The Wee Book of Calvin

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you have an aversion to hugging men (assuming your are a man), kissing
women whom you have just met at a formal dinner party, watching
the Oprah Winfrey show, hanging on to every word of Dan Rather,
bitchy females, the emphasis on self-esteem and role models, cultural
diversity, sensitivity training, single-parents, buying self-help
books, being non-judgmental, admiring homosexuality, watching show
business patriotism at the Super Bowl, and a whole host of other
modern affectations and afflictions, I have a book that will help
to restore your faith in human nature.

Wee Book of Calvin
by Bill Duncan sub-titled Air-Kissing
in the North-East is the perfect antidote to the sugary froth
of our modern world. The book has nothing to do with Calvin Klein
but everything to do with John Calvin who advocated self-control,
discipline and respect for others in the battle of life.

in North Eastern Scotland around the 1950s, the book is a quasi
biography of growing up in a misty cold gloomy climate, inhabited
by people who were (and probably still are) emotionally distant,
cold, unsympathetic to human frailties, gloomy, monosyllabic in
conversation, realistic — almost fatalistic, and with low expectations
for most of mankind. Such people usually had an elementary education
(but with an extraordinary ability to do mental arithmetic when
it concerned money or betting) and were effective parents, optimistic
about the future, and much wiser than those with PhDs.

achievement and personal responsibility were encouraged, indeed
essential if you were to be successful in such a harsh world, but
parents actively discouraged self-importance and any sign of conceit.
Scotland in that era was more a state of mind, rather than a piece
of geography.

book is as the author states “a counterblast to the easy comfort
and cosy reassurance of all of those things you hate: antidote to
the Axis of Evil, the unholy amalgam of Zen, Californian, chilled-out,
ethnic, post hippie, laid back, Celtic and New Age.”

describes a world of few words, of doing not being, high expectations
and low praise, of action not feeling, personal insults, hard drinking,
and poverty. High self-esteem, for example, was expressed by the
town of Kirriemuir when it boasted of being “the flu capital of
the world."

as the bio is, the book contains numerous sayings from a bygone
age of social comment, advice, and general guidance on the state
of the world and pithy advice. Almost all quotations are brief,
savagely to the point and expressed in language that leaves no scope
for misunderstanding. The collective folklore is from one-handed
philosophers — no shades of grey and no feelings of guilt — example,
a hangover is the reward for having had a good time. There is not
a politically correct sentiment in the whole text.

have listed a dozen of what I think are the best aphorisms from
this small part of the world which stretches about 100 miles up
the Northeast coast of Scotland (and would include Kirkcaldy — the
birthplace of Adam Smith) from Edinburgh to Aberdeen and maybe 30
miles inland.

a personal note, I was born in Perth (20 miles from Kirkcaldy) —
now a beautiful prosperous city on the edge of the Scottish Highlands
— but as a child growing up seemed to be a circumscribed world reeking
with pessimism and controlled by rotten weather. As I grew older,
I realised as most of us eventually do that the world of our parents
was much more complex, and more pleasant than we thought, and that
the accumulated wisdom of the ages is better guide for a happy life
than all the loathsome new-age self help books now on sale or the
smug edicts of the welfare state. Was this, I wonder, the spontaneous
order created by human experience and action?

that as a background, here is a sampler of Scotch wisdom from another
era that would have had the endorsement of Adam Smith, John McCulloch
and other figures in the Scottish enlightenment. I somehow think
that Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich A. Hayek, and even a softie like
Lew Rockwell would also approve. For those who do not have the advantage
of having been born in Scotland, I have provided an English translation
when I think it is needed.

  1. “Ye
    can tell the criminal fae the face in the crib."
  2. “Let
    the laddie play wi the knife. He'll learn.”
  3. “First
    braith beginning of yer daith." (The first breath is the
    beginning of your death).
  4. “Hang
    a thief when he's young, an he'll no steal when he's aald.”
  5. “Millions
    o women bring forth in pain millions o bairns that arenae worth
    haein.” (Millions of women have children that are not worth
  6. “Stick
    in at the skail, laddie, lest ye end up wi the rest o them measuring
    the length of yer spit on the street coarner.” Study hard
    at school, my boy, or your will end up with others have a spitting
    contest on the street corner.
  7. “Eh
    dinnae believe in a man daein hoosework.” I do not believe
    in a man doing housework.
  8. “The
    look on that bairn's face? Skelp it oot him.” With that
    child's look, he needs a beating.
  9. “A
    hangover — yer payment fur havin a guid time.”
  10. “Yev
    an erse like twa bairns fightin under a blanket.” You have
    a behind like two children fighting under a blanket.
  11. “Bliddy
    wummin. A fais that wid turn a funeral up a side street wi a
    voice that wid shell a prawn wi wan screech.” Bloody woman.
    A face that would turn a funeral procession up a side street,
    and a voice that would shell a prawn with one shout.
  12. “Self-pity
    never biled a haddock.” Self-pity never boiled a fish.

of the sentiments expressed above would now be unacceptable in polite
company. Anyone who described a female as having a face that would
turn a funeral procession up a side street would probably be accused
of sexual harassment, or at least a lack of sensitivity and if said
at work would probably be disciplined if not dismissed. Yet who
can quarrel with their relevance, wit, and accuracy.

should now be apparent that if you are someone who:

  • is
    politically incorrect;
  • believes
    that depression and sadness are inevitable companions in life;
  • loves
    silence and space;
  • prefers
    your own company to that of others;
  • has
    an unabashed admiration for the social qualities of booze;
  • is
    secretly, a male chauvinist pig;
  • says
    no more than you say yes;
  • smiles
    at someone's self-inflicted misfortune;
  • has
    a sense of humour, and sense of the ridiculous;

this is the book for you. Use it as a companion volume to How
the Scots Invented the Modern World
, or even Human
and The
Road to Serfdom

14, 2005

Stewart [send him mail] has
lived in Bermuda all of his adult life, and was chief executive
of the Royal/Dutch Shell Group of Companies in Bermuda until his
retirement in 1998. Subsequently, he was President of Old Mutual
Asset Managers, Bermuda, and retired from there at the end of 2002.
He is a director of several Bermuda companies and investment funds,
and the author of A Guide to the Economy of Bermuda.

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