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Declan Kelly: Woodburn

Declan Kelly: Woodburn

I was born in Edinburgh and have lived there my whole life, especially enjoying the city for it’s atmosphere and people. I first began writing in high school and continued to do so after winning a school writing prize. I am currently studying law at the University of Edinburgh and received a special mention of the Sloan Prize in 2020. When not studying law, making art or writing, I spend my nights working in a local nightclub.

The Scots vernacular has always struck me by its how unique it is. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to write this piece. Writing in Scots over normal English presents a completely different approach to writing which I feel forces me to write more personally as the writing takes a form more akin to how I talk day-to-day.


Cauld as fuck as a hobbled oot the taxi, the sky already fading tae twilight over Whidburn. I let the rest eh the boys sort the fare, justified on the shaky pretense that I’ll get them all a drink when we get in. The council hooses sat dead as they watch over the life cutting about the streets, still damp fae recent rainfall. Growls pollute the air as they wail out the motors of boy racers as they screech doon the road. You kin see folk cutting about in their wee groups, shuffling about for one reason or another. So many folk in a grey suburban area would seem dodgy if you didnae ken the script.

Ideally for a night out you’d have a decent amount eh folk, but sadly it was just masel’, Aaron and Sal’. We kept tae oursel’es and headed ‘round the block tae the shoaps. Sal’ remembered to bring his Gucci wallet but not his money, so aff tae the cash line we went. More money than sense some folk, wouldnae complain though since he’s a mate.

We reach the corner shoap only tae discover the cash point wasnae working. Load eh folk crowded ‘round it, shouting all kinds of shite and acting daft.

“Here mate the machine’s burst, they’ve got cash back inside though.” One of the lads shouts tae us.

“Ah sound, cheers mate.”

The light of the ATM was still emanating a blue glow, but Aaron had inclinations that the machine was burst from his last galavant, so intae the shoap we went.

The lights in the shoap were blinding compared tae the emerging night outside. There were a few folk moving about in the aisles and at the tills, obviously dealing wae the same issue that presented itsel’ tae us. Sal’ began farcing about wae his wallet and other assorted pieces eh paraphernalia fae his pocket. The warmth ae the shoap floor was a welcome change fae the cauld outside, which my thin Stoney was ill equipped for. I’d always touch the badge on the left arm for good luck, and to make sure nae wide gadge had tried tae unbutton it when ma guard was doon. You don’t buy the claise, you buy the brand and the badge. I rub my fingers over the Stone Island logo, the fine suede and compass design. Aaron was intae it more than me, but it’s kinda like the uniform for the club here. Aaron had his best one oan tonight; one eh the ice jackets, changes colour wae temperature and has a special white and black badge. Very smart and very expensive. It’s significant I ‘hink ‘cause it’s a mark eh working class youth culture. Ties into football hooliganism and a lust for commodity. Never been intae the former personally, but I’ve heard about it plenty, and can hold my own wae a fitbaw nae bother. Aw seems a bit daft but I’m no one tae rock the boat.

Sal’ was still fannying about at the counter, so I took a wee wander doon the aisles in search eh Aaron. I find him in the alley wae the bevy. He throws me this mischievous smile, and I’m ‘hinking what’s this plonker daeing? He opens his jaykit just enough to reveal a few bottles eh drink. I gave him an expression like “gon’ dinnae dae that you actual nutter”, but without hesitation or remorse he turns and walks out the shoap confident as any’hing. Sal’ gits his cash and we boost out the shop and doon the alley.

We trudge through the shadowy passage way towards the club, both the lads cheesing about their takings fae the shop despite my underlying disapproval eh both. You kin see the back end eh the building fae the way we were coming. This approach to the club always seemed a lot more ominous than the direct approach, especially with the smoking area being visible yet distinctly dead this early. The telephone wire over head also made the scene far more dodgy than it needed be, because of reasons unknown tae me, there always was a head of a baby doll hanging from it, keeping watch over the smoking area like some kind eh sketchy sentinel. None the less we ditch the spooky alley, and dash towards the entrance.

Most of the buildings exterior is that distinctive council-run pale brick work, but the entrance was encased in a greenhouse looking skylight, held up with a yellow skeleton like frame. Three bouncers were hanging about in the door way behind a generally short queue. Ordinarily if we were in a larger group Aaron would’ve chimed in with his ‘let’s go up in smaller groups’ suggestion. Probably because he’s been turned away from clubs more than me, so he’s got more of a feel for such maneuvers. You can hear the distant booming of a bass drum all the way down the corridor. That’s when you know that in fact, you are on a night out. One eh the few times Aaron’s cold face actual’ has an expression on it, no that I’d really say he’s in a downer often. Probably just cause he’s trying to be hard, his doctrine eh hammer and nails and aw that. Sal’ was his regular merry sel’, if no loosened up a bit.

We reach the end of the queue and by-pass the bouncers wae minimum hassle, although bouncers always get me para’, a feeling I ‘hink is shared by Sal’. Aaron on the other hand couldn’t be chiller, maybe because he knew the bouncers on a regular basis, maybe because he ‘hinks he could batter them all in a scrap. Despite the whole council vibe the entrance has a kind eh grandeur aboot it. A decal eh a miner wae his pick-axe is painted high up on the wall as you come in. Perks eh a welfare club is that it’s only a quid for entry. We bounced tae the main hall wae a spring in our step. Strobe lights and loud tunes boom fae the door and through the windae. I grabbed the door and swung the bad boy hard against its hinges. I was hinking ‘here we go’.

Smoke swirled oan the dance flare, the strobe lights casting shadows eh the dancers once they finally decided tae have the baws to get up and cut a nasty. Quite gutting since they always end up playing the best tunes early oan in the night when nae one is drunk enough tae make a fool eh themselves on the dance floor. I lean back in the booth and glance at the polkadot boards that line the hall, which slowly fade from one vibrant colour tae another. My glass eh venom sat oan the table wae some finished cups and an empty plastic jug. Aaron was a real two can Dan and would always get hammered. Sal’ however always seemed to take it chiller, although he makes out he doesnae. I ‘hink he just wants to fit in wae the alcohol culture, like it’s impressive tae be an alkae. The liquid flashed matte green as the lights dashed across the room, the potent liquid sitting there waiting to reek havoc oan my liver.

Aaron and Sal’ had boosted somewhere whilst I watched the table. I sat alone but no lonely, and the bumping tunes eh the club made for a spectacular kind eh silence. I ken’d Aaron could watch himsel’, I was a bit worried about Sal’ though. Whidburn wasnae exactly his scene, and I said tae masel’ that I’d keep an eye oan him. Love him tae bits but he can dae some daft stuff and I’m no convinced his American charm will hit the right tone here. I tan ma drink and rise fae ma seat, only to bump intae someone looking for a convo’.

This lassie hits out wae a profound and confident ‘hiya!’ The conversation runs for a minute whilst I’m trying to piece where I ken her fae. Thankfully my mind serves me well enough tae remember I went tae school wae her. I dinnae even remember a single instance eh talking tae her once in school, although a familiar face oan a night out is always nice, and she seemed sound enough.

“Ah aye how are you! Nice tae see ye.” I shout just loud enough to be heard over the tunes.

“I’m good eh, who you here wae.”

“I’m here wae my pal fae the uni, and Aaron fae school.”

“Aaron’s here! Have to tell him I said hi. I mind the time he got sent out Mr Sunshines French class for happy slapping Liam.”

“Aye I was buckled at that, I’ll let him ken you’re here like.”

“And uni? Decent, I’m at the college doing beauty. What you studying?”

I dinnae like saying a study law cause I feel like it’s a brag when I’m trying tae be humble, along wae the fact you always get the “you’ll be my lawyer” patter.


She throws me an impressed but mockingly intimidated look.

“Damn, making big moves. You’ll be one of those folk wae a big gaff when you’re aulder.” She said laughing, absolutely creasing at her own joke. I gee her a pity laugh. I doubt I’ll be anywhere different fae where I am now at the end eh the degree, but it’s something tae dae and makes folk hink I’ve got the head screwed oan.

“Aye, I need to boost tae find my pal but it was class seeing ye.”

“Aye it was good like, hopefully will catch you later.”

We exchange an awkward platonic hug and boost our separate ways, mine being straight tae the door.

I strolled doon the sharp corridors towards the smoking area, passing between folk going to and fae my destination and the main hall. I waddle through a small crowd tae find Aaron and Sal’ ootside in the cauld night, which has now burnt out to a coal black sky. Unlike inside, you can hear a roar eh conversation as the tunes are no longer banging in your ears. One eh the bouncers monitors the scene for trouble, everyone subtly aware eh their presence. Aaron is chatting tae one eh the million folk he kens, and Sal’ is mingling wae folk I doubt he kens but is blending with anywae. I approach them and here some of Sal’s attempts at speaking Scottish.

“You’ll dunnae dae that ye wankur.”

He overdoes it wae the pronunciation, but I rate it for trying.

“Happening lads, miss me? Here Aaron mind Crystal fae school?”

“Aye, what about that radge?”

“She was asking for ye.”

“Aw naw no that dafty.”

“Ken eh…” I said, not kenning any’hing “…what yous been up tae?”

“Nout mate, except Sal’ bent this birds fag, she was raging.” Aaron said pissing himsel’ laughing.

“In my defence, I was trying to explain a point.”

“Still funny.”

We hung about outside for a while despite the fact ah actual didnae smoke. It was easier tae chat here and the cauld eh the night was refreshing compared to the sweat laced atmosphere inside. The convo ran for a wee while. Sal’ took off his specs to wide them on his polo. Aaron decided he’d introduce his textbook patter.

“Here mate can I try your glessaes, are they strong?”

“I would but low-key need them to see bro.”

“Is there su’tin’ tae see like.”

“You bro.” Sal’ said drunkenly joking, tapping Aaron’s chin.

Without hesitation or acknowledgement eh Sal’s intentions, Aaron skelps Sal’s glessaes clean aff his pus. It’s as if the whole smoking area fell silent, although it likely didn’t. I was ‘hinking here we go.

“Could ye see that specky?”

They both try to square up to each other upon the utterance eh those words, rage in the eyes eh Sal’ and pain oan his face, readiness in the eyes eh Aaron, matched wae a devilish grin that could equally be backed wae anger. I move between the two of them to stop a commotion, holding back both of them despite attempts to swing my arms out the road.

“Stop it now, you’re acting like bairns, the bouncer’ll actual boot ye’s out.”

It was too late though. The bouncer saw and the bouncer acted.

“M’on yous two, outside!”

The night was still young, but despite me not being thrown out personally I felt it out eh respect to my pals to join them oan the bench outside. They both tried to bargain wae the bouncers and Aaron even tried to climb the fence back in, but to nae avail. The atmosphere was tense and awkward as we hung about with the rest eh the vagrants that were on the wrong side eh the bouncers. The atmosphere was damp and moral was low between aw the vagabonds that had their nights cut short. I was sandwiched between Aaron, who was too steaming to really appreciate what’s happened, and a boy who he knew that was in the army. The army boy had been thrown out for using gear, and it was evident as his jawline was swinging so much that it had already gone home, plus the fact that he’d asked me where I was from four times already. Sal’ was pacing back and forth.

“I’m not going out with him again.” He said in a infuriated tone.

“Ah ken mate, pure pish.”

“Here right, I say we go up toon.” Aaron chimes in, his eyes looking heavy from the alcohol.

“Naw we’re heading back, this is a pure shit show like.”

“Naw, naw it’s like…” Aaron says, stumbling over his words.

“It’s like we’re heading hame. Apologise tae Sal’ mate you got him kicked out.”

“Better a sare face than a red yin.”

“That’s no sorry is it.” I say, trying to forcefully encourage him.

“Right sorry didnae mean it.”

“Right. Sal’?”

“Aight bet.” He said, still sounding bitter.

We were planning to wrangle a taxi but Aaron boosted without a word, so Sal’ whipped up a uber. He just went silent, but you could tell he was losing the heid.

“Here Sal’ mate, it’s shan like but it is what it is. M’on lets get hame, fire up some scran and forget about it. Aaron was being an arsehole. Just a sare yin like, no your fault, nothing we could’ve done like.”

“Yeah suppose you’re right, still mad about it though.”

“Ah ken mate. Ah ken.”

“Well, I would be.”

“Would be?”

“Let’s just say I think Aaron won’t be very happy about slagging my glasses again.”

Sal’ reaches into his pocket and pulls out his Gucci wallet. Next to his cash he pulls out a small piece of black fabric.

“Did you chore Aaron’s ice jacket badge?”

“I swiped Aaron’s stone island badge.”

A note on the dialect

This is written in working class Scots and the accompanying youth slang, particularly that specific to the town of Dalkeith and the surrounding area of South East Edinburgh in general. It seems the most profound and complex of the Scots dialects, perhaps surpassed only by that within Glasgow.


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