Did some washing and mending. Out from 5.30 to 6.30. Walk round only.
Not that much drinking was done. I suppose the maxim allowance of whisky per man did not exceed a couple of drams altogether, but as all were very abstemious, as indeed the great majority of Scotsmen in Scotland are, even the smell of the cork, as the saying is, was enough to make them jolly and in high fettle to celebrate Hogmanay. The supper which was the real Scotch ‘high tea’ in its finest form, used to be sat down to, I think, about 10pm in the kitchen. Two tables were set, one for the grownups and one for the children, both completely covered with good things to eat. The ‘piece de resistance’ was invariably a plateful of sliced cold meat or ham for each person with plenty of bread and butter and good strong tea, and an abundance of plain and sweet cakes, fruit and sweets. A feast fit for a king. then there were the Christmas crackers at each plate which had to be pulled before the serious business of eating commenced and the paper hats donned and fortunes read which each contained. Such a noise of joyous excited babble and merriment as would have thawed the heart of any misanthrope. We children, I imagine, were too much occupied in giving our attention to the good things to eat to do much else, but the grownups’ table was the centre of almost continuous laughter as the one amusing anecdote or funny story followed the other. This reminds me of an amusing incident which occurred one Hogmanay supper in a later year when I myself had already qualified for a seat among the grownups. For some reason or other, on that occasion, probably as an overflow from the children’s table, my little cousin George Rickart, then about six years old was seated with the grownups. The usual stories were being told when, after the burst of laughter following the conclusion of some yarn had almost subsided, little George, in his shrill treble piping, shrieked out, ‘I know a story – I know a story’, until to silence him someone said, ‘Well, tell us your story, George.’ And George delivered himself at the top of his voice of the following:
‘There was a boy sitting in the class and there was another boy sitting behind and the teacher asked the boy, ‘Boy, who made you?’ and the boy stuck a pin in him and the boy said, ‘Oh, Christ!’
Poor George! I doubt if a funny story ever fell flatter. There was absolute dead silence for a moment while each one round the table avoided looking at the other then everybody started talking at once, desperately intent on changing the subject. On the whole, self control was wonderful. Only my aunt Margaret’s feelings got the better of her. I still see her clapping her hands over her mouth and rising hastily from the table and leaving the room precipitately, to reappear some five minutes later still wiping her streaming eyes, having had her laugh out in the privacy of her bedroom. Talking of funny stories, it is interesting and amusing to recall the type of story which was considered improper in those far off days and I ask myself whether it is a good or a bad sign that what was looked upon as improper then appears trivial and even childish to us at this day. For instance, I remember a party given at our house round about one New Year to which the family Primrose, who occupied the flat above ours, had been invited. Now, Johnny Primrose was a jolly, fat little man, always brimful of good spirits and apparently just the sort of person to keep the fun going in any company. All went well until we were seated at supper. Johnnie Primrose had fulfilled all expectations, and everybody was in high good humour and spirits when our guest, no doubt emboldened by his success as a fun maker, overstepped himself and lost face with that company for all time by telling this tale:
‘A boy, carrying a baker’s basket, entered a railway carriage and deposited the basket on the luggage rack above the seat. At the next station, an old gentleman came into the same compartment and seated himself, by chance, under the basket. After a time he became conscious of some slight discomfort and casting his eyes above beheld the basket. Removing himself hastily to another part of the compartment he said to the boy, ‘Boy, your pies are leaking.’ ‘It’s nae pies mister’, replied the lad, ‘it’s puppies’.
Believe it or not, the assembled company simply froze nor did they thaw during the whole rest of the evening, Johnnie Primrose had put himself beyond the pale once and for all. Poor innocent man! One shudders, contemplating his crime, to think of what must have been really acceptable as funny stories in those days.
But to get back to our Hogmanay gathering of the clan. We rose from the table shortly before midnight and returned to the sitting room where glasses were hastily charged and the windows thrown open to catch the first strokes of the hour which heralded the passing of the old and the coming of the new year; and in a hush in which the whole town, nay, the whole world, seemed to be listening, there would boom out from the far off steeple of St Nicholas Church the first stroke of twelve, to be immediately taken up by church bells in every part of the city and by the sirens of all ships in the harbour. And then such a hand shaking and embracing among our company in that really sacred moment when hand clasped hand and foolish misunderstandings of the past year were wiped out as if by magic and eye met eye and heart met heart with pure love and affection. And then one seats himself at the piano and, all standing, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is sung with full voices and hearts eye, and with a tear as well. For to whom does ‘Auld Lang Syne’ mean so much as to a Scotch company and what memories come crowding in upon us when we hear that refrain on Hogmanay night? Even now my eyes are wet when I recall all the associations whcih it has for me. Hogmanay such as I have described and others later with a steadily and sadly diminishing family circle. Hogmanays spent in solitude, a stranger in a strange land and far from my ain folk with only memories for company. But there, let me thank God in all gratitude for such memories. Immediately after the New Year had been thus ushered in with due ceremony occurred the great event of that wonderful night for us children. All at once there would come a thunderous knocking at the outer door and our hearts would jump into our mouths because we knew that that wonderful person, Santa Claus had again condescended to hear our petitions and had come laden with the most marvellous yet vaguely familiar voice – nothing more. One of my aunts, Innes most probably, would go to the door, and opening it just a crack would ask, ‘Who do you want Santa?’, while we congregated in the dimly lit lobby, agog with excitement mixed with awe of the unknown. Then the mysterious voice would say a name and the child called would go to the door. And beyond, the door would be opened and nobody would be seen without. But see – there on the mat, what is that? A parcel, two, perhaps even three parcels, all bearing the name of the child whose name had been called. And so in turn, until Santa has delivered his gifts to all. No need to describe excitement and shrieks of childish joy attendant on the opening of the parcels, which, in the majority of cases, contained the recent heart’s desire of every child present. And so the Hogmanay reunion comes to an end and already the reaction of the unwonted late hour and emotion has set in for the still very little ones. The break up of the clan commences, the married folks with their kiddies returning to their own homes, while the younger members depart on a round of ‘first fittin’ which would probably continue till dawn. And so the years ended and began in the halcyon days of my happy childhood.