WEEK TWO – Black Bun/Black Bob

>> Black Bun

Black Bob <<

Black Bun                             Black Bob

At this dark time of year it seems appropriate to evoke two themes which are linked through their blackness, in one case internal, in the other external. While we could have gone for The Black Isle, black pudding, ‘black affronted’, even Sir James Black, we have opted instead for that traditional new year comestible black bun together with The Dandy Wonder Dog of fond memory Black Bob. Both, of course, also bring light into the mix – black bun’s dark filling in a pale crust traditionally eaten to herald the growing light of the new year; Black Bob, a Border Collie, being both light of gait and, mixed in with his black, also white of coat.

Mary Fleming – Queen o the Bean

by Gerda Stevenson

Relative, childhood companion and lady-in-waiting to Mary Queen of Scots. On Twelfth Night (eve of Epiphany), 1563, Mary Fleming got the piece of traditional King cake (Black Bun) with the bean concealed in it, and so was ‘Queen of the Bean’ for the night.

Yon wis a ploy! In ma mindin fur aye.
It stairtit at breakfast, wi cake – she couldnae wait.
We were sat up in bed thegither (ever sin I claucht
thon cuif o a French poet hid in her chaumer, fired up
fur hoochmagandie, we’d slept side by side);
“Noo, ma douce wee cuz,” says oor Lady Queen,
gien me the ashet, “tak a bite o Black Bun,
an let’s see if ye’ll beir the gree!” I sink ma teeth
intae crisp pastry crust, syne hinnie faulds o moist daurk –
raisons, cinnamon, almonds, citrus, ginger, as if
the essence o thae gifts the Three Kings
brocht tae Christ are fluidin ower ma tongue’s buds;
and then it comes – the haurd, leamin surface
agin ma gums – the bean! An her lauch like licht
fills the mornin: “Ye will be Queen this Uphaly Nicht!”*
says she, awready oot o bed, rakin through her kist
o treisurs – they’re skailin tae the flair in a skinklin spate.
“I’ll hae ye geared up sae braw, ma Mary dear,
ye wull cherm the hale court – a glisterin spreet
o Christmastide ye sall be, nae maitter that Maister Knox
hus bainished it frae the almanac; I wull mak ye
a merrie Phoenix that wull rise afore us aa!”

Och, ye shoud hae seen me, ‘tho I say it masel –
I wis braw! She hud me happed in a siller goon,
Orient stanes threidit through ma braidit hair,
dreepin frae ma broo, ma halse, ma paps –
ma hale form a veesion in amethyst an jade,
emerant, amber, topaz, an a sash o sapphires, blue
as the dawn ower Bethlehem; bangles o gowd,
pearls like snawdraps, rubies reid as Rizzio’s bluid.

Bluid. Ower muckle o’t hus syped awa
doon the years sin syne, thae daffin days
o licht-hertit ploys. The warld is grey an mirk,
a wanlit place withoot a braith o colour tae its face,
nae feastin noo, nae dancin, guisin, liftin o the hert
in sang; oor anely solace fur the saul is kennin we hae
lauched thegither, lauched sin we were careless bairns
in a blurr o bluebell wids on haly Inchmaholm; lauched
as lasses, at the lottery o it aa, the castin o the die:
Queen fur aiblins hauf a hunder year,
or ae ferlie nicht, fur juist a blink.


*Eve of Epiphany


black bob (say no more)

by Aonghas MacNeacail

our family dog was “dóbhran”,
a marriage of mongrels from
shetland to borders, her legs
worn down by that strange
breeding, which gave her the
ideal form for losing herself
(for days) in rabbit burrows –
she was, of course, loved,
but had those ways to upset.

what i could always predict,
was the dandy‘s arrival, with
one dog we knew we could
trust to be attentive
to all that he was expected
to do –
this was a proxy
hound for all to whom
a dog was dream, but
we, who knew that fireside curl,
can also live in a dream,
beyond age, where andrew glen
and his faithful friend
come over the hill, come in,
and sit by our fire, to be warm

while those who shared
the name have included:
a scottish soldier, with
“a severe look and
a scowling eye”, hard
man, perished in battle;
a shawnee chief, one
of the last to resist
leaving indian territory;
a warhorse, son of
an irish mare, foaled at
the cape of good hope;
and there’s a broad-
shouldered boxer,
ready to fight – they
offer moods. but the good
dog stays in memory,
amiable and alert, alive,

for that child’s friend,
though lines on a page,
was real, was real, might
leap over the fence from his
rumpled book, and help me
round up my mother’s hens,
or our neighbour’s sheep –
he’d always know what to do


 dóbhran: fresh-water otter (pronounced “doh-ran”)


Gerda stephenson.jpgGerda Stevenson 
is an award-winning actor, writer, director and singer/songwriter. Her poetry, drama and prose have been published, staged and broadcast throughout Britain and abroad. She performed in, and directed her stage play Federer Versus Murray (published in the USA by Salmagundi), touring the production to New York in 2012, as part of the Scottish Government’s NYC Scotland Week celebrations. In 2014, she released an acclaimed album of her own songs, Night Touches Day which was nominated for the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards, and her play Skeleton Wumman was staged at Oran Mor, touring to the Traverse and West Yorkshire Playhouse. She has written extensively for radio, both her own original plays, and dramatisation of Scottish classic novels. She is a visiting lecturer at Glasgow University, where her writing is studied as part of the Contemporary Scottish Literature course. Her first poetry collection, If This Were Real, was published in 2013 by Smokestack Books. She is currently writing her second poetry collection, with support from Creative Scotland. Her website is www.gerdastevenson.co.uk

AonghasAonghas MacNeacail is an award-winning poet in three languages, songwriter in folk and classical idioms, journalist, broadcaster, translator and scriptwriter. A Borders-based Skyeman, poetry has taken him to North America, Japan, Rome, Jerusalem, Berlin, Vienna, Warsaw, St Petersburg, the Arctic Circle, Ireland and other destinations. He has held various literary fellowships, community and academic, and gained many awards for his writing. Fellow of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies, he this year received an honorary Doctorate of Literature from Glasgow University. Collections include An Seachnadh, The Avoiding, Oideachadh Ceart, A Proper Schooling, Laoidh an Donais Oig Hymn to a Young Demon and Rock and Water (poems in English). His New and Selected Gaelic poems, Deanamh Gàire ris a Chleoc Laughing at the Clock, and a pamphlet of poems in Scots, Ayont the Dyke appeared last year. His website is www.aonghasmacneacail.co.uk

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