Chief guest at this year’s Hawick Common Riding, who made his keynote address at Thursday’s Colour Bussing in the Town Hall, was 47-year-old Teri and polymath Douglas Scott.
Having graduated with a BSc in astrophysics from Edinburgh University, he completed a PhD at Cambridge and is now professor of physics and astronomy at the University of British Columbia.
A regular visitor to the town, Mr Scott, who is married with two daughters, delivered his speech, extracts of which appear below, in the vernacular of “broad Hawick” which is hardly surprising since he is the compiler of the 800-page Hawick Word Book, published in 2005.
A was fair chuffed ti be asked ti be guest at this year’s Common Ridin. A say “fair chuffed” an no some posh English phrase, cos when somethin comes fri ma hert, A revert ti ma native tongue, which is, of course, broad Hawick.
The aulder A get the mair A’ve come ti appreciate oor language, its expressiveness an aye, its beauty.
A wise man yince said: “The local dialects are passing away...even where not utterly trampled under foot by the encroaching language of literature and education, they are corrupted and arrested by its all-pervading influence”.
Now that could’ve been said the day, bit actually it was James Murray, him thit edited the Oxford English Dictionary, an hei said eet in eiteen hunder an seeventy-threi. Hei was vexed aboot the survival o dialects, an aboot oors in particular. Bit it’s still here, an juist is teesh is it’s aye been!
Even although A now bide in Canada, A try ti speak right Hawick ti ma twae dowters. An they offen ask is, what’s the English word for “slitter”, or “platchin”, or “nithered”, or “glaikit”, or “strooshie”. An A tell thum thit there’s nae English translation, cos they Hawick words er juist the perfect words ti describe what ee mean!
Now ti git political for juist a meenite (in case there’s ony politeecians here!).
In ma adopted country o Canada, there’s a lot o money an effort gauns inti preservin the languages o the native folk, an in Scotland here the same kind o resources er spent ti keep up the Gaelic. Of course there’s nihin wrang wi thae efforts. Bit shairly oo could recognise the value o dialects is weel, an actually pit some official stamp o approval on keepin thum gaun. Especially, of course, the stronger dialects, an particularly the yin A care maist aboot, which is what oo speak here in Hawick!
Oo need ti cherish an protect this language o oors. It’s yin o the twae maist spaicial hings aboot Hawick. The other yin, of course is this maist magical o aa celebrations, the Common Ridin!
Although A tried to come back for early June maist years, it wasni aye easy, is ma studies taen is ferther an ferther away, first ti Edinburgh, then Cambdrige an California, an finally Vancouver in Canada. A’m now Professor o Astrophysics it the University o British Columbia, where A particularly spaicialise in Cosmology. That’s the study o the Universe on the largest scales an it the earlier times. Or in other words A study muckle hings an really fer away hings!
Researchin the distant corners o space hes taught is somethin relavent ti Hawick. It’s sometimes said thit oor Common Ridin is the best pairty in the World. Bit it’s no – it’s the best pairty in the in the whole Universe!
Now speakin o astronomy, there was a transit o Venus on Tuesday night for mei, an Wednesday mornin for yow yins. That’s when the planet Venus passes across the disk o the Sun - somethin thit happens aboot yince in a lifetime, an was lang ago yaised to set the scale o oor Solar System, and hence the Universe.
If ee were queuein up afore the Hut on Wednesday ee’d hev seen eet, except thit it was cloudy an rainin! Bit this ees interestin because yin o the first mentions A’ve been able ti finnd o astronomy in Hawick involves a transit (o Mercury this time) in the eiteen-therties. This was observed in a gairden in Allars Bank, juist ahint the Toon Hall here. The twae folk involved were Gideon Scott, a Hawick millwright, an John Pringle Nichol, whae’d been a teacher in Hawick.
Gideon Scott was kent for buildin mill-wheels and lots o other contraptions, is weel is bein a keen amateur astronomer. An hei hed a strong influence on John Pringle Nichol, whae left Hawick an later became Professor o Astronomy it Glesgi University (which was foonded bi a man whae was essentially fri Hawick is weel).
It’s kind o Twilight-Zoney thit the first reference ti astronomy in Hawick involved a Scott in Allars Bank, where A spent maist o ma High Schuil years! An its appropriate an aa that the other man was a Nichol like oor Cornet!
Onywi, yin other hing oo ken aboot Gideon Scott was that a few years afore hei dei’d his entire faimily o seeven sons an twae dowters, whae’d been spreid aa ower the pliss, came hame for the Common Ridin.
Oo aa come back for the Common Ridin, an A’d be here withoot bein invited! That’s how its seek a big honour ti hev been selected to be Guest this year.
In fact A can only hink o twae achievements thit might be better. The first wad be ti wun a Nobel Prize for work on the structure o space and time. An the saicond wad be ti yaise that knowledge ti build a worm-hole, then ti faa throwe eet, finndin masel comin oot the other side younger, unmarried, magically able ti ride a horse, an then git picked is Cornet!
However, since neither o thae hings is likely ti happen in the real Universe, then A’ll happily settle for the third best option!
It was 40 year ago thit Chay Blyth was on this stage is guest o the Common Ridin heis-sel. True Hawick folk aye come back, even if they’ve been roond the world is mony times is hei hes!
So how is that? What makes folk, like Sir Chay or mei, return?? How did Gideon Scott’s entire faimily come back for this week o weeks? How er oo aa here the day? What makes this whole hing si spaicial for oo? It’s an undefinable somein, impossible ti put inti words, bit oo ken eet when oo sei eet.
That wee bit magic’s there when ee sei the first rider it Bonchester, or the Cornet briestin the Nip Knowes, or the wavin bairns dressed in blue an yelli. It was there when Ronnie Nichol gave heis wee bit nod an sterted off the Drums an Fifes it six on the Kirk Wynd the day.
An it was there when Gillian [Cornet’s Lass Gillian Smith] tied the ribbons on the Flag yince mair. It’ll be there when Michael Aitken begins the Auld Sang on the steps it the Toor. That wee bit magic’s there when ee realise thit the auldest Cornet is the auldest Actin Fither is weel, an Chuck Whullans is still gaun strong!
There’s that surge in yer hert when ee sei the Auld Yins wavin it the Cornet oit their windows, even if they canni git oot ti the street. An its there throwe coontless other wee events aa the way ti when the Saxhorn Band play the Invocation, every yin o thum gei-in eet thur aa, is the Flag’s returned agin on Seturday.
This Common Ridin is central ti what makes oo whae oo er, remindin oo o the spaicial pliss thit oo bide in, an the bond thit ties oo ti each other throwe oor traditions – perhaps gaun hunders or thoosands o years back, if no aa the way ti the Big Bang!
So mind thit ee’re no juist a human bein fri planet Earth, ee’re no juist a European, or British or Scottish or a Borderer - ee’re fri Hawick! Cosmologists airgee thit there’s nae centre ti the Universe, thit everywhere is basically the same.
Bit maist cosmologists er no fri Hawick, so they dinni ken what aa ken – there IS a spaicial point in baith space an in time – it’s here an it’s now!