Not many of you outside the RHF regimental family will know or of heard of Ronnie Hughes. He was a diamond of a man who passed away earlier this week. Ronnie followed Rosie's breast cancer updates poster here and despite his own frequent visits to hospital in the past months always dropped me an email after each post to wish her well. He was that kind of man. So sad that he just missed news of her improving situation.
I thought, as did many others I'm sure, that he would bounce back from his latest illness just as he usually did. I didn't know Ronnie while I was with the Battalion; I was at the wrong end of the pay scales apart from anything else. I had though, got to know him better in recent years through his fast wit and enthusiastic support for small projects I have been doing. I enjoyed corresponding with him, mostly over email and reading his hilarious posts both on the regimental forum and on Facebook. His book 'Reflections,' is a Regimental treasure and should be given to every recruit and young officer joining along with the regimental history. The truth is, he embodied everything that is good about the RHF in particular and the Scottish soldier in general. I'm pleased to have known him in a small and quiet way. We lost one of the good things in our lives this week.
In 2014 I posted a piece about Ronnie and his book, 'Reflections.' Here it is. His poem, 'The Ballad of Brenda McGhee,' is just a timeless classic.
Life’s not all bad, dull and dreary and as you know, here at Crumble we try and occasionally elevate matters by bringing something with a cultural bent along to feed the soul and cheer the heart. With that in mind I’d like to introduce you to what I firmly believe is a classic contribution to our nations literary heritage, the joy of which will far outlive me.
A book dropped on the doormat this week and its no ordinary book. Just once in a while, from the many hundreds of thousands of men who rotate through the Army the odd one will commit his memories and emotions to paper and in doing so capture moments in time that would otherwise be lost for ever. Former Drum Major of the 1st Bn The Royal Highland Fusiliers, Ronnie Hughes has done just that and those of us who served at the same time are grateful that he’s done so.
In his collection of poems and short stories called “Reflections,” which he collated with the help of a friends student daughter, he’s nailed an entire Battalions rich humour and sense of collective being. I can honestly say that my formative years spent with 1 RHF were the funniest I've ever experienced. There were some not so good times but those were quickly forgotten in favour of the high points and Ronnie’s book has brought a flood of memories back for me and others who are chuckling their way through it. Thanks Ronnie.
This is my favourite;
The Ballad of Brenda McGhee
In the town of Port Glasgow there lived a young lass, in a flat overlooking the sea,
That’s where I first clapped my eyes oan the sight, I hope never again for to see.
The ugliest burd in the whole bleedin’ world, yes folks you kin take it from me,
Meet Brenda McDonald McFadzean Coltrane, Fitzpatrick McGregor McGhee.
To say she wis ugly, wis putting it mild, as she sat by her windae aw day,
Gazing longingly oot as the world passed her by, in the hope that a boy came her way.
Twa bandy legs, and a wee crooked nose, Ailsa Craig wis the size of her rump,
Wi’ wan squinty eye, and a 52 chest, not forgetting that she had a hump.
Poor Brenda wis lonely, of that there’s no doubt, and boyfriends a no- no it seems,
As I looked in her eye, and she gave me a wink, not me pal, aye jist in yir dreams.
It seems such a shame, as I toodled aff hame, leaving Brenda alone at her sill,
There’s some ugly burds that kin capture a lad, of course there are some never will.
One day came to pass, this ugly young lass, left her windae ti’ go make some toast,
When in through the windae a burglar he came, and very soon wished he wis lost.
Wee Brenda she caught him alone in her room, as he rifled the loot frae her hoose,
This is ma chance, thought wee Brenda at last, as her boobs from her bra she let loose.
Wee Joe the burglar looked aghast, his face wis as white as a sheet,
Of aw the hooses he picked ti’ tan, and whit a god awful sight for ti’ meet.
Aw Christ whit is this, the burglar enquired, I only came in for yir loot,
That’s OK son, said wee Brenda with glee, only two weeks ti go, then yir oot.
The fortnight flew in and wee Brenda wis glad, at long last she’d captured a boy,
Virginity gone and two weeks of pure lust, the burglar wid make a good toy.
It’s fair ti’ say Joe didnae see it that way, he wis knackered and right puckered oot,
He longed for the day, he had to escape, doon the pawn wi’ the ugly hags loot.
Some years doon the line, wee Joe doing time, in his cell he jist let his mind wander,
That time in Port Glasgow he robbed the wrang hoose, aye, whit a major blunder.
Still sat at her windae wis Brenda McGhee, she wis smilin’ for aw she was worth,
There by her side was her 5-year-old pride, a wan eyed humpy backit wee dwarf.
This tale has a moral, and, yes it is true, ugly hags can get boyfriends, aye, even you,
Don’t sit at your windae, watch life pass you by, go make some toast, or even a pie.
Remember wee Brenda, the ugliest burd, that’s ever been this side of Oban,
Just make sure that when you leave your room, that your windae on life is left open.
Historical context from Ronnie,
"Let me enlighten you as to how she found herself on the end of my pen (so to speak) When I was growing up in the East end of Glasgow at the end of, and just after WW2, I noticed that there was a dearth of menfolk in my area, thanks to a certain wee Austrian Corporal. When the weather was fine, 'wimmen-folk' would often be seen at their window sills, leaning on a cushion or pillow. Conversations would be passed up and down the street and many even went on round corners into different streets. Now, thanks to the shortage of men (young and old) who never made it home, women just had a hard time getting themselves a laddie, and every street had a "Wee Brenda" who came up a bit short in the 'good looking' stakes, so she had 'nae' chance (until I came to her rescue with wee Joe the burglar.) I never met the mythical Brenda, and I certainly never frequented Port Glasgow, but when I put both together, it helped my words and the poem to flow."