Saturday, October 20, 2007

Grand-dad Alex tells his tale


From time to time since my retirement in 1977 (at the age of 60 years) it has been suggested to me by family and friends that I might commit to paper some of the stories of my life. This I have now decided to do, so that my grandchildren, at least, may be given an insight into a few of the many interesting experiences which have come my way over the years.

I have deliberately refrained from dealing in depth with my professional career with the Electricity Supply Industry in South Scotland and have omitted what one might call 'The story of 50+ years of marriage to a Meldrum quine'!

My thanks to my daughter Anne and my daughter-in-law Janis for their constant encouragement.

Thanks also to Iona Jamieson who undertook the unenviable task of transforming my manuscript into legible form.

And my warm gratitude to Iain, my son, who was responsible for producing "my tale" in its present form.

Memoirs of a Fisherman's Son - Part 1, Chapter 1

Chapter I
In the Beginning

My arrival into this world took place at 8.45 am on 13th October 1917, in Ardersier.
At that time my father, John Cameron, was an able-bodied seaman serving on mine sweepers on the Dover Patrol. My mother, Margaret Jane Ralph - known affectionately as Maggie Jane - had decided, after the honeymoon at a cousin's home in Aberdeen, to leave 13 Park Street, Nairn where she had been brought up, to 'take a room' in her husband's place of birth, Ardersier. At the date of their marriage in 13 Park Street, 12th January 1917 my Dad was 38 years old and Mum 32 years; so they were by no means 'children'. This 'room' was north-most on the upper floor of 109 High Street Ardersier a few doors along from No. 104 where my mother's sister, Isabella, lived in the home provided by her husband, Alex Davidson, also serving in the Royal Navy. They had been married before the first war - possibly 1911. The owners of my birthplace at this time were Charles Ratcliffe, a retired Seaforth Highlander, who ran a market-garden, and his dear wife whom I came to love and knew as 'Granny Ratcliffe'.

On 24th November 1917 I was baptised by the Reverend J.C. MacKay, Minister of the Free Church in Ardersier, although Mum was still a member of Rosebank United Presbyterian Church in Nairn. Auntie Bella was a member of the Free Church simply because it was the custom for wives to adopt their husband's religious denomination. My mother, who had professed her faith in Rosebank Church in 1903, and throughout her life was a dedicated Christian, no doubt sought the companionship of her sister at public worship in the Free Church. However she did not maintain this very long! In the Spring of 1918 Mr MacKay found her gathering wild flowers on a Sunday afternoon when out with me for a walk with the pram. He condemned her 'desecration of the Sabbath'! She was never one to suffer in silence and the Minister heard more than he had bargained for from one who always felt free to enjoy the beauties of God's earth and was fully able to counter his allegations with her quotations from the Gospel. To add insult to injury the sermon preached in the Free Kirk that evening contained condemnation of, and no doubt - hell-fire upon, 'sinners who desecrated the Sabbath day, not only by walking with bairns in their prams but gathering flowers from the fields'. No wonder Mum forthwith changed her allegiance to the United Free Church of which the Rev. Alexander Robertson was the much loved pastor for the whole of his ministry. He and his good lady were 'tiny folk' being, like my mother, less that 5 foot tall. They had a fairly large family all but one of whom, were quite well known outwith Ardersier. One son, Rae and his wife Ethel (Bartlett) became world renowned pianists, playing two pianos as one.

Another son, James, became a Professor in the Divinity Faculty in Aberdeen. Others were in the teaching profession and one a Parish Minister, and in my recollection, all were delightful people.

When I was of an age to be taken out on my own, old Charlie used to take me for rides on his horse drawn lorry laden with vegetables from his garden I still have vivid memories of these wonderful journeys simply looking at the horse's tail as we drove along to Fort-George and back. Charlie sold his vegetables in the village and also at the Fort. Unfortunately on one mission the weather turned very cold with breezes off the Moray Firth and I ended up in bed with double pneumonia aggravated by measles which were affecting the village children at this time. Apparently the doctor told my mother at 9 o'clock one evening that there was no hope for me, she would just have to pray. Never one to be without hope - she called Mr Robertson (who lived only 50 yards away) to join her in prayer. This he did until, to use her own words 'the crisis had passed' at 3.00 am. Early that morning the Minister arrived with a bunch of flowers from the Manse garden and he was accompanied by the doctor - Mr Robertson had walked to the north end of the village and asked the doctor to come with him to see 'the Cameron boy'. Following that illness I suffered from asthma for the next 16 years.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Memoirs of a Fisherman's Son - Part 1, Chapter 2

Chapter II

Move to 113

My Dad and grandfather were demobbed from the Navy in 1919 and very reluctantly my parents moved to the thatched cottage No.113 High Street belonging to grandfather. This was a mistake, never I hope, to be repeated in my family. It is truly said that 'oil and water don't mix'. Neither do the old and the young, especially when the latter have children of their own. For the succeeding twenty years my mother had to suffer the presence of her father-in-law, a man of very different views and temperament.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Memoirs of a Fisherman's Son - Part 1, Chapter 3

Chapter III
My Grand-parents

My mother's parents were John Ralph a Fisherman and Elspet Main who were married in Nairn on 20th October, 1876. Granddad died of consumption (tuberculosis) in August 1893 at the age, so far as I can gather, of 42 years. They had four children Isabella, Elspet, John and my mother Margaret Jane, who was born on 5th June 1885. The family home was No. 13 Park Street, Nairn which is still to the fore albeit in a very modernised form.

Granny Ralph had to make ends meet and bring up her family by selling fish. She had an arrangement (not a common one in Nairn) whereby she was able to buy the whole of the catch (of fish) brought in by one of the boats owned by one Alexander McIntosh. The catch was sold mostly in smoked form: she had her own smoking shed at the front of the house and like so many Nairn ladies produced the mouth-watering Nairn Speldings. (elsewhere known as smoked haddock or finnan haddock).

The Fishertown Museum in Nairn has on display a picture of 13 Park Street as it was in the late 19th Century and also of my grandmother and mother. Worth having a look out for them.

When smoked, this fish, with any fresh fish likely to be required by her customers, were placed in a creel and an arm basket. The creel containing almost one hundred-weight of fish (51kg), was carried on her back and the basket on her right arm. Laden like this she walked to neighbouring villages like Geddes, Auldearn and Cawdor - no small feat - for a lady who was no more than 4 foot 10 ins. tall. It has always astonished me to know that, in addition, she travelled by train once each month to each of Mulben (Banff-shire) and Ballinluig (Perth-shire). One who knew her well told me that she did not have to leave the stations at these destinations; the customers knowing when she would arrive, came to her I understand she had very good customers in the shops and farms, hotels, shooting lodges and the like. Never did she bring any fish back to Nairn. Any that were left over were given away to those in need such as railway porters and farm servants.

As soon as Auntie Bella and Elsie reached the age of 12 years they left school and joined their mother in the business of smoking and selling fish. Thus was the family maintained with no Parish or state financial support. On leaving school my mother was sent to be a childrens' nurse in one of the 'big houses'. at the north end of Seabank Road. These houses had been built in Nairn by patients of Doctor Grigor (his statue now stands in front of Viewfield House) a doctor having London connections who recommended those of his (private) patients who could afford to do so, to go and live in Nairn in order to benefit from the equable climate. So it was that Nairn came to have such splendid mansion houses as you can see in the West End to this day.

After my mother had been with the family for two years the lady of the house wanted to take her to Switzerland with the children for a prolonged holiday - But - old Granny would not hear of her youngest daughter going away to such foreign parts! And so my dear mother at the age of 16 years joined her contemporaries at 'the gutting'. In those days as soon as a fisher lassie in Nairn reached the age of sixteen she was expected to join the band of girls from the North East of Scotland who followed the herring fishing fleet and worked as gutters and packers of herring in ports from Northern Ireland round the 'top' of Scotland to Great Yarmouth and Gorleston in Norfolk. All three Ralph girls did that while their brother, my Uncle John, became first, the cook and then fireman, driver and 'engineer' on a herring drifter. This meant that they were all away from home in places like Castlebay, Stornoway, Lerwick, Fraserburgh, Peterhead in the months of April until September and down in England from September until the end of November. A photograph of my mother with her 'crew' is to be found in the Fishertown Museum; they are all dressed in their Sunday best (black and white) sitting outside their 'house' (a shed) above the door of which is the name 'Invernairne'. This board on which this name was printed was carried from one location to another as they moved around with the fleet. At that time the economy of the North East, if not of the whole of Scotland, depended to a large extent on the herring trade with Baltic Countries.

Although granny Ralph died at the age of 74 in 1922 I have vivid memories of her and of the home in which my mother was brought up. Everything within sparkled, the grate gleamed like silver, the brass fender like gold with its assuring words 'Home Sweet Home', emphasising the welcome bestowed on all Granny's visitors. The matching fire irons, tongs and poker, reflected in their mirror-like surfaces the glow of the coal fire. The walls of the living room were hung with pictures, texts from the bible including one which I still remember; 'Consider the lilies of the field' and 'Watch and Pray'. It was of course customary for fisher folk to decorate their houses with embroidered texts of that kind for they were a god-fearing community; not surprising when one considers the dangers with which fisher men were confronted on stormy seas.

In a real storm at sea in a tossing boat, as on the battlefield in my own experience, there is only one source from which one can draw peace of mind; the creator of the universe who is the Father of all his creation.

My Cameron grand-parents Alexander Cameron and Jessie Ralph his cousin (aged 29 years) were married in Ardersier on 12th November 1875. Jessie died shortly before the Great War and I'm afraid I know nothing of her life and character except that she was born in 1845 and died at the age of 67 years on 27th April 1912. Her mother was Janet Main (nee Ralph) sister of Helen Main who was married to Donald Cameron. Helen and Donald had a family of six boys (two of them twins) and one girl Harriet. My grandfather was the eldest child. According to my dad Granny Cameron was cast in the same mould as my mother.

My father was born at Stuarton Petty on 13th November 1879 having an older brother Donald born two years earlier.

Of my paternal Grandfather I know a great deal as he was part of our household until he died in 1939. He was born before compulsory requistration of births was introduced in 1856 and really did not know his 'real' age. When the war broke out in August 1914 he proceeded to Invergordon to 'sign on' (enlist) in the Royal Navy. The death of his wife my granny Cameron had been a severe blow to him and he wanted to get-away from Ardersier and to serve his country in the only way he could. When he appeared before the recruiting officer he was able to answer all the questions put to him except that when asked for his age he said 'Oh, I'll be about 60 next birthday' The recruiting officer told him that he was too old, the Navy could not take volunteers unless they were under 40 at the date of enlistment. So! the old rascal went across the road to a well known pub and sat drinking his usual Whisky and porter (a heavy beer) until the watch changed. The Navy as he well knew, having been a seafarer all his life, changed the watch every four hours - they still do! As soon as the new recruiting officer was settled the old boy again entered the office but this time when asked about his age replied 'Forty next birthday, Sir'. Two days later he was taking a pinnace out of Rosyth on a journey which took him and his crew to Dover where they were to assist the Mine-sweeper facilities as a sort of 'message boat' for the next five years.
On discharge from the Navy in 1919 my grandfather's papers showed his age as 45. He maintained he was twenty years older so five years later claimed the old age Pension of 10 shillings (50p) per week. However he could not prove that he was 70, the qualifying age, because as I have mentioned above, his birth had not been 'registered'. The only record of his arrival on this earth was in the Baptismal Roll of Petty Church, but sadly, that Roll had been lost when the vestry of the Church was destroyed by fire! His only hope of ever getting the pension was to find his twin brothers Tom and William who had been born after 1856 but had emigrated to America many years before 1924. None of them could write. They could certainly read the printed word having had as their only text book, the Bible. My father set out to find his Uncles and after twelve years he was successful. With the help of the Y.M.C.A. the Salvation Army the British Legion, the Masons and others they were traced to Masonic Homes in New Jersey and Los Angles. I still remember how thrilling it was for me to hold in my hand an American affidavit complete with wax seal and wide ribbon in one case green in colour, in the other blue.

In the Affidavits the brothers Tom and Bill certified that they had a brother with the name Alexander Cameron and that he was at least five years older than they were: The Commissioner for Oaths had in each case certified that he had seen the relevant certificates of Birth and included the age of each twin at the date of signing. The Affidavits were submitted to the Pension Authority which immediately intimated to Grandfather that he would have his 10/- per week pension 'as from next Friday'. These were the words used - and not one penny of 'back pay'. For a good many years his sole income had been £10 per annum from Inverness County Council as Harbour master in charge of Ardersier jetty! He was entitled to keep any harbour dues he could collect from visiting boats but they were few and far between. I remember that when I was treasurer of our Scout Troop I had to pay him 5/- when the Chanory ferry boat called to take the troop across to the light-house for our annual camp. This happened, I think, only a few times in my experience!

During the whole of my childhood and youth the jetty was one of the most important features of the village: it had been erected by the County Council about 1880 and was about 100 yards long. Preserved by a bi-annual coating of tar it remained in being until the nineteen fifties when it was demolished because of its unsafe condition. The jetty had two stairways one about 40 yards out from the shore and the other 60 yards farther out near the 'point;' (as we youngsters called it) When the jetty was nearing the end of its life I was able to secure a step which had fallen off and from it to make a garden table, (still in use in 1995).

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Memoirs of a Fisherman's Son - Part 1, Chapter 4


Early Childhood Memories

My earliest memory is of my sister's arrival in '113' on 13th December 1919 when I was 2 years and 2 months old. How I resented the intrusion into my way of life of a sister who was to share the love and affection of my parents!

I suppose I had become 'spoilt' but that wasn't my fault! Because I had been born in their home Charlie and Mrs Ratcliffe doted on me and treated me like a grandson; indeed they continued to do so until in due course they passed away.

From the time I could walk I used to visit my dear 'Granny' Ratcliffe. She pandered to my love of cheese - no doubt encouraged by Charlie - and it was wonderful to be handed a piece of what she called 'chookie' especially if it was gorgonzola or blue stilton along with one of her home made oat cakes smothered in butter! She had several large boxes brought home from India in which she kept blankets: when the lid of one was opened the exciting smell of camphor filled the room. I loved lifting those lids! She also had two wooden vessels shaped like very large egg-cups which were made of quinine wood. Whenever, as a small boy, I appeared to be 'starting' a cold, she used to fill up one of those cups with water and make me drink it! Whether it helped me or not I do not know, but my Mother did not object - so it must have been considered to be beneficial. The taste was quite awful!

When my little sister arrived I told Mrs Ratcliffe that her name was to be Elspet Ralph (after my Nairn Granny) but was told 'there are already too many Elsies so you will call her 'Sis', and this I have always done.

The Ratcliffes had a son Robin, who had joined the Army as a Private like his father before him. They had good reason to be proud of Robin for he rose through the ranks to be commissioned and at the commencement of the second world war held the rank of Lieutenant - Colonel and soon after became a Brigadier. From the outposts of Empire he brought back to his parents exotic gifts of a kind which, for me as a small boy, were exciting in the extreme e.g. ivory tusks, camel hair brushes, spears, knives, flags, pressed flowers, spices from the Orient, Kukries, flags, drums, wooden chests and others. The house was like a museum! He was often held up to me "as one whose example I should follow".

I must have been about three years of age when my old Grandfather brought to the house a 'clock and alphabet' board. It measured about 2ft x 1 ft, and was made of thick cardboard. The clock hands were movable. Although he himself could not write, he could read and tell the time so he must have been determined that I should have pre-school training in telling the time and reciting the alphabet. The result was that before I ever went to school at the age of 5 I could tell the time to the exact minute and could recite the alphabet. The first mentioned ability greatly pleased my teacher Miss Percy Gray: for the first two years in school I was sent out every school day soon after 10 am and 2pm to find out the time from the station clock! Fort George station was more or less across the road: I would run there and back to tell the teacher that it was, for example "ten and a half minutes past ten, Miss". But the alphabet was a disaster as I had learnt to say it backwards! Moreover the old boy had taught me the 'adult' sound of each letter but Miss Gray used strange sounds which I was to discover later were called 'phonetic' sounds: a lesson for parents who think they should give school lessons to their children before the children are of school age!

As a small child I became very friendly with a boy, David John Main, of my own age: we were devoted to one another and played together almost every day. Sadly at this time in my life I experienced tragedy. One day when David John and I were playing on a swing tied to the branch of a tree he fell off when one of the ropes snapped and lay motionless on the ground. I have forgotten the details but do remember being told that he was 'now in heaven'. This I could not understand and to add to my anguish at the loss of my friend his mother, as was, I gather, the custom in those days, took me to see him in his coffin and made me touch his forehead. This shook me devastatingly! I remember running away to my mother. Later - some years later -she told me how she had reprimanded David's mother.

How happy are my memories of journeys to Nairn to see Granny Ralph, Auntie Elsie and her husband Willie Storm and Auntie Anne and Uncle John. In addition my mother would take Sis and myself to see 'just for a few minutes' one or other of her several cousins, second cousins and friends in the fishertown of Nairn. All of them were blessed with the 'gift of the gab' and our only solace was the sure knowledge that we would be given a 'sweetie' at the slightest sign of impatience to be moving on. That knowledge brought rich rewards, sometimes even a penny as well as a 'sweetie'.

The train journeys to and from Nairn were always exciting. We joined the train at Fort George Station (beside the school) and proceeded to Gollanfield junction where we had to 'change'. I was taught to 'watch the signal' for when it was 'up' that indicated that the train from Inverness was coming and we must keep well back out of harms way. For a small boy the sight of a great engine pulling into the station with smoke belching from its funnel and steam from all sorts of places was exhilarating. At Nairn station we could have the added thrill of standing on the bridge to watch the train pass right under and to be enveloped in smoke from the engine. I think the last mentioned experience must have come later! At certain times the Fort George - Gollanfield train, affectionately known as the 'puggy', was off, no doubt for maintenance, and when this occurred one had to travel to Gollanfield in a 'Gharry' (the Indian name for a horse drawn passenger carrying vehicle). The gharry, if I remember correctly, carried up to eight passengers. As it was open to the elements one enjoyed a breath of fresh air during the 1 1/2 mile long journey!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Memoirs of a Fisherman's Son - Part 1, Chapter 5

Chapter V

113 High Street, Ardersier

The house in which I was brought up was erected soon after the battle of Culloden!
The fisher folk who had their village, Kirkton, on the north side of what is now called the Fort George peninsula were forced to move out because the Hanoverian Military required the land for training purposes. The village lay almost due North of Kirkton cemetery on the shore of the Moray Firth. Even as late as 1946 one could find traces of the old village where roses, brambles and rasps grew in abundance. The inhabitants of Kirkton moved south across the peninsula and built their new homes at Ardersier on land belonging to the Earls of Cawdor and Moray. As late at 1939 one could still see the line of the ditch which formed the boundary between the two estates.
'113' was a typical highland 'but and ben'. The walls were 3 feet thick. From the front and only door one entered the 'lobby' a space about 10 feet x 6 feet. To the left was the living room in front the small bedroom (the roomy) and to the right (or 'ben) the room which served as our grandfather's bed-sitting room.
The living room also served as kitchen, dining room and our parents' bedroom, bathing room and for other purposes as mentioned later. In the 'roomy' my sister and I slept until it was decided that we should be separated ; at this time I was elevated to share the bed in the living room with my father while Mum moved in with Sis.
There was no water, gas or electricity. Every drop of water required for cooking, washing or bathing had to be carried in pails from the pump located near the gable end of the adjoining house No. 112: and, of course every drop had to be carried out again one way or another. As there was no indoor lavatory one had to use a chamber pot (potty) especially during the night.
During the day time we used a 'dry' lavatory which was situated between the smoking shed and the line/net shed attached to the south gable end of 113. However when I was 9 years of age my father, helped by a cousin Alex Cameron, a joiner to trade and 'the old boy', built what came to be known as the 'washing shed'. It had two doors - one gave entry to a narrow compartment at the far end of which was a real lavatory! What excitement there was when this was first brought into use! I remember my Mother (who had been agitating for this facility for years) was given the privilege of being the first user! The other door gave entry to a fairly large compartment in which there was a water tap, a boiler for clothes, a mangle for squeezing the water out of the newly washed bed sheets, blankets and other heavy items, a wringer for the same purpose in respect of other clothing, a wooden tub and in one corner garden tools, a heavy axe for chopping wood for the fire, a lighter axe for chopping wood blocks up into small pieces to be used as fire lighters, a cross cut saw for sawing long lengths of wood into manageable blocks, a hand saw and boxes of wonderful tools required by my Dad in connection with his fishing boat the 'Susan Gardner'. In due course it also housed my bicycle!
My Mother's smoking shed disappeared when, after he retired from the R.A.F. my late brother in law, modernised "113!: the washing shed remains but with two other sheds attached (in 1995).
Our house was thatched with 'bent' or as it is better known, Marram grass. Every three years or so my father and grandfather used to go to the Carse to gather bent and this was transported on a horse drawn cart kindly made available by an old farmer friend of my father. Apart from the weather much damage was done to the thatch by sea-gulls. I remember well watching how my father applied the fresh thatch by pushing handfuls of bent into the existing thatch with a special tool rather like a dibber (or dibble as we called it) with a flat point.

There were two fireplaces (and two proper chimneys!) in 113: both were 'open' fires capable of burning wood or coal. The fire was lit in the old boy's room only when the weather became cold but naturally there had to be a fire in the living room every day and very often all night too. The fire places were always kept shining 'like silver' with frequent application of black lead (called by its trade name of "Zebo") and by means of which my mother, like so many others of her day, used to make the fire side an attractive focal point. Around the hearth was a brass fender (also polished frequently) with the words 'Home Sweet Home' as in my Granny's home in Nairn. At each side of the fireplace there was a paraffin lamp attached to the wall; they had green glass bowls in which one could see the paraffin and the wick. The funnel, or 'glass' as we called it, had to be cleaned every day. This was usually done by placing one's hand at one end in order to clean the glass and by breathing into the open end; then a soft duster was inserted and twisted around the inside to remove any soot. The outside was cleaned either by wiping with a wet cloth or by breathing on it and then polishing with a duster. As I grew older it became my job to keep the lamp glasses shining. On the table which occupied the centre of the floor stood the 'big' lamp. It was of brass and having a double wick within the glass gave much more light. In due course my father brought home from the fishing an Aladdin lamp! This was another special event! The new lamp was of a silvery metal (perhaps it was chromium plated) but had a cylindrical wick which was surmounted by a mantle like that used in gas lamps. The light from this lamp was 'dazzling' and in the old boy's words it gave off as much light as the sun itself'. For us that was a truism. Certainly it was the next best thing to electricity which did not arrive in the village until shortly before the War of 1939.
Light in the other rooms was provided either by a candle, a small night light which was also made of brass, burned paraffin, and had a white (opaque) glass, or a slightly larger paraffin lamp easily carried by means of its tea-pot type of handle.

During all my years of study at school and indeed until I went away to University the above were the only lights available for reading in poor light during the day or in the evening. Yet many a book I read in bed by candle-light until my dear Mum came and blew it out when it was time to go to sleep.

Our parent's double bed in the living room occupied, I suppose about one sixth of the total floor area. It was so placed in one corner of the room that in order to spread the blankets 'properly' my Mother had to use a stick, like a walking stick, and when the top bed-spread was 'on' the bed had the appearance of utter cleanliness. Nothing was allowed on top of the bed-spread. The bed stood on legs about two feet high and there was a valance around the two sides to hide the space below; this space was used as a store for all manner of things which where thus out of sight. The principal item under the bed was of course the chamber pot or 'goes under' as it was sometimes called!

I should also record that the house, like most of the others in the village was held on a 'kindly tenancy' basis from the Earl of Cawdor. There was a rent book in which the yearly rent of 10/- was recorded by the Estate Factor in Nairn as having been paid and the present owner's name was acknowledged. Following a death the new 'owner' had to prove his or her title either (1) producing a Will in his favour by the deceased owner or 2) by proving that he in the case of a male was the only son or the oldest of a family of girls or the only child. All this I learned when quite young: many years later the late Professor Halliday of Glasgow University Conveyancing Department was intrigued to learn from me that Lochmaben was not, as he then thought, the only village in Scotland where one could find 'kindly tenants'. When a home was sold the old and new owners appeared before the factor who acknowledged the change of ownership in the rent book and, no doubt, in the estate records.

The plots of ground at the front and back of the house were used mostly for growing vegetables but my mum did love to grow flowers and the front Garden especially was always ablaze with colour in Spring and Summer. I think her special favourites were Sweet-Williams!

On part of the back garden (now the front) was erected my Mother's smoking house where she produced Nairn Speldings and, during the months of December and January when the Kessock Herrings were being caught, succulent kippers: of this more anon!

Manure for the garden came from a local farm transported in a farm cart drawn by a horse. What a smell! It was deposited in a heap on the roadway between the house and front garden and barrowed from there into the garden. However sea-weed was also a useful fertiliser readily available on the beach not 100 yards away, and was used to augment the dung. Every seventh year it was the local custom to leave the ground fallow to rest it, but my Dad grew rye grass which is of course an excellent green manure when dug into the soil before it 'seeds'.

The ditch marking the boundary between the Cawdor and Moray estates ran along the sea ward side of our back garden. Across the ditch between our house and that of Mrs Falconer a dear friend, who had a small shop there, were three trees. These, I was told early in my life, had been planted by Mrs Falconer's nephew Major Mayne. Like Robin Ratcliffe he had joined the Army, in his case the Seaforth Highlanders, as a drummer boy and had risen to the rank of Major. He was another held up to me as an example of what could be achieved in life if one set one's mind to it! The fact that the stone on his grave showed his surname to be spelt 'Mayne' was to prove very useful to me later in Holland in 1945. (of that later). the 'normal' spelling was Main: You will recall that both my grand mothers had that surname. Granny Cameron (who died before I was born) had been born in Portmahomack of fisher folk while Granny Ralph was born in my beloved Nairn. I have been unable to ascertain whether they were related.

It is right in memoirs of this kind to record how waste was disposed of in these days before river and water purification schemes were even considered necessary. The contents of the bucket in the dry Lavatory were emptied on to a 'midden' in a partitioned off corner of the back garden; this heap was cleared away at regular intervals by a gentlemen known as the 'scaffy' (scavenger), who came round the village with a large barrow. Where he disposed of it I do not recall! Kitchen waste was placed on another heap and turned into compost for the garden; this happened also to soft green garden waste but all the other garden rubbish was wheeled on a barrow to the beach and left to the mercy of the sea. The larger houses in the village on the other hand, were connected to public waste and sewerage systems and there was a sewage pipe running out from the beach immediately south of the jetty, and from this raw sewage poured, to be diluted by the sea. (That sewer has been replaced by a new one about 100 yards north and of much greater length).

I may say that as a small boy I always felt revulsion at the discharge from the sewer but it did attract many fish especially flat fish, sole, flounders, grey backs, dabs or as we all called them, - 'flookies'. No wonder my Mother always refused to cook my catches for the family - the cat benefited however! It is right to say that as a matter of principle we did not try to catch fish on the sewage pipe side of the jetty but from the 'point' all of 25 yards away!

Water for 113 and several houses in the area was available from a cast iron pump at the end of the street: beside the north gable of the house No. 112 High Street. When one turned a handle protruding from one side of the pump head water came out of the 'mouth' and was delivered into a pail or other suitable receptacle From the time when I became able to carry a pail (or half a pail) of water I considered it my privilege if not as my duty to 'go for the water'. I have no idea how often water had to be fetched from the pump but it must have been necessary several times a day. And, naturally, every drop had to be carried out again one way or another! It was deposited in a surface water drain conveniently situated on the south side of the shed.
As children Sis and I were bathed every Friday night in Mother's washing tub. Water was heated on the fire and we really did have a good scrub, our dear Mum being very particular about cleanliness from head to foot. It would be unthinkable that either of us had to be rushed into hospital having dirty feet. During the Summer months when we went about bare-footed feet had to be washed thoroughly every night - and hands and face too. For this purpose the feet and legs if covered with tar, as they often were from the road or jetty, had to be coated in butter or margarine which was rubbed in to loosen the offending matter before washing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Memoirs of a Fisherman's Son - Part 1, Chapter 6

Chapter VI

Primary School Days

I am one of those folk who really did enjoy my school days! Lessons and homework presented no problem: but I suppose I was lucky in this respect.

In the first class we all adored Miss Gray and literally would do anything for her. After I had acknowledged that the alphabet started with 'a' and ended with 'z' for school purposes she used to call me out to the front of the class to recite the alphabet 'the proper way Alex'. Sums seemed to come naturally and I was able to demonstrate to my grandfather how to count, add, multiply and subtract 'the proper way'. His way was to use (and that only in relation to adding) what he told me was the method used by the Romans.

For each unit he made a short vertical line on the paper until he reached '5' when he made a diagonal line through the four verticals. Two such groups made XX (10), three made XXX (15) and so on!

From earliest days we had to learn poems and practice passages from the bible by heart. But there was also learned the multiplication tables, up to 12 x 12 by heart. Teachers had no radio, televisions, video tapes, recorders or the like to help them. Only radio had been invented at that time in the 1920's and the Highlands of Scotland did not have its own transmitter until 12th October 1936 when the first signals were sent out from the newly erected mast at Burghead. But our teachers had large poster-like sheets which were hung on the blackboard or the school room wall to elucidate for us the lesson/subject being taught. For instance the alphabet and a clock face were on the first two sheets Miss Gray used!

During the first four years at school we used slates and slate pencils for all our written work. Teachers always resented the screeching sound which slate pencils could make on the slates: but this did not deter even the least likely pupils from deliberately scratching his or her slate 'just for fun'. We all had a small sponge attached to our slates by means of a short-length of string and were supposed to clean the slates by dipping the sponge in the water in the inkwell (which was part of each desk) and rubbing out the written material with the wet sponge. However, as children who, mostly, wore jerseys knitted by our mothers we often found it more convenient (especially the boys!) to spit on the slate and rub out whatever was on it with the forearm of our jersey! This was done when the teacher was not looking but if one were caught suitable punishment in the form of the strap (or 'tawse' as some called it) followed.

For me the use of the strap or belt was much to be deplored: I regarded it, from a very early age as a form of torture greatly to be avoided. Indeed I succeeded during all my school years to avoid being strapped: maybe it was because I was regarded as something of an invalid by reason of the asthma from which I suffered. But I do remember having to 'do lines' as punishment for some misdemeanour. This entailed one in the most tedious business of writing out 50, 100 or even 200 times some such words as 'I must not speak in class' and that during the precious after school Hours.

From the third year onwards in Ardersier Public School (the official title) in the 20's and 30's when the late Donald McIntosh (affectionately known as 'specky' because he wore gold rimmed spectacles) was Headmaster, every pupil had to learn to spell ten or twelve words every night and be examined on them first thing next day. The teachers read out the words while the pupils wrote them in a jotter or on a slate. When this was completed jotters or slates were exchanged with your neighbour and as the teacher read out the correct spelling, words that were correct were 'ticked' while wrongly spelt words were marked with a cross. All those pupils who had more than three errors were sent to 'Specky' to be strapped! I remember when in his class seeing, every day, about 9.30 am a procession of small children lining up to be belted. It was a frightening sight. Those with most mistakes were given 'six of the best'. The more the strap was applied the higher rose the Headmasters' blood pressure and his temper.
'Twas a sorry business altogether. My father told me once that this barbarous behaviour on the part of Specky arose from the fact that he had been shell shocked in the first war: and that was probably an accurate diagnosis coming from one who was the most gentle of men.

On one occasion, when in my last year at Primary, a very well built tall country lad in our class refused to be strapped but after much shouting by Specky put out his hand. When the strap arrived in the palm of his hand he closed it and pulled the strap from Specky: thereupon he proceeded to give the Headmaster 'some of his own medicine' by belting him around the ears until the Headmaster fainted. You can imagine the uproar! The teacher from the adjoining class room, a little inoffensive chap, entered and in his quiet voice, asked for silence and an explanation. With that the farmer's son walked out and was never again seen in school. He went on in later life to make a fortune from farming! I should add that there was a change of policy after this and teachers were left to mete out punishment in their own class rooms.

When in the third year at school I had the privilege every day not only of going to the station to find what the time was but to be party, unwittingly, to a romance! Every afternoon our teacher, Miss Sinclair, called me out to the floor and handed me an envelope with instructions (on the first occasion only) to run with it to Milton of Connage Farm and hand it to Mr Forbes in person. I must not tell anyone where I was going and was to bring back whatever message he gave me. The need for secrecy was emphasised. Milton was less than a mile away: I knew it well as one of my duties at home was to go there every morning 'for the milk'. Of that later. How I was pestered by my fellow pupils to tell them what I was doing! It did not take me long to realise that my daily trips to Milton were all part of a romance which happily resulted in due course in the parties concerned being married.

Our class room after Primaries I and II were so arranged that the rows of desks were set out in tiers: there were four tiers, the front one being on the room level (the same level as the teachers, the fire place, the backboard etc.) with those behind being each about six inches higher than the one in front. The brightest pupils occupied the highest tier with whoever was top of the class (following the weekly 'exam') being placed at the right hand end of the row when facing the teacher. This was my favourite seat!
Our third teacher was a dear lady, Miss Cowan, who lived in a 'large' house in the village square opposite 'our' church, namely the United Free Church. I remember her mainly because of the enthusiastic way in which she taught arithmetic: every day saw some new layout of figures on the blackboard, put there before we arrived in the class room. I owe a great deal to Miss Cowan for the encouragement she imparted to us (or at least those of us who seemed willing to learn). Mental arithmetic was a daily exercise whether it be adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing. No calculator in those days!

After Miss Cowan's class we were given the great privilege of being taught in the vestry of the Free Church for no less than two years by another much loved teacher, Miss Stark. She cycled from her house in Cawdor every day come rain or shine. She also had a wonderful way with children of 9 and 10 and because we were remote from the school (about 200 yards I suppose!) nobody was ever sent up the brae to be strapped! And Miss Stark did not use hers although she often reminded us that it was indeed in her desk. This we found to be true by looking in the desk one day when she was not yet arrived from Cawdor! On sunny days she used to take us out on to the hill behind the church not only to gather wild flowers as part of a nature lesson but for 'ordinary' lessons like reading aloud, reciting poems, mental arithmetic and singing. How we loved lessons in the open air. Sometimes she would tell us to take lemonade and pieces (sandwiches of bread and jam or cheese). On these occasions we would have a 'picnic' on the hillock above the postie's well or away further north on the top of Cromal hill (We all knew it as Cromwell Hill!) where there was a lovely smooth area of green grass (or 'sward' as Miss Stark said it was) surrounded by a grassy bank. Here was located one of the two village water reservoirs but we understood this particular one was there to supply the Fort and that water from it passed through an underground pipe to the water tower outside Fort George. The latter was really a block of flats on three levels with the water tank on top. The flats were occupied by soldiers and their families. This building has been preserved but I understand is no longer used to house families but it does serve as a reservoir for the Fort.

When on that subject I had better mention that children of soldiers stationed at the Fort attended Ardersier Public School : my recollection is of 20 to 30 children at any one time. Whereas the local village children went home 'for their dinner', ("lunch" not yet having arrived on our scene) Fort children had their dinner brought to them by a soup kitchen - i.e. an Army vehicle (mule drawn) specially designed for cooking in the field. The cookery/woodwork room (a building adjacent to but separate from the main school building) was used as their dining room. On most days of the week their sweet or third course was what every soldier called 'duff'. It was a kind of sponge cake, bright yellow in colour, sometimes containing currants or raisins and always piping hot. How the village children loved it! I well remember hurrying through my dinner at home and running up to school hoping to be given a piece of duff! Quite often I was successful.

Miss Stark always had a party in her vestry class room at Christmas time. At this songs were sung solo and in chorus and poems were said all before the 'big eats' were partaken. Johnstone the baker whose business and bake house were 'a few doors along on the other side of the street' and Jimmy McPherson the kindly grocer (of whom later) with his shop more or less across the street were both very generous in their donations to Miss Stark's party. We all ate well and were given the left-overs to take home to our mothers.

Prior to one of Miss Stark's Christmas parties, I had been off school for several weeks but she came and invited me to 'try and come' and if, I felt able, to say a poem. I did go and greatly enjoyed being back among my pals on this last day of school before Christmas: no lessons! All the items to be performed were written up on the blackboard and my name among them with the word 'Poem'. My father had suggested that I do what he had once done when at school! When my turn came I went out to the front of the class floor pointed to a spot on the back wall and said "Do you see that spider on the wall? Boys and Girls that is all". To Miss Stark's astonishment, I returned at once to my seat but to her horror there really was a spider on the wall! It had been put there beforehand by one of my chums who had been encouraged so to do by a penny from my grandfather.

From Miss Stark we graduated to Specky the headmaster! He was a 'terror' but I have no cause to complain. It would be remiss of me to omit a tribute to his ability as a teacher. He may have had a dreadful temper but he certainly instilled knowledge into those who were capable of assimilating it. In my first year with him I had the honour of being Dux and winning the silver medal - however I told him I did not want a medal to put away in a drawer but would like a watch which I could wear. He was taken aback, to say the least and took some days to consider my request! In due course he told me to go to Mr Finkelstein in the market in Inverness and choose a silver watch but, he said, there would not be sufficient funds to have it engraved. I was duly presented with my Dux watch at the school prize-giving early in July. This watch remained on my wrist for at least 12 years. It was 'wounded' during a battle course I was on when at O.C.T.U. The following year I sat the Inverness County Council examination and was awarded a bursary of £9 per annum to Inverness Royal Academy.

The £9 covered the cost of a season ticket from Fort George station to Inverness during the Autumn and Winter terms only. In the good weather during the summer term (and the summers were always good in those days!) I would cycle the 10 miles to school.

All through my school days (until I was 16 years of age) I suffered from bronchial asthma developed, as mentioned earlier, from an attack of measles and double pneumonia at the age of two. Each successive doctor who came to Ardersier had a different remedy, one said I must be dressed in knickerbockers to keep my legs warm and have a pad of thermogene wool on my chest below a flannel shirt and woollen jersey! My poor mother ensured that I did as the doctor ordered. Another, a new, young, Glasgow doctor arrived on the scene a year later and deplored the way my mother was 'padding the boy up with all these clothes'. He got what he deserved! His treatment was to let the boy wear short trousers, cotton vest and pants, a cotton open-neck shirt and pullover! You can imagine, perhaps, what a 'ninny' I had felt going to school in knickerbockers and heavy polo neck jersey (my pals did no know, fortunately, about the thermogene wool!) and how relieved I was to have the winds of heaven blowing about me when I appeared dressed like other boys!

No matter what medicine the doctors gave me - and I have swallowed gallons of everything from Veno's Lightening cough cure to cod liver oil emulsion - the only means whereby I could get relief (in other words freedom to breath easily) was not approved of by the doctors of the day. It was called 'Hinksman's Asthma Reliever' and it did! (it cost 1/6d per tin, and I must have used at least 25 tins each year!) this was a combination of various herbs ground to a fine powder. As soon as I felt an attack coming on or awoke during the night to find myself in the throes of an attack, I would put about a teaspoonful of the mixture in the oval depression on the lid, set a match to it and inhale the smoke which was given off. Relief came within a very short period: less than two minutes. Wherever I went as a boy I had my tin of Hinksman's with me: this continued until I was 16 when the burden was lifted from me as mentioned later.

Other children in the village also suffered from this dreadful affliction: some like me used Hinksman's, others a similar product called Potters' Asthma Cure or herbal cigarettes. The latter I tried from time to time but found no help in them. However as it gave me a feeling of superiority over my fellows, I used, deliberately to smoke those cigarettes from time to time: to the great envy of my fellow pupils!

Strangely enough, (Perhaps for psychological reasons?) I was almost always unable to attend school on Mondays because of asthmatic attacks but during the Winter months I would be off, for two or sometimes three months suffering from bronchitis. Successive doctors issued certificates to the effect, that I was unable to attend school 'by reason of bronchial asthma' - They always used these words - and this was delivered to my teacher. However we were such a close knit community that always during periods of prolonged absence my teacher would call on Fridays immediately after school. The purpose of the visit was three-fold : (One) to enquire after my health, (two) to tell me what books to read, what arithmetic to do and what poems to learn etc. (in other words all the work to be done in class the following week) and (three) to correct last week's lessons! Indeed I was always able to keep well ahead of the class although confined to the house and at the end of the school year expected to be first in the class! It was not until my last year in Ardersier school that I had the salutary experience of being in the proxime accesit position - wasn't I deflated! It seems that the Headmaster felt he could not award the Dux (Gold) Medal, that year, to a boy who had been off school more often than he had been present in class and that notwithstanding the examination results. The medal went to a Fort boy who, subsequently, was expelled from the Royal Academy for misbehaviour. However I did have the pleasure that year of winning the Art prize donated by the village doctor and came away from the prize giving with several books including the 'Special Prize' in the shape of 'The Scottish Chiefs' which bears a suitable inscription.

When I was about 10 years of age there was a total eclipse of the sun at 5.20 am (BST) on Wednesday 29th June 1927. This was such a special event that every school child was told, well in advance, about the eclipse. Certainly we in Miss Stark's class were taught more about the solar system and universe in the month before the actual eclipse than ever before or since! For the great day we all had to find a small piece of glass (usually from a picture frame) and cover it with soot by holding it over a candle for a couple of minutes. It had to be rendered 'opaque' - a word which came into my vocabulary at that time. We were told the eclipse was to commence very early in the morning and all the children over a certain age were expected to appear at the top of the hill above the Free church before 5.00 am. I well remember the vast number of adults and children gathering on the hill, all armed with pieces of smoked glass. We looked through our glasses at the sun rising above the sea horizon at 4.30 am brilliant in all its glory in a cloudless sky. In due course at 5.29 am the black shadow appeared on one side of the sun and we watched, awe-struck, as it crept across and eventually blotted out the light of the ruler of the day. What an eerie feeling all experienced in the total darkness and complete silence and how cold it was: we shivered. This state of complete darkness continued for, I suppose, ten minutes or so and then as the light of the sun appeared from a mere sliver of that heavenly body a great shout of joy, and I am sure, of thankfulness rang out from all the watchers. And then, wonder of wonders, it seemed that every bird in the locality came to life and raised a song of thankfulness.

Never shall I forget the experience. Our teacher told us that there would not be another total eclipse of the sun in our part of the world until 11th August 1999. I made a mental note at the time that I would have to attain the age of 82 if I was to see it! (Note: I have learned from an Edinburgh Astronomer Doctor Neil M. Pratt that the 1927 eclipse was only 95% but for us all it was 100%, and total darkness, and the next partial eclipse in this area will occur on 11th August 1999 (it will be total in Cornwall).

A word is necessary regarding the annual school prize giving. This took place in the War Memorial Hall and was attended not only by the School children, who were marched there class by class, but their parents, relations friends and neighbours. As all the working fishermen in early July were 'away at the herring fishing' those who had children at school were absent from this important event. The hall stage was suitably decorated with flowers. Each class 'performed' on the stage in turn, short plays, songs, recitations (of poems) by individuals. Towards my last year at Primary School I took part in a play in which I had to sing (in public for the first and last time!) a ditty which goes "Ha, ha, ha, you and me, little brown joy how we agree!" During this song I had of course to hold aloft a brown beer jug much to the dismay of my dear mother who disapproved of 'drinking'.

After the concert the Headmaster gave a report on progress during the year now ending and then introduced some local notable like the Minister, the doctor, the wife of the commanding Officer of the 'Seaforth Depot' at Fort George the Director of Education or the oldest person in the village.

The person concerned handed over the prizes, normally books chosen by the pupils' teachers. As each prize winner's name was called out he or she proceeded to the table at the front, took the book in the left hand and shook hands with the right. After scouting was introduced at Ardersier all Scouts in the happy position of being prize winners always came to attention and saluted before and after the prize was handed over.

When I was about 9 there was great excitement in the village over a decision by the County Council to build a new school! What in fact was built was an addition (located in our playground) to the old school comprising two larger and one small classrooms and with the toilets outwith the building! To them moved the two 'top' classes, including the Headmaster's. The small room was used for giving a select few an introduction to Latin; German or French. At least it was in that room that I studied these languages as a preliminary to going to the Academy!

In the two senior classes girls were given tuition in domestic science in the 'Cookery Room' a corrugated iron building situated beside the old school. It was there that boys were instructed by the Headmaster in Woodwork. In addition each boy in the two senior classes had allocated to him a 'plot' in the school garden and there we were taught the elements of gardening. The crops we grew were, so far as I recall, used for the benefit of the school-house! Any knowledge I have of carpentry and gardening started in those classes and I still use my dutch hoe, my spade and my plane in the manner taught by Donald McIntosh.

During the whole of my time at Ardersier Public School it was customary for pupils to be given homework to do each evening after school. Apart from the inevitable 'spellings' we had to learn the meanings of the words to be spelt, to do 'sums' set by our teacher, to read prescribed passages from a novel, to learn by heart poems or passages from scripture. In our house we had to do our homework as soon as we came home from school. No play was allowed to interfere with homework! When it was completed to our mother's satisfaction then we could feel free to do as we pleased. Chapter 7 >>>>>

Monday, December 26, 2005

Memoirs of a Fisherman's Son - Part 1 Chapter 7

Chapter VII

Home Life : Christian Influences

The one who had the greatest influence on me during all my formative years was my dear mother - Maggie Jane to all her friends, neighbours and relations. She it was who brought me safely through all the trials and tribulations of my young life. Undoubtedly she suffered more than I did because of my bronchial asthma and there was never a time when I was without her loving care and attention. But I needed her and relied on her. If an attack of asthma occurred during the night she was there beside me with a spoonful of cough mixture, cod liver oil emulsion (which I loved!) or the relief giving smoking mixture. At times when the doctor confined me to bed she was always near at hand to attend to my every need. During one prologued spell in bed she taught me how to knit! She herself was an expert with the knitting needles - her fingers moved so swiftly that a sock would be knitted in one evening. She used to receive a large parcel of wool from a friend of hers in Bressay, Shetland, once a year. The lady's name was, I think, Jessie Linklater. From this wool were knitted jumpers, cardigans, skirts even dresses, and shawls. The latter were made for use by very young children usually given as a present to the baby for its baptism - and by very old Ladies who were of particular concern to my mother.

Of my own efforts all I can claim is that I managed to make a few scarves (all in plain and purl) of various colours and a pair of mittens which Mum had to finish off. All attempts to make fingers on a glove met with failure so far as I was concerned but the gloves were completed by Mum.

From my earliest days I was aware of my Mother's profound Christian faith and she ensured that my sister and I had a sound grounding in that faith. We were taken to morning services each Sunday morning in the United Free Church in the village green. There was always an interesting address for children and if the sermon proper was boring we were kept awake with sweets from our mother and grandfather. I always enjoyed hearing my Mother sing and she did so in a fine sweet treble voice. At home I used to love to hear her sing the old Sankie and Moody hymns which were so popular among fishing folk and were used at all their Missions services when away from Home. Hymns like 'Count your blessings', 'Throw out the life line.... someone is drifting away', 'Hold the fort for I am coming', and many others with good going tunes were all well loved and often sung in our home.

Mother's Christianity was not confined to her home and family or to attendances at Church. By no means; it was evident in her care of and for others. If anyone within her ken fell ill then she was to give whatever help was required. Sometimes a person was so ill that constant attention at the bedside was needed. In that case Maggie Jane would be the one who would sit through the night, she seemed to require very little sleep. I have seen her leave the house at 10 o clock, at night saying she was going to sit with a certain person so that the family could get their sleep : and then next morning at 6.30 am she would be back to see to her own household.

My dad was of a quiet gentle disposition. Never once did I hear him raise his voice in anger. I understand that before he fell in love with Maggie Jane he had been a 'fairly normal sort of chap' who liked a dram and a smoke. But Maggie Jane changed all that and by the time I became aware of things he was a convinced Christian devoted to his dear Maggie Jane, his children and his church.

Undoubtedly he had a very hard life as a fisherman and money was scarce but, we never regarded ourselves as being poor and were never 'in debt'. I have never known my father to smoke or to drink alcohol except perhaps a small sherry at Christmas or New Year.

The two of them were obviously devoted to one another and radiated happiness. When dad was away from home at the fishing, they wrote to one another every week. I might add here that this custom continued so far as I was concerned when I had to leave home to become a student and then a soldier! Every week saw a letter from one or other of them with all the news of home. Naturally I responded with my weekly letter. Remember there was no such thing as a phone in 113. But to revert to our Sunday activities : At three o'clock in the afternoon each Sunday we attended Sunday School: as did all the village children. The Superintendent was Mr James MacPherson, a local Grocer (his shop was really a delicatessen) who was much loved by all who knew him, was an elder of the Church and all the years I was at Sunday School he was our leader. For many years too, my teacher was a Mrs Mitchell, a retired school teacher who had taught my father when he was at Torbreck school (near Gollanfield). She was a sweet old lady and used to get me to go to her home in order to learn poems to be recited at the annual soiree.

This took place in December of each year at first in the Church itself but later in the War Memorial Hall. It was a really, happy occasion with all sorts of children's games including musical chairs, blind man's buff, pass the parcel and 'A Tisket a tasket I lost my yellow basket' as well as some form of dancing such as the Grand Old Duke of York. There were songs by individuals, classes of children and even adults. Parents were of course present. Then, as far as 'Joe Soap' is concerned, the inevitable poems (recitations they were called). Mrs Mitchell saw to it that I always knew three, one as an introduction and two in case an encore was called for, as it usually was. Even if I had been off school in the preceding weeks, I always seemed to be sufficiently recovered to attend the soiree (pronounced by us as small children as 'soo-a-ree'). This was followed by lemonade, tea, cakes of every kind and a chocolate biscuit. At the close of the evening all the children present were handed a 'baggie' to take home. This contained, sweets, a few cakes of different kinds, an apple and orange : and if Mr MacPherson had a 'good' year we might expect to find a penny in the baggie!

At the end of June when the Sunday school closed for the Summer we had a Picnic! Yes, it was one of the most exciting and important events in the Sunday School year. We all foregathered outwith the church on the village green when we would be lined up in ten or twelve farm carts provided by local farmers who were members of the church. The horses were all decorated with ribbons as they are nowadays at Highland Shows while the carts had gaily coloured bunting tied around them. Children, and their parents who attended together with teachers, superintendent and Minister piled aboard the carts. The leading cart had on board a piper who played suitable joyful/stirring music. We were conveyed to a farm at the carse - 3 whole miles away. There the farmer had erected swings, long and short, on which we could play. There were all sorts of out-door games and then 'the races!'. The latter were run by age groups - 'all the 7 year olds etc' I suppose we had to run about 100 yards. There were also sack races, three legged races, egg and spoon races, long jump and high jump.

The prizes were always the same 3p for 1st, 2p for 2nd and 1p for 3rd. Might, I add, as an aside, that we had not yet experienced inflation in this country and so, however long one was at Sunday School the prize money remained the same each year.

Moreover I do not remember us ever having rain for our picnic. But I do remember one year our picnic was held at Cawdor Castle, beforehand we were told all about Macbeth. Yes, for me Sunday School was just one of the many pleasures of my childhood. Certainly it was there, as well as at my Mother's knee, that my Christian faith was founded.

It was customary for adults to attend the evening service at 6pm but in 113 not obligatory on my sister or myself. However there were times when one felt that Mum needed a companion especially during Dad's absence from home and if the 'old boy' decided as he often did to stay at home. Sunday was mainly regarded as a day of rest from work and in some families this was taken to the extreme - i.e. no work of any kind on the Sabbath and 'work' included walking other than to church as well as cooking meals. Gladly my parents were liberally minded! Unlike our Davidson cousins who were under the discipline of their father a Free Church elder, we had freedom to go out for walks after Sunday School or all afternoon during holiday time. On many Sundays, always when the weather was fine, we 'went out for a walk' as a family to Gollanfield station, the Deacon's wood on the road to Nairn, Cromal Hill or even as far as the Crow Woodie down on the Carse below the Parish Church Manse. My father was a keen cyclist and many a happy Saturday or Sunday afternoon we spent together on his bike. I sat on the carrier behind the seat with my feet on the 'back steps'.

These were cylindrical steel extensions to the rear wheel nuts, each about 3 ins long. They made excellent rests for one's feet. During these journeys Dad would tell me stories of the days when he was a boy : I was fascinated: I once asked why he had gone to Torbreck school which is on the Gollanfield Road over a mile from the village. Apparently he and his brother, Uncle Donnie, had started off at the village school but their father had a quarrel with the Headmaster and took his two sons away from that school. They had to walk to and from Torbreck every day: but they were only doing what all country children did even in my days at school when cycles were a rarity and motor vehicles owned only by the rich. Dad had been top of his class and the Torbreck Head wanted him to go on to higher education. However money was scarce so at the age of 14 he left and got himself a job on a farm - Budgate, near Cawdor. He was paid £6 in the half year and during his two years on the farm lived in a 'chalmers' when, with other lads, he was fed on a daily diet of porridge or gruel, oat cakes with butter, broth, potatoes and salt herring. Every farmer's wife had a barrel of salt herring one of the staple foods in those days. No wonder he was glad to get away to sea at 16.

Memoirs of a Fisherman's Son - Part 1, Chapter 8

Chapter VIII

The Fishing

During the 20's and 30's of this century the stocks of fish in the Moray Firth had been so depleted that fisherman could scarcely make a living. My old Grandfather used to blame 'the foreigners' who used seine nets and trawlers which had ruined the spawning areas in the Moray Firth. This meant that the white fish for inshore fishermen were becoming less and less available and men like my Dad who would in earlier times have made a reasonably good living fishing from Ardersier all the year round had to resort to the herring fishing during the months from April to November. `

This meant that they had to find a place abroad a Nairn drifter leaving the Ardersier boats 'tied up' for about 8 months of the year. This could have been a good conservation procedure in relation to fish in the Firth but as I understood it, foreigners continued to trawl for fish. There were of course no E.C. regulations!

The programme for fishermen like Dad was that having secured a place with a Nairn skipper they would set off with their 'Kists' by train to Nairn. After a few days of getting the boats ready the Nairn Drifters would sail to join the herring fleet which was made up of boats from all over the North East of Scotland and comprised several hundred drifters. They sailed to various ports as far away as Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Mallaig, Oban, Barra, Stornoway, Lerwick or Wick. Fishing continued from these ports until about July when the fleet moved to Fraserburgh and Peterhead. All the Nairn fisherfolk, girls and men, came home from whatever port they were stationed at for the Nairn Games (the only free games in Scotland as they were known) in the middle of August. September saw the drifters depart for fishing grounds off the coast of Norfolk and Lincolnshire and one heard a great deal about Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft and Gorlestone and sometimes, Grimsby. Fishing in these waters finished after the full moon in November and when the fishermen returned to their homes they brought all sorts of presents with them for wife and children. How I used to look forward to Dad's return from Great Yarmouth or wherever he happened to be for he brought with him the most exciting gifts. I well remember the year he brought me an air gun! I would be about ten. He held it up and showed me how to operate the lever which compressed the spring which, when the trigger was pulled, forced a piston forward; this sent a volume of highly compressed air against a dart or pellet in the chamber and so the gun was fired! Having operated this said lever Dad then pointed the gun at a picture on the living room wall and pulled the trigger. You can imagine his astonishment, my excitement and my Mother's fright when the picture fell to the floor. Dad did not realise there was a pellet in the chamber of the gun and this had severed the picture cord. That was a lesson to me! He had been a crack shot during the war of 1914 - 18 and made sure by example and instruction that his son would become an equally good shot. First lesson was 'Never point a gun at anyone - not even if you know it is not loaded' His instruction was to stand me in good stead when I was at O.C.T.U. in 1942. Of that later.

At the herring fishing Dad was a deck - hand and in those days there were no weekly wages. Money earned by the sale of herring was shared with fractions going to the boat , the gear, the owner, the skipper and the crew.

Some years my father would come home with nothing because 'the boat was in debt'. But it is fair to say that the crew were usually paid a modest sum each week during the season 'to keep them in tobacco and liquor and to send something home to the wife'.

No sooner was the herring fishing over than my father started the white, inshore, fishing. The main fishing ground was in the Moray Firth off Whiteness Head (where the Rig Fabrication Yard now is). Catches consisted of haddock, whiting, cod, saithe, cat fish, flounder, grey backs, crabs (partens as they were called) and sometimes eels and skate.

Dad and Grandfather owned a yawl, a fishing boat (about 25 feet long and 10 feet in the beam) equipped with a Kelvin engine which was started using petrol but ran on paraffin. In addition it had a big lug sail which could be used in conjunction with the engine or on its own to save fuel.

I still recall when I was sleeping in the 'big' bed in the living room wakening up at 3. am. to see my father eating his breakfast of porridge or gruel, a home made scone with 'lashings' of butter and syrup or treacle on it washed down by a cup of tea all prepared by my mother who was up and seeing to all her John's needs. Before he ever had breakfast his custom was to go around the houses of his crew in order to waken them by knocking on the window. Generally he had three or four of a crew. Before leaving the house he would remove the four engine plugs from the toaster (which formed part of the fire grate) and wrap them in paper and flannel to keep them hot until he got out to the Susan Gardner (INS 268). The boat was called after the wife of a Senior Officer at the Fort who had set up a Mission Hall for the Ardersier fishermen. They even had their own Missionary but who paid him, and how much I do not know.

Towards 8.00 am Mum would know if the boats were round the Fort - in other words were in the Inverness Firth and heading for the village. It was very important for the fish to be on the 8.25 am train out of Fort George station if they were to be in the market at Inverness for 9 o clock, when the auctioneer started selling.

Because of the nature of the foreshore the Ardersier Yawls had to be anchored at a location some considerable distance from the jetty and the beach and fish were transferred to a rowing boat which the crew of each yawl then rowed ashore. The rowing boats had been left anchored at that location when the yawls departed for the fishing grounds. The fish were hurriedly carried in baskets, in the case of my Dad's boat, to the old mile stone not far from the back of our house. There they were placed in fish boxes, salt was scattered on top, and the lids were nailed down. The boxes were then placed on a barrow which was pushed up the brae to the awaiting train. Fish sent to Inverness were usually sold by Hugh Stewart a Fish Salesman I came to know very well when I became a Law apprentice. Prices ranged from 3/6d to 4/6d a box but flounders (flat fish) generally fetched more. The crew all helped with the boxing and transport of fish to the station.

After this all went to their respective homes for a bite to eat before the next stage began. Each member of the crew usually had two long lines which he had to have baited before the next expedition! Each line had thirty two score of hooks (i.e. 640 hooks) and each hook was a yard (almost a metre) from its neighbours so the long line would be approximately 650 yards long. With six or eight lines to each yawl, one can imagine the total length of lines extending along the sea bed from the boat. Yet with anything from 4,000 to 5,000 hooks in the water the number of fish caught was minimal. Sometimes only one box of haddock, occasionally as many as eight.
Usually it was the crew member who went to get bait. Sometimes, in certain weather conditions, lug could be dug up using an instrument called, in Ardersier, a Kype, on the sand between the village and the married quarters outside Fort George (no longer there: now the site of a large athletics field). In other conditions it was necessary for the men to go all the way to 'the back beach' - over the Cromal Hill, down past Kirkton Cemetery and over the wasteland (then a military 9 hole golf course as well as a training area!) to the vast expanse of sand available at low tide. The lug they carried home in pails. Meantime those at home had to 'redd the line': this meant removing any debris brought up from the bottom, disentangling the line and generally making it ready for the business of placing a big worm on each hook. In our house old Grandfather did this as his contribution to the business! Sometimes mussels were used as bait (I don't know why!) and when this was the case the mussels would be gathered on the rocky foreshore to the west of the jetty where there were mussel beds. My Mother got the job of opening the mussels and removing the contents which were placed in a basin ready for use. The baiting of a line was a very skilled business as it had to be so placed in the basket hook after baited hook, that it would 'run' out smoothly into the sea behind the moving boat. In order to facilitate this a handful of 'bent' was placed below each row of baited hooks.

The hooks were connected to the line by means of a 'tipping'. This was made from hair from a horse's tail! Grandfather was the expert at making tippings. He would buy a horse's tail from a local farmer and hang it up in the shed. When new tippings were required the necessary quantity of hair was removed. A rectangular piece of soft leather was then tied to the leg above the knee. The old boy would lift a small quantity of hair - a matter of judgement by one skilled in such matters - tie a few half hitches around it at one end, then separate it into three equal 'legs' Each of these 'legs' was then rolled up the leather using the palm of the right hand on which he had spat! (My dear Mum objected to this and always provided him with a bowl of water into which to dip his fingers - but as soon as she was away he reverted to the spit). Repeated rollings caused the 'leg' of hair to twist and surprisingly, to me, it remained twisted. When the three 'legs' were completed as above they were then brought together and similarly rolled. On completion of this rolling or spinning process the loose end of the tipping (for that is what the bundle of hair now was) was bound with thread by means of several half hitches. Sometimes the three 'leg's', after being tied together at each end, were then hooked at one end to a heavy lead weight which was spun. This spinning also had the desired effect of twisting the tipping permanently. The hook, which had a smooth bare shank, was then fastened to the end of the tipping again by half hitches, and other knots known only to fishermen! I was never allowed to do anything in connection with the lines!

For perhaps six to eight weeks in December and January each winter my father, like all the other Ardersier fishermen, was busily employed in the Kessock herring fishing. At Kessock where the Beauly Firth and the Inverness Firth merge shoals of small herrings and of sprats congregated for the short period mentioned. For this the nets were brought down from the shed loft. They had all been repaired before being stowed away early in the year but had to be 'barked'. This process was designed to add a certain stiffness to the net and to prolong its life.

A large drum filled with water was set up on a low three sided wall, made of bricks or large stones. A fire was lit below the drum and 'bark' was placed in the water. 'Bark' was Burmese Kutch. When the desired temperature was reached - I think this must have been 100 C or near it - the net was placed in the water and left for several minutes. When removed it was hung up to dry on ropes slung between poles. Each of Dad's nets were treated thus as were those of his crew for the Kessock herring fishing. This was not always the same crew as accompanied him to the white fishing.

It always seemed to me that the 'Kessocks' brought rich rewards and made up for poor summer fishing.

During the period of Kessock fishing the boat remained at Inverness 5 days at a time, and the crew lived on board. Each man had with him a small Kist (wooden chest) containing spare clothing, food, tobacco (if he smoked) and toilet items such as razor, soap etc. Most of the food required for the work was supplied by local shops.
For the herring fishing each member of a drifter's crew had a large Kist containing all that was needed for the particular trip.

I should remind you that no fisherman would ever think of fishing on a Sunday and that, in accordance with Christ's order to his disciples, fishing on Lake Gallie, nets and lines were always cast from the right side (the starboard side) of the boat.

When the Kessock fishing was over the fishermen returned to white fish. In Ardersier there were six or seven yawls at that time. When the fishermen were away 'at the herring' the yawls were pulled up on to the beach where they lay all summer. In the case of the Susan Gardner my grandfather took on the job of tarring the boat from stern to stem and the whole deck. The painting, in white of the registration number INS 268 and the name was however left for Dad's return.

Perhaps I should include at this stage a reference to my Dad's only brother, Donald. After the Great war, Grandfather and his two sons clubbed their savings together to buy the boat while Mum contributed enough to buy and install a new Kelvin engine. Soon, however, Donald and his father quarrelled (fell out, was the expression used) and Donald sold his share of the boat to my Father and Grandfather. The break must have been a very serious one for Uncle Donald broke away completely from both his father and his brother and they did not speak to one another for many years. This situation always grieved my Mother who continuously tried over the years to bridge the gap. Donald was married to a Nairn lady Margaret Bochel (Margitty Bochel as she was known) and they lived in a house in Stuart Street called 'Sandakan' which had a corrugated iron roof painted dark red. Mum and Auntie Margitty had always a good relationship and when Uncle Donnie was away at the fishing, Elsie and I used to go to the house and be regaled with sweets lemonade and cakes! By the time I was 14 Uncle Donnie had 'thawed out' towards me but still he would not speak to his father or brother. Indeed he did not appear in 113 until his father was on his death bed in September 1939 and then only to visit. After the funeral he again isolated himself but in due course, when he became ill he sent for my Father and there was complete reconciliation. Indeed he literally died in his brother's arms.

How often I heard it said at home that all would have been well if my Grandfather and or father had joined the Lodge of Freemasons which Donnie had done. So from an early age I had my mind directed towards the benefits of Masonry!

I really have no idea why my father did not join the craft as most of his cousins and friends were of that happy band. Somehow I think it may have been because the local Lodge members had the reputation of being a 'boozy lot' - and if that was correct I can understand Dad's feelings. However, it was he who sought help to have me admitted to Lodge St. Ninian in Nairn in 1939 when I was a student, with the help of dear old 'Uncle Willie Barron', (of 13 Society Street and then the boiler man at Nairn Laundry!) and another fisherman friend my name was submitted; I was accepted for membership. But by the time of the meeting at which I was to be admitted (September 1939) I was embodied in the Territorial Army in Edinburgh. That put a brake on my joining the masons.

It is probably right to mention at the end of this Chapter that in my young days there were two principal grocery stores in the village; one owned by Mr James McPherson (our Sunday School Superintendent) and the other by Mr James Davidson. The latter's shop was really also a Ship Chandler's for he sold everything from the proverbial 'needle to an anchor'. Both these gentlemen treated the fisher families extremely well and in times of economic difficulty provided food on 'tick' knowing that they would be paid as soon as catches improved. To my knowledge they never had any bad debts to write off.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Memoirs of a Fisherman's Son - Part 1, Chapter 9

Chapter IX
Inverness Royal Academy
In 1930 as I was approaching 13 years of age the quiet hopes of my parents and grandfather were realised. As mentioned earlier I had been awarded a bursary of £9 a year to enable me to be educated at the Royal Academy, Inverness. To this school only the brightest two or three pupils from the primary schools in Inverness-shire and the Islands were admitted. In addition the Academy had a number of fee paying pupils and indeed the Primary School was made up entirely of pupils whose parents could afford to pay school fees. In the Secondary department each year's intake was split into 'A', 'B' and 'C' classes as determined by their results in the Bursary competitions or in the case of Academy Primary scholars by their Head Teacher. I was fortunate to find myself one of 30 pupils in the 'A' class. Those of us who had bursaries did not have to pay fees but our parents had to find the money to pay for school books, jotters and such like.

My bursary covered the cost of a season ticket from the railway station at Ardersier (called Fort George station : the L.M.S. Railway Company had intended to take the line all the way to Fort George where so many hundreds of soldiers were stationed but, my Grandfather told me, could not find a way over Cromal Hill and had to terminate the line at Ardersier) to Inverness. About two dozen teenagers travelled each day; some to the Academy some to Inverness High School. The 'puggy' as the train (an engine with two coaches and a guard's van) was called, conveyed us the 1-1/2 miles to Gollanfield Junction where we joined the Aberdeen to Inverness train arriving at Inverness at 8.50 am. This gave us enough time to get to the top of Stephen's Brae where the Academy stands, in time for Assembly at 9 o clock. Assembly was taken by the Rector, Mr Crampton-Smith or in his absence the Deputy Head (and my Latin Master!) Mr Alexander Duthie. The whole Senior School gathered in the Hall seated on benches and standing on the stairway leading to the balcony rooms. The Rector opened the proceedings with a payer, then followed a passage from the Bible and a hymn (usually sung with great gusto even by those who no longer attended Sunday School or Church) and ended with a call for God's blessing on the school, pupils, teachers and parents.

After school Pupils from Ardersier had to catch the 'Puggy' which had come in specially to collect us, at 4.20 pm. If one had a class, as we had two or three times a week, from 3.45 pm to 4.30 pm, it was necessary to seek permission from the teacher to leave early. This was invariably granted but if for some reason one had of necessity to remain until then the next train was not until 6 pm. This was the Aberdeen train and necessitated a change at Gollanfield then on to Fort George by our beloved Puggy with a home-coming at 6.30 pm : and homework to be done!
For my 'elevation' to the Academy Mum had bought me the school uniform of a blazer with school badge, grey shirt, school tie and stockings, blue short trousers, new shoes and school cap. In those days boys wore short trousers until they reached, the age of 16 or so. I had not been travelling by train for a week when one of the older boys threw my cap out of the carriage window. This was such a shocking waste of my Mum's hard earned money that with the help of my cousin Alex John Davidson (A.J. to all) a search was made of the likely landing place and the cap was found.

It became obvious to me that the 4.20 Puggy from Inverness to Fort George was not regarded with much favour by adults few of whom dared to travel on it. I was not surprised for many of the older boys, in my experience, were what would nowadays be called hooligan types. The London train stood at Platform No. I while the Puggy was in No. 2. How superior the great London Train always seemed to me when compared with our little Puggy pulled by a Tank Engine. Passengers of course shared the same Platform and a dear old lady, all the time I was a traveller, wheeled a trolley up and down beside the London train. It was laden with all sorts of sweets, cakes, chocolate, fruit, lemonade, and magazines. As she pushed, the old lady used to shout, every so often, 'chocolate, toffee, bananas and Inverness rock'. I can still hear her cry!

On one occasion a farmer's son, a good friend of mine, the late James Rose from Milton of Connage Farm, was getting impatient because Puggy was late in arriving. To let off steam he used his height, strength and tackety boots to desecrate a poster designed to attract visitors to 'Nairn, the Brighton of the North'. However, he was seen by the Railway Police and 'booked'. Some days later one of these gentlemen travelled by train to our village station and walked the two miles to Connage to speak to Mr and Mrs Rose. He was seen entering the farm-house, when it was reported locally, he was entertained to a splendid afternoon tea and certainly walked back to the station carrying a large bunch of flowers and in a bag a quantity of fresh farm-house butter and eggs! Needless to say Jim was not prosecuted - nor did he ever again damage railway property!

On a homeward journey, when we were in the sixth year class, one of my dear friends Arthur Foy from Croy required to use the toilet. Several compartments, but not all, in those old railway carriages had their own toilet facilities 'ensuite' as you would say nowadays. As Arthur was coming out one of the troublemakers kicked the lavatory door with such a blow that three fingers of Arthur's right hand were severely damaged. There was literally 'blood everywhere'. I had gained the First Aid Badge as a Scout and was called upon to apply my knowledge to Arthur's hand. What could I do? All I could do was to tie a handkerchief tightly round his fingers to stop the flow of blood. It certainly helped and Arthur reminded me when he came home from U.S.A. a few years ago (50 years later!) that he had walked home to his Aunt's house at the Streetie beside Loch Flemington, with my hankie soaked in his blood.

For the first two years at the Academy I used to take sandwiches and a flask of tea with me for lunch. No school meals in those days! With others like me, lunch was eaten in the boys cloakroom sitting on the central heating pipes (Wonderful in winter!). In my class was a boy called Lachlan MacLean, the son of the Parish Minister at Daviot ten miles south of Inverness. He and his brother Alistair (who later became world famous for his novels, many made into Films) used to sit with me in the cloakroom at lunch time (or as we called it 'dinner time') and often we shared or exchanged 'pieces' biscuits or fruit etc.

At 11 am each day we were 'allowed out' for a break and run about in the play ground. When one had a spare penny it was customary to join all the others who were equally lucky and run down Stephen's Brae to a Bakers' shop where the most delicious cream dough nuts were made. I remember 'drooling' as I watched the lengths of dough being placed in a pan of sizzling hot fat (as is still done with chips!) and waited until one by one they were deemed ready to be removed by the baker. He placed them on a wire tray so that any excess fat could fall off. They were lifted by his lady assistant, who knew us all by name, given a dusting of castor sugar, split open with a sharp knife and then filled with wonderful cream or if requested with raspberry jam. I can still feel the taste in my mouth!
Running down the Brae we used to sing this Ditty:
There is a happy land not far away
Where Saints in glory stand,
Bright their array,
Oh, how the children yell
When they hear the old school bell,
Oh, how they run pell mell
Down Stephen's brae
The tune of course was that usually sung to a well known childrens' hymn.
After I had been at the Academy for about a year Miss Arras -Mather of Delnies Farm arranged for me to be medically examined free of charge by her brother-in-law Doctor MacKay who had his surgery in Bridge Street Inverness. He normally took only the well-to-do as patients, so I felt suitably honoured. His examination I remember to this day (1995), it was very through as one would expect, but when he stuck his fingers in my mouth and reached up beyond the uvula to the adenoid chamber I just about passed out! Having removed his hand he declared that my adenoids were certainly all right! My Mother was instructed to give me Ostomalt and to stop me from using my beloved Hinksmans. The latter we refused to contemplate. In addition I was to have a 'proper' meal at 'dinner time'. So my dear mum had to arrange for me to go to Melvins the Bakers at the foot of the Raining Stairs on Castle Street. About two dozen pupils filled the restaurant each day and enjoyed a three course meal. Wednesday was the shop half holiday and as a result (for reasons unknown to me) we were always offered two helpings of a delicious apple charlotte on Thursdays! On Friday we had to pay the bill for our week's lunches - five shillings! I am sure my parents had to sacrifice something, albeit unknown to me at the time, in order to pay for these meals.

It was a salutary experience, for one accustomed in Primary school always to be first in the class, to find school mates who could do even better! In my first year at the Academy for instance, my prize 'The Pilgrims Progress' by John Bunyan records that I was 1st in Geography, 3rd (Equal) in Maths and only 7th in Class! Yes, I had to recognise that I was among some brilliant brains: and I did. When the Rector announced my name at the Prize-giving ceremony in one of the local cinemas he greatly embarrassed me by announcing to the assembled company that 'despite thirty days of absence due to asthma during the past session this boy has come seventh in IA and is to be congratulated'. Can you imagine how I felt. It must be confessed that I never cared for old Crampton Smith after that day!

My subjects were typical for a pupil in an 'A' class. For the first three years we had English, Maths, Science, History, Geography, French, Latin, Art and 'Gym'. In my second year I added German (in a class of 9 girls and myself) and in the third year dropped science at which I was really not very good.

For English I had at first, a young teacher Mr Coutts or 'Couttie' as we called him. He was a gentle soul and we all worked hard for him. However, for some reason he told us that during the Easter holidays we were to learn Gray's Elegy' (First line - 'The curfew tolls the knell of parting day). The boys, with one exception, decided that this was a punishment exercise and that not one of us would learn the poem. After the holidays Couttie said that he wanted each of us to recite one verse (there are about 30 verses if I remember correctly) starting with the boy at the back on the left and ending with the girl in the front row at the right. He was very precise! Almost immediately he realised that the boys knew nothing of the poem - he was livid when the very first boy told him we were on holiday and there was no time for learning such a long poem! So out came his belt - to our astonishment he said he was to give us all 'six of the best'. Poor Couttie! After he had strained himself strapping the first two boys he fell down in a faint: someone went and told the Rector who, with his Secretary, conducted our dear teacher out of the room. Never again did he take his belt out of his desk. But we did learn the poem! I am sure he never did reveal to the Rector why he had fainted.

History was taught in our first two years by Miss Daisy MacKenzie (Daft Daisy to all her pupils!) in a room next door to the Rector's Office. Daisy could teach history but she could not control her class when they were in exuberant mood, as they often were! She was a quite delightfully eccentric lady who endeared herself to all who had the pleasure of being taught by her. I remember one day a boy, a doctor's son, who was himself to become a noted consultant in Gynaecology brought his camera to school and without Daisy knowing he took a series of snapshots of the dear soul with a variety of facial expressions and in an assortment of positions. When poor Daisy saw them a few days later she did not know whether to laugh or cry. They were all too dreadful for words but she laughed and, of course, the class laughed. Indeed we laughed so loudly that old Crampton next door decided to investigate the cause of so much hilarity in the history class. As soon as his face appeared round the door there was a deathly silence and to the relief of all, including Daisy, he withdrew. Thus was our teacher spared the embarrassment of showing the snapshots, admitting that she did not know they were being taken and of 'harming the boy'.

During all my time in the Academy Mr. Alexander Duthie, M.A., was my Latin teacher. I came to know him very well! He used to sit on my desk with his feet resting on the seat beside my left thigh. IF anyone in class made a mistake in reading Latin prose or poetry he had the habit of slapping the left side of my face - gently may I add - and declaring 'You wouldn't make that mistake would you 'Cam Shron'? The Gaelic for 'Crooked nose'! That is what the name Cameron means in the Celtic tongue. Never once did he ask me to read or recite but, no doubt as a consequence of our 'close relationship', I knew my Latin and used to do very well in exams.

Mr Duthie had edited and published several Latin books, e.g. Readings from Caesar: The Gaelic War Books I - III, Readings from Livy a Primer of Roman History and Early European History to the Fall of Rome. His books were used by many schools, throughout the country and, to use his own words, 'even in the Emerald Isle'. For each book sold he received a royalty of 1½d. He told us! And not once but often.

It is to his credit that I still remember the opening lines of the Aeneid by Virgil one of the great poets of ancient Rome: -"Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus aboris, Italiam fato profugus Lavinaque venit'. But more I do not remember. However these have been sufficient over the years to floor those trying to give the false impression of being classical scholars! If you are interested they translate as follows:
'I sing of arms and the man who first came from the shores of Troy, exiled by Fate, to Italy and its Lavinian shore'.

And then there are others that one cannot easily forget, such as:
'Omnia vincit Amor, et nos cedamus Amori - Love carries all before it: we too must yield to love'.
For me it is one of life's sadnesses that none of my family have studied or are likely to study a little Latin. But one never knows. We do have an 'Open University' now!

We had two periods (45 minutes each) of 'gym' each week. Our 'teacher' was an old boy Donald Dallas who was better known for his appearances at the Nairn Games, and no doubt other Highland Gatherings. He used to go round the arena with a large megaphone into which he bawled - Yes - or shouted announcing the various events as they were about to begin and the results when completed. Literally, he had a voice like the proverbial fog-horn. He was athletic in his youth but when I knew him he was a stout old man. We had all the usual P.T., climbing wall bars, swinging Indian clubs, playing net-ball etc. We regarded these periods as relaxation from work: and there was no Higher Leaving Certificate in P.T. to aim for!

In the German class we had as our teacher, Miss Jeannie Cruickshank from Aberdeen. There were in the class eight girls and myself - the only boy! I enjoyed this class very much because Jeannie was a dear soul and she always gave us every encouragement with personal attention when required. After four years I achieved a Lower German in my Higher Leaving Certificate.

A story worth telling from this class: - In front of me sat two girls Betty or Barbara Riggs and Kitty MacKenzie - both very athletic types. Kitty became captain of the Hockey team. Each had very long hair done up in ringlets. One afternoon I succumbed to a temptation, which had existed for a long time. I tied together a ringlet from each head of hair and dipped the combined end in the ink - well; of course when the girls rose at the end of the period they were tied together! Jeannie was appalled - and when she found her hands covered in ink on endeavouring to untie the locks of hair, she was dumbfounded. She could not believe that her 'little man' could stoop so low! Did I get a telling off! Indeed I did. The girls wore dark blue gym-slips (school uniform in those days) which did not show any stain mark. They assured me their mothers would never notice and in any event the 'gyms' were washed each week-end.

In the first year we had a delightful maths teacher, Miss Strath. She certainly made the subject interesting and opened up the mysteries of algebra and geometry. But in the next two years we had to suffer the most incompetent teacher of this subject; he sat on a chair all the time and told whoever of the class he called to the floor what to write on the blackboard. We were all very conscious of the fact that with his teaching methods we would never obtain a pass in Higher Mathematics and that was an essential for University Entrance. However when we were half way through the third year he was appointed Rector, no less, of a school on the West coast. There then arrived an expert Maths teacher in the shape of Leslie Frewan. My word, he brought us up to scratch and for me made algebra , geometry, trigonometry, arithmetic, logarithms came alive. So in the fifth year I secured Higher Maths.

From the second year onwards I had the privilege and pleasure of being taught English (including History) by Donald John MacDonald M.A. (Hons), later to become Rector of the Academy and since my retirement a very dear friend, until his death at the end of 1993. The impression he made on me in the classroom remains with me still. It was a joy to listen to him speak and to comply with any request he made, for he never ordered a pupil to do this or that; but he did encourage us! And so we learnt by heart screeds of poetry and passages from scripture many of which I can still recite. Somehow we came to realise that 'D.J.' (as we affectionately called him) took it for granted that we knew how to spell every new word we came across in literature and to understand its meaning such that it became part of our vocabulary. Yet he was astonished when, meeting after my many years in the south following my retirement, I told him that he had been in my thoughts all during my career as a solicitor. Yes, when engaged, as I so often was, in writing complicated agreements, contracts, letters etc. I would consider how my old teacher would express a thought on paper if he was confronted with the particular problem facing me at the time.

D.J. never 'corrected' an essay (and we had to write many) but he did suggest how his red ink amendments would improve it. Little did he know that I was to follow his example both in the Army and as head of the Legal, Estates and Wayleaves department of the South of Scotland Electricity Board! I did not use red ink - but my staff expected me at least to use a pencil!

One incident in D.J.'s class will certainly never be forgotten by those who were present: We had to sit a term or quarterly exam in history. The books (pink covered) were handed in for correction. A few days later D.J. arrived in the class room his gown flowing behind, his face florid and the 30 or so exam books under his arm. He placed all but one book on his desk and proceeded with that one to his lectern and for the next half hour gave us an address on the subject of honesty. We were 3rd year pupils at that time. I'm sure we all felt alike - that we were each and every one of us the most dishonest person on God's earth until that moment but from then on we would be as honest as George Washington is reported to have been. At the end of his speech D.J. produced from the exam book a large sheet of blotting paper on one side of which was written everything we were supposed to have learnt that term - yes, everything. But not a name was mentioned. There was a deathly hush in the room as he put all the exam books away in his desk and locked it. The class was then dismissed - it was the last period of the day, indeed of the week. On the Monday following one boy was 'missing'. He never returned to school but he did appear in the Inverness Savings Bank the following Monday! It was said that his father had plenty of money in that particular Bank! With D.J. as our teacher passes in Higher English and History were achieved in the fifth year.

Soon after commencing sixth year studies; with a view to adding to the subjects already included in my Higher Leaving Certificate, the Rector called me to his study and told me that a firm of local solicitors, Davidson Scott & Co. of 42 Union Street were looking for an apprentice. He had taken the liberty of mentioning my name and recommended me to go for an interview. Before doing so however, he asked to see my mother in order to explain to her what would be involved and to obtain her agreement in the absence of Dad who was at Yarmouth at the time. So my dear mum arrived at school and together we saw the Rector. What could she say but that she agreed to my embarking on a career in the legal profession. As mentioned earlier in these memoirs I had been encouraged from my earliest years to aim at a career in a profession but had not yet made up my own mind. One of the advantages of going into law apprenticeship was that during my five years of training I would receive a wage! The practice of requiring law apprentices to pay a premium for the privilege of being trained in a law office had recently ceased. And so I was interviewed by the late Donald Henry MacDonald and John MacBean the sole partners of the firm and was offered an apprenticeship there and then. I had sufficient Highers to allow me to matriculate at Edinburgh University in the Law Faculty. They explained to me that I would serve with them for two or three years and then go to an office in Edinburgh to complete my five years apprenticeship and do three years study at University in order to take the Bachelor of Law Degree. On satisfactory completion I would be admitted to the profession. My starting salary as an apprentice would be five shillings per week from which would have to be deducted 10 pence per week, being my contribution to the Inverness County Benefit Society! This was the forerunner of National Health Insurance introduced after the 1939/46 war.

I went home and discussed the whole matter with my dear old Mum who told me that this seemed to be God's will for me and that I should accept the firm's offer of an apprenticeship. And so I did. My grandfather was delighted - of course. The next letter from Dad, in Yarmouth, carried his congratulations and blessing.

In a later chapter you will find a record of some of my experiences with D. S. & Co.
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