For Auld Lang Syne

I used to love New Year when I was a child. My parents always liked to bring in the New Year at home, then we would visit my aunt and uncle about half an hour’s journey away. My aunt had a running buffet from about midnight onwards. There would be soup, a cooked ham, sometimes roast beef or chicken as well but it would be accompanied by vegetables and bread. Besides first-footing being thirsty work, you needed to keep sustenance up as well. It kept you going longer and since you visited many houses and were drinking many drams, the food provided an excellent lining for stomachs.

I don’t remember fighting or brawling but there would be a few who were rather the worse for wear but basically the visitors we saw were a cheery lot. Plenty of stories and jokes and the camaraderie amongst them would be worthy of top billing on stage. This was more like a ceilidh (kay-ly) although we hear of ceilidhs now, we think of Scottish country dances but it is actually a gathering for music, songs and story telling.

It was customary to take your ne’erday bottle with you when visiting to offer your host a drink whilst wishing them health, wealth and happiness for the coming year. It was bad luck and bad manners to refuse a drink from someone’s ne’erday bottle. The ‘first-foot’ traditionally should be male, dark-haired and carrying a lump of coal to signify good luck and prosperity. Lang may you lum reek, (long may there be smoke from your chimney) was a common toast to friends.

Another common custom was a quick spring clean of the home, you couldn’t take the dirt from the old year into the new. Also many people would open the back door to let the old year out, and the front door to let the new year in.

It was fun for all the family although children found it more difficult to keep pace with adults, their tipple being alcohol free ginger wine or blackcurrant cordial. All drinks were supported by shortbread or fruit cake etc. Our curfew was around  three o’clock, remembering my father still had to drive home. Daylight could be another round of visiting family and friends before a celebratory dinner.

As adults, we continued to celebrate New Year in various ways and at that time, living in a small village, we visited more of our neighbours. One particular year, our Filipino neighbours were looking forward to their first Scottish New Year so they came along with us on our first footing of various neighbours. We had a good time and ended up at our Filipino friend’s home for the final party. The next day is when everyone finds out if we lost anyone along the way – but our neighbour had lost his teeth. It was a lost cause having called again at all the houses visited earlier and no sign of the teeth. It was an accepted casualty of the celebrations so when a passing neighbour called in to wish our toothless gent a happy new year, he noticed the dog behind the sofa chewing on something – Donny found his teeth. Whether he ever wore them again, we didn’t ask.

Pitlochry’s Street Ceilidh

 

When Santa Calls

Our Christmases were quite low key, and definitely for the children. We didn’t get a fraction of what today’s children get but we were more than happy with it. We had a nice dinner although nothing like the big razzmatazz of today.

The house would be decorated with paper chains and honeycomb bells and balls and there would be tinsel and glass baubles for the tree. The tinsel I remember was quite scraggy in comparison to the thick fluffiness of now. The tree was real, and you couldn’t beat the lovely smell of pine which added to the Christmassy excitement.

We always hung up our stocking, or at least one of dad’s socks, it was bigger. In the morning it was filled with a tangerine, an apple, some sweets  and perhaps coloured pencils or similar. We usually got a bigger gift of a toy, some smaller toys and lots of books and annuals. I seldom got up before at least one annual had been read from cover to cover.

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Christmas was a family day, we visited relatives, exchanged gifts and we could play with our cousin’s new toys and games. It was a lovely day.

It’s sad that commercialism has taken over, the Christmas bells are being replaced now by the sound of till bells ringing in the shops. It’s not what Christmas is meant to be. First we have the nativity, celebrating the birth of Jesus. Then we have Santa Claus – you may wonder where he fits into the scheme of things.

Saint Nicholas came from the Mediterranean area, he is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, students and repentant thieves. You would think that would be enough to keep him busy, but he was a kindly bishop and was reputed to give gifts secretly, and often slipped a coin into a child’s shoe. Known in some places as Father Christmas but he had many other names depending on the country. If you want to know more about the real Santa Claus, a visit to his website is quite enlightening. St. Nicholas Center

Perhaps we should think about Christmas and it’s true meaning and not so much spending money on gifts that often are excess to requirnativity-scene-7ements, or over-indulging children whose lives are already overburdened with parents and grandparents competing to see who can give the most. The usual excuse there is because they want to see their faces when they give them too much. That’s not giving the child a gift, that’s self-indulgence.

Think how many homeless people could be fed if all the money for excess gifts giving was given towards some real need. Remember St. Nicholas is reputed to have only slipped a coin in a shoe, he didn’t have a credit card to run-up debt.

Perhaps it would be nice to turn the clocks back and make Christmas a family day and remember the ‘reason for the season’. It’s not Happy Holidays, it’s Happy Christmas.

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What’s In An Ad?

Certain memories stand out of my grandparents and the differences in what hung on the walls of botmaph maternal and paternal grandparents. I don’t actually remember photos or pictures on the walls of my paternal grandparent’s home, there was a very large map, which probably came from a school as my grandpa’s nephew was a school headmaster.strop

There was a barometer and beside the fireplace was a leather strop, which my grandpa used to hone his cut-throat razor. Perhaps their walls weren’t interesting enough for me to remember.

My maternal granny had a large framed picture of Pear’s Soap advert, I always thought it was really nice.pears-soap-picture In the kitchen there was another framed advert for Fry’s Five Boys chocolate, showing all their moods.five-boys

The kitchen wall was also home to a framed copy of the Minnie Louise Haskins’ poem, originally titled as “God Knows” but is known better as “The Gate Of The Year”. The poem became popular in 1939 when King George VI quoted in his Christmas broadcast to the British Empire

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

I have always remembered those words, they were committed to memory a long time ago from a framed print of the speech. 

The one thing made me curious though was a tin brewery tray of the Scottish brewers, Wm. Younger & Co. Ltd., as granny was a devout Christian and didn’t approve of strong drink, I never knew where it had come from. Although one answer could be, alcohol applied in correct dosage, could also be medicinal. Whisky could be used as an antiseptic, an ease for toothache and stout was an excellent tonic long before antibiotics.

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Afternoon Teas

It is nice to see the Victorian afternoon teas making a comeback. It’s disappointing though to see commercial companies offer afternoon teas wwaitresshich are nothing like the elegant teatimes of the past. Cakes and other dainties are served but there’s no crisp cotton tablecloth on the table, no dainty china cups and no real tea, only teabags. There does seem to be a difference on how you feel, depending on the type of afternoon tea you are attending. Add all the frills and fancies, linen serviettes instead of paper, patterned china instead of the standard hotel earthenware cups. Scones served with curls of butter and jam in proper jam dishes instead of prepacked portions. All that transports you to a genteel era, housemaids with black dresses and white aprons and caps serving dainty sandwiches and cakes on a tray. Also tea served from a teapot, kept warm under a tea cosy. Though a dedicated coffee drinker, I have a selection of proper leaf teas for the guest to chose from and not a teabag in sight.

I do wish I had paid attention to both my granny’s and mumtea-settable‘s baking though. Granny’s scones were second to none and none of the ingredients were weighed. Handful, pinch and spoonful were the measurements instead of pounds and ounces. When the milk was sold in glass bottles and cream would still rise to the surface, the short life without the fridge didn’t mean sour milk was wasted, we kept it all for granny to use in her scones. No science degree to tell you sour milk makes the scones light, I use active yogurt instead to replace the ‘live’ bacteria milk processing takes away.

Having inherited a number of recipe books, handwritten by my mother and both grandmothers, it’s quite comforting to see the titles such a “Mrs Hamilton’s Fruit Cake”, or “Sadie’s Chocolate Cake”, let your imagination loose and not only do you see these people in your mind’s eye, but you can almost smell the baking as well.

Many years ago, I bought an S.W.R.I. (Scottish Women’s Rural Institute) cookery book. Some of the recipes date back generations and one such recipe from the book, I will share:-

Hatted Kit (A very old Highland dish)

Warm slightly over the fire 2 pints of buttermilk. Pour it into a dish and carry it to the side of a cow. Milk into it about 1 pint of milk, having previously put into the dish sufficient rennet for the whole. After allowing it to stand for a while, lift the curd, place it on a sieve, and press the whey through until the curd is quite stiff. Season with sugar and nutmeg before serving, whip some thick cream, season it also with a little grated nutmeg and sugar and mix gently with the curd. This dish can quite well be made without milking the cow into it., although the contributor’s mother always considered that direct milking put a better hat on the kit.”

An Unnecessary Battle

The recent weekend of Remembrance gives me a sense of anger that so many men lost their lives unnecessarily. We always hold a great admiration for those who died for our countries but many of the losses were not wholly due to ‘the other side’, many of them were caused by bad judgement, both military and political.

Although my family were mostly in protected occupations such as farming and mining, my maternal grandfather, a coal miner, joined the Highland Light Infantry and was sent to France.samuel-wallace The battle he lost his life in, as did thousands of others was a result of Lloyd George, the current Prime Minister, countermanding military orders against the advice of Field Marshal Haig and thousands of soldiers were sent to fight a battle they would be unlikely to win.

I never knew my maternal grandfather, my mother bore a grudge against him for leavingsamuel-wallace-1 his wife and three children behind. Being a coal miner was hard work, dangerous and could result in debilitating illnesses such as black lung (Pneumoconiosis), emphysema and chronic bronchitis, digging the seams of coal, sometimes in crouching positions for hours on end. Mines were often flooded with water. Often trouser legs had to be tied round the ankles to stop rats from going up their legs. There were no toilets underground so the flooding waters were no better than sewage. Canaries used to detect carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and methane, were the only early warning alarm they had until handheld gas detectors started being used and the canaries were made redundant in 1986.

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After my grandfather was killed in action and much out of necessity for survival, my grandmother married again. My step grandpa was the only one I knew and he too, was a coal miner. He was forever nursing a painful knee, between embrocation and bandages he coped very well. His knee had been crushed against two wagons in the mine and his pit pony saved him. Fighting a war, or digging for coal, both jobs were indeed, jobs from hell.

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Salt In My Porridge

My paternal grandfather was a corn miller to trade, though it was more oats than corn being milled. Most of the grain went for animal provender and farmers would bring their grain to be dried on the kiln and then ground.

James Boswell had a habit of eating oats for breakfast and Samuel Johnson is said to have remarked, “In England we wouldn’t think of eating oats. We only feed them to horses”.
“Well, maybe that’s why in England you have better horses, and in Scotland we have better men”. replied Boswell.

My grandpa had porridge every morning, the oatmeal steeped overnight and cooked in a pot in the morning. The traditional stirrer for porridge was a spurtle, il_570xn-963098244_77rsa wooden stick, a bit like the handle of a wooden spoon, and there was a luggie of cream to serve with it.  Of course being Scottish, it was quite luggiecommon for me to have porridge, I could have it any time not just for breakfast and granny used to put sugar on it so I thought that’s how it should be eaten. Coming home from school in the cold, bitter days, I came in to a bowl of steaming hot porridge. I found out later that it was said that a true Scot ate his porridge with salt, I couldn’t imagine it but when I tasted it, I thought it was much better so I’ve never had sugar on it since.

Of course oats were a staple part of the diet, there are so many delicious dishes that can be made with it. It can be used in bread making, oat cakes, (delicious with cheese), baking 800px-clapshot_and_oatcakessuch as flapjacks, oat biscuits, and in desserts. One of our favourites is Cranochan, so easy to make. Since we grow the best raspberries in the world, it’s a perfect complement. Like everything else, everyone has their favourite recipes. It should be made with oatmeal which has been soaked overnight in whisky but it can be made without it.

cranachan-dessert2

 

Cranochan
2 tbsp medium oatmeal
300g raspberries
350g whipped cream
2 tbsp heather honey
a little caster sugar
2-3 tbsp whisky

Toast the oatmeal until it smells nutty, mix the raspberries with the sugar, crushing them lightly. Whisk the cream until just set, blend in the honey and whisky. Looks best served in glass serving dishes layered alternatively with oats, cream and raspberries.  Allow to chill. …Enjoy.

 

 

One Lump Or Two

My conglomeration of linens, crockery, cutlery and glassware for any attempt to recreate what dropping in on someone for a cup of tea meant, is quite limiting, but perhaps there’s enough to take your mind back or show what it was like before mugs. Tea was the British drink, anytime or all the time, the kettle was kept on the boil, in case visitors dropped in.

tea-making

There was an art to making a cup of tea, between what we were taught at school and at home. It was important enough to take up a whole period of cookery lessons at school. For a start tea did not come in little teabags. In the average household, a packet of tea from the grocers was emptied into a tea caddy. The teapot was warmed first, it was unforgivable to even think about making tea in a cold pot so it was swirled round with boiling water out of the kettle first and discarded. A spoonful (or spoonfuls) of tea was put in the pot depending on how many it would be serving, the spoon for the tea I have is round and fairly flat. The pot filled with boiling water. It did have to be boiling to make a good cup of tea then it was left by the fire to brew. Traditionally milk goes in the cup first, it was a cup and saucer, not a mug and the tea poured through a strainer to reduce the number of tea leaves finding their way into the tea. Sugar added to taste and the tea elegantly sipped. The cups were usually small so you kept your guest happy by refilling the cup with fresh tea.

A neighbour or a close friend didn’t get such elegant treatment, that was meant for real visitors. Seldom would anyone leave without at least a cup of tea.  Those worthy of having the best china displayed were also spoiled a little bit more with the use of fancy table covers and a ‘properly’ set table, whether it was a small side table or the dining table.

tea-settable I have only three cups and saucers left from my grandma’s wedding china and no plates but with the plate there would have been a small serviette and a tea knife. Sugar if it was served as cubes, would have the sugar tongs or if it was during the war and sugar was rationed, then saccharines would have been put down in small dishes, accompanied by a tiny spoon, (as seen in the centre of the photo). Butter either curled or cut into small cubes, both methods were preferable. A nice touch to a tea table would be flowers.

There would be no need for butter and jam if only cakes and biscuits were being served but pancakes (dropped scones, Scotch pancakes) were quick to make and absolutely delicious straight off the girdle. There was a lot more home baking in the days of my parents and grandparents. There was no need to add artificial smells to your home when home baking and cooking were on the go!

girdle
Known as a girdle in Scotland, most will know it better as a griddle

Being a good hostess wasn’t as easy as it is now, there were no dishwashers, if there were, I doubt there would still be patterns on the dishes now. Cutlery, even EPNS still needed to be polished regularly as it all tarnished fairly quickly. You did that rather than being thought shameful at not being a good housekeeper. Women were proud to be housewives, even more so if they had the opportunity to show off their baking skills but it was also important to have a ‘nice table’.

I would very much like to host a ‘proper’ afternoon tea but my baking skills need to be polished up first. As for tea, although I don’t drink it, I do have a selection of loose leaf teas and no teabags. My tea drinking family assure me they are much better than teabags and don’t need milk or sugar to disguise the bitterness you get from everyday teas.

Tea actually doesn’t get much mention as being beneficial but it is, it’s a powerhouse of benefits. It’s antioxidants could help prevent a lot of serious illnesses, it may not be a miracle cure for any ailments but it’s usually what you reach for if you are tired, thirsty, needing energy restored and seems to offer some cosy comfort if your spirits are lagging a little. Perhaps that’s why it’s termed ‘The cup that cheers’.

 

Mum’s The Word

My mother had been interested in the garden and pottered about in it when she could. Being very young and seeing her engrossed in weeding, cutting the grass or whagnes-at-northfield-aveatever else she wanted to do, I felt I should be the dutiful daughter and make her a cup of tea. She was so grateful for it and said it was just what she needed. She would have said that anyway, she was a bit of a tea Jenny. I was delighted that it was approved of and made her many more over time as a result. It was many years later she admitted that by the time I had made the tea and took it out to her, it was stone cold. When I went to Belgium and Holland with the school, I brought her back a pair of wooden clogs, I thought she was so happy with them, she had laughed!

As a vebusry young child, my mother often put me on the bus heading for granny’s, the conductress was told which stop I had to get off at but apparently, I bus-doorknew. It was a journey of one hour in the bus, it wasn’t too far but buses were much slower then, seats harder and had an open door. What a difference in times. Buses today are more comfortable but nobody would take the responsibility for a child on it’s own, nor would it be wise for a parent to consider it now. How times change.

A recent remark by a young mum on social media was warning parents about allowing their children to play near the viaduct in the local playground as her son had hurt his knee there and had to be taken to hospital. Others were sympathising about how awful it must have been for her. I had to smile as I looked at the scars on my knees. Cotton wool was not available to wrap children in then. We had fun and if blood was drawn, then it was a sticking plaster, a bit of sympathy and back out to play. The sticking plaster came with sympathy mode included and if the fun was good, even that was forgotten about.

It’s A Dog’s Life

My maternal grandparents had lots of odds and ends and I have no idea where they came from. It seemed to be customary for homes to have a pair of ‘wally dugs’ (china dogs), and granny fell in with custom. She had a lovely sideboardlight wally-dugsoak sideboard on which she displayed a few of her treasured ornaments including the wally dugs.

Although other breeds of dog were represented, the King Charles spaniel seemed to be the most popular. There is a tale that if the dogs were placed back-to-back on the window sill, it meant the woman’s husband was at home and if they were facing each other, it meant he was away, so her lover would know when it was safe to visit the house.

We have no idea what happened to the dogs but when granny died, my aunt asked for the sideboard for a newly-wed couple who needed furniture. Sadly it was seen in their garden a few weeks’ later, broken up for scrap.

The first real dog I remember her having was a Border collie by the name of Towser. A lovely gentle dog and when he died, he was replaced by an Alsatian – named Towser. She wasn’t adventurous in naming her animals.

She also had two geese, Jock and Jenny who lived at the foot of the garden. Better than any watchdog and woe betide any intruder who tried to get past them. If they were loose one of them would unexpectedly kick you in your back with both feet and you would wonder what happened. By the time you turned round to see what hit you, there they would be, nonchalantly strolling along.

A Touch Of Nostalgia

Some of this is written in Scots vernacular so I have added some translation.

If we could ever go back in time
Back to the days of the washing bine. (wash tub)
The mangle, the Acme wringer clamped to the sink.
The scrubbing board and the bath made of zinc.
Baring the feet and girding the skirt
Tramping the blankets, removing the dirt. (bare feet in a tub to ‘tramp’ blankets)

Inside the house, though simply furnished
We’d see the grate, blackleaded and burnished.
The kettle on the fire, kept hot for the tea,
That was masked in the pot that sat on the swee.(breweda metal plate on a swivel attached to fireplace)
In a corner would stand, a grandfather clock
And up on the brace, there sat the knock. ( mantle shelf, there sat the clock)

We’d hear the birds, cheepin’ outside,
The Robin, the Speug and the wee Yellow Yite. (Robin, sparrow and Yellow Hammer)
You could guddle for trout ‘till caught by the grieve, (tickling trout, game keeper)
He’d gie ye a flightin’ while shaking his neive. (he’d give you a ticking off while shaking his fist)
Under a stane they’d be speeders and gullocks (spiders and black beetles)
And the fields would be riddled with wee mowdie hillocks. (mole hills)

In the back yard were clugs for the fire (logs)
The weans would be playing and they’d never tire (children)
Of kick the can or hide and go seek
Or peeries or peevers or a gird and a cleek, (spinning tops, hopscotch, hoop and stick)
Then a window would open and someone would bawl,
“Jimmy”, “Jock”, “wee Eck,” “yer tea’ll get caul”.

Hard work and poverty we never want back
But somehow there’s something our lives seem to lack.
Warmth and companionship developed through strife
Has made way for machines controlling our life.
Fond thoughts of the past, I know I would wish
That they’d be a bit more than a satellite dish.

©  Agnes M Wilson