6th July


In this neglected novel by the author of works such as Waterloo, Belvedere and Mortlake, an innocent youth, Edward Mortimer, journeys from Surrey to St Andrews in Fife, where he is to study English Literature at the university. There he is introduced to Rose, the lovely but sensible daughter of a Perthshire landowner. She is studying Accountancy, and while Edward quite fancies her he finds her dull and a little prudish. Anxious to lose his virginity, he falls in with a bad set of folksong enthusiasts who are keen to initiate him into their regular habits of drinking, smoking and the consumption of fish suppers. Chief among this crowd are brother and sister Fergus and Flora, who hail from the West Highlands and are ardent followers of the Scotland rugby team. Edward becomes infatuated with the high-spirited Flora, who is studying for a joint degree in Celtic Studies and Fine Art, and accompanies her by train from Leuchars to Edinburgh to attend a rugby international against England. As the train approaches the capital Edward tries to persuade Flora that they should stay on until Waverley Station, but she insists that they ‘get off at Haymarket’,* since this is closer to the rugby stadium.

Still smitten with Flora despite her teasing, Edward follows her to the game where Scotland thrash England 76–3. In the ensuing triumphant pub crawl, which lasts several weeks, Edward recognises the dreadful consequences of overindulgence in folksong, and that his new associates are doomed to fail in the modern world. Fergus and some of his friends get into a fight with some Britain’s Got Talent fans. Fergus is arrested, found guilty of being culturally at odds with the mainstream, and beheaded. Flora goes off to France to be a drug addict and Edward knuckles down to some hard study.

Edward is reconciled with Rose, who gains a first-class degree. After graduation they marry. Rose goes on to have a glittering career with Ernst & Young, and produces three sensible children, while Edward manages the Perthshire estate that in time they will inherit.

Haymarket was a bestseller on publication but its language has dated and the plot is now considered rather far-fetched.

* In Edinburgh, this phrase is sometimes used to denote coitus interruptus.

Reader: Kirstin McLean
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Subscribe here for more stories & music