I adore Alexander McCall Smith, so when learned that a new 44 Scotland Street novel was to be released in paperback, I ordered a copy even though it would be months before it shipped. It arrived last week. This morning I got up and saw rain washing away my beloved snow and was comforted by the thought of spending the day curled up with my new book.
But I was only on page 22 before I was confounded. What on earth did McCall Smith mean by “muckle hairy sporran”? Was it a Scottish rodent? Or perhaps some Scottish delicacy? Would you like fries with that muckle hairy sporran? I suspected that it was something any kindergartner in Edinburgh would easily comprehend, but alas, I live in suburban Washington, D.C. and had never heard of a sporran much less a muckle hairy sporran. First I looked up muckle which, when used as an adjective, means (in archaic Scottish) very big. That was easy enough. Then I googled sporran . . and found a shop that sells them, yes, those little furry purses that Scotsmen sling low over their kilts. I’ve always admire the Scots, so at ease with their masculinity they wear a skirt AND carry purse and still look manly! The shop sold all kinds of sporran from “full-dress” sporran to “daywear” sporran to “piper” sporran (for you bag-pipers) made of everything from seal skin to chinchilla, arctic fox, badger and black and white rabbit–with tassels! There is even a little flask sized to tuck into your sporran for carrying a wee dram to warm ye when the cold Scottish mist rolls in.
But I didn’t fully catch the drift of McCall Smith’s reference, which refers to a portrait of Francies MacNab rendered by the Scottish artist Henry Raeburn, until I found the portrait online. McCall Smith described MacNab as “draped in tartan and wearing a muckle hairy sporran.”
Here dear reader, to enhance your reading pleasure, is MacNab in all his glory: Now wasn’t that fun!