‘Bodkin Flits His Camp’ (1 June, 1861)

The following epistle is an early appearance in ‘The People’s Journal’ of Tammas Bodkin, the character used by editor William D. Latto to speak frankly (and amusingly) on current affairs. Latto became editor of the people’s journal in December 1860 and used the platform to launch Tammas, bringing himself a fair amount of fame in Victorian Scotland.

Maister Editor,—Frae a promiscuous hint that I threw oot i’ my last epistle, ye wad oonderstand that I had made up my mind to flit my camp to a mair fashionable pairt o’ the toon. There were twa reasons to indooce me to tak’ that stap—ane o’ them was Tibbie’s, an’ the ither was my ain. Tibbie’s discontent wi’ the auld hoose was based on the fack that she had been doon the toon at a cheap sale, an’ had bocht a great big carpet an’ a splendid mahogney sofy—second-hand they were, an’ disposed o’ at an immense sacrifeece—an’ after she had them she had naewhere to bestow them. Oor auld hoose, ye ken, had juist a but an’ a ben, an’ Tibbie she ockipied the ae end an’ I ockipied the ither. Weel, after gettin’ the carpet an’ the sofy, naething wad sair Tibbie but she maun ha’e a hoose wi’ three apartments in’t, so that she micht be able to show them aff to the best advantage to Mrs Davidson, an’ ithers o’ her cronies. It’s a prevailin’ weakness o’ the women folk that they maun ha’e show rooms wi’ a wheen pretty things in them that are little better than useless lumber, hooever unable they may be to afford the expense, an’ hooever gruppy they may be aboot things that are really mair usefu’. There was this ither circumstance that influenced Tibbie in wishin’ to hae a bigger hoose—Mrs Davidson had enlarged her’s by getting a door slappit through a peteeshon wa’, an’ annexin’ Mrs Macrae’s back pantry that she had nae use for, an’ a very snug bit roomie it did mak’, after it had been decently dune up wi’ a paper at sevenpence the piece. Weel, ye see, Tibbie, sooner than let Mrs Davidson eat faster than her, she wad rather rive her chafts, an’ so whan Mrs Davidson set up a parlour wi’ a carpet an’ sofy, Tibbie maun do the same, an’, if possible something better. So that’s the way Tibbie was convertit to the necessity o’ flittin’. I suggested that we micht do waur than redd up the coal neuk, an’ turn it into a parlour by knockin’ oot a sma’ window towards the back coort, but that proposal wadna gang doon wi’ Tibbie ave, as it wadna be large eneuch to haud the sofy, nor braw eneuch to compete wi’ Mrs Davidson.

An’ noo for my ain reason for no bein’ obstinately opposed to removin’ my tabernacle. Sin’ I began to wreat thae letters t’ye, I find mysel’ really something aboon the common. I’ve been publickly introduced amang the aristocracy by gettin’ the title “Esquire” attached to my name, an’ maist o’ the distinguished literary men that come to Dundee are sure to gie me a ca’ i’ the bye-gaen. There was juist last week I had to interteen a great genius frae Alyth, forbye ane o’ the Northern Lichts frae the Granite City. In fack, there’s scarcely a day passes that disna bring alang wi’t some devout admirer to worship at-my shrine. Noo, I wad like to hae a decent room to put them in. The boord is far frae bein’ a respectable seat to offer to a stranger, an’ rather dangerous too, for, only the ither day, a chield cam in an’ sat doon ower near the guse, an’ got a muckle hole burnt i’ the bottom o’ his breeks. Sae that’s what’s set me in tifts o’ a parlour.

Weel, about twa months syne, Tibbie an’ me set oot in pursuit o’ a hoose wi’ three apartments. At a cooncil o’ war haudden twa or three days afore, it was unanimously agreed that we wad venture on twa pound ten o’ mair rent, if sae be we could get a hoose to please us. I could tell ye a lang story aboot oor experiences in that expedition, hoo Tibbie lost her balance when gaen up an ootside stair, for instance, an’ wad hae fa’en an broken some o’ her banes, had I no caught her in my airms at the precise nick o’ time, but that wad be ower far a stretch baith o’ my time and o’ your patience. We got a hoose weel up the hill, so that we can look doon on the maist folk i’ the toon, in a respectable neighbourhood, so that we needna be ashamed o’ the society we keep, an’ at a rent that didna gang aboon twa pount beyond my calculations. I had my doots aboot it, but Tibbie was weel pleased, an’ quite sanguine that she wad hain the additional rent in the savin’ o’ washin’ cloots in the coorse o’ the twalmonths, but we’ll see when the time comes.

On Monday mornin’ by the skraigh o’ day, I was up, an’ Tibbie, ye may be sure, wasna idle. I set to wark nockin’ dooon the box-beds, an’ mony an ettercap died the death. Nae ither creepin’ gentry saw I, though I daursay it would be a ticklish job to estimate the multitude o’ flechs an’ bugs that fell a sacrifeese on that eventfu’ mornin within the four corners o’ Dundee. Never was there a bug in my hoose, an’ I’ve haen a hoose noo for mair than thirty years. Tibbie was aye an awfu’ hand at the saep-graith an’ the scrubbin-brush, an wae betide the puir insect that she got her clutches on! An’ there was nae escape frae her wiles, for she wad hunt them wi’ the vigour o’ a Nimrod until she caught them, an’ then hoo she did gar them crack atween her thoomb-nails! I’m sure I’ve seen her warsle the better pairt o’ a forenoon lookin’ for a flech amang the blankets, an’ if the puir brute did happen to escape her merciless thoombnails, she wad be quite ooneasy for a fortnicht or three weeks thereafter. She wad ne’er find her back yeukin’ but the flech wad get the blame o’t. Tibbie has been a usefu’ body after a’, an’ if she were taen awa the flechs wad be the only parties i’ the hoose that wadna break their hearts at her wa’ gang.

While I was knockin’ doon the beds, Tibbie was busy packin’ up her crockerware an’ clouts. On takin’ doon the gowkoo nock, I had the misfortin’ to ding her a’ to crokanition, an’ Tibbie on her pairt she let fa’ a muckle cheeny punch bowl that she had got in a present frae her mither, on the occasion o’ oor marriage, an’ it gaed a’ to smash. So that put her an’ me on a fittin’ o’ equality as it were, an’ there wasna a thrawn word to be said on either side. Willie Clippins was despatched wi’ creelfu’ after creelfu’ to the new hoose, an’ for me I had retained the special services o’ a pair o’ porters wi’ a hand-barrow, an’ they carried the heavy things. Ilka twa hoors or sae I dealt oot a cawker to the piece o’ them, an’ they wrocht awa’ like very teegers, insaemuch that by dinner time the only things remainin’ i’ the auld hoose were the guse an’ the lawbrod. These I committed to the management o’ Willie Clippins, an’ he, puir fallow, had the misfortin’ to let the guse slip doon on his muckle tae, an’ knockit the nail aff. As he was rendered a lameter for the time bein’. I sent him hame on the back o’ ane o’ the porters, wha happened to pass his mither’s door.

I canna weel tell hoo it was, but I was wae to lock the door an’ tak fareweel o’ the auld hoose. There I had spent mair than a dizzen o’ years o’ my lifetime, an’, mingled though they had been wi’ sorrows not a few, there was yet a sheenin’ threed o’ happiness rinnin’ through the web o’ existence, that it was pleasant to look back upon. I lookit ben the hoose where I had sat sae lang an’ knappit awa’ at the needle, an’ where every crack in the wa’ was as familiar to me as my ain finger nails; an’ I lookit but the hoose where Tibbie had trokit aboot sae eydently, an’ keepit a’ thing sae cosh an’ clean, an’ where I had haen mony a bit tiff wi’ her aboot spittin’ on the grate, but mony an oor o’ blythesome chat wi’ her for a’ that, an’ I maun confess it, my heart grew grit wi’ musins o’ langsyne. I blew my nose, an’ the soond thereof echoed strangely an’ wierdlike through the empty rooms, an’ I turned awa wi’ a sigh, for

“It echoes an’ its empty tread

Did soond like voices frae the dead.”

A’ that nicht Tibbie an’ me were sairly forfoughten gettin’ a’ things set to richts in oor new dwellin’ place. There was considerable diversity o’ opinion at times as to hoo the things were to be placed; but the only things there was like to be a rebiellion aboot was the nailin’ up o’ the rack. Tibbie wad hae it placed ahent the inner door, while I wad hae it nailed on the end o’ the bed. Tibbie thecht that, as I was uco muckle gien to kiekin’ through my sleep, I micht shak’ oot some o’ the plates an’ break them, an’ so she wadna hear o’ puttin’ it on the end o’ the bed. I remindit her, on the ither hand, that, as she was unco muckkle addickit to bangin’ too the inner door whanever onything didna please her, she micht drive doon some o’ the pigs an’ break them, an’ so I wadna hear o’ puttin’ it ahent the door. Hooever, as Tibbie claimed the sovereignty o’ the plate-rack an’ a’ its contents, an’ as she promised, mairover, no to interfere wi’ the arrangement o’ by boord in the workin’ apairtment, I magnanimously yieldit up the point, an’ nailed the plate-rack ahent the door accordingly. So that settled that maitter. By dint o’ hard wark an’ heroic perseverance, I managed to get the maist o’ the bits o’ sticks arranged in the kitchen and my ain end afore the chap o’ twal o’clock at nicht. The parlour I let to be set to richts by Tibbie, as she faund time for it afterwards; an’ I may here observe that she hasna gotten nearly through wi’t yet. She finds a warld o’ wants to fill—the windows need curtains, an’ then she maun hae a pole to hing them on—an’ what wi’ ae thing an’ anither, she’s been doon the toon sax or aucht times within the last day or twa, an’ every time she sets oot, she lines her pouch weel wi’ siller, an’ aye comes back wi’t empty. I wat it’s no an easy matter that flittin’, an’ it sanna be for ilka little fyke that I’ll flit for some time again.

Tibbie an’ me crap awa’ to our beds aboot ane o’clock, an’ I’m sure baith o’ us had weary carcases that nicht. I waukened—I dinna en when, for the knock bein’ a’ to spunks, we had nae means o’ learnin’ the time o’ day,—but a’ thing was dark i’ the house, the shutters bein’ closed, as Tibbie hadna gotten up the blinds,—an’ feelin’ unco afflickit wi’ thirst in consequence o’ the stoor o’ the flittin’ stickin’ i’ my throat, borbye the sups o’ drink that I had ta’en through the day, I set oot in quest o’ the water stoup to slokin my drooth; but the hoose bein’ strange to me, an’ a’ thing bein’ in a state o’ confusion, I had the misfortune to tumble head foremost into a tubfu’ o’ water that Tibie had stannin’ in readiness for washin’ oot the parlour wi’. Dog on it! forby weetin’ a’ my sark tail, an’ garrin’ the water jabble ower in the kitchen floor, I peeled a’ the foresides o’ my legs on the rim o’ the tub, an’ fegs I’m no richt able to hirple aboot ot this day an’ oor yet. The water, too, sypit through the seams o’ the floor an’ spoilit a’ the plaister in the hoose below, aboot whilk there was a terrible shindy on Tuesday mornin’, but I think I had the warst o’t. I maun draw to a close, for I hear Tibbie cryin’ on me to gang ben to the parlour to help her to nail doon the carpet.

Tammas Bodkin.

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