(Given in April 1982 over Radio Excelsior,
If ye canna believe this, jist dinna;
But ken that I’m wishin’ ye weel—
A trip ower the seas tae auld Scotlan’—
Black puddins, fresh herrin’, oatmeal—
The fare they pit up for the Scots fowks
That chance tae the Land o’ the Leal.
Friends at the end of this microphone, when Mr. Dougall
asked me to give a 15 minutes’ talk over Radio Excelsior, I gladly
agreed—chiefly for the reason that there are many folks in the far reaches
of this Republic — from Bahia Blanca to Mendoza,
from Mar del Plata and Ajó to Tucumán and Jujuy, across the river in
Uruguay and Brazil, and away in the never never regions of Patagonia from
Deseado down to Magallanes—there are many in all these regions whom I have
met only once or twice when I have been there visiting and conducting
Services. Believe me, it is a solid pleasure for me to give you the
opportunity of hearing a Scot rolling his "rs" again, and an added
pleasure that I should be doing it from a position of such comparative
immunity, compared with my more usual location.
My subject has been announced to you as
— "Scots stories — old
and new". That’s a mistake. For what I said over the telephone when I got
the invitation was "Scots stories — old and
true". The implication is obvious, I hope, for I believe that there are
very few Scots stories that are new, and fewer that are true.
Here’s an example of one that was masqueradtng as new
in B.A. three years ago —an Aberdeen fish story.
A young lad from Aberdeen went up to London (that was London’s good
fortune, of course) to make his living and everything else he could. He
didn’t succeed so well as he thought he would. After 10 years of hard work
he was only on £200 a year. One of his pals — a
fishmonger in Aberdeen — took the chance of a
cheap holiday excursion, to visit him in London. He diagnosed the trouble
immediately, and reminded his London friend that fish made brains, and
that he should eat more fish if he wanted to get more snap into his work
and more salary at the end of the year. "I’ll send you", he said, "a
half-guinea box of selected fish every week", and this he duly did. At the
end of the first month, after the arrival of four boxes of fish, our
London friend wrote to Aberdeen saying that he didn’t see any difference
in his brain power. And back from Aberdeen came the reply by letter
:— "It takes time —
stick in tae the fish". At the end of the second month our London friend
wrote again in the same vein and got a similar reply. At the end of the
third month our London friend wrote to Aberdeen yet once more, saying he
still was in the same position, at £200 a year, and that there were no
prospects of a rise, and that the fish was apparently working no wonders
in him north of his neck. "And" he added in his letter "isn’t half a
guinea a bit thick anyway for the quantity and quality of the fish you’re
sending me?" All the reply he got from Aberdeen was this, on a postcard:
"Now the fish is beginnin’ tae work."
That story was current in Buenos Aires about three
years ago, and was related as "the latest Scots story". But I can assure
you on the evidence of one who was there, and who to-day is an old man,
that that story was often told amongst some Scots pioneers near Rio
Gallegos in Patagonia in the year 1879 — 53
There are not many Scots stories that are really and
There are less still that are really and wholly true.
Here’s an example of this latter type.
The scene is the city of Aberdeen and the occasion the
week observed annually as Self Denial Week. The Salvation Army was out in
force with their collecting boxes getting funds for their splendid work.
An old farmer from the village of Dyce was walking down Union Street after
having been at the weekly market. He was tackled by a young girl wearing
her ‘Army’ bonnet, who said to him: "Won’t you give me a shilling for the
work of the Lord?" The old farmer gazed down at the girl in silence, and
"How auld are ye, ma lassie?" "Seventeen" came the
reply. "Weel" said the farmer "I’m eichty twa and therefore it’s most
probable that I’ll be seein' the Lord before you will—so I just think I’ll
wait and hand Him my subscription personally."
That story was born in a town called Turriff. And
here’s another that was manufactured in a town called Dufftown—chiefly
famous through its proximity to Glenlivet.
The Minister of the Parish of Methlick
—the county seat of the Earl of Aberdeen (who,
by the way, is one of Scotland’s most renowned story-tellers)
— this Minister one day received a telephone
message from the local station-master (some miles away) that a box had
arrived from Dufftown for him, and had been lying at the station a week.
"Ah, that’s all right, "said the Minister
—"it’s a box of second-hand books which I bought
at a sale there — I’ll come along for them
"But yi’ll better hurry up" said the stationmaster
— "for they’re leakin’."
It is the quiet, undemonstrative, calculating outlook
on life that gives pith and point to so many Scots stories. Aberdeen was
under snow one winter’s night and the hour was 10 o’clock. Most of the
landladies (that fine body of women who make a living by housing and
feeding the University students) had gone to bed. A homeless beggar
knocked at the door of one of them in Kitty-brewster and the landlady
opened her bedroom window and looked down. "Will ye gie’s tippence for a
bed?" said the beggar. "Aye" said the landlady, "bring it in."
And yet, even so, we do see a joke sometimes where
others don’t. Last year, at the annual Service of the St. Andrew’s Society
of the River Plate in St. Andrew’s, Buenos Aires, the usual and perfectly
innocent announcement was made at the close of the Sermon
— "Your offerings will now be received"
— and as the occasion was a special one, it was
added — "While the offering is being received,
the Organist will play a Highland Lament." I underline the word
"lament" meantime, and the point, of course, will be quite apparent to
English and Irish listeners tomorrow morning. Which suggests this thought
that in Scotland the Minister comes in for more good-natured banter, and
suffers more at the hand of the story-tellers than, I think, any other
class of man. Yet, occasionally, we have our staunch defenders. Listen to
this — written by a Scots bird-fancier in
defence of his Minister who was having rather a rough time from the
parishioners. I think it is a real ornithological gem.
"It’s my opeenion that congregations expect far ower
much in their parson. They want in him the strength o’ an eagle, the grace
o’ a swan, the gentleness o’ a dove, the voice o’ a nightingale, the
friendliness o’ a sparrow, the mornin’ hours o’ a cock, the night hours o’
an owl; — and when they catch the bird, they
expect him tae live on the diet o’ a canary."
You all know the Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman type
of story, and you cannot have failed to notice that the "kick" of the
story is always against the Scot. But you must have also noticed that the
net result is that, at the end of the day, the Englishman and the Irishman
are usually wiser— and probably poorer
— men. Here’s a sample of the Englishman and
Scotsman type. They resolved to have a day’s fishing together, and on the
way to the river the Englishman (who wasn’t much of a fisher) proposed
that the one who caught the first fish should pay for the dinner in the
evening. This was agreed. After half an hour the Englishman caught a fine
sea-trout, and the Scot left his rod on the bank and ran down to see the
catch and to congratulate his friend heartily. On the way back to his rod
the Scot quietly murmured to himself —"I think I
can put some bait on ma hook —noo".
Of course, the Scot does sometimes score in these
stories. Sandy went into a butcher’s shop in York one day and asked for a
sheep’s head. The butcher produced three fine specimens. "Are they Scots
sheep?" asked Sandy. "No — they’re all English
sheep" replied the butcher. "Ah, weel" said Sandy, "I’ll need the try
another shop, for, ye see, what the wife’s really wantin’ is
The country dweller in Scotland as distinct from the
town and city man, has a wonderful and all unconscious gift of combining
pathos and humour, and of doing it with perfect taste and reverence. What
could beat this as a philosophical and yet somewhat humorously reverent
summing up of a situation :—A Tommy in the Gordon High-landers during the
war was making his way one night up to the Front Line, over an area which
was being plastered with shells. As he dodged from spot to spot and
ultimately took refuge in a shell-hole, he found himself beside the dead
body of one of his pals. When he got up to get on with his job, he
addressed his fallen comrade thus — "Jock—
ye’ll hae a better nicht than I will."
Or this — A country Minister
was holding forth in a very long sermon one Summer Sunday morning. The
bees were droning outside and some of the folks asleep inside. A donkey
wandered into the churchyard and began braying at one of the open windows.
"One at a time, please" said the Beadle to the donkey.
A Banffshire Scot sells me eggs every week. He runs a
hen farm and he called some months ago, delighted with the fact that the
hens had doubled their production during the last four days. I suggested
that the "ceniza" from the volcanoes beyond Mendoza must be doing the hens
good. "Na, na," he said, "I think that the hens think it’s the end o’ the
world, and they are jist tryin’ to make a good impression afore its too
Time’s up, my friends. Perhaps now you’ll be perfectly
certain that we Scots are a curious folk. Perhaps we are. But this at
least is true — we’re inclined (on the whole) to
love one another, even if we’re not always inclined to trust one another.
To level things up, I think that Mr. Dougall should
soon ask an Englishman to tell some English stories. The real difference
between an Englishman and a Scot is this —The
Englishman has a great sense of pride in his race —
he thinks himself better than all the rest of the world. The Scot
is a humble fellow — he only thinks that he’s
better than the Englishman.
One last word: the way to be safe in these distracted
days is to be two things — (1) Thankful (2)