IN PEACE AND WAR
The ‘lucky bag’ – Holiday at Callander – Holiday at Stranraer – 1940 Holiday at Couper Angus – Day trip to Dundee – Lochee – Two unpleasant experiences – Found out and a fright at the River Isla – The Beech Hedges – The Couper Angus to Blairgowrie railway line – The level crossing – A missed footplate ride – Holiday at Ayr 1942 – School days adventures – The school qualifying class – St Gerard’s Senior Secondary School - The Registry Office, christening, wedding & funeral notices - Wedding Scrambles - Funerals - Corporation Refuse Destructor - Reflections - A few words about religious belief – Poem Night mail by WH Auden 1936
THE LUCKY BAG
A lucky bag was a small packet containing a few cheap swizzle (sherbet) type sweets and a free gift that could be bought for a ha’penny. If luck was with the purchaser he or she might find along with the sweets something interesting or useful like a small wooden whistle, desired by a boy, or a tin ring with a piece of coloured glass for a stone by a girl. Below is a variety of subjects for my contemporaries to reminisce on and younger people to learn about and perhaps puzzle over, some of which have been referred to before in this book or in AGC. More details worth recording have emerged from the mental recesses, sometimes spontaneously, sometimes prompted by other sources. Any corrections of errors in AGC or IPAW will be gratefully received, but please bear in mind that while some of my descriptions may not tally with other contemporary memories, local variations in detail were very common as mentioned in connection with Maureen Sinclair's excellent book referred to in AGC and its bibliography. This part begins by going back to the late 1930s and early ‘40s with stories of holidays spent in deepest Stirlingshire, Galloway, Angus and Ayr.
HOLIDAY AT CALLANDER
1937 was the year we went to Callander in the Trossachs, but rather less of the images of the place remain in my memory than do those of Aberdeen three or four years earlier. My picture of Callander of that time is of a long narrow village surrounded by high hills that I wanted to walk on, and a small but interesting railway station. Although we travelled there by train, only the outside of the station itself seen from the main street is recalled. The clearest picture I have of the village is of a dull, gloomy and misty place as it was a week or two of mainly wet weather of the year before the Empire Exhibition. Re-visiting it in the 1980s and again in 2000, with the railway long gone, no part of it could be identified as it really is a small place.
There is no recollection of where we stayed or a single person encountered. Even the landlady does not register. The only event remembered clearly of that time is that during the early stages Mum and Dad decided to go on a hill walk. On making enquiries it was recommended that we go up what was called Callander Crag lying to the north of the village. Although it was during a wet spell it didn’t rain, and because of the sodden condition of the hillside the expedition was a disaster.
Setting off in the damp conditions, with some difficulty we managed to get up to a fairly high level opposite the western end of the village. From there we made a traverse east to where there was supposed to have been an easy descent. What we found was a mudslide that became quite frightening. We had great difficulty keeping foot and hand holds, because the slope that would have been comparatively easy in dry conditions was wet enough to be dangerous. It was one of those situations where the difficulties were less obvious at the start, when it would have been possible to go back the way we came. But the hazards gradually increased as we descended, so that by the time it was realised that it should never have been attempted it was too late to turn back.
It became an endurance test of torture by mud and water with the downward path resembling a burn. It will be understood that our clothes were in an extremely sodden and muddy condition by the time we returned to the accommodation. One other fleeting, perhaps more positive memory is that my mother visited a cloth making mill at Doune, another village some miles to the east, which made and sold in its factory shop, excellent quality linen, where she obtained some good bargains.
HOLIDAY AT STRANRAER
During the summer of 1938 we had two weeks at Stranraer for. Apart from a day trip to Portrush, memories of events and happenings during this period are only a little clearer than those of Callander. The house we stayed in was on the waterfront near the pier, the name of the occupants was Train, which was unforgettable, and the man of the house was a railway engine driver. What little is remembered of the town of Stranraer isn't enough to attempt a description, and only one or two of the places we visited in the surrounding countryside are recalled.
The first trip was to see fish being fed at Port Logan on the western side of the Galloway peninsula. They were a marine species, mullet I believe, that had become trapped as immature fish in an enclosed area of water on the coast with only a small opening to the sea, a tiny crack in a wall of rock between the basin and the North Channel of the Irish Sea. The pond is a natural tidal pool created by the sea and was developed at the end of the 18th century as a fresh fish larder for the Laird of Logan. As one of the first attempts at fish farming in Scotland it became a tourist attraction in which the fish could be summoned by ringing a bell
The fish must have been there for a long time as they were quite large, and although the basin was deep they were easy to see in the crystal clear water. A man appeared with a basket, and standing on a ledge at water level and ringing a bell, he offered a morsel of food by holding it with his fingers just below the surface. The fish, I estimate now they were about two feet long, the largest of which probably weighed around ten pounds, came up slowly at first then, as they came close, darted in and snatched the offering while making a bubbling snorting sound. The photo below of Mum and me was taken at Milleur Point at the mouth of Loch Ryan with the lighthouse and fog horn seen in the background.
Another outing became a highlight of the holiday, a few scenes from which stand out in my memory as clearly as the rest is dim or non-existent. A day trip to Portrush in Northern Ireland came about because my father had a cousin living there who was manageress of a restaurant. Mum and Dad had been to Southern Ireland on holiday on a previous occasion, and decided to see if a day trip to the north coast was possible from Stranraer. Without knowing the efficiency of public transport today on the route covered, and having to make it on a day trip today, it is doubtful if it would be feasible. But in those days the transport system generally had more frequent services and seemed more efficient if rather slower, no doubt because there were far fewer private vehicles on the roads. On making enquiries it was found that the journey could be done only by catching the first ferry of the day from Stranraer to Larne leaving at 6am, to give a reasonable amount of time at Portrush. The following are brief pictures of events of that day.
First was being awakened at around 5am by Dad making a noise like the horn of a ship. The ferry may have been the Princess Victoria which was introduced on the crossing in 1931. This was the ship that was involved in a disaster in 1953, when she sank in the North Channel during a storm with loss of 130 lives. Dad woke me up by whispering in an ear, saying 'Come on, get up, that's the boat blowing for us'. After the crossing, while sitting on the train in Larne terminal station awaiting departure, we became aware of a policeman standing on the platform in a uniform different from what we were used to and, shades of the Wild West, wearing a holstered gun. We arrived at the restaurant and had lunch, then visited the Giants Causeway before heading back to Larne for Stranraer.
HOLIDAY AT COUPER ANGUS
It’s a village fifteen miles north west of Dundee that lies to the south of the fruit growing district of the Vale of Strathmore, one of the most fertile regions in Scotland with many fruit farms supplying fruit shops and the canning and jam making industries. We travelled there for our 1939 summer holiday by train, arriving at a station that seemed to be too big for its location. It soon became apparent that as one of the two lines north to Aberdeen, it served as the junction station for the five-mile long Blairgowrie branch in one direction, and the Lochee branch running into Dundee in the other.
Choosing the village for a holiday came about probably because Dundee relatives of my mother knew people who lived there and arrangements for accommodation might have been made through them. The house we stayed in on the Blairgowrie Road was one of a mixed row of stone built terraces, some of which were continuous while others had passages between them to the rear. From there a few minutes walk out the road took us into the heart of the countryside. Not much of what we did as a family is remembered and I spent most of my time watching the activity on the railway. But a trip to Dundee to see Mum’s relatives is recalled because they were held in special regard. Apart from that, countryside walks and a visit to the nearby River Isla featured rather a lot.
THE DAY TRIP TO DUNDEE
On journeys by road to Dundee in more recent times, passing round the outer limits of the city on the bypass known as the Kingsway to where our relations live who were normally our first call, a thought occurred. Never having been clear on where it lay on its approach to Dundee I wondered about this branch line. Reasoning that according to the route it took to pass through Lochee its track-bed, should still be visible where the land remained undeveloped. The next time we passed that way on the Kingsway Bypass a careful watch was kept, and sure enough it was spotted. However, I was at first surprised to see that apparently it must have crossed the Kingsway by a level crossing; then remembered the bypass was probably built after the war and after the line closed. A succession of scenes from that journey in 1940 has stayed with me. As our train approached Alyth Junction, in the distance to the east a stone tower came into view standing on top of one of a range of low hills, which aroused my curiosity. It may even have been the hill seen at the right hand in the photo. Soon after diverging from the main line by a west-facing junction and leaving the comparatively level land of the Vale of Strathmore, we were getting closer and closer, and nearer still to the tower. We then passed round the very foot of the elevation, giving an excellent view of the structure.
The outward journey from Couper Angus to Dundee was by the Lochee branch which left the Strathmore line at Alyth Junction a few miles to the north-east in the far the distance in the photo below. Note the train of cattle trucks in the siding on the right in Couper Angus Station. From there it turned south and east before entering the city by Lochee which was very convenient for us. None of these lines exist today. Most disappeared in the era of the Beeching cuts in the railway system all over the UK in the early 1960s, although the line through Lochee had closed long before even Beeching's time.
|Couper Angus Station 1939|
When we left the train at Lochee Station a few minutes walk took us to Bank Street where the relatives lived. Their house was on a corner of the building, on the top flat of an ancient dark and dingy 3-storey tenement which, although the close entrance was in Bank Street, the main windows of the three apartments looked out into High Street. Tramcars were then running in Dundee and the Lochee tram depot was next to the tenement.
Different grades of jute were used extensively in the past in carpet making and sacking for the carriage of many commodities from coal to sugar and flour. Sacking was made of sufficiently dense material to carry even that latter fine grained commodity. From the bedroom windows of the West's house, overlooking High Street, the tall substantial chimney of the mill, known locally as Cox's Stack, loomed close which I think has been preserved as a grade 1 architectural monument.
The rear of the Bank Street house overlooked the back-court from which there was a glimpse of an East of Scotland domestic wash-day institution unknown in the west so far as I am aware, elevated lines for drying clothes. Each kitchen window had a pulley fixed to the wall in a somewhat perilous position outside, round which a loop of rope ran between it and another pulley fixed to a tall telephone type pole at the far end of the back-court. The West’s house was in the corner angle of the building, and the pole supported the lines of houses of the three upper floors of each of the two closes. The housewife had to lean out precariously to hang the washing, and as each item was pegged on the lower stretch of the rope, a pull on the upper strand took that article out a bit, leaving room for the next one. This continued until the line was full when the first item hung on the rope reached the pulley wheel on the pole. The ground floor tenants in the two closes had the same facility for drying clothes as in Glasgow, a rope on poles in the back-court
Washdays in good drying weather when most women were using their line, in a breeze the aerial space of the backcourt would be a riot of colour of the flapping clothes. Was this method of drying clothes superior to ours in the west with the ground level backcourt? While the capacity of our back courts usually enabled all the items to be hung out, In the Dundee system any excess had to wait their turn, but at least each rope was exclusive to one house. Dundee tenements had a wash-house similar to ours, with presumably the same ‘turns’ rotation, so the same delay would likely occur. One big advantage with theirs was that those living high up would benefit from the elevation, which would have helped speed up the drying.
When the time arrived to return to Couper Angus a difficulty seemed to arise about which form of transport to use. Perhaps we stayed on longer than intended or there was no evening service on the railway, it was found that we had to go back to Couper by bus. It was the Monday of a holiday week-end and forewarned by our hosts, my parents were advised that the service would be busy. The out of town bus service which passed through Lochee on the way to Blairgowrie via Couper Angus was the only one we could use to return to Couper, so there was no chance of making the mistake of boarding the wrong bus. But this might be difficult because looking out the window proved that the buses were running past the stops full, and it was decided to go to the terminus in Dundee town centre.
On arrival at the bus stance on Shore Street on the waterfront, about where the Tay road bridge approaches are today, a further cause for worry became evident as there was a long queue and an added complication. Just why this situation stays in my memory as a reason for acute concern is quite clear. There were two services from there to Blairgowrie, one via Newtyle and Alyth, and the one we would use via Couper Angus. It seems now to be a simple matter of taking care to get on the correct bus, but somehow it wasn't so simple.
The memory is of seeing a couple of buses leaving only moderately full for Blairgowrie via Alyth, while we were at the end of the queue waiting for one via Couper. Maybe the problem was caused by a vehicle breakdown. There was a suggestion from one of the relations who had accompanied us this far, of either spending the night with them, or taking the bus to Alyth and walking the five miles from there to Couper. After a time more buses and the queue diminished, so we were able to get on board and arrived back at the digs safely at but a very late hour.
TWO UNPLEASANT EXPERIENCES
One was caused by telling a lie that must be acknowledged. But at the time and for years after, there was a deep seated feeling of resentment towards a landlady who could have been more understanding. Details of the event are a bit scrambled in my memory now, and up to half the story related here may not be accurate, but it involved a door key and an unlocked window. Mum and Dad and I had gone to a spot nearby for a picnic. As the landlady was going out for the afternoon and we might return before her, they were given a key for the house. At the picnic site it was discovered that some necessary item had been forgotten, and I was given the key and told to go back for it. On arriving at the house it was to find that the outer storm door of the front entrance was closed and locked, which meant I could not get in as the single key was for the inner door.
It may have been lemonade, fruit and sweets that had been left behind which were the object of the errand, because I was reluctant to return without them. That made me investigate by going round to the rear of the building, with the faint hope that the key I had was actually for the rear door. Having no success with this, and snooping about I noticed that the kitchen window lower sash was raised slightly, so I tried lifting it. It came up easily enough to give sufficient room for me to get inside. Without thinking anything about it I climbed in over the sink, carrying the shopping bag and the key, which was of a heavy Victorian type, and laid them down on the table in order to close the window. With the window carefully returned to its previous level, I picked up the bag then collected whatever I had come for and went out by the rear door which, having a Yale type lock closed securely behind me. If at this point I had remembered about the key which was still on the table, I could have gone on the window again and recovered it.
On returning to my parents, their first question was 'where's the key?' Not having it and recalling with a start, where it had been left, and then trying to explain without telling the whole story, gave me the first inkling that I might be in trouble. When we returned to the house the landlady had returned, and in an attempt to ward off the looming threat of retribution, I tried sweet-talking her, for she would be well aware of what had happened as soon as she saw the key on the table. But it was a lost cause.
Because I had caused no damage or touched anything in the house I regard this woman now as an unsympathetic bitch with no feeling. She called me 'A wee Glasgow keelie', with her face, screwed up like a lemon, and continued scornfully 'D'ye think ah came up the Clyde on a bike?', which was the first time I had heard that expression which certainly stayed in my mind ever after. The tale ends here, for the reader can imagine what happened when she confronted Dad with my misdeed. Years later I wonder how my parents didn’t demand to know why she locked the storm door when they were given only the key for the inner door. If the truth had been told at the beginning the bad feeling would not have occurred.
A FRIGHT AT THE RIVER ISLA
The other unpleasant event was of a different order. In the course of exploring the surrounding countryside around Couper Angus we visited an area in a loop of the River Isla, no doubt after being recommended to do this by the locals, and possibly at the same location mentioned in the previous incident. This river, the catchment for the smaller streams in the Vale of Strathmore, passes a short distance to the north of Couper Angus then flows on to join the River Tay north of Perth over 20 miles to the west. At the location where we found ourselves the river was similar in size and rate of flow to the White Cart in Pollok Estate. The weather was warm, dry and sunny and there were quite a number of people seated on the elevated, flat grassy banks while others enjoying the water. A number of children were splashing about in the river, and on venturing in wearing swimming trunks I found a section of clear water where it was undisturbed and the temperature pleasantly bearable.
After an initial steep slope down from the waters edge, the flow was gentle and the bottom flat, with the footing firm and sandy and the level up to my waist. All of which seemed to indicate a safe place to play. Other children were indulging in the sport of running down the gently shelving slope above the bank, and leaping out into the water as far as possible, apparently with distance jumped the aim of the competition. Being a non-swimmer at this time, and to be truthful, afraid of water, I then joined in this activity, with caution at first but slowly acquired confidence with practice. Eventually the others went off to indulge in games on the bank nearby, but I continued to exercise an apparently new found command of this element. Then on one jump, after landing I turned and lost my balance, toppled over backwards and went under.
The experience that followed in the next few seconds haunted me for a few years. It led me to believe that I couldn't swim and would never be able to learn. It changed my fear of water to terror, not of going on water, for the enjoyment of being in boats remained, but of venturing into it. This aversion lasted for a decade until the heat of Egypt was encountered, from which the best escape was to swim in the warm waters of the Suez Canal. In the River Isla the struggle to regain my feet went on for what seemed like ages. After swallowing a lot of water, and worse, getting some in my lungs, I managed climb out.
The reaction of those in the vicinity now appears incredible, for it seemed that no-one paid any attention. It may have been the case that elapsed time was so little that nobody had time to react. Except my mother that is. She and Dad were seated on the edge of an embankment above the riverbank, and Mum had got up and ran down to the waters edge before I recovered and made my way out. In mitigation of my father's seeming indifference, she said in later years that he was confident that I would get out of the predicament myself, and he was right, but, and of course the big BUT here is, what if I had taken a few seconds longer to do so? It took a couple of days for me to get over the effects of water in the lungs.
Taking a bus we visited the Beech Hedge at Meikleour on the A93 road between Perth and Blairgowrie. It is a row of beech trees planted close together that are over a hundred feet tall and a third of a mile long, running along behind a wall (not seen in the photos above) and a narrow pavement on one side of a straight stretch of road bordering an estate. Not, I think, something beech trees will do growing in the wild. What made it spectacular was that they were trimmed like a hedge into a continuous high green wall along the roadside. The trees were planted in 1745 and are recognize by the Guinness Book of Records as the highest hedge in the world that’s trimmed every ten years. I have seen pictures of it and visited the site since, but no photo can do justice to the sight, because bends in the road at each end made it difficult to find a suitable vantage point to show its whole length. A TV programme in the year 2000 entitled Remarkable Trees, showed that the hedge was still there in all its aged glory and trimming was being done using hydraulic platforms.
COUPER ANGUS TO BLAIRGOWRIE RAILWAY LINE
The railway of course provided the main interest during that fortnight in 1939 for me. It immediately became apparent that Couper Angus was ideal for a junior train watcher. The line from Perth to Aberdeen via Couper Angus left the main line north to Inverness at Stanley Junction, and heading north east, it ran through the Vale of Strathmore over level ground. There were long straight stretches and easy curves, and the line north from Couper Angus, although not very busy, was famous for the high-speed runs of the Aberdeen expresses. A good portion of my free time was spent in the station, and I got to know the times and movements of the traffic. I would like to be able to describe in detail the trains, engines and types of vehicles to be seen there, both passenger and freight, but lacking experience then the best that can be done is to give an outline of some of the movements.
We had gone out the Blairgowrie road on exploratory walks during the first few days in Couper, then on another day travelled by bus all the way to that town because it was the handiest transport in that it ran past our lodging. Travelling along the road the first thing I become aware of is the single-track line running on the left, which came off the main line by an east facing junction a few hundred yards to the west of Couper. A two coach train hauled by a tank engine shuttled back and forth on what was likely to have been an hourly service between 7am and 6pm, with an additional weekly goods service by a box van attached at the rear.
Days of good weather were spent mainly with my parents travelling around the district, walking or picnicking, but when the weather was wet I was left to my own devices. This meant I was able to spend some time in the station which was a ten minute walk from the house. It had the four platforms and a small goods yard on the north side seen in the photo above and the one below, and the Blair shuttle train normally occupied the down loop platform on the north side of the twin island platforms. Other local trains used this platform also to allow the non-stop trains to go through at speed on the main line along platform 2.
Quite soon I became known to the station staff who tolerated me with good humour, and one story I remember being told by a porter, possibly THE porter, he may have been the only one. We were sitting on a seat at the best vantage point, the north east end of the down platform seen below, from where there was an unobstructed view along the line that was straight and level in the direction of Alyth, This was the location of the film of the A4 seen on tv with Stravinsky’s music described earlier that caused me to break up. Both photos of the station were taken from the footbridge.
We were looking north to where a local train was departing and joining the main line like the goods train seen below. He said that a number of years before, a serious accident had occurred at the point where the rear end of the train was passing. A local train had started up, and was moving out of the loop onto the main line without receiving the 'clear to depart' signal just as an express was coming up at speed on the main line. The resulting smash knocked the whole of the local train into the adjacent field, a tale I am sure is true, because I read somewhere in recent years accounts of various accidents in that area, which mentioned one at Couper Angus that fitted the date and description. The goods train here was probably waiting at the two-arm signal post on which on the occasion of the accident the signal man had pulled off the one for the main line and the driver of the local thought it was for him and started up.
The footbridge over the tracks linking the platforms was the best vantage point, from where the twin thrills of an elevated view into the distance to the north could be had, and the rumble, shaking and violent blast of smoky engine exhaust endured as non-stop trains passed below An evening of good weather, probably one of the few times I was there when it wasn't raining, provided the sight of a train, hauled by one of the large powerful express engines that normally thundered through without stopping, drawing up at platform 4 on the up line. It may of course have been a scheduled evening event which was missed on other evenings, but it remained in the station for some time while items were unloaded and others put on board a luggage van.
The engine was, I think, an A3 Pacific with a peculiar arrangement on the right hand side of its smoke box. It was a pair of short thick cylinders mounted vertically in line and with pipe connections at the smoke box, which gave off a regular slow ticking noise accompanied by wisps of steam. On describing this feature later to people who knew what it was, it has been identified, but now all I can do is guess. Was it a top-feed pump which supplies water to the boiler?
THE LEVEL CROSSING
Close to the southern end of the station there was an interesting feature where the road from Dundee enters the village, a level crossing, the gates of which were operated by the signalman in the adjacent signal box. This close encounter with the crossing, something that was relatively uncommon on main lines in the West of Scotland was an eye opener. There was a pair of gates on each side of the line; the larger of the two for road traffic and the smaller for pedestrians is on the left below. The signalman operated the cable operated gates by turning a large diameter thin-railed wheel mounted vertically inside the box, from where he had a clear view of road and line.
The small single-leaf pedestrian gates, one on each side, were left unlocked for a short time after the road gates were closed for a train. This was done remotely by means of electrical solenoids, which allowed pedestrians to cross the line until just before a train was due to pass. From this point, because it was on a slight curve, vision along the line in both directions was slightly restricted, giving no distant view of anything approaching. However, entry to the goods yard was from near end of the station, but if a long train was being shunted it could mean that the crossing remained closed until the movements were completed, and sometimes road traffic had a lengthy wait
A MISSED FOOT PLATE RIDE
The most memorable event of the holiday for me naturally enough involved the railway, which because of my slow thought processes it became a non-event. But even although the chance was missed, it gave me many opportunities in later years to boast about an offer received that any real railway enthusiast would have given much for. After spending a couple of evenings in the station it had become apparent that, except for the Blairgowrie shuttle, which remained in platform 1 for up to half-an-hour between trips, there was little to be seen in the early evening when it was due to make its final journey of the day.
Of great interest to me was the engine of the shuttle’s run-round movement. When it arrived at the head of the train it is uncoupled and ran round by the main line so as to be leading for the return journey. I was attracted to the engine and would spend time studying it intently. During the waiting period before departure time the crew, driver and fireman, and sometimes the guard, would stand nearby gossiping. Then one evening the driver was the only lounger because the other two probably had duties to attend to. He came and stood by me and asked the usual questions like where did I come from, and did I expect to see anything more interesting on the railway here than I would back home in Glasgow, and so on.
When departure time arrived he moved to climb aboard. Then he stopped and stood on the platform facing the engine cab and said to me in a conspiratorial manner out of the side of his mouth, 'Would you like to come along with us on the engine?' While the initial reaction was a feeling of excitement, my thoughts dwelt on the consequences of doing so. As this was the last trip of the day, how would I get back to Couper? Thinking the train and crew would remained overnight at the outer end I would have to walk the five miles, which might take a long time. By that time my parents would be concerned and might even have gone to the police to report me missing, and, and, and... At this point I remembered I had a few pence in my pocket, so I could come back by bus. That settled it.
During the second or two when these thoughts were crowding through my mind, the driver stood waiting, ready to step into the cab. But as that final detail which would have made the trip possible surfaced, the fireman and guard reappeared and the guard blew his whistle and waved his flag, the signal to depart. This drew the attention of the station master who had also appeared on the platform. The driver shook his head and climbed aboard saying 'too late now!' Thus the opportunity of a trip of a lifetime failed. But I sometimes think that my friends in years to come would have heaved a sigh of relief at the failure, for it spared them from being bored with me boasting about it if it had come off. Having set down so many recollections of those two weeks I find it strange there are no memories of wartime conditions, for that summer was a period when it looked very much as if we were going to be on the loosing side.
HOLIDAY AT AYR 1940
In 1940 a family holiday lasting a week was spent in Ayr with McFarlane relatives of my Dad. The man of this house too was a railway worker and they lived close to the marshalling yard at Ayr docks. This meant that for much of the time I was able to sit on the low boundary wall of the yard and watch the shunting. There were three daughters a little older than me living in the house, who were unwittingly the cause of my becoming aware of girls for the first time and the idea that they might be interesting.
One event stands out on this holiday. So that there would be less luggage to carry with us on the journey, Mum had sent off a basket type hamper of clothing for the family the previous week, which included items required by my sister Nancy, now aged 18 months, but it hadn't been delivered by the time we arrived on the Saturday. On occasions like this the custom then was to travel dressed in best Sunday clothes, and the hamper contained those for general wear plus our pyjamas and other necessities. It hadn’t been delivered to the McFarlane’s house, so first thing on Monday we went along to the goods depot to find out what had happened to it. There was no trace of it in the depot, but a clerk pointed to a solitary box van lying out in the approaches to the unloading shed, and said that it was from Glasgow and our hamper would be on it. But a further three days passed before it was delivered to the house, just two days before we were to leave for home.
SCHOOL DAYS ADVENTURES
two or three times level of the present time. A look at my class photograph (AGC part 5, page 4) will show that the number of pupils in the class was forty three. Walking to St. Constantine’s Primary one morning in the war-time black-out in the depth of winter in thick fog and severe frost is recalled. After a night time air-raid alert building was just being opened up. Because of a fault in the heating we were left to hang around in the playground in pitch darkness, wondering what was going to happen. The lights of first one classroom then others in turn, lit up the fog as the janitor went round all the classes switching them on despite the blackout regulations. But with visibility at about twenty feet, instead of illuminating the playground, it created a dim and ghostly scene of muffled figures milling around in the playground in front of the ground floor veranda.
The heating fault was soon fixed and we were allowed to go into our classes early because of the cold. This was the days of the stiff leather school bag worn on the back and held by shoulder-straps, with large and small compartments containing homework, Primary Reader no.5, a few jotters, a utility (unpainted) pencil, and a slice of toast and cheese for a play piece. I still have one of these pencils and a jotter from that time.
I wore a leather airplane pilot style helmet with earflaps held closed by press-studs, behind which were tiny holes with a metal grill backing, long stockings reaching to just below the knees and a navy blue trench coat. In wet weather everyone wore Wellington boots which came up to just below the knees, where the tops chaffed the skin here. Short trousers were worn by all boys until around the time when they moved from Primary to Secondary School, and during winters they caused problems. I was sometimes troubled with hacks, skin inflammation on the insides of my thighs that were irritated by the material of the shorts. At its worst, to get relief I used to walk with legs as wide apart as possible, until someone asked if I had wet myself. Some of us indulged in pseudo-superstitious practices, such as going by a certain route taken on other days which had been free from teacher harassment. This ritual included odd behaviour like climbing up onto a low wall to touch a twig on a particular tree, and following an erratic but carefully memorised path along pavement and roadway of a particular route.
During the winter of 1939/40, after a heavy fall of snow with a strong wind that had caused drifting, an acquaintance and I were heading for school. In Drumoyne Drive we found conditions during the storm had left the snow here as a smooth undisturbed carpet from one side of the road to the other. We ploughed along the middle where it was about six inches deep, which we judged to be the place to make the easiest progress, when my companion changed his mind and headed forr the pavement. Unfortunately he had picked a spot where the pavement was high, and as he went down the camber of the road the snow got to near the level of his waist. He lost his balance and fell forward and almost disappeared, landing with his arms round a convenient lamp post.
What caused this scene to stay in my mind was the comical picture of him holding on to the pole for dear life with a look of terror on his face, as if he was expecting to be engulfed if he moved again. That storm was probably the same one that provided the unforgettable sight of snow building up on the lee side of the roof of the Clachan Drive tenement diagonally across from our kitchen window. It rose to a spectacular height (or depth) then cascaded off in blocks like icebergs into the back court, landing with muffled thuds. What was temporarily left behind looked like impossibly thick layers of cake icing. That phenomenon has been encountered on rare occasions since, but never has snow appeared so impressively thick on a roof, which on that occasion was obviously the result of a storm during the severe winter of 1941 blowing in from the east.
Probably due to wartime disruption some class movements took place at half as well as full term. While by no means bright, I coped with most subjects adequately, although there was one or two that caused difficulty. Particularly fraught were round-the-class arithmetic sessions of multiplication tables questions by a teacher, with only a minimum time allowed for a frantic mental scan through the table in question for the answer. Writing was adequately coped with but composition rather less so. Because it was exclusively English, history was unfamiliar and therefore boring. Geography I found to be a joy that more than made up for the effort needed with the other subjects.
During the penultimate primary year in the spring of 1942, in what appeared to be almost a last minute decision, I was among a dozen or so pupils selected from the class to take up vacant places and sit the qualifying examination. This was caused by the reduced numbers attending school still being affected by the evacuation. Doubt was expressed at a meeting of the headmaster and the teachers of the last two primary classes, wondering if it was the right thing to do. I failed the exam, but when the marks were given out, it was not by much, and was regarded as a good effort considering the decision to include us was taken only six weeks before the time of the exam. During the six weeks, we no-hopers were segregated and subjected to cramming, and the experience stood me in good stead because at the re-sit, held at the unusual time of the end of the year instead of late spring, I came third out of around sixty who sat the exam. Disruption to school schedules is still evident here in that main exams like the qualifying were being held in December.
Unlike today, we did not have the doubtful pleasure of a preview of the next step up the educational ladder, the transfer from Primary to Secondary School. It was simply a matter of being instructed to report to St. Gerard's Senior Secondary School in Southcroft Street on the first day of the second term after the New Year. On the whole I liked the time spent at Primary school. When I left St. Gerard’s in September 1945, the school leaving age was 14. I had stayed on for an extra year but found that the curriculum was becoming too difficult to cope with. The leaving age was raised to 16 on April 1st 1947.
SCHOOL QUALIFYING CLASS
During the penultimate primary year in the spring of 1942, in what appeared to be almost a last minute decision, I was among a dozen or so pupils selected from the second-top class to take up vacant places and sit the qualifying examination. This was caused by the reduced number of pupils attending the school still being affected by the evacuation. Doubt was expressed at a meeting of the headmaster and the teachers of the last two primary classes, wondering if it was the right thing to do. I failed the exam, but when the marks were given out, it was not by much, and was regarded as a good effort considering the decision to include us was taken only six weeks before the time of the exam. During the six weeks, we no-hopers were segregated and subjected to cramming, and the experience stood me in good stead because in the re-sit, held at the unusual time of the end of the year instead of late spring, I came third out of around sixty who sat the exam.
Disruption to school schedules is still evident here in that main exams like the qualifying were being held in December. Unlike today we did not have the doubtful pleasure of a preview of the next step up the educational ladder, the transfer from Primary to Secondary School. It was simply a matter of being instructed to report to St. Gerard's Senior Secondary School in Southcroft Street on the first day of the second term after the New Year. On the whole I liked the time spent at Primary school. When I left St. Gerard’s in September 1945, the school leaving age was 14. I had stayed on for an extra year but found that the curriculum was becoming too difficult to cope with. The leaving age was raised to 16 on April 1st 1947.
ST. GERARD’S SENIOR SECONDARY SCHOOL
The two and-a-half years at St. Gerard’s was partly enjoyable and partly unsettling. There were enjoyable subjects like geography, again, and what was then known as PT or physical training. Because of the high pass mark achieved at the ‘quali’ I was detailed to study Latin, but Latin was far ahead of what I was able to cope with. Having encountered it since that time in reading the ‘classics’ I think it could be interesting and worth making an effort. At school after struggling with it for part of the first term I found that others in the class who were also having difficulty had found a way out. The class was made up of pupils half of whom took Latin and the rest woodwork with the class number designated 1a Latin/science. Among those who like me were struggling, one boy had requested an interview with the head master. When he explained the situation and asked to be transferred to woodwork the request was granted! I was one of a group who followed up with the same request successfully.
THE REGISTRY OFFICE. CHRISTENING, WEDDING & FUNERAL NOTICES
Wedding and funeral procedures were different from the way they are organised today when registering what were then known as 'hatches, matches and dispatches’ (births, marriages and deaths). It may be of interest to know that up to the 1960s, instead of having to go to Martha Street in the city centre, there were Registry Offices in most suburban areas of any size. In Linthouse there was one in a small building resembling a bungalow in Burghead Drive, at the corner of St. Kenneth Drive. Forthcoming marriage notices, which gave the addresses of the bride and bridegroom, were posted in the window. We checked them occasionally because they provided information about when and where there were going to be weddings which enabled us to be on the spot to join in the scramble for the small-change thrown from the cars as they departed, invariably accompanied by shouts of 'hard-up'. We used to think that last item referred to the fact that after all the bills had been paid and there might be nothing left for the scramble, and people with no money were said to be skint or hard up. But was it a double entendre?
A car stopping in the street was a rare occurrence, which nearly always indicated that a wedding party would be leaving. Families attending a wedding did not like to be thought of as being close fisted or impoverished. When leaving home to attend the service and or the celebrations they showed this by what was called ‘the scramble’. When the hired cars drew up suitably decorated with streamers at closes or private houses to collect the wedding party, it immediately attracted a crowd of expectant children and young adults. It was necessary for the group leaving to be ready to go as soon as possible before the expectant crowd of onlookers grew so much as to become uncontrollable. If it took place on a main road it was liable to cause a traffic hold-up, and young people were known to jump off trams and buses to join in.
The thrower of money from the car had to be careful when doing it. When the window of the car was wound down there would be a large tight group pressing around the car, milling about waiting for it, which made for the dangerous situation of the risk that one or two of the mob could be run over by the back wheel. The best way do it was to either throw it over their heads to the rear where the timid or least forceful individuals would have a better chance of getting something, or tell the driver to move off then throw it out when clear of the crowd. These events were a major if brief event for young people, and many children were attracted to compete in the sometimes quite violent struggle to get a share.
There was an occasion in Skipness Drive when going on back to my mother, who was standing nearby, bemoaning the fact that I got nothing in one scramble, she said ‘never mind son, here’s something I got for you that nobody noticed.’ She moved her foot and revealed a tiny thrupp’ny bit, a silver three-penny piece that had rolled next to her. I was amazed at such competence and suitably grateful for acquiring a week's pocket money all at once. But that was the only time I remember getting anything.
Weddings today go in less for confetti than the ones I remember, when the material was always the tiny round pieces of coloured paper. Traces of a wedding could lie around at the close-mouth or church entrance for days, an indication to passers-by of the recent event. Decades have gone past since the last time I passed a close, a house, or a church and saw the signs and thought 'there's been a wedding here recently’, but marriages seem to be going out of fashion,
Christenings were marked by the strange custom of the christening piece, mention of which is seldom heard of today, probably because these antiquated religious ceremonies have been mostly discarded. After the ceremony, which was usually at a church, for family and guests there was a christening supper at home. A paper bag containing a slice of bread with butter, jam, treacle or syrup, a biscuit, and money, usually a three-penny or sixpenny piece was carried out and presented to the first person encountered. As a recipient on one occasion I was all for it.
When a death occurred at home the remains stayed there until the funeral took place. If it occurred away from home, even in hospital, unless legal reasons dictated otherwise it was moved back to the house immediately. Silence reigned in the neighbourhood and all nearby dwellings showed respect and sympathy by keeping their blinds lowered and curtains closed for the two or three days until the funeral party departed for the cemetery. When the hearse appeared it would always attract a crowd of respectful spectators, and if the deceased was well known, as the funeral procession got ready to move, a group of workers from organisations, work and clubs of which the deceased was a member, formed up to stand in two lines in the street with caps removed.
Leaving the vicinity of house the procession, or cortege as it was known, walked along the centre of the street in front of hearse in two lines. After a short distance they stopped and drew apart leaving a wide space between them for the vehicles to pass through slowly, the men standing with bowed heads as it went past. Once clear, the hearse and cars increased speed and headed for the cemetery. If the deceased was someone of special regard and there were a large number of mourners, the cortege could be a long one. Women seldom, if ever, went to the cemetery with the funeral party, and cremation was unknown. Immediately after the funeral departed, all the houses in the area had their curtains drawn back, the blinds were raised and the windows opened to air the apartments. In May 2004 after decades had passed without having seen one, I was astonished when a procession like this passed my window heading for St Mary’s Church in Pollokshaws.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT RELIGIOUS BELIEFS
If God is omnipotent and omniscient, why didn't he arrange the universe better than the way he has? Why is he constantly complaining and repairing. There's one thing the Bible makes clear; the biblical God is a sloppy industrialist. One thing the bible makes clear. The biblical God is a sloppy manufacturer. He’s not good at planning, he’s not good at execution and if there was any competition he’d be out of business.
Carl Sagan in Contact 1985
As an atheist, the only thing I’m concerned about is that if it turns out that way it’s only the believer who will be able to laugh at the unbeliever! How any rational person can believe in an afterlife without proof is beyond understanding, except for people who can’t accept that fact that there is no hereafter. Religious leaders are no different from the witch doctors of primitive peoples. God never says anything. It’s his followers who are the con merchants and put the words in his mouth.
NIGHT MAIL by W. H. Auden, 1936.
North, north, north,
To the country of the Clyde and the Firth of Forth.
This is the night mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner and the girl next door.
Through sparse counties she rampages,
Her driver’s eyes upon her gauges,
Panting up past lonely farms,
Fed by the fireman's restless arms.
Uplands heaped like slaughtered horses,
Rushing stony water courses,
Lurching through the cutting, and beneath the bridge,
Into the gap in the distant ridge,
Winding up the valley and the water shed,
Through the heather and the weather and the dawn overhead.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb,
The gradient's against her, but she's on time.
Past cotton grass and moorland boulder,
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
Snorting noisily as she passes,
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses;
Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Staring from the bushes at her blank-faced coaches;
Sheepdogs cannot change her course,
They slumber on with paws across,
In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in a bedroom gently shakes.
Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from girl and boy,
Receipts bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or visit relations,
And applications for situations,
And timid lovers declarations,
And gossip, gossip from all the nations;
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled in the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands,
Notes from overseas to the Hebrides;
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, adoring,
The cold and official and the hearts outpouring,
Clever, stupid, the short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong
Dawn freshens, the climb is done,
The train tilts forward for the downhill run.
Down towards Glasgow she descends
Towards the steam tugs, yelping down the glade of cranes.
Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces,
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
All Scotland waits for her.
Yes, this country, whose scribbled coastline traps the wild Atlantic
In a maze of stone,
And faces Norway with its doubled notches.
In the dark glens, beside the pale-green sea-lochs,
Men long for news.
Text © Copyright G. Rountree 2015
© Copyright of the Original Copyright Holder