Fran Brady was born in Dundee and is a graduate of St Andrews University. After a varied career in the voluntary sector, she turned from charity management to creative writing. In five years, she has written three novels, a book of short stories, a children’s book and recently – to her surprise – some poetry. She has three daughters, a stepson, six grandchildren, lots of pals of all ages – and a dog. She lives with her husband in a village in West Lothian.
A Fife Mining Community 1954
New Year’s Eve, Hogmanay, was the time for free-range “first-footing”, an unpredictable affair with every house set up for a full- scale party. It was a lottery as to which ones would end up with crowds big enough to do justice to the groaning tables of food and drink. There might be a great party, a horrible fight, a great deal of vomiting or just a gaggle of maudlin mutterers and snorers. Or you might have very few people and be left eating black bun and shortbread for weeks. You just never knew. But every house must be prepared. It was unthinkable disgrace not to be provisioned as if for an army.
New Year’s Day was quite different, having a formal structure. It did not begin until late afternoon, since no-one had gone to bed until dawn once Hogmanay had been finally declared over. Whilst the men snored on, the women and children would be up just in time to catch the winter sunset. Ye never see daylicht on Ne’erday was considered a fitting accolade to a good Hogmanay.
Once the mess from the night before had been cleaned up, it was time to start preparing Ne’erday Denner. This was when as many of your extended family as you could squeeze round your table would be invited to share in Steak Pie and Trifle – the menu was the same in every house and was washed down by copious amounts of that well-known beverage, the hair o’ the dog.
The first guests would be encouraged to burst in on the foul-breathed snoring of the man of the house, dragging him out of bed, declaring:
That must hae been a richt skinfu’ ye had last nicht!Get yersel’ a wash an’ shave, man, an’ get yersel’ through fur yer Ne’erday denner!
Mid-evening, the party would begin. No false modesty was allowed: songs, recitations, even short dramatic sketches made up the programme, repeated year in, year out with almost no variation.
Apart from the returning war heroes, who had proudly brought back their rousing, regimental choruses, few people were ever allowed to introduce new material.
As more and more of the younger generation left to seek their fortune across the Atlantic or Down Under, a new poignancy had been added to the old emigrant laments and there was never a dry eye in the house when everyone joined in “It’s oh! But I’m longin’ for my ain folk. . . ”
Some better-off families might book a few minutes on the telephone to faraway sons and daughters and everyone would crowd round and shout to be heard, marvelling at the time difference.
The party would once again last well into the next day. Men starting at six o’clock on the early shift would fortify themselves with plates of stovies or tripe and onions and head straight from the party to do a seven hour shift down the pit.