By Tim Porteus

MANY years ago there lived a man called Sandie Ramsay who lived and worked at Lennoxlove as a gardener.

The evidence of his work will still be seen there even to this day. Yet it is an anonymous handprint, as most workers’ achievements are.

Sandie’s left arm was lame. Perhaps he had an accident when younger or it may have been with him since birth. He also had a way of walking which made him lean to one side, with his lame arm swinging. He was a regular sight on the road to Haddington as he ventured into town after work to spend his small earnings in the tavern.

There were many people with ignorance and a cruelty of spirit who took delight in mocking Sandie’s physical appearance. Sad to say this is still the case, but in Sandie’s day, around 200 years ago, there seemed little awareness or care for the suffering it caused. The walk to town from Lennoxlove was therefore often a gauntlet that Sandie had to endure. At times he deliberately took a byway path to avoid the chants of ‘Aikin Hoy’, which was the nickname given to him by local children and their parents.

Yet it was on his return that the young abusers would often emerge to throw cruel and unkind words at him. The aim was simple: to annoy him so much that his forbearance would spill out into anger at the abuse and so give chase to the young tormentors. They would run from him as he tried to catch them to give them a scolding. It was always when poor Sandie was worse for drink that this game was played. The sight of him running drunk with his disabilities was thought a great amusement. Sometimes the chase took him all the way back to the town, until exhausted and out of breath he would give up and return forlornly up the hill.

Yet his tormentors, willed on by Sandie’s vulnerability, would reassemble and follow him yet again. Sandie would have to give up the idea of chase and bear the name-calling until he reached the relative safety of his simple accommodation at Lennoxlove.

Needless to say, Sandie was not a man endowed with wealth or status, yet he was happy to be among the cultivated beauty of the gardens, for here he would find his solace and peace. Yet, like all of us, he had his dreams and every week he would put aside a small amount of his small earnings to save up for that dream.

It was a pittance every week, but as weeks turned into months and months into years, the pittance slowly grew. At nights, under the light of a flickering candle, he would count the money he had saved. It was a regular ritual.

Perhaps he could have saved more if he’d drunk less but a man must live in the day as well as save for his dreams.

And then the day arrived when he realised he had enough money to make his dream a reality. And so he carefully placed his money in a bag and set off for town. It was a quiet morning and Sandie had a huge smile on his face. On his return, Sandie’s smile was even more radiant. His savings were gone but he finally possessed the object of his dreams. He was now the proud owner of a watch and chain.

When he got home he carefully laid the watch and chain on his rickety table and admired it. He studied every detail of it and recalled the watchmaker’s account of how the mechanism worked and how to wind it up and take care of it. He could hardly wait for evening to go into town and show it off and use it. He had learnt to tell the time years ago but now he could tell the time whenever he wanted.

Later that day he set off into town. He put on his Sunday best clothes for although it wasn’t the Sabbath it was certainly an occasion to celebrate. He carefully ensured the watch was wound up and placed it in the top pocket of his jacket. He stood admiring himself in front of his small cracked mirror which he had found discarded in the garden many years ago. He arranged the chain carefully and smiled. He was ready!

That day Sandie’s gait was different as he headed into town. He held his head upright and proudly puffed out his chest. The chain swung gently from his fob pocket and every minute or so he’d take out his watch and check the time. But as he entered the town everyone was busy going about their business and nobody seemed to notice Sandie’s watch and chain.

And so Sandie stopped a man in the street.

“I will be maist muckle obliged tae ye if ye’d ask me what o’clock it is,” he said to the stranger.

The man, being in a rush and not listening properly, misunderstood Sandie’s meaning.

“Aye, of course,” he said and looked at his own pocket watch to tell Sandie the time.

“Naw naw, sir, if ye please. Could ye ask me whit o’ clock it is?”

“Ye want me tae ask ye the time?” enquired the man, who was now confused.

“Aye,” said Sandie with a big smile. “See my watch,” he said as he took it carefully from his pocket, “is it no a bonnie ane?”

The man gave a forced smile and slight nod of acknowledgement. He didn’t understand just what an important day this was for Sandie and what the watch meant to him.

“It is just past a quarter past six,” said Sandie proudly to the man. The man raised his eyebrows and gave a patronising smile and moved on without a word. Sandie watched him as he walked away and a few moments later the man checked his own watch.

“Aye,” said Sandie to himself, “he kens noo I’m richt!”

That evening Sandie had many opportunities to tell the time as he drank merrily. On his journey home, back up the hill to Lennoxlove, the usual crowd came out to accompany him with mockery. But Sandie ignored them. He had in his pocket what he had always wanted, and he’d bought it with his own money. The taunts of ‘Aikin Hoy’ untouched him that evening. He thought only of his magnificent watch and that he had managed to achieve his life’s ambition.