Gather round – and let the fun begin

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For whatever reason, there hasn’t been a great deal going on to titillate my nimble keyboard fingers – and even less to stir the old grey matter that lies beneath my ever-growing head of hair.

All that will change soon with the arrival of the season of common ridings, festivals and, of course, The Gathering. With regard to the latter, I was saddened to hear of the death of Bert Naismith who was president of the Braw Lads’ Gathering from 1984 to 1987. He was 95 and had enjoyed a good innings, but I was still saddened when I heard the news at the weekend.

All our towns and villages need stalwarts to ensure our traditions are maintained, and that any tweaking is done for the right reasons and with tender, loving care. Bert was one of those guys.

He joined the Braw Lads’ Executive Council in 1972, shortly after arriving in the burgh from the Peebles ilk where he and his wife, Ann, had taught at Castle Craig School. He took over as headmaster of one of my old schools, the Burgh Primary in Gala Park. My youngest sister was a pupil and he was popular with staff and students – which can be a rare thing in a headteacher.

The Braw Lads’ Gathering underwent change about that time. The Saturday ceremonials were shifted to the Friday and The Gathering became a two-day event. In actual fact it had always lasted a week – and sometimes a wee bit more.

As a reporter, I remember attending meetings in the Maxwell Hotel where the pros and cons were hotly debated over – for me a few pints, and for the older generation a few nips. I was working, but a couple of pints at an evening job was acceptable then. I had one editor who only took a drink when it was free at a Burns supper or rugby dinner.

I wouldn’t say the one-day/two-day Gathering debate and subsequent two-day change split the town as much as the lady riders’ dispute did in Hawick. I seem to recall that much of the opposition came from the shops – the big ones like the Co-op – who didn’t want to lose two days’ trade.

But perhaps my memory does them an injustice.

Bert was a fervent advocate of moving main ceremonies back to the Saturday, and as chairman of the Braw Lads’ Executive Council in 1974, he ensured that is what happened. The Gathering was back to how its founding fathers in 1930 had intended it to be. Each common riding, each festival and, of course, The Gathering can yield a thousand and more tales and stories – some that can be told, others best kept for those quiet moments when only the participants are present.

Like the time during the early hours after a Braw Lads’ Danny Ha’ Dinner when access was somehow gained (don’t ask) to the swimming pool (the baths) in Wilderhaugh, and an impromptu swimming gala and water polo match took place. When pool staff opened in the morning, 10 bob and pound notes floating on the water were all that signified something that shouldn’t have had taken place. All part of the fun that is about to be unleashed in the Borders over the coming few months.

I now accept that summer is here and I will get my quarterly hair cut this weekend.