“I LIKE auld Hawick the best,” proclaimed Ex-Acting Father Tom Hartop as he began his thought-provoking and well-researched toast to ‘The Common-Riding’ at the Friday Morning Hut.
Introduced by chairman Stuart Marshall as “one of Hawick’s finest gents”, Tom, a retired knitwear chief, may no longer be one of the town’s captains of industry, but his eloquent and authoritative style of oration, no doubt honed over many years in the boardrooms of the town’s mills, was still much in evidence, as was the high respect in which he continues to be held.
Although touching on various aspects of the Common-Riding, much of Tom’s speech centred on the involvement of the younger generation.
“Where would our Common-Riding be without the bairns?” he asked. “Imagine, no happy smiling faces when oor Cornet returns to the toon after the many ride-outs, and nae singing before the strive. Imagine, no visits to the schools on the day afore the morn. Imagine, nae bairns tae take tae the Haugh!”
Tom, who said the part played by the town’s youngsters in the Common-Riding has always been close to his heart, then urged the Hut faithful to cast their minds back to the Cornet Michael Davidson’s Picking Night. He went on: “If you were lucky enough to have been around O’Connell Street that evening, it takes no imagination to see that the sheer enthusiasm of the bairns will ensure that our Common-Riding is in safe hands for many years to come.”
Indeed, safe hands was to be the overriding theme during what was to be yet another glorious Friday in the hallowed Hut. For toasting ‘The Cornet’ was bakery owner George Harrow, whose ubiquitous presence among the cavalcade for many years marked him out as an ideal choice to pay tribute to the man of the moment.
Talking in glowing terms of the Cornet, George asserted: “Gentleman, they say cometh the hour, cometh the man. Well the hour is here and by God so is the man.
“And over the past six weeks, with his shy smile and kindly way, he has endeared himself to both the young and older generations of Hawick.”
With supporters in the palm of his hand throughout, George continued by giving a superbly-delivered potted history of the life and times so far of the Cornet. Interspersing his speech with some hilarious ditties, the validity of which the Cornet would later jokingly call into question, George had the Hut in uproar on several occasions, not least when he poked fun at Hawick’s town rivals Galashiels.
Continuing on a literary note, George said: “Mark Twain once wrote: ‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, than the ones you did. So throw off the bow lines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails, explore the dream’.”
And turning to the Cornet, he concluded: “Six weeks ago you did just that, leaving the Backdamgate to live the dream . . . So Cornet, when you leave here today, take your time and savour every minute, and listen closely as you ride our marches and you may here the ghosts of earlier Cornets that rode this way before you.”
In reply, Cornet Michael, whose entrance at the start of proceedings heralded a welcome which shook Hawick’s historic tardis-like venue to its very foundations, talked of the last five weeks as being “the time of his life”.
He said: “Whether it be laughing at dinners, smokers or the schools, or the more emotional and humbling experiences such as visiting the war memorials, old folk’s homes and hospitals, it’s certainly been a journey round the grey auld toon I’ve never experienced before.”
He then warmly thanked everyone who had made his big year possible, describing it as a “team effort” from his family and friends, fellow Principals, the Common-Riding Committee, groom Sally Niven and her helpers, the marshals and supporters.
With a superb Colour-Bussing speech safely under his belt the previous night, chief guest Malcolm Murray made it a memorable double with another fine address.
He said: “What a privilege it is to be a guest at such a rousing gathering, and I’m sure I’m expressing the thoughts of all this morning’s guests when I say that . . . The passion of the singing and the enthusiasm of the supporters makes this a unique and uplifting experience.”
Also alluding to that special Common-Riding “experience”, Ex-Acting Father Norman Turnbull, who gave the toast to Acting Father Grahame Nichol, said: “On grasping the staff of the Banner Blue at the top of’ the Nipknowes yesterday morning, you would feel a surge o’ emotion fer better felt than telt.
“But for you Fither, the highlight is still to come,” continued Norman. “When you are handed our ancient banner by your Cornet at the Cutting of the Sod and set out along the dyke back for the Mair . . . flanked by [sons] Ryan and Craig, the sense o’ pride and satisfaction will be truly immeasurable.”
Replying in equally emotive terms, Fither Nichol, who has worn his heart on his sleeve throughout this year’s celebrations, was clearly caught up in the charged atmosphere, and talked warmly of the honour bestowed upon himself, his wife Wendy and his entire family. He was also sincere when touching on his friendship with Ex-Acting Father Turnbull, with whom he had shared many a refreshment over the years.
And as the last rum and milk had been enjoyed, the echoes of official song-singer Michael Atiken, and fellow entertainers Graeme Tinlin, Alan Brydon, Ex-Cornet Ian Nichol, Bernie Armstrong and Ronnie Tait, and the notes of pianist Ian Landles, were still ringing around this most special of places long after the doors had been closed for another year.