Rozet weel your fiddlesticks

Image result for rosin bow

No better time than Robert Fergusson’s Birthday serves to ponder why the Lowland Scots who live close to England speak a dialect opague to many an English ear, while their Highland bretheren speak the Queen’s English with a tongue precise and fair.

The answer is simple.  The lowland Scots are Saxons, and speak a form of English.  Go back 200 years and the Lowland Scots had more in common with Lancastrians and Northumbrians than they did with wild long haired Highland Scots.

Because they spoke a dialect of English the Lowland Scots never felt the need to learn English.

The Highland Scots were Picts and the Pictish language is long gone.  It was replaced by Gaelic when the Scotii, an Irish Tribe, invaded Scotland.   Celtic Monks from Ireland and Iona helped further spread Gaelic when they converted the Picts to Christianity.

In the 18th Century following the Act of Union with Britain the Highland Scots began to acquire the English.  But it was not the English of Glasgow and Edinburgh they took to.  Instead they learned the language direct from officals arriving from London and the South of England.

And so it is that a poem in lowland Scots can be as obtuse in parts to a highland Scot as it is to an Englishman or an Irishman.  But 90% of the time you can get it.

The Daft Days; by Robert Fergusson

Now mirk December’s dowie face
glowers owre the rigs wi’ sour grimace,
while, through his minimum o’ space,
the bleer-ee’d sun
wi’ blinkin light and stealing pace,
his race doth run.

Frae naked groves nae birdie sings;
to shepherd’s pipe nae hillock rings;
the breeze nae odorous flavour brings
frae Borean cave;
and dwynin’ Nature droops her wings,
wi’ visage grave.

Mankind but scanty pleasure glean
frae snawy hill or barren plain,
whan winter, ‘midst his nippin’ train,
wi’ frozen spear,
sends drift owre a’ his bleak domain,
and guides the weir.

Auld Reekie! thou’rt the canty hole,
a bield for mony cauldrife soul,
wha snugly at thine ingle loll,
baith warm and couth;
while round they gar the bicker roll,
to weet their mouth.

When merry Yule-day comes, I trow,
you’ll scantlins find a hungry mou’;
sma’ are our cares, our stamacks fu’
o’ gusty gear,
and kickshaws, strangers to our view,
sin’ fernyear.

Ye browster wives ! now busk ye braw,
and fling your sorrows far awa’;
then, come and gie’s the tither blaw
o’ reaming ale,
mair precious than the well o’ Spa,
our hearts to heal.

Then, though at odds wi’ a’ the warl’,
amang oursels we’ll never quarrel;
thoogh discord gie a canker’d snarl
to spoil our glee,
as lang’s there’s pith into the barrel,
we’ll drink and gree.

Fiddlers! your pins in temper fix,
and rozet weel your fiddlesticks,
but banish vile Italian tricks
frae out your quorum;
nor fortes wi’ pianos mix –
gie’s Tullochgorum.

For nought can cheer the heart sae weil
as can a canty Highland reel;
it even vivifies the heel
to skip and dance:
Lifeless is he wha canna feel
its influence.

Let mirth abound; let social cheer
invest the dawnin’ o’ the year;
let blythesome innocence appear,
to crown our joy;
nor envy, wi’ sarcastic sneer,
our bliss destroy.

And thou, great god of ‘aqua vitæ’!
wha sway’st the empire o’ this city,
when fou, we’re sometimes capernoity,
be thou prepar’d
to hedge us frae that black banditti,
the City Guard.

Happy Birthday Robert Fergusson


Sean Connery in gude braid claith.

Before ever there was Robert Burns the voice of Scotland was Robert Fergusson. Born this day in 1750.  He died only 24 years later in a Bedlam asylum called Darien House but left a lasting impression on Scottish culture, defining a  voice for Scottish English as well as writing in Lowland Scots language.

Braid Claith; by Robert Fergusson

Ye wha are fain to hae your name
Wrote in the bonny book of fame,
Let merit nae pretension claim
To laurel’d wreath,
But hap ye weel, baith back and wame,
In gude Braid Claith.

He that some ells o’ this may fa,
An’ slae-black hat on pow like snaw,
Bids bauld to bear the gree awa’,
Wi’ a’ this graith,
Whan bienly clad wi’ shell fu’ braw
O’ gude Braid Claith.

Waesuck for him wha has na fek o’t!
For he’s a gowk they’re sure to geck at,
A chiel that ne’er will be respekit
While he draws breath,
Till his four quarters are bedeckit
Wi’ gude Braid Claith.

On Sabbath-days the barber spark,
When he has done wi’ scrapin wark,
Wi’ siller broachie in his sark,
Gangs trigly, faith!
Or to the meadow, or the park,
In gude Braid Claith.

Weel might ye trow, to see them there,
That they to shave your haffits bare,
Or curl an’ sleek a pickly hair,
Wou’d be right laith,
Whan pacing wi’ a gawsy air
In gude Braid Claith.

If only mettl’d stirrah green
For favour frae a lady’s ein,
He maunna care for being seen
Before he sheath
His body in a scabbard clean
O’ gude Braid Claith.

For, gin he come wi’ coat threadbare,
A feg for him she winna care,
But crook her bonny mou’ fu’ sair,
And scald him baith.
Wooers shou’d ay their travel spare
Without Braid Claith.

Braid Claith lends fock an unco heese,
Makes mony kail-worms butterflies,
Gies mony a doctor his degrees
For little skaith:
In short, you may be what you please
Wi’ gude Braid Claith.

For thof ye had as wise a snout on
As Shakespeare or Sir Isaac Newton,
Your judgment fouk wou’d hae a doubt on,
I’ll tak my aith,
Till they cou’d see ye wi’ a suit on
O’ gude Braid Claith.

The Lure of Fish


It is the time of year when the Salmon rivers in Ireland and Scotland begin opening for the season.  Scotland in particular makes a big splash of the opening of the rivers.  Whiskey is poured as a libation before the first flies of the season are cast.

Then it is all about the records.  First fish of the season, largest salmon of the day/ week/ month/ river/ region.  There are never larger fish caught than the ones that got away.  The life of a fisherman is a life of imagination, what might be and what might have been.  The fish you actually caught are almost a throwaway to fortune, because they only represent the thin edge of what might one day be.

I recall standing in front of a large board of lures like the one above in a fishing shop in Dublin.  I asked the shopkeeper which lures were the best for catching trout.  He replied that he didn’t know about catching trout, but he could tell me which were the best lures for catching anglers.


I WENT out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.



God damn you all to Hell

Consequence : a result or effect, typically one that is unpleasant.

Britain is suffering the consequences of cynical politicking.  David Cameron came up with the idea of a Brexit referendum as a means of remaining in power. He used the idea to appease the Eurosceptic wing of his own party, and secured a majority government for the Conservatives in Britain.  Then he had to pay the price by giving what he promised.

The Brexit referendum in the UK has rolled the country back 100 years.  On the one hand you have British people who still think they have an empire.  They want Britain to be “Great” again.  They miss the “good old days” long before they were born when Britain stood in splendid isolation from European politics.  These are people who simply have no grasp of the complexities of international trade in the modern world.  They believe the lies about the EU costing Britain money.  They don’t understand that their jobs are reliant on exports to the EU and on the flows of trade, capital and currency through Britain because they are in the EU.

On the other hand you have Brexit voters who are simple xenophobes.  They have no passport, have never really encountered other cultures and frankly are afraid to do so.  They rail about “poles taking our jobs” while refusing those same jobs.  They are happy to accept the lies about the “Schrodinger Immigrant”, you know;  the one who steals your job while living on state benefits.

The Brexit outcome has divided the United Kingdom.  London, Scotland and Northern Ireland all want to remain in the EU.  Those who voted to leave are the old, the uneducated and the working class;  the very people who are best protected because of EU membership.  They are people who do not understand economics.

The politicians who lied to the voters about the benefits of leaving the EU seem to be shocked that anyone actually listened to them.  Now that they have succeeded they are facing the awful consequences of the outcome.  What is their reaction?  They are all running for the hills.  Cameron, Johnson and Farage are all gone.  Gove will soon follow.  The idiots who launched this ship of fools have refused to step on board and take the tiller.  They can see that there are no happy outcomes to this path.

Sterling is taking a beating on currency markets and the purchasing power of the British has already collapsed.  International companies who sited in the UK to gain access to the EU are reviewing their location options.  This will have enormous consequences in terms of employment levels.  The EU is playing hardball with the UK in trade terms.  The politicians who believed they would have Norwegian style access to EU markets are now feeling like Maxwell Smart with the end credits rolling, as the doors close in front of them.

The Scots voted only 2 years ago to remain in the UK on the Conservative Party campaign slogan of “Better Together”.  For the Scots the idea of better together encompasses Europe, not just England.  If England successfully negotiates its way out of the EU we may see Scotland negotiate its way out of the UK and back into Europe.

That outcome could see an interesting dynamic emerge.  There is a potential for a United Kingdom of Scotland and Northern Ireland standing separately from the Britain of England and Wales.

All across Europe it was understood that the ordinary voter finds it difficult to understand the benefits of EU membership.  The layman sees the bureaucracy and the raft of laws and regulations.  It is easy for cynical politicians to make personal capital by attacking the EU.  The truth is that the EU is the greatest force for peace in the history of the planet.  It converted a plethora of quarreling nation states into a peaceful and cooperative economic bloc.  It turned a mixed bag of nations into a formidable economic bloc.  The long lists of seemingly tiresome rules and regulations that underpin this cooperation are designed to protect the citizens of Europe and to enhance their lives.

No experiment is perfect. The EU is a work in progress, but it is a great thing.  It takes a particularly small minded, short-term focused, self-serving politician to attack such a wonderful institution.  But then modern western democracy is based on small mindedness, local issues, the time-frame of the next election and selfish politicians.  When I go to the polls I want to vote for leaders, people who will do their best for the welfare of all the people.  Instead I am faced with candidates who promise to deliver medical cards, hospital beds and planning permissions to people who do not deserve them.  I despair.




Blood Moon


We have a lunar elipse tonight in the small hours of the morning.  If the skies remain clear we will see a blood moon.  All the astronomy photographers will be hoping to get the shot of a lifetime.

Maybe it’s an omen for a pending disaster.  As things stand Scotland are in line for a disaster.  They are losing to the USA at half time in the Rugby World Cup.  Having weathered the Japanese typhoon last week it would be quite a disaster for the Scots to trip up against the USA.

Or maybe not, because as I write the Scots have gone ahead.  No miracle on the cards for the USA today.

The Donkey; by G.K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

The Haka


Poetry appears in the funniest places.  Today the All Blacks (the New Zealand Rugby Union International Team) played, and beat Scotland in Murrayfield.  Before each game the All Blacks perform a Maori ritual battle challenge commonly called the ‘Haka’.

There are many Hakas and the one performed by the All Blacks is more properly called the ‘Ka Mate’.  In the sporting world there is no more frightening display of aggression, physicality and sheer danger.  The Haka is intended to make the enemy quail in fright and run before battle even begins.  It works.  Many teams have psychologically lost the game before the first ball is kicked.  For every team in the world the All Blacks are the team to beat.  Scotland have never beaten them, nor have Ireland, although the province of Munster can proudly boast of a win against the giants of Rugby.

The words of the Ka Mate sound less threatening in translation, but on the pitch you don’t hear the translation.  You get the full Maori version, complete with thigh slapping, chest banging and tongue sticking.  The form of the Haka has varied over time, and each All Black captain has the option to put his own mark on the display.

Here is a very special version, with a Munster team fielding four All Blacks who gave as good as they got from the team.

The text of the Ka Mate celebrates the survival of one Maori chief who was hidden in a pit by a friendly neighboring chief during a tribal war, and rose again to see off his enemies. Here is the original Maori text of the poem, and a translation.

Ka mate, ka mate
Ka ora’ Ka ora
Ka mate, ka mate
Ka ora Ka ora
Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru
Nāna i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā
A Upane! Ka Upane
A Upane Kaupane
Whiti te rā

I die, I die,
I live, I live
I die, I die,
I live, I live
This is the hairy man
Who caused the sun to shine again for me
Up the ladder, Up the ladder
Up to the top
The sun shines


There are many famous Paisleys.  There is the great Bob Paisley, the famous Liverpool FC manager who brought the club to so many victories including three European cups.


Then there is the Rev Ian Paisley, who passed away today.  The physically and morally imposing Presbyterian dominated the hardline Unionist position in Northern Ireland politics for many decades.  Some may see his passing as a reason to celebrate the removal of a granite blockage on the path to future progress.  Others will abuse him, using him as a receptacle for all the negative emotions of the Northern troubles.  I see his passing as the end of an era and a positive progress towards closer integration between the people of this island.  Ian Paisley was a contemporary of my father, and his passing reminds me of the loss of my own dad.  My sympathies to his children.  May he rest in peace.


Paisley is also a Persian cloth pattern based on a repetitive drop pattern, which yields a multitude of rich fabric in silks and carpets.  For me is the embodiment of richness of eastern cloth.


And Paisley is a town in Scotland which will vote on Independence next week.  And here is a preview of the Union Jack should Scotland take its leave.  Just not the same, is it?  Will Scotland grasp the thistle and vote for independence?  Are ye men or mice?  All shall soon be revealed.  Yes or no this cut will leave a scar.  Nemo me impune lacessit, as they say up North.


To a Mouse ; by Robert Burns
On Turning up in Her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickerin brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave
’S a sma’ request:
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss ’t!

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary Winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.

That wee-bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the Winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

When clients go bad.


For anyone with their head in the sand, the Scottish Independence campaign reached a new height this week with a poll showing the Yes and No vote running neck and neck.

The big swing away from the No to the Yes campaign was on the back of a Twitterstorm from the Women of Scotland who roundly rejected the “Better Together” campaign video “The woman who made up her mind”.  Have a look here

The Yes campaign dubbed it the “PatronisingBTLady” and you can track the resentment on twitter by searching #patronisingbtlady

I wondered what it would be like to be on of the advertising team who made the ad, in a meeting with Alistair Darling, head of the Better Together campaign.

I reckon the meeting might go something like this: