Saturday, December 24, 2005

Memoirs of a Fisherman's Son - Part 1, Chapter 10

Chapter X

Some memories of childhood in Ardersier

I hope in the following notes to give an impression of life in the village when I was a boy.

(a) Milk from Milton Farm
As there was no milkman delivering milk in Ardersier, until about 1930, when a Mr Watson commenced business as a dairyman, and there was none to be had in the Shops, one had to 'go and get it', from a farm. Boys and girls of school age would undertake to go to, say, Milton Farm immediately to the south of the village and carry home milk to five or six homes every morning. Speaking for myself I used to get the milk for my Mother, three neighbours, Mrs Ratcliffe and the Manse. Pails holding, usually two pints were used. They had tight fitting lids. I would collect the empty pails and proceed to the farm where the owner, Mrs Mackintosh filled them with the required quantity. She did this in her dairy - a room forming part of the farm-house. The milk was taken from a large vessel (which probably held five gallons) by means of a ladle, placed in a pint measure and transferred to the customer's pail. In the dairy she also had a wonderful red machine which separated the cream from the milk. What fun it was to turn the handle! The top compartment was filled with milk; as the handle was turned cream flowed out of a spout lower down into a container while the 'low fat' milk flowed from another spout into a large vessel. In addition there were large stainless steel basins into which milk was poured and allowed to stand over night. Next morning the cream could be skimmed off for sale to customers. It was a great treat to have cream with one's porridge: but only on special occasions.

When I was unable, for health reasons, to go for the milk, Sis, when old enough, would take my place but more often my late cousin Alex John Davidson or one of his sisters would take over. For this job the going rate was one penny per week but with 6 customers that was sixpence! A lot of money in those days.

As we grew older A.J and I used to be allowed to play at Milton Farm and many a happy hour we spent during the summer holidays jumping off an outside stone staircase on to a pile of hay or straw.

b) Soldiers' Trains
The Seaforth Highlanders Depot was at Fort George and all new recruits to the regiment were trained there. In addition there was a battalion of another regiment e.g. Black Watch, K.O.S.B., H.L.I. Thus was not only the Fort busy but the village and Fort George railway station. Goods for the Fort seemed to arrive at the station every day; they were collected by a wagon drawn by two mules. At times one saw as many as six mule-wagons going to or coming from the station. We were never allowed to ride on these wagons. Each battalion was stationed at the Fort for, I think, four years. When they arrived and again when they departed, there was great excitement at the station for a mighty steam engine, often two of them, puffing out clouds of steam would arrive with a long train of coaches behind full of soldiers - there seemed to be hundreds of them disembarking on to 'our' platform. It was a great thrill to see the soldiers form up in platoons and companies and march away down the 'school brae' through the village and on to the most disliked barracks in Britain - or so we were often told. I can still hear the words of command stirring the normal quiet of the station. As children we always knew from 'Fort' School fellows, the times of arrival and departure of troop trains and made a point of being there on the platform or as close to it as the station master would allow.

The Army equipment apart from the rifles which the men carried, was loaded on to or as the case might be discharged from railway wagons in the goods yard. We were never allowed in there! Mule transport was as usual the means of conveyance from and to the station.

c) The Jetty
All through my childhood and youth the wooden jetty was perhaps the most important feature of the village and especially during the Summer holidays. Most of the 'fisher boys' had a fishing line - this was generally part of an old line of one's father - about 100 feet long; to it a sinker of lead or heavy nuts was tied at the 'far' end and two, three or four hooks were attached by means of tipping (mentioned earlier). For bait we used lug worms which we dug out of the sandy seabed to the north of the jetty when the tide was out. The lug worms were kept in a syrup tin until required and of course we all knew about the ebbing and flowing of the tide and when the tide would be out long enough for us dig for lug worms. On a summer's day there would be as many as ten or even twelve boys fishing from the end of the Jetty. To secure a 'place' one had to be out early and once established that was recognised as one's place for the day. After the hooks were baited one would shout 'watch out', take hold of the line a foot from the furthest up tipping and swing the sinker around one's head several times in order to cast it as far out from the jetty as possible. Needless to say the inner end of the line already tied to a stick 8 or 10 inches long, was secured to one of the mooring rings or simply held firmly under the left foot. (The rings were provided for the purpose of tying boats alongside the jetty). As soon as a tug was felt one had to judge whether the fish had actually swallowed the baited hook; if it had this was generally very obvious and one pulled the fish in. However we all became experts at knowing whether a fish was just 'nibbling' and when that happened it was best to try a 'rip' - a quick tug of the line which sometimes had the desired effect. We caught haddock, whiting, sole, plaice, grey backs (the latter three were known as flookies'), codling, crabs and in stormy seas, eels. My dear mum never dissuaded me from fishing but all the fish I caught went to the dog or the cat. We usually had one of each! I've seen me at the age of 10 or 12 fishing for 'cuddies' sand eels with small trout books. I used to get up very early in the morning, 6 am or thereabouts, go over to the jetty with a very short line having two trout hooks attached, (no sinker was necessary), a tin of lug and a large sweetie jar. Before breakfast I'd have caught as many as 60 cuddies which were brought home swimming about in the jar filled with sea water! These all went to the cats of the neighbourhood. My favourite fishing place for cuddies was on the piles under the jetty near the 'little' steps. How many happy hours I spent as a boy all on my own at that early time of day when all was peaceful and quiet. My recollection, of course, is of splendid sunny summer days during all my childhood and youth but with shoals of cuddies (as there were in those days) darting through the clear water and the sun warming one's whole being it was perhaps not surprising that I sensed even then that 'God's in His heaven, all's right with the world'.

d) Boating
Because of my asthma the doctors (all) ordered that I was not to be allowed to venture into the sea except for paddling. So, I was not allowed to learn to swim. But, my father realising, no doubt that I loved the sea decided when I was ten years old that I should have one of his small boats. Namely, a 12 foot dinghy complete with lug sail. How delighted I was! My grandfather was appointed to teach me to sail 'my' boat when Dad was away at the herring fishing. The old boy was, naturally, an expert and he taught me all I could assimilate about rowing, sculling, and sailing with the lug sail. The old boy was a hard master but he taught me well and when satisfied that I could go out solo he left me to my own devices. But I soon realised that he was ever watchful of his grandson and it was his custom when he saw a squall approaching or any other weather condition which could give rise to danger, to call me ashore. He would come out to the end of the Jetty, if necessary, and shout in a voice, which I often felt could be heard over in Fortrose, 'Come away in you little b.....'. How my dear mum used to admonish him for using strong language. Because of his 'all - seeing eye' I never felt other than safe at sea. It was wonderful to row out towards the Fort or Petty Point over the glassy sea, to stop when one felt like it and to drop a line and ruminate until it was time to go home. I had a half-crown pocket watch (Ingersoll) until I won the silver wrist watch at School. This enabled me to be home in time for dinner or tea. If there was the slightest 'air of wind' - breeze to you! - up would go my lug sail and there seated at the helm I'd race about the Firth enjoying life to the full. Naturally my pals liked to join me for a sail and nothing I liked better than to set two of them at the oars while I sat in the stern steering the boat. Children on holiday from places like Glasgow and Edinburgh were forever 'cadging a sail' in the Summer months and no doubt my ego benefited as 'I showed them how it was done'! On one occasion however a local lad George Fraser embarked with me and took two Glasgow cousins along with him. The sea was dead calm, the sun blazing in the sky, I was rowing, George was in the bows his cousins on the stern seat when suddenly he stood up and endeavoured to walk past me towards the stern. Needless to say he fell in and when I looked over the side I could see his red hair rapidly disappearing. Soon he shot to the surface like a cork and I grabbed his jersey. He was screaming 'blue murder'. I had to order his cousins to resume their seats in the stern and did so in the language my Grandfather would have used! After a dreadful struggle George was back aboard. I rowed to the shingle shore (we were opposite the married quarters), ordered my three passengers ashore and set off back home on my own. That experience was a lesson to all those who hoped to sail in wee Alex's boat - and to the skipper!

In due course I sat the Scout test for my oarsman's badge. I well remember that day. Our Scoutmaster dear Tom White (of whom more later) and the District Commissioner, no less, arrived to test me. After I had complied with their requests, made from the jetty, to demonstrate straight-forward rowing, sculling and tying up they called me in and came aboard. Neither was a light-weight and we were therefore well down in the water. I had to row them a fairly short distance and that was fine but when they realised what it was like to be in a dinghy being sculled (from the stern) by an energetic scout they decided they'd had enough. I offered to take then out into the Firth under canvas and although that was not part of the test, they enjoyed themselves greatly and before we came ashore I had won my seaman's badge, the only one in the Troop!

It must be confessed that I have always regretted not having resumed sailing after the war was over but I suppose we were not sufficiently well off! And we were quite some distance from the sea.

e) Speldings and Kippers
In order to 'make ends meet' especially during the herring fishing months when Dad was away from home my dear mother made use of the skills she had learnt as a fisher lassie in Nairn : she made and sold speldings or in the Winter when Kessock herring became available, Kippers. For this she used the smoking shed at the rear of the house This was a wooden shed about, I suppose, 10 feet x 10 feet and 8 feet high with a wooden chimney and flat roof. Inside there were one on each side, two very wide ladder like structures made of wood, the treads (called rhinds because lengths of wood were so called in Nairn) were about 6 inches apart. On those rhinds were placed pieces of wood called tenters about 2" x 1" and long enough to be rested on the above mentioned rhinds. I would say they were 5 feet long. Into each of these tenters had been hammered headless nails about 4 inches apart and on each side of the tenter. The gutted fish were impaled by the lugs on the nails and when the tenter had as many fish as could be accommodated on its nails, it was so placed that each end rested on a rhind. There would be, if I remember correctly, five or six tenters on each rhind and six or seven levels of tenters so a goodly quantity of fish could be smoked at any one time. Below the fish were heaped on the smoking house floor a long pile of dry 'dirkens' (these are pine cones) which lit easily; once they were well alight they were covered with closed (green or wet) dirkens and this procedure resulted in a dense but pleasant smelling smoke being given off. Sometimes saw dust was used when closed dirkens were not available.

After several hours of smoking - quite frankly I do not know how long - the finished product was a much sought after spelding or, as the case might be, kipper. It was necessary all during the smoking process to make sure from time to time that the fire was kept going in the approved manner. As I grew older and was allowed to help Mum by taking a turn at this, I remember having to hold my breath for what seemed ages while placing more dirkens or sawdust on the fire - the smoke was so dense and pungent.

Many local folk came to the house to buy fish but my Mother used to go out 'to the country', as she would call it, as far as Drumine Farm west of the Gollanfield road junction and, it may surprise you to know, across the Firth to Rosemarkie on the Black Isle. In the summer-time one often accompanied her on her travels. the customers always gave a most warm welcome and I did enjoy these outings. In order to go across to the Black Isle it was necessary to walk (with a load of fish carried in a basket on her back) to the point of Fort George peninsula. There on the gable end of one of the army buildings was a Lyon's tea advertisement - on a large enamelled metal sheet (about 4 feet X 3 feet in size). The reverse side was all white in colour and this was the side which faced towards Chanory lighthouse. From a hole in the top side of the sheet a rope extended upwards through a pulley attached near the apex of the gable end. In order to attract the attention of the ferry-man, who lived across the Channel near the light house, it was necessary to pull the signal (as it was called) up by means of the rope as far as it would go and then fasten this rope to a ring on the gable. When Sandy MacKenzie saw the signal (and this might take anything up to an hour!) he would set out in his rowing boat if the sea was calm or his motor boat in choppy conditions and cross to the landing jetty at the Fort. The journey across was always exciting for we were usually accompanied by porpoises perhaps five or six on either side. I now wonder if they were dolphins - but am sure that neither old Sandy nor my grandfather were mistaken. Sometimes we saw basking sharks or bottle nosed whales and these also aroused interest in the denizens of the ocean.

To reach Rosemarkie one has to walk along the golf course -a fair distance - but Mum was truly hardy and at each of her customer's houses she had a cheery word and of course they reciprocated. I remember there was one lady who always had the tea ready and we had this and scones etc. in her parlour. Her house was full of all sorts of strange ornaments and 'objects d'art', which I used to find fascinating. On one occasion as we were walking back over the golf course a squall of rain came down from the south-west (Inverness direction) and we ran for cover in one of the shelters provided for golfers. Two of them, an elderly gentleman and a young lady, joined us and Mum as was her custom, engaged them in conversation for the twenty minutes or so we had to wait before the rain passed over. As we proceeded on our way towards the lighthouse Mum told us that was Mr Ramsay MacDonald the Prime Minister. He was 'a poor fatherless boy whose mother had to work hard on a farm near Lossiemouth in order to bring him up' and yes, the lady was his daughter. In due course I was to learn that he was indeed an illegitimate child. On arrival back at the lighthouse we were always made most welcome in Sandy the ferryman's house and regaled with more tea or lemonade and biscuits until such time as Sandy saw the signal raised at Fort George or just that he was ready to go. With the strong current which flows through the comparatively narrow channel as the tide ebbs and flows between Chanory Point and the Fort I never felt very happy in Sandy's rowing boat especially if the sea was choppy but I did love the crossing in his motor boat, sometimes assisted by sail.

Like her mother before her my mother never came home from her fish selling excursions other than with an empty basket (or baskets). She seemed to know exactly what her customers would want to buy and went prepared.

f) Scouting
When I was about 9 years of age a retired military man (I think he had been Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant in the Seaforth Highlanders) named Tom White - an inspired leader if ever there was one- set up a Scout Troop with the help and encouragement of the people of Ardersier. About 30 boys joined. Tom had arranged with the help of the Officer commanding the Depot Seaforths to have the Troop headquarters in the Garrison Cinema (sadly later destroyed by fire) at the Fort. This saw the beginning of about a decade of scouting in the village and the most exciting experiences for us boys.

I remember there was a sale of work in the War Memorial Hall to raise funds in order to get the troop 'off the ground' At this several hundred pounds were raised so we got off to a good start. We did however have to buy our own uniform of shirt; trousers (short), stockings, flashes, neckerchief, toggle, belt and pole. The cost was 12/6d and we were allowed to pay by weekly instalments. I happened to be appointed Treasurer for this and would collect whatever money was offered until the full amount was paid. Each week's collection was handed over to Miss Etta Mackintosh the Draper who had kindly supplied our uniforms on credit.

Membership of the troop was open to all boys of eligible age in Ardersier and the married quarters at Fort George. We foregathered every Friday evening in the Garrison Cinema and learned all manner of things: the Morse code, semaphore, knot tying, out door cookery (Lighting a fire using only two pieces of wood proved to be an impossibility!), tent erection, digging latrines, football, hockey, cricket, shinty, tennis. Yes our beloved Scout Master Tom was truly an all rounder and he inspired us to do our best at all times in whatever activity we were engaged upon. As you might expect we were taught on the barrack square how to march properly and in good soldiering fashion. Indeed on one famous day the Prince of Wales as he then was) inspected all the Inverness-shire Scout troops lined up on the east side of the River Ness (Bank St) He took the salute as we marched past him and then came along the ranks inspecting the boys. When he reached the Ardersier troop he told Tom that we were the best and smartest troop on parade and congratulated us on our marching. Weren't we proud!

Summer camp was always a great occasion. The C.O. provided us with an Army cook to supervise our individual efforts and he came complete with half a carcass of beef, tins of 'hard tak' (very hard army biscuits) and bully beef as well as cooking equipment, stoves, bell tents, duck boards, ground sheets for all and the good wishes of the Commanding Officer.

Several camps were held at Chanonry Point and for these Sandy, the ferryman, arrived at Ardersier Jetty with his Motor Boat to embark those scouts who lived in the village with their packs of clothes etc. Because he knew me, Sandy gave me the privilege of taking the helm for the crossing - much to the envy of my brother scouts! We called at the Fort in order to pick up the Fort Scouts, the cook and all the C.O.'s gifts. Camp was set up on the north side of Chanonry Point among the sand dunes. Although only a mile across the sea from the Fort, Chanonry 'was miles away from home' for us boys. Water was obtained from the light house. Expeditions on foot took us up the Fairy Glen at Rosemarkie and along the shore beneath the cliffs of Easter Ross almost as far as the South Souter. There are several caves in the cliffs and we explored them using electric torches; none was very deep but once inside the cave was dark as night and very 'spooky'. My grandfather told me that in his young days smugglers used the caves in which to hide rum, claret, tobacco and tea from the excisemen. Undoubtedly, these were smuggled into the Country at that time and the souter caves (as we called them) would be ideal for storing goods off-landed from foreign ships, pending their onward journeys to the Distributors. At that time (mid 1800) tea was so dear that only the rich could afford to buy it.

I vividly recall one evening as we sat around the camp fire singing our scout songs becoming aware that a whole fleet of herring drifters was moving towards us from the open sea. They were on their way to the Caledonian Canal at Inverness on passage to the west coast fishing grounds. All headed for the Chanonry light house but when about half a mile away changed course to follow the Channel into the Inverness Firth. There were, it seemed to us, hundreds of red and green lights heading our way.

Excitement is not the word for the feelings we had at this wonderful sight; it seemed that all the Nor-East drifters were on the move. But then one of them failed to change course and steamed straight for our camp. Yes, it drove right on to the beach! There we were a group of maybe two dozen young lads with Tom and the Army cook trying to push the drifter back out to sea. It wouldn't budge, of course, despite much thrashing of its propeller in reverse gear. However the tide was out and the crew told us they would try again at high tide in the morning. We were all up at first light and sure enough the drifter was duly launched back into the sea. No doubt our efforts at pushing it helped ----- I have always assumed that to be the case but somehow think the crew deserve the credit. Certainly it left the sandy beach with much thrashing of the water at the stern and a great shout of jubilation as the stem moved out of our reach.

One summer we went east for our camp. We proceeded to Brodie Castle and set up our bell tents on the lawn in front of the Castle. The Brodie of Brodie took a great interest in scouting and had kindly offered to have us 'under his wing' for a couple of weeks. We arrived on a Saturday - by bus with an Army Truck carrying the gear, tents, duck boards etc. On Sunday forenoon, as was our custom, we paraded to Church in Dyke, a mile or so along the road eastwards from Brodie. During the service the heavens opened. Being army trained and equipped we all had ground-sheets with us; these also served as capes so donning them we marched through the torrential rain only to find on arrival at camp that the ground was under several inches of water. Despite the duck boards in the tents all our bedding (blankets) was saturated! However Brodie phoned Mr Graham, Minister of the Parish Church in Ardersier, whose son Jim was one of us, and asked for a bus to be sent to take us home. This was arranged by Mr Graham and we all returned home complete with bedding etc. I well remember arriving at 113 to find that my Mother and Grandfather were both at Church. I was desperately hungry and on searching the 'press' (cupboard) came across a section of honey. I ate the whole section! Along with some bread of course. When mum arrived home she was astonished not only to find her son - remember there was no telephone - but that he had eaten a whole section of honey. It did me no harm - and I still love honey particularly in the comb!

Tom was an all round sportsman and in particular a splendid cricketer. He used to spend a great deal of his time coaching us in the game. (Not on Friday evenings which were devoted to scouting) Those of us who were interested would meet with him in the school playground of a summer evening and were instructed in the use of 'the straight bat', fielding, wicket-keeping. We all loved Tom and I don't remember any boy letting him down. Apart from cricket he taught us how to play hockey, football, rugby, tennis and even shinty. At that time there were many scout troops, schools and youth clubs in and around the Inverness District, who played one another at those sports. Indeed the Ardersier Troop once, to my recollection, succeeded in winning through to the final of a football tournament. The game was played in the Caledonian Football ground in Inverness, my Cousin Alex John was centre forward, I played right half, who our opponents were I cannot remember. But I do remember being kicked on the right shin by a full back as I was racing along to pass to my cousin who was in the right position for scoring the winning goal. The foul meant that a penalty was awarded and A.J. rammed the ball into the net to the great joy of us all and particularly old Tom. On one occasion we played the Depot. Officer's at cricket on the pitch in front of the Officers' Mess - a great privilege. We didn't win but Major MacKay the second in command and a 'googly ' underhand bowler was hit all over the ground so much so that he stopped bowling for that game!

Sometimes in the mid - 1930's the Australian cricket team came north to play a team of North Counties players at Forres. What excitement for us - greater even than one would expect south of the border. The Ardersier scouts team headed by our beloved Tom were in Forres, Grant Park, in good time and took our places up on the grass just beyond the boundary line with our backs to the sun! So seated we saw our Nairn County hero, the late John Gray, open the batting against the famous Don Bradman who was bowling. The outcome of the game was a foregone conclusion but that mattered not. Don Bradman sent one ball high towards the boundary, there was no fielder in the vicinity so, what do you think, I ran out and caught it! If only I had kept that ball!

For our various badges in the Scouts we had the help of local folk including the District Nurse who taught us First Aid and for signalling we had instruction in Semaphore and Morse from army instructors. How thrilling it was to sit on top of Cromal Hill and communicate, in Morse, using an Aldis lamp with a fellow scout on the ramparts at the Fort. We also had the use of Don Five' telegraphic equipment from the army and on it we used to send Morse messages 'over the wire' from one location to another. Our instructor introduced us to the Heliograph with which one could send messages in Morse but only if the sun was shining. That instrument was much used in India. All useful for one later on in life when on an Army signals course!

In due course I became Assistant Scout Master and Treasurer of the Troop. Sadly scouting in Ardersier ended with the 1939 war and has not been reinstated.

g) Summer Activities:
i) Tarry Feet
It is said that one remembers only the good times and the sunny days of one's youth. That may be true. Certainly my recollection is of warm sunny days, with the very occasional thunderstorm and rain, during all the school summer holidays. We, children, used to go about in our bare feet from the time the school holidays began until they ended. With so much activity taking place at the jetty or on boats and roads coated with easily melted tar it is not perhaps surprising that our feet and legs were almost daily coated with tar. This was removed by rubbing the affected limbs with butter or margarine and then washing thoroughly with life-buoy soap!

ii) Dirkins
I have already mentioned daily fishing and much sailing but we had other ploys! In order to obtain money for our annual excursion to the Nairn Games most of my pals and I gathered 'dirkins' (pine cones) at the Deacon's wood on the Nairn road, or in the woods at the Carse. We all had a family barrow: this was made usually by mounting a fish box on old pram wheels (with axle) and having wooden staves (nailed to the sides) which served as handles. Very often the fish box was deepened by adding (nailing) pieces of wood about six inches wide to the ends and sides. It was always difficult to find staples large enough to fix the pram axles to the bottom of the box and one had to devise other fixers such as bent nails - but these were never very efficient.

We would set off with our barrows (sometimes as early as 7 am) complete with a bottle of lemonade and some home made scones and pancakes for a picnic in the woods. Alex John and his sister Isy (Isabell) went with their barrow while Sis and I had ours. But very often it was a boys only affair when five or six of us would meet at the rendezvous in the wood.

If the dirkens were closed, as in damp parts of the wood or after rain, one could obtain as much as 3 shillings for a sackful whereas open dirkins would fetch at the most only ninepence! To one's mother, naturally there was no charge. WE however had a wonderful neighbour, Janet Davidson, who had no children and she was a favourite buyer so far as I was concerned.

iii) The Nairn Games
The money so 'earned' was saved up during the holiday period and used at the Nairn Games. The most either of us had was 10/6d but that was a fortune to us. When we were old enough to do so Alex John and I used to cycle to Nairn leave our cycles at the house in Society Street of Libby Thomson my mother's cousin and proceed to the links where our first stop was at the fruit stall at the foot of Cumming Street; we bought melons - sixpence each! We then proceeded to the bank below 'the Toorie', sat down and opened and ate the whole melon! As instructed by our Mothers and also because we were members of the PUGPUP Club (Pick up Glass and Pick up Paper!) the melon seeds were carefully deposited in a brown paper bag and then placed in a waste bin. The Toorie was always the rendezvous on Games Day and we would not think of moving. Our respective Mothers and Fathers (because they would be home from the herring fishing for that week end) always knew where to find us. A reciprocal arrangement applied when 'we' left 'them' to watch the games while we went for a foray into the 'showies'. What wonderfully exciting shows - hobby horse, bearded ladies, chair -o- planes, wall of death, fat ladies and gentlemen, dwarf ladies and gentlemen, boxing booths, and tricksters of every line. One which always intrigued me was a woman's head in a box suspended in mid air. She even ate a banana held up to her mouth by the showman! How it was done still puzzles me! Today's 'showies' seen to be very much nosier, because of the amplifiers now used, but they have not changed all that much.

As keen cyclists, in our teens, we always returned to the Toorie to see the cycle races from 2.30 pm onwards and took a profound interest in the tug of war, high jump, pole vaulting, tossing the caber and other heavy events as well as the flat races. It was a memorable day when the 100 yards race was announced as having been won by Ian Young of Inverness with the record breaking time, never achieved by anyone before, of less than 10 seconds. I have no knowledge of whether the time was recognised by the official body; but for us it was a world record.

iv) Childhood GamesThere were many games we played out of doors during the summer holidays, kick the can, catty, relievo, hoist the green flag, rounders and after the tennis and bowling clubs were set up most of the young folk joined and started to play tennis and bowls. Yes, we had much enjoyment from our summer activities in those far off days.

v) CyclesEvery boy wanted to have his own bike! Most fathers or grandfathers had one and these were used for learning to cycle. Because of the cross bar on a mans bike it was necessary, for them who did not have access to a lady's bicycle, to commence by placing one's right leg through under the bar and on to the pedal on the right hand side of the bike. By pressing on that pedal, holding the bar with the right hand and the left hand end of the handle bars with the left, and balancing as best one could it was possible after many fruitless attempts to master the art of cycling. That achieved the next stop was to 'get a shot' on the bike of another boy who had a boy's bike! Satisfied that one could really cycle the aim now was to acquire one's own bicycle. For those of us whose parents could not afford a new or even a second hand bicycle the solution lay in building one's own. Our beach was a veritable gold mine as were the blacksmith shop, farm steadings and the sheds of old gentlemen who were no longer able to cycle. It did not take any of the fisher boys long to find all the bits required in order to assemble them into a cycle. All that remained usually was to save up enough pennies to buy tubes, tyres, a bell and a lamp. Looking back I feel it was amazing how much 'old junk' we boys converted into things of beauty - the final step was to apply a good coat of valspar paint!

We cycled 'everywhere'!
When I reached the age of eleven my dear old mother decided to buy me a 'proper' bike. So I was told to select one from the catalogue of a hire purchase firm (much used by the poor in those days). J.G. Graves Ltd., Sheffield. For me the bike when it duly arrived was all I had ever hoped for. It had a Sturmey Archer 3-speed gears, a rear carrier and bag, bell and lights both front and rear as well as a mileometer. The cost was £5-15/- which was payable by monthly instalments over two years. The very next Summer it was arranged by letter that I would go to Fraserburgh for a week's holiday with my mother's great friend Bella Laird (Mrs Milne) whose husband was a Cooper in Fraserburgh and who had a son Frank and daughter Jenny. I set out at 7.30 am on the appointed morning with a view to arriving at 7.30 pm that evening. My school Atlas had shown the distance (by my measurement with a piece of thread) to be 96 miles going via Elgin, Cullen, Macduff, Pennan and Rosehearty. I was to have my lunch with my Mother's cousin at Cullen. However before I reached Forres a strong south west wind, with rain, got up and I donned my yellow rain cape. I was bowled along and reached Cullen in mid morning, had tea and scones from the lady and proceeded along the shore road, which I had judged to be much shorter than the main road. How wrong I was! As anyone of you who has travelled this road will know the hills are very steep. I had not only to walk up the hills but down hills also because of the gradients. Still, I arrived in Fraserburgh none the worse at 2.30 pm - much to the astonishment of Mrs Milne, Frankie and Jenny. On my return journey I took, the main road out of Fraserburgh (A98) but all the way had to push into a south westerly wind: - how glad I was to have 3 gears!

On another occasion my pal Jim Graham, son of the Reverend Wm Graham, persuaded me to allow him to accompany me on a round trip to Aberdeen, Fraserburgh and home. Jumbo, as we affectionately called him in the Scouts, had his father's ancient bike and had to give up when we reached Fochabers. There he left his cycle in a garage, took over my gear which included my tent (a 6' x 4' bivvy) and small primus stove (subsequently wounded in Normandy).
This left me with a light bike easily handled. Jim took the bus: he had 'plenty' money: and passed me on the east side of Huntly. So he must have had a long stay at Fochabers - but that would not matter as he could be friends with anyone like his Dad.

As I approached Bucksburn I spied my tent beside a farm cottage. The crofter's wife told me I would find my pal in the chip shop in Bucksburn - and I did. The crofter asked us in for our supper and we had a most enjoyable evening. Jim amused the family with songs as he played the accordion and his ability with the mouth organ was much appreciated and enjoyed. But when the crofter learned that Jim was a minister's son and aiming to follow in his father's footsteps the poor chap was taken aback. When he learned I was also hoping to enter a profession his whole attitude changed. The pair of us persuaded him that we were 'no better than him' - after all my father was a fisherman -and we managed to restore his ego.
Next morning ( as I thought) I was up bright and early, cooked bacon and eggs and made tea. I had a job wakening my good mate but we enjoyed our breakfast and after cleaning our utensils proceeded to the church. Jim had promised not to miss church just because he was away from home. The gates at the entrance to the church were locked and on asking a local who happened to be passing by we were told 'Oh the next service will not be until next Sunday'! Yes, we had slept all day long and it was the evening sun which had awakened me!

(vi) Camping Out
I suppose camping out was one of my special pleasures. For several years running my cousin A.J. and I slept out in our home made tent pitched on a level piece of ground below the school playground and at the top of the large back garden belonging to his Dad. The tent initially was made from old bed sheets donated by our respective mothers, sewn together (according to a pattern in the 'Modern Boy' magazine) and then coated with linseed oil. The latter was used for waterproofing fishermen's 'overalls' and 'sou-westers' so there was usually plenty of it available! The tent floor was covered with pieces of tarpaulin to keep out the damp and old bed covers and blankets. Our sleeping bags were made by folding 3 blankets in the form of a sandwich with large (nappy) safety pints to hold them together. They had to be unfastened every day in order to be shaken and 'aired'. In due course we were able jointly to buy a 'real' tent made of white cotton and having the luxury of a fly sheet. From our tent we made expeditions, sometimes in early morning and often late in the evening, to cycle, fish and on one occasion to raid the manse garden for apples! go for 'dirkens'; there was always something to do! I emphasise that we only once raided the Manse Garden: and for good reason. The apples were not ripe enough for eating but whereas I stuck at one my dear A.J. ate a few. He was very sick afterwards and next day was quite ill. When his mother, my Auntie Bella learned what we had been up to she gave each of us the sort of dressing down we deserved! Never again did we descend to the level of thieves.

(vii) Walking
I loved 'going for a walk'. This was inherited from our parents and began when Sis and I were small children. Every Sunday and often on a Saturday afternoon we would set out as a family and walk into the country: up past Torbreck school to Gollanfield and Braickley Cemetery to read the amusing inscriptions on some of the headstones: To the Ardersier Cemetery to attend the family grave; to the Carse wood, the Deacon's wood on the Nairn road, the 'Crow woodie' down in the Carse, the Primrose Hill (to which Mum loved to go on Easter Sunday after Church so that we might roll our hard boiled and beautifully decorated eggs and have a picnic). But this custom was not uncommon. On our walks we would usually meet other families enjoying God's creations in the same way.

Sadly our cousins were not allowed out on Sunday afternoons their father being an elder in the Free Church. They had to remain indoors and read 'good' books.

I remember on one of our Sunday Afternoon walks we had gone only as far as Viewhill Farm on the Gollanfield road when Dad decided we must turn back as there was a storm coming. How right he was. The sky became black, thunder rolled, lightening flashed and by the time we reached 113 we were soaked by the heavy rain. I had never seen rain like it! The year was 1924. Dad filled sacks with sandy soil and placed then as a barrier against the rain at the front door. Soon the water was running past the house several inches deep. I could sense the fear of my parents and Granddad. We survived, but next day the signs of erosion were evident everywhere and remain to this day on the hillside of the hill on which Hillhead Farm is located. Between that hill and Cromal Hill is a farm track on the north side of which was a fine sandy cliff, where sand martins used to breed and raise their young. A large section of the cliff was washed away as it collapsed under the heavy rain storm. I remember being taken down to 'the Terrace' to see the after effects: sand right across the road and the line of the water course down towards the sea clearly marked as the stones had been washed seawards by the torrent.
When we were somewhat older I well remember A.J., Isy, Sis and I setting out to walk to the Culloden Battlefield via Gollanfield and Croy. After our picnic at Culloden we set off homewards via Balloch and Petty, and refused a lift in the Ardersier Doctor's car. The total distance walked must be about 18 or 20 miles! I suppose our ages would have ranged at that time from 10 to 13 years. At Petty wood on the way home I remember having to stop and light up some Hinksmans. We were tired but 'none the worse'. our Mothers told us we were not to repeat the marathon and we never did - on foot.

(viii) Smoking!
Apart from my Dad, all the men I knew as a youngster, smoked, cigarettes or tobacco and not a few also chewed tobacco so it was perhaps no wonder that as we boys grew into our teens we thought we would follow their example! My old grandfather smoked at least 20 woodbines a day and had a puff or two at his pipe. So it was easy to acquire a woodbine or two. Some of my pals would even rise to the price of five woodbine - two pennies! During the summer the fishing boats lying up on the beach were splendid hiding places for many of our games, and it was in the hold of the Susan Gardner that A.J. and I with two or three other boys first tasted nicotine. We were all sick after a puff or two and to make matters worse old Granddad had noticed smoke pouring from the boat! He sounded us out and we scattered over the side of the boat and away up to the school playground where we lay hidden in the long grass until we felt safe from his anger. But of course I was severely reprimanded when I arrived home and although my mother said nothing I could see that she was very upset. That was enough for me. It was not until I had been in the Army for several years that I started to smoke. Others of my pals did occasionally have a puff but really none of us had the money to squander on cigarettes and those of us who were Scouts felt, I suppose, that we must not let our Scoutmaster down. He was very much a non-smoker.

h) Winter Activities
Up until I was about 12 years of age, there was scarcely a winter in which I did not have a prolonged spell of bronchial asthma. This meant that I had to stay at home most of the time in bed under doctors orders and so I did not have the opportunity of joining in many Winter Activities.
However, I do remember having great pleasure with a sledge which dad had made for me out of wood from a couple of old fish boxes. The main run was down the brae (on the road leading up to Ardersier Mains Farm) past the War Memorial (now sited where the old Cookery Room used to be), over the main Gollanfield/Fort George road, down the brae past the Drill Hall right down to the 'Bridgie' at Dave Cameron's house (a brother of my grandfather) and across the shore road (called Stuart Street) on to the beach!! Another run was diagonally across the field below Hillhead Farm in the direction of Fort George. It was nothing as exciting as the one down past the drill hall but was convenient for those who lived in the village as opposed to the Fishertown and 'the Crook'. The latter was the name given to the group of houses as the southern end of Ardersier (roughly from the line of the jetty southwards).

While we did not have prolonged periods of snow I do remember some very heavy falls which appeared to 'fill the garden', in other words the snow was as deep as the fence, ('palings' we called them) were high - perhaps 3/4 feet. But it did not remain for very long; the proximity of the sea ensured that the snow soon melted. However as long as it lasted sledging, snowball fights, snowmen all kept the village young people busy. Before our uncle John Ralph emigrated to New Zealand in the mid twenties, he came through from Nairn to say good-bye to some of his old Ardersier cronies. I well remember him demonstrating to me how to throw a snowball down a chimney! He chose his sister's, of course, and his throw was so accurate the snowball landed on the pan of potatoes my mother was boiling for dinner (lunch). She guessed as soon as we entered 113 who the culprit was, and did he get a 'telling off' - indeed he did! After that episode A.J. and I became quite expert at lobbing snowballs down the chimneys! But we were never caught!

There was one occasion when the sea froze! At least the water edge became ice leaving the most wonderful shapes -like ice caves, curtains, icicles all along the beach after the tide ebbed. I remember only how the beauty of the formation impressed me.

i) Hogmanay
Hogmanay was a time when all sorts of pranks were played especially on older folk. Much of this was inspired by my grandfather's generation and no doubt had come down from time immemorial.
One ploy was to climb on to the roof of a house and stuff a pail into the 'lum' (chimney pot) to prevent the smoke from coming out in the morning when the owner lit his or her fire. Another was to tie the front door (most houses had only a front door) handle by means of a rope to the garden paling across the road - this was, and is in the older parts of the village about 8 feet wide. In the morning the owner could not get out until some neighbour or passing friend heard his or her shout for help.
A refinement of this piece of devilment - (and one in which I actually indulged, egged on by my grand father!) - was, after the door was secured with the rope to attach the end of a long piece of string to the house window with a drawing pin. A weight, e.g. a nut from a bicycle, was attached to the string about a foot from the window and carefully and very quietly placed against the window pane, the long length of the string being then carried to a distant point. From there the string was pulled tight and then slackened several times. This caused a tapping on the window which in turn brought the old boy or lady to the door only to find that the door was shut fast!
It was not uncommon to adopt the last mentioned refinement without having first secured the door. In such cases the poor old soul would come out to see who was tapping only to find nobody there.
This ploy would be successful for two or even three tappings but eventually there would be a realisation of what was going on and at that stage the culprit would jerk his string to reclaim the drawing pin and then take to his heels pulling, if possible, his string behind him. Nowadays such antics would no doubt give rise to court appearance, punishment by the law etc. but then all looked upon it as being part of life!
It was not uncommon to find, on New Year's morning, a rowing boat up beside the school or a farm cart down on the beach! I often wondered who had carried out these exploits during the hours of darkness.

(j) ChristmasDuring my childhood and youth, Christmas Day was a normal working day (except when it fell on a Sunday or Saturday). In other words it was not the custom to celebrate Christmas as we do now. Our Mum, however, was always enthusiastic regarding Christmas. We wrote letters to Santa Claus and actually posted them) at the village post office. On going to bed a glass of milk and a biscuit were laid out for Santa - and by morning the empty glass remained as evidence that Santa had indeed been thirsty. Stockings were hung up and on wakening we found them full of good things: in the toe there was always an orange an apple and a real sixpence, chocolate bars, sweets, toffee, a tooter sometimes, a mouth organ once, and novelties of various kinds. And beneath the stocking would be standing a mysterious parcel which had to be unwrapped - this contained the one present Santa had been asked to bring. I must say I once asked for a Hornby Train set - having seen one in the 'Cave' in a large store (now House of Fraser) in Union Street, Inverness. On that Christmas morning there was a note telling me that Santa had run out of Hornbys but if I hung up my stocking at Hogmanay when we were to be with Auntie Elsie in Nairn my train Set might be there. And it was! Disappointment was followed by Great joy! The clockwork engine pulled three passenger coaches and a goods wagon around a rail circuit which must have been all of two feet (66 cm) in diameter. Wasn't I proud!. That train set gave me pleasure for many years and instilled in me the interest in model railways which, in due course, came to fruition when it fell to me to ensure that Santa Claus complied with Iain's request to him for a Hornby Doublo for Christmas. It is well known that Fathers usually derive as much enjoyment from a son's toys as the boy himself does. How true!

(k) Drama and Dance
In my mid-teens, I suppose it was, I became interested in amateur dramatics and in learning ball room dancing! Accordingly I joined the village amateur dramatic society and in due course found myself playing the 'Shilling-a-week Man' in the play of that name. That production ran for three nights in the War Memorial Hall and proved to be completely acceptable to the audiences who attended. Full houses each night encouraged the Club members greatly - I do not however remember taking part in any other production.

Classes in ball room dancing were commenced by an 'old' gentleman from Inverness and those of us who joined were instructed in Fox-trot, Quick step, Waltz, Eight-some reel and Quadrille! I still remember his voice calling out 'slow, slow, quick, quick, slow'! I remained a member of the class for a whole winter.
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