Than an nou — poverty, makkin dae, an leukin out for ilk ither

The TV news the nou is stappit fou wi hert brakkin sichts. Puir sowels wi naewhaur tae bide nor lay their heids left tae chitter in the cauld; fowk wha uissless, shilpit Offícialdom hae cast sae far doun they’v nae fecht left; fowk no able tae feed their bairns, niver mind theirsels. I think o ma mither, a wumman wha in her young day haed seen a deal o poverty an wha thocht the Weelfare State an the National Health Service a marvel o the age. She wis delitit whan the faimily allouance wis brocht in! Sic a grand thing in partícular whan they stairtit peyin it tae the mither!

I wunner whit she wad mak o it in 2018?

She wis fae Leith, the last but ane born intae a faimily o thirteen bairns. Her twin wis deid at sax months fae whoopin cough. This wis 1910. Her faither haed been ane o the last tae drive a hansom cab. As a wee tottie bairn she coud mind seein ma granny fillin up the sink an liftin the windae tae lat the horse pit its heid in for a drink.

Poverty, wi its neibours hunger, drunkenness an disease, war juist a fact o life. Ma mither aye said maist fowk war guid an fou o kindness; juist daein their best tae get by. But they war feart o awbody in authority. Aye wirrit about bein reportit for their poverty an cawed neglectfu, their bairns taen awa. Fear o the puir hous wis aye there.

Aw her days ma ain mither wis feart o fawin intae poverty. She haed nae time for fowk speirin about the ‘guid auld days’. She wad juist gie thaim a leuk that said, “Thaim as sae it wirnae there.”

She wad try tae hae a wee bittie pit by agin the misfortune she wis shuir wis aye lurkin. She kep’ a wee beuk wi aw her outgauns recordit. Her scrievin wis like a hen sprauchlin ower the page. Ye see, she wis born caurie dukit an fae the generation whaur this wis a faut tae be sortit at the schuil. Bindin the offendin haund up the back tae force the bairn intae bein richt haundit wis the cure. Even as a bairn, I jaloused her life haed no been wi’out haurdship.

Her faimily didnae hae muckle tae get by on. Ma grandfaither wad gae doun tae meet the fishin boats comin in tae the docks. He wad gaither up a sack o discardit fish for ma granny tae clean an gut an mak intae fish pies. But he teuk awfu ill whan ma mither wis about seiven or aicht year auld an wis deid fae failin kidneys in a maiter o weeks.

Ma granny haed tae depend on the wee bit her aulder lassies wha workit in service coud send hame tae her. She uised a sewin machine tae mak bairns claes. Binders, barries an semmits wi juist ae sleeve tae tak tent o the smallpox ‘inoculation’. She cut doun auld jaikets intae weskits. The airms she’d mak intae breeks for laddies.

Forby her sewin, she wis a weel-respectit howdiewife. Nouadays she wad be cried a ‘community midwife an nurse’. She didnae hae a certificat or ony offícial trainin, an it wis aye some puir sowel needin her. The door wad chap aw the oors o the day an nicht an out she’d gae, bytimes wi ma mither tae tak chairge o birthin a bairn. The weimen she attendit war trauchelt bi a haurd, haurd life, an haed nae sillar tae gie tae a nurse. Thaim that needed ma granny war aye amang the puirest. The new bairn wis happit in a cover an laid aneath the bed until the mither got seen tae. She wis the maist important o the twa for she aye haed ither bairns dependit on her. For her services ma granny got peyed wi an egg, a loaf o breid or mebbes a bittie o claith.

Ma mither minds her taen in the bairns o a wumman at deith’s door wi the typhus fever. She nursit the wumman hersel, in her hous sin nae ither body wad gan near it.

Ma mither, still a young lassie, workit for a dairy. Forby gaun out on the milk cairt she haed tae open the doors tae the dairy for the churns in the early mornin. Whit makkit her bluid rin cauld richt doun tae her taes wis the cockroaches! Thousands o thaim swarmin aw ower the dairy fluir. Wi the licht cast fae the openin door they wad gae doun the cracks an vainish fae sicht! Ma mither said the place wisnae clarty, sin anither pairt o her wark wis scrubbin the fluir whan she cam aff the cairt an afore rinnin hame or tae the schuil!

The dairy wife wad aye say at the stairt o the run, “Noo mind! Nae money, nae mulk!” It wis dishit out wi a jug an a ladle. Ma mither wad traipse up the stairs tae the houses an fill the cup or jug lyin aside the door dependit if it wis tuppence or a penny or ha’penny ablo the cup. Bytimes there wis a cup but nae money, an a wife staundin bi the door wi tear-begrutten bairns, an leukin sae peelie-wallie, nae mair ‘an a rauchle o banes hersel. She wad aye tip a wee drap o milk intae the cup an howp the dairy wife didnae find out.

Sic sichts war thirlt tae ma mither’s mind an she wis richt gled tae think on it as a thing o the past.

I jalouse, if she cam back the day, an haed a sicht o the news, she wad be afeart aw ower again!

Elizabeth ThoumireElizabeth is an Edinburgh-born airtist drawin an paintin maistly animals an birds. Forby that, she is pairt o the organisation Hands Up For Trad wha wirk tae increase the profile an visibílity o Scottish tradítional muisic an cultur throu information, education an advocacy.


For tips on readin Scots, alang wi a glossar o common wirds, see our cutty guide (written in English).

Scots English
ae (pronounced ‘ae’ or ‘yae’) adj one
about (pronounced ‘aboot’) about
afeart afraid, struck with fear
awfu (pronounced, for ensaumple, ‘aafa’, ‘awfae’, ‘awfi’, ‘awfa’ or ‘aafoo’) awfully
barrie infant’s flannel coat
body (pronounced ‘boady’, ‘body’, ‘buddy’ or ‘biddy’) person
bytimes occasionally
caurie dukit left handed
chap knock
chitter chatter, shiver
claes clothes
claith cloth
clarty unclean
fluir (pronounced ‘flör’, ‘flair’ or ‘fleer’) floor
forby besides, in addition to
howdiewife midwife
jalouse suspect
mind v remember; n the mind
out (pronounced ‘oot’) out
puir (pronounced ‘pair’, ‘peer’, ‘pör’ or ‘pür’) poor
rauchle heap, pile
semmit (woollen) undershirt
siller money
speirin asking, inquiring
shilpit pathetic, ineffectual, weak
tear-begrutten tear-stained
thirlt tae ingrained in
trauchelt wearied, troubled

Social media thumbnail ímage: so tired of it all by byronv2. Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0.

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