Tag Archives: Scotland

A Lovely New Word

As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free. Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery.
Martin Luther King,  speech, Aug. 16, 1967

I recently received  an email from my sister in Los Angeles, who is almost as also obsessed with words, as follows:

“Judith,  a word for you to use in a future blog.   You may already know this word, although it’s not much used today

THIRLED:   a term used to describe men who worked in the coal mines of Scotland. A thirled man was bonded for life to a company and wore a metal collar around his neck with the name of his owner stamped on it. These workers stood deep in the pits and cut coal that their wives and children then carried to the surface in baskets. They were paid two shilings and sixpence (sixty cents) for twelve hours of work and out of that, they paid for their own keep and were not supplied with food, shelter, or medical care. To survive, many families were forced to work all day and into the night in the freezing and dirty coal mines of Scotland. Thirled men were serfs, and if one removed his brass collar and ran away, he was captured by the sheriff and returned to his owner. His punishment was by the lash. He was punished for having stolen himself and his services from his master. This was the law in Scotland as late as 1799.”

This definition of the word comes from “I Still Dream About You”, a novel by Fannie Flagg. The online definitions all seem to concentrate on the old English use of the word to indicate boring or drilling.

I hadn’t ever heard the word and just as Maggie and Brenda do in the book I Googled the word thirled.  But from Wikipedia I learned “Thirlage was the feudal law by which the laird (lord) could force all those vassals living on his lands to bring their grain to his mill to be ground, the justification was that an essential service was being provided at a great expense and had to be paid for by the users. Additionally vassals had to carry out repairs on the mill, maintaining the lade and weir as well as conveying new millstones to the site. ”

So while vocal Scottish abolitionists such as Charles Grant, Allan Ramsay and the Macauley Brothers Colin and Zachary, were worrying about slaves in other parts of the world it would appear that a form of slavery was flourishing in the British Isles as late as 1799.


Thanks to my big sister for bringing this word to my attention.


New Year Traditions

A couple of days ago I wrote about New Year and Resolutions and when I was responding to comments today I began to think about some of the traditions associated with New Year.

New Year or Hogmanay is celebrated in Scotland with much more enthusiasm than Christmas.  This worked to our advantage when we (a) lived in the UK and (b) went home from New Zealand during our summer holidays.  We could spend Christmas with my family and New Year with my dashing young Scotsman’s family.  Perfect!

Did you know that Christmas was not celebrated in Scotland from the end of the 17th century until the 1950s.  My husband had never celebrated Christmas until we met.

The church apparently banned the celebration labelling it Popish or a Catholic feast.  When I first went to Scotland in about 1957 Christmas Day was considered just another working day.  Their winter solstice holiday was New Year when family and friends gathered for a party and to exchange presents.

All Scottish housewives cleaned house from top to bottom on December 31st (including taking out the ashes from the fire in the days when coal fires were common).  It was also important to clear all your debts before “the bells” at midnight.   I wonder if these superstitions/traditions are still carried on today.

One of the traditions that does still exist is that of First Footing.  A dark stranger has to be the first over the doorstep into the house on January 1 to ensure good luck to the inhabitants for the coming year.  The church bells toll and then First Footing begins.  The dark stranger traditionally arrives with whisky, shortbread and oatcakes.  And when we lived there they also brought coal for the fire and  black bun, a traditional fruit cake covered in pastry.  Sounds strange but it tastes good.

Black Bun

image via Wikipedia

If you are interested and would like to try it – here’s a recipe.

And immediately after midnight it is traditional to sing Robert Burns’ “For Auld Lang Syne”.  Burns published this in 1788 and claimed it was based on an earlier fragment of poetry.  The tune was apparently in print over 80 years before he published his version in 1788.

“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 take a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

We all sing this song at New Year but what do the words mean?  I was informed many years ago by my Scottish in-laws that auld lang syne meant time gone by.  Auld of course is old.  So try to make some sense of these words if you can.

Whisky and shortbread

Whisky, shortbread and oatcakes for First Footing

The tradition of open house carries on for several days and friends and strangers are welcomed with warm hospitality and a kiss to wish everyone a “Guid New Year” . The underlying belief is to clear out the vestiges of the old year, have a clean break and welcome in a young, New Year on a happy note.

No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference.
It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left.
It is the nativity of our common Adam.  ~Charles Lamb

And as someone said – “So there you have it”.

Changing Seasons and Time Changes

“The changes from season to season,
The dawning that brings the new day.
These wonders mist all have a reason,
It was intended that way…..”

It’s Saturday evening here in New Zealand and I know that for many of you it is still Friday or perhaps even Saturday morning.  We are lucky in that New Zealand’s East Coast sees the sunrise before any other place in the world.

Of course, as we are on the other side of the world, we have the seasons the wrong way up – that is if you are a Londoner as am I.

I remember when we first arrived – June 11 1967.  I had two small children and June in Scotland where we had been living, is summer time and time for going to the beach or pool.  Not in Auckland New Zealand.  That first winter it rained almost every day and the children were at a loose end.  We were in a hotel and of course, at that time, hotels didn’t really cater for children.  So each day I took them out to amuse them.

Things improved when my daughter went to school – well at least for her – my son still had all the hours to fill in without his playmate.

I clearly remember that first Christmas.  Can you imagine the scene – Auckland, hot and humid and a Christmas tree was delivered.  As was our tradition, the children ‘helped’ me decorate the tree.  Outside the temperature soared and the pool looked very inviting.

Then my daughter asked in her little piping Scottish voice “But Mummy, when will it snow?”  Up till then she had seen snow each Christmas.

Even after all these years, Christmas in the heat seems wrong.  When I had Christmas at my house I did all the traditional things, roast turkey and the trimmings, roast vegetables, plum pudding and sauce.  My children who now take it in turns to do Christmas dinner don’t do this.  Instead they acknowledge the heat and usually have a barbecue outside.  It is always a festive occasion but where is my tradition.  They are of course, making their own traditions as they should.

So a couple of years ago, some (Northern hemisphere) friends and I got together to have a winter Christmas in July.  We are talking about doing it again this year.  We will have to wait and see whether or not we follow through on this discussion.

Christmas dinner

Google image

One of the delights of life is eating with friends, second to that is talking about eating.
And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends.”
Laurie Colwin ‘Home Cooking’