the patience for that style o’ expression.

‘Och, yer a gowk, Geordie Gordon.  Wi’ a’ yer history ye’ve nae respect for the

Makker tradition. Wi’ that he jumped tae his feet an’ tagged me on the arm.  I tucked

my Cantemir intae the waistband o’ my breeks an’ we played at blin’ men feelin’ oor way along the walls o’ the tenements till we came tae the auld slave hoosie.  Sandy then opened his e’en an’ drew back.

‘Can ye feel it?  A right evil place.  Just imagine, Geordie, the wee bairnies stolen

awa’ from their play at the pier-heid an’ held captive in here till they was carried aff

tae the Carolinas’ slave markets. They say if ye lay yer lug tae the wall when it’s hushed ye can hear the ghaistly cries o’ bairnies greetin’ for their Mithers still.’

I looked uneasily intae Sandy’s good eye for I was well acquainted wi’ spirits – wasn’t my ain hoos haunted as well?  Life an’ death are but manifestations o’ oor souls that once created never rest.  I was glad tae leave that gloomy neuk in the Green but if I’d hoped tae leave behind the supernatural mood o’ the hoosie I was tae be disappointed.

While passin’ through the graveyard at the Mither Kirk, Sandy would suddenly vanish tae keek oot frae behind a gravestone wi’ bloodcurdlin’ scream which put the fear o’ death intae me. The mair he was cheered wi’ his sport the mair I was impatient tae be gone from the dismal boneyard.  Sandy however was in high reverie sharing wi’ me tales o’ grave robbin’ in the dead o’ night: men wi’ lamps an’ shovels unearthing newly buried corpses. Warily he led me tae an area o’ turned earth an’ sod that he swore was the scene o’ unholy events only weeks earlier.

‘Is it witchcraft?’  I whispered. Sandy shook his heid.

‘Fowk say the bodies mak their way tae Frenchie’s shoppie in the Kirkgate tae be chopped up intae pies.’

‘Make their way?’  I repeated, astonished.

‘Mak their way,’ Sandy echoed.

‘But their deid!’  I protested.

Just then we were flegged by an eerie sound. Sandy let out a gasp an’ I shrieked.  Off we ran, trippin’ o’er one another’s feet an’ legs in our rush to leave the place o’ the dead.

Once ontae Schoolhill we were re-united wi’ oor senses but it was nae till we got tae my own door did either o’ us break our silence.

‘Are ye comin’ oot Wednesday, Geordie Gordon?’

I knew he meant the half-day holiday from school though I was on my holiday from that accursed institution. I looked up at my fine friend. ‘I’ve been meanin’ tae tell ye, Sandy, that oor circumstances have altered: Mamma’s and mine.  I have inherited a noble title and estates in England. You are addressin’ Baron Byron o’ Rochdale an’ we are to leave Aberdeen the morn.’

Sandy grinned, ‘Fa’s imaginin’ stories noo?’

‘But it’s true,’ I blurted out an’ burst intae a fit o’ weepin’.  ‘If I could choose I would be Baron Byron o’ the Caledonian Alps, for I’ll miss Aberdeen an’ Deeside wi’ its mighty peaks o’ majestic Morven and Lochnagar.

Sandy looked at me askance then produced a familiar crumpled sheet that contained his verse.

‘I’d a notion we might play it oot but you can keep it, Geordie.  I wish ye luck in yer

life as a grand gentleman.  Ye ken, Geordie, one day ye might even hae some place

named after ye! For that’s what happens wi’ rich fowk.’

‘You too, Sandy.  One day fowk will walk alang the great Park Road.’

‘Och, it’s mair likely they’ll ca’ a closie or a wee lane after me.  Aye, Park Lane, fit aboot that?  But yersel’ Geordie, they’ll nae doubt name a great square after ye.  Byron Square has a right ring till it.

When next day Mamma and I boarded the Edinburgh Fly I gave scarce a backward glance to the town that was my home. Ahead lay my journey to fame if not fortune.  Only once did I return, when as an unhappy youth I fled north to Invercauld where a ghillie guided me to conquering craggy Lochnagar and where at last I claimed its brooding fiefdom for my own, if only for a day.  That was a quarter of a century past. In that time there’s more would call me the gowk but I still hold true to Mamma’s revolutionist spirit and if you look across the bay at Aberdeen and listen hard, Sandy Park, you might hear the boom o’ the bombardment from the Turkish fleet that bears down on Missolonghi not unlike Harald’s longboaties’ assault on the silvery Dee.

Whatever became of you Sandy Park?  Do you still fish the lax from the Inches and do you ever debate my campaigns for Greece’s independence at the foot of the Bow Briggie?  My heart warms to the tartan or to anything o’ Scotland which reminds me of Aberdeen and those parts near that town on which I can look back on as a time when I was carefree and life was sublime.  But here at Missolonghi the drizzle has drenched Geordie’s very bones, nickum, so I am in the grip of a rheumatic fever that I fear will claim me this time but like the Red Hector I have no fear of death.

Don Juan: George Gordon Byron

The mountains look on Marathon—
And Marathon looks on the sea;
And musing there an hour alone,
I dream’d that Greece might still be free;
For standing on the Persians’ grave,
I could not deem myself a slave.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: George Gordon Byron

.

I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs,

A palace and a prison on each hand:

I saw from out the wave her structures rise

As from the stroke of the enchanter’s wand:

A thousand years their cloudy wings expand

Around me, and a dying Glory smiles

O’er the far times, when many a subject land

 Looked to the wingéd Lion’s marble piles,

Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles!

Ane is one

Bairn or bairnies are child or children

Breeks are trousers

Doup is backside

A feel is a foolish person

Fit is what

Hirpling is to limp

Lax is a salmon

Twa is two

May 31, 2012

FICTION – Foo Far Doon?

Foo Far Doon?

by Dunter

Lying at the hole’s lip the stonecutter marvelled at the works of men: he had after all spent his working life with granite and knew well what hard graft could achieve.

Aye, it must hae teen a damned lot o explosives and muscle ti howk this ane oot.

Guarded respect was his first feeling but he was puzzled.

There’s jist something a bit different fae aa the places faar I’ve tyauved. There’s the rauchle aa roon, nae doot, bit the soonds, surely nae fit yi’d expeck? That’s nae steam craan wheezing as it heists steen, nae dreels and haimmers, and far’s the scraich o the blondin rope lowering the skip tae the fleer? I hear men richt aneuch, and aye it myndes me o yoking time wi a puckle chiels nae sae croose in the craa at haen ti ging back t’it, and ithers, resigned ti gettin on wi the jobbie in han; still an on it’s an unca sicht..

His thoughts wandered off, seeking a firm foundation; bedrock of where and why. Back, back he went to his first day at work in the granite yard.

Up and oot afore sax o’clock, I wannered doon the Gallowgate, and timorous as a moosie wis into Chairlie MacDonald’s Froghall Works (a queer like name it seemed ti me). Timid but prood, prood that I’d been gien a chance ti be a mason. MacDonald’s wis nae jist ony yaird Na, the wirks wis braw, lang boasting fine conditions even gaan as far as biggin sheds wi fower waas ti keep weet and snell wins oot. But that day wis fine and me a bauch-hertit loon faa kent nae muckle mair than fit a haimmer looked like.

The foreman took me roon the wirks faar I expeck ti see mannies stannin, cutting and carving. I wis dumfoonert, hid I wannered into a dairk deevilish mull an nae a place of craft and skeel? On ae side o the shed a saa wis swingin back-an-fore, pechin at every lurch wi clarty watter pouring aneth the beast’s teeth. Jist ayont wis a thing like an airon brander fleein roon, wi sic a souch and mair clart (gie’n me a blink the foreman said it sang like Jenny Lind). Nae seener had I teen this in than my lugs caught the soond o a machine makkin a stoor, aneuch ti smoor a body: a dunter, a bauld thing that clouted granite sae hard that the steen surrendered.

For the life o me I couldnae oonerstaan, faar were the steencutters? Telling me nae ti fash the gaffer said saas, polishers and dunters were needed as much as wis the man wi the haimmer and puncheon. But I wisnae there ti become a mere machineman I wis ti be a mason. And there, in the next shed, were the steencutters, ilka man at his banker, wirkin on crosses and heidsteens . Some hid han haimmers ithers were cutting wi pneumatic chisels; the din wis constant and dist aawye. This wis fit I wanted: ti maister steel on steen. But siccan skeels were nae easily won.

An so I thoaled the years o it wi split thooms, raxed back, stoor in the een, aye and wirse in ma thrapple. There were times fin I thocht ti caa it a day and mony anither apprentice wis o the same myn. But they were peelie-wally craturs faa up-tail and were aff ti look for greener girse. Me, I’d hae neen o this. If it wis girse I wis aifter then I’d hae feed ti een o the fairmers that gaithered by Hadden Street. I hungered ti ken aathin aboot cutting granite and hid the gweed fortune ti be pit wi a cutter faa’d bin on the tools ower fifty years. An auld man, though he micht hae lost some o his speed he’d lost neen o his skeel. He could cut and carve by han in a wye that wid mak an airtist heave his mell ti the fleer. This wis the man faa telt me hoo ti ging wi the steen: “granite can only be gaared sae far and nae mair. Hans and een is the wye” he said, “feel and see the grist in the glintin granite. There’s a reed and a hem, find this and the wye ti cut is clair”. And damn if he wisnae richt.

Above the hole, amidst the confusion, the stonecutter’s reverie continued taking him further back to his childhood when his grandfather pulled ghosts from memory.

The images came, flickered in ma heid, as if back in the Alhambra packed into the het guff o the picter hoose. There’s granfaither, a douce lang-heidit man, wabster by trade, faa’d been brocht up in the Denburn. I’d sit wi him for oors as he telt me o the lang, slow deeth o han weaving and hoo the eenjustice o it aa guidit him into Chartism. He’d seen nae jist his skeel as a wabster connached bit wirse, hail faimlies beggin for wirk ti cam their wye. Nae muckle mair than a loon granfaither wis doon at the Links, miscaain the Provost and his cronies and aa the sichts and soonds o priveelidge. Oh he kent fine that the bonnie Chartists didnae win through but so fit? aa’s important wis that fowk widnae bou doon ti the laithsome few faa’d want coorse wirkers keep their moos shut. In his wye granfaither wis nae doot dooncast but being a man faad seen mony a warsle he wis gey stoical and kent that looms and wabsters and aa that wis the Denburn were awa. “Aye”, he telt me, “there’s been mony cheenges but this only means wirkers hae ti find new wyes o deein things. But ae thing disnae cheenge, the need for fowk ti stick the gither. Britherheed is aathin”.

There’s me, jist a laddikie, sittin wi granfaither, like some drouthie nyagg aye gaan back ti the troch for anither suppie. Mither lauched telling me that I’d drink the Don dry an then sook the banks for mair. But granfaither hid me. Skeels and smeddum wis his wye and dang if it widnae be myne. Aiblins the auld man saw his youngsel in the loon wi mizzlet shins sittin at the reenge hingin on his every wird; and the tales kept comin, tales o muckle gaitherins wi aabody kittelt-up by the braw speechifying. But he took me back ayont his days ti lang, langsyne fin his faither hid been wi Aiberdeen fowk, fechtin agin thieving dealers faad beamfill their girnals, huddin meal back, aa the better ti mak extra siller. Great granfaither an aa the rest, weel breid wis there richt as they saa it. They micht be poor bit they wernae feart so it wis aff ti the hairbour faar they caad doon the doors o the thieves and tyeuk fit wis theirs even fan the militia wis on the streets.

And that wis me, draain fae the kist o memories and then it wis on ti granfaither’s beuks. A smaa library but wi choice wirks. He wisnae Christian an put my wye Tam Paine’s Age O Reason a grand tale that made me suspeck aa the fine words o meenisters. There wis anither Tam, Carlyle, a Scotchman, a sage some said, and I’ve nae doot he was verra clever bit there wis something aboot the gabby man that made him seem mair feel than pheelosopher. The man seemed ti think that in times fin knights were galloping aa ower the kintraside, well he seemed ti think this wis grand and we hid ti find a wye of re-kinlin a gowden age. Granfaither was fair teen by him but for me keeking backwart an girnin about the wye of the warl wis jist wind. As the auld man said aboot meenisters and their hivven, you micht jist as weel look for partans in mosspots and puddocks in the sea. But ae thing Carlyle got richt, this wis his gweed words for skeeled chiels wi hans, hert and brain aa wirkin the gither; wis this nae jist fit a steencutter did? Granfaither’s library hid the poems o Wullie Thom, a wabster ti trade and an Aiberdonian. He’d kent the poet and said he wisnae the easiest body ti get on wi but the man’s words, weel they brocht haim ti me the muckle cheenges needed.

Beuks and granfaither’s tales, maist o this wis fin I wis gey young and still withoot a noshun o foo the hale jing bang micht hing the gither. But a bit later I cam upon the screeves o Wullie Morris and for him the wye wis forrit, wirkers fechtin for socialism and haen han skeels that wid turn fit they made inti airt: a soond veesion, biggit on granite foons, nae sand.

At the crater’s lip, the mason could see figures moving, struggling, far below. They appeared to him like quarrymen, working their way through the debris of an explosion gone wrong.

Wrang – there wis sae much wrang wi the warl but noo that I’d served my time and become a journeyman, as I saa it, I wis ready ti dee mair than shape steen; noo I’d fashion wirkin men into socialists. I’d been gaan ti peelitical meetings o the SDF, ance Morris’s pairty, faa were verra keen on haen the bawbees fae the pooches o the weel-aff. I wis affa fierce and fit I widnae dee if I got hud o them but I foond that maist o the men in the yaird wid raither thole me than jine me. Fooivver, as a journeyman I could jine the operatives’ union, the finest craft society in the toon and fae there I began fechtin for better conditions in Aiberdeen yairds and in kintra quarries. Wi my brither operatives we tyauved ti get an extra maik or twa and even a shorter wirkin wik. Stoor fae dunters, that wis anither lang sair fecht. These muckle skelpers o granite were gweed at makin a profit for the maisters. But they turned men deef and wirse the stoor wis teen into their lungs Yairds were full of wirkers faas lungs wis rived by fit we caad the kirkyaird-hoast and fit the quacks said wis the soond o phthisis brocht on by dist. We tried ti gaar the maisters tak tent but verra little cheenged.

Nae maitter, as my granfaither wid hae said, we hid ti keep trying. And I did. Fooivver, this gave me tribble. On ae han I wis trying ti win a hantle o cheenges ti mak things tholeable but on the ither I wis looking ti caa doon the maisters an aa their wirks. As you micht say nae seeking ti tak a puckle crums, gaan instead for the loaf and the gullie ti pairtit. Wis ther ony wye o yoking the twa sides the gither? At nicht fin I wis aff doon ti Belmont Street wi my SDF freens pittin the warl ti richts, kennin the maisters’ days wid seen be ower; well britherheed seemed affa easy. Then aifter the claik it was haim and up in the morning into the yaird wi the argie-bargie stairting again. This wis like haen twa heids, ain for socialism and anither for the tyauve o wirk and the union Aiblins I should hae seen the gate I wis on but ony anxeeity I hid wis seen through a damn mirkie gless.

A puckle o my socialist freens said it wis aa for nithin, that I’d spend my time in the parlours o maisters, bunnet in han jist waiting for a han-oot. I widnae hae this. The union did mak things better, maisters supplied tools, wirkin oors were shorter and even wages had gin up. Wis this nae the wye forrit, and onwye britherheed amang wirkers surely this wis the union? Some o these socialist billies didnae unerstan. Maisters could be a hard-faced lot, a puckle o them widnae want ti gie onything ti the men, grippy disnae dee them justice, they would hae raiked hell for a saxpence. An fan this happened it wid be neives heisted, us threetnin strike and them lock-oot. But some of the employers were fair-hannit and we wid find wyes roon tribble: give-an-tak as you micht say. Och aye, we widnae win aathin but fit did my freens expeck: ging ti the maisters and demand socialism?

What would his friends now think of the mason in a world where give and take had transmuted to something far beyond the tactful diplomacy of a negotiating table? His vision of internationalism and brotherhood dissolving and re-forming much as the dust around him settled and rose.

Wirkers fae aa the airts gettin the gither, this wis my granfaither’s dream and it wis myne. The union, weel it wis a stairt. But the streetch o my veesion o britherheed wis sair tested faan steen fae Norway came inti Aiberdeen. Och aye some o the maisters were contentit, they wid mak some siller but nae aabody wis happy, especially merchants wi quarry interests. They said only oor granite should be wirked; or at warst Scotch, or at verra warst British steen. Aa foreign muck wis ti be stopped itherwise trade in yairds and quarries wid be lost. This vext me and like a thoom that’d been skelped by a haimmer ma conscience began ti stoon, winnerin far britherheed came inti this? I sair needed, something ti tak the pyne awa.

I hid a freen Wullie, oot by Alford, secretary o the union at Cluny. A fine man, gweed at his trade and nae feart o stannin up for his preenciples and fyles he’d bin a soondin board for my thochts. So it wis awaa doon tae the station. On the rinnie oot in the train I hid a chance ti think aboot this britherheed. My workmates were unca happy tae fecht and tak fit could be won but a fair puckle o them were jist as contenit ti keep the men on saas and polishers doon (mere machinemen I’d aince caad them). Britherheed in a yaird seemed hard aneuch withoot takkin on the warl. Gaan oot in the train wis aye a trait and my speerits lifted as we steamed into quarry kintra faar fowk hid howkit at coorse and rochsome grun ti mak a living. Nature can hae a bonny face but only ance the faimly is hoosed and his mait on the table .

Wullie had been brocht up in the Vale and he kent as weel as onybody the hardships o quarriers. Toon wirk, weel it seemed safter. For a stairt in Aiberdeen we didnae hae the fell winters that hit the quarries wi grun beeriet under deep snaa an men getting peyed by the piece for steen wirked and naething for staanin up ti their oxters in fite pouther. In Aiberdeen cutters were peyed by the day. I speired ti Wullie fit wye the Donside men didnae wint redd o piece work. This wis nae mystery, he telt me, twa gweed reasons for keeping it were, auld near-caad-deen quarriers were able ti tyauve on an mak a puckle bawbees and keep the maisters happy and anither thing, a chiel wi a craft could ging aff in a quait spell an wirk their lan and nae loss ti onybody. But I saw it as jist anither wye o the dirt o property skaillin the sharny-bree o oonjustice ower common fowk. Nae doot there were honest an gweed-hertit quarry maisters, but they were catcht in this guids-an-geer fankle. Wullie agreed that men like Fyfe o Kemnay were dacent aneuch bodies faa didnae draa bleed fae men, even if in winter wirkin in the slabber o snaa an dubs the bleed wid come. But there were ithers he said, lairds, men sleekit in their beesiness and faa gripped on tae lan and if they hid their road wid close the quarries and be rid o the dirt of quarrymen. “Fur and fedder o Bennachie and roon aboot”, said Wullie, “this is their interest nae men and wirk. Pheasants and rubbits dinna spik back. Lairds want the moos o quarrymen stapped and fowk ti beck an bou afore their betters.” Aa this wis hinnie ti my lugs, a sweetness o thocht but a clearance o the clart o lairds still left me raivelt aboot britherheed. Spikkin ti Wullie I felt a bit like a loon again, sittin in a neuk by the fire, a micht even had mizzlet shank. “Things in Donside”, he said, “arenae gweed. Dreelers, cutters, settmakkars are aa streevin for wirk, maist are fit wi caa loafin” and “men are gaan across the pond ti America in the howp o job. And for them that hinna shipped west it’s a maitter o inti an Aiberdeen factory or aff ti be third billies at twa-horse fairm toons.” Soondin like granfaither, Wullie raged at the eenjustice, “ if things ging on like this the quarries’ll be seelent, as if the warl had teemt the men fae the holes”. For a meenit I couldnae meet his een for I kent fine that like ithers I’d wrocht Norwegian granite and even if I’d makkit the grandest o heidsteens I jaloused that it could mark the deeth o the quarries. Faar wis britherheed here?

Wullie calmed my anxeeity and for him the answer wis ae step at ae time. Socialism and britherheed wid hae tae start at oor ane front door. There wis nae eese in being vext aboot steencutters in Norway or ony wye else if the granite beesiness here wis feenished. We hid ti hud oot for oor ane fowk afore aathin else argued Wullie and ti mak his case he pynted ti the Navy buying foreign steen for biggin hairbours. Turning aa poetic he pit a verse ti me,
“If for our Fleet we feel it meet
With natives true to man it,
Why make a dock of foreign rock
Inferior to our granite?”
It wis like licht gaan on in my heid: a wye forrit wis seen, ane that conneckit wi aathin I’d deen as pairt o the union. Fechtin that hid ti ging on, but fyles ca-canny and wirk wi the maisters for the steen industry itherwise we could wak-up wi, nae yairds and even fewer quarries.

And as the dust around him settled and the noise ebbed and flowed he could see that the Cluny man’s arguments had been sufficient to propel him further along a path upon which he had already embarked. This was the path that led him to the hole.

I teuk my thochts on aa men being brithers and union wirk and wupped them the gither ti mak a stepledder o richts and loyalties, wirken up fae the yairds ti aa the warls ayont. It wis at the Mairket Stance fan the fou meanin o the cheenge wis brocht haim ti me. Jist anither day, haen a dauner ower the plainsteens, keekin up at the braw sicht o the Toon Hoose, a work o airt in granite but wastit on Cooncillors. My scance at the fine Kemnay steen wis distractit by a stramash at the Cross. Gaithered there were kiltit sodgers surroondit by local billies an it wis plain as porritch this wis nae stoorie atween Aiberdonians an militia, scantlin an inklin o meal riots o langsyne. Aabody respectit the sodgers and winted ti jine them. Granfaither wid’ve been scunnered but I kent that ance a waar stairts fowk aften rin ti the flag. And a waar hid stairted. I got ti thinkin, and wis clair that I hid tae tak a puckle steps up the loyalty ledder and look ti britherheed wi fowk ootside the yairds. I widnae jouk the deecision aifter-anaa wis it nae the case it wis my ain kintra, and the great chiel Hyndman, ance o the SDF, hid screeved it wis a man’s duty ti fecht against the Hun faa wis ettlin ti pit Britons in thirl ti Germany. It wis only a step or twa ti the Barracks tae tak Geordie’s shillinn.

Sic a few smaa steps but they took me a lang wye. On this new gate I wutnessed muckle things, men fechtin ower pooshened grun, aneuch ti mak a plooman greet. In the mirk o aa this I did find britherheed at least wi aa the Britons and French fowk but universal? weel that wid hae ti wait. Gey blaik noshuns swirled in ma heid as I watched britheheed gaither in heeps afore my een: some micht miscaa the waar, bit ae thing aboot this ledder o fraternities, at the hinner-en o the slauchter there’d be damn gweed beesness for masons an maisters, aa the heidsteens wid keep them at the bankers and the order beuks weel past the dainner oor. Ah weel I’d chosen my gate an I jist gid on wi it.

The stonecutter was at Mametz when off to the west there was a sound of such force that even amidst the carnage he was awed. Distracted with his mind wandering to ghosts of far-off places and knowing not how, he found himself at the lip of the hole and the enormity of his journey all but overwhelmed him.

I looked doon and I could see this wis nae quarry, nae a place far men tyauved ti win bonny steen fae the ooncarin airth – na this hole wis far caring men focht ti win ither treasures. And as I dwalled on this, like the grun aneath, I shuddered.

I survived the waar and foond oot that the hole wis caad Lochnagar Crater, made by moudiewart men wi ower twenty tons o explosives. Neen o Byron’s frowning glories here, dairker than onythin the hirplin Laird could hae imagined; the braw days o spikkin tae granfaither, anither warl, sae far awaa.

Foo far doon? A helluva lang wye.