Monday, December 19, 2005

Memoirs of a Fisherman's Son - Part 5, Chapter 15

Chapter XV

A Few Tales:

This part of my 'memoirs' contain some of the tales (all true, I assure you) that have interested and indeed amused various organisations in Nairn since I retired in 1977. They are not set out in chronological or any other sequential order. Some are to be found earlier in these memoirs. I hope they show that life is not without occasions of amusement: what is better than to have a sense of humour? Moreover a smile is something that does an immense amount of good not only to the receiver but to the giver also! It costs nothing to give away a smile.


1. Yachts at Gourock: 
Soon after arriving in Glasgow in 1948 I began to realise that 'they' (the good Glasgow folk) had, and frequently used, many expressions unknown to me who had been educated in Inverness Royal Academy e.g. one could now say 'I'll no can get golfing tomorrow, Jimmy' and everyone around would know what was meant. Reading an Evening Times on the tram home from Waterloo Street to Cardonald one evening I saw a Bud Neill cartoon depicting two (obviously) Glasgow ladies on holiday at Gourock : there were lots of boats in the background. One was saying to the other 'Yaffa yat?' The other replied 'I' to which her neighbour added the next question 'Fat yat yaffa'? The response read 'Yonyinther'. I asked my fellow passenger, who was a stevedore and he told me, what these words meant. His immediate and forthright answer was simply : That one says 'yaffa yat' and then the other says 'Fatyatyaffa' etc. But I said 'What do the words mean'? He laughed and observed that I must be new to Glasgow - as I was. After a struggle it dawned on me that one was asking the other if she had sailed down the Clyde to Gourock in a yacht (yat!) and the other's reply confirmed this; indeed the latter was pointing out what was no doubt her husband's yacht!


2. Substation Noise
Early in 1949 the Chief Engineer of S.W.E.B, the late beloved John Henderson, was the recipient of weekly letters from a lady and her daughter in Queensborough Gardens, Glasgow. Each letter complained bitterly about the loud piercing noise created by a substation in the back - green and threatening all sorts of dire consequences because they could not sleep at night. John's letters, which I had to 'vet' were all to the effect that the substation was shut down at 10.00 p.m. every evening. The ladies did not believe him. It was arranged that the Chief Engineer accompanied by a Senior Engineer a Professor of Electrical Engineering (at a College later to become Strathclyde University) and 'wee Alex' would attend upon the ladies at the witching hour of midnight to hear for themselves the distressing noise which was depriving the mother and daughter of their sleep.

Actually, by special request, we arrived at 11 p.m. to be regaled not with angry words but cups of tea and cakes. Conversation was about everything except noise until 12 o'clock struck on the mantelpiece clock. Thereupon each shouted 'There it is: just listen'! We all did. No one spoke for five minutes and then the mother said 'you'll know now why we cannot sleep, that substation noise is unbearable'.

John said, very quietly and simply 'Mrs ----- that substation has been out of operation for the past two days' The Professor confirmed this and invited our two ladies to come down to the back green and inspect the substation. They did. No one suggested that the noise was in their imagination and there were no further complaints.

3. Substation Vibration:
With the consent of the local planning authority (and no objections from any of the adjoining proprietors) the S.S.E.B. built a 400KV substation beside a Church of Scotland Eventide Home at Giffnock, Glasgow.

I may say the Church had been 'glad of the money'. Soon after it was commissioned a letter arrived on my desk claiming that neither the writer nor her husband could sleep at night because, since that huge monstrosity' across the road from our house has been operating, the vibration is terrible especially at night'. An elderly engineer ( a real character) and I visited the couple in their lovely villa. After a full narrative of their experience, in the most polite fashion I should add, my colleague Archie asked if we could see their bedroom. The double bed was pushed into one corner where, Archie was assured, it always sat. 'Now' he said 'tell me Mrs -- on which side of the bed do you sleep'. 'Oh the inside, beside the wall there'. was the reply.

'Well' said Archie, 'I would suggest you change places, let your husband sleep at the inside while you occupy the outer side of the bed'. They agreed to take Archie's advice and strange as it may seem, there were no further complaints of sleepless nights!

In all fairness I should add that the engineers, nevertheless, placed rubber bushes below the transformer feet - just in case!

4. Anti-freeze
When I was a small boy in Ardersier I knew all about a poor fisher lad Jimmy Main who had joined the Seaforth Highlanders at the tender age of 14 as a bugle boy some time before the Boer War and had risen to the rank of Major in his Regiment. I knew because he had planted 3 trees on the march ditch between his sister's plot and ours - the ditch separated the Cawdor Estate from Moray Estate and ran right through the village with bridges every so often. His sister Mrs Falconer a very old lady, had a sweetie shop and was a good friend of mine; often did I 'caw' the handle of her ice cream making bucket - that took about an hour and was rewarded with ice-cream with a cone. In the cemetery outside the village the headstone marking the Major's grave indicated that his name was spelt MAYNE whereas all the other Mains in the village used the traditional spelling; used also in places like Nairn - to me therefore he was someone special. In early 1945 I was out in the Ditch Islands bringing naval bombardment down on the right flank of the German Army. The temperature used to go so low, - 25 on the Fahrenheit scale -that life was anything but pleasant. The generator brought over by the Navy to supply a Field Hospital in the small coastal town of Bergen-op-Zoom could not be used for want of anti-freeze. There was no light except candles and hurricane lamps but the medical staff trained in far away places like Edinburgh and Glasgow were desperate for electric light. The naval Captain in charge of the base could get no help from the Navy so he asked if I could use whatever influence I had with the army. Off I went to Antwerp accompanied by my two sailors Jim Scott, and Jameison travelling in a 3 ton truck. I called at three Ordinance dumps but when I told them in charge what I wanted they just laughed at me - anti-freeze was for our tanks in the Ardennes and not for any so and so naval generator in some outlandish Dutch village. As I was about to leave the last office in the third dump I noticed a sign outside the door. It read 'Capt. J. Mayne, R.A.' I could scarcely believe my eyes. In I went and demanded of the officer behind his comfortable desk not if he had any anti-freeze to give away but if he had any relations in Ardersier! Now nobody had ever heard of the place until the Americans came to Whiteness Head a few years ago and adopted the name of the Parish, namely Ardersier but he did. He was the nephew of the late Major, and had been brought up in South America, had an aunt who had a sweetie shop, and had come home to join the British army when war broke out. We went to the Mess for lunch and a 'noggin'. I told him of my problem and of all the poor wounded sailors and soldiers further up the coast in an unlit hospital. Need I say more? I came away with, no not 3 tons of the stuff, but 50 gallons That night in the naval mess to which I was attached we drank to the memory of the late Major Mayne.

5. No Rent from Socialists:
After the reorganisation of the industry in the south of Scotland in 1954. The Chief Wayleave Officer came to me saying that a farmer in Ayrshire had refused, ever since nationalisation in 1948 to accept any rent for the transmission towers on his land. The amount due to him was now £750 and the finance wizards were getting 'irked' about cheques being returned.

I arranged to visit the farmer. As always on meeting a farmer one was welcomed with a dram and a cup of tea. I was dressed, deliberately, in a blue suit, white shirt with blue tie and blue socks. I thought this might be helpful!

In due course I broached the subject of rent for the transmission line towers 'Oh', he said 'I'll never accept payment from a socialist organisation like yours'. I knew, of course that he was a prominent Conservative so, flaunting my blue socks (in case he hadn't noticed them) I said I felt sure he had been at the Tory conference in Perth where Sir Winston Churchill had declared that 'we will give Scotland its own electricity'. From him therefore had come the merging of the generation and transmission functions in south Scotland with the former South East and West Electricity Boards. Thus we were a creation of the Conservative Party. 'I never realised that' he said 'but in the circumstances I'll accept the money'. From my pocket I drew out and handed to him a cheque for £750 and he regaled me with another 'wee one ' for the road.

In later years when I was personally responsible for purchasing land for Power Stations. I always got my wayleaves staff to ascertain in advance the political persuasion of the particular proprietor I was about to visit. If I was in blue they assumed I was a Conservative, if in red I was a member of the Labour Party; but if I did not know what political party was supported I wore one red sock and one blue and a yellowish tie. This ploy paid dividends and all 13 Power station sites for which I negotiated were acquired without compulsory purchase. One of our Chairmen Frank (Later Lord) Tombs once asked me the reason for my success as compared with other utilities: he laughed when he heard of my colour schemes, but I added that in every case whether dealing with a crofter or an Earl I regarded them, as my mother had taught me, as fellow human beings who bled if they cut a finger, sniffed if they had a head cold and sometimes worried about the amount of rent or tax they had to pay.

6. Seaside Cottage:
I was once in a beautiful seaside cottage on the east coast of Southern Scotland with the owner, a lady who was reputed to have seen away two wealthy husbands and was now married to a wealthy farmer. The Board wanted this cottage with its 30 acres of sandy and rocky beach including the site of the Canongate Boys Club camp which had been there since the early twenties. We were to incorporate it in the site of a Nuclear Power Station. On a table at the window of one of the front rooms I had my map and was demonstrating by reference to it how much we'd require and what would been seen from the house if perchance she refused to sell. A gruesome tale! Using my right hand I pointed out the main features on the land. My left hand was resting on the map, most of the time. Dropping my right hand to the table during a pause in my narrative you can perhaps imagine my concern when I saw her left hand descend upon it and remain there - I counted the diamond rings, there were six and sundry others. But what should I do? What would you? Well, I suppose what I did was to say a brief prayer 'Good Lord keep me from temptation. I want this property not this woman'. After what seemed like an hour during which I demonstrated with my left hand I heard a rustling of car tyres on gravel. The back door opened and a voice called "Are you there Darling?" The Good Lord had given me a quick answer for here was her husband and to my astonishment he turned out to be a former C.O. He greeted me like a long lost brother. And I may say his wife placed no difficulty in my way in acquiring her delightful little cove and cottage. I must confess the price did include an element intended to reflect just a little of the romance of the place, if not the beauty of the owner.

7. Very first 'public' speech:
When I was in my second year at the Royal academy our English Master the late beloved D.J. MacDonald, told us one Friday that he wanted each of us to get used to speaking to groups of people commencing, of course with our own class. He was to appoint two members of the class to speak, each for five minutes, at our Monday afternoon class. That first Monday I was one of those chosen to speak and that on the subject of 'An Orange'. I was almost panic stricken going home in the 'puggy' that day for I knew nothing about oranges except as one who enjoyed eating them. However when I arrived home the old boy (grandfather) told me that there was 'just the thing for you in last weeks' John Bull ( a weekly magazine). He looked it out and there I read all about oranges and how they were grown in Spain, and all the processes through which they had to go before reaching our shops. It even gave the recipe for marmalade making.

I read that article all weekend until I knew all about oranges. On Monday I proceeded with great confidence to tell my class mates all I (now) knew about an orange. For my talk D.J. gave me nine marks out of ten and afterwards asked me how I had gained such knowledge. I confessed that it had all come from 'John Bull' and to my surprise he congratulated me on my efforts.

8. Another Lump Please:
Four of us (all students from the Highlands) who helped in the People's Palace were invited by an elderly couple, the late Doctor and Mrs Stewart to come for afternoon tea each Sunday afternoon unless we were otherwise engaged. Each of us arrived at their lovely home in Polworth Terrace at or about ten minutes to three as afternoon tea was invariably served at 3.00 p.m.. We were greeted warmly by our host and hostess who had been Medical Missionaries in China and Labrador and indeed were two charming people. Among other things they asked us all to feel able to visit them not only on Sunday afternoon but at any other suitable time when free.

At three o'clock the maid (dressed in black and white as was usual in those days) entered the drawing room with the tea trolley on which were a beautiful silver tea service and china as well as scones, pancakes and cakes all home baked. The trolley was placed beside Mrs Stewart's chair. She asked how many lumps of sugar we each took and being modest types each of us asked for two. As the cups were filled the maid took them to the guests in turn and then offered a scone or pancake in the usual manner. Mrs Stewart asked, after all were served, if everything was to our liking. It was, but one student, Hector from Easter Ross asked if he might have another lump of sugar, please. Mrs Stewart told the maid to oblige and Hector expressed his thanks.

The next Sunday, Hector again asked for 'another lump please'. And the next Sunday and indeed we all came to expect the same request from our sweet-toothed friend.

One Sunday, on leaving the house, I heard our hostess say to her husband. "I am going to sort that young man's bundle". She was clearly referring to Hector.

The next Sunday, sure enough, Hector asked for his usual extra lump. When the maid lifted one from the silver bowl and dropped it in the cup which Hector, so politely, was holding out for her: the sugar lump remained on the surface!! It did not sink! Mrs Stewart had 'sorted his bundle' right enough. The cup had been filled with sugar to such an extent beforehand that there was scarcely any liquid in the cup!

Just imagine Hector's embarrassment. His apologies were profuse and Mrs Stewart was assured he would never do the same again. Surprisingly he continued to attend these Sunday afternoon tea parties, but as from Sunday following he took no sugar in his tea!



9. Law Student : Piper:
One of my fellow students at the time was a lad from Portree. His parents had been sufficiently well off to afford a small flat in Bruntsfield where Donald lived all on his own. After a few weeks his mother came down to Edinburgh to see for herself how her son was getting on. He assured her that he was doing fine, he had made several friends among the law students, his attempts at cooking were successful and she had no need to worry about him. She asked how he got on with the neighbours in the close and Donald said the folk in his stair were all very nice people but he did not see them very often. He had only one problem -the fellow through the wall in the adjoining tenement was forever knocking on the wall in the evenings as if he were chipping off all the plaster. "And what have you done about that nuisance?" asked his mum. "Oh", said Donald "I just keep on playing my bag-pipes".

10. You're white all over!:
On arrival in Asmara, the Capital of Eritrea as it then was, I was allocated a bungalow all to myself and a coloured batman whose name, he told me was, Longa: no doubt because he was over six feet tall (almost 2 metres). He told me that before dinner in the officers mess nearby, each evening he would prepare my bath. I discovered that the water was heated by setting fire to combustible materials like sticks, twigs and so on, packed in to a cylinder which stood six feet high in a corner of the bathroom. From this there extended a funnel which passed through the roof and vented like any other chimney to the open air. When a match was applied to the fuel at the foot of the cylinder there was a roar as the flames reached upwards. Inside the cylinder there was a coil of copper piping extending from top to bottom. This coil held the water which of course was rapidly heated by the fuel burning. It was drawn off to the bath and before long one had a bath-full of piping hot water. I looked on in amazement at the performance. Longa told me he would call me when my bath was ready - namely when the water had been cooled down to a suitable temperature.

In due course he entered my sitting room and said 'Ready bath, Sir'. I proceeded to the bathroom where lovely white towels had been laid out and I found a brand new loofah (back scrubber), soap and sponge awaiting me. Longa stood within the door. As he made no effort to leave I stripped off and got into the bath. When free of all dirt and sweaty smells I stood up, Longa said in an astonished voice 'Sir, you are white all over'! I assured him I was. Poor Longa, although he had been a servant with the Italian Army and batman to several British Officers he had never before seen, or been allowed to see, a white officer in his birthday suit! He told me he had always thought that white people had only face, hands and knees which were white and that the rest of the body was black like his own which he then proceeded to display for my benefit. Secretly I was glad I had been trained in judo and unarmed combat. But Longa, bless him was a quite delightful person. He was not permitted to take more than the standard pay of ten shillings per week but I did persuade him that the extra ten shillings I always gave him was for his wife and three children.

He cried the day I left Asmara on my homeward journey.

11. He's my Uncle
Coincidences have often helped me in my own private affairs and I'm sure some of you must have benefited from them as I have done.

This (true) tale illustrates what I mean:

After a very good Law Society dinner in Edinburgh I was proceeding west towards my home. As soon as I came to the Mayberry Hotel on the outskirts of Corstorphine I put my foot down and pushed my speed up to about 70. Imagine my consternation when someone in a Rover started to pass me - in those days I did not enjoy being passed on the road! However I stuck to my 70. As the other car was alongside me I saw an arm stuck out on the passenger's side signalling me to stop. Yes, the Police. I stopped. They stopped about 50 yards ahead of me. They got out and I did too. They walked towards me. The opening question was something like this "Where do you think you are going?" My reply was truthful - "home". I asked why they had stopped me and got a long explanation about speed restrictions from the older of the two bobbies. I excused myself by explaining that the de-limiting sign was back at the Mayberry Hotel only to be told that it was, in fact, alongside my car - and there it was right above me! "Oh well' I said "it used to be back there". "Yes", said my friend, "it was, but it was moved 20 years ago". I didn't dare say that I had not been in Edinburgh for the last 20 years so I simply said "Are you from Clachnaharry"? The Bobby was taken aback at this question as I knew he would be. He told me he had been brought up in Clachnaharry. But how did I know? I explained that one of my best friends at the Royal Academy was from that airt and that his name was Willie --
"Oh" said the bobby "he's my uncle". That co-incidence saved my licence for at the time I was 'loaded' with two endorsements for exceeding the speed limit. That was before the days of breathalysers!

12. Orkney: Uranium
Some four years before I retired I was in Orkney on Board business and helped by my splendid wayleave staff, we succeeded in persuading 49 farmers in the course of one week to grant the Board the right to explore for uranium over a period of seven years. Later this was to gain me the reputation in no less a place than the European Parliament in Strasbourg of being the 'con' man who was so nice to them that the Orcadians could not say No! How was it done? Well, I am no 'con' man But judge for yourselves.

In one farmhouse I was meeting with nothing but opposition from an oldish farmer with a youngish wife and two teenage children. He gave me all the best reasons for saying No. Then his wife asked me where I came from. I said I was up from Glasgow. "What I mean", she said "is where do you belong to?" I told her of the little place near Inverness where I had been schooled. "Oh, yes", she replied, "I have a cousin in Inverness who speaks just like you". Now it was my turn. "But you are not an Orcadian, Mrs Linklater, are you by any chance from Aberdeen-shire?" "Yes, I come from Fintray but you'll not know it". I was able to explain that I knew it well for my wife hails from Oldmeldrum not three miles away. Perhaps they knew one another as girls. At this the old boy turned on me "Do you know Donald Kilpatrick?" "Yes, I did. For over 30 years". With that the farmer's face lit up. He took me to the window of the room we were in and pointed to the cottage where Donald, his childhood friend, had been brought up and then the school to which as boys they had walked barefooted together. He was delighted to hear all about his old chum. As I recounted the ups and downs which Donald had been experiencing in recent years he went to the press in one wall of the room and filled two glasses with Highland Park - one had to be able to cope with any such contingencies in my job! He then proposed a toast to the success of the proposed uranium venture in Orkney and after we had a few sips said 'Now where to I sign this paper?' And for that I was described as a con-man!

13. More Uranium:
In Aberdeen-shire we wanted uranium exploration rights over about 3000 acres of which 2000 are in the ownership of the Forestry Commission. So off I went to Edinburgh to the Commission's Head Office to meet one George a member of the Commission. It was not long after I sat down in his office that I recalled a mannerism which made me almost sure I knew this chap. In our conversation he indicated a keen interest in skiing ever since the days, long ago, when the Army had tried to teach him mountain warfare. That was it! I knew him. 'Yes' I said 'you joined the 78th Field Regiment as a Second Lieutenant in Haddington in June 1941'. He also remembered me introducing him to the C.O. and showing him his billet. Needless to say I got what I had come for without more ado. ''Tis often said' "It's not what you know but who that matters!"

14. Tail Gunner:
In 1940 when stationed near Fakenham in Norfolk the local Vicar's wife invited three young men from the Regiment (78th Field R.A.) to have Christmas dinner in the Vicarage. The C.O. suggested I go and take two of my own choosing with me. We three arrived to find that three R.A.F.' types' had also been invited, one of them a Flight Lieutenant the others Sergeants. My two army colleagues were a Bombadier (2 stripes) and a Lance Bombadier (1 stripe) while at that time I was a Sergeant (A.C.) (The letters A.C. stood not for my name, I may say, but for the words Artillery Clerk').

We were all warmly received and given glasses of sherry. During the pre-prandial chatter the Vicar's wife came and asked each one of us what our job was in the service. We soldiers told her and also agreed that we liked turkey. The Flight Lieutenant said that he was a Pilot to which the Vicar's wife replied that he would in that case have a bit of wing; the R.A.F. Sergeant, with a propeller on his arm, told that he was one of the ground staff and, yes, he would be quite happy with a leg, of the turkey. When the second R.A.F. Sergeant was asked what he did his reply was quite forthright: 'I'm a tail gunner and I don't like turkey'!

15. Slap on the face:
In my early fifties I became the victim of certain wartime activities and found myself in the Victoria Infirmary, Glasgow. After being examined by all sorts of specialists a Neurologist hobbled to my bedside. On questioning him I learned that he had been wounded when serving as Medical Officer to an Artillery Unit in Normandy. He wanted to know what was wrong with me and when I told him of my experience on Sheriffmuir and other wartime experiences he diagnosed what was causing my black outs. He would cure me but for a year there was to be no driving (this meant Wilma had a new Mini all to herself!) no smoking, no drinking, no extra-mural activities for a whole year. Moreover I was to see him every month. Actually I saw him after the twelve months were completed (£10 a time as a private patient) once every year after that and we became good pals.

On my return to work I had to attend a Planning Committee meeting about the 400KV Substation in Giffnock (mentioned earlier). There were four Engineers with me including the Chief Engineer (Transmission Construction), Alex Erskine. After the successful conclusion of the meeting we resorted to the MacDonald Hotel where my colleagues ordered their usual drinks. Knowing that I would have to pay I stood with my wallet at the ready looking at the hundred and more bottles of malt whisky which adorned the bar shelves. "And what would you like?" said the blond barmaid who, it so happened, was wearing one of her most low cut white blouses. I replied "I'm sorry, my Dear I can't have what I would like" With that she reached over with her right hand and belted me across the left cheek! Was I surprised, taken aback, astonished? Yes all three while my colleagues stood by and laughed. However Alex Erskine came to the rescue and told Effy, the barmaid, that what I meant was that I could not have even one of the malts which I specially liked and that on doctor's orders. Without a word of apology Effy said "In that case you'll have a ginger and lime". That was my drink for the whole of my 'prohibition year'.

Two years later in the same bar late one night after a farewell dinner and awaiting transport home two of my colleagues and I heard the barman answer a question put to him by one of the three other customers, as to what had happened to Effy the beautiful blond who used to be a barmaid. He said she was now modelling full time: they all agreed that she had just the right figure for that sort of job. The barman then told them 'about the time Effy had belted one of our customers'. The tale was as you might expect a very much embellished version of the truth. Indeed if I had done what 'our customer' had done to poor curvaceous Effy the punishment was well deserved.

My two colleagues, who knew the truth of the matter, and I kept dumb until the end of the story. I then sidled along the bar with my glass of malt and said "Gentlemen, my son has a record called 'The deck of cards' and it ends like this --- 'And I was that Soldier' ". You should have seen the poor barman's face as recognition dawned!

We, customers and barman, all had a good laugh.

16. Whiteside:
In the early 70's I was negotiating for land required by my employers for five Power Station sites one to be used in the immediate future and the others to be kept for future use. Happily all were bought without having recourse to Compulsory Purchase: negotiations were helped in one case by my ability to make sweet omelettes, several by sheer unadulterated flattery and all by a judicious use of my red / blue sock technique described earlier.

The proposed site for the Torness Power Station south of Dunbar included a small area which I saw from the map was occupied by the Canongate Boys Club of which the Rt. Rev Doctor R. Selby Wright T.D., C.V.O., was Warden. He had set up the Club when still an assistant at St. Giles. I told our Chairman that if Selby Wright agreed to move I would go ahead and acquire but if not the engineers would just have to select another site! On my phoning Doctor Selby Wright (RSB) he invited me to have morning tea with him in the Canongate Manse at 10.30 the next morning.

The Manse had not been decorated in all the 40 years of his Ministry and that was obvious. His batman brought us two old enamel army mugs much chipped and filled with real sergeant-major's tea. He was obviously impressed when I told him of reading his book 'Asking them questions' away back in 1933, of my high regard of him as one of the 52nd Division Padres and as Radio Padre and that the Rev. Joe Grey (his senior in the Division) married my wife and myself in Old Meldrum.

When told of my problem and its effects on his Club Camp site he said that we must move with the times. I offered to seek for and acquire another site for him but he claimed to be on friendly terms with such landowners as the Earl of Elgin, Duke of Buccleuch, Earl of Cadogan and Lord Lothian and he was sure one of them would help him. Why should I be bothered! So it was that a week later I was summoned to the Canongate and after 'morning tea' proceeded to a Hotel in Peebles for lunch. We smoked our Pipes and drank a half pint of lager each beforehand: at his suggestion. What a wonderful man he was: conversation with him was a joy.

Afterwards we proceeded to the cottage, Whiteside, which the Duke of Buccleuch had said he could have with as much surrounding ground as he wanted for games (rugby, football, cricket, hockey were all mentioned) and all free of charge. The cottage was at the end of a narrow track on the hillside overlooking Peebles. It was a long disused shepherd's cottage of rubble walls and gables with no roof. R.S.B. was so enthusiastic that I readily offered to have it rebuilt and furbished to meet his requirements. Our Architect would design the details with him. Our Chairman, Frank Tombs was delighted with the arrangements made. In due course I had a phone call from R.S.B. saying that as Whiteside was almost ready he wanted to visit it with me and to allow a special visitor to inspect what had been achieved in such a short space of time: Next day we proceeded to the usual Hotel at Peebles and after lunch to the cottage. While R.S.B. had been down several times with our Architect I had not seen it. The transformation was unbelievable, I was entranced with the appearance outside and the layout of the accommodation inside. This was now a hostel capable of housing about 30 young folk in comfort.

When a Range Rover arrived who should the visitor prove to be but the Duke of Edinburgh, accompanied by his A.D.C. R.S.B. showed him every room, cupboard, the Warden's quarters (6-1/2 foot by 4-1/2 feet in size) and then the toilets. The facilities in the latter were all of stainless steel: the urinals covered the lower half of one entire wall shining like silver. On the opposite wall were five lavatory pans in stainless steel, even the seats - "for hygienic reasons" said R.S.B. With that the Duke proceeded to the middle one turned to look at his audience of three, dropped his trousers and sat down! He didn't seem a bit perturbed by the cold steel! Imagine our feelings! "Now", he said "I shall be able to tell the Queen that in this our silver jubilee year I have sat on a silver throne, which is more that she has ever done!"

To conclude, the cost to the electricity consumer of providing the hostel was a mere £12,000; the Power Station project was to cost many millions.


17. Shaving:
A retired Minister (one of Doctor Campbell's friends) was not sleeping too well so his housekeeper advised him to see the doctor. this he reluctantly did. After examining the old boy the doctor could find nothing wrong with him so advised him to have a toddy at night time before going to bed. The Minister explained that this would not be possible as his housekeeper, Margaret, was a stalwart teetotaller and would not allow spirits in the house. However the doctor told him all he had to do was to go into the Co-op on the way home, buy a bottle, conceal it in the inside pocket of his raincoat and hide it in his bedroom.

Some weeks later Margaret met the Doctor in Lothian Road and on being asked how her employer was keeping said that it wasn't the sleeping that was wrong with him as the doctor had been told. "No", she said "it's his heid doctor; after visiting you he started shaving at night in his bedroom. Now I have to boil a kettle of water five or even six times a day and take it up to him in his bedroom. He has taken to shaving six of maybe even seven times a day."

The doctor agreed with Margaret that maybe he was in his dotage!

18. 'She had to go too'
When paying our monthly newspaper bill in Nairn some years ago I was accompanied by one of my Grandsons. (No names, no pack drill!). At the shop counter he started to step from one foot to the other, as small boys do when nature calls! I asked if he needed the toilet 'Yes, grandad, I'm bursting', was his reply. I asked if the lady assistant (well known in Nairn) if she could possibly take this grandson of mine to the staff toilets. Off they went to the back shop the young man holding her hand and talking all the time, as was his custom. On their return I asked if he had thanked the kind lady for taking him to the toilet - because mummy had taught him when to say 'Please' and 'thank you' His reply was very straightforward; "no, grandad, I didn't need to. The lady had to go too"!

(The said lady was so embarrassed that for a long time after that incident she used to disappear behind the scenes as soon as she saw me approaching the counter.)

19. Piesporter at Houston House:
My employers wanted to acquire a Power Station site at Bo'ness and during their preliminary investigations the Engineers had informal talks with County and Planning Officials. The latter saw no objection as the station would be erected on the sand flats to the east of the Town. However word of our intention reached the ears of the Provost of the Burgh and without more ado he announced through the local press his violent objection (they were always 'monstrosities' but became welcome neighbours when the money began to flow into the tills of local shopkeepers and public houses).

I phoned the Town Clerk and invited him and the Provost to join me for lunch at the prestigious Houston House Hotel. The Town Clerk found it strange when I asked what kind of wine the Provost preferred but told me his favourite was Piesporter. When the booking was made by my Secretary she told the Manager to have two bottles of Piesporter ready: they were sure to be ordered.

And so it came about that when the Piesporter was brought to the table and I gave the Provost the privilege of tasting he responded by saying "this is my favourite wine, I am so glad you ordered it".

So glad was he indeed that by the time we had finished off the two bottles he had become a keen admirers of S.S.E.B and fully supported the proposed Power Station to the east of Bo'ness!

20. Electricity Theft
It never ceases to amaze me to learn of the many devious ways in which consumers succeed in stealing electrical power especially for domestic purposes in the poorer parts of Glasgow and Lanark-shire. The following are two which the reader may find interesting:

A prepayment meter in a Gorbals flat showed clearly that electricity had been used since the meter reader had last called but there was no money in the coin Box. Two engineers were accordingly sent to check the meter. It was operating efficiently but why was there no money in the box. They lady of the house assured the engineers that her husband regularly put coins in the box but she assured them that he never once broke open the box. (as could be done if one needed a few bob for the dugs!) There was indeed no sign of interference with the lock. So back to the office to report the mystery. Two older engineers now went out 'to see what was wrong'. One of them withdrew the coin box from the meter and noticed that the bottom was rusty. Now in a situation like that the only substance which could cause rust was water. The older of the two, well versed in the ways of certain of his fellow citizens asked the lady if she had a shilling on her to operate the meter. "Oh yes" she replied "my husband keeps the meter money in the fridge" With that she withdrew from the freezer compartment a beautifully made metal mould in which were six crisp ice shillings. They were the exact shape and weight of a shilling and when pushed into the coin slot operated the meter mechanism. Ingenious! Now we knew how the rust came to be at the bottom of the coin box.

The maximum penalty for this offence was a £5 fine so we decided the best plan was to remove the prepayment meter and install a credit meter but the man of the house did pay a £20 deposit as security.

A consumer in Lanark-shire had been so much in debt that he was 'cut off' i.e. the meter was removed and the cable end covered with insulating material for reasons of safety. The Board's employees concerned with this meter noticed that despite the cut off the house was lit at night-time and the television was on. With a policeman two engineers sought entry to the premises but noted that as soon as they knocked on the door the lights went out and the noise of the television ceased. Several knocks were required but eventually the owner came to the door and asked if he could help his callers (in suitable language, of course). The engineers and the policeman were ushered into a living room lit by a candle: it was explained to them that the so and so electricity board had cut off the supply and the gentleman and his family had to sit in the gloom. When asked by one engineer why the back of the T.V. set came to be hot it was claimed that the heat from the fire was no doubt responsible; as he could see, they had, at least, got a good fire in the grate. The engineers were mystified but after a thorough investigation discovered that this consumer had driven a steel knitting needle into the main cable; and had connected it to the "live" terminal of a 13 amp plug. When the latter was inserted into a wall socket the whole "ring main" became alive and thus every socket in the flat became available to supply electricity This dangerous ploy could well have cost that consumer his life.


21. Yes Miss, I paid
This story, which specially appeals to my sense of humour, was told us by our daughter Anne (forgive me please, sweetheart, for including it).

Anne was training to be a Nursery Nurse in Glasgow and at the time in question was having practical experience in a Nursery school in the Bridgeton area. One day among her duties was the collection of the milk money, sixpence from each child. One, called (like so many of his fellow Glaswegians) Jimmy was a particularly energetic child and romped about a lot. When Anne caught up with him she asked "Jimmy have you paid?" "Oh, yes Miss" said Jimmy. "I paid, in the pail before I cam oot".

22. Tinkers Curse
The South of Scotland Board were once accused by an elderly couple of damaging their small cottage somewhere near Kinross. The Board had certainly been erecting towers in the area and there had been a certain amount of blasting but nothing sufficient to damage the cottage. The cracks which had appeared between the main building and the recently added kitchen and toilet annexe had clearly been the result of faulty workmanship by a local builder. The old couple, however, insisted that the Board were to blame and in an effort to pacify them, I offered them about £100 which the civil engineers thought would be enough to fill in the cracks. They adamantly refused over a very long period, insisting that the Board should buy them another house in Kinross.

In due course they wrote saying that they were proceeding to London to see their MP Sir Alex Douglas-Hume as he then was, and on the way were to call at Cathcart House to see the Chairman of the Board. In fact they saw Jack Burns my Chief Wayleave Officer, and myself. The lady, Mrs MacGregor, refused to speak to me but did communicate through Mr Burns. Even when I asked if they would like a cup of tea and biscuit (previously laid on), Mr Burns was assured they would love a cup of tea. As they were obviously making no progress with us the dear lady pronounced a Highland curse on me in Gaelic. However, from my childhood days I recognised it and asked Mr Burns to tell her that when I was a very small child I had been blessed by the Queen of the Tinkers, Granny Macaffee. The poor old dear turned white because, like me, she knew that a curse placed on one who had been blessed in this way turned back upon the maker. She left the office in tears with her old husband and it is a matter of very much regret to me that the old couple suffered nothing but ill health and misfortune thereafter. I suppose she really believed the old Highland Superstition.


23. A High Flying Hat
Having completed the first two years of my law apprenticeship with Davidson Scott and Co. in Inverness it became necessary for me to serve the next three years in one of the University towns so that I might work and take the appropriate law classes at the same time. This was the normal procedure in those far off days. As my two Inverness 'masters' had studied law in Edinburgh they naturally expected me to do likewise - in the capital city one had what was not available in any of the other towns or cities of Scotland, namely direct access to the highest courts in the land, the Court of Session and the Justiciary Court, and also to the Register House, that great Scottish archive, within which were to be found records of all land titles and all manner of other deeds.

And so it was that my dear Mother set about acquiring all the new clothes that her son would require. The faith which she had in the loving Heavenly Father and about which I tell something elsewhere stood her in good stead at this time. I myself wondered how on earth she could ever find the money to dress me as she wanted but she did by hard work and diligent saving. I am sure that as soon as I started in law she started to prepare for the inevitable departure of her son to Edinburgh. I remember being taken to Inverness to the '50/- Tailors' for a new suit -not however one costing only 50/- but a three guinea suit which of course was of infinitely superior quality; and it was 'made to measure'. A new pair of black shoes were purchased, not locally, but from Gamages in far off London - that firm had done a good job of advertising in the Northern Newspapers their all-leather shoes. I may say here that I was still able to wear the shoes for a number of years after the war was over. But the most important, for my dear Mum, of all that she bought for me was a bowler hat. Someone had told her that all law apprentices and their bosses in Edinburgh wore bowlers, and so it was unthinkable that I should proceed to the seat of law minus a bowler hat. I had of course had experience wearing a hat in the Scouts, but that was different. However I agreed to have a hat.

I left Inverness late in September 1938 having my belongings in a suitcase and a grip. The former held all my clothes; the latter all the sports gear I possessed for tennis, cricket and football. The hat could not be packed and so it was carried on to the train. As Dad was away at the fishing at the time, my Mother and sister saw me off. I well remember the sadness which swept through my heart moments before the train departed, for here I was leaving her who had cared for me over the first two decades of my life and whose childlike faith had been my strength through many days of illness and had given me hope for the future. Her blessing as I left was very simple : 'God be with you Alex, always'.

When at long last the train arrived at Waverley Station Edinburgh I had the problem of what to do with this wretched hat - there was only one thing I could do and that was to wear it on my head and so I did. To my surprise no one laughed at me as I proceeded towards the famous Waverley steps with the suitcase in one hand, the grip in the other and the hat on my head. But the higher I climbed the stronger became the wind - westerly blowing along Princes Street Gardens/into the Waverley station and up the steps as if these were a chimney flue - and the inevitable happened : yes when I stepped on to the pavement on the south side of Princes Street my hat was forcibly removed from my head and spiralled 'up and up so high that I though it would reach the sky' (to paraphrase and old nursery rhyme). It was last seen disappearing over the top of Woolworths - a two storey building on the opposite side of the street. An inspection of the area the following day suggested to me that it might well have found a home on the roof of the famous Register House to which I had sent many a conveyance. That was the end of the hat so far as I was concerned.

On the Monday I reported to my new office all dressed up in my 3 guinea suit but hatless. Imagine my astonishment when I saw that none of the other apprentices - there were three of them - was wearing anything better than an old tweed sports jacket and flannel 'bags'. And not one of them had a hat or even a bonnet!

24. High Finance!
Perhaps not surprisingly when I was directing my mind towards my sojourn in Edinburgh finance became a major problem - it was all very well for Mum to say that the Lord would provide. But she was right! Inverness County Council answered my plea for help by awarding me a bursary of £30 per annum for the three years of studying at Edinburgh University This was the maximum that could be awarded to law students who by the nature of things were also in receipt of a 'salary' from the firm who employed them. Not so many years previously the custom was that the apprentice paid for the privilege of being taught the law but this practice was dying out by 1938.

The Edinburgh firm of Kinmont & Maxwell W.S. to whom my indenture of apprenticeship was being transferred had written saying that my salary would be 10/- per week for my first year with them; from this there fell to be deducted the princely sum of 1/2d being my contribution to the Inverness County Benefit Society the body which would meet any medical expenses incurred by reason of ill-health. Remember this was before the days of the National Health Service. My Mother had arranged with an Ardersier lady who lived in Edinburgh that she would have me as a boarder; for my board and lodgings the weekly charge would be 25/- with an additional payment of 2/6d for laundry. Mrs. MacKenzie was a widow with two children, Isobel and Ian. I arrived to live with them 'en famille' and it was just that. My landlady had two other boarders one a hair-dresser and the other a civil servant who had all their meals in their own rooms while I dined with the family. A whole year passed before I saw the hair-dresser and that was only because I came out of my bedroom a moment earlier than I should have done - there was only one bathroom and Mrs MacKenzie had allotted the bathroom to me for ten minutes between 8.05 am and 8.15 am each morning (Sunday excepted for reasons which you will appreciate later). I never did see the civil servant although he slept 'through the wall' from me: anyone who has lived in high rise accommodation will know exactly what I mean although the tenement in Edinburgh was only four stories high and the other boarders to whom I refer were in the same flat and eating the same food (admittedly from a different table) as I was. Mrs MacKenzie (Jess to all her many friends) became very soon like a second Mother to me and to this day I remember with much gratitude and love her many kindnesses to an innocent from the Highlands and later to me and my wife after the war; she it was who took pity on us when she realised that we had only a pan in which to boil water in our post-war digs and spent her own precious coupons and money on the purchase of a proper kettle.

A month after my arrival in Edinburgh the senior partner of the firm sent for me! Up until now I knew him only as the elderly gentleman who arrived every morning about 10.30 am in a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce. A moment or two after he arrived Mrs. MacKenzie, who was the caretaker, ascended from the basement where she lived (in quite a degree of comfort, I may say) bearing a silver tray on which were a silver tea-pot, milk jug and sugar bowl along with beautiful china cup, saucer and plate and a silver box containing biscuits brought from McVitties along the road. The tea pot contained 'real china tea': I know because she told me when she first let me sample this unfamiliar brew. I did not care for it. Mrs MacKenzie was from Lochinver and so she and I had certain affinities.

After a month in the office I realised that the 'boss' of the firm was a man of considerable wealth and on entering his room my knees were not exactly steady. However he put me at my ease and offered a cup of china tea. He seemed to know all about me and my forebears, but of course he would, for even in those days we had telephones and one of my Inverness bosses would have given him all the information he wanted. He even knew of my interest in cricket and how I had on one occasion at a Northern Counties select against Australia match, in Forres been able to 'catch out' Don Bradman the world famous cricketer. (In 1934 the Aussies played Scotland and ended the tour with a match against the North of Scotland at Forres on September 14: Bradman (who was about to go into hospital for what turned out to be a life-threatening appendix operation) made 7 as his side won by an innings.) Actually what happened was that Bradman 'skyed' a ball into the spectator area: I happened to be there and could not resist the opportunity. I often wish I had held on to that ball but for me as a keen member of the Scout team inspired by our beloved Scoutmaster Tom White it would not have 'been cricket' to have done such a thing. What interested me most however was that Nimmo Smith seemed to be wearing such old clothing; his shirt collar was worn away, the cuffs which protruded well below his jacket sleeves were threadbare while the edges of his jacket itself, collar, sleeves and everything else were in what my dear Mum would have described as a disgraceful condition. Maybe my impression of his wealth was mistaken! And then he asked me how much the firm were paying me; I added that of course I had a bursary to help pay my University fees. 'But', he told me, 'the fishing is not so good as it might be, is it? I could only agree. I did not feel able to tell him of my Mother's faith. Mr. Nimmo-Smith then set before me the situation in which I found myself, with more outlays than income, and told me that I was to go now and tell the cashier, Dear Miss Hamilton, that I was to be paid another 25/- per week which added to my apprentice's pay would give a total of £1.15/- per week. An incredible sum in those days! Thanking him in as profuse terms as came to mind in my excitement I proceeded to Miss Hamilton in her little glass 'doocot'. She refused to believe me saying that if I were to have that salary (never 'wages' in a law office.') I would have more than anyone else in the whole office. I was told to stay where I was while she saw the boss herself. In a few moments she returned her face scarlet, telling me that I was not to say a word about my rise to anyone else in the office. Naturally the very next letter home bore the good news and in her reply my dear old Mum reminded me that she had told me on more than one occasion that faith worked wonders.

25. F.P. Dinners:
After I retired in 1977 my old English Master, D.J., and Jimmy Johnstone who was Deputy Rector of the Academy invited me to join in the Former Pupils Association. This I did, although strangely enough there was no entrance fee, and Wilma and I started attending the F.P dinners held usually in November each year. On arrival at the first function I could see that all those attending were of my own vintage. Beside me at the table sat a boy of my own year and although not in the same class we remembered one another. Both of us in those days were fond of a drop of red Burgundy and very soon we had enjoyed a bottle or two and all was well with the world. "Now, Alex", he said, "tell me this: was it you or your brother who was killed in the war?" (I might add that I had no brothers but my sister has one).

THE END.

1 comment:

Taylor said...

Just reading 16. As I often pass the memorial at Skateraw Harbour near Torness and wondered what became of the Canongate Boys Camps and did a Google search and found your blog. It's really good to have these records as they tell stories that would otherwise have been lost. I must find time to read all the rest of your fathers memoirs.