Monday, 22 November 2010

The Voluptuous Witch

The Cutty Sark  posted by (Sheila) at A Postcard a Day  reminded me that I had written this for Yarm Writers Group in 2008

The Voluptuous Witch

"Every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furrowed brow, a hairy lip, a gobber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice or scolding tongue, having a rugged coat on her back, a skull-cap on her head, a spindle in her hand and a dog or cat by her side, is not only suspect but pronounced for a witch."

So said John Gaule in his condemnation of Matthew Hopkins the infamous, self-styled "Witch-finder General" – who took his notorious business throughout East Anglia in the 1640's.

Nannie was not like that. She was winsome and walie; what we today would call voluptuous. She wore only a short shift made for her as a child from coarse Paisley linen and far too short to hide her modesty.

On a dark and stormy night after a day’s hard drinking a farmer left an inn on his faithful horse. The Scots would say he was fou or, perhaps you may prefer, he was three sheets into the wind. Along the way he came to an old churchyard just as the storm grew worse and lightning illuminated the scene. To the accompaniment of thunder the farmer saw that graves had opened up and coffins stood on end. Corpses held torches to light up the merriment that was taking place and which was presided over by the Devil.

Warlocks and witches danced hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys and reels. Amongst them, was the scantily clad Nannie, the voluptuous witch, lively and full of spirits. The bemused farmer watched her in awe and could not resist shouting out, “Well done.”

This was the cue for warlocks and witches, led by Nannie, to break off from their revelry and give chase to the farmer on his horse. Although initially rooted to the spot the farmer, fearing for his life, fled pursued by the horde. He urged his horse on towards a bridge over a river; he knew that if he could make it there the witches could not cross the running water and he would be safe.

He reached the bridge, but as he crossed Nannie reached out and grabbed his horse’s flowing tail. Fortunately for horse and man, the horse did not stop and Nannie was left holding the horse’s tail which she had pulled off.

The man lived on to farm and drink another day.

But what of Nannie? Her fame lives on in Scottish legend. In her short shift still holding the horse’s tail she became the inspiration for the figurehead of the fastest and most famous of all the world’s tea clippers.

Despite a disastrous fire in 2007 the clipper remains the only one surviving to this day. Its name is Cutty Sark.

The story of the farmer and Nannie in her cutty sark, the too short shift of coarse Paisley linen, was immortalized by Robert Burns in his famous poem Tam o’Shanter.

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