Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Stirling Stone on the TV

Do you ever feel like throwing something at your television screen? That was me last night. I enjoy watching the BBC's Antiques Road Trip, usually when I'm having my tea. Last night, my beef curry nearly flew across the room. You can watch the programme for yourself on the BBC iPlayer here, the curling bit being some three quarters the way through the forty-five minute programme.

Celebrity auctioneer James Lewis visited the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum and featured the Stirling Stone, a loofie which has a date of 1511 inscribed on it. The inscription is probably not contemporary with the stone, but there is no doubt that it is an excellent example of the earliest form of curling stone and could well have been played with in the sixteenth century.

What upset me was the rubbish spouted by the museum's 'expert' about where curling was played. He said, "It was done on ponds but more commonly it was actually on a piece of grass. There was literally a curling rink on every street corner. All you need was a lawn, and at three or four o'clock in the morning the estate would send out one of the serfs who would spray water on to the grass, and at 4 in the morning it would be at -5, -6 degrees and it would freeze. And so at 7 o'clock everyone would turn up, and you would be able to play curling for three or four hours."

Aye, right. What a load of cobblers, being delivered by someone, one might assume, that should be knowledgeable about Scotland's social history, but instead has a vivid imagination. I am amazed by such ignorance. Curling was never played 'on every street corner'. That would certainly come as a surprise to David B Smith, Lindsay Scotland and Harold Forrester, the team documenting Scotland's historical 'curling places', see here.

Was curling ever played on grass? Well there is one piece of evidence that it was. David tells me this morning that he knows of one photo of curling on the bowling green in Kilmarnock.

A demonstration of how the loofie might be thrown!

Mind you, perhaps there is just a thread of an idea here which the Royal Club's Grand Match Committee might embrace. They could find a piece of flat grass and send the 'serfs' out to spray it with water at four o'clock in the morning, and the Grand Match could be called on.

Don't laugh. In my email this morning was the serious suggestion that the Grand Match could be held on South Inch in Perth. This area floods naturally anyway, and my correspondent is sure that it could be engineered to give a shallow stretch of water that would freeze easily to provide a GM venue. Or is a flooded airfield still being looked at as a possibility?