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Thurso (Donald Thomson): Week 4 – 19 August

What’s the most troubling thing you’re likely to hear over a plane’s intercom in mid flight? I suppose, “Hey—didn’t we used to have more than one engine?” would be pretty near the top, along with, “Oops, I thought you were going to organise the refuelling”. Luckily I didn’t get either of those on my flight last week from Wick to Edinburgh, but instead: “Ladies and gentlemen, um, we’re going to be slightly delayed arriving, ah, they’ve found a hole in the runway and until they can patch it up the airport’s temporarily closed.” Not even a free cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit is enough to steady the nerves as you continuously circle Edinburgh, picturing the co-pilot thoughtfully tapping the fuel gauge.

Well, of course we landed safely, just a little late. I’m not one of nature’s fliers, but I find commending my soul to God before takeoff seems to work, on the basis that if we land safely He can always give it back; if not, I’m that much ahead of the game. And as I mentioned last week, I didn’t take my current project with me on the plane (too bulky, too much concentration required). Even so, I have finished the front, and joined the shoulders, and started on the collar. Next week I should make a start on the sleeves.

Big Red Shoe – Northampton

To take my mind off things, I’ve been reading a biography of Robert the Bruce. (By the bye, I’ve always liked the Scottish custom of inserting the definite article between some forenames and surnames, as in Gordon the Reid, or Winnie the Pooh. It has added otherness when the person is also known by the colour of their hair, as in “the Red Comyn” or “the Black Douglas”—though I suppose on reflection probably not “the Brown Pooh”.) The story of the Scottish Wars of Independence is a remarkable tale, full of remarkable incidents, history that reads like fiction.

Flyfishing in Pitlochry

Isabella Fortuna leads in the flotilla

Here’s just one example. Bruce and his forces avoided pitched battles against the English wherever possible, preferring guerrilla raids and surprise attacks on English-held castles. One such was at Roxburgh, near Berwick-on-Tweed. One of Bruce’s lieutenants, James Douglas, known as the Black Douglas, was tasked with taking it. In the gathering darkness he and his men approached the castle on their hands and knees, with their cloaks thrown over them, so that they were taken for stray cattle by the castle’s guards. They had scaling ladders to climb the walls, and quickly gained the ramparts. Now, Douglas had been such a terror to the English that he’d become something of a bogeyman. The story goes that as he slipped inside, he came across a woman with her back to him nursing a baby, singing a lullaby: “Hush ye, hush ye, do not fret ye/ The Black Douglas shall not get ye”—at which Douglas crept up, placed his hand on her shoulder and growled in her ear, “Do not be sure of that!” Isn’t that great? Of course (what did you take this for, Game of Thrones?) he immediately swore he’d protect her and her child from harm.

But perhaps the best summary of Bruce’s career comes from Sellars and Yeatman’s classic text, 1066 And All That: “The Scots were now under the leadership of the Bruce (not to be confused with the Wallace), who, doubtful whether he had slain the Red Comyn or not, armed himself with an enormous spider and marched against the English, determined if possible to win back the Great Scone by beating the English three times running.” After which, there’s really nothing else to add…

12 comments to Thurso (Donald Thomson): Week 4 – 19 August

  • meg macleod

    there is a certain amount of humour looking back on nervy situations…once landed they make good stories..flying to America.[1996].from LOndon.stopping in Ireland for fuel and a group of nuns…..oops .the plane tried but was too heavy to take off..the nuns crossed themselves..while the pilot with a lovely Irish accent apologised for the slight delay …the fuel was unloaded….we took off..oops not enough fuel..we landed in Iceland ..the nuns crossed themselves again..we refuelled…my nervous husband at the time knowing all about engines was feverishly trying to plan a boat trip back from New York..i dont think he enjoyed the holiday very much…however the flight home was uneventful….i think it was Ryan air…

    • Gordon

      Hi Meg, I think the main thing to remember is, never take a flight with nuns! (I can’t help thinking too that the solution to a flight being too heavy is not to get rid of the fuel to lighten the load…)

  • Dave

    I’ve always thought it a nice gesture to cross yourself on the descent – just to reassure those around you.

    Of course, down here in Wales the inter- nomen article thrives with Jones the Steam topping the list.

  • Annie

    The announcement: “Hang on, folks, we’re going for it!”

    Ah, will you share the title of the Robert The Bruce biography?

    (I have a car sticker: “I knit so I don’t kill anybody.” Could be helpful to stay calm on a plane?)

    • Gordon

      Hi Annie, the book is “Robert the Bruce: king of Scots” by Ronald McNair Scott, and a cracking good read it is.

      That bumper sticker sounds awfully like tempting fate to me…

  • I’ve managed to put aside childish images of the Blue Douglas, the Magenta Macpherson and all their multi-coloured friends, but the image of lumpy stray cattle creeping up on a castle dragging scaling ladders behind them in the dark is here to stay. Thank you for that.

    • =Tamar

      Oh, I’d missed that detail! Thank you!
      That just puts the cream on the scone!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, the Scots developed very cunning rope ladders with wooden steps and a barb like a harpoon at the top. They’d sneak up to the castle walls – most of them weren’t that tall, we’re not talking Helm’s Deep here for the most part. Then they’d take a long lance and lift up the ladders on the lance’s point, hooking the barb over the ramparts, and then climbing up. (One attack had to be abandoned when a dog started barking, and the garrison took the ladder down to the market next day to show everyone, the chronicler records.)

  • Ruan

    always liked the joke, what to Attila the Hun and Winnie the Pooh have in common, their middle name!
    I hate the enclosed space of a plane, on the ground or in the air and have taught my self to sleep, once in a plane seat, back fired on a work trip when I slept on my bosses shoulder but mostly it saves hassle of being in a small tin can flying at speeds high enough to not hit the ground and you can’t get out for a leg stretch!
    sadly am off early next week, a there and back flight!
    (humms I will survive under my breath)

    • Gordon

      Hi Ruan, flying can be unnerving, and the planes that fly from Wick are a bit on the small side which doesn’t help. It’s odd the way that we accept the risks of driving on, say, the A9, which is way more likely to end badly for us than flying, possibly because when we’re driving we feel we’re in control?

      I’ve never fallen asleep on my bosses shoulder, might try that to ease my fear of being a passenger next time she offers me a lift to Thurso!

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