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.
‘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?’
‘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
‘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