We’re all Jock Tamson’s Bairns

I was baptised Catholic, attended the village Sunday School run by the Baptists in the local primary school, because I could do so without crossing a road, and I went on summer camps with them until I was a teenager.

It says much for my world that I attended school in Edinburgh unaware of the reason for the divide between Hearts and Hibs football teams. Somehow I was aware that a school friend I brought home was the daughter of Jew.  I didn’t really understand what that meant other than that Jesus had been a Jew according to Sunday school.  However I’d overheard she had two older sisters and her parents had really wanted a son each time so I empathised with her as I was in the same position.

My father was Italian but had died at a very young age.  I grew up overhearing how Italians only wanted sons and realised that because I was a girl, I was not quite what had been on the agenda.  I also grew up being told that because I was a girl my Italian family wanted nothing to do with us and that if we had been boys, they would have been never off the doorstep and our childhood would not have been so impoverished.

The absence of my Italian family in our lives might have been more to do with the fact that my agnostic mother had run the priests, sent to comfort us in the days after my father’s death, out of the house, yelling at them all the way up the path.

They’d had the misfortune to ask for money for candles and there was no money for food, never mind candles to pray for the dear departed soul of a young man who was taken from us through illness far too soon.   My Italian family were relatively wealthy for the times, unaware of our predicament and the poor priest would have naturally believed we were being looked after in similar circumstances.

My mother was too proud to ask for help but she did the best she could, as all mothers do for their children in whatever circumstances they find themselves in.

I grew up unaware of a brand of religion – and trotted off to church on a Sunday with whomever I felt sociable with at the time.   Often we couldn’t go to church because we simply did not have ‘best clothes’ to wear.

The full force and divide of religion was brought home to me when I moved to another Scottish city where Catholic and Church of Scotland schools were built side by side.  Generally there were daily fights on the way home from school.

Then the biggest drama and divide occurred one year before Christmas when I had young children of my own.  Because of decimalisation a large national company had recruited thousands of extra workers.  I watched aghast that year as the first to be laid off were my neighbours who were Catholic.  Church of Scotland members were kept on but realistically they had been working in the factories before the need for the huge influx of extra staff.

That was when it hit home that religion can cause problems.  There were many children in houses on our estate who had a very poor Christmas that year.

It was the most classic illustration of those who have and those who have not and that’s when religious troubles arise.

ITV’s programme on Cilla touched on the religious divide that prevailed in the late 1950s/early 1960s.  Both Cilla’s father and Bobby’s father stated their religious preferences for partners for their respective children were not the ones chosen by them.

‘We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns’ is a popular saying in Scotland and is attributed to The Reverend John Thomson {Jock Tamson} who was a much-loved minister of Duddingston Kirk, Edinburgh from 1805 to 1840. He called the members of his congregation ‘ma bairns’ {my children}and this resulted in folk saying ‘we’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns’ which gave a sense of belonging to a small but special group. Nowadays, the phrase is often used to indicate we’re all the same under the skin.

I like to think of it that way.


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