Why didn’t I post this yesterday, when it was actually Burns Night? I don’t know. I didn’t think of it until I was walking home from work in the evening. But better late than never, eh?
I grew up in Scotland. I lost the accent when I moved to England as a teenager, but Scotland was where a lot of my formative experiences happened. And many Burns Nights.
So, here are some of my favourite memories of Caledonian childhood.
I’ll start with Burns Night. In Scottish primary schools, this involves the ritual humiliation of reciting poetry in front of the school assembly.
The first one I was given wasn’t actually by Robert Burns (perhaps I wasn’t ready for that yet), but by Sandy Thomas Ross. It’s called The Wee Rid Motor, and it goes like this:
In ma wee rid motor
I can gang fir miles
Up and doon the gairden,
Through the lobby whiles.
Mony a bigger motor
Can gang tae toons afaur.
But nane can gang whaur I gang
In my wee rid caur.
Which, roughly translated, means someone has a small red car that’s just as good as a bigger car, because even if it’s not great over long distances, it can get into tiny spaces and explore everywhere. Including, apparently, the garden.
The second poem I had to read in assembly was To A Mouse by Burns himself. I love that its Wikipedia page has an English translation.
I’ve forgotten most of it now; the only bit that remains stuck in my brain is the opening verse:
Wee sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa’ sae hasty,
Wi bickering brattle!
Then there was The Puddock, which my friend had to recite but which I loved so I learned it too. Puddock is the Scots word for ‘frog’.
A puddock sat by the lochan’s brim,
An’ he thocht there was never a puddock like him.
He sat on his hurdies, he waggled his legs,
An’ cockit his heid as he glowered throu’ the seggs.
The bigsy wee cratur’ was feelin’ that prood,
He gapit his mou’ an’ he croakit oot lood:
“Gin ye’d a’ like tae see a richt puddock,” quo’ he,
“Ye’ll never, I’ll sweer, get a better nor me.
I’ve fem’lies an’ wives an’ a weel-plenished hame,
Wi’ drink for my thrapple an’ meat for my wame.
The lasses aye thocht me a fine strappin’ chiel,
An’ I ken I’m a rale bonny singer as weel.
I’m nae gaun tae blaw, but th’ truth I maun tell-
I believe I’m the verra MacPuddock himsel’.” …
A heron was hungry an’ needin’ tae sup,
Sae he nabbit th’ puddock and gollup’t him up;
Syne runkled his feathers: “A peer thing,” quo’ he,
“But – puddocks is nae fat they eesed tae be.”
– John M. Caie
Of course, it wasn’t all poetry recitals. There were also the mandatory Highland Country Dancing lessons. My primary school boyfriend Johnnie and I were rather good at this, and we’d spend many a day in the assembly hall, when all the chairs had been cleared aside to make room for the dancing, highland flingin’ away.
I’m so happy I was a kid before smartphones were a thing. I’m quite glad there’s no video evidence.
Some more of my favourite Scottish childhood memories include the following.
Spending a summer in Kinloch Laggan
It’s beautiful, look:
We stayed in the mountains. We walked for miles every day. We tried to play tennis in a field, but we had no net and the ball kept blowing away. It was windy but warm, and the sun was deceptively strong. All of us turned the colour of lobsters. There were eagles wheeling around the crags, and lizards racing shyly from hole to hole, stopping when they thought they weren’t being watched to sun themselves on rocks.
I found a snake, caught it and took it to my grandfather. “Put that down!” he said, “It’ll bite you!”
“It’s OK,” I replied, “It’s just a bit hissy.” This became a family catchphrase.
Exploring fields and woods
We lived for a while in a block of flats at the arse end of a small town in central Scotland. A big hill rose behind the flats, and petered out into fields of farmland. There was a small wood nearby as well, and I spent most of my free time exploring and making dens there.
I once tried to jump over the wooden fence surrounding the field, slipped, and impaled myself on a fence post. I still have the scar.
There was a tall pine tree with thick foliage and useful seating places overhanging a pavement. I named it Asaph and climbed it frequently, once falling out when I climbed too high and the branch was too thin to properly balance upon.
An old gatekeepers’ residence sat a few yards down a path just up the road. It was a great place to secretly hang out, and a useful one to visit when it was (constantly) raining.
Getting stuck in the pub
Because no Scottish childhood is complete without a pub story.
My friends and I had bunked off school. We went to the Tavern at lunchtime, because something mysterious happened there every few days, and as kids we decided we had to find out what was going on.
It was, of course, a beer delivery. Nothing particularly exciting. But when no one was looking we scrambled past into the cellar and poked around.
Then we got locked in. Which, in retrospect, was hilarious, but at the time we weren’t so amused. We were eventually let out by a bemused barman, who couldn’t work out how five children had ended up in his cellar.
Those are some of my favourite memories of Scottish childhood.
Have you been to Scotland? Did you do anything for Burns night?