Charlie was my darling
Charlie was my darling ...
"Speed bonny boat like a bird on the wing, over the sea to Skye!"
As a child in New Plymouth I couldn't get enough of the old Jacobite songs. The Skye Boat Song, Will Ye No' Come Back Again, Charlie is my Darling, Loch Lomond, Well May the Keel Row, Highland Laddie ...
I soaked up the sounds of pipe bands practising at Pukekura Park, and worked happily on a school project about the life and times of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
I don't know where this passion came from. My family wasn't even Scottish. Maybe it was my aunt on the Rongotea farm where I went for school holidays.
"I've heard that one of our ancestors was Chancellor for the Exchequer," Hannah used to say. "He helped Bonnie Prince Charlie on his flights to and from Scotland."
And then she would show me the two figures which stood on an oak chest in the long cold passage. The man on the prancing horse must be Charlie himself, and there he was again, under a bower, seated with Flora Macdonald. I chose not to notice that the two Charlies were quite different, one with a moustache and the other without.
I was certain they were given to our ancestor by Bonnie Prince Charlie himself. They couldn't have been, of course. They were Staffordshire and nineteenth century, whereas Prince Charlie lived about a hundred years earlier. Hannah, born in the Manawatu and never to leave New Zealand, knew little more than I did and was obviously just as fanciful.
And it was unlikely that an ancestor had been Chancellor of the Exchequer. It turned out that a great aunt had bought those figures in a Glasgow junk shop.
Hannah died early in 1988. Her brother John sold the farm a year or so later and a big clean-out saw just about everything sold, given away or burnt. Asked if I'd like to take anything, I picked out a couple of old pictures I'd always liked. The Staffordshire figures were precious, I knew, and I was just one of the nephews and nieces. I'd better not be greedy.
John retired to Tauranga where he could go out on the fishing boats. A year or so later I was visiting him and admired Charlie and Flora in their new position in his living room.
"What, those old things?" my uncle said. "I was going to take them to the dump."
I gulped, dumbfounded.
"Do you want them? You're welcome to them."
"Are you absolutely sure?"
He was sure. I wrapped them in newspaper, put them on the back seat of my car and drove carefully back to Wellington. I could hardly believe my luck. Since then, though I've moved house several times, they've had pride of place wherever I am.
And although I have no Scottish blood to speak of, that stirring music I loved as a child sneaked back into my life. Some years ago I took up Scottish country dancing.
Mairi's Wedding, The Wee Cooper of Fife ... they were songs I loved but then I found they were dances too!
I kept on with this wonderful dancing and am now the secretary of the Johnsonville club.
If Scottish country dancing interests you too, the club is offering beginners' classes this year, starting on Monday, February 4 at 7.30 pm in the Johnsonville School hall in Morgan Street.
The cost is just $4 per class or $12 for all four. Bring some soft shoes and come along.
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