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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Robert Burns…… Whisky Galore……

On Saturday night the Lothian Gaelic Choir’s Burns Supper took place in Edinburgh, and it almost certainly wasn’t the only one being held in the city, the country, or even the rest of the world, Burns by Emma as this is a celebration of the world-famous Scottish poet Robert Burns, who was born on 25th January 1759.  Celebrations of his birth 252 years  ago will be found wherever there are Scots or Scots descendants – and it is true to say that the word Scotch was used at that time and well beyond, even by Scottish natives themselves to describe their nationality.  We get a bit sniffy about the term nowadays, saying “Scotch comes in a bottle but the people are Scottish”!  It wasn’t always so!

Burns Supper hall So the choir and guests arrived at the hall, where tables had been set in preparation for our meal, table arrangement



and eventually the proceedings began with May, president of the choir, welcoming everyone, and asking Catriona, our Gaelic tutor, to say the Selkirk Grace – in Gaelic – just a token gesture that it was a Gaelic choir “do”.  The soup, generally Cockaleekie soup, on a chicken and leek basis, was then served and enjoyed by all.  In fact, the whole meal was enjoyed by everyone.  It was excellent food throughout.

piping the haggis When the soup plates have been cleared, suddenly the “skirl” of the bagpipes will be heard, and from the kitchen a piper appears, to lead the chef, carrying a platter of haggis, around the dining area, accompanied by clapping-in-time-to-the-music from the diners, to arrive at the top table.  The platter is put down on the table and a dram of whisky poured for each.  In our case the piper had to race off to another Supper, so no whisky for him!!!

Address to the Haggis Ranald, one of our basses, then recited the Address to the Haggis, and it was cut open with great ceremony, and we all drank a toast :  “To the haggis!”   Traditionally haggis is accompanied by mashed potatoes and neeps, i.e. turnip (Swedes to the non-Scot), and that was just what we ate.  I’m not a great lover of neeps the way they are usually served up, but that night’s neeps were beautiful!  Following the main course we finished off with Cranachan, a wonderful dessert  of cream, toasted oatmeal, a drop of whisky and raspberries all mixed together.  Delicious!

The meal ended and tables cleared, Burns supper Jackie immortal memory May called on Jackie, our choir conductor, to tell us about Burns in the part of the proceedings called The Immortal Memory.  Jackie’s speech included 10 things we didn’t know about Burns.  Burns by JessicaNow, I won’t remember them all, as actually I did know a few of them already, but one was that Burns never ever called himself Rabbie or even Robbie!  He was Rab, Rob, Robert, Robt  in signatures, in a poem Robin, but never Rabbie!  So there we’ve been wrong all these years in calling him Rabbie Burns. 

From The Immortal Memory we moved on to a Toast to the Lassies, by Martin, who did the usual thing of poking fun at the supposed faults of we lassies, but he redeemed himself later by saying how good it was to feel that we, the choir, were all his family and he had all these great sisters.   It was up to me to reply to that toast, and that went well.  I had an ancestor who was a friend of Burns, so I talked a bit about that!  I got a few compliments afterwards too!  How nice was that!  Then before we finished, Jackie had us all singing some of Burns’ songs, and finally May’s husband gave a toast to Absent Friends.  (Drawings of Robert Burns, courtesy of Emma and Jessica, two of the pupils at the school where Jackie teaches.)  Auld Lang Syne, probably his best known song, would be sung later after the dancing.

The speeches over, the tables were pushed back, the band struck up and the dancing began.  However it was time for me to go, so I left them to it!  No doubt I’ll hear before long how that went.   So what about the Whisky Galore reference in my heading?  Have you  read the book  by Compton Mackenzie or seen the film?   whiskygalore1They were based on the true story of the wreck of a ship on a sand bank in 1941, its cargo thousands of crates of whisky!  You can read the story heress


The Ealing Studio’s black and white film was hilarious, and as I discovered last night, the real thing was just as funny.   I was sitting next to 90 year-old Catriona who comes from Eriskay, the island off which the ship floundered in 1941, and heard that she had actually been there, a young woman at the time, and had seen the antics of the locals in removing the whisky from its holds.  She thought the film was rubbish, but the stories she told me about how they hid the bottles of whisky, and how the guagers were hoodwinked, were every bit as amusing as in the film.   I’d love to hear more from her on that subject!    It was a mighty moment for me  when she told me she had been there!  I just loved the film, and have often professed it to be my favourite!  I’ll have to get talking with Catriona again on the subject,

So, all in all, a good night!

Talk again soon.

Thursday, 20 January 2011


Not a great deal to write about at the moment!  It’s January! In Scotland!  Not the weather to be spending a lot of time out of doors.

gala burgh chambers On a whim, I decided to take the bus to Galashiels this afternoon to look at the shops!  The camera came too– just in case – of course, and I did manage to get a few pictures of some prominent features of the town.

Gala, as we refer to it around here, developed around the textile mills that grew up alongside the Gala Water, a tributary of the river Tweed, and for about 200 years the town thrived  on the production of superior quality textiles, reaching its peak towards the end of the 19th century.  However in recent years, various circumstances have eventually put paid to a viable industry here.  The mills closed, many have been demolished, and new developments – residential and retail – have sprung up in their stead.

The photo above is of the 19th century Burgh Chambers with its 20th century clock tower.  gala cornmill fountain Having mentioned the mills along the river, behind  and below the balustrade in the foreground is a mill-lade that once served a former mill that stood here.  It has been incorporated into a rather unusual water feature, which I photographed from the opposite end.  To think I have been visiting Gala for nearly 25 years and I never knew this existed till today. gala cornmill fountain detail Here’s a close-up view of one of those statues – a boy clutching a fish, riding on the back of a dolphin!

The town’s coat of arms is of a fox looking up into a plum laden tree, with the inscription SOUR PLUMS, or as it’s pronounced locally Soor Plooms.  Why a fox?  No idea, but in 1337 English soldiers eating wild plums off a tree were surprised  and subsequently killed by local townsfolk.  The fox was maybe the personification of the enemy soldiers.  Unfortunately, the coat of arms was one photo I did not get.  gala chambers and reiver

Outside the Burgh Chambers is a grand statue of a Reiver on horseback that stands in front of the memorial to the 625 young men of the town who died, mainly at Gallipoli, during WW1.  gala 005A reiver, of whom there were many in the Scottish/English borderlands during the 13th to 16th centuries, was a raider.  Life being hard in those days, to survive  reivers  from many Border tower houses would ride out to plunder cattle and other goods from neighbouring  families, often in the process taking prisoners so they could later demand ransom money – a wild way of life indeed.  gala Scott

As  well as statues of reivers, there are statues of at least two well known Scottish literary heroes in Gala.  Sir Walter Scott, author of the Waverley Novels, bought himself a house not far from Gala, and ‘developed’ it into the grand house of Abbotsford.gala Burns


Robert Burns link to Gala was more tenuous, although he did write  a couple of poems about the town, one, the Braw Lads of Gala Water, eventually giving the local festival that surrounds the Common Riding its name.  Braw is good-looking, handsome, in Scots.

So, my knowledge of Galashiels may have improved, but my shopping expedition wasn’t too successful really, and I wasn’t overly laden when I returned to Peebles on a later bus!  I’m not one of life’s dedicated shoppers, so it wasn’t a big deal! 

Talk again soon.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

After high waters

Just a few photos to show the difference in the water levels from Sunday to Monday!debris debris2 




Obviously the debris shows how far the water rose.


cuddy meets tweed





The cauld is looking a lot tamer than on the day before, and the path upriver is walkable again.aftermath 006Trees that had their feet in thefootbridge water are clear of it now…..

…..and Cuddy can once again flow under the footbridge.gulls on bridge



back to bridge


Beyond the bridge , above, was nothing but water on Sunday, and the ducks weren’t swimming about or being fed.  All that flat land, right, was covered.  Mallards, mergansers and the little gulls were all milling around yesterday though, waiting for crusts of bread to be thrown for them by a dad with baby in his arms. 


This is a merganser, one of only a handful to be found on the river.  I wouldn’t like to be pecked by that hooky beak! mergansers


and here are his comrades with some of the gulls.



And a last one for today, I rather liked the silhouette of the lamp on the parapet of the road bridge as I looked up at it from the riverbank.

Talk again soon.

Monday, 17 January 2011

High Waters

I didn’t go past the front door on Saturday, it rained that much.   It didn’t really look as if it was that heavy, but it was certainly enough to discourage going out.  So when I got up and looked out of the window yesterday morning I was somewhat amazed!  The river had broken its banks, and was flowing swiftly leaving trails of leaves and twigs along the high water edge. thawed out 005 

thawed out 006 After the first load of snow melted we expected some high water… which didn’t happen.  It wasn’t even that bad after the last snows disappeared, but a few days ago for some reason the water level rose quite considerably,and 24 hours later  it had gone back down again!  As I said, the rain on Saturday didn’t look that bad, but there must have been a lot of it, possibly further up Tweeddale, as the water level was up about three feet or so.

thawed out 013 Yesterday being a much brighter and dryer day, I walked a little way along the river path taking photos.  The sun was shining and being a Sunday afternoon there were plenty of folk out walking, some probably out just to look at the flooding. thawed out 011 Just below the bridge, in a calm area not generally underwater and therefore out of the current, a huge salmon was causing a bit of interest.  It didn’t look too healthy with most of its body covered in what might have been some sort of fungal growth.  Poor thing!  I expect it will probably die.  Years ago I saw several fish like this from the little footbridge across Cuddy, where it joins Tweed.  I think they were culled. 

Take a look at thethawed out 017 foot bridge as it was yesterday,thawed out 016 and see how fierce the cauld/weir was (below left).   thawed out 018 The island, silted up over the years, had pretty much disappeared under the torrent, (right) leaving its trees looking isolated in the middle of the river (in the distance).  The tree in the foreground is on the river bank….. normally!.   

thawed out 019

On my way back I rescued a tiny meercat from the swollen waters just above the bridge where the mill once was.  It was a child’s toy, lost and floating at the edge of the water.  I wonder where it fell in?  Was it from one of the upper Tweed hamlets, or had some little child dropped it while crossing the Priorsford footbridge just up beside the Park?  Were they devastated to lose their toy or had its loss not even been noticed?   thawed out 021Being a big fan of meercats I just had to fish it out with a stick and bring it home.  It has dried off a bit overnight but I think a turn in the washing machine might be a good idea!  A  good wash won’t do it any harm!

So, today the river is back where it should be, still flowing speedily, but with trails of debris deposited on the banks at its highest point yesterday.  At least we aren’t having the problems that Australia and Brazil are having right now though.  They have my sympathy.  Water can be so destructive.  Here, it only made the Green a trifle muddy!

Talk again soon.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

My blog has attitude

Ive_got_attitude_blog_award_thumb1 I got this award from Lesley of Scrappiness Down Under, the same Lesley who designed my current blog background.  Thanks so much, Lesley, for your designs as much as for this award!  There were conditions attached to the receiving of the award but I hope I will be forgiven if I don’t send this on to five other blogs I enjoy – half the folks I would send it to have already received it – or tell you three things that make me different from anyone else!  What could I say?!   I’m really not sure that I am that different to anyone else!

So I’ll just thank you for reading the blog and giving me your thoughts from time to time!  Keep on dropping in is all I ask!  Well, maybe you could drop in a few more comments too!  I do like to hear from you, if you like what you’ve read, if it reminds you of a story, if you want to tell me something you’ve been doing…..I don’t even mind a bit of constructive criticism!  I’ll take it on the chin!!!

Talk again soon.

The start of a new year

Can’t believe the first two weeks of the new year have gone by already!  I really didn’t do much in the first few days – just lazed about, watching TV -something I don’t do much of normally – reading books, sleeping….  Nice!  However now I think I am suffering from the winter blues!  The weather has been the worst thing.  It really gets me down.

We started the new year with a green Green, but that didn’t last!  We’ve had a few more snowfalls, maybe two inches that didn’t last too long, but on Saturday, just as we thought it was all just about gone, we had another 4 inches overnight – and it’s still here, thawing a little by day and freezing at night!  It’s pretty treacherous walking, despite the grit that has been spread by the local council.  Oh well, we’re on the right side of the year now.  I tell myself that Spring is coming!!!   ( and as I prepare to post this I can tell you that the temperature has now gone up considerably and the snow and ice is disappearing!  Hooray!)

Colin came up from Yorkshire for a visit at the weekend.  I had lots of jobs for him to do!  The main one was to take my old broken down washing machine to the recycling centre and to collect a new one from a store in Edinburgh, bring it home and fit it into the empty space left by the old one!  from the front door Where I live it’s not quite that straightforward as there are ten steps down from the front door to the garden;  a walk along a path, then up about 20 steps - by the snow-capped wall in the photo -  to the houses above, with a bit more path through the close to the street itself.  However, no problem to the lad!  Sack barrow at the ready he loaded the machine, bumped it down the first steps, up the next ones, and loaded it into his van.  First we headed for the recycling centre, then off to the store in Edinburgh for the new machine.   colin We also got curtain track and some timber, and he fixed up a pelmet over the curtain track in the living room.  Now I have to get on and make some curtains!  I have the fabric – but not the “get-up-and-go”!Jean and Evelyn

Morag and I went up to Edinburgh one day last week where we met up with my sister Jean – can you tell we’re sisters? -  for lunch at Bobby’s Bar.  The Bobby in question was a small dog.  Most people have heard the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the little Skye Terrier who sat on his master’s grave  for 14 years only leaving it to go and find food once a day.  still from Greyfriars bobby film The story was made into a film many years ago by Walt Disney.  greyfriars bobby statue




After Bobby’s own death a small statue on top of a fountain was erected in his memory – to commemorate his loyalty.  He had made quite an impression in the old city around the kirkyard of Greyfriars, where his old master had been buried.  The bar where we ate lunch could well be on the site of the eating house where Bobby was befriended by its owner John Traill.   greyfriars gate

Later Mogreyfriars bobby's grave and I went for a walk around part of the kirk-yard; saw the graves of john gray's graveBobby and Jock Gray, and looked at a few other parts of the cemetery.  geikie memorial Of interest to Morag was the plaque commemorating the 19th century deaf artist, Walter Geikie, who was also a  founding member of the first church specifically for the deaf.  Reflected in the marble is the church of Greyfriars.  There is a lot more to see in the kirkyard, but it was too cold for a full exploration, so we left to catch a bus into Princes Street to meet Mo’s son for a cup of tea.  edinburgh big wheel Surprisingly the big wheel put up for the Christmas season was still in operation beside the monument to Sir Walter Scott.  I keep say I’m going on it one of these days!  Maybe next year!

Talk again soon.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy New Year!

2011 new year card Large Web view

I must be getting old!  Hogmanay, the big Scottish festival, and I just couldn’t be bothered getting dressed up to go out anywhere!  Actually, the ‘big Scottish festival’ seems to be much in decline these days, and Christmas which was more of an English holiday seems to be taking over!    Our Scottish heritage is gradually disappearing – in the south of the country at least – and the youngsters are embracing American and English culture instead!  Well, maybe I shouldn’t say Hogmanay is disappearing when there is the famous Hogmanay party in Princes Street, Edinburgh each year, but the homelier celebrations with family and friends isn’t as it used to be! 

I remember when I was about late teens/early 20s, I spent New Year with friends in the north west.   On 31st December the household got up in the morning and started the preparations for the celebrations that night.  The house was cleaned from top to bottom; sandwiches, sausage rolls and other finger food was prepared to last all day (and well into the night).  The open fire had been cleaned out and a new fire laid – not to be lit till the new year bells, and everyone was sent in turn for bath and hairwash, to wash off the dirt of the old year.   The family had very strict rules for Hogmanay!   We were just by ourselves at that point, no visitors as yet, and filling our glasses with a drop of whisky just before midnight, we watched the Scottish TV programme till the bells rang out – from Big Ben in London!  The back door was opened to ;et the old year out and the front door opened to welcome in the new one.   We all wished each other a Good and Happy New Year, with hugs and kisses; the fire was lit and we waited for our first-foot, the name traditionally given to the first person to enter the house in the new year.  Years of living in the same house with the same neighbours had led to their own traditions.  The first foot was always John, from next door, who fitted the description of the perfect first foot, being tall and dark!  He brought with him  a piece of coal for the fire and a bottle of whisky, and everyone took a dram from his bottle.  After a few more moments the neighbours from one house along, came in and the same thing was repeated.  Gradually more neighbours appeared and Chrissie’s and Jack’s house was full of laughter and fun.  After an hour or so, the party moved into John’s house  next door, Iain, Chrissie’s and Jack’s son,  first footing them.  More food, more whisky…. on to the next house, picking up more revellers at each move!  I think there was one more house visited by all, before the party split and the younger folk headed for Peter’s house and the older folk to another neighbour across the street.  After that it was anybody’s guess where we went next.  Generally there were invitations to this house or that, and sometimes we piled into cars and drove out of the town to a remote farm or other -  no breathalyser or drink-driving laws in those days!  We all survived to tell the tale, though some possibly didn’t remember the tale by next morning!   One year, the ceilidh-ing  (kayley – Gaelic for visiting and partying ) went on all that night and  all the next day.  A big party was held somewhere that night too , and we youngsters  finally fell into our beds at 5.00a.m. on the morning of 2nd January.  However, an arrangement had been made, so at 9.00 we were up again, and  kitted out with warm clothes and sturdy walking boots; armed with rucksacks of food and flasks of coffee, we set off to climb a mountain!  The six of us reached the summit, cobwebs well and truly blown away, and Peter brought out the much-looked-forward-to flasks of coffee.  “Cheers!  Slainte! “  I took one slug of mine and spat it all out again!  Ugh!  It had whisky in it!  Now I like my whisky and at that time quite liked my coffee, but I did NOT like the two mixed!   What a disappointment!  I had been so looking forward to that hot drink!   Maybe that was when I gave up drinking coffee, because now, I don’t drink the stuff at all!

Well, eventually, back down the hill we came, and after a meal we were off to yet another party at a hotel on the edge of town.  Dancing and singing all that evening, but even we stalwarts had to call a halt!  We were all home and in our beds, sound asleep by 1.30 a.m on 3rd January!  I think some of us had to return to Edinburgh the next day, with college beginning again the day after, but I think the ceilidhs would have gone on for a day or two after we left!

They don’t celebrate New Year like that any more – or maybe they do and I’m,  as I said before, just getting old, and don’t see it happening!!!!

Talk again soon – oh, and a Happy New Year to you!