‘The red toorie–oorie-oorie-ae.’


 I may not have  had a highchair, but I did have a coat and hat. My coat was very similar to the one in the museum. (I used to have a photograph of me in it, but can’t find it.)

            At the museum, I’d written in my notebook: Child’s coat (2/3 year old?) Utility symbol 41 spec 208  CP  – rust coloured, stitched collar, imitation cuffs, over-stitching detail on collar and cuffs, shaped panels (NB made using scraps and remnants of woollen uniform fabric?) Hat: part of matching set; beret style, with rim – definitely for a girl .

            I expected this poem to be in the same voice as the highchair one, but again it took its own course. A 2/3 year old might cope with sleeves, but certainly couldn’t fasten tight little coat buttons or set a beret at the right angle… so the mother does the talking as she dresses the child. It’s through the mother that the poem moves on… from home to the kirk. (Any Scottish woman of my age who grew up in a working class home knows that guid claes were kept for going to the kirk on the Sabbath day). The little girl observes, muses and ultimately learns what’s important and what isn’t.

            I doubt very much if my coat  had the ‘utility’ symbol.  As the youngest of three sisters, my clothes were generally handed down (apart from the kilt my mother made for school and the jumpers knitted by my Aunty every Christmas. But… oh joy of joys! Two real party dresses – one for my sister, one for me – arrived by post, wrapped in tissue paper in a brown cardboard box, sent by another aunt whose husband was a chauffeur/gardener at a ‘big house’.  I’d no idea at the time they were hand-me-downs, was so enchanted by the shiny soft satin. And mine had ‘puffy’ sleeves, a squared neckline, circlets of floral hand-stitched embroidery at the neck and round the hem.  The colour! ‘Eau-de-nil’ my mother said. How did she know that? It was beautiful. My friends might have thought me a princess at the school Christmas party, if it hadn’t been for my grey school cardigan.

            I digress. What I meant to say was that my coat was more likely to be pre-war. But why should that get in the way of a good story?  The principle of hand-me-downs was certainly necessary and well established, accepted and acceptable.  ‘New’ clothes, for most of us, meant ‘new’ to us. And though my posh hand-me-downs came from my Aunty Aimee, that meant using two words. So I pretended. Granny sent me the coat and hat. It was plausible. She’d worked as a kitchen-maid at Glamis Castle once, and called my Aunt after her friend, a French chamber maid… see, even my name was second third hand.

             We (my husband and I) overtook a white van on the road. ‘Look,’ he said. ‘Did you see that?’


‘“Fantoosh Flooring”, it said. What a great name.’

‘Fantoosh? I’d forgotten all about that word. Is it Scots?’

‘My granny used it all the time.’

‘Mine too.’

‘What does it mean, exactly?”

‘Something like ‘flashy’, fashionable but maybe a bit over the top.’

‘Not a very good use of it then, for flooring.’

‘The very word I need for my poem though.’

I think it’s called synchronicity.

            Somewhere along the line I realised the hat wasn’t just a beret, which is usually made in one piece, but more of a  round flattish cap of felt. Indeed, almost a ‘balmoral’ – a brimless hat with a cockade or ribbons attached, that’s worn with Highland dress and by some Scottish Regiments. Although this hat had no cockade or ribbons, I justified the change of name on the grounds that my mother wasn’t always precise in her use of words. (‘Do ye like my new polystyrene blouse?’ being, possibly, the finest example.) And I know perfectly well she’d have tilted the brim to the right, added a red toorie (a fluffy woollen ball made from winding scraps of wool through the centre hole in a piece of round cardboard, cutting round the edge, and tying in the centre) in the middle of the crown.

            Twas not the tommy gun

            That made the baddies run

            Twas the toorie on his bonnet

            The toorie that was on it,

            The red toorie-oorie-oorie-ae.

            My mother would even have pinned a brooch at the left-hand side, like a clan badge. I could picture the one she’d use – three red rubies surrounded by diamonds, the one we hung on the Christmas tree.

            Let’s hope government plans to decimate the army don’t mean the traditional names and cap badges of the once proud Scottish Regiments are consigned to regimental museums – like the wee girl’s coat and hat has been.





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