Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The story behind the photograph

Click on the photo to see it larger size

Old-Time Bonspiel in Edinburgh

I recently came across a photograph of a group of curlers posing in front of a motley selection of ancient curling stones. Since Lindsay Scotland was in the picture I sent it to him.

He in turn sent it to Bob Cowan to test how many of the curlers Bob could name. Bob forwarded it to me with the request that I write 'a wee post around' the photo.

Here goes.

On 30 December 1972 the Abbotsford Curling Society had a game 'using Dave Smith’s collection of old stones', as the Scottish Curler put it in its account of the game in February 1973, under the above title.

"Since none of the old stones matched, either in size, shape, weight or running property, it was decided to revert to the late 18 th century custom of having eight in a rink, each throwing one stone. This, of course, meant that six were available for sooping…Sometimes the skips couldn’t see the stone for brushes, besoms and bottoms (when there are six sweepers helping the stone along it’s not always easy to ‘sweep to a side’)... It took a couple of ends to learn the idiosyncracies of one’s allotted stone, but thereafter the standard of play was high."

Eleven ends were played in two and a half hours; Professor Murray McGregor from Guelph, Canada, ably assisted by his two sons, Bob and Scott, skipped the winning rink; and beat the said Dave Smith by 16 shots to 6.

The photograph shows: back row, left to right: Calwell Loughridge, David Brown, Lindsay Scotland, Sandy Moffat, David B Smith, Jim Gardner, Alastair Stewart, ?, Murray McGregor and Ronnie Malcolm; front row: Bob McGregor, Hazel Smith, Bob Martin, Janice McGregor, Jessie Loughridge, and Scott McGregor.

Dave Smith was the only person who followed his own suggestion that people might like to dress up in a sort of eighteenth century style!

Sadly two of the curlers are no longer with us, but most of the remaining Scots are still actively involved in the game one way or another. So obsessed with it did Ronnie Malcolm become that he chose to be manager of Murrayfield Ice Rink.

Murray McGregor was professor of agricultural economics at the University of Guelph, Ontario, and he and his family, of two sons and a daughter of curling age, and a daughter who was too young and therefore kept her mother off the ice, spent a year’s sabbatical in Scotland. So keen were they on curling that before the year was over they had curled in nearly every ice rink in Scotland, and made friends all over the country. When he left Murray donated a fine silver quaich for competition in Edinburgh. I am very proud to have won it.

As can be seen from the photograph the stones were mainly single-soled, circular, early nineteenth century. The sharp-eyed may think they can discern the massive Jubilee Stane, but, no, it was a fibre-glass replica included in the picture to enhance the 'old-time' atmosphere.

David B Smith.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Widgerys at Breakfast

The magazine Funny Folks that ran from 1874 until 1894 commenced a series of humorous pieces in February 1886, entitled The Widgerys at Breakfast.

Mr Widgery usually began by mentioning something he had just read in the morning paper, and Mrs Widgery at once began to misunderstand him. Some such topics were 'billiards', 'hare and hounds', 'football' (she, of course didn’t understand ‘dribbling’), 'the new German Diet' (which she thought was about food and not politics).

Curiously the very first of the series involved Mrs W’s failure to understand the game of curling. She can hardly have been the only English citizen who did not understand the pastimes of her northern neighbours.

From Funny Folks, 20 February 1886.


"Capital curling match they've just had in Scotland," remarked Widgery, with his eyes on the sporting column and his feet in the coal scuttle. "Should like to have been there."

"La!" said Mrs Widgery, handing him the toast, "I didn’t know curling was in again. Were the competitors regular hairdressers, or only ladies’ maids?"

"Curling, my love," returned Widgery, putting down the paper and bracing himself up for the inevitable, “in this connection has nothing whatsoever to do with feminine coiffure, but is one of the national pastimes of Scotland, and it has the great advantage over many other sports that it is bound to be a straight game, and - "

"A straight game?" interrupted his spouse. "I – I – don’t quite see –"

"Don’t quite see what, dearest?"

"Why, how it can be such a very straight game if it’s curling!"

After a savage bite at his toast, Mr. W. benignly proceeded:

"I’ll just give you an idea of the pastime. My love. You see – a bonspiel, as a match is called –"
"I see," jerked in Mrs. W. "Bonspiel. That’s Scotch for spills; but we don’t call ‘em matches because they don’t have any brimstone on the tips."

"I was speaking of a curling match, darling, not pipe-lights or Lucifer matches," explained Mr. W., blandly. "Curling is played in a rink with a pair of curling stones –"

"Oh, not a pair of curling irons, then," trespassed Mrs. W. once more. I should have thought –"

"I said curling stones, love."

"La! How funny; I didn’t suppose stones could be curled, anyhow."

Widgery looked more than half inclined to kick the cat, but with an effort he swallowed his pride, and refrained.

"Well, poppet, the players, all having crampets on their shoes –"

"Crumpets in their shoes!" echoed Mrs. W. "Well, I never heard of that before. To be sure,” she continued, contemplatively, “they’re softer than muffins would be, and “ –

“No, dearest; I said crampets. Crampets are little spikes to prevent slipping on the ice.”

“Oh, I see now, it’s (s)pikelets you mean, then, isn’t it?” was his better half’s triumphant solution of her puzzle.

“Ahem! Well, there’s a hogscore on the ice –"

“Oh, they hold their pig-market there, then. I’ve read of hogs sold by the score” –

“No, no, dearest, the hogscores are marks upon the ice, drawn at a certain distance from the tees” –

“What do they let a tease be there for? Isn’t he likely to interrupt the play?”

“No, pet, the tees are the centres of the rinks. Well, then each side has a skip” –

“Why, then, they must play at something like hop-scotch.”

“Not at all, child, there’s no resemblance whatever.”

“But they skip in hop-scotch, and hop and jump too,” insisted Mrs. W.

Widgery still manfully commanded his temper.

“In curling, a skip is a sort of judge,” he explained. “Well, then, the players whose stones are best soled – “

“Do they get a good price for them?”

“Get a good price for what, darling?”

“Why, for the stones, when they’re sold?”

“No, ownest, when a stone is well played, it is said to be soled – understand?”

“Oh, yes, now, of course. Then there’s never any occasion to have them heeled as well as soled, I suppose.”

Widgery felt a sort of sinking sensation at the pit of the stomach, nevertheless, after an attack on the coffee and toast, he proceeded:

“A stone on the move is called a running stone. You’d be surprised at the tremendous speed a running stone attains.”

“Oh, yes, I know,” wedged in Mrs. W., sweetly. “It must be a very hard runner indeed, I’m sure.”

“Exactly,” acquiesced W., beginning to glare. “Well, then, you see, each side does its best to cut the other out, as it’s called.”

“I see; then there’s cutting as well as curling going on?”

Though Widgery secretly gnashed his teeth, and felt his pulse under the table, he suppressed himself, and continued, as if he liked it:

“Yes, pet, and a good curler’s a bit of a twister too, I can tell you. By the way, there’s one thing about curling, the players being on the hard rink all the time” –

“Oh, the hard drink! How dreadful!” said Mrs. W., horrified. “That’s the worst of men; they can’t get together for ever such a little time without having too much of these horrid stimulants.”

“I was about to observe, sweetest, that being in the hard rink – h, a, r, d, hard; r, i, n, k, rink, hard rink – all the time, makes ‘em peckish, and gets ‘em into good condition to do justice to the curler’s fare, as it’s called, of beef and greens.”

“La! What’s it called curler’s fare for?” inquired Mrs. W., innocently.

“Why, oh, well, because it’s symbolical of fare play, I suppose, sweetest. Hell! There’s my ‘bus.”

And he was out of the house and clambering up to his seat beside the driver almost before he realised that he had left the room without bestowing upon her the customary salute.

David B Smith.

Almost contemporary with The Widgerys at Breakfast these woodcuts appeared in The Graphic of 7 February, 1880.

Click on the graphic to see a bigger size.