Monday, 27 February 2012

Sackcloth and Ashes

Lent has arrived, and with it, following the daubing of ashes on the foreheads of subscribers to the anglo-catholic traditions of Christianity, a season for which to repent of many hundred years of hard-wired hypocrisy that is The Church.  As the tale behind this Gown of Repentance suggests, men have got away with it for a long time. Women, on the other hand, have not. 

Those convicted of various offences by West Calder Kirk Session were required to appear before the congregation in this gown. Jonet Gothskirk appeared on successive Sundays for many months.’ There is no record of any punishment for William Murdoch.

A Prickly Issue 

Back in '77, when everyone wore brown,
and papered the lounge with paprika hessian,
William invented a word to describe
another unpleasant fibre;
that prickly, scratchy acrylic wool.

Called it “sprangie*.”

To wear a jumper, tank-top or cardigan
without a vest was a punishment
worse than wearing a sack-cloth gown.
But William never committed adultery.
It’s the women you need to watch.

To pronounce this word, think of a mixture of tangerine and spongy.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Drinking In Edinburgh

Last week, I saw a tweet, asking the Burghers of Edin where there might be a convivial cafe to sit and write.  Suggestions spewed forth, with Black Medicine in Morningside seeming to top the bill.  The next day I sent a similar teaser: in which Edinburgh pubs and bars do people choose to write their memoirs?  Several were the same as my own favourites – but I’m not giving anything away here. What a strange thought that, when I sit with my little black book, pen in mouth, contemplating words, I might not be entirely alone.

In the days of Scottish Enlightenment, not long after the Union with our Southern Neighbours, Gentlemen (ladies, take note) met in Convivial Clubs and Drinking Establishments to discuss Matters of Importance.  It was then that the term 'alcoholism' was coined. The idea that this could be considered a disease, but drunkenness, disorderly, seemed to be enshrined in the attitude that drinking was a middle-class pursuit; getting drunk was common.  Commoners gambled, while the upper echelons wagered.  And the difference between Taverns, Inns and Bars was clearly class (or money, which is usually the true distinction) oriented.  

When I saw this silver Quaich in the Museum, inscribed with the motto of an 18th Century Convivial Club, I imagined two gentlemen gently ribbing each other: an Englishman and a well-to-do Londoner, come to visit his newly-acquired cousin Edinburgh, engaging in persiflage over a dram or two.  And this is a 62-word fragment of what, perhaps, they might have spoken at the time…

The Wager

‘There are some things I would’nae place a bet on,’ said Edward Lothian, in an affected Edinburgh accent. ‘One is that you’ll no’ find a rhyme with “silver quaich”.’
            ‘You may well be right,’ replied the Englishman convivially.
            ‘Yet I’d put a hundred to one,’ continued Lothian, ‘that you could’nae pronounce it.’

            He had a go.  But it came out as “quiche.”

A quaich was a shallow drinking vessel unique to Scotland. This silver example was made around 1750 by Edinburgh silversmith Edward Lothian. It is inscribed 'A hundred to one' which was possibly the motto of an Edinburgh betting or convivial club.