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Scots in Argentina
A Broadcast talk — Scots stories, old and true

(Given in April 1982 over Radio Excelsior, Buenos Aires).

If ye canna believe this, jist dinna;
But ken that I’m wishin’ ye weel—
A trip ower the seas tae auld Scotlan’—
Black puddins, fresh herrin’, oatmeal—
The fare they pit up for the Scots fowks
That chance tae the Land o’ the Leal.


Friends at the end of this microphone, when Mr. Dougall asked me to give a 15 minutes’ talk over Radio Excelsior, I gladly agreed—chiefly for the reason that there are many folks in the far reaches of this Republic from Bahia Blanca to Mendoza, from Mar del Plata and Ajó to Tucumán and Jujuy, across the river in Uruguay and Brazil, and away in the never never regions of Patagonia from Deseado down to Magallanes—there are many in all these regions whom I have met only once or twice when I have been there visiting and conducting Services. Believe me, it is a solid pleasure for me to give you the opportunity of hearing a Scot rolling his "rs" again, and an added pleasure that I should be doing it from a position of such comparative immunity, compared with my more usual location.

My subject has been announced to you as "Scots stories old and new". That’s a mistake. For what I said over the telephone when I got the invitation was "Scots stories old and true". The implication is obvious, I hope, for I believe that there are very few Scots stories that are new, and fewer that are true.

Here’s an example of one that was masqueradtng as new in B.A. three years ago an Aberdeen fish story. A young lad from Aberdeen went up to London (that was London’s good fortune, of course) to make his living and everything else he could. He didn’t succeed so well as he thought he would. After 10 years of hard work he was only on £200 a year. One of his pals a fishmonger in Aberdeen took the chance of a cheap holiday excursion, to visit him in London. He diagnosed the trouble immediately, and reminded his London friend that fish made brains, and that he should eat more fish if he wanted to get more snap into his work and more salary at the end of the year. "I’ll send you", he said, "a half-guinea box of selected fish every week", and this he duly did. At the end of the first month, after the arrival of four boxes of fish, our London friend wrote to Aberdeen saying that he didn’t see any difference in his brain power. And back from Aberdeen came the reply by letter :— "It takes time stick in tae the fish". At the end of the second month our London friend wrote again in the same vein and got a similar reply. At the end of the third month our London friend wrote to Aberdeen yet once more, saying he still was in the same position, at £200 a year, and that there were no prospects of a rise, and that the fish was apparently working no wonders in him north of his neck. "And" he added in his letter "isn’t half a guinea a bit thick anyway for the quantity and quality of the fish you’re sending me?" All the reply he got from Aberdeen was this, on a postcard: "Now the fish is beginnin’ tae work."

That story was current in Buenos Aires about three years ago, and was related as "the latest Scots story". But I can assure you on the evidence of one who was there, and who to-day is an old man, that that story was often told amongst some Scots pioneers near Rio Gallegos in Patagonia in the year 1879 53 years ago.

There are not many Scots stories that are really and wholly new.

There are less still that are really and wholly true. Here’s an example of this latter type.

The scene is the city of Aberdeen and the occasion the week observed annually as Self Denial Week. The Salvation Army was out in force with their collecting boxes getting funds for their splendid work. An old farmer from the village of Dyce was walking down Union Street after having been at the weekly market. He was tackled by a young girl wearing her ‘Army’ bonnet, who said to him: "Won’t you give me a shilling for the work of the Lord?" The old farmer gazed down at the girl in silence, and then asked:

"How auld are ye, ma lassie?" "Seventeen" came the reply. "Weel" said the farmer "I’m eichty twa and therefore it’s most probable that I’ll be seein' the Lord before you will—so I just think I’ll wait and hand Him my subscription personally."

That story was born in a town called Turriff. And here’s another that was manufactured in a town called Dufftown—chiefly famous through its proximity to Glenlivet.

The Minister of the Parish of Methlick the county seat of the Earl of Aberdeen (who, by the way, is one of Scotland’s most renowned story-tellers) this Minister one day received a telephone message from the local station-master (some miles away) that a box had arrived from Dufftown for him, and had been lying at the station a week.

"Ah, that’s all right, "said the Minister "it’s a box of second-hand books which I bought at a sale there I’ll come along for them soon."

"But yi’ll better hurry up" said the stationmaster "for they’re leakin’."

It is the quiet, undemonstrative, calculating outlook on life that gives pith and point to so many Scots stories. Aberdeen was under snow one winter’s night and the hour was 10 o’clock. Most of the landladies (that fine body of women who make a living by housing and feeding the University students) had gone to bed. A homeless beggar knocked at the door of one of them in Kitty-brewster and the landlady opened her bedroom window and looked down. "Will ye gie’s tippence for a bed?" said the beggar. "Aye" said the landlady, "bring it in."

And yet, even so, we do see a joke sometimes where others don’t. Last year, at the annual Service of the St. Andrew’s Society of the River Plate in St. Andrew’s, Buenos Aires, the usual and perfectly innocent announcement was made at the close of the Sermon "Your offerings will now be received" and as the occasion was a special one, it was added "While the offering is being received, the Organist will play a Highland Lament." I underline the word "lament" meantime, and the point, of course, will be quite apparent to English and Irish listeners tomorrow morning. Which suggests this thought that in Scotland the Minister comes in for more good-natured banter, and suffers more at the hand of the story-tellers than, I think, any other class of man. Yet, occasionally, we have our staunch defenders. Listen to this written by a Scots bird-fancier in defence of his Minister who was having rather a rough time from the parishioners. I think it is a real ornithological gem.

"It’s my opeenion that congregations expect far ower much in their parson. They want in him the strength o’ an eagle, the grace o’ a swan, the gentleness o’ a dove, the voice o’ a nightingale, the friendliness o’ a sparrow, the mornin’ hours o’ a cock, the night hours o’ an owl; and when they catch the bird, they expect him tae live on the diet o’ a canary."

You all know the Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman type of story, and you cannot have failed to notice that the "kick" of the story is always against the Scot. But you must have also noticed that the net result is that, at the end of the day, the Englishman and the Irishman are usually wiserand probably poorer men. Here’s a sample of the Englishman and Scotsman type. They resolved to have a day’s fishing together, and on the way to the river the Englishman (who wasn’t much of a fisher) proposed that the one who caught the first fish should pay for the dinner in the evening. This was agreed. After half an hour the Englishman caught a fine sea-trout, and the Scot left his rod on the bank and ran down to see the catch and to congratulate his friend heartily. On the way back to his rod the Scot quietly murmured to himself "I think I can put some bait on ma hook noo".

Of course, the Scot does sometimes score in these stories. Sandy went into a butcher’s shop in York one day and asked for a sheep’s head. The butcher produced three fine specimens. "Are they Scots sheep?" asked Sandy. "No they’re all English sheep" replied the butcher. "Ah, weel" said Sandy, "I’ll need the try another shop, for, ye see, what the wife’s really wantin’ is the brains."

The country dweller in Scotland as distinct from the town and city man, has a wonderful and all unconscious gift of combining pathos and humour, and of doing it with perfect taste and reverence. What could beat this as a philosophical and yet somewhat humorously reverent summing up of a situation :—A Tommy in the Gordon High-landers during the war was making his way one night up to the Front Line, over an area which was being plastered with shells. As he dodged from spot to spot and ultimately took refuge in a shell-hole, he found himself beside the dead body of one of his pals. When he got up to get on with his job, he addressed his fallen comrade thus "Jockye’ll hae a better nicht than I will."

Or this A country Minister was holding forth in a very long sermon one Summer Sunday morning. The bees were droning outside and some of the folks asleep inside. A donkey wandered into the churchyard and began braying at one of the open windows. "One at a time, please" said the Beadle to the donkey.

A Banffshire Scot sells me eggs every week. He runs a hen farm and he called some months ago, delighted with the fact that the hens had doubled their production during the last four days. I suggested that the "ceniza" from the volcanoes beyond Mendoza must be doing the hens good. "Na, na," he said, "I think that the hens think it’s the end o’ the world, and they are jist tryin’ to make a good impression afore its too late".

Time’s up, my friends. Perhaps now you’ll be perfectly certain that we Scots are a curious folk. Perhaps we are. But this at least is true we’re inclined (on the whole) to love one another, even if we’re not always inclined to trust one another.

To level things up, I think that Mr. Dougall should soon ask an Englishman to tell some English stories. The real difference between an Englishman and a Scot is this The Englishman has a great sense of pride in his race he thinks himself better than all the rest of the world. The Scot is a humble fellow he only thinks that he’s better than the Englishman.

One last word: the way to be safe in these distracted days is to be two things (1) Thankful (2) Cheerful.

If I have helped you to be the latter, you perhaps will try to be the former.

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