Another classic winter time moment from John Donald’s Old Greenock Characters Winter Fair chapter, presented, as ever, as the author intended. Just in case you don’t know, as it’s relevant to the wee story below, a feeing market is where farmers would come to hire labourers for the next year.
The fair afforded an excellent opportunity to carry on the business of the Martinmas Feeing Market, and bucolic visitors were to be observed in couples and small groups here and there in the Square, or strolling aimlessly about the adjoining streets, the arms of the amorous swains being, in not a few cases, around the ruddy necks of their “fair” companions, who gaped and glowered delightedly, heedless of the amused looks or attempted witticisms of the “toon folk”.
At the corner of Church Place a few lads and lassies were approached by a wench known to at least one of them.
“Hallo Jean, hae ye got a fee?” exclaimed a half tipsy youth, who had been her fellow servant.
“No yet Rab.”
Rab turned to a companion.
“Here, haud ma lass,” said he, “til ah get a gless wi’ Jean.”
The lass having apparently no objection, rab and Jean moved leisurely across to David McCammonds Wheat Sheaf Inn, followed by another couple on a similar errand.
On their return, some twenty minutes later, it was evident that MCCammond kept a dram with some pith in it. Rab felt game for anything.
“Ere ye are lads,” cried the owner of a shooting stand close by, “ere ye are. Try yer skill. O’ny a a’penny a shot. Fun for yer money, an nuts for nuthin!”
“Ah’ll haud ye ah could pit the pin in the wee ring,” exclaimed Rab boldly.
“Don’t believe you could,” returned the stall man; “but ‘ave a try; it on’y costs a a’penny.”
Rab received the gun and put it to his shoulder with a serious air. He took so long to fix his aim, that his friends became impatient, and made sarcastic remarks. At length, he fired – and almost missed the board at the back of the stand.
A shout of derisive laughter greeted the result.
“Aw, ma fit slippit. See’s anither,” said Rab.
“Right you are sir,” replied the showman briskly, and to the gentlemen spectators added: “Ho, yes, it’s right enough. The gentleman’s foot slipped…Now then sir,”
Rab fired again, and with rather more success; the pin was not inside the ring, but came pretty near it.
“That’s better,” cried the showman, encouragingly. “Very near it. This time you’re bound to win. Luck in hodd numbers you know sir,” and he replaced the gun in Rab’s hands.
Practice makes perfect. Rab’s third shot landed the pin within one of the larger circles and his success was hailed with hearty shouts of “Weel done, Rab,” “Fine, man,” from his beaming companions, amidst which Rab laid down his gun with an air of such lofty indifference as to indicate that he could easily ring the pin whenever it might please him to do so.
Declining (wisely) however, further practice, he paid the man and was about to receive his guerdon of nuts, when down came the tall backboard of the stand on the top of his and the showman’s heads. The girls screamed, the showman swore, and Rab was dumbfoundered; but there was little harm done. Some boys had got behind the stand, loosened the cords which held the backboard in place, pushed it over and then made off – a common prank of theirs.
The incident had been fully discussed, and Rab’s “neif-fu’” of nuts distributed among the lassies, when a farmer strolled towards the group. An elderly man of medium height and stout build, with one hand in the pocket of his tweed shooting coat and a thick ash staff in the other, he regarded the females of the party with keen eyes peering from beneath bushy eyebrows. Apparently satisfied with his scrutiny, he slowly stepped forward, and, catching Jean’s eye, indicated with a jerk of the head his desire to speak with her. Jean approached him, when the following conversation ensued, with much deliberation on both sides, the questions being cannily put, and as cautiously answered:-
“Are ye fee’d?” he began.
“Wad ye tak’ a fee?”
“Weel, if it was a guid yin a wad tak it. That’s what I’m looking for.”
“Are ye a guid milker?”
“Ou aye; ah can milk weel eneuch.”
“Can ye churn? Are ye a guid dairymaid?”
“Ou aye, ah’m yaised tae the dairy.”
“Iphm!”…”Ye’ll hae references?”
Jean nodded and produced a couple of certificates which the farmer carefully perused by the aid of his spectacles, and returned:
“And-eh-what wages wad ye be seekin’-what had ye in yer last place?”
“Twal poun’ ten.”
“Aye-imphm-an’ what wad ye be wantin noo?”
“Weel, ah was thinkin’ seven poun’ in the hauf year.”
“Ah’m thinkin’ ye’d be weel enough aff if ye got sax poun’ ten, that’s thirteen poun in the year. What dae ye say? Will ye fee?”
This was the utmost Jean had expected; but it would never do to be too eager. She seemed to hesitate the sly minx.
“But whaur is it til?”
He mentioned the name of his farm, of which Jean had received creditable reports.
“Ah, weel,” sh said at last, “Ah suppose ah maun jist tak it.”
“Come awa’ ower then, an we’ll settle about it. Here’s a shullin; that’ll earle ye,” and the farmer led the way to the White Hart Hotel at the corner of the Square, in order to have the contract signed.
As they passed, Rab whispered, “Hae ye got a fee?”
Jean nodded and smiled, “Aye Rab, ahm fee’d noo.”
“Ye’re lucky,” sighed Rab; “Ah wish ah wis fee’d.”
The original spirit of the Winter Fair lives on in The Dutch Gable House this year, with all manner of handcrafted gifts, prints and books available. It’s open Tuesday – Saturday from 9 – 5. Pop in and say hello! We're especially excited about the Violet Skulls Market on Saturday 30 November. Keep yer Christmas local. You can download the new Dutch Gable House app for FREE now.
Here's a wee vid from bysharonwithlove who is gonnae be selling prints and cards at the event (full disclosure...Sharon and I are married, she takes lovely photies)
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