Sunday, December 31, 2017

A brief history of Oor Wullie

Jings , Crivven's, and Help ma boab”, this is the centenary year of the Sunday Post which first appeared in 1914. In 1936 publishers, DC Thompson introduced a four page "Fun Section" which included two comic strips written in Scots vernacular. Little did they know these would still be running nearly eighty years later.

The Broons were a working-class Scottish family living No 10 Glebe Street, Glasgow; and Oor Wullie, chronicled the adventures of a mischievous young boy in an unnamed town. Much speculation prevails as to where Wullie actually lived; some think it was Dundee where the Sunday Post was published; whilst others believe it was Glasgow because in 1938, the characters walked to the Empire Exhibition held in Bellhouston Park: later in 1988 the family again walk to and from the Glasgow Garden Festival. In a later episode he even cycles to Loch Lomond. But as the decades have rolled by it became clear Oor Wullie lived in the imaginary town of Auchenshoogle (an amalgam of Dundee and Glasgow).

More controversy prevails as to what was Oor Wullie’s surname; some sources quote MacCallum whereas others cite, Russell. Wullie had an uncle Wattie Russell, a wartime private in one of the Scottish regiments. No one is quite sure however whether Wattie was related to Wullie's father's or came from his mother's side of the family. Oor Wullie was created by Scottish comic writer and editor, Robert Duncan Low who wrote word sketches which Dudley Dexter Watkins illustrated. Low insisted the characters be based on real working class people and Watkins took Robert’s son, Ron for inspiration. The wee lad had innocently accompanied his father to work one day wearing dungarees and carrying a bucket of potatoes. Watkins added the famous spiky hair and Oor Wullie was born.

Dudley D Watkins was an English cartoonist and illustrator who trained at the Glasgow School of Art before joining DC Thompson in the late 20s. The original Oor Wullie was drawn as a single panel and the character was aged about 5 or 6. Later he aged to about 10 or 11, but more recently, he has become slightly younger. The earliest strips had little dialogue but always ended with Wullie complaining ("I nivver get ony fun roond here!"). The artistic style settled down by 1940 and has changed little since. A frequent tagline reads, "Oor Wullie! Your Wullie! A'body's Wullie!" Watkins continued to draw Oor Wullie until his death in 1969, after which the Post recycled his work until 1974. In the recycled versions the original broad Scots dialogue was increasingly watered down. Other illustrators were commission to continue drawing Oor Wullie and all remained remarkably true to the original.

Our hero shares his home with his Ma and Pa, Harry the West Highland Terrier and Jeemy his pet moose. In the early days and for a short time he had a younger sibling (the bairn). The next door neighbour much later wasMoaning Mildew (modelled on Victor Meldrew from One Foot in the Grave). Our hero’s favourite food is mince and tatties and his Ma’s Roly-poly pudding. His three best friends are Fat Boab, Soapy Soutar and wee Eck and the gang meets in a caravan called Holly Rude. Wullie is the self-proclaimed leader a position which is frequently disputed by the others. The boys love to go fishing in the nearby burn (the Stoorie) or race their cairties (boogies) down Stoorie Brae.

"Oh. ancient bridge o'er River Stoorie ... ye'd be voted tops by ony jury”

The mischievous Wullie’s of old, loved to steal orchard apples and use P.C. (Constable) Murdoch‘s helmet as target practice with his catty (sling shot). However what was seen as youthful high jinks in the 1930s might be considered anti-social vandalism today so as the decades passed his antics have become a lot tamer. Otherwise its business as usual and Wullie’s unrealistic get-rich-quick schemes lead to mischief and continue to give his long suffering parents and local constabulary humorous concern. Come what may the strip always ends with Willie seated on his bucket procrastinating about the day’s events. Occasionally he rests on padding or cushions especially if he has had his bottom smacked.

During the Second World War the artists comic creations were considered too morale-boosting to allow him to be released for active service. The Sunday Post comic strips were used successfully as propaganda against Hitler. Throughout the war years Wullie continually poked fun at the Fuhrer and he even pelted suspected Nazis with catapults and cap-guns as well as forming a boys' national defence corps to take on the "Gerries". These disrespectful sallies against the Master Race did not miss the attention of Fifth Columnists, and it is widely believed both Watkins and Low's were on a Nazi death list in the event of an invasion.

By the 50s the Sunday Post was in its heyday but with its circulation was confined largely to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Sales were so high that it was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the newspaper with the highest per capita readership penetration of anywhere in the world. Oor Wullie and the Broon became ubiquitous and essential reading every Sunday.

Young Wullie generally does not like girls although Primrose Paterson sometimes features. Later pretty Doris Gow and her bruiser boyfriend the town bully, Basher McKenzie occasionally appeared. Truth be told Wullie prefers Doris which causes Primrose’s rathe as well as the unwanted attention of Basher. He used to have another friend called Ezzy, who has stopped appearing in the strips. From time to time various celebrities have featured in the strips including Lorraine Kelly and Colin Montgomerie. History was made in 2011 when Oor Wullie and The Broons appeared in the same strip spread over two pages to celebrate the Royal Wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William.

When The Topper launched in 1953, Oor Wullie appeared in the masthead, although not as a story in the comic. He often appeared sitting on his bucket, though other poses were used as well. The pose on Topper no. 1 had him wearing a top hat. He had the top hat in one hand and the other hand pointing at the Topper logo.


Apart from Oor Wullie and the Broons, Watkins drew Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty and a host of other characters for Thomson's many comics. He was a deeply religious man and intended to produce a fully illustrated version of the Bible. It is reputed in the pilot drawings, Joseph bore an uncanny resemblance to Pa, while the infant Jesus looked very like the Boy on the Bucket. PC (Joe) Murdoch is thought to be based on an actual policemen (Sandy Marnoch) that served with Watkins when he was a reserve constable in Fife.

The Oor Wullie Bucket Trail from Vivid Elements on Vimeo.

Interesting site
Oor Wullie Store
Oor Wullie's Scots Guide
Oor Wullie's Bucket trail

Have a Guid New Year

Friday, December 29, 2017

Auld Lang Syne

When bandleader Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians played "Auld Lang Syne" at midnight at a New Year's Eve party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1929, little did he know the effect it would have .

The famous bandleader first heard the song in his hometown of London, Ontario, where it was sung by Scottish immigrants. "Auld Lang Syne" was first published by the poet Robert Burns in the 1796 edition of the book, Scots Musical Museum. Burns heard a version sung by an old man and transcribed it refining some of the lyrics. Other versions do exist and predate this time, but Burns version is most often sung.

Auld Lang Syne or "old long since" means "times gone by" and was in common use in Old Scots.

"For auld lang syne, we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet."

The sentiments expressed are people of the past will be remembered with great fondness. The old Celtic belief was during Samhain, the spirits of the past and future walked the earth with the living. So it would be respectful to remember the deceased at Hogmanay. New Year is the time for old friends to get together, if not in person then in memory and "tak a right guid-willie waught" (a good-will drink).

Guy Lombardo choice of music for the occasion was perfect.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
And gies a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie-waught,
for auld lang syne.

Let;s hope the coming new year will be a good one for one and all. A Happy New Year.

Francie & Josie: Live from the King's Theatre, Glasgow

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Origins and Practice of Hogmanany

Although the well-known Scottish tradition of Hogmanay (originally the name was given to a type of three cornered, biscuit) is celebrated on New Year's Eve, its origins are age old and grounded in Celtic culture. Despite the long association with the Scots, Hogmanay is not a Scottish custom but practiced, all over Europe.

Hogmanay was first recorded in 1604 as Hagmanay (delatit to haue been singand hagmonayis on Satirday) in the Elgin Records. It was later documented in 1692 as an entry of the Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence,

"It is ordinary among some plebeians in the South of Scotland to go about from door to door upon New-years Eve, crying Hagmane."

The etymology of Hogmanay remains obscure and may arise from a French, Norse or a Goidelic (Insular Celtic) root.

In the old Celtic calendar, New Year fell on the 1st November and was called Samhain. This was an unreal time, when one year turned into another. A twilight zone where spirits of the dead and those not yet born walked freely among the living. It was a time of plenty as the stocks were returned from the hills before the severe winter ahead and a great time for kinship as the hill dwellers came to the gathering. Today this celebration is found throughout the Celtic and Hispanic world (The Festival of the Dead) and lasts from Halloween to New Year.

Samhain was a time where darkness of night was thought to prevail over the lightness of day. Lun the Sun God was defeated by his darker side and became the Lord of Misrule. Good people needed the comfort of their own kind and protection from the evil forces of the dark. Much of the sacred symbolism of Samhaimn can be found in the customs of Halloween and Hogmanay.

In the New Year, many cultures believed the first foot to cross the threshold brought the house good fortune for the coming year. "First footing" is an ancient custom and tradition demands the first person to pass the threshold must be a sonsy (trustworthy), a stranger of dark complexion and full head of hair, carry a lucky talisman. It was considered very unlucky to have a first fit who was a person with fair complexion. Suspicious people refuse to leave their home until they were first footed.

Bearing gifts echoes the 8th Century beliefs of the Vikings that good luck charms made the coming New Year a thriving one. Black bun (pastry covered rich current bun), and wassail (hot toddy) represent food and sustenance for the coming year. Coal symbolized good luck and prosperity.

In the Isle of Man (UK) a good first footer was a man of good appearance and dark complexion with in-steps high enough to allow a mouse to run through. The significance of the arched foot remains unclear but early Christians believed men were made in the image of God and the Christian Foot had a perfect arch. Flat feet or splayed feet were considered the sign of evil and hence unlucky omens.

Functional feet were important to the early Christians as walking was the only means to spread the Gospel. Subsequently well-formed feet became associated with joy and happiness. Literature abounds with reference to this. Prior to modern medicine illness and deformity were regarded as a form of demonic possession. Many contagious diseases of the time left deformities like flat feet.

First footing remains a strong tradition in rural areas. The modern interpretation is after hearing the Bells of the New Year ring, friends visit each other's homes sharing goodwill and treating them to intoxicating liquor. The Celts held alcohol in very high esteem and was an important part of ritual. In the past first footing had practical purpose to small communities which allowed everyone in the village to meet the New Year with good cheer and more importantly, be able to leave their abode after being first footed. In Scotland families gather on Ner’day (New Year ‘s Day) and feast like the traditional Christmas Day. This represents the modern “gathering of the clans.” Certain foods are thought to bring good fortune for the New Year. These include a thick and tasty bowl of Scotch broth: Steak pie and a Clootie dumpling (a sweet fruit pudding). It is not uncommon in Celtic tradition to have an extra place set at table for unexpected guests.

Auld Land Syne was a traditional air given lyrics by Robert Burns but this was not traditionally sang at Hogmanay until the 20th century after it was played at a New Year celebration in New York. The song and sentiment expressed was perfect for the occasion and have been associated ever since.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
And here's a hand, my trusty friend
And gie's a hand o' thine
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne

Slangevar and a Happy New Year to one and all.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Petrosomatoglyphs of Scotland

A petrosomatoglyph is an indentation of parts of a human or animal body incised in rock. Feet are the most commonly found human petrosomatoglyph but knees, elbows, hands, head, and fingers are also in evidence. Early hominid footprints appear on rock beds found around the world. Footprints of Australopithecus boisei for example were discovered in Tanzania. These are thought to be 3.5 million years old. In Tchogha Zanbil, Iran at the ruins of the holy city of the Kingdom of Elam there is a stepped pyramid temple which dates back 3000 years. At the base of the steps is a child’s footprint. Many petrosomatoglyphs are natural whilst others are man-made. Although their original function is long forgotten many petrosomtoglyphs became associated with Saints, legendary figures, and fairies.

In antiquity many people carved footprints into stone including the ancient Celts. These became important symbols, used in religious and secular ceremonies, such as the crowning of kings. Sometimes petrosomatoglyphs were used by the superstitious. The Romans carved pairs of footprints in rock with the inscription ‘pro itu et reditu’, (for the journey and return). Before starting an important journey they stood in the carved footprints. Then on safe return they repeated the action as mark of thanksgiving. The same ritual was known in 6th c Wales when King Maelgwn of Gwynedd placed his feet in carved footprints to ensure his safe return from a pilgrimage to Rome.

In northern Europe, rock footprints were closely associated with Kingship or Chieftainship. Standing on a special stone was a link between the king and the land. Footprints may also have to do with the cult of the ancestors, whose spirits dwelt in the stone. The belief was the newly invested leader would received the luck (or mana) of his predecessors through contact with it. Petrosomatoglyphs used in the ordination of kings was considered a sacred place or Locus terribilis (awesome place), where only the rightful king was able to use them for the purpose that they were intended. Scottish Kings and Irish Chieftains were sworn to oath standing on footprints carved into the stone. Dunadd Hillfort is regarded as the crowning place for the original Kings of Scotland. It was the ancient capital of the Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata and lay on the west coast of Scotland. Built around 500AD after Fergus MacErc led a Scottish invasion from Ireland. The inhabitants of Dál Riata are often referred to as Scots, i.e., Latin scotti, a name for the inhabitants of Ireland and refer to all Gaelic-speakers. The kingdom's independent existence ended in the Viking Age (8th to 11th centuries), as it merged with the lands of the Picts to form the Kingdom of Alba. On rocks on the edge of Crinan Moss in Argyll, near the village of Lochgilphead there is a carved human footprint used during the crowning ceremony of the Kings of Scotland. This footprint is thought to be that of Oisin or Fergus Mor Mac Erca, the first King of Dalriada, who died in AD 501. The best preserved footprint (there are two) is 27 cm long, approximately 11 cm wide, 9 cm across at the heel and 2.5 cm deep. It is large enough to accommodate a shoe or boot. The second footprint of a right foot is, incomplete and measures 24 cm long and 10 cm in width.

The spot where St. Columba (521 – 597 AD) is reputed to have first set foot in Dalriada, Scotland, is marked by two footprints carved in a crag near the chapel of Keil and St. Columba's Well, between Dunaverty Bay and Carskey in Kintyre. These are called Columba's Footprints. It appears one footprint may date to the period but the second print was carved by a local stone mason in the nineteenth century. Unfortunately he carved the wrong date for Columba's landing of 564. Other St. Columba's footprints are found at Southend in Argyll. In one of the caves on the Isle of Arran is prints of two right feet, said to be of Saint Columba. Forging links with St Columba in the 1800s was more to do with attracting tourists.

On Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, was the Stone of Inauguration which lay beside Loch Finlaggan. The stone measured seven feet square and had a footprint cut into it (size 8). It was the sacred stone of the island Lordship and is thought to have been since the time of Somerled (King of Argyll and the Isles in 1164 AD). When a chief of the Clan Donald was installed as the King of the Isles, he required to stand barefoot on the imprint whilst he swore an oath. In 1615, by the order of the Earl of Argyll the block was destroyed and the fragments dispersed. After considerable detection the footprint segment was eventually located.

Other petrosomatoglyphs in Scotland include a 2-foot-long (0.61 m) footprint on a cave side in Arran.

There is also pair of footprints carved in a stone slab in a causeway at the Broch (Tower) of Clickhimin (or Clickemin), Lerwick, in Shetland. This site was occupied from about 1000 BC to AD 500.

On neighboring Orkney, at St. Mary's Church in Burwick, South Ronaldsay, the Ladykirk Stone has two clear footprints cut into it, said to be the footprints of Saint Magnus (1075–1117). One common belief was the footprints held healing powers and were used in medicines.

At Spittal on the western end of a long ridge of natural rock outcrop near Drymen, is a footprint which may be due to natural weathering. At Craigmaddie Muir, Baldernock, East Dunbartonshire is the Auld Wives Lifts. This is a complicated assemblage of carvings on a rock platform. On the rock are serpent-like forms, crosses, cups and an impression of the right foot of an adult.

In Ayr, on the southern bank of the River Ayr is 'Wallace's Heel', a natural sandstone slab, Sir William Wallace is said to have left the imprint behind whilst rushing to escape English soldiers who were pursuing him. At Dunino Den, near St Andrews in Fife, is a footprint and a basin carved in the surface of a sandstone outcrop. A Celtic cross has been carved nearby, possibly as an attempt to make the site Christian. On a boulder at Carnasserie, two miles (3 km) from Kilmartin in Argyll, are carved a pair of feet and two other examples can also be found in Angus.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Scots: Xmas, Nativity and Christmas cards

The Scots never miss the chance to party, or so you might think, but they were last Europeans to resist the temptations of the festive season. There was no reference to Christmas in the New Testament and so the Scots did not regarded it as a Christian festivity. Traditionally the Scots (or Celts) celebrated New Year and viewed the idea of Christmas as an attempt by the English as pure commercialism and a poor attempt to emulate Hogmanay.

Critics of the Victorian Christmas suggested it was a time for “do gooders” to exercise charity to the less privileged. Charles Dickens author of “Christmas Carol“ was a firm believer charity should be extended throughout the year and not restricted to one day. Ironically the success of Scrooge, encouraged Christians to combine capitalism with the doctrine and practice of Christianity. Christmas Day and Boxing Day were concertinaed into the feast days for family fun and celebrations. These were celebrated at home and abroad.

Christmas was celebrated by expatriates wishing to link with their friends and families back in the motherland. Many Scottish exiles ate plum puddings and turkey dinners long before their relatives recognised Christmas Day in Scotland. Back in the Highlands at the beginning of the 20th century Christmas was just another day with faint echoes of bonfire ceremonies, more related to pagan sun worship than celebrating the birth of Christ.

Twelfth night had more significance to the Scots ironically because of its pre-Christian association with the end of Samhain, or the Celtic Festival of the Dead. During the time from Halloween to the Twelfth Night, Celts celebrated walking with those who came before and those who were still to come. Dickens’ captures this with his Ghost of Christmas past and Ghost of Christmas yet to come.

After Prince Albert and Queen Victoria took the European winter traditional of decorating fir trees with flags of the Empire and candles it became very popular. Along with the invention of electricity came electric Christmas lights which furthered the general celebration of Christmas in England and America.

Santa Clause made his first appearance in 1860. There were many models for Santa or St Nicholas but the most popular was a humanitarian bishop in Asia Minor in the fourth century who became the symbol of gift giving in many European countries. Kids from poor families could anticipate finding in their stockings an orange, a new penny a piece of shortbread and a toffee.

Christmas dinner for the average family consisted of chicken broth followed by potatoes roasted at the garden or street bonfire. Families sang carols and clapped their hands to keep warm.

Pre-Christian Druids gathered mistletoe as a medicine from sacred oaks. These were cut down with golden sickles and considered helpful with fertility and that is why, to this day we kiss under a sprig of mistletoe at Christmas and New Year.

Nativity scenes painted mainly the 15th & 16th centuries inspired Christmas cards with written inscriptions and these became popular from the 18th century on-wards.

The term, Xmas was not a convenient abbreviation for Christmas card designers but instead relates instead to the translation of "CH" from Greek. Holy scriptures were originally written in Greek, before beig translated into Latin then English. In Greek, words beginning with "CH" and written as an "X", are pronounced with a silent "h", but when spoken in English this becomes a harsh sounding "K" e.g. K-mas or the mass of Christ.