3 minutes reading time (544 words)

Age and Yew

A week beside the Falls of Dochart has taken years off me. I'm only 46 this week. Last week I was 55. Of course it won't last long, though you never quite know.

 

 

Sleep is very good for people. Sleeping beside an old river is extra good - waking to the rush of water doing what it has done for a very long time. And we went to see the Fortingall Yew, which is enough to give anyone pause for thought. That ancient tree is not a just a bit old. It is mega-ancient. It's reckoned to have been there at least five thousand years. Some people think a lot longer.

Anyway, when you're feeling a little old and weary, it makes you think. I spent a lot of the week reading the poems of Willie Soutar, the Perth poet. He fitted very well into Killin. I've been circling around him for years and I got closer this time than I've been. Poor chap didn't live to be old, and his final thirteen years were spent in bed, because the spondylitis affecting his spine rendered him immobile. To add insult to injury, tuberculosis finished him off a good ten years younger than I am now. He remained remarkably cheerful, almost sinisterly positive.

One of the things that appeals to me about him is the odd mixture of poems he felt bound to produce. Lots of them were thoroughly unsuitable for a career poet. Many are what he called 'Bairnrhymes' - children's poems in Scots. Lots of them are marvellous. Then there are the 'Whigmaleeries' - oddities, anecdotes, humorous stories about people, again in Scots. There are serious lyrics, in English. And some in Scots. I think he writes best in Scots: at his best in that tongue he is superb. If you didn't already love the sound of Scots lilt and language, you would after getting a little Soutar by heart. He is not like anybody else.

Then I lost a tooth. Well, half of it. All I did was bite into a small tomato and out it came. The other half is waiting for my dentist. It was a rotten-looking thing. That tooth was over fifty years old though. I guess it has done its time, done good work for me. I fell to thinking of all the bits of my body that have gone over the years - teeth, the odd fallopian tube, a bit of height, the vivid colour of my hair which I hated so much when I was young. Willie Soutar reflected on the fact that at least he would die with his teeth in good shape. I'd rather outlive mine, on balance.

Anyway, he also wrote a lot of riddles, and here is one of them. The answer (I like them better when I know the answer) is Age. (Oh 'stecher and boo" is stagger and bow. You should be able to get the rest okay.)

You'll gang monie a mile wi it
And it's licht upon your back:
But whan you've haik'd a while wi it
You'll ken ye carry a pack.

The folks wha travel far wi it
Begin to stecher and boo; 
Sin the langer that ye are wi it
The wechtier it maun grow.

 

The Fortingall Yew

 

Sphinx 10 is here!
Oh to be in Scotland, now that April...
 

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Saturday, 11 July 2020

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