Scot and Shambles

Scot and Shambles

As our bus with a motley group of tourists careened along the meandering roads through rolling hills and valleys, our guide announced she would play some soothing music.  After all, we were still three hours away from our next stop. The traditional Scottish music awakened our senses and some who had dozed off were seen swaying gently in their seats.

One of the tunes rang a bell and made me sit up straight, bringing back memories of the 70s when I heard the song on the radio. Just then the guide declared it was the ‘Mull of Kintyre’ sung and made famous by Paul McCartney of the Beatles when he lived in Kintyre.It was a nice, early discovery on our tour around the UK. Not only did I learn about the birth of this old song but also the history of that place.

I’ve heard the term ‘scot free’ so often and even used it freely but never bothered to ascertain its origin. But somewhere between Lockerbie and Carlisle our silver-tongued guide enlightened us about how two verdicts existed in Scotland – proven and unproven, the latter an acquittal when the judge or jury has insufficient evidence to convict the accused.  And the law of unproven led to the term ‘scot free’. Outside of Scotland the ‘unproven’ verdict is referred to as the Scottish verdict but it was a revelation to know that within the country it is alluded to colloquially as the ‘bastard’ verdict, coined by none other than Sir Walter Scott.

Talking of court verdicts, we were regaled by another when we reached Wales. Apparently a Welshman appeared repeatedly in courts for traffic violations until he pleaded that he was born and raised in Wales and knew no other language but Welsh.

His defence was upheld by the jury and since the mid-60s, all signs had to be in Welsh, in addition to English, becoming the only place in the UK to have bilingual signs. Then in York we visited an old, narrow street that once housed several butcher shops. Today, the butchers have vanished but some shops still have meat hooks hanging outside. The street is called Shambles and aptly enough, according to our guide, the mayhem and disorder that prevailed on the street perhaps gave birth to the phrase ‘in a shambles.’

I can go on and on but the most amusing piece was about none other than William Shakespeare. It was after visiting the great bard’s home as well as that of his wife Anne Hathaway’s that we heard interesting tidbits about this celebrated couple. Curiously enough, even today people wonder how and why the two fell in love in the conservative sixteenth century.  “Aren’t you’ll wondering too”? our guide asked in a taunting tone and quickly remarked loftily, “Where there’s a Will, Anne hath a way”!

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