An Ode tae Auld Dogs
“But pleasures are like poppies spread:
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow fall on the river,
A moment white – then melts forever…”
Robert Burns, ‘Tam o’ Shanter’, 1790
The ‘Road Trip of the Day’? To Ayr, to see the birthplace of ‘Rabbie Buhruns, the pooet‘, who, incidentally was born on the same date as my father, the 25th January, but in 1759. Regarded as the national poet of Scotland, Robert Burns wrote the words to Auld Lang Syne, and the Scots celebrate his birth every year by eating haggis, neeps and tatties on Burns Night.
The oldest of seven children, Burns was born in this four-roomed thatched cottage (considered very large in the day), which was built by his father:
He was a working-class poet, and, true to form, is thought to have died with a pound to his name. He wrote poems about drinking and womanising…hell, he even wrote a poem about a louse he had seen on a lady’s bonnet in church. It is easy to see how his sense of humour and his belief that all men are equal, regardless of wealth or social standing, saw his poetry become dear to generations of Scots.
I read somewhere that the Scottish have a good sense of humour because it’s free, and I can’t help but think there is some truth to it. There is a noticeable divide between the ‘lairds and top-notches‘ that live in the ‘posh hoouses‘ and the working class, who have jobs at the forestry or in the fish factory. As we drove though the toughest part of Dumfries, Jimmy said ‘they eat their young ‘roond ‘ere‘.
It makes it easier to understand the disdain for foreigners and free-loaders alike. When your work is that which will slowly but surely break your body down, the thought of your tax dollars supporting a flood of immigrant moochers is not a pleasant one. And it also explains the contempt for the wealthy, the ‘hoity-toities‘ who haven’t ever had to work for a living.
Jimmy’s tales of shenanigans are interspersed with glimpses of hardship. Of a ‘miserable auld bastard‘ father, who was an angry drunk, and whose final words were, ‘you took yooer foockin’ time coomin to visit‘. And of his devoted and much-loved mother, whose ability to produce meals bordered on the miraculous, given there was often ‘nowt in the larder‘.
He also told me the story of his dog, Laddie:
Jimmy was working on a farm, and the farm dog had given birth to five or six puppies. The farmer had filled a drum with water, thrown the puppies inside, attached a lid and sent Jimmy to do a task. When Jimmy returned, twenty minutes later, he found two puppies still alive, which he smuggled into the farm shed. Then, at the beginning and end of every day, he would sneak the farm dog into the shed to feed them. The farmer noticed his dog’s absence and discovered the puppies, and eventually agreed, reluctantly, that she could feed them until they were six weeks old, then Jimmy would have to take them away. One of the puppies went to the owner of the sire, and Laddie went home with Jimmy, in his jacket pocket.
By all accounts, Laddie was a cracking dog. He walked for miles with Jimmy (‘aye, he wis a fit dog‘) and assumed the position of household defender, growling at anyone he suspected of posing a threat to Granny. And though he was prone to the occasional wander (‘he had ah nose fur a bitch‘), he was a loyal and magnificent member of the family for 17 years, or thereabouts.
I enjoyed hearing about Laddie’s return visit to the farm he had narrowly survived. Upon being reunited with his mother, he immediately followed her lead and began herding the sheep, prompting the farmer to say, ‘that’s a gud dog you’ve got there, Jimmy!‘. Of course, I also wanted to sob a strangled, ‘NO THANKS TO YOU’, but there isn’t any room for sentimentality ’round these parts.
Jimmy’s sense of humour is a credit to his resilience, and his mockery of others is at least equal to his mockery of himself. And, that being the case, I shall indulge fully with him on our last day together. Let that be a warning to anyone who takes too long to order their coffee, or is stouter than your usual bike rider, or whose walking frame means they take an age to cross the road.
Here’s to Jimbo and Roy, and to auld dogs everywhere, who managed to stay afloat long enough to have a laff, and to make the world a brighter place.