Now that Christmas is over it’s probably time to take a bit of advice from Andra the Postman who was probably a whole lot smarter than he appeared.
Evening Telegraph, Dundee, Saturday, December 24, 1904
CHRISTMAS AND ITS DRAWBACKS.
REFLECTIONS ON THE GREAT “PRAISENT” QUESTION.
ANDRA THE POSTMAN’S SHOPPING EXPEDITION DESCRIBED.
Mr A. Lochhead, who uses the hamely Scotch as cleverly and deftly as John Galt, Tammas Bodkin, or “Erchie,” has favoured us with the following admirable sketch. Mr Lochhead has contributed similar excellent material to the pages of the “People’s Friend.”
“A merry Christmas to ye, sir!” said Andra as he deposited a small mountain of parcels on the doorstep with a sigh of relief. “That’s ae drawback to leevin’ in a ceevilized country!”
“What is?” I inquired, laughingly, as I acknowledged his greeting in a seasonable manner.
“It's this Christmas praisent business,” said Andra. (“Your guid health!” parenthetically.) “Jist think o’ the puir postman, like masel’, joggin’ alang the road like a rin-awa’ toy-bazaar, wi’ a string o’ parcels roond his neck, a band-box, in each oxter, an’ maybe a fifteen pun’ turkey in his teeth. It’s no easy cultivatin’ a peace-on-earth-gude-will-to-everybody, expression in thae circumstances, an’, if ye did, I doot naebody could see it. I’m leevin’ in hope that by next year Senior Macaroni ‘ll hae invented a way to send oor Christmas praisents wi’ wireless telegraphy, seein’ that he’s been made an L.S.D. o’ Glesca University.
“It's a seerious job haein’ ower mony frien’s at this time o’ the year, for, tho’ ye object to buyin’ them Christmas praisents as a maitter o’ preenciple—no to speak o’ hard cash—there's nae gettin’ awa’ frae the claims o’ Christianity.
“Your wife’ll maybe sen’ ye awa’ to Glesca to buy something for her mither, wha cam’ to se ye jist for the week-end, an’ has been gaun awa’ wi’ the next train for nearly a fortnicht.
“ ‘I’ll leave it to yersel’,’ she says, ‘to choose something; no owre dear, ye ken, for we canna afford it, an’ ye'd better no tak’ ony mair wi’ ye than ye mean to spend, or they'll coax it oot o’ ye.
“So ye set aff wi’ ten shillin’s in your pooch, an’ gang to ane o’ the big ladies’ shops in Argyle Street. Ye staun’ ootside for a meenit takin’ stock o’ a’ that’s in the winda, an’ wishin’ that Mr Carnegie’s mantle wad fa’ on your shoothers, especially if his cheque-book was in the inside pooch. There are twa or three things that ye wad like to inaugurate afore a kirk organ or a free library, sich as a pair o’ tackety boots for wee Willie, or a claes-basket for the gudewife, an’ hauf a dizzen dickies for yoursel’. But ye're no Carnegie, an’ the hauf-sovereign rowed up in a wee bit paper in your trooser pooch hasna seen mony o’ its friens for a while back.
“Man, it’s a gran’ consolation at sic a time to remember what the Scriptures say aboot the rich man an’ the camel. Middlin’ puir fowk like you an’ me ‘ll maybe manage to slip thro’ into a beck sate in the gallery, while the millionaires are croodin' roond the door makin’ bids for a sate in the dress circle.
Hooever, ye’ve to buy that praisent tho’ ye should. leeve on sourocks an’ Indian corn for the next fortnicht to mak’ up for’t, sae ye screw up your courage an’ venture into the shop.
“The wee boy wi’ the brass-buttony jaiket opens the door for ye wi’ great deference, an’ the ornamental gentleman in the frock-coat an’ come-an'-spend-a'-your-money smile on his face swoops down on ye. Ye've maybe screwed up your courage raither faur, an’ he tak’s ye for a member o’ the Royal Faimily traivellin’ incognito, or the Marquis o’ Anglesey layin’ in anither stock.
“ ‘Onything I can dae for ye? says he, rubbin’ his haunds. an’ thinkin’ on the bang-up that ye'll gie the deevidends.
“ ‘Christmas praisent for a lady,’ says you in a whisper that seems to confirm his suspicions, an’ he nods as much as to say, ‘I see thro’ your disguise, but I'll no let on.
“ ‘Step this way,’ says he an’ ye follow him up an’ doon atween lang raws o’ coonters, wi’ tall dignified-lookin’ damsels ahint them, wha look at ye as if ye had nae richt to be there, while ye try to keep frae blushin’, an’ pretend that ye’re a commercial traiveller in for, orders or a plumber lookin’ for an escape o’gas.”
“By and by, when ye’ve been dodgin’ efter your conductor's coat-tails for nearly five meenits, an’ ye've tried to walk thro’ two big mirrors, an’ knockit ower a wudden wumman wi’ a new patent dress on ye get hauf-blin’ wi’ excitement an’ forget whether ye’ve come in to buy a canary or a pun o’ cough mixtures.”
“At last he stops an’ haunds ye ower to a young wummen wi’ a waist like a wasp, that looks as if she had jist stepped oot o’ ane o’ the fashion-plates in a ladies’ journal. I’m tell’t that some o’ them are laced up sae ticht that they canna get doon to button their ain shoon, an’ if they drap onything they’ve to ring for the cash-girl to come an’ lift it.”
“ ‘Something in this line?’ says she, haudin’ up ane o’ thae fancy hairy jackets, the possession o’ which is the chief end o’ wumman. ‘Real sealskin,’ says she, ‘an’ only 50 guineas!’ “
“ ‘Eh—ah! I wisna thinkin’ o’ gaun’ quite sae faur as that,’ says you graipin’ for your hauf sovereign to mak’ shair that’ it’s’ aye there.”
“ ‘We'll mak’ ‘it 50 pounds,’ says she, ‘seein’ it’s the last ane.’ “
“But ye’re no’ to be persuadit. ‘I doot I'm in the wrang depairtment,’ says you. ‘I was lookin’ for—eh—stockin’s.’ “
“ ‘H'm, doon stairs,’ says she, ‘ an’ turn to the left.’ “
Ye dauner awa’ doon kin’ o’ dazed like, an’ tho lassies ahint the coonters a’ stop sortin’ their hair at the wee mirrors, an’ turn to watch ye.”
“Ye keep on gaun doon stairs an’ turnin’ to the left till ye come to a corner fu’ o’ women’s claes that they dinna like to pit in the winda, an’ by this time ye're sae nervous that ye dinna ken whit ye’re daein’.”
“ ‘I beg your paurdon,’ says you to the nearest lassie. ‘but could ye tell me whaur to get a tam-o-shanter or a tea-cosy?’ “
“ ‘Upstairs an’ turn to the richt,’ says she.
“Ye wander up an’ doon for nearly hauf-an-oor till the shop-fowk are beginnin’ to suspect that ye maun be the sleepin’ pairtner gaun aboot in a nichtmare. But though ye canna see what ye want ye dinna like to come awa’ withoot spendin’ a bit o’ your hauf sovereign in their shop, sae ye gang up to a coonter wi’ something like aipples an’ oranges on't, an’ says you, ‘I'll tak’ hauf a, dizzen bananas, please, an’ a cocoanut.’ “
‘The lassie lauchs, ‘We dinna keep fruit,’ says she, ‘Thae’s just preencooshins.’ “
“ ‘Then gie’s twa!’ says you, for your bluid’s up, an’ ye buy twa o’ the preencooshins at wan-an’ eloevenpence three faurdin’s each, an’ gie the the cash girl sixpence to let ye see the shortest road oot.”
“Efter that ye gang alang to the corner o' the street for something to steady your nerves, an’ on your wey back frae the fitba’ match ye buy a photo frame marked 3s 6d in a wee shop wi’ ae coonter, an’ chainge the ‘3’ into an’ ‘8’ when ye’re gaun hame in the train.”
“Humph, a man canna shop ‘ony mair than he can wring a wat dishcloot, There's an airt in baith.”
“Noo if ye were a wumman ye wad sit doon like a duchess on ane o’ the wee chairs afore the coonter an’ get the weary lookin’ shop lassie to turn oot an acre or twa o’ specimens for your condescendin’ approval afore ye gied her your order for five-sixteenths o’ a yaird. at a penny three-faurdin’s a yaird. I ken whit it’s like, for I’ve been there wi’ Maggie. Gie a wumman hauf a croon to spend an’ she'll mak’ a bigger turn-up in a shop than an earthquake.”
“But if I'm sorry for the man that has to buy a Christmas praisent, I’m sometimes sorry for the ane that gets it. There's oor neibor, MacSorley, for instance. He has twa auld maiden aunties that are gey weel aff, an’ every Christmas each o’ them is in the habit o’ sendin’ him a watch-pooch o’ her ain makin’ for hangin’ up at the tap o’ his bed. MacSorley doesna like to say onything for fear o’ spilin’ his prospects, but when I left him this mornin’ he was prayin’ that the supply o” pasteboard and red plush wad rin oot afore next Christmas. In the meantime Mrs MacSorley has shooed some o’ them thegither into a patchwork quilt for the wean’s cradle, an’ MacSorley uses fower o’ the saftest as a chest-protestor in the cauld weather. I believe it’s ane o’ them that wee Geordie wears for a sporran when he pits on his kilt on Sunday."
“As a rule there's something quite distinctive about Christmas praisents. They're maistly made for the occasion, put up in fancy boxes, an’ guaranteed to wear to Ne’er Day—if ye tak’ care o’ them.”
“I aince got a hanky wi’ a picture o’ the King an’ Queen in the corner, an’ the first time I had a cauld i’ my heid I blew a hole in't. When Maggie wase dune washin't it looked like ane o’ thae wee screens that ye put on the breid-plate to hide the finger-nails when there’s strangers comin’ to tea.”
“If it’s collars, they come back frae their first veesit to the laundry wi’ an edge like a fretwork saw, an’ if ye tried to wear them ye’d be arrested for attempted suicide by cuttin’ your throat. If it’s socks, the colours are sae rory that ye can nearly see them through your buits, an’ they creep in 50 per cent. wi’ every washin’, till Wee Wullie has to wear them to the schule as mittens.”
“Maybe it’s a bun, ane o’ thae ‘never-sae-die’ kind that ye get frae the baker insteed o’ a calendar, an’ it comes in handy for splittin’ the firewood on, or prappin’ up the corner o’ the kitchen dresser. I ken a man who is savin’ up his to build a henhoose wi’, but I doot they'll no staun the frost in the winter time.”
“Then, you’re down on the Christmas present?” I said, with a smile.
“Tuts, no me!” said Andra, slyly. “Tm as bad’s the rest. “It’s jist a sort o' fever. A day or twa afore Christmas I feel it comin’ on like an attack o’ influenza, an’ awa’ I maun gang to the toon to try to work if off by lookin’ into some o’ the big jewellers’ windas, an’ I maybe gang the length o’ pricin’ a motor caur or a plain cook jist to fricht me oot o’t. But it’s o’ nae use. I come hame at nicht wi’ an empty purse, an’ get a flytin’ frae Maggie for buyin’ her a black an’ tan muff or a fur-lined cape that she says is faur ower grand for her. I jist lauch, for on Christmas mornin’, when I gang to put on my socks, I get a pair o’ fine fancy slippers stickin’ in them wi’ fox’s heids on the taes that Maggie shooed hersel’ when I was at my wark, an' hid awa’ in the bottom drawer o’ the wardrobe.”
“Ay, the Christmas praisent is ane o’ the grandest institootions o’ Christianity, an’ it has this advantage—it doesna belang to the Wee Frees.”
Well there we have it. The idea behind the internet, online shopping, delivery by drones, etc. was all conceived in Scotland in 1904, although it did take a bit longer than hoped for for ‘Senior Macaroni” to get his act together. Put that in the history books!
Hope that was interesting,
p.s. If anyone is confused about the meaning of “Wee Frees” in the last line of the above article you can read all about it here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wee_Free
Items of general interest
1 post • Page 1 of 1