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The Scots Week-End
Boils, Blains, Bruises and Blights

Brat after all, gentlemen, these modern advances in the noble science and art that you have so laboriously studied these five years and more, what are they but addenda? Great and admirable as they are, the wise physician will treat them with no more respect than they deserve, but will continue to rely on what is, in the last resort, his sheet-anchor - the "vis medicatrix Nature".

Medical Graduation Address,
Glasgow University
(early 20th century)


FROM no spot in Scotland, so far as we know, is a doctor more than twenty miles away. Borne in a second-hand car, sustained by the Everlasting Arms, he will hurry to your aid before his telephone bell has stopped trembling.

It would be wicked and cruel to him and to you if, by putting at your disposal this porridge of useful tips and hints, we led you to believe yourself an adept in the least of his mysteries.

On the other hand we are not his tout and we feel free to warn you against certain ways of being ill in Scotland, and to tell you what to do in circumstances which might find you despairing and dithering. Not that it isn't pleasanter and cheaper to be ill in Scotland than anywhere else. A Case of the Itch (or Scottish Fiddle) was once cured in Buckie for five shillings, which included quite a large pot of Unguentum Sulphuris. The Case had previously spent seven hundred pounds on being treated (by vaccines and whatnot) by a series of London Knights and Baronets. He was naturally delighted at having secured so good a bargain.

Even Benefit of Surgery (as it is called) can be had in any of the cities of Scotland for the price of a suit of clothes; and you may recover from your mutilation in a Nursing Home, which is much cheaper and more comfortable than a Station Hotel. You must, however, choose your Surgeon cleverly, throw yourself on his mercy, and claim Scottish, Jewish or Irish ancestry.

How to Choose a Surgeon. - The car outside his door must have cost less than £300. His house must be decorated by the etchings of D. Y. Cameron. He must be ill-dressed. He must talk very little, and what he does say must be in his native accent. If he greets you in any sort of genteel hybrid dialect, pretend that you have come to sell him an encyclopedia. He must not, however, be dirty.

How to Behave in a Scottish Nursing Home. - You must complain continually, otherwise you will be disregarded. You must not try to be popular. You will not succeed. You must keep a note of extras against the time when you will get your Bill.

Appendicitis. - Appendicitis is veux jeu, but still very popular. If you wish to test our information about Scottish Surgeons, you can't do better than appendicitis. It shows itself as a horrible, great pain in the lower right-hand side of the belly, and if you get it you must not temporise with castor oil but get into a town at once.

The Inside. - And this brings us to consider the Inside generally. Scottish hotel food is often filthy, and farmhouse food is good but heavy. The laxative best suited to your personality should be used, at the beginning of your visit, with some freedom.


Most illnesses or accidents incurred by you will be due to your own folly. For example, a great part of Scotland consists of mountain and moorland. These areas look very charming and can be seen best from a well-laid road. If you are foolhardy enough to attempt a cross-country walk, or scramble, you will lay yourself open to all manner of traumata, some of which we shall describe. But kindly note this. The passage following is not intended for people who take to moor and mountain animated by the lust for blood. To those who take bloody engines to moor and mountain, moor and mountain are at liberty to do what they like so far as we are concerned. But we have great pity on those who cross the wilderness at the urge of simple vanity and folly. Foolish and vain indeed they are; for Scotland is full of the most beautiful golf-courses, tennis courts and American bars. In these, the safety of the customer is always considered. They are free from the dangers that beset the adventurer in peat-hag and escarpment. They appear to hold inexhaustible stores of interest. Man, however, being what he is, it is possible that you may wish to boast of having trod the heather like one of the Covenant (or like one of the '45). Here is our help, freely.

You May be Bitten by the Pelias berus or common adder. If you are a child, this monster's attack may prove fatal. You must at once knot a handkerchief round the bitten limb, as far from the bite and as near to the heart as possible. You must thrust a fountainpen into the knot and, using this instrument as a handle, screw the bandage as tight as it will go. You may keep the bandage in position for twenty minutes, but no longer. After that you may loosen it for a little and then tighten it again. You must cut into the wound bravely and deeply with your penknife, making a gaping cross with the deepest two of your cuts, and you must squeeze the blood and juice forcibly from it. You must then dry it and burn the raw surfaces with a hot cigarette or with the crystals of permanganate of potash. You must then dress the wound with a wet dressing of water made pink with your permanganate and make as quickly as possible for bed, hot bottles and hot drinks. It is very unlikely that you will be bitten by a snake in Scotland, but if you are, these are the acts you should perform.

On the other hand, you are certain to be bitten by insects and principally by the Cleg, or Haematopota pluvialis, and by the beautiful little bar-winged Midge. The cleg is a greyish-brown horsefly and the only defence against him is divine philosophy, for he bites through the thickest stockings. The only defence against the midge is flight or extreme drunkenness. He has made the Scottish gloaming unbearable on the West Coast.


Bone and joint injuries sustained in crossing the moors require a separate chapter to themselves. The proper defence against them is what is known as the Heather Step. Poachers, shepherds, and gamekeepers acquire this at or about the third generation. If you haven't mastered this manoeuvre it is likely that you will suffer from sprain either of the knee or of the ankle. If this happens, take off both boots and stockings and carefully compare one limb with the other. If the deformity of the injured limb can be accounted for by swelling alone, the condition is probably a sprain. You may bandage it tightly with strips of shirt, sling the limb from your belt and hop home. If there is an obvious fracture, you had better, other things being equal, stay where you are. After you have limped, crawled or been carried home, a doctor will tell you whether or no it is a simple sprain after all. If he is convinced that it is a sprain he will probably tell you to rest it. Do not obey him but be nobly up and doing as soon as you can put foot to ground.

If you tumble off a mountain, all you need remember is that a broad, tight bandage round the chest minimises the pain of broken ribs; that to pull the shoulder back and the elbow up and forwards and to fix the arm so is probably the best thing to do for a broken collar-bone; that the chest is an excellent splint for a broken arm and the opposite leg for a broken leg.

There are other precautions to be taken; terrors to be encountered; remedies to be applied. We shall refer to them in the next chapter.


Before you set out, cram your pockets with chocolate. It is possible, however weather-wise and direction - instinctive you may be, to spend many hours against your will on the Highland moors, and hunger and exhaustion are bad travelling companions. They will be your chief enemies. You will have others.

The Highland Bull does not, as a rule, belie his benevolent appearance. Artists sit and paint him for hours. If you put a little ravine between you and the most testy Highland bull, you will be quite safe.

For some years past the Scottish Uplands have been peopled by murderers fleeing from justice. We are told that all but the fiercest can be appeased by the offer of a bar of chocolate and a ten-shilling note. Failing this, a few seconds' steady pressure over the carotid tubercle-to be found an inch or so below the angle of the jaw-will produce unconsciousness in the desperado. During this you may make off.

The walking-stick, or cromach as one of Scotland's most dreadful lyricists insists on calling it, may be used effectively if you remember to thrust at the bellyband instead of striking at the head.

Savage dogs may be driven off with shouts and stones.

Eagles and wild-cats are likely to attack only the youngest of our readers.


The procedure at Burns Nichts may engage our attention for a little.

According to Marian MacNeill, the late Meg Dods constructed a haggis as follows: "Clean a sheep's pluck thoroughly. Make incisions in the heart and liver to allow the blood to flow out and parboil the whole, letting the windpipe lie over the side of the pot to permit the discharge of impurities; the water may be changed after a few minutes' boiling for fresh water. A half hour's boiling will be sufficient; but throw back half of the liver to boil till it will grate easily; take the heart, the half of the liver, and part of the lights, trimming away all skins and black-looking parts, and mince them together. Mince also a pound of good beef-suet and four or more onions. Grate the other half of the liver. Have a dozen of small onions peeled and scalded in two waters, to mix with this mince. Have ready some finely-ground oatmeal toasted slowly before the fire for hours, till it is of a light-brown colour and perfectly dry. Less than two cupfuls of meal will do for this quantity of meat. Spread the mince on a board and strew the meal lightly over it, with a high seasoning of pepper, salt and a little cayenne first well mixed. Have a haggis bag (i.e. a sheep's paunch) . . ." And so on.

This displays the haggis (correctly) in a very formidable light. The English make tremendous fun of the haggis, as they do of ghosts, the French and the Germans, of everything, indeed, that they have cause to fear. They have cause to fear the haggis.

It is the pièce de résistance of the Burns dinner, and it is washed down by "nips" of neat whisky and accompanied by mashed potatoes.

After the dinner, a large number of very bad speeches are made. There is often one good speech. It is made by a clergyman. The Scottish clergy are invariably cultivated and eloquent men, for their cloth is not particularly respected and they are elected to their livings by the votes of dour sermon-tasters.

The Clergyman's speech is usually directed towards making the life of Burns fit for home consumption. A laudable object.

Be that as it may, unless the Burns Night happens to be a Temperance Burns Night (which it may well be), you will be forced to drink a great deal of whisky. If you are foolish enough to yield, take before retiring ten grains of aspirin; or arrange that it shall be administered to you.

There is little more to be said about Burns Nights.


One must try, in a compendium like this, to visualise every possible accident or illness that might befall a stranger, howked out of his environment and dumped in Scotland without the benefit of that slow and complete growth of immune bodies which makes it possible for a native to survive. But, honestly, we can think of nothing that could happen to you in Scotland that might not happen to you, equally, in England, if we except being refused the use of a boat on the Lord's Day.

Even about the weather there is nothing characteristic. This is strange when one recalls a curious phenomenon observable by anybody in a train crossing the Border. We refer to the well-known fact that the air north of Gretna ceases to be yellow and becomes suddenly blue. It is a kind of blue that is seen concentrated between pine boles in Scottish woods and is the colour, we are told, of the garments of the Blessed in Paradise. It is a blue that cleanses the eyes and through them the mind and all the inward parts. We can confidently recommend it.

The Scots Mist, on the other hand, is in no way peculiar to Scotland. It enshrouds the Khyber Pass, where we once saw it lending dignity to the ugly Arms of a Scottish Regiment, carved out and painted on the rock.


From ailments of the Psyche, peculiar to the place, you will not be immune. The most prevalent is Accidie, the nostroyenya of the Russians. It is endemic among the Celts and is infectious. Savages usually have some herb which is sovran for the principal indigenous disease. But herbage is rare on the Highland farm, and chewing heather roots is, at best, a palliative. The Celt chooses, rather, the homeopathic method of brooding on the workings of his imaginary imagination. Try this if you are attacked in the country. If you are attacked in a town, think of Wigan.


We are conscious that this is in no way the work we had planned. It is inaccurate. It is vague. It is in every way insufficient. But, by Heaven, it is pawky and full of whimsy!

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