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.

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