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Gordon Mooney, a “Toun Piper” himself, bas projected his spirit back a few centuries to re-create the start of a typical day

Old Geordie began to stir as his mind came back to wakefulness. The fourth great peal of the Kirk bell was just dying away. Its clear tones had quartered the night.

Through force of habit more than conscious effort he would rise this morning as he had done so many times in the past. Slowly he pulled himself up off the straw mattress and reached forward, pushing open the doors of the box bed. With a fumbling struggle he slid clear. His feel touched the cold earth floor of the cottage, making him shiver and think immediately of returning to the warm cot.

He groped about in the half light locating first his sark, then his breeches and waistcoat The clothes were damp to the touch but would dry out once the heat of his body got at them.

From the roof of the bed he took down his shoes and stockings and, as he started pulling them on, he considered how lucky he was to be provided with all these fine clothes by the Baillies. A pair of shoes was a treasure even in a town famed for its souters. By putting the shoes above the bed he hoped he could foil any attempts by sneak thieves to steal them while he slept. The loss of his shoes would mean disaster as he was only allowed “ane pair new shewn annually”, and besides he was out of the habit of going barefoot. A blue grey light was peeping in between the cracks of the window shutters, and being unable to see to buckle up his left shoe, Geordie hopped over and pulled open the shutters. A column of soft light pierced the gloom of the cottage, followed by a breeze of cold air which brought a sudden moist sweetness amidst the stale air of the interior. Dawn was still a few hours away, but the moon was full and provided enough light to see clearly the huddle of the town with its Kirk Steeple all silhouetted against a cobalt sky.

“First things first” muttered Geordie to himself, He was half dressed and the constant                 nagging of an underfed belly demanded sustenance at all times of the day and night. This morning was no exception. He craved some of the dishes he had seen on the Laird’s table and often, when sleep did not come easily, he would torture himself with wild debauches on veal and venison, steak pie, foreign fruit and porter. Alas, he had never tasted any of them and could only imagine.

This morning he had a choice of breakfast; brose or sowens. Both were wet, slimy and bland, Oh! how he craved something different. Still, he had saved a little yill from last night and Mistress Livingstone had given him a bearmeal bannock. It was something ...and something is aye better than naething.  

“I’ll have brose for breakfast”, he decided, “And keep the sowens for supper”. Five steps across the room and he was at the other wall where stood the ambry containing the wooden bowls with their slimy contents. Taking down the bowl containing the brose which had been soaking from the night before, he poured some into his bicker. Most would eat this with some hot milk or ale, but Geordie couldn’t be bothered lighting a fire this morning and anyway, there wasn’t any kindling.

He reached up to the top shelf of the ambry and took down his jorum. The last dregs of a quart of yill slopped about in it. He poured this contemptuously onto the mess of oatmeal; pulled out his cutty spoon from a pocket and stirred it all together.

The first mouthful tasted as vile as ever. The bitter ale and the soured oatmeal brought the taste buds to a startled awareness. The first reaction was to spit the whole lot out again, but as this might be the only food he would get till the night, he gulped the slop down, as a duty, with no enthusiasm. Now where was that bannock?

“Aye, Ah ken” he said out loud, “It’s in ma coat.”

Sure enough, in the deep pocket of his coat, hanging on the bed end, he retrieved the bear meal bannock. He took a bite. It was saltless, dry and difficult to swallow. A bit of water would help it go down but a sideways look at the water pail showed it to be empty. He cursed himself for not bringing in the water from the well last night, and took a kick at the pail in self reproach. The sudden noise disturbed a black rat which scuttled across the floor and disappeared into a new hiding place.

Unable to enjoy the bannock, Geordie stuffed it back into his coat pocket, thinking to himself that he might have it later with some liquid refreshment.

“Ah! its aboot time I was awa’ ”, Geordie said, addressing the corner of the room where the rat had taken shelter. He surveyed his spartan little abode, with its roughly made scant furnishings. The Box bed, ambry, a chest, chair and bench table. Over the central, open fireplace hung the girdle on its rantle tree and a few jugs and pots completed the equipment. Even in the semi-darkness everything was dirty and soot blackened. The only splash of                 colour in the room was Geordie’s coat, made of “Lyonis Canis” or in common parlance “camel”. It was a rich yellow with silver and red braiding, and it suited well with his red plush waistcoat and wine red breeches.            

Geordie went over to the chest where he kept his pipes and opened the lid. Carefully he lifted them out. These bagpipes had been passed down to him from his great grandfather. This bundle of old hardwood and bone were to Geordie the most valuable and precious article he possessed. Others would have consigned them without thought to the fire, but Geordie would have died rather than see them damaged.

With much reverence he picked up the bellows and buckled these on around his waist, then turned around and put on his coat. The cape of the coat allowed his right arm to operate the bellows unimpeded. Taking up the bagpipes he put them under his arm, drew his blue                   bonnet out from his inside pocket and placed it jauntily on his head. He was ready to start the mornings work.

As he closed the door to his house with its motto “Hames Best” carved on the lintel, he looked up to the gable and winked at the little effigy of a piper sitting on the crowstepped gable.

The sound of footsteps clattering on the causeys of the steep wynd broke his reverie. Out of the dark shadows of the wynd a familiar figure drew close. A voice called out “Is that yer sel, Geordie? How’re ye fairin the morn?"

“The voice took visible form and there before him stood a small stocky figure clad in             yellow coat, red waistcoat and breeches. Off his knees bounced a large drum painted with the town arms. This was the toun drummer, Jimmy Simpson or “Simmy” as he was known affectionately to everyone in the toun.

With a brief “It’s aboot time we were awa” Geordie pumped up the bag. A sharp dig from his elbow brought a blast of sound from both chanter and drones. He stood for a moment to adjust the tuning and as he did so “Simmy” with well-rehearsed familiarity gave a roll on the drum. Then in single file, pipes in the lead, they marched back down the wynd. And the tune “Kail & Puddings, Porridge & Ale” provided unconscious acknowledgement of Geordie’s inner craving.