Learning about the Religious Wars, Wigtown Book Festival 2022

by Hugh McMillan

24 January 2024

Learning about the Religious Wars,

Wigtown Book Festival 2022

I had to leave before the talk,

the streets were full of hooded

folk with green anoraks like monks

pacing in the rain between one book

and another, but in the pub

in Newton Stewart the barman

had just bought a huge crossbow

with a metal bolt in a car boot sale

and wanted to fire it ‘to see what

happened’. I had just got a pint

of cider and looked on but thought

even from my degree of ignorance

that the complex winding mechanism

indicated no ordinary buy: indeed it took

three men in Rangers tops some

minutes to load it: I imagine in warfare

one man in a Rangers top might be

trained to do this in half the time,

using his 55 Nike Air Force trainers

as counter balance but imagine

the pressure as enemy horsemen

from the Holy Roman Empire bore down.

Even here, the barman had to stop

for a second to serve two sceptical girls

Baileys. Someone brought

a thick plank from the back to prop

against the wall and had

the presence of mind to draw the face

of a local Catholic friend upon it.

There was much laughter, whooping

and excitement and many folk

were told to stand back well out

of range. It was like Grunwald,

the mist of sweat, the breath,

the drum of anticipation like hoof beats,

the sun splintering through windows,

the puggy pulsing red as blood.

I was in the second line when

the fusillade fired, through the target,

two walls, a cupboard and a junction

box, lodging a few feet from a woman

watching ‘Homes Under the Hammer’.

She was reported to have exclaimed

Hail Mary Mother of God thus settling

the conflict once and for all.