Hogmanay Memories

Stories memories and people

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Hogmanay Memories

Post by Moonwatcher » Fri Dec 31, 2004 2:25 pm

In case you missed this at the Pairty the other night;

Hogmanay Memories.

Hogmanay was always the 'grown ups' time. Christmas was for the kids, we were reminded, as the minutes and hours ticked slowly down towards midnight through the long day of January 31st. This was the time the adults got to play and weans considered it a privilige to be allowed to participate. Hogmanay was soaked in ritual and tradition; the cleaning of the house; preparation of steak pie, shortbread, maderia cake, black bun; laying out the drinks; checking to see which of the two TV channels offered the best viewing for 'The Bells'. We were sent off to bed early with a promise we would be awakened in time for the big moment. We never slept. Sleep was impossible, as we lay there, on crisp clean sheets, wearing our equally crisp and uncomfortable new pyjamas that Santa had brought us on Christmas morning the week before. We could hear all the commotion of the preparation, clanking pots and pans, clinking bottles and cans, the vacuum cleaner, water running and boiling, loud voices as tensions rose and tempers frayed a wee bit. It always seemed a race against the clock with dire consequences the reward for failure. I used to lie wondering what fearful fate would befall us all if my mother missed some vital task or failed to clean some part of the house properly. The stairs were always last to be done, newspapers strewn over the wet landing to guard against offending mucky footprints as family and friends arrived. We would hear them arrive; the greetings, laughter, loud voices of anticipation as the 'wee hand' passed eleven o clock. "That's Uncle Jimmy" I'd whisper to my brother as we heard his stick and crutch tap their familiar rhythm up the hallway floor. Aunt Alice's high pitched shrill would soon follow and we'd know the time was getting close. And still the new jammies itched as we lay in the dark awaiting the signal, hoping the promise would be kept.

The bedroom door would open spilling light into the room. "Okay boys, up you get." the sillouhetted shape of our mother would say. We needed no prompting. We were up, new Christmas slippers on, and out the room in a shot. Every light in the house would be on, another important part of the ritual. We would stand blinking, eyes adjusting to the brightness, inside the door of the living room, taking in the scene. It would be a mass of colour, warmth and light. A roaring fire in the hearth, replaced years later with an electric three bar heater which was never the same. A table in the corner carefully laid out with bottles, polished glasses, cake etc. A radiogram in the other corner, it's large wooden cabinet hinged open revealing the internal wireless and turntable. Carefully stacked 78rpm records would be at the side ready to be brought into action at the appropriate moment. But for now the sound and music came from the television, also in it's wood cabinet, it's black and white picture showing images of kilted dancers whirlin an birlin at the sound of Jimmy Shand's accordian band belting it out. Andy Stewart would be singing 'Come in, come, it's nice tae see ye, how's yersell? Yer lookin grand...' You could feel the excitement in the room. A quick look at the clock showed 11.45, The Bells were almost upon us. Around the room, sitting in armchairs, dining room chairs, and various stools were the familiar faces of our family. Not a huge gathering, but it seemed like a crowd at the time. They smiled at us and commented on how big we were getting. Kissed us and patted us. We smiled politely. Granny Yuill would be sitting in the big armchair, quietly smiling at everyone. Stocky, white haired, Great Uncle Jimmy preferred to sit on an upright chair, his 'gammy' leg dangling like that of a ventrilliquist's dummy, his stick and crutch never far from his side. "Ah dont like sttin in thae ermcherrs." he'd tell us. "Too bliddy difficult tae get oot ah whin yirr trying tae get oan yir feet furr eh dancin." It wasn't joking, we knew he'd soon be up dancing with the rest, the only real disability affecting him being the level of whisky in his system. A Bell's Whisky man to the end he was intensely independant and would have hated this PC obsessed world in which we now live. He never believed the world owed him a thing, shunned sympathy , but not afraid or embarrassed to ask for help when the situation warranted it. Hands like vices from a lifetime of gripping his crutches and making shoes.

"Right wheesht!" my mother would call for silence and all eyes would focus on the television. As my dad passed around glasses to everyone containing their chosen drink, invariably whisky, we'd help Granny Yuill to her feet. Everyone stood for the Bells. Uncle Jimmy would reject offers of assistance and grunt as he launched his stocky frame on to the sticks and stood up proudly. Aunt Alice, adopted daughter of the original Alice Wilson who came to Scotland from Ireland in the 1870s stopped talking, and took a deep breath. I didn't know her past then. Never thought to ask. Never listened to her stories. Never learned from her. What an opportunity missed. We were given a glass of raspberry cordial, sickly sweet but we loved it.

As we stood silent, glasses in hand, in front of the black and white screen, Andy Stewart would step forward and face the camera, talking to the nation, talking to Scotland, talking to us. He would give a short, rousing dialogue about the year past and the year ahead. Then right on cue The Bells would sound, he'd raise his glass and shout "Happy New Year!" We'd do the same. There were tears and hugs and smiles and sobs, handshakes and long embraces There were moments of reflection as I watched my mum and dad talk quietly in the corner. Someone would be chosen as 'Furst Fit.' The chosen one would go outside onto the landing clutching a piece of coal or, in later years a tin of shortbread or something, and the door would be shut behind them. Each year we all took a turn at this, it was a great honour to be the one. I remember standing on the landing for the customary couple of minutes, it seemed like longer, before knocking loudly on the door a number of times. The door opened with flourish and 'Happy New Year!' greetings exchanged before I proudly stepped over the threshold. Ah... the ritual, the tradition.

People settled down after that, sipping, gulping or playing with their drinks as the show progressed. Mum, after ensuring that every calender in the house was changed, would go round with trays, offering baking, shortbread and the like. "Nae hanks lass." I remember Uncle Jimmy once saying, turning to me and confiding "Ah fine it brings oan a sickness!" What he meant was that he believed food and whisky didn't mix.

"Haud oan!" Someone would shout above the chatter . "It's Duncan MaCrae." On screen, a break in the bagpipes, accordians and light footed, kilted lads and lasses had given way to MaCrae and his 'Wee Coak Sparra.' Silence and smiles as everyone let the old entertainer tell his well worn story. Another part of the ritual completed.

The television show would end while we were all sitting down to the traditional steak pie, it would be around one in the morning by this time. As the makeshift table was cleared, my dad would fire up the radiogram, and get the records going. The music we had been listening to on the television was now blaring from this huge cabinet that sat in the corner. Jimmy Shand and his Band and others. Reels. Jigs. The Bluebell Polka. The Gay Gordons. We were all up dancing, making up our own steps or no steps at all. Uncle Jimmy had his own special way of dancing that became more precarious as the night wore on. You had to watch those sticks! If one of them landed on your toe you knew all about it!

Dance music gave way to slow stuff. Patsy Cline. Kathy Kay. Kay Starr. Some years later the radiogram would give way to my 'Dansette' record player . I took on the roll of DJ and with it the task of providing a mix of music. That meant old 78s rubbing shoulders with 33s and 45s. One minute everyone would be singing to Doris Day and the 'Deadwood Stage' then Slade with 'Cum On Feel The Noiz' to Jimmy Shand, followed by the Beatles and Rolling Stones. There's a line in Slade's 'Merry Christmas Everyone' that goes... 'does your granny always tell you, the old songs are the best, then she's up and rock n' rollin with the rest' . Well, I remember Granny Yuill complaining about the music I was playing and saying 'It's bliddy rubbish aht stuff!' A few minutes later I had Slade playing their Christmas number and... there she was... up and shaking and laughing with the rest just as Noddy Holder belted out that line [A precious memory that has me in tears as I type]

The party wound down before getting it's 'second breath'. "How minny hiz Jimmy hid?" I'd hear my mother ask dad, referring to how many whiskys had passed his way. "Right nae merr furr him, eez hid enough!" My dad would nod and I'd look across at my Great Uncle sitting with an empty glass. I'd go over to him and he'd pull me into himself and start talking. His speach would be a wee bit slurred but he was quite compus. He start talking about the old days, the horses, the war, life in the early tenements when he was a boy. He'd been born at the turn of the century [despite his disability, love of whisky and cigarettes, he was in his mid nineties when he died!] Stories, tales of the past. Stories that went in one ear and straight out the other. I didn't listen. Another opportunity lost.

"Wherr's Wallace?" my mother again, looking annoyed at her watch. "Said e'd bae ere bae aroon two an it's nearly three awready!" There was always a tension between my mother and her younger brother. [As he (apart from my brother) is the only person still surviving from this account, I need to be careful what I say here but my Hogmany story could not be complete without mention of my Uncle Wallace and his bottomless drinks case.]

Uncle Wallace, in his day, had been a 'Teddy Boy'. We're talking the real thing here. In his youth he'd run with the folk of 'No Mean City' fame. He'd been in trouble more times that his sister was prepared to talk about. From teddy boy he became cowboy and immersed himself in the country western culture. Unpredictable, funny, rougish, likeable, drinker – a black sheep. He was, and still is, a living Peter Pan. A boy who never grew up. But to myself and my brother he was exciting and great fun. We waited eagerly for his arrival. He would, as most years, be our 'real' first foot.

A banging on the door heralded his arrival. Fresh from other 'footings' he crossed our doorstep like a breath of fresh air. Suddenly the whole party came to life again as he entered the room carrying a battered, brown suitcase, about the size of an airline overhead locker case. He'd be dressed in a dark suit, string tie and cowboy boots. Long 'Wild Bill Hickok hair and moustache to match. He walked with a swagger and exuded an air of showmanship and confidence that held my brother and I in awe. But it was the case that we wanted to see... it was a miraculous thing! He'd ask my dad for somewhere to lay it down, preferable in a corner of the room. He guarded it closely. From it's depths he would produce every conceivable alcholic drink known to man. Some full bottles, some miniatures. Cans and bottles of beer, lager, cider, stout, shandy. Port, brandy, whisky, sherry, wine, vodka, gin, advocat – things we'd never heard of! People tried to catch him out and ask for weird things... "Ah'll hiv a wee pernoid." Aunt Alice would ask, a smirk on her face. "Nae problem!" would say Wallace, digging out a wee bottle and pouring it into a glass for her, knowing full well she wouldn't like the taste! "Hiv ye a wee Bells in ther bae enny chance?" Uncle Jimmy would whisper to him. He was soon rewarded with his favourite tipple, my mum drawing Wallace a sinker.

Soon we were all up dancing again, old irritations and transgressions put aside, the bottomless suitcase continuing to provide seemingly endless beverage, like some magical box from a Harry Potter film.

The first hint of dawn would find the music turned very low or off. We'd be sitting slouched in chairs or on the floor, each taking a turn at singing a song. Gran would give it 'The Old Rugged Cross.' Jimmy would try and belt out the words of 'Jerusalem' but could seldom manage and everyone helped him out, some of us making up the words as we went along – who cared! Wallace favoured 'Wild Side of Life'. It all ended with us on our feet in a circle, arms entwined, singing 'Auld Lang Syne'. – as people were doing the world over.

The bed was cold when we returned. The drawn curtains failed to stop the Ne'erdy sun lighting up the room. But we slept. A deep sleep. A good sleep. The sleep that comes from feeling safe and sound. Knowing that the ritual, the tradition, had been carried out properly, that the New Year had been welcomed in as it should. But above all, knowing that our family were around us.

As they will always be.

Moonwatcher 2004

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Hogmanay Memories

Post by Hil » Sun Aug 14, 2005 1:26 pm

you are so lucky to have such warm memories. I think that is what is missing so much with families now, so few traditions. They're usually daggy & silly but they make for such great memories
Hope you have a great one for 2005/2006
seeking Mitchell, Munro, Ross, Sutherland, Douglas, Eisthen

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Location: Glasgow

Post by AnnetteR » Sun Aug 14, 2005 4:24 pm

When I saw a posting by Moonwatcher pop up I got so excited :P alas it was an old one :( - missing your patter so much Bob - will ye no come back again fur a wee visit and at least tae let us know yer aw'right. Ye wur the best lumber ah ever hud at pairties.


Annette R
Researching in Fife: Wilson, Ramsay, Cassels/Carswell, Lindsay, Millar, Bowman and many others.
In Glasgow and West of Scotland: Aitchison, Wilkinson, Keenan, Black, Kinloch and Leiper.

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Post by Ina » Sun Aug 14, 2005 5:12 pm

Hi Bob,

I echo Annette's sentiments. We sure do miss reading your posts around here.


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Post by CatrionaL » Sun Aug 14, 2005 5:40 pm

My feelings exactly.

Will ye no come back again?


Alison Plenderleith
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Location: Leitholm, Scottish Borders

Post by Alison Plenderleith » Sun Aug 14, 2005 7:55 pm

Hello Bob,

I missed this when it was posted as I was a late joiner of TS.
I'm so glad it was posted again as it was a treasure. It's still over 30 degrees here, but as I was reading that I was there with you all at the party.
Thank you so much.
Like everyone else, would love some more.

Kind regards,

Alison :D

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Location: Originally Linwood now Rye, NY.

Post by rye470 » Tue Aug 16, 2005 4:36 am

Hi Moonwacher,

You have just brought my childhood flying back to me in a way that I can't handle just yet. I lost my Mother in March and Hogmanay was my mum. The cleaning, the new pyjamas, the first footing with my dad because I'm dark,the salmon sandwiches. I'll come back and finish this later.


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Post by AnnetteR » Tue Aug 16, 2005 3:55 pm

rye470 wrote:Hi Moonwacher,

You have just brought my childhood flying back to me in a way that I can't handle just yet. I lost my Mother in March and Hogmanay was my mum. The cleaning, the new pyjamas, the first footing with my dad because I'm dark,the salmon sandwiches. I'll come back and finish this later.

Hi Christine

So sorry about your sad loss.

Moonwatcher's speciality is taking you right back to times you had forgotten in such a way that it is almost as if he is taking you by the hand and walking you through your youth. You wonder how you could have forgotten so many happy (and sometimes sad) times. He is a genius with words and I have spent many hours pouring over his writing with tears of laughter or tears of deep sadness spilling onto my keyboard. Give yourself a wee bit of a lift by reading his excellent 'Cyber Seance' postings on this site - you will then realise why we want him back so much.

Kind regards

Annette R
Researching in Fife: Wilson, Ramsay, Cassels/Carswell, Lindsay, Millar, Bowman and many others.
In Glasgow and West of Scotland: Aitchison, Wilkinson, Keenan, Black, Kinloch and Leiper.

Posts: 31
Joined: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:46 am

Re: Hogmanay Memories

Post by DysartPete » Wed Jul 06, 2011 8:03 pm

Love this thread - memories of it all, good and bad but Hogmanay is my fav time still!

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Re: Hogmanay Memories

Post by joette » Thu Jul 07, 2011 12:00 am

I was there so many memories echoing from Moonwalker's account.
"Wee Cock Sparra" & "Three craws" were my Grandpa's Hogmanay contributions & he was a great fan of Duncan McCrae.
Memories & family traditions you cannae wack it.
CARR/LEITCH-Scotland,Ireland(County Donegal)

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