Photo credit: Ian Bell
At this time, we Borderers celebrate who we are, what we are and where we have been, be it far far away. Common Riding are to us what every local celebration in every Scottish community means to them, only this is pash off the stratosphere.
No celebration anywhere is as colourful, emotion filled and our royalty are hand picked from the oor ain faimlies. This being a honour which is fulfilled with great decorum. It’s also a great excuse to buy a new hat!
We know how to party but we know how to remember and respect our past. For those who think our celebrations weird and outdated, and I understand why Cutting the Sod, Saut Herrings on a Bannock fixed wi’ a twalpunny nail would seem a trifle unorthidox, but it all has meaning. At least meaning to us. The excitement includes the smell of horses, cooking bacon and in the case of Hawick a noggin of rum and milk, which by the way, is delicious. Or maybe we have been brought up to like it.
As in all the towns, you’re woken early by the bands, and I mean early. If you are a rider then you’ve been up since about 3am for your mount has to be shining. Then the ceremonies begin, gettin’ abody oot o’ their pits. Getting dolled up, bairns scrubbed within an inch o’ their lives. Pan o’ soup ready for the stragglers for there’s no time to cook. Windows cleaned in preparation and shop displays carry the colours and photos of past and present dignitaries.
Don’t talk to us about Jacobites, they never held the Border, but that takes us to Flodden and the Flo’ers o’ the Forest. The casualties of war bore heaviest on the losses at that battle which is much remembered all through the day. The loss of so many young men through every town and valley in the Borders took generations to repopulate. Just like the Highlands. Selkirk had only one young man return and they remember him. It has its very solemn moments, for we do remember the past with dignity, and appreciation. For when we watch what is happening in Ukraine, the same passion and commitment runs through the same fight, the fight to stop the theft of our land and people paramount.
After the bands and the colour bussing, which is symbolic of those who fought for our Border and Borderlands. The riders go then to ride the boundaries, our common lands. Low and behold any interloper be there, in this case over this weekend, some coos who just wanted to join in at Hawick. The crowd gathers in anticipation for a fast start, a spectacle reminiscent of watching their men go to battle not so long ago.
Then the horses stand, waiting, their ears pricked tails up, it’s one of the few times they can run as a huge herd, their DNA programming them for freedom. They stand almost on tiptoe in sheer anticipation and then the cry, they are off. What a sight it is, bairns hoisted on car roofs to make sure they see the warriors go off into the skyline, a sight they will never forget. Mothers greetin’ because their lassies and laddies are in full flight for their family honour. Men snuffling in hankies unashamed they cried because this is the Common Riding and it’s important, bloody important, because every mair in Borders is nourished with the blood of our forefathers, and indeed our foremothers.
Folk travel the world back home to be with their families and friends at this time. It’s more than a reunion, or an excuse for a party, though that’s definitely an important factor. It’s like a homing pigeon’s radar, something pulls you home, and nothing except a pandemic can stop it. This is why this year is so special.
So when these ceremonies are over, a’body is sitting at their fireside. Safe Oot and now Safe In, we all return to normal and think of those who didn’t make it hame, who didn’t see it through the virus, or died before they saw life restored. We remember them by laying flowers, singing our songs, playing our music, speaking in our dialect without being misunderstood, enjoying a little bit of life we all call oor Common Riding. So if you don’t get it, that’s OK, you will always be welcome, our doors will be open and our hospitality will astound you. However, you have to pick a toon, remember which one you’re in, and whatever, never talk aboot Gala to my lot. To my Langholm Granny Gala being “that toon in the North.” Parochial we are but inter-town rivalry, mainly through rugby, persists and not through hate, through sheer competitive battles, and banter reminiscent of those Border skirmishes, teaching the boys to fight, aye there’s nothing like a rugby pitch to settle old scores! So get your politics right.
But I do need to speak about our politics, and why Scotland has got us wrong. Although the SNP and the Greens are making progress, and there was great astonishment at the election of a Green candidate in Gala at the local elections, indeed front page news. I have to include my own victory by stamping out a Blue myself, thanks team. But we do need some representation throughout the Independence Campaign. We need to see the positive face of Independence, more interaction with the Parliament and more pressure on the dafties who think they can hold on here for life. This used to be Liberal La la land, it can be done. That blue line will be beaten yet, Scotland just needs to embrace us, otherwise, we are no speakin’! Or worse, Christine Grahame will be sent to sort you oot! Go Christine.