Thursday, September 24, 2009
And so, we hear from Jack...
I’m Karen Bessey Pease, and I have a friend who’s an exceptional writer. Jack has authored some outstanding fiction, and I’ve had the privilege of reading two of his novels. Neither of them is a light-hearted read, but Jack most definitely has a fun-loving and playful side. He has a terrific sense of humor, and I’ve rarely met anyone I warmed to as quickly as I did to this Scotsman who is abiding Down Under. Jack is an occasional contributor to ‘Observations from The F.A.R.M. (Fresh Air and Room to Move)’, and I thought it would be fun to share his first column run by our little western Maine newspaper back in April of this year.
I’m Jack Ramsay, and I’m a gullible idiot.
There. I thought I’d best start with honesty. I’m also a husband, a writer (of the most frustrated kind), a pen-pal (to your very own, the magnificent Karen Bessey Pease) and an immigrant to Australia. But, back to the idiot thing, if you’ll indulge me.
An idiot, if dictionaries are to be believed, is a layman; a stupid person. But some definitions go further and describe me –sorry, ‘idiots’ – as having an intelligence quotient of less than twenty-five. Okay, so I might have an IQ slightly higher than that, but having the combined brainpower of six idiots, in my book at least, still makes me an idiot. ‘Gullible’, of course, isn’t in any dictionary.
Such claims are all very well, in a ‘Saturday night after a few beers with the boys’ kind of way, but I have irrefutable evidence stretching over many years to corroborate my assertion. The examples are many, and the good Lord knows they’re varied in the extreme, but let me take you back to the day I first realized just what it takes to secure the title of ‘idiot of all he surveys’.
I grew up in Scotland, on a farm that nestles in the foothills of the Ochil Mountains near Perth, gateway to the Highlands. Okay, truth time again, they’re Hills. But if you stand at the bottom and look up, knowing you have to get to the top, they’re pretty daunting in a grassy, rounded, picnic-on-a-Sunday kind of way. Sounds like Maine, though, doesn’t it? Looks like Maine, too.
Although I was still in school (junior high, I think you’d call it), after class I’d hang around the smoky little bothy where my dad and a few of the farm men retreated to fix their machinery when it broke, as it often did in winter when it’s too cold and rainy and mucky to be outside.
One afternoon at the end of March I was sitting on my favorite five gallon drum, ignoring the wrestling rats in the corner and trying my hardest to emulate my peers – drinking overly sweet tea that had been stewing on the fire since breakfast, laughing at the right times and nodding at the wisdom spouting forth from such admirable fellows – when something Grieg the Grieve said made my ears prick up (he was the foreman).
He was planning a haggis hunt! The very next day!
Sure, I’d eaten haggis before, many times – I’m a Scot, and there isn’t a Scot alive who doesn’t incessantly crave the succulently meaty flesh and sweet wood fired flavor of the most cunning prey on the moors – but I’d never been on a hunt. Platefuls of haggis had always magically appeared from my mother’s kitchen, surrounded by the ubiquitous guard of mashed tatties and chappit neeps (mashed turnips).
When I questioned the origins of our national dish the shepherds and drovers laughed at me, then I sat listening in awe as they told of the last great Perthshire haggii hunt (haggii is the plural of haggis, just for reference – say hag-eye) which had claimed the lives of four novice hunters in a netting gone wrong. The more they divulged of that fateful morning some ten years before, the more I found myself compelled to claim my right to hunt the haggii. I saw my chance to prove myself.
I, Jack Ramsay, would become the youngest haggii hunt champion in living memory!
And so, after one or two well-placed hints from me, the anvil played host to a whispering confab, and when the huddle broke up I was invited along to what promised to be something extra-ordinary: we were to stalk the (apparently) infamous snorkel-nosed pond-dredging mountain haggii – a very dangerous species, but the tastiest of them all. Barely able to contain myself, I leaned closer as Grieg the Grieve outlined in hushed tones the equipment we would need, and his plan of attack.
We were to leave for the ponds by sun up. My dad agreed to call the school and inform them of my absence – it wasn’t every day that a boy became a man, so a day out of class was acceptable, even laudable.
Next morning I rose before dawn, taking care to follow Grieg the Grieve’s instructions to the letter. After all, what idiot would squander his chance at infamy by failing to rendezvous at the meeting place or bring the essential tools of the haggii hunt or wear every last item of protective clothing necessary to tackle an amphibious horde of such devious beasts?
Not I! I’m Jack Ramsay!
In the next room I heard my father preparing himself for the hunt, talking in whispers with my mother and enjoying his first joke of the day – he was always such a considerate, jovial man – but my tasks were pressing and I had no time to share in that particular hilarity. I made a few final checks, zipped myself up and struggled the half-mile to the school bus stop, where I was to be collected by Grieg the Grieve in his Land Rover. Then to the hills, where we’d meet my father.
So it was that I found myself waiting impatiently by the side of the road in the farm manager’s tatty old wetsuit, his lead belt around my waist and his snorkel by my ear, ready to dredge every pond in Perthshire in search of my quarry. So it was that my knees came to buckle under my burden of fishing nets, wooden stakes, sledgehammers and oxygen tanks, a combination which, even on that cold April morning, brought sweat to my brow and a desert to my throat.
And so it was that, as the school bus rounded the corner and headed towards me, its occupants’ mouths agape, their fingers pointing, I realized without a shadow of a doubt – I’m a gullible idiot.
NB: No haggii were harmed in the telling of this story.
And, back to me...
I encourage readers of GAG who are interested in obtaining valuable writing tips or resources, or who would like to view first-rate photos from Scotland and Australia, to visit Jack’s website. Just click on his name under ‘Karen’s favorite links’ to the right of this posting. If you are an agent or publisher and would like to read a synopsis of, or sample chapters from, Jack’s completed works (Rohallion Dawn and Brogan’s Crossing), this same link will direct you to Jack’s contact information.
No idiots were harmed in the telling of this story.
** The photograph above is of Ben A'an, in Scotland. If anyone can spot the snorkel-nosed pond-dredging mountain haggii in this picture, please contact Jack. He is offering a reward for its capture, as it happens to be the one that got away...
Photo copyright Tina and Andrew Thomson.
Below are the words to 'Address to a Haggis', generously supplied to me by my pal Jack. To enter the contest for an autographed copy of Grumble Bluff (and the accolades of Scotsmen--and women--everywhere), just make a recording of yourself reciting this poem and email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Yeah, it's scary...it takes a LOT of courage...but you can do it. I DID, and I'm alive to tell about it. (I just been banned from ever entering the country of Scotland, that's all...)
Address To A Haggis
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o' need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Then, horn for horn,
they stretch an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve,
Are bent lyke drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro' bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!
But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whissle;
An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like taps o' thrissle.
Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,
Gie her a haggis!