No 23 June 2003

Of Moose and Men

(with apologies to John Steinbeck)



June 2003 No. 23


Produced for the Men of Kinnessburn by Graham Robertson


KINNESSBURN NEWS : June 2003 No. 23


So what’s with the Moose, then?

It all started in October 1962 during the earliest days of Kinnessburn’s years as a male residence. As with all good urban fables, different folk have different recollections of the Coming of the Moose. One multiple-choice version is that founding Warden Major Mitford (i) led (ii) sent an Away Team into the cellars at (a) Sallies (b) the Younger Hall (c) the Bute Medical Building (d) Hepburn Hall to disinter the moose and bring him back on a hand-truck to Kennedy Gardens. On the other hand, Professor DON BRYDON (Senior Student 1964/66) who was in Kinnessburn during its first year as a male residence writes that he does not remember the Moose coming from anywhere. He is sure that it was on the wall when the residence opened.

First Senior Student (1962/64) Dr DAVID DIXON gives his version. “It is interesting that there are already 4 and perhaps I shall add a fifth account of the origin of the Moose. There may be the makings of a scholarly little paper "Moose legends in western St Andrews: a comparison of texts" or something of the kind. I am confident of the following (but then George IV is said to have maintained in old age that he led a charge at Waterloo):

1. Major Mitford believed that a moose was a suitable inhabitant of a men's residence and arranged for us to have it (for it was University property) and for its attachment to the wall of the Common Room - all this in late September or more probably early October 1962.

2. I was asked to have it brought to Kinnessburn and remember 'volunteering' several (probably 3 or 4) bejants and running with them and with the moose on a 4 wheel flat bed trolley through St Andrews.

“The Moose was, I believe, part of a collection of beasts or parts of beasts owned by the University and stored - and here I am not clear - in the basement of the Younger or possibly the Bute. I have no memory of borrowing the trolley or of actually collecting the Moose from its previous home. I don't recall who the bejants were but, since this happened early in their bejant year, I should have thought they would remember. I should be happy to comment on any other accounts and shall, of course, be interested to see the reconciled version.”

In this edition’s Literary Supplement our in-house poet and author ROBIN BELL relates another form of the tale, and his is much more romantic. Either way, shortly afterwards the Clerk of Works’ gang with much toil, tears, blood and sweat adhered the Moose firmly to the Lounge wall. The myth grew from there. The Major used proudly to show the Moose off to all those who came as guests to formal dinner. The Moose featured on at least two Kinnessburn Ball programmes, and when a Kinnessburn tie was designed, what better than the Moose to feature on it? The Moose had became not just the unifying symbol of Kinnessburn but the representation of the spirit of the place - a logo in the days before the word had been invented.

This ‘totem power’ excited considerable envy among lesser mortals who were not Men of Kinnessburn. A number of attempts were made to kidnap the Moose, the first raid being mounted by the inmates of Hepburn Hall shortly after the Moose’s arrival in retaliation for the kidnapping of the Hepburn beastie: it was as unsuccessful as their defence of their own mascot. But it was the fair maidens of Hall who turned out to be the most persistent in their campaign to abduct the Moose. On one occasion ‘intelligence’ had been received in advance: the house was battened down and put on a red-alert footing by the domestic staff. As this involved bolting both exterior doors, ingress and egress had to be made via the downstairs cloakroom window (which had no catch!)

A later incursion is described by the perpetrator. “I lived in Hall in the mid-‘sixties and we did from time to time find ourselves mildly irritated by the decorations applied to the building by the Men of  Kinnessburn (generally in the form of high-flying underwear - I suspect that Miss Walker was more amused than she let on).  Anyway, my friend and I decided that enough was enough and that it was time for revenge.

“Knowing the iconic status of the moose, we arose at great personal cost very, very early one Saturday morning and stole into Kinnessburn (we knew the brutish inhabitants would be sleeping off the excesses of the night before) in order to steal the moose and carry it off in triumph.  We knew, of course, where it hung (it was visible from the road, as you will remember) and we went straight for it.  My co-conspirator entered the room first and, as I turned to close the door silently behind us, I heard her awestruck whisper, "Bloody hell, have you seen the size of it ?" (She was from Yorkshire).  We stood and gazed at the majesty of the thing before us for a few moments.  No further words were needed.  Subdued and mooseless, we returned to Hall and went back to bed.”

A number of other abortive attempts to seize the Moose were mounted from Hall, but they were doomed to failure from the start. Being a cunning military man, the Major had anticipated such enemy action and had arranged for the Moose to be bolted, not to, but right through the lounge wall and into the kitchen corridor. All the Ladies were likely to achieve was chipped nail-varnish!

From FRANK DUNCAN come more gems. “I like the idea of a Moose "Special Edition" - you could call it "Of Moose and Men" (with apologies to John Steinbeck).

“In 1972 when he was Rector, John Cleese came to dinner at Kinnessburn and much admired the Moose. (Mervyn Thompson who was Senior Student that year was trying to enlist Cleese's support to stop the closure.) Some years later, there was an episode of "Fawlty Towers" in which Basil is attempting to hang a moose's head on the wall in the hotel reception. I like to think that Cleese's inspiration for writing that scene came from his encounter with the Kinnessburn Moose.

“I also remember the Moose as having a nicotine habit - he often sported a cigar (or at least a Players No. 6). Unfortunately, there were a number of shameful incidents (names withheld to protect the guilty) when desperate members of the house would remove his cigar or cigarette and smoke it!”

PHIL WHEELER recollects that the Moose was a very serious animal, even with a red nose when we were indulging in alcoholic beverages in his presence. Seeing the photo on the front cover, Phil is reminded of a cross between Major Mitford and his dog. If you had been labelled "Presented to the University of St Andrews by Sir Thingummay MacWotshisname, shot by his butler" you would be aggrieved at being treated as an object of amusement. He was indeed a considerable talisman for our activities and life and Phil recalls that Mike Dickinson was one of the organisers of the raid on Hepburn some 40 years ago, when we must have been awfully young!

MIKE DICKINSON’s version of the Raid on Hepburn Hall. “I think I can claim to be the instigator of the Hepburn Moose Raid in the first term of Male Kinnessburn (Autumn 1962). Influenced by stories of Undergraduate Pranks, such as the placing of an Austin Seven (1930's version, not an Issigonis Mini) on the top of the Caius College Tower in Cambridge by engineering students, I felt the need to liven things up.

“A pleasant degree of tension existed between the two Mini-Residences, Kinnessburn and Hepburn Hall. A Moose adorned the entrance hall of Hepburn and we carried out a Saturday Night Raid to remove it. It was placed in my MG TF and driven around the town. After a short and uneventful odyssey, it was transported to the Harbour. Next morning's Pier Walk came face to face with the Moose, gazing to seaward from the structure at the very outer end of the Pier. The authorities were less than amused, and we took the head down later that day and returned it, undamaged, to its rightful place in Hepburn.”


[Home] [Reunion Photos] [About Kinnessburn] [Newsletters] [Extra Features] [Contact Us]