It’s a name often heard of late, and I have to confess to a vested interest.
For my next kilt will be an Armstrong tartan; it is the one I am supposed to wear but hitherto do not. My maternal ancestry comes from the Fairbairns, and they are part of Clan Armstrong. Both hail from the south and east of the country. The Borders are real Armstrong territory, home to reivers and sheep-stealers. On the coast is where you’ll find the Fairbairns, following the herring from Fife down to Eyemouth where a number of Fairbairns perished in the storm of 1881. Some may say that the fishwife is alive and well, evident in the female Fairbairn descendants to this day; but I couldn’t possibly comment, my own branch hailing as it does from a long line of agricultural labourers in the fields of Fife, before the railways arrived and the Forth Bridge, that monument in girders, took them over the firth into Edinburgh’s smoke.
But I digress, for it is other Armstrongs that have been making the news. Lance was first; giving up his fight to clear his name; accepting the persecution of the American drug police intent on stripping him of his seven wins in Le Tour. I do find it strange that the Americans may have such power. The event was not run by them and the title never awarded by them. It seems that it may not be theirs to take away. But the evidence seemed stacked, or so we are led to believe, for it will never be presented, the defence never heard. There appears to be so many cyclists and team-mates of Armstrong with evidence to be given that, quite possibly, the titles may have been won on a level playing field.
Then came Neil, sad indeed. I remember well those gripping scenes as a blip of light emerged from The Dark Side of the Moon, and as The Eagle Landed. Could it possibly all have happened in the Arizona desert? Were we all hoodwinked? Neil Armstrong too found himself lauded in the Borders, an Armstrong to be proud of. And so as that first moon landing comes back to mind; the conspiracy theories aired again; it is a shame that the man that uttered those immortal words is no longer with us just as we are on the brink of finding out the mysteries of Mars. Or is that just another desert?
I heard, on the wireless yesterday, a quest to find the favourite Armstrong. Could it be either of the above? Perhaps, in these parts, Gary of that ilk. Now there was a Border Reiver, a terrier even. One of the finest scrum halves to grace the game, forever spinning the ball down the line or urging and prodding the forwards ahead, sniping at the goal line. They breed them tough in those parts, and the sheep are worried, but not so much as in the frozen wastes of the north, Wales even, where the ovine threat may be sinister and rustling is the sound of wellies and overalls, allegedly.
But my favourite Armstrong can only be one other. There was only one Louis, born so we are led to believe on Independence Day, 1900, – he may have been a year and a month out – and taken far too young, with that voice and that horn. There’s a biography of Pops on the bookshelf and I think it might be time to delve in, to go back to Preservation Hall and to the days when being black in the Deep South had little going for it. I think when I go out today I may find High Society on the iPod.
It’s not a bad clan to claim ancestry association; and that kilt replacement may not be far away for it seems to have shrunk over the years. I wonder if there’s a Hunting Louis, or Ancient Red Satchmo, version of the Armstrong tartan……