Document 548

The Fower Quarters: 03 - A Gey Dour Bitch

Author(s): Sheena Blackhall

Copyright holder(s): Sheena Blackhall


The stert o aa ma warssles wi the warld was fan we gaed me North Gellan in the pairish o Coull, I wad hae bin five year auld. Ma grannie, Lizzie, winted tae veesit her cousin Peter Middleton, the fairmer o the placie. We sat aff ae Sabbath efterneen at the back eyn o October fin the birks at the roadsides war a hingin haar o yalla. Restless birdies flichtered frae the trees in black bourachies like swairms o bees ettlin tae flee the cauld and the shortenin days o a nor-east winter, an the derk clouds scudded ben the lift like flocks o driven yowes.

As we cam roon by the Loch o Abyne, far the wids war dreepin dreich an sterk an chitterin, faither cam oot wi a twa-three lines o poetry:

"It's dowie in the hint o hairst, at the way-gyang o the swalla
Fin the wind growes cauld, an the burn grows bauld
An the woods are hingin yalla."

Fyles he fussled; fyles he recited verses; fyles he telt stories o oor forebears an the like, fur he'd a braw notion o history, hid ma faither, tho the antrin leaf frae his buik o local lear wis a thocht agley. Twis years later that I fun oot that Rob Roy's cave in the Burn o Vat, wis nae ava the hidey-hole o yon great Heilan cateran bit wis the howf o anither MacGregor aathegither, a chiel caad Gilderoy, fa wis as nesty an bluidthirsty as Rob Roy hissel iver wis. Gilderoy herriet Cromar at his will frae the weet, dreepin waas o yon cave an on ae day o feastin thereaboots, fin a local fairmer wis waddit tae his sweethairt, he rade oot wis his rag-tag o reivers tae spulzie the hale place.

"Culblean wis brunt, Cromar wis herriet;
Oh, dowie's the day John Tam wis merriet!"

They catched Gilderoy at the hinnereyn an raxxed his theivin thrapple fur him doon in Embro in 1658.

Onywye, I wis that taen wi Rob Roy fin I wis a littlin, haein stood (as I thocht) in his verra ain cave an breathed his verra ain air, that I deaved Faither till he made me a timmer claymore an targ. Wi yon I wad terrorise the hale o Albert Terrace In Aiberdeen, tho neen o the neebors' bairns kent twa wirds o the oaths that cam ooto ma moo, for they war aa southren-spukken an kent nae Doric - jist as weel tae, fur they war gey genteel an wad hae bin fair scunnered that a bairnie cud ken sic coorse spikk. Bit I hae steppit aside frae the main rug o ma story, yon veesit tae North Gellan.

We turned richt bi the Abyne-Tarlan crossroads, past the dyke that Faither sat on as a bairn, waggin his haun wi the lave o the clachan as his aulder cousins mairched aff tae the Great War; syne we gaed alangside Abyne Castle, wi the reefs o the Mains fairm aboon the teem rigs fulled wi blawn beech leaves.

"I wis born there, lassie," Faither telt me, "an on that very December nicht there wis an almichty storm. There wis teemin rain an thunner an lichtnin aa roun the hills. Man, twis bricht as daylicht ower Mortlach, wi the storm at its heicht an booin the beech trees like strae! Weel, yer grannie wis sittin bi the fire wi me at her breist aa happit in a shawlie, fin there wis ae great knell, an a streak o lichtnin cam straucht doon the lum an missed the baith o us bi a fusker! Mither wis reeted tae the ingle, fair terrifeed, grippin me ticht, ye ken. Syne the lichtnin struck the door wi another swack an vanished. Aabody roon aboot in the clachan said twis sent as a sign".

"A sign o fit, Da?" I speired, ma twa een as big as ashets.

"A shair sign," gurred Mither, "that we'll be ower late fur wir fly cup if yer faither disna stop his bletherin an drive a bittie faister." Mither wis as doon-pittin as a weet dishcloot on a pluffert o floor. Sae we held on up the road a twa-three meenits - bit Faither cudna help hissel (fur ilkie weel-kent park held a tale fur him) an the car slawed doon again.

"Thon bi the left's far we set fire tae the cuddy," quo he. I wis fair dumfoonert, ma mind's ee seein a puir cuddy up tae its oxters in kinnlin fur a cuddy bonfire.

"Aye weel, the tinkies eesed tae graze their shelts on oor craft grun at the time o the Games," Faither gaed on. "An as aften as no they cudna pye. Sae ma faither jist keep it ane o their cuddies back fin they gied awa, as lawful dues fur the girse their beasts hid etten".

"Quite richt anna," cuttit in Grannie frae ahin.

"Onywye," said Faither, warmin tae his tale, "ae Games wikk, ane o the cuddies wad neither boo nur bend. Twadna move ae fit. I laid intil its dowp wi a bittie birk bit it wis a damned thrawn cuddy yon, a richt coorse, thrawn kinno a cuddy wi a mynd o its ain. Weel, I wisna gaun tae let nae cuddy get the better o me, wis I?"

"Fit did ye dee, Da?" I speired.

"I jist cuttit a buss o jobby gorse and stappit it up aneth its tail. Weel, it didna like yon, the cuddy, twis sair jobbit. An the sairer twis jobbit, the mair it pued doon its tail, an drave the stobs farrer inno its dowp. Bit it wis a gey .thrawn cuddy, ye see, an neen ower bricht, sae still it didna shift. 'Ye'll nae get the better o me, ma lad', says I, an syne I gaithered kinnlin frae the wids, biggit a wee fickle under the hairy kyte o the cuddy, an set it alicht. Yon beast tuik atf like the haimmers o hell, an didna stop rinnin till it reached the ither side o Tarland. An yon wis richt handy, fur that's jist far I wintit tae be masel, at the Heid o the Slack."

"Fit wye did ye ettle tae be at the Heid o the Slack, Da?"

"I wis caain sticks wi the cuddy an cairt fur a fairm on the side o the hill yonner. The sharn frae yon byre wis the best in the hale o the county. Ye see, the fairmer o thon placie nivver muckit his beasts oot bit eence a year. The peer breets stood near the heicht o the byre in their ain dung. 'It's a droothie day, Charlie,' says the fairmer's wife tae me. 'Ye'll takk a drappie milk fresh frae the coo tae weet yer thrapple?' 'I widna say no,' quo I, an thankit her kindly, fur twis a gey hett day, an I wis plottin wi aa ma tcyaave wi the cuddy. Bit syne I saw her strain the milk throw a sieve tae wyle oot stringles o sharn, an cheenged ma mind richt quick. 'I'm nae that thirsty noo, mistress,' says I, luikin at aa yon sharn in the sieve. 'Lord's sake, laddie,' quo the fairmer's wife, 'it's the sharn that gies it the taste!'"

"Div ye nae think we micht caa on a bittie faister?" girned Mither at this pynt. Sae Faither pit his fit doon an we fair beltit alang the road, bit I wis gyan ower yon business o the sharn in ma myn. I kent aa aboot sharn, ye ken, bein oot on fairms near ilkie weekeyn plyterin aboot the parks wi the fairm dogs or treetlin ahin the hired chiels fan they herded the kye or singled the neeps. Tae kintrafowk sharn wis precious. Wi'oot sharn, naething wid grow. Eence, a neebor's lassie frae the toon hid traivelled wi's tae the kintra. She niver cam again. She stottered aboot the parks, fair frichtit she'd fyle her sheen. 'Thats the cows' toilet', she complained. 'It's absolutely disgusting. And it's lying about just everywhere you look!'

Bit I thocht naething o sharn. Twis as muckle a pairt o life as the brummils bi the road or the hennies' eggs an I mindit on a coorse wee spikk ma uncle's greive eesed tae threap tae me at Skene:

"Far ben amangst the widded trees
I bent ma erse wi perfect ease
An roon aboot did swarm the flees
Tae hae a tasty denner."

I hid treetled in ben the fairm kitchie an spak yon, wird fur wird. Auntie wis bakin oatcakes on the griddle. She niver dauchled, niver turned roon, jist cried tae ma uncle, "Did ye hear fit yon quinie cam oot wi?"

"I hae telt ye a hunner times, ma lass, nae tae gyang wi the fee'd loons," ma uncle telt me. He hid gaen tae Robert Gordon's School till ma grandfaither's daith cuttit short his education. ("A heid on his showders, like the lave o the Booths," ma mither niver weariet o tellin us; "a rale gentleman fairmer!")

I dinna ken fit wye he wis sae roosed bit I kent I'd deen somethin that misfittit ma uncle Willie.

"The fee'd men are nae brocht up richt, ma quine," he explained. "Maist o them are jist trailed up. They're roch an orra-spukken because they dinna ken ony better. Bit I dinna wint tae hear the spikk o the chaumer in my ain parlour! An I'll thank ye tae mind yer manners. Yer great-grandfaither ained seeven dairies. He wis a J.P. anna. He wisna some nochtie craitur sired at the back o a dyke. He'd turn in his grave tae hear ye spikk like yon." Weel, I fiver mentioned erses again afore ma uncle. He wad hae mebbe ained tae a bihoochie or a dowp, or even a dock, bit niver an erse did he hae.

A fyew sharnie parks mair an we war twa fairms frae North Gellan. "At last!" sighed Mither. Bit faither wisna tae be short-cheenged o his memories.

"See yonner!" he cried, pyntin the Lochnagar side o the roadie. "Yon's far yer aunt at Ballater near hid her hat shot aff."

Mither groaned. Syne we heard tell foo ma Auntie Nell hid come doon tae bide a wikk wi a new-mairriet cousin fa'd bin mairriet on a Tarlan fairmer.

"The cousin wis cairryin twins at the time. Finiver Nell steppit up tae the fairm, her cousin grabbit her airm an trailed the fleggit lassie intae the barn. 'He's hame fechtin foo frae the pub,' she telt ma Auntie Nell. 'We'll jist bide in the barn till the drams weir aff. Fyles, he offers tae sheet me. It's jist his wye. Sober, ye couldna hae a better lad' ."

Weel, it seemed Auntie Nell niver bedd lang enough tae takk her hat aff an didna dauchle till she wan hame tae Ballater. Strangely eneuch, her cousin hid a lang an sonsie mairriege fur, as aabody in the car agreed, ye couldna hae gotten a better lad, sober.

And sae we reached the fit of the parks o North Gellan. Auld Peter Middleton, the fairmer, was ma faither's uncle an sib tae ma grannie Lizzie on ma mither's side, fur we war aa gey close in bluid in oor faimly. Afore he drave up the roadie, wi nicht creepin frae the muirs like a saft dusky plaid, slidderin its lang, oorie shaddas ower the dykes, Faither badd me takk a guid lang luik o the parks that lay on either haun. Fur, he telt me, they war far oor fowk cam frae, time ooto mynd. An mair, the auld Druid circle o Tomnaverie gairded yon parks, nae a steen's throwe frae the fairm; an maist o oor seed war beeriet nearhaun, bi the ruined castle o Coull, far a ghaistly bell is heard tae ring fan ony Durward dees.

'They come frae the grun o Coull an they gyang back till't', Faither telt me. I wis fair taen wi aa the things he said o yon place, fur it gid me an anchor, a sense o ma forefowk, that ither littlins dinna hae.

"Mebbe noo we'll get wir fly-cup" gurred Mither. "Yer uncle Peter'll think we've cam fur wir tea if ye dinna gee yersel."

"See, Grannie, see!" I cried tae the auld wummin sittin in the back seat, as befitted an elder o the tribe. "The hills are aa fite! There's snaa on the hills, Grannie!"

"Fin yon fite Mounth frae sna be clear; the day o doom is drawin near," quo Grannie in an uncannie vyce. An sae I hid tae hear tell that the Fite Mounth wis Lochnagar, an that he aye cairriet a wee pucklie snaa at his bosie, an that if iver yon bosie tint its snaa the warld wid cam tae its eyn.

Faither wad niver be ootdang tho in the maitter o stories: "Fin Morven Hill his got a tap, then aa Cromar'll hae a drap," quo he.

"A drap o fit, Da?' I speired, thinkin o the fusky that cud gar Auntie Nell's cousin's man sheet fowk. I wis hopin the fowk at North Gellan hidna taen a drap o fusky, an widna offer tae sheet us.

"A drappie rain, quine," said Faither. "Fin Morven's got a clood atap, ye ken it's gaun tae rain."

"Aye, ye dinna need nae weather forecasts wi yer grannie an yer da baith in the car," quo Mither soorly.

An sae we drave inno the coort o North Gellan, seedbed o ma forefowk, an parked the car. A heich, spare chiel strade oot tae greet us. Echty year auld if a day, he wis ilkie bit as swack's a man thirty year younger. He helpit ma grannie ooto the car, fur she wis hippit wi sittin an gey rheumaticky. Syne he bosied an kittled her like he'd bin a halflin. Grannie leuch.

"Peter, ma loon, it's a richt fine treat tae see ye," she keckled.

I gloomed at the auld chiel frae aneth ma broos. I didna like strange mannies kittlin my grannie. Inbye, they hidna yet lichtit the lamps an the kitchie wis dowie. Aa the licht there wig cam frae the peat lowe that spat and flichtered ayont the swey an up the lum, the reid hairt o the room. Auld Peter dowpit hissel doon bi the ingle, an his reid-heidit dother-in-law made the fly.

Kennin this betokened the stert o a lang, lang lagamachie o news, I hunkered doon on a creepie aside the windae, catchin the last o the dwinin licht, an fished in ma pooch fur the back o an envelope. I aye cairriet a bittie paper in ma pooch tae draa on. Finiver I wis draain, I wig quaet, tint tae the warld an aathin in't. I didna spikk, I didna barely meeve, forbye the neive that held the pencil - an throwe it flowed a line that cam oot a stag, a hoosie or a quine, fitiver tuik my fancy. An fin I wis daein thon I felt sae maisterfu I micht hae bin Merlin, takkin a bare bittie paper an fullin't wi glamourie. Ither bairns cud sclimm trees or fecht or sing wee tunes or lowp lichtfitted in an oot their skippin-towes. Bit I drew, an it gart me feel like God creatin Adam. Aa God hid tae wirk wi wis a daud o clay frae the grun. I likit clay tee an aften plytered aboot wi dubs. I likit the feel o the soss, kirnin it, sclappin it on waas an spirkin it on leaves, feelin its weetness an clartin ma paws till they war yirdit.

Mither eence said, "I'll buy ye a bonnie dallie, quine."

"I dinna wint nae bonnie dall," I telt her.

"No, I dinna suppose ye div. Ye'd raither makk a clart an a soss o yersel," she girned. Sae I sat in the neuk o the windae at North Gellan yon derk efterneen, an drew. It keepit me blythe.

O a suddenty, I heard Grannie fusper tae Peter, "Fit think ye o ma grandother, Peter?" Fit think ye o the quinie there?"

Grannie wis ma mither's mither, born an bred on the fairm o Strathmore, ower the road frae North Gellan. She ay caad hersel "a Tarland tink", efter the Deeside spikk - 'Tarlan tinks, Migvie Gents an Coldstone Cavaliers'. Her faither hid left Strathmore fin she wis a littlin, fur he'd bin anely a shepherd there fa'd mairriet the fairmer's dother. He'd gaithered eneuch gear tae stock his ain placie, an sae Grannie jyned the Migvie Gents at the Hame Fairm o Hopewell. Yet she aye said she'd bide a Tarlan Tink till the day she deid. Syne her faither flitted New Deer wye bit Grannie wis ower thirled tae Cromar an gaed back tae her granparents at Strathmore an wadna shift till wild reached her faither that his wee Lizzie wis rinnin wild roon Coull. Efter yon, she'd tae flit an thole it.

Richt wintin tae ken foo the auld chiel micht jeedge me, I stappit ma pictur inno ae pooch, faulded ma hauns on ma lap, an tuik a lang sicht o him. I dinna mind muckle o the lave o the fowk we met yon day, bit I weel mynd on Auld Peter. Fur aa his age, he wig still maister o yon place, like some muckle wyver cockin in its wab bi the ingle.

He'd on a fite sark wi nae collar, galluses an tackety buits. There wis a scrapin o fite stibble at his chin, his neb wis hooked like an erne's beak an his chowks war sunken aawye roon his moo. His hale heid wis nae mair nur a skull happit wi a thin skimmin o skin. A coo's lick o hair wis stukken tae the reef o his heid like auld thackin on a rummled craftie. Bit baith een war sherp an shrewd as rottens' een. He maun hae bin gey bonnie fin he wis a loon, blaik-heidit like aa oor fowk. Bit noo he sat stent i the neuk o the fire like a scaffold, his braid showder-beens powkin up, aa girssle like a dried up chukken.

Auld Peter didna gie ony answer richt aff. He ran his een ower me like he'd sicht a stot at the mart. Syne he hochered an ye cud see his thrapple wirkin up a gobban o glut. He fulled his moo wi spittle, pyochered an spat a gob o slivvers straicht inno the reid peat lowe far it birssled an hissed an wis gaen.

Syne: "She's a dour bitch, that's fit I think o her," quo the rochsome chiel. "She's nae spoken twa wirds since she's set fit ower my door-steen. An I tell ye this anaa," the coorse auld bodach continued, "Nae man'll sikk her haun. She'll dee an auld maid. A damned dour bitch, that's fit I think o her."

Weel, if I wis dour afore, I wis ten times waur efter thon.

"Man Peter, Peter," leuch ma grannie, "ye're a gey carnaptious deevil!'

Onywye, auld Peter Middleton wis wrang. Nae lang efter ma fifteenth birthday, I hid ma first kiss, doon bi the side o Tarlan burn, roon the side o the McRobert Ha', wi the fiddlers inbye playin a dowie air like they'd bin pyed tae gyang slaw. An aa the stars looked doon frae the tap o Morven, an wutnessed yon. I fund oot yon nicht that twa showders war for mair things than luggin fencin stobs or haimmerin nails. They war the richt heicht an set fur a lassie tae twine her twa fite airms aroon. An I learned forbye that a moo that cud spit an sweir an brag cud saften fin it melled wi a lassie's lips, an sweeten like hinnie, some-like the lion on the green seerup tin. Fit think ye o that, Auld Peter?

A puckle years efter, I mairriet a Tarlan loon. Three o the fower bairns war christened at Tarland kirk, the watters o the Tarlan burn spirkin ontae their curly heids as the meenister gied them their sainin afore the hale congregation o the Howe. Fit think ye o that, Auld Peter?

I can be dour, fyles. It's a peer pianie that plays nae mair nor eichtsome reels an cheerie ballants. There's the derk an mirkie tunes, anes tae rugg at the hairt-strings. Bit wi maun jeedge yon ither side o his prophecy fin we foregaither aboon in the fullness o time. I'm tae lie three lairs frae him, in Coull kirkyaird, far I beeriet ma faither an mither.

"I've a notion tae hae ma aisse scattered ower the Shenbhal," Faither eence telt me. "I'm nae releegious, as ye ken." Noo, this wis a blaik lee, fur I niver kent onybody mair releegious than ma faither. Like masel, he worshipped Lochnagar an grew dowie if he spent ower lang frae the Dee. A theologian chiel eence screived me a puckle o letters tae fin oot aboot ma ain releegious consaits. Bfter a twa-three letters, he thunnered in exasperation: "Ye're nae mair nur a Pantheist!" Like as a pantheist wis something sharny ye scrapit aff yer buit.

Pantheist or no, Faither socht his aisse tae be flang tae the wins o Glen Gaim. I think he eence coortit a lassie there. He wis byordnar fond o yon place. Bit as I wis heid o the hoose bi then, staunin in fur a brither fa sud hae taen chairge o the kistin in the auld Scots wye, I got aathing tae ma ain likin. An my chyce lay wi Coull. Twis roon aboot Yule-time fin I beeriet him. The gravedigger, a secunt cousin, hid a sair tcyaave wi the grund far the mowdies hid caad up wee humphs an knowes aa ower the yaird. As he turned ower the mools wi his spadd, he said, "Ye'll win awa blythesome frae the kirkyaird, lass. Yer faither winna lie lang his lane. His cousin Beldie ower the road's near echty, wi an affa hoast. I doot I'll pit her here i the New Year, aboot sax fit frae hissel."

Doon they gaed, Faither's mortal banes, inno the lee o Tomnaverie, though I jalouse his speerit is bidin aboot the Shenbhal. Bit as the gravedigger said, 'They aye come hame at the hinnereyn, the fowk o the Howe". Mither hid a notion tae hae her aisse scattered doon by the Auld Deeside Line bi Ballater. I plantit her though in Coull. Twis the anely time she nivver argyed back. Ooto Faither's siller, I bespakk the Tarland mason fur a heidsteen o granite wi baith their names on't.

"I dinna wint nae steen," Faither hid eence said. "It's a damnt misguided eese o siller."

Bit ae day my name'll be on it tee, an I like aathing bocht at pyed fur. I nivver as much as buy a washin-machine on tick, let alane a heidsteen. Sae noo, I ain a braw granite steen as weel as sax fit bi fower o Deeside. Nae as much as the Laird o Invercauld (an I dareasay the view winna be near as gran) bit I div ain it - an I'll be bidin in't a gey lang time, eternitie mebbe, unless some vratch o an archaeologist howks me up.

Sae, Auld Peter Middleton, ye'll hae tae pit up wi me, dour bitch or no. Fur I'll nae be flittin nae mair!

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Information about Document 548

The Fower Quarters: 03 - A Gey Dour Bitch


Text audience

General public
Audience size 100+

Text details

Method of composition Handwritten
Word count 4030

Text medium


Text publication details

Publisher GKB Enterprises
Publication year 2002
Place of publication Aberdeen
ISBN/ISSN 0952655462
Part of larger text
Contained in The Fower Quarters: Tales by Sheena Blackhall

Text type

Prose: fiction
Short story


Author details

Author id 112
Forenames Sheena
Surname Blackhall
Gender Female
Decade of birth 1940
Educational attainment University
Age left school 16
Upbringing/religious beliefs Brought up Protestant, now Buddhist
Occupation Writer and supply teacher
Place of birth Aberdeen
Region of birth Aberdeen
Birthplace CSD dialect area Abd
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Aberdeen
Region of residence Aberdeen
Residence CSD dialect area Abd
Country of residence Scotland
Father's occupation Manager of Deeside Omnibus Service
Father's place of birth Aboyne
Father's region of birth Aberdeen
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area Abd
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's occupation Private Secretary
Mother's place of birth Aberdeen
Mother's region of birth Aberdeen
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area Abd
Mother's country of birth Scotland


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes
Gaelic; Scottish Gaelic Yes Yes Yes Yes Elementary. Gaelic choir. Poetry.
Scots Yes Yes Yes Yes