Doric Awa In the Mearns
by: Michie, James
'Heely, heely, Tam ye glaiket stirk - ye hinna on the hin shelvins o the cairt. Fat hiv ye been haiverin at, min? That cauff saick'll be tint owre the back door afore ye win a mile awa fae hame….. Ye been makkin a hantle mair adee aboot blaikin that graith o yours an kaimin the mear's tail, nor balancin yer cairt an getting the things packit intill't.'
Foo mony o's, e'en tho country born and bred, wid, the day, I winner, mak muckle sense o this openin tae Johnny Gibb o Gushetneuk, an venture, sure o themsels, farrer intill the intimmers o't. Yet, fin first I riggit for the squeel, a gey puckle eers syne, I man confess, I wid hae unnersteed ilka wird o't bit 'graith'. In thae days, Doric wis in aabodie's moo, excep' the larn't an the gentry, an as weel roadit tae expleen the warld aboot 's as ony tongue that's in fu eese the day.
Fit wist, than, that hid J.C. Milne scrattin 's pow an musin tae himsel?
As I gaed doon by Memsie
I heard an aul man speir:
Faur's the bonnie dialect
That aince wis spoken here?
Noo, J.C. Milne himsel, wis a Buchan loon throu an throu, fa kint his ain folk an their wyes, bit, abeen aa, the Doric they spak as naiturally as they breithed in air tae live. He wis an unco clivver man, a scholar second tae neen. Bit pairt o the answer tae his wirried thocht micht weel be the day fin universal free eddication cam tae Scotland, in 1872. Fae than on, Doric wis nivver loot owre the doorstep o the squeel. Aathing hid tae be deen in English, wi the result that maist hid twa tongues: een for the classroom, the ither for the playgrun' an ivveryday life. In fac, the mair eddication wis seen tae gie fowk a leg up in the warld, the mair Doric wis regairdit as an inferior wye o spikkin, e'en tae the pint o bein roch an vulgar. Eddicatit men an weemin fa turned their nebs up at the mither tongue, fin they shid hae kint better, hae a lot tae answer for.
Bit that's nae near the haf o't, gin truth be tell't. The warld itsel wis in the throes o relentless chynge. Bit it wisna chynge its leen, bit mair the speed o't brocht on bi the calamitous effecs o the first warld war an the onset o technology o the maist complex kin', that turn'd aathing an aabodie upside doon. Mass media, mass traivel, seen tae be within reach o maist pooches, open't up new horizons fae Marykirk tae Maryland an note a wirkin langidge that wis far mair universal than local.
Sae fit cam owre the honest fowk that war catch't up in this onslacht o chynge, fit cam owre the things they kint an lo'ed sae weel and fit wist that caus't the spik they spak tae dwine awa?
In Sunset Song in the great benediction for the four who fell in France, Lewis Grassic Gibbon wis despairin:
'With them we may say there died a thing older than themsleves, these were the last of the peasants, the last of the old Scots folk. A new generation comes up that will know them not, except as a memory in a song, they passed with the things that seemed good to them with loves and desires that grow dim and alien in the days to be. It was the old Scotland that perished then, and we may believe that never again will the old speech and the old songs, the old curses and the old benedictions rise but with alien effort to our lips.'
Noo file there may be a fair grain o truth in fit Gibbon says, we hiv tae min that he wis in a wye a romantic realist, harkin back tae the days o the noble savage an dreidin much o fit the future wid bring. Bit, o coorse, some o's see history as the story o the upward rise o mankin' an believe that, e'en gin howp disna spring eternal, there's aye plenty o't aboot tae help's on oor wye.
Bit Gibbon apairt, let's meet up wi the countrie fowk, fa war stracht, hardwirkin, lang sufferin afen wi a quaet modesty that owrelay great depths o character. We'll chap, first ava, on the steeckit wickit o the cottar hoose. Oot comes the sonsie wife, the Mither Courage o her day, sacrificin aa for her man an her squatter o geats, rinnin hoose an family single han'it, maetin the chuckens, collecin the eggs, milkin the kye, forkin the shaves, githerin the tatties, fu o smeddum, bit files worn an deen lang afore her time. The man himsel, nickie-tamm't, comes awa ben wi a laconic 'Aye, aye', nae as weel fed or claithed as he micht hae been for ca'in a pair o horse or seein till's neeps an nowt in a widders, hail, rain or shine, ten oors a day, sax days a wik. Some again, fin nae aa that aul, wid be boo'd doon wi 'arthuritis' that hid them gan aboot like a half shut knife.
The cottar hooses, hooses for mairriet men, wid vary fae place tae place. The best o them wid hae steen fleer't kitchen/livin rooms wi twa bedrooms, the better een o the twa doublin as the best room for the doctor an the meenister an sic like bra craturs. Ithers again, wid hae a kitchen wi a box bed for mither an faither an a double room for the lave o the brood. Aathing wis crampit an caul an af'en damp; heating cam fae the kitchie fire that nivver went oot an the steen pigs in the yochie caff beds. The puirest o them hid a kitchen an open fireplace and, o coorse, the bedroom. Files they hid the unsocht companie o hole dreelin, dirt drappin ludgers that scuttl't back an fore ahin the skirtin boords an helpit themsels tae onything an aathing in the deid o nicht. Mair welcome, bi far, wid be the wiry, wirkin cat that wid bring in a terrifiet moose atween its springtrap ja's, toss't in the air, time efter time, deftly nabbin it afore it hit the fleer, an syne, haudin doon the beastie wi' its paw, rin its tongue aroon its moo afore, surgeon-like, dissectin it for the expectant juices o its rummlin wime. Best o aa, for the littlins onywye, wis the dinky wee bantam hen, fa, o a mornin, wid come trippin in, lay its eggie on the clootie rug afore the fitsteel bi the fire an than strut oot, heidie heich an tailie up, fair fu and prood o itsel.
Ilka kitchen wi the fyow exceptions mention't, hid black leidit grates wi frettit irin hobs that swivell't oot an in owre the bankit up coals o the gweed gan fire, for the taepot, kettle an sma'er pans an a swye, a seety airm, wi a crook that swung oot an in as weel, for the muckler hingin pots. Some wid hae a range as sic, wi its ovin an het plates faur gran bakers o hoosewives wi floorie airms an girdle reid faces wid concoc aa sorts o delichts for aul an young alike, scones, crumpits, meltin moments, aa richt fine in the moo. Syne there wis the caul watter sink that wis ees't tae wash onything fae dirty dishes an fool socks tae wirk cakit faces an barkit bairns. Bit the hardest tae thole, bi far, war the dry ootside lavvies that hid tae be stoically teem't fanivver note an fairly made the jobbie nettles growe in the place o their coupin an beerial.
Alangside the cottar hooses, steed the bothies faur the single men ate, sleepit an hid their bein'. Bothies war different fae the chaumers o neiperin Aiberdeenshire, faur the men hid their kists and beds, bit got aa their maet in the fermhoose kitchen. In fac, chaumer comes fae the French wird 'chambre'. For the maist pairt, the bothies o the Mearns hid ae widden lined room wi an open fireplace an swye, shared caff beds, caul rinnin watter an a neuk for ilka man's kist an personal belongins. Aa their maet wis keepit in their meal girnals that gie an af'en sairt as cheers as weel.
On the ferm aabodie wirk't tae a strict timetable. At haf past five the bothy men wid rise, licht the fire, pit the cast iron kettle neist till't an haud awa tae see tae the horse. Back they wid come tae the bothy, bring the kettle tae the bile, lift it aff the swye, birslin het, wi their bonnet an mony a couthy curse. They wid mak their brose wi skimmt milk, brew their tarry tay, dive intae the girnal, foosh oot a hafie, hagger a great dad aff o't, clort it wi seerup, wash doon the lot, an licht up their first Widbine, Kensitas or Capstan o the day.
At haf sivvin, they wid aa yoke an ca their pair or single horse on fitivver jobbie they hid been gi'en as their mornin's wirk. Haf an oor or sae afore lowsin time at alivven o clock, the kitchie deem or a cottar wife wid hae kittl'd up their mornin fire tae bile the kettle on. Fit they doon't as denner wisna aa that muckle different fae fit they hid hid at brakfist time. Awa again tae the stable faur, at exac'ly een o clock bi the Elgin watch that the grieve or the mannie himsel wid slip oot o the ban o their breeks an throu the loop o their lang drawers, the men wid get their efterneen's orders, haud awa wi their horse an timmer on, fitivver the widder, till lowsin time at half bi five. Bi that time the skivvie, on hans and knees, wid hae blawn the smoolderin emmers o the denner time fire up intae a loupin lowe for the men's suppertime.
Eence lowsed, the horsemen, in strict numerical order, first, second, third, wid watter their naigs, see them intae their travis't sta's an full their trochs wi bruised corn an the hecks abeen their heids wi hey. Syne they wid brush an straik their beasts wi dandy and curry kame, afore, wi their showdin gait, the result o plooin wi ae fit on the lan an the tither in the furr, they wid mak their wye, files gey forfochen, tae the relief o the bothy. There, as weel as a caup o brose or porritch, they wid mebbee hae an egg or twa, slippit unner the bonnet on the quaet, bannocks wi margarine an a knobbit o cheese clappit on tap. Files, on their muckle wadge o loaf, instead o seerup, they wid spread different kin's o jam, rasp, stra'ser, gooser, lovin'ly made bi mither or grunnie or the likely quine they war gan wi at the time. On a Sunday, fin their luck wis in, they wid hae a funcy piece sic as a sair heidie or a flee's cemetery aa tae their taste an their wime's delicht.
Bit we manna leave the bothy lads athoot a wird or twa aboot the tae-tappin cornkisters o fond memory. On a finger stoonin winter's nicht, noo an than, efter a hard day's tyauve, the horsemen, the bailie and the orra loon wid haud awa tae the yoam o the stable, faur, sittin on the beasts' cornkist, they wid blaik their harness an polish their haims wi brasso till their verra phyzzogs cam back at them oot o the sheen o their elba grease. An eence in a file as the horse scrunshed their hey an the blue reek o bogey roll an weel-sookit fags curl't lazy-like, lazy-like intae the riggin abeen, they wid dird their heelring't tackety beets agin the sides o the cornkist tae the strains o the Barnyairds o Delgatie, the Muckin o Geordie's Byre, the Dee'in Plooman, noo on the melodeon, noo the fiddle an files on the tin fussle, the trump, or the hameowre paper an kame. Sel tocht it wis, bi lug it wis, bit neen the waur o that!
Noo we come tae the mannies, as North-East fermers were aye ca't. They war o three main kin. First ava, there wis the laird an the gentlemin fermers, fore-n'-efters on their nately trimmt heids, knickerbuckers o tweed on their hurdies, fa took a fairly detach't interest in their tenants an their ongans; jist aneth them cam the feck o the mannies, some ainin their ain places, some tenant fermers in a big wye, aye keen tae get on, dab hans at garrin a'thing sproot, aa wi a shrewd ee, haf shut, for sizin up man an beast. Better aff than maist, aye trig wi better bonnets or pickie-says on their nappers, af'en scrattit in seemin thocht, they wid lord owre aa, mornin, neen an nicht, an keep a widder ee wide open as they daunert roon the toon daily day. Some o them war fell perjink, files biggsy kin', aye likin tae see that a'thing wis snod aboot the place, fit wis, efter a wis said an deen, their ain, their verra ain. At the boddam o the ruck cam the sair made sma tenant fermers, af'en wi mair bairns than siller, fa's hale femily wid streeve fae da'ns first licht till the rise o the meen tae mak ens meet an haud aathing thegither. Nae plus twas or fowers for them, bit roch cords or airmy surplus fae McKay's o Queen Street, Aiberdeen, as, bonnet aff the broo, they trachelt day in, day oot, pluffin the thick reek o black twist intae the clear air fae the cheek warmers that hardly ivver left their moo.
Foo wist atween the mannies an the men? As is the case, farivver ye gang, some mannies war unco gweed tae their cottars an bothy billies, af'en slippin in, here an there, a sma something on tap o the meal, milk, tatties an coal that aabodie got as perks; ithers war easy gan, nae bothert ae wye or the ither aboot their men an their families as lang as the wirk wis deen. Sad tae say, at the en o it aa, there war een or twa witters o craiturs, the slave drivers o their day, fa cared a hantle mair aboot their beasts an biggins than ivver they did for the uncompleenin sowls that brook a semmit-soakin swite for them, day in day oot.
Warst o aa, mebbee, wis the fac that there wis nae sic a thing as a contrac o employment, that waidges warna muckle abeen subsistence level, sae that the ferm servants, wi a their carks an cares, cid nivver feel really siccar on their dowps. They war teen on at term time, the twenty echt o Mey an Novem'er bi wird o moo, either faur they war at the time or at twice eerly feein markets held up an doon the lan. Bit tae pit the tin lid on't they war catch't bi the tied hoose system wi'oot a single legal richt o ony kin'. For the wye o't wis that the mannie wid speir gin a man wid bide (a man wis then socht) or aathoot a wird bein said, sen a man, his wife an bairns doon the road in a shooglin box cairt wi shelvins on, pil't up wi the puir like trock that wid tak aa its time tae furnish the neist bit biggin they war meevin till. Mony a femilie, throu nae hae'in been socht, hid tae flit eence, files twice, in the ae eer, an tae thole the hert brak o't aa.
This, than, wis foo things war ordered. It wis a closed kin' o a warld faur aabodie kint their place, or, if they didna they war damn seen tellt, an faur aabodie lived oot o aabodie else's pooch. Naebodie wis ivver in ony doot fa wis fa an fa crackit the fup. For the eens fa war teen on or seck't for nocht bit their bran an swite, there wis naethin else for't bit tae sodger on, acceptin wi quaet resignation the wye things war. Fit held it aa thegither wis the fac that they aa note eenanither an unnersteed eenanither throu the ilka day spik o the mither tongue.
In the efterhin o a calamitous war, faur the Howe hid skaillt its fair share o bleed an the weemin fowk hid won the richt tae the vote, the first wins o chynge hid begun tae blaw in aa the airts, altho nae wi ony great force in the sheltered Howe till roon aboot the thirties. Than a sudden gale got up. It wis siccan fierce that aabodie an aathing wis gither't up an cairriet alang in the pooerfu slipstream o' progress.
In 1935 or thereaboots, a smairt, knacky, young fermer chiel, fae roon aboot Auchinblae, hid the unco bricht idea o strippin doon an auld Chevvy tae the chassis, weldin on a towbar an hitchin a Sellar ploo till't. He invitit aabodie fae miles aroon tae see this new fangl't ferlie at wirk. Losh! Did the rig nae ploo twice as fest as a crack pair o horse an, keep's aa, mak jist as gweed a job o't! Bit it wis nae lang afore bizzins brook oot amang the boorach o bonnets.
'Na, na, this'll nivver tak on; the grun's bein trumpit doon sic hard that naethin'll win throu. Yon contraption'll nivver get in an oot o gushet neuks; that stinkin paraffin muck'll blad aa the craps.'
Awa hame they toddl't, sel richteous, bit nae aa that sure o themsels. An they hid ivvery richt tae be for, fower eer efterhin, war brook oot an, tae keep's aa fae stervation, the rigs o the Howe war seen crawlin an birrin wi tractors galore, Fordsons, Fordies, John Deeres, Olivers, Davie Broons and the wee grey Fergies. They aa hid pu'in an liftin pooer the like o fit hid nivver been seen on the lan afore. Nae only that, bit they brocht wi them aa kins o machinery fae three furra ploos tae combine hairsters that war tae revolutionise ferm wirk an upset aa the aul wyes o wirkin. Little bi little, syne fester an fester, the bonnie Clydesdales wid ploo their hinmaist dreel an pu their fareweel cairtload throu the glaur an pleiter o snell winter at its weetie an snyauvie warst. Nae mair wid the horseman's wird bi hard in the lan; mair an mair fowk wid leave, as neither they nor their labour wis ony langer note.
Syne aa the '-ations' cam rushin in: mechanisation, amalgamation, centralisation, rationalisation, bringin at their sark tails, depopulation an e'en alienation. The '-cides' warna far ahin: insecticides, pesticides and herbicides, an seen aabodie wis sufferin in the 'country-cide'. It wisna lang afore the dandy tufted teuchats wi their plaintive peesie weep, peesie weep, war nae mair tae be seen in their hunners birlin an firlin in the caller air o a nippy mornin in the month o Mairch. Sma wis nae langer bra. Like the Clydesdale, eesefu as ivver it wis, the mither tongue wis nae langer in fu keepin wi the times nor sairin the ivveryday needs o the global village that the world hid become. Gin a bodie than, hid naethin ither than the Doric an insistit on spikkin't aa the time, sic a bodie wid hae little chunce o bein onnersteed muckle ayont Aiberdeen an twal mile roon.
Weel meanin fowk man tak tent o this sad, sad fac as they prig an prig for spoken Doric tae be tocht in the squeels. Teach Doric bi aa means sae that the risin generations may come tae ken an appreciate the faithers that begat them; help them tae come bi some feelin for the lan faur their reets gang deep; help them tae acquire some clear insicht intae the priceless heirskip that's theirs bi richt. Than, some that are gleg in the uptak, micht ae day add a steen or twa o their ain tae the sacred cairn o tradition.
We mauna, we daurna loss grip o a langidge that gies currency an consistency tae an extraordinar wye o life, unnerpeens a morality fae the bible black o the kirk an wis an still is the cairrier o a subculture that still his a fair bit tae tell's e'en noo faur the crystal set, the cat's fusker as it wis ca'd, is licht eers awa fae a website an the internet.
Sae as spoken Doric dwin'les awa, we fa hae an lo'e the tongue, hae a bounden duty tae keep open an wirk that rich lode o thocht an deed, o langidge, literature an lore, o meesick, sang an dunce, that mair than ivver noo, deserves tae be cherish't, promotit and preserv't. For we hae a birn o writers, poets an dramatists, artists, composers an players, been o the been, flesh o the flesh, fa hae gien's a culture o oor verra ain, tae say little o David Murison's topper o a dictionary an Gavin Greig's gran collection o meesick an sang as its croonin glory.
I'm perswadit at the en o't aa, that the likes o J.C. Milne, Flora Garry, Mary Symon, Helen B. Cruikshank, David Rorie, Charles Murray an Alistair Mackie wid hae dunc't their ain heicht that the Elphinstone Institute his come jist at the richt time an in the richt place faur there's a hive o heidie an eident scholars ettlin tae ten' the Holy Grail. An as they fin mair an mair links atween faur we hae been an faur we are, they micht weel gie's an inklin or twa o faur we micht cantily gang in the en'less days that lie aheid.