Saturday, 19 May 2012

Wooed you?

Each working morning I pass The World's End on the bus--a pub that marks the site where Edinburgh ended and the rest of the world began.  The pub's  foundations are on the Flodden Wall at the site of the Netherbow Port (the main gate into Edinburgh).  It is, of course, a wonderfully Edinburgh notion--the world ending on the wrong side of the wall.   In an action that reminds me of my daughter, who when she was three years old thought if she faced a tree or a wall and hid her eyes no one could see her, the wall was quickly thrown up after the Battle of Flodden (a section of the wall is visible further down the street at the Pleasance, which you can look at while you are waiting for the traffic lights to change).   In the event, it was rather better at keeping smugglers out than armies.  In 1544 the Earl of Hertford had only to huff and puff to blow the defences to smithereens and take the town.  It was said that after three days "neither within the walls nor in the suburbs was left any one house unburnt".  

The attack was early in the 'War of Rough Wooing', as it was called, thanks largely to Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall who used it in 1906 in her book 'Scotland's Story for Boys and Girls'.  I wonder how many Edwardian children grew up thinking 'wooing'--whether personal or political-- was accomplished by pulverising the object of your desire...and how many languages the book was translated into in the early 20th century.

A few steps along the street will bring you to a small antiques shop, outside which there is often an old-fashioned pram with a boar's head where a baby should be.  I like to think this is an homage to the Clan Mackinnon, whose crest features a boar's head with a bone in its mouth.  I have a particular fondness for the Mackinnons, if only because their ancestor, Findanus (who I suspect invented the fish finger long before Clarence Birdseye ever came on the scene), had the good sense to marry 'Saucy Mary', a Norwegian princess, entrepreneur and role model for girls, who stretched a chain across the Kyle of Lochalsh in order to collect tolls from passing ships.  It must have been a clever political alliance--and being both saucy and savvy, she was surely a bit of a catch.  

 Next you come to a bagpipe maker's shop, which for tourists, must be like coming across a man wearing a Breton t-shirt and a beret, selling onions on a bicycle in France.  It all looks rather idyllic, but apparently there is dissent even in the world of piping.  It would seem that in the west, the Glasgow pipe-makers and players are lamenting the passing of the fellmonger--who traditionally prepared the sheepskin bags used for pipes.  Now many sheepskin bags come from China, so an important traditional skill is in danger of being lost.  There is also a threat from the synthetic bag.  Over in the west they are saying that, particularly at competition level, this matters; that you will not get the same sound from a synthetic bag that you would from a traditional sheepskin bag.  However,  I see the pipe maker on Flodden's Wall is an advocate for the virtues of the synthetic bag:  you don't have to season them and they have a 'moisture control system'.  It would appear many pipers are 'wet blowers', though I do not know whether this problem is constitutional or geographical. 

  No doubt controversy rages in piping circles, with internecine conflict a clear and present danger.  One can only imagine the scenes:  bag sellers wooing wet blowers on the pavements of St Mary's Street.  Worrying really, when the end of the world is, quite literally, nigh...

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