I like to sing when I’m driving, but not singing along with music on radio or iPhone.

I like to sing whatever pops into my head. Sometimes, I harmonise with the engine sound, using it as a drone (love bagpipes) or sing upbeats in response to the downbeats of the indicator. Other times, often triggered by a word, I sing songs from long ago that have somehow managed to embed themselves in my memory. This song was prompted by the word bawbee which is a Scottish word for a halfpenny (pronounced hayp’ny). As is so often the case, I had sung it often as a child without wondering what Coulter’s candy was. And naturally, the translator’s brain wouldn’t let me rest now until I had found out.

Former weaver, Robert Coultart (1832–1880) – the ‘Coulter’ of the song – made and sold his own candy round all the country fairs and markets in the Scottish Borders region. It was an advertising jingle for the aniseed-flavoured confectionery he made. The recipe is no longer known, but the song lived on. Coltart died of a brain tumour, penniless, and was buried in an unmarked (pauper’s) grave in Eastlands Cemetery, in Galashiels.

Lyrics of the only verse I knew and a link to the song:


Ally bally, ally bally bee,
Sittin’ on yer mammy’s knee,
Greetin’ for a wee bawbee,
Tae buy some Coulter’s candy.