IF Hawick Common-Riding is in the top ten world party guide then the Hawick Callants Club annual dinner must surely be worthy of an entry in the top ten best nights' out.
The members and guests of the prestigious Hawick club would certainly approve following another excellent annual dinner at the Mansfield House Hotel last Friday night.
The regular attendees at this fabulous event would all be in agreement that this year's event was one of the finest, guest speaker Professor David Purdie who was attending the event for the first time was clearly impressed.
One of the Callants Clubs' great strengths is the attention to detail, everything is done to the highest order. Following a beautiful meal, the company were given a real treat through the various toasts, songs and poems.
In his introduction President Henry Douglas said: "Provost Elliot, fellow Callants, welcome one and all to the Callants Club Annual Dinner. It's grand to see so many weel kent faces here tonight, and can I say how many of you are so young looking. But I suppose when you get to my age everyone looks young. Coming back on the packed ferry from Belfast last Sunday night I was struggling to find a seat. One of the stewards asked me if he could help.
"I told him I was trying to find a seat, so he said come with me sir. He quickly led me to a very comfortable leather type armchair seat. I thanked him very much and settled down, thinking how lucky I was that I'd met such a helpful staff member, until I noticed the sign above the seat which read 'This seat is reserved for the elderly" I immediately thought of Robert Burns, and that great line: "To see ourselves as others see us."
"Can I pay a special welcome to our guests this evening, Professor David Purdie, and Honorary Provost Elliot. Gentleman can I also extend a special welcome tonight to all our life members, and also to our new members who are here for the first time. Stuart Marshall, Keith Smythe, Dr Doug Rolland, Craig Neilson, Keith Oliver and of course Cornet Graham Robertson. Welcome one and all.
"Welcome also to our Golden Jubilee Cornet, Ex-Cornet Donald Lunn, and a special welcome to the man who will celebrate his 60th anniversary as Cornet in June this year, congratulations to Ex-Cornet Charlie Whillans. I would like to welcome once more tonight our regular visitor from the USA, Bill Huggan from New Jersey."
Bert Armstrong then launched the entertainment for the evening, when he was invited to sing a verse from the 'Callants Song' before he performed 'Border Queen' the company were only to happy to join Bert in the chorus and the evening was quickly into full swing.
President Henry Douglas then introduced the Guest speaker for the evening Professor David Purdie. He told the company: "Doctor Professor David W Purdie, Doctor of Medicine, fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh, fellow of the Society of Antiquities for Scotland. Originally from Prestwick, Professor Purdie was educated at Ayr Academy, and Glasgow University he then followed an academic and medical research career, his scientific work being on osteoporosis. Laterally he was Post-Graduate Dean at the new medical school at Hull and York University, before returning home to Edinburgh.
"He perfected the art of public speaking in the university debating hall at Glasgow University under such masters as Sir Ming Campbell, the late Donald Dewar and the late John Smith. He has been a keen golfer since childhood he is a member of the Royal Burgess Golf Club in Edinburgh and the Sunningdale Golf Club. He was also speech writer for his great friend Sam Torrance when he captained the Ryder Cup team in 2002. As a freelance journalist he contributes to the Scotsman, the Sunday Times and BBC Radio on medical and scientific matters, and a Parliamentary speech writer for certain members of Parliament.
In his address to the members Professor David Purdie said: "It is so nice to be here in Hawick tonight. I wondered ahead of the dinner I wondered what the Callants were, the original route comes from old German and ancient Dutch. It means a young man, a worthy companion and a good fellow, and how appropriate.
"It is an honour to join a long list of people as guest of the club such as, Sir Chay Blyth. I can look back almost 37, 38 years as a former yachtsman myself I can remember the electrifying news when we knew that Sir Chay had circumnavigate the world in British Steel, which was a tremendous achievement in nautical terms and will forever remain one of the great stories in the annuls of the sea, by a man who came from here. Along with the likes of Allan Massie and my own colleague Professor James Robson. It is a distinguished list indeed."
Professor Purdie then recounted several stories about his younger days in the medical profession. Along with stories about the late Chick Murray, while also highlighting his pleasure at being in the Scottish Borders and in a sense in the roots of his own family, because his family hail from the Peebles area.
He then told stories about the role of the reivers and cross-Border stories of animal rustling. He also told some humorous stories about his time as a member of the Sunningdale Golf Club in England, which were well received by the company. He also spoke of his appreciation of the Scots honesty and the way he always thought a great deal about the fact that so many Scottish people would always give a straight answer when asked.
He also paid homage to the Voice of Rugby Bill McLaren and how much he had enjoyed listening to his amazing commentaries over the years, and the late Adam Robson the former SRU President. He once again congratulated Hawick on producing so many great rugby people followed by some funny rugby stories. He then mentioned the legendary motorcycle ace Jimmy Guthrie and he spoke about the invention of the Lee Enfield rifle by a Hawick man James Parris Lee who emigrated to Canada before inventing the rifle which is still in use today.
As Professor sat down the company rose as one to applaud an excellent toast.
Professor Purdie must have marvelled at the united singing throughout the evening. In Hawick this is common, perhaps something we take for granted. But the truth is, it is spectacular, song after song the company were quick to join in the chorus. And it was from the company that numerous entertainers emerged throughout the night. Their choice frequently being a Common-Riding song which certainly stirs the blood, while others choices included poetry, the work of Will H Ogilvie to the fore.
The top table were also keen to perform given the opportunity. President Henry Douglas himself, who at the request of Professor Purdie sang the lovely 'The lassie that works in the mill' while later in the evening vice-President Ian Landles recited the fabulous poem 'The man that oo' ca' Bill' which the guest speaker thoroughly enjoyed.
Exiled Teri Euan Murray proposed the toast to Border Art and Literature.
Each speaker's efforts throughout the evening were met by a nod of approval from the company, proposing a toast to 'Oor ain auld toon' was Rotary Club President Gus Neilson who spoke of great affection for the town. He was followed by Honorary Provost Zandra who was making her second address to the Callants Club.
Provost Elliot said: "The Border has its own identity and it has its own very special people. Those who seek change through a 'big is better mentality, have to be made to understand about our trials and tribulations, our struggles and difficulties, our challenges and hopes, if we are to survive as a region. That fight has been won before - when extinction was threatened in the early 1970s - and can be won again, but it needs the weight of a united Borders population behind it.
"At the same time, we also have another fight on our hands, much closer to home - and that is for the future of Hawick, the town we all hold so dear. We cannot pretend that we are enjoying the best of times at present. Recent job losses and shop closures have been a blow - of that there is no doubt - and some order books could probably be a bit healthier, although it must be said that not all the shop closures have been for economic reasons.
"On the credit side, other shops are opening, and we should not forget that last autumn, Hawick Knitwear announced that they would create some 30 new jobs in the town.
"But there's still a long way to go, and it is up to each and every one of us to do out utmost to ensure that greater prosperity returns. Indifference is not an option!
If we sit and do nothing, then we stand to lose everything."
The Honorary Provost went on to say: "The town has a trial one-way traffic system in operation that not only improves flow, but makes our High Street shops more accessible. Money has been found to enable flood prevention measures to begin. Not much admittedly, but given that flood funding for Hawick was voted out by the last administration, this represents a significant move forward.
"Financial problems at the Heart of Hawick project have been resolved and funding is in place for further improvements to the High Street, Silver Street, and the area round the James Thomson Bridge.
"The grass cutting issue, which affected the Stirches area of the town and proved so confrontational that it led to walkouts at meetings, has been resolved. Funding for additional dog wardens has also been secured - although why we can't just have more responsible pet owners is beyond me!
"The new Borders College is under construction - hardly a major victory but here thanks to the involvement of a very vibrant and successful Hawick High School.
"Consultation on the development of Commercial Road will begin within the next few weeks. and of course we've got a stay of execution for the pool at Wilton Primary School.
"These, gentlemen, are part of a very necessary bedding-down and settling-in process to keep Hawick moving forward. As councillors, we have made a commitment to do our best for the people of our wards, and we are determined to succeed.
"We will, no doubt make mistakes but these mistakes will never be made either intentionally or out of prejudice. When we are right, we will no doubt be thought wrong and condemned by those who cannot see the whole picture. But rest assured, whatever the circumstances, whatever the difficulties, whatever the political differences, we will all be there for Hawick.
"Due to the creation of new superwards, our remit now stretches far beyond the grey auld toon and its environs, which was previously split into small compact wards. We represent an electorate that is spread from Newcastleton to Newlands, and from Carter Bar to Craik. So you will appreciate that although we represent Hawick, we also have to devote some of our time to a much wider electorate.
"What helps enormously, is that we get great assistance from some very community spirited people in the town. As a result of their efforts, we now have a very successful farmers market, and we will shortly see the return of a continental market. Our reivers, summer and busking festivals, and pipe band championships go from strength to strength and continue to attract visitors from near and far. And of course the Callants Club sings nights, which do so much for local charities, are a regular sell-out.
"Our Welcome Hosts continue to do great PR with the tourists, and despite what you may have read recently, our Christmas lights are still the envy of many.
"But gentlemen, we should not be content to leave it to others. We should all be involved for our town. Indifference is not an option.
In this respect I was especially delighted when your centenary president Tom Hartop agreed, so willingly, to chair the stakeholders group to take the one-way system forward. Under Tom, the group - all community volunteers - have worked tirelessly, and the town should be grateful for their efforts.
"While I'm handing out bouquets gentlemen, could I also pay tribute to the lads from Scocha who are such excellent ambassadors for the town, both in this county and abroad - the repute of Hawick is always uppermost in each and every performance.
"That is the kind of dedication and commitment to Hawick we need more of. I hope that as callants you all want to be part of it. So, what of our future?
"Like many others, we no longer have a strong manufacturing base. Yes, our mills will continue to produce a quality product, but on a smaller scale. Yes we will always have small successful businesses in engineering, construction, service industries, the professions, and the like, but they alone cannot sustain our economy. If we are to progress, we need to diversify. It will not be easy. Real progress is never achieved without some degree of pain, but united we can conquer the demons with lie ahead.
"The most obvious choice is the leisure and heritage industry. We need to make more of the natural beauty that surrounds us. We have far better walking, cycling, and riding than many places just an hour down the road, so we need to encourage tourists to go those extra few miles.
The key to all this is the Heritage Hob and Tower Mill facility. What an asset, not just to Hawick, but to the Border. We need to capitalize on our asset and shout its presence and splendour from the rooftops. Don't lets ignore it or put it to the side. Indifference is not an option!
"To complement the heritage hub, we have a very solid framework. We have a theatre cum cinema, we have a fine leisure centre, we offer first class sporting facilities, we have shops that sell quality products and we are soon to have a knitwear museum in Drumlanrig's Tower, with the excellent Jimmy Guthrie and Steve Hislop exhibitions being housed together in the Wilton Lodge Park museum.
"It's all there. All we have to do is go out and tell the world. It may not be easy, gentlemen, but sometimes help comes from the most unexpected sources.
"It's now official, the guidebooks and national press have spread the news far and wide - Hawick has the best party in the world and is definitely the place to be in early June. Our Common-Riding is the envy of festivals the world over. The sense of community spirit and bonding it creates is unequalled anywhere, and it succeeds because we do it properly. Our history, our heritage, our civic responsibility all matter to us and we take pride in each.
"Last year, we enjoyed yet another in a long line of successes, superbly led by a worthy young Cornet, Graham Robertson.
Our Cornet and his Lass Lesley-Anne Renwick gave their all to the job and the town, and they are to be congratulated on a job exceedingly well done.
"Another who gave his all to the Common-Riding of 2007 was our Chief Guest the Reverend Lindsay Thomson. Boy, did he enjoy himself, immersing his whole being in the community, speaking at the Colour Bussing, and being well received at every function I said it at the Colour Bussing, and I make no apologies for saying it again. Ex-Provost McCartney made an inspired choice when he invited Lindsay to be our Chief Guest.
"So how do you follow Lindsay? As I said at the beginning, the Borders is a special place, full of special people. In recent years, our guests have come from Selkirk, Galashiels, Langholm and oor ain auld toon. So, perhaps we should continue down that road - there is a real wealth of talent close to our own doorstep. Our Chief Guest this year is Borders through and through, and is an engineer to trade. Throughout his working life, he was always dedicated, committed and enthusiastic.
"Having started on the shop floor 39 years earlier, he retired as managing director of a highly respected company in 1998, and had much to do with ensuring its success both at home and abroad. He has also shown that same dedication and commitment to his town, always willingly and without being asked.
"National Service instilled in him a great concern for the welfare of our armed forces both during and after service, and in 1996 he was awarded an OBE for his work with the Royal British Legion pensions committee.
"A Mosstroopers Life Member, he is highly respected and much in demand as an after-dinner speaker. Father of an Acting-Mother, he is also a Callant, but not of the Hawick variety.
"Gentlemen, at our Common-Riding this we year we can all stand firm and sure, for Jethart will be here. I'm delighted to tell you that our Chief Guest for 2008 will be George Miller OBE.
As a Borderer, George knows all about the pride and the passion, the history and the tradition. He is always prepared to stand up and fight for the causes he believes in. Like George, none of us should be afraid to fight for our future, and to fight for the Hawick we believe in, because we may not always get the help we need.
"Let me close by quoting a verse with which you will all be familiar. Hawick shall triumph mid destruction. Was a druid's dark prediction. Strange the issues that unrolled it, centuries after he'd foretold it. You know, that druid was a very wise man. He knew that Hawick would have good times. He knew Hawick would have bad times. But he also knew that no matter what came its way, Hawick would survive. He had faith in the town. He had faith in the people. Let's share the faith, gentlemen. Let's believe in our town, let's believe in our people, let's believe in Hawick!"
Doctor Charlie Oliver proved to be a popular choice to toast 'Oor Common-Riding and our Cornets' and he was followed to the microphone by Cornet Graham Robertson who was completing one of his last official duties in his reply to the toast.
As the evening drew to a close, Vice-President Ian Landles proposed a toast to the chairman, Henry Douglas who had done a fine job throughout the evening. Viv Sharp was then requested to favour the company and it his own inimitable style he won over Professor Purdie who was clearly loving the occasion.
By the time President Douglas and his guest left the main hall, with the echoes of "will you no come back again" ringing in their ears, you could be certain that Professor Purdie would want to return to such a fine event in the future, and who could disagree.
PHOTOGRAPHS: Alistair Learmonth