Perhaps I had ambitions to be an MP - or an undertaker!

Friday, February 20, 2009


Tonight the west o'er-brims with warmest dyes,
Its chalice overflows
With pools of purple colouring the skies,
Aflood with gold and rose.
(E. Pauline Johnson)

This magnificent sunset was photographed recently by our eldest daughter Margaret from an upstairs room in her Gloucestershire home.


MY MEMORY MAY BE AT FAULT, but it seems to me that each year at primary school History lessons began with 55 BC, and so we didn’t ever manage to progress much into the 1800s. And I’m puzzled that I don’t remember getting History at secondary school. Perhaps some of my school friends can jog my memory?

I suppose for most people History at school consisted of a long list of dates which had to be memorised. I’ve just finished reading a most interesting book “Gems of Old Scotland” by Maisie Steven (Argyll Publishing) which made me realise again that history is very much more than just dates.

Apparently in 1790 a Scottish MP Sir John Sinclair sent a questionnaire to every parish minister, with the aim of compiling statistics which would reflect the lives and customs of Scots. This was a huge undertaking, since each minister (938 of them) was faced with something like 160 questions, many requiring lengthy answers. The whole project took a good number of years to complete, and the result became known as the Statistical Account of the 18th Century.

In “Gems of Old Scotland” the writer dips in to the reports and relates many “scenes and stories” which paint a fascinating picture of what it was like to live in those times.

Some of the stories really surprised me. I learned that often schoolmasters were poorly paid and had great difficulty making ends meet. A schoolmaster in the Lothians “is also the precentor, gravedigger, beadle, session clerk, and yet his whole income does not exceed £8 sterling.” (That amount of course is per annum!) “This, with the paltry accommodation, holds out little encouragement to a teacher of any merit. Indeed, no man who possesses strength to lift a mattock or to wield a flail would accept of such a disgraceful pittance.”

Among the different customs, some were peculiar to a particular area. In Bo’ness the beadle was obviously an very important man in the conduct of funerals. He “perambulates the streets with a bell, and intimates the death of an individual in the following language:- All brethren and sisters, I let ye to wit, there is a brother (or sister) departed at the pleasure of the Almighty.” So he continued, naming the deceased and announcing the time of the funeral. And I learned that he “also walks before the corpse to the churchyard, ringing his bell.”

I liked the cure for convulsions which was practised in one part of Shetland. “Convulsions were once very common in this parish, especially during the time of divine service; but are now quite extinct. The cure is attributed to a rough fellow of a Kirk Officer, who tossed a woman in that state, with whom he was often plagued, into a ditch full of water. She was never known to have it afterward, and others dreaded the like treatment.”

Recently I’ve been troubled with backache, and so I was interested in how the complaint was treated in Comrie. The account refers to a “rock on the summit of the hill formed of itself a chair for the saint, which still remains. Those who complain of rheumatism in the back must ascend this hill, then lie down on their back, and be pulled by the legs to the bottom of the hill. This operation is still performed, and reckoned very efficacious.”

Of course I chose to quote those passages because they amused me, but the book gives a very fair summary of what is contained in the document. 18th Century Scotland was certainly a land of contrasts.


“Gather Ye Rosebuds” by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying,
And the same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
(Robert Herrick)


20th FEB. 2006 - 20TH FEB 2009

It’s exactly 3 years since I created my WISE MEN SAY blog.

When I began I was uncertain in how it would progress, and on that first day I posted no fewer than 30 quotations! Since then, a routine has developed and my aim has been to publish a quote daily. There have been 1065 posts and since last December the number of hits has averaged 70 per week. The majority of visitors to the site are from the UK and the USA, but there's a surprising number of people all over the world who access the blog.

Here’s a quote for all those who are 80plus :-

Every man desires to live long, but no man wishes to be old. (Jonathan Swift)



I was surprised to find out that the term Golden Oldies usually refers to the music of the 1950s and 1960s. Well, it just goes to show how out of touch I am, for my Golden Oldies are all in the 30s and 40s. And I’ve just realised how important nostalgia is for me - in particular, nostalgia for the popular music and light entertainment of my youth.

This is a 1930 clip of Jack Hylton and his Orchestra playing “Little White Lies.” In those days the sousaphone provided the bass line in the rhythm section, and in this record it certainly gives an added lift to the beat.


To conclude - a poem for all 80plus folk:-

A row of bottles on my shelf
Caused me to analyze myself.
One yellow pill I have to pop
Goes to my heart so it won't stop.

A little white one that I take
Goes to my hands so they won't shake.
The blue ones that I use a lot
Tell me I'm happy when I'm not.

The purple pill goes to my brain
And tells me that I have no pain.
The capsules tell me not to wheeze
Or cough or choke or even sneeze.

The red ones, smallest of them all
Go to my blood so I won't fall.
The orange ones, very big and bright
Prevent my leg cramps in the night.

Such an array of brilliant pills
Helping to cure all kinds of ills.
But what I'd really like to know
Is what tells each one where to go. (Anon)


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