I was saddened to see this week that Buff Hardie, the last surviving member of the Scotland the What? team, had died. With him went a connection to my parents, and their Aberdonian origins.
For those of you too young to remember them, or outwith the Scottish diaspora (‘outwith’ being a good Scottish word) STW were a trio of blokes from the Aberdeen area who did sketch shows in broad Doric, the North East Scotland dialect. Doric, especially in its braidest form, is pretty impenetrable, even to other Scots, and by the time STW had reached the stage of being a regular fixture on TV shows at Hogmanay and so on, they’d moderated the accent and, to be honest, run out of steam a bit. Which is a way of saying that well-worn cliche of aficionados of anything, I preferred their early stuff, even if the Aiberdeen wis sa thick you could’ve spread it on your buttery (Aberdonian delicacy – see below).
Fortunately, I was brought up bilingual.
My mother was from Huntly, in Aberdeenshire – she was actually a couple of years ahead of George Donald, the musical one of the trio, at school – and my Dad, although born in Dundee, grew up mostly in Aberdeen. They moved down to Fife not long after my older brother was born, but soon connected up with the colony of ex-pats, banished to the Lowlands like them from the Granite City. My favourite was Margaret Thompson, an irredeemably jolly presence, whose favourite saying was ‘I’ll give you a laugh,’ before launching into a funny story, usually told at her own expense.
My childhood was regularly punctuated by trips back north to Aberdeen, partly to visit my grandmother – my sister also went to University there – but also for pilgrimages by the male members of the clan to Pittodrie, home of Aberdeen FC. Ah yes, many a Saturday I spent, luxuriating in the brisk (euphemism) breeze off the North Sea in the stands, watching Drew Jarvie, Willie Miller, and their cohorts toil manfully below us in the sub-zero temperatures, as the home support, ever more critical of their own team than their opponents, offered couthy – and often genuinely witty – pearls of wisdom to spur them on.
Then there were other traditions, like fish and chips from the Ashvale, and, at least once, going to see Scotland the What? on their home turf at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Buying the P & J, which legend has breaking the news of the Titanic’s sinking with the headline ‘Turriff Man Drowns’ (almost certainly apocryphal, but only just). That weird blue lemonade they used to sell up there. The aforesaid butteries, which in their native form rather than the debased version you can get in supermarkets down here, were tightly compressed, high-salt things, unlike anything else you’ll ever taste, and great with marmalade.
My Mum and Dad never really lost the hankering to return home to the North East. They didn’t quite make it in their lifetimes, but in accordance with their wishes, we scattered their ashes together from Brig of Balgownie, in the heart of Old Aberdeen (now there’s a tragicomic story I’ll keep for close friends and Aberdeen contacts!)
I still have a big soft spot for anyone with a North East accent I come across in these barbarian climes, despite being Fife born and bred myself. There’s something about that pawky sense of humour that STW exploited so cleverly – the targets of their gentle humour were almost always people in authority, or folk who thought they were. I’ve put a few links to their sketches below, by the way – not necessarily the best ones, but a lot of what’s up on Youtube are terrible quality whole concerts taken from cassette tapes, and I didn’t think you’d want to wade through all that. For the non-Scots, George’s ‘Our Glens’ is probably the most accessible.
Still and all. My parents spent a goodly portion of their lives in Glenrothes, where we live now, and contributed a lot to the emerging New Town – and not just through my Dad’s job at the Development Corporation. He published three books about it which will, in future years, be an invaluable resource to anyone wanting to research its history. Mum, as a Corporation wife, was expected to contribute to the setting up of clubs and societies in the town, which she dutifully did. Things like the Inner Wheel and the Floral Art Club might seem quaint now, but at the time they were a semi-successful attempt to create a much-needed bit of community spirit.
With that in mind, when Dad followed Mum in 2014, my brother, sister and I were keen to have some sort of tribute to both of them in Glenrothes. My initial bright idea, a creative writing competition for the three town schools, foundered due to lack of effort from the teachers. So we hit on Plan B – a bench, in Balbirnie Park. It took a bit of time to organise, but finally it was installed a couple of weeks ago. It has an acer and a rhododendron in the background, and a view of the big house looking one way, and the golf course in the other, should Mum and Dad decide they want to sit there and offer words of advice to the golfers, in the spirit of the Pittodrie regulars of old.
But I’ll give you a laugh, as Margaret Thompson used to say. When Alison and I were there, taking photos of the bench for my brother and sister to see it in place, a guy came past walking his dog, who, kindly, offered to take pictures of us both (the guy, not the dog). Unfortunately, when his thumb wasn’t actually over the lens, it was holding the rapid-fire button down, so there are about a zillion photos in close sequence, like the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination but less deadly.
Oh well. Mum and Dad would’ve laughed.