Saturday, 5 November 2011

Remember, remember ...

Let's hope this morning's fine weather holds for tonight, when many folk across the country will be lighting bonfires, watching firework displays and enjoying such bonfire night favourites as baked tatties, treacle toffee and toasted marshmallows.

While in the days leading up to 5th November children in other parts of the country go looking for a 'penny for the Guy'  a related tradition, unique to Stromness, sees the town's children out at folks' doors asking for ' a penny for me pop'. An interesting exploration of this tradition can be found in Michael A. Lange's article Peeling the Pop  but for a first hand account we turned to Stromness lad George Mackay Brown, in Letters from Hamnavoe :

                  ' "'A penny to burn me pop" - Bless our hearts, we didn't for one moment know what the slogan meant. All we knew was that we had to pinch a turnip out of a farmer's field and take it home, about the 3rd of November. Then our fathers or our elder brother would sculpt the turnips with the kitchen carving knife. Buttons for eyes, broken matches for teeth, splashes of vermilion on cheeks and nose and a stick to carry it round with.'

By 1978, in Under Brinkie's Brae, GMB ' is glad to say that  nowadays children have, mostly, stopped saying the old ritual fiery words at the door. Instead they say, in their dewy voices, " A penny for me pop". ' For those of you still wondering at the significance of the 'fiery words' all will be made clear when we tell you that, said with an Orcadian accent ,'pop' becomes 'pope'. GMB wonders 'in what bigoted religious brain, sometime in the mid-nineteenth century, the phrase first took root', but it is clear that by the twentieth century the anti-catholic sentiment behind the tradition had been largely forgotten.

We wonder if any Stromness children will call by the library with their pops today? It has certainly happened in previous years, although the tradition is dwindling, as families  move away and those new to the town do not know of the old ways. We have a stash of small change ready, just in case, though we're not sure what the going rate is these days? When GMB was a boy in the 1920s he 'got a ha'penny ( an old half-penny)' and when he was being disturbed from his writing in 1978 by 'the sweet little turnip-bearing tyrants' two pence seemed 'an appropriate equivalent'.

In case you were wondering just what a pop looks like below is a picture of some Stromness bairns and their pops from 1991. As you can see the pop can come in any shape or form imaginable and I suspect the parents, or older siblings, who carve them have as much fun as the children!

Photograph copyright Keith Allardyce, taken from the wonderful book on Stromness 'Sea Haven' by Bryce Wilson and with a foreword by George Mackay Brown.

1 comment:

  1. amazing - especially when you think of the old Bonfire societies in parts of England that carried banners saying 'No Popery'!!


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