Up Yer Kilt…

Reflections on Robbie Burns Day, January 25…an excerpt from my book titled My Time with You Has Been Short but Very Funny.

During my tumultuous childhood, whenever my father would ferociously dress down my mother, a near daily occurrence, he would do so in broad Scots dialect, like a Highlander haranguing a Haggis.

“Shut yer cake nook, Jill,” he would bellow at my mom. “Up yer kilt!”

All things kilt-ish, and Celt-ish, played a huge role in those painful years, a time when our family life was definitely out of kilter.

Dad was a wannabe Braveheart.



Every month, he would don his kilt and participate in drills as a reservist with the local Lorne Scots regiment:



In summer, Dad would parade about our backyard in full Scots regalia, including kilt and sporran, a small furry pouchlike phallic symbol worn around the waist so as to hang in front of the kilt , while making all sorts of suggestive comments about what was underneath (and not underneath) his skirts. Our next door neighbours, the aptly named Beekmans, were beakish folk from the Netherlands, whom my father clearly wanted to impress with his florid battle dress. He would have them film him for posterity with a Super 8 movie camera, while preening about the yard.

After this orgy of neighbourly peacocking, our family would head for the nearby Caledon Hills where we would be forced to watch parading and other drills to the incessant wail of bagpipes in the sweltering dog days of summer, culminating in seemingly interminable  periods during which the ragtag reservists would stand at attention… and my father would inevitably faint.

Yes, every month like clockwork Jim McBryde, striving mightily to be a valiant Highlander, would pass out during military drills.

As a small child, I found this behaviour perfectly par for the course. Didn’t all fathers sport kilts and keel over in the searing heat during basic training? Didn’t they all refuse to make left turns and throw tantrums behind the wheel of their car; jabber ceaselessly to all and sundry and scream at family members in Scots dialect; always repeat the same jokes; insist on having teeth filled and pulled without anesthetic; go to church religiously but refuse to take communion; impale themselves on nails and catfish fins; scratch their legs until they bled; call their bosses by initials, like A.I. or L.W., behind their backs and ‘Mister’ to their face; and unceasingly insult their own wives?

And didn’t they whistle and play Scottish bagpipe tunes all day long, particularly when working themselves into a rage?

The more dad whistled, the more we knew we were in Deep Trouble.

Whenever his temper began to rev up to flare, ‘Road to the Isles’ was his go-to tune:

A far croonin’ is pullin’ me away
As take I wi’ my cromack to the road.
The far Coolins are puttin’ love on me.
As step I wi’ the sunlight for my load.
Sure by Tummel and Loch Rannoch and Lochaber I will go…

My mother would begin to scream like a banshee after enduring endless renditions of bellicose bagpipe blasts, and then bickering not Britannia would rule the family waves…

Dad was a Scottish Philistine of the first order who made the Biblical Goliath seem like an effete, pointy-headed highbrow. He was most comfortable with his battalion of office cronies, like his Scottish friend Ian Martin, whom we called ‘Swept Away.’

When I was in my early teens, I would babysit for Mr. and Mrs. Swept Away on New Year’s Eve. After whiling away the hours before the Martins’ return from the Saturnalian festivities of what they called ‘Hogmanay’ by rummaging through their drawers looking for incriminating evidence of sexual proclivities or activities, I would welcome them home at around 4 a.m., with Mr. Martin “properly pie-eyed and right sloshed.” Then began Ian’s annual pickled harangue and Swept Away serenade, with a thoroughly plastered Mr. Martin caterwauling like a libidinous tomcat with a thick Scottish brogue:

When the summer comes again

And there’s music in the glen

For the sun has sent ole winter far away

And the mavis with his song

Tells me there’s where I belong

Stepping out on the West Highland Way.



January was indeed Scots month in our household, what with Auld Lang Syne, Swept Away and, the  marmalade on the scone, Robbie Burns Day, on January 25. Now my entire family called me Robbie and my dad swore that I was named after Robbie Burns, the patron saint of Scots poetry, even though there was a plethora of much more prosaic Roberts in our lineage. At any rate, each year Dad took advantage of Robbie Burns Day by threatening to force us to devour a Haggis, which he would perversely describe in the most disgusting terms imaginable. The non-Scottish among you may not know that Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, is a type of pudding composed of the liver, heart, and lungs of a sheep, minced and mixed with beef or mutton suet and oatmeal and seasoned with onioncayenne pepper, and other spices. The mixture is packed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled. Dad knew full well that my mom would never allow such an abomination to besmirch her kitchen but he would promise this antique Caledonia tripe each year, and hold forth with verses from the Burns poem “Address to a Haggis,” pausing to add editorial comments peppered with adjectives such as revolting, vomity, and foul, all included for maximized nauseating effect.

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang ‘s my arm…

His knife see Rustic-labour dight,
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

In my adult life, as fate would have it, I spent a 35-year career teaching at a college with a fierce, proud Irish Catholic tradition, where Robbie Burns Day slipped through the winter semester like an invisible poor relation air brushed out of history whereas St. Patrick’s Day was the highpoint of the entire school year. I loved the Irish music, the ever-present green, and the high-octane Irish coffee that fueled sentimental, even lachrymose St. Paddy’s Day declamations at our fermented institute of higher learning. But I spent my work life explaining that our family name was Scottish, not Irish, and that my dad had doled out endless years of Caledonia tripe that nourished my weirdness, alienation, and verbosity.
When our older son was about three years old, he peed on the rug in front of the elevator of our condo building, depositing a little amber puddle for all the apartment dwellers to contemplate at their leisure. Sadly, much to my eternal shame, when confronted with this unfortunate leakage, from the murky depths of my primeval Scottish psyche emerged my inner Jim, in both language and demeanour.
“Whit urr ye daein’ Dan,” I bellowed. “Ye’v pissed ‘n’ made a fankle. Whit am ah aff tae dae wi’ ye? Ye’r in Deep Trauchle.”
Immediately dispatched to the bathtub to have this original sin sponged away, our contrite pint-sized incontinent confided in his mom.
“I can’t wait until tomorrow,” Daniel declared morosely.
After a long pause, my wife asked him why.
“Then Bob won’t be speaking in Scots dialect like grandpa anymore.”

A stinging indictment of father, son, and unholy ghosts.





Robert McBryde Author (20+) Facebook