Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Old Greenock Characters - Smeek the Paurrot

Another  from John Donald's Old Greenock Characters. There are only a few women detailed in the books, and the only one pictured is 'Smeek the Paurrot'. Like Tattie Wullie, she is also described as 'kenspeckle' - we've decided to try and get this word back into regular usage, very many of the folk ye see in the town today are kenspeckle

As we've said before, Donald's books are of their time, and some of the language and descriptions of folk seem inappropriate to us today, we've still to introduce you to Slavery Hughie or Sam the Drunkard, but we're presenting them as Donald preserved them.

I may here record what I know of a respectable woman whose odd appearance, I believe, more than anything else, brought about an unenviable notoriety.

One of the most interesting figures to be seen in Hamilton, West Blackhall and adjoining streets of Greenock during the “seventies” of the nineteenth century was the peculiar female so well-known to the inhabitants, and particularly to the rising generation, as “Smeek the Paurrot.” Rather poorly clad, a shabby, old-fashioned bonnet, trimmed with loops of black velvet ribbon and adorned by a red flower of modest dimensions, surmounted a wrinkled complexion of somewhat dingy yellow, small, half-closed eyes of a Mongolian cast, suggestive of, if indeed one of them did not actually possess, a cast of a commoner western type, Mrs. Martha Allison or Carsewell was kenspeckle, and those who met her frequently would have felt that something serious had happened if by any extraordinary chance the decent woman had appeared in public without her dark grey shoulder shawl or her wicker message basket with the double lid.

She was, as she appeared to be, of a nervous and excitable temperament, and the slogan cry of “Smeek the Paurrot,” “Smeek the Paurrot,” fairly set her on edge. Tightening the shawl about her spare shoulders with then, long fingers (the basket being slung by the handle from her left arm), Mrs Carsewell would turn on her tormentors and screech :-
“It wisna’ me that smeeked the paurrot; it wis ma man’s first wife.”
Her voice is indescribable, but some idea of it may be conveyed by stating that it was a kind of throaty screech, very high pitched and in crescendo. When more than usually pestered and, consequently, more than usually excited, she would become confused and exclaim:-
“It wisna’ me that smeeked the paurrot; it was ma first man’s wife!” and it has been said that getting more and more muddled, she would attempt a correction by hastily adding – “Ma wife’s first man!!”

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