Murray's Countryside
And Its Characters

Murray grew up on Donside and his father was a carpenter turned land-steward, so the countryside of his poems is far from being the changeless Eden of the city-dweller's imagination. It's a place full of bustle and activity, both human and animal:

'Spring in the Howe o' Alford' Play

Spring in the Howe o' Alford

There's burstin' buds on the larick now,

A' the birds are paired an' biggin';

Saft soughin' win's dry the dubby howe,

' the eildit puir are thiggin'.

The whip-the-cat's aff fae hoose to hoose,

Wi' his oxtered lap-buird lampin',

An' hard ahint, wi' the shears an' goose,

His wee, pechin' 'prentice trampin'.

The laird's approach gets a coat o' san',

When the grieve can spare a yokin';

On the market stance there's a tinker clan,

An' the guidwife's hens are clockin'.

The mason's harp is set up on en',

He's harlin' the fire-hoose gable;

The sheep are aff to the hills again

As hard as the lambs are able.

There are social tensions - Jeames, the hardworking small farmer curses the laird whose enthusiasm for field sports damages his crops

......he banned the Laird upon the road -
His bawds an' birds that connached sae the craft.

and social change is shaking up traditional structures of rank and wealth. The gentry are losing their position to representatives of new, dynamic social groups, like the entrepreneurial packman, who becomes successively merchant, shopkeeper and banker and whose daughter marries

'The Packman' Play

The Packman

There was a couthy Packman, I kent him weel aneuch,

The simmer he was quartered within the Howe o' Tough;

He sleepit in the barn end amo' the barley strae,

But lang afore the milkers he was up at skreek o' day,

An' furth upon the cheese stane set his reekin' brose to queel

While in the caller strype he gied his barkit face a sweel;

Syne wi' the ell-wan' in his nieve to haud the tykes awa'

He humpit roon' the countryside to clachan, craft an ha'.

An' faith the ablach threeve upon't, he never cried a halt

Until he bocht fae Shou'der-win' a hardy cleekit shalt,

An' syne a spring-cairt at the roup when cadger Willie broke,

That held aneth the cannas a' that he could sell or troke:

He bocht your eggs an' butter, an' awat he wasna sweer

To lift the poacher's birds an' bawds when keepers werena near;

Twa sizzens wi' the cairt an' then - his boolie rowed sae fine -

He took a roadside shoppie an' put "Merchant" on the sign.

An' still he threeve an' better threeve, sae fast his trade it grew

That he thirled a cripple tailor an' took in a queyn to shue,

An' when he got a stoot guidwife he didna get her bare,

She brocht him siller o' her ain 'at made his puckle mair,

An' he lent it oot sae wisely - deil kens at what per cent -

That farmers fan' the int'rest near as ill to pay's the rent;

An' when the bank set up a branch, the wily bodies saw

They beet to mak' him Agent to hae ony chance ava'.

Tho' noo he wore a grauvit an' a dicky thro' the week,

There never was a bargain gaun 'at he was far to seek,

He bocht the crafter's stirks an' caur, an' when the girse was set

He aye took on a park or twa, an' never rued it yet;

Till when a handy tack ran oot his offer was the best

An' he dreeve his gig to kirk an' fair as canty as the rest,

An' when they made him Elder, wi' the ladle it was gran'

To see him work the waster laft an' never miss a man.

The dother - he had only ane - gaed hine awa' to France

To learn to sing an' thoom the harp, to parley-voo an' dance;

It cost a protty penny but 'twas siller wisely wared,

For the lass made oot to marry on a strappin' Deeside laird;

She wasna just a beauty, but he didna swither lang,

For he had to get her tocher or his timmer had to gang;

Sae noo she sits "My Lady," an' nae langer than the streen

I saw her wi' her carriage comin' postin' ower Culblean.

Murray admires such energetic and enterprising individuals, although he treats them - as he treats nearly everything - with typical north-east irony

See, yon's his hoose, an' there he sits; supposin' we cry in,
It's cheaper drinkin' toddy there than payin' at the Inn,
You'll find we'll hae a shortsome nicht an' baith be bidden back,
But - in your lug - ye maunna say a word aboot the Pack.