Thursday, 1 December 2011

An Latha a' Thainig a Bhanrigh.( A Royal Visit )

It would be the summer of 1956, and there was much excitement surrounding the visit of the Royal Family to the Western Isles. Elizabeth, the young queen, had been crowned a mere three years earlier, and here she was visiting some of the most distant islands in her realm. With her on board the Royal Yacht "Britannia"were her husband Prince Philip, her children, Charles and Anne and other royal personages. Tomorrow they would be in Stornoway, and many islanders would turn to, to see them in person, the visit being an "occasion", rather than any demonstration of loyalty to the crown. From the time of the Lords of the Isles, and through the Jacobite Risings, Lewis never had much time for kings. But this young queen had captured the hearts of her people, and the Lewis folk were no exception.
The people and animals in Dalmore were, in a small way, excited about the Queen's visit. It's not everyone who would give up a full day at the hay or the corn to visit the town, to stand for long periods among large crowds, with no guarantee of a glimpse of the royal party. Others felt that a day like tomorrow might never happen again in Lewis, during their lifetime. The four dogs, Stowlia, Fancy, Jura and Fred had made arrangements for a lift to town with Archie Bones at No. 10. Archie had one of those Bedford Dormobile so beloved of the whalers when they hit the island during periods of leave from South Georgia. The cats were not fussed about the royal visit, and kept saying things like " A cat can look at a queen, anytime". This was a cause of much hilarity, especially when Victoria repeated this sentence in a cut-glass BBC accent. The dogs did not share in their humour, principally because they hadn't the faintest idea what the cats were on about. Fred kept repeating to himself "A cat can look at a queen", but he too, apart from the obvious, was quite confused. As he looked at each cat in turn, hoping for a clue to this riddle, Fred's gaze fixed on Victoria, haughty and with a curious thin smile on her face. She proceeded to regale the assembled company with the following "poem", which one felt was really for Fred's benefit.

" Pussycat, Pussycat where have you been
I've been to London to see the Queen
Pussycat, Pussycat what did you there
I frightened a little mouse from under her chair "

All the cats fell about in paroxysms of laughter, belly-up, with their spogs flailing about in the air. The dogs felt uneasy as this was a very strange situation indeed. Here in front of them was a group of demented cats, caterwauling with gusto, oblivious to the effect they might be having on their audience. Here we had So-Sally, Rupie, Filax,Guinness, Tigger, Vicky, Tom and Kenny Iceland strangely transformed in front of their eyes. Within the space of minutes, their feline friends took on the mantle of crazed creatures. This really spooked Wee Fred who had only ever seen one or two cats together, hissing or pissing in the back court of a Glasgow tenement. In the city, sustained laughter like this, for no apparent reason, has a special name. Those involved are said to "have the bonk", and as they tire, the least cackle from one, can bring back the "bonk" again in a communal explosion of laughter. There are some other expressions similar to this. One that comes to mind is when a woman or animal is said "to have the smit". This happens when one woman is holding a friend's newborn baby, and becomes broody or, as it were, "smitten" by an overwhelming desire for a child herself. Fred was fairly sure that the cats did not have the "smit" (certainly not Old Tom and Kenny). Having the "bonk" was bad enough. In time, the cats slowly regained their composure to the relief of all present. But Fred seemed determined to pursue the supposed relation between cats and the Queen. There were raised eyebrows and some head shakes among the other dogs. One felt that some of them may have been familiar with the doggerel espoused by the Lady Victoria. But not Fred.
Fred : " Of course, a cat can look at a queen, but so too can a dog or anything with two eyes. So what's the big deal and why do you find it funny ?"
Victoria : " A dog can look at a queen, Fred, but it doesn't say that in the saying ' A cat can look at a queen'. So there you have it. There must be a good reason why a cat was chosen over dogs, horses or sheep. I'll admit it's strange and funny when you think about it. Just accept it, Fred, and don't get yourself in a lather." Fred just had to bite the bullet, as they say, on this one.
Fred : "Now, lady, who was this pussycat who left her friends only to pop up in London in the royal apartments of the Queen ? Did this clever cat go there on spec, or was she answering a royal summons. After a long and dangerous journey to London, she somehow avoids the attentions of Her Majesty's guards, only to scare one poor bloody mouse from under her chair. No wonder you lot were almost dead laughing at your catpal's heroics. The least he could do was to toy with the mouse for a while before delivering the coup de grace ( French, for children present.) Chasing a mouse away only invites it to return. Now Vicky, tell me the story behind the story of the pussycat and the Queen. I'm all ears Big Fluffy !
Victoria : " Fred, Fred, You darling boy ! It's only a nursery rhyme which parents recite to their children. There never was a real cat, or a mouse in the Queen's rooms in London. It is just a bit of fun. When we cats saw you taking the story about the "Pussycat and the Queen" so literally and seriously, we could not contain ourselves from laughter. I am sorry, Dear Boy - just a jolly jape - a bit of feline fun, one might say."
Fred didn't think it at all funny, but the Wee Man gave a wan smile, hoping to hide his embarrassment. As Fred moved away, the cats knew that they had hurt his pride, and must somehow make amends. Vicky was upset, and realised that her "bit of fun" was someone else's pain. She didn't mean that to happen, but happen it did.
It was obvious that the cats would not now be going to see the Queen , only the dogs. Fred's good humour was restored, and he was excited at the prospect of today's outing to Stornoway. There were large crowds in the centre of the town to see the royal procession of cars as they slowly passed by. The leading car, as you'd expect, contained the Queen, and being a sunny day, had its top down. Prince Philip was driving, looking relaxed and cheerful. The Queen's sister, Princess Margaret Rose, followed in a Land Rover, and everyone declared that she was a young princess of exceptional beauty. The Dalmore boys, pushing forward and peering through people's legs, had an excellent view of proceedings. They were sure that as they passed, Charles and Anne, the Queen's children gave our friends a special wave. There was no doubt that a reception would be held for the royal party in the Town Hall, or perhaps the Queen had invited the Provost and leading councillors to the "Britannia" for drinks and canapes. The crowds were breaking up, and the small flags and bunting were now looking a bit sad along the "royal route."
Stowlia, Fancy, Jura and Fred were a little tired now, and climbed down the steps of the harbour at South Beach Street. There, they bathed their spogs in the salt water, as they had taken a bit of a bashing in the crowds. Ah, ecstasy - pure and simple. Sammy, the resident harbour seal barked a greeting to them. Suddenly, they noticed a beautiful white launch coming across from Cuddy Point in their direction. It turned out to be a tender from the "Britannia" with four RN sailors aboard, and standing in the prow were Charles and Anne and a couple of wee brown dogs. A young sailor said that the four Dalmore dogs had been invited to join the royal children and some more dogs on board the Royal Yacht. It seems that Stowlia and Co. had caught the royals' notice as they turned into Cromwell Street. The Queen said that it was nice to see loyal canine subjects in the crowd. In fact, she couldn't recall it happening before. Philip laughed and said that Her Majesty was grateful that there were no cats in the crowds. Philip quietly said that Lilibet (that's what he called the Queen) did not like cats that much. Fred wished that Iain 'Houdie was present, so that he could pursue the topic of cats with the Queen. Bowls containing bits of lobster and salmon were put before our dogs, nothing short of the ambrosia eaten by the ancient gods. Before they left, they were assembled to sit in front of this flight of stairs which led to the upper deck. Then the Queen and Princess Anne led out about twenty dogs and had them sit in three rows. God, these were Welsh corgis, and this was a choir of Welsh corgis assembled to entertain their guests from Dalmore. The Queen took over the baton, and the corgis gave renditions of 'Cwm Rhondda', 'Land of My Fathers' and surprisingly, 'Hey, Big Spender'. Jura and Fred had seen choirs of Welsh corgis on the Sunday "Dogs of Praise" programme on television, and knew that unless they left now, they could be there for a long time. You see, where you have two or more Welsh dogs brought together, then that constitutes a choir, and you can be held there for bloody hours.
On leaving, the Queen invited her loyal Scots dogs to visit her again sometime in the future.
Fred : " Puppy-dog, Puppy-dog where have you been , I've been to Stornoway to see the Queen,
Puppy-dog, puppy-dog what did you there,
I ate lobster and salmon next to her chair."
"I'll have to see if Victoria knows this nursery rhyme ? She can teach it to the other cats."