Prince In The Heather
The Fanta Shop
At the junction of George Street and High Street there was a grocers shop named 'Morton's'. It was in the 'up market' class of the retail trade, and only dealt with people of a certain standing. No ordinary person could enter its portals, for the owner was a man who could discern an upper class buyer, from those of the lower orders. Anyone connected with fishermen was discouraged from entering and souls of the like of Fesak or Dousan kept to the other side of the street.
The prices in Morton's were steep, well above the other grocers in the town and even exceeding the renowned Michelchere's. As Morton himself put it, "the higher the price, the better class of customer." The other dictum was "double the price, half the queue," which resulted in speedy service. Strangely, Morton seemed to stock the same brand of tinned food, beans, meat balls, soups, corned beef -- all under the brand name, 'Machonochies'. There stood the tins, all in the same mundane labels, gleaming, waiting for the discerning customer to purchase.
Morton had two assistants, both women, held under the same bondage of the unfortunates at Eaglesome's, in constant fear of the sack, unless excellence was provided to the customers.
One day, it was early spring, my grandmother slipped half a crown from her purse, and motioned me over to her.
"Here wee Donal, awa up tae Morton's an get me twa tins o condensed soop, get some sweeties frae the Post Office wie the change."
I had never been privileged to enter the inner sanctum of the shop, so I set of whistling up High Street. Turning the corner I came to the shop and marched inside. One of the assistants was serving a sour looking woman with thick-lensed spectacles.
"Yes Miss Stephenson. Two bottles of sauce and four tins of beans."
"Two tins of condensed soup please," I blurted out.
A deathly silence fell over the shop, safe for the ticking of the wall clock.
"What did you say boy?" snapped the assistant, her face turning red.
Miss Stephenson glared down at me as if I was some creature from another world.
"Two tins of condensed soup please, and if there is any change I have to buy some sweeties."
"Mister Morton!" cried the assistant, "Come through at once, there is a boy in the shop!"
A curtain was flung back and Morton stormed in, a look of anger on his pale face.
"What are you doing in my shop boy? Boys are not served here, this is not McGrorie's Tuck Shop, so away with you!"
"My grandmother is very frail, sir," I replied meekly, "and she sent me for the soup for her ailing husband."
Whether the use of the word 'sir' or the emphasis on frail and ailing, jolted some weak compassion in Morton's soul, I will never know, but his manner changed.
"Mm, ailing you say, mm, aged, well this time I will make an exception."
He signalled to the woman shop assistant.
"Miss Flint, give this boy two tins of Machonochie's Vegetable Soup, and charge him only two shillings."
Miss Flint stared at Morton, her mouth opened like a fish would do when on dry land.
"But Mister Morton the soup is two shillings per tin, as the boy has only half a crown we would be down one and six."
Morton's eyes seemed to narrow like a snake's.
"The boy has ailing grandparents, and I will make an exception this time. Give him the soup and sixpence change."
Giving me a savage stare, Miss Flint handed me the tins of soup and my change and I hurriedly left.
As I approached home I met Gulla sitting in the gutter, he looked downcast.
"What is the matter Gulla?" I asked. He caught sight of the two tins of soup.
"Och Donal a wis thinkin that we hadna been playin mony pranks fur a few days, a see ye hav twa tins of soup in yer hans. My I feel real famished a could go a plate o soup."
"I am taking them home for my grandfather. Morton gave me them for a reduced price because I said that my grandparents were ailing."
Gulla's face lit up.
"Whit yon Morton gied ye chape soup, dae ye think if I went in he wid gie me a few tins, I hae a tanner in ma pocket?"
"Well I dont know," I said, "he might think you were cheating him."
"Na," laughed Gulla, "tak thae soup tin hame, an meet me in half an oor in George Street."
"All right," I replied, wondering what he had got in mind.
About half an hour later we stood at the corner of George Street. Gulla was dressed in ragged trousers, and his toe poked from a worn left boot and his face was blackened.
"Whit am gaen tae dee is gang intae Morton's an see if he wull gie a puir soul some tins o soup, a poor boy in rags."
I was horrified as he strode into Morton's. From outside I peeked round the corner. There he was standing in front of Miss Flint, her face the colour of chalk.
"Hae ye got some soup fur a poor wee boy wie nae food tae eat?"
Miss Flint spluttered, her hands gripped the end of the counter.
"Mr Morton!" she shrieked, "There is a ragged urchin in the shop wanting free tins of soup, I know that it was wrong to give that Keith boy cheap tins, now look what had happened!"
Morton burst into the shop.
"Get out you scum, how dare you enter this establishment! How dare you come in here dressed in rags looking for cheap food, this is all the fault of Atlee and company. Since Labour has been in power we have been put in the hands of ignorant ruffians, so all you lower peoples think you can get anything you want."
"Ach," said Gulla, "A met Donal Keith wie twa tins o soup ye gied hum becas his auld grandfaither wis ailin, sae a thocht ye wid dae the same fur me bein ye are a leadin licht in the Kirk, ma foulk are awfy poor an can afford much meat."
"Get out!" snarled Morton, his face a beetroot red, "And tell that Keith boy never to come near this shop again."
With that he grabbed a broom and poor Gulla fled from the shop.
"A weel," he sighed as we made our way home, "a guid idea gan wrang."
When I told my grandfather what had happened he roared with laughter, tears trickled down his face.
"Weel wee Donal ye are a smart wan, ye did a richt flanker on auld Morton, whit a snob yon man is, tell ye whit, ye ken that he stocks Machonochie's soup, weel awa an shout in his door, 'o whur are the keys Morton', an if he answers 'whit keys' shout 'Maconokeys', thin rin like the blazes!"
Next day I met Gulla and told him what my grandfather had said
"Weel al gie it a try Donal, ye can keep tae the back."
We crept up to the shop door. Morton was stacking shelves with his back turned to us. Gulla stood in the door way.
"Morton", he roared, "Whur are the keys?"
Morton whirled round, as Gulla slipped behind the door.
"Who is that shouting, Miss Flint, about keys?"
Miss Flint paled, "The keys are safe sir, in my pocket."
"What other keys have we in the shop?"
At that moment Gulla stepped into the doorway and roared,
"Ye hae plenty o keys in yur shop -- Maconokeys!"
Morton's face turned purple, Miss Flint staggered back with a yelp.
"It is that urchin who came in for cheap soup!"
He grabbed the broom and raced out after Gulla. We fled down High Street followed by Morton, but our young legs out paced him and we gained Dalintober, then away to the Mill Dam, where we played till dusk fell.
One day as I sat reading my Hotspur my mother glared down at me.
"Here!" she snapped, "Make yourself useful, take this book back to the Library, it is nearly overdue."
She handed me a volume entitled Prince In The Heather. Groaning, I took the book and set off on my errand.
It was a mild spring day as I strode across the Esplanade, the waters of the Loch lapped gently on the breakwater as I reached the steps opposite the Christian Institute, here some fishermen were mending nets.
I stopped to lean over the rail and to my horror the book slipped from my grasp and plunged into the oily water near the steps. I quickly descended and managed to retrieve the volume, now a mass of pulp.
What could I do? To present the book as it was to Carmichael meant a fate worse than death. The only alternative was to dry out the book, but where could I go? If I returned home my mother would become suspicious so I had to find a source of heat quickly.
As I looked round I saw the tar boiler used in road repairs smoking away at the other end of Hall Street, here was my source of heat! Quickly, I stood near the boiler fire door. Luckily the workmen were having a tea break, so I quickly applied the heat to the sodden book. The latter smoked and hissed. To my horror the cover bent and the book started to swell. Eventually the pages were all dry, but the book was three times the thickness it had started with, and strongly smelt of tar.
Ruefully I trudged to the Library concealing the book under my jacket, I entered the portals and in a dream walked to the Library entrance where Carmichael was hunched over his desk.
Carmichael bleakly stared at me. His yellow teeth glinted dully in the dark light of the place. He kept the light very poor in the library and reading room to discourage people from reading and, as he put it, 'idle loafers spending their days lounging about'.
He peered down at me, I felt like Oliver Twist about to ask for more. The spirits of long dead book borrowers seemed to be watching me, as if they knew I had somehow damaged a book.
"What is that smell?" snapped Carmichael adjusting his glasses in the gloom, "The aroma is of tar."
He peered out of the window.
"Ah I see that they are working outside, that explains it!"
"Well what do you want boy?"
"Please Mister Carmichael I have come to return my mother's book."
"What is your mother's name?"
"Missus Keith sir."
"Ah yes, Marion. A long established member, a good Kirk attender and communicant. Let me see, yes, she has been reading 'Prince in the Heather', due back today."
As I have said I always seemed to get the wrong meaning from what people meant.
"How long was the prince in the heather sir? He will be glad to be back."
"Back!" thundered Carmichael, "Stupid boy! I meant the book is due back, not the Prince, anyway let me have the book."
Nervously, I lifted the swollen book up into Carmichael's craggy hands.
"What have we got here?" he hissed, his teeth clicking, "What has happened to this book boy?"
"I don't know sir," I lamely replied as Carmichael's eyes glazed.
"Dont know!" he bellowed, "This book has been wilfully damaged by person or persons unknown. Damage to Library property is a cardinal offence that could lead to criminal proceedings and gaol. Your mother will be held responsible for this and will have to pay for the damage!"
"I am sorry sir, but the book fell into the loch and I tried to dry it at the tar boiler in Hall Street."
Strangely, as he spoke his attention was drawn to an old man who was reading a newspaper at the stand. The man lit up a pipe and blew a smoke ring towards the ceiling.
Carmichael's eyes flew to the sign which said 'No Smoking or Talking'. The old man had committed the creme de la creme of crimes. My offence was forgotten as Carmichael rushed out into the hall to tackle the old man. As he did so I fled from the place, and never ventured back for many a long month.
I never knew if Carmichael said anything to my mother, for she still borrowed books and read a lot, though I once heard her mention that Carmichael seemed very hostile to her suddenly, where once he had been very talkative.
About 1950, there came to the Rex a film, hailed as a masterpiece of science fiction. It was entitled, The Man From Planet X and basically the plot was about a robot-like man who had crashed on Earth in his saucer shaped craft, and terrified the inhabitants of a remote Hebridean village until his power supply failed and he vanished in a bog.
The film, to our young innocent minds, conjured up weird sensations and we imagined a strange craft descending on Campbeltown and a terrifying robot clumping up and down Main Street!
So, as boys do, we enacted out our dreams taking turns to dress up as the 'man', with a bucket over our heads and a sack draped over shoulders. A large pair of hobnailed boots sufficed as footwear, and the yard at the back of Woodland Place the Hebridean Village.
One night as we enacted out a scene from the film. My grandfather came down the close to visit the toilet, unaware that we were creeping about in the dark in the old ruined house. As he entered the toilet, one of my pals, complete with bucket over his head, was up on he roof. He leapt down as my grandfather entered.
"In the name o God!" shouted my grandfather, "Whas there at this time o nicht?"
My pal rushed away in fear into the old ruin, where we all hid in numbed silence. From the toilet came the sound of the toilet being flushed, then the sound of my grandfather stomping back up the close. He returned a few minutes later accompanied by my uncle, the latter carrying a torch.
"Whits this ye said ye saw near the closet Jock?" asked my uncle, "Something with a cloak and a tin bucket on its heid."
"Aye Erchie, a wis jist entering the cludgie whan a queer lookin figure leapt doon an flew awa intae the auld ruin."
"Ye havna been at the drink agin Jock?"
"Na, a seen whit a seen, a tell ye man this auld buildin is haunted, a hae heard awfa stories aboot witches hingin aboot here years ago. Whan I wis a young boy naebuddy walked down past Woodland Place in the nicht."
As my uncle and grandfather approached the old ruin we managed to find a hideaway under an old pile of rotting rubbish. We heard them enter, then after a while depart, with my grandfather adamant that he had seen something.
Well that ended our enactment of The Man From Planet X, though I am sure that my uncle knew who the strange being was who roamed the back yard in the night!
About 1951 another film appeared at the Rex. It was called Rocket Ship X-M, the story line was an attempt to reach the moon by the Americans. Unfortunately the guidance system went haywire and the rocket plunged past the moon and out towards the planets. By chance, after many months, the Rocket reached the orbit of Mars and managed to effect an alignment.
I remember watching spellbound as the rocket inverted and descended to the Martian surface, controlled by its own motors.
The planet was an arid boulder strewn place until one of the crew found a crude implement made of stone.
What followed became more like a western, with the crew being pursued by Stone Age men hurling rocks and clubs. Some of the rocketeers were killed, but the rest managed to lift off and head back for Earth.
The plot of the film encouraged us to play out scenes of cave men chasing rocketeers, and the air was thick with clubs and sticks and the battle cry of the stone age men as we ran about the hills above Dalintober.
However such innocence brought retribution, when we invaded MacDonald's Orchard and fought a pitched battle in the old house.
Someone sent for the police because of the din and the Stone Age men and rocketeers fled down Saddel Street and away across the Green.
Later my grandfather gave me a clip on the ear.
"Wee Donal ye ur gan tae twa mony fulms at the Rex, watchin nonsense aboot men gan tae Mars, why they wid fa back tae Earth if the dina choke frae lack o air. Ye wid be better watchin picturs aboot foulk gan on holidays or aboot Kintyre an its quiet air. Sae dina be askin me fur money tae go tae see daft picturs. Av a good mind tae gang oor an see yon 'Stalin' an tell hum tae change the picturs he shows."
"You ur wan tae tak Jock", laughed my grandmother, "Ye hae been flung oot o many a show fur takin during the fulm. I remember whan ye went tae see 'The man in thae moon', ye wur right terrified wie a the sights an ye couldna sleep fur mony a nicht."
At the beginning of the war my father joined the Home Guard. For the first year they had no weapons, but by 1941 each man was equipped with a Lee Enfield bolt action rifle, five rounds of ammunition, a helmet and pack. All had to be stored at home, and my father kept his rifle in the small room off the attic.
The instructions were that no one was to touch the weapon and in order to make tit harmless he kept the ammunition on his person.
I used to peer at the rifle sitting in the corner and imagine myself operating the weapon against imaginary hordes of Nazis swarming over the hills. One day my curiosity got the better of me and when my parents were out, I slipped up to the attic room and lifted up the rifle. Gingerly I pulled back the bolt then squeezed the trigger. There was a sharp click and the weapon recoiled slightly.
Becoming more daring I crept down the attic stair and into my grandmother's flat.
"Scottish men surrender at once in the name of Adolf Hitler!" I shouted, expecting the room to be empty as I had heard my grandmother go out a few minutes earlier.
Unfortunately my grandfather was working at something in the press. As I spoke he whirled round, saw the rifle and rose rapidly towards me.
"Ye wee blagard!" he roared, grasping the barrel and wrenching the weapon from me with a rapid action. "Whit wull yer faither say when he fans oot whit ye ur daen wie his gun?"
"I was only playing," I said lamely, "I did not mean to frighten you."
Grasping the rifle in his hands my grandfather peered at the mechanism,.
"A rare piece o gun, thur is nathin tae beat the auld Lee Enfield rifle, in the furst war the British were rare shots wie this gun, yer dad wan a cup in 1929 when he wis in the Territorials fur being a gran shot. Ye see when ye aim ye pull intae the target on firing which means yer shot is smack on, al show ye how."
Opening the kitchen window he poked the rifle out into the street.
"Noo see yon we man wakin on the other side o the street, weel a got a bead on him noo."
He pulled back the bolt and the rifle gave a click.
"Got hum, If he had been a German he wid be deid."
The wee man must have heard the loud click for he looked sharply up at the window, saw the rifle barrel pointing out, then he ran off. My grandfather took the rifle back up to the attic and as he came down he gave me a clip on the ear.
"Thats fur takin yer faither's gun an fur makin oot ye wur a German."
Rubbing my sore ear, I went to my room realising that if my grandfather told my father about the incident I would receive another sore ear.
Later that afternoon I heard a knock at the door and went and opened it. To my horror PC McPhee stood there resplendent in his regulation uniform, his large face red with the exertion of climbing the stairs, in his hand he held a notebook.
"Is yer granfaither in the hoose wee boy?" he asked.
"Grandfather, there is a policeman at the door and he wants to see you," I said.
My grandfather appeared, bleary eyed with sleep.
"Whit dae ye want McPhee?" he rasped.
I noticed that PC McPhee visibly paled at the sight of my grandfather it was as if he was addressing some Maifia godfather.
"Weel Jock," he said, staring at the floor, "Thurs has been a complaint frae a wee man aboot a gun being poked oot o yer windae a few oors ago. The wee man wis fair flummoxed, he heard ye speakin aboot shootin foulk. Ye realise that it is against the law tae hae a gun withoot a permit an tae poke it oot o yer windae during the oors o licht?"
My grandfather's face contorted with rage.
"Whit nonsense ur ye takin aboot man? Gun, windae, firing at foulk! Na we hae nae gun here, me an wee Donal wur jist playin aboot wie a broom hanel, anyway whit goulk made the complaint, tell me his name an al gie hum a richt lunnerin. It wisnae yon McFatter, why he is sae fu a day that he canna tell ye whit day it is."
PC McPhee made a slurping sound.
"Ye ken a canna tell ye the name o a person that makes a complaint agin ye it could affect any proceedings in coort."
"Awa back tae yer pals in Castlehill!" snapped my grandfather, "Thur is nae gun in here, onyway if we had a gun an ye cam tae ur door as a German Stormtrooper ye widnae be askin tae see a permit, wid ye?"
PC McPhee stroked his chin.
"Hm, whit ye say is true, a tell ye whit, al away back an tell the inspector it wis a hoax an wee wull furget it, al tell the wee man that complained that he must hae been dreamin."
As he turned to walk away my grandfather called out, "Al see ye in the Gluepot the nicht McPhee fur a dram oan me."
When the policeman had gone my grandfather gripped me by the arm.
"Never admit tae haen done anythin until ye see the lie o the land wee Donal."
In Saddel Street there was a baker's shop. It was a dark sinister place, painted a bottle green on the outside. In the display window lay tiers of loaves and pastries that seemed to have been there since the Reformation, The goods were under constant attack from droves of demented bluebottles that wheeled in battle formation and made a fearful noise.
Within the shop the gloom seeped into your soul. Behind the counter were shelves, some sagging, on which lay trays of pies, pastries, buns and doughnuts. The bluebottles paid close attention to the doughnuts!
On the grim dark brown walls faded notices hung. Some advertised McDougall's flour, others extolled the virtues of a holiday at Machrihanish, whilst a yellow piece of paper told of a church outing to Southend in 1920!
The counter was made of a dark wood and on it sat dust covered glass jars. Most were empty, but some held sweets like mint humbugs, pan drops, or aniseed balls.
One wall had an open doorway, that led to the bake house and from the counter you could see the oven glowing in the gloom and the smell of dough cooking wafting outwards. The oven set up a draught which caused the thick cobwebs in the corners of the shop to vibrate.
The man who worked the oven was Joe Black, master baker, a large man with a red face tanned by the fierce heat of the flames. Joe's eyes peered through a casing of dried flour and as he worked at the oven it was as if he was enacting a scene from Dantë's Inferno. He would whistle, sing, swear or just roar. His feet shuffled along the stone floor. Sometime in relief from oven duties, he would stand outside the shop puffing a Woodbine.
What a contrast! Joe Black slaving at his oven, whilst across the road 'Glundie' was hurling great pats of dripping into his fish frier. The opposing smells used to mingle in the road to produce a haze called 'Saddel Street Fog'.
Joe Black made succulent pastries, and his loaves melted in your mouth.
As fate would have it, one day my grandmother sent me to Joe's for two loaves and half a dozen rolls. She gave me three shillings and with the change I was to buy some sweets or a comic.
I entered the shop. It was an early autumn evening and the gas light was lit, its stuttering jets casting great shadows on the wall. At my approach Joe rose from behind the counter.
"Whit dae ye want wee boy" he slavered, as he lit up a Woodbine at the same time lifting a snoozing cat from the counter where it had made a nest amongst some paper bags!
"Two loaves and half a dozen rolls Mister Black", I said.
"Man ye ur a veery polite boy", rasped Joe, blowing a smoke circle towards the ceiling which was brown with age. "Am lookin fur a wee boy tae gang oot wie breed on a Seterday, a day mind you fur five shillings an a few pastries tae tak hame at nicht, whit dae ye say?"
"I will have to see my mother first, but five shillings is fine, when do you want a reply?"
Joe scratched his head, a shower of dandruff cascaded onto the floor.
"Al hae tae ken the nicht fur there are plenty o boys efter a Seterday job, so let me gie ye yer breed an rolls an awa hame tae yer hoose tae see whit yer foulks think."
Clutching the bread and rolls I hurried home to Woodland Place. Luckily, my mother was visiting my grandmother. I blurted out my good news.
"Weel", said my mother, "Ye can go to work for Joe, with my blessing, but be careful in the dark when you are delivering bread up dark closes."
My grandfather who had just came in, on hearing the news of my impending employment, lit up his pipe, loosing a spittle into the fire. He grinned.
"Weel wee Donal we wull be a richt fur free cakes an breed no ye wull be wurkin fur Baker Black, when ye start tell hum nae tae pit sae much sawdust in his breed or use less gum in hus cakes."
"Jock!", snapped my mother, "Leave the wee boy alone, he will say no such thing. Go on son, tell Mister Black ye will start on Saturday."
"Watch he disnae pit ye in the oven wee Donal!" laughed my grandfather, "Ave heard queer tales aboot foulk never been seen agin efter gan intae Blacks the bakers, whan ye cam hame let me tell ye aboot Sweeney Todd the demon barber o Fleet Street!"
I hurried back to Joe and told him I would be ready to start on Saturday.
"Gran", he purred, picking a piece of cake from his teeth with a pencil, "ye hae been richt prompt wee boy, ye say ye are Maisies son, weel a ken hur fine, sae ye wull start at seeven o clock on Seterday next."
Saturday came round and I arrived at Joe's rear entrance. The door was open, so I strode in. Joe was struggling with the oven, the heat was intense, great mounds of dough were being pounded into loaves by a thin hatchet faced assistant whom I never suspected existed.
"Thus is Donal Keith," roared Joe above the snarl of the oven, "he wull be deleverin breed a day."
The assistant, his face covered in flour, grinned. His broken black teeth contrasting with the white flour.
"Am Tam the floor man, a mix dough a the time fur Joe tae mak breed."
As he spoke, Joe swung open the oven door, whisked out a tray of risen bread, then inserted a fresh tray, he slammed the door shut, then turned to me.
"At nine o clock ye wull gang oot wie yer furst delivery o breed, a havna a bike tae gie ye so ye wull hae tae wak, a hope ye hae guid boots."
At nine, Tam loaded up a great wicker basket with bread, an thrust a piece of paper into my hand.
"Here ye are Donal, twa loaves tae four Fishers Row, three tae sixteen Parliament Place, four tae eighteen Gayfield Place and wan Rosemount on the Low Road, ye better head fur Rosemount furst, the Fishers Row next and feenish at Parliament Place."
The thought of walking to Rosemount seemed daunting, but the lure of the five shillings gave me courage, so I set off with my laden basket and was soon on the Low Road.
Rosemount was half way along the road. It was set back, ivy covered, and had a gateway arch made from a whale's jawbone. In places the ivy had covered many of the windows and the play of the sun on the glass gave the place an air of brooding mystery. The windows seemed like eyes watching the approach of strangers.
My feet crunched on the gravel as I approached the front door and rang the bell.
From the bowels of the house a booming echo surged upwards, sending some crows on the roof spiraling down with racous cries of rage.
Silence reigned for a few minutes. Perhaps, I thought, there was no one at home? Then in the distance came the sound of feet -- deliberate, slow. The sound of heavy breathing, then the scrape of bolts being drawn back and the door slowly opened to reveal an old bent man with darting eyes. He wore a threadbare suit with leather patches on the elbows, on his feet slippers.
"Whits this ye hae got, ur ye frae Blacks the bakers?"
"Yes", I replied, "Two loaves for Rosemount." I handed the bread to the old man.
"This breeds cauld wee boy!" he snapped, "The maister laks his breed warm sae the butter runs aff it."
Alarmed at his remark I muttered,
"I had to come a long way with the bread, it was warm when I left."
"Weel it is not warm noo wee boy," hissed the old man, grinding his teeth in annoyance, "Al hae tae complain tae Black, we ur nae guantae pey fur cauld breed, ye ken."
He shook his head in annoyance.
"If thus continues we wull hae tae go tae Hoyne's fur oor breed, sae awa back tae Black an tell hum we want hot breed deelivered."
"Could you not heat the bread in an oven then your master would not know the difference?" I queried, "It is worth a try."
The old man man glared at me.
"Ye wee scamp, ye think am stupid, me maister wid ken fine it wisnae really warm if a heated it in an oven, sae awa wie ye an tell yon Black that his breed wilna dae unless it is delivered warm."
With that he shut the door and I headed back along the road to Fishers Row.
Fishers Row lay on the town side of the loch. It was a mean dark street, where the sun barely reached. In bygone times, as the name suggests, it was the home of fishermen, when the fleet was large.
I knocked at the number given on the slip of paper, the door was opened by an old woman with an ear trumpet.
"Two loaves as ordered from Joe Black's" I said, lifting the bread from the basket, "The bread has been freshly baked this morning."
The old woman snatched the bread from me, her talon-like hands digging into the dough.
"Whits this aboot Joe Black loafin on his back in the morn?"
"No", I said, "The loaves were freshly baked this morning, you misunderstood what I said."
"Na na," chortled the old woman, "A ken fine whit ye said. A yon bakers are loafers, thur is nathin fresh aboot Joe Black."
Wearily I turned to go.
"Whits yer name wee boy?" asked the old woman, "Ur ye a Wulkinson, a ken the look o yer face, ye look like the captain humsel."
"My name is Donald Keith," I replied.
"Am no interested in yer teeth!" snapped the old woman, adjusting her ear trumpet, "Dae ye no ken guid English?"
"Keith not teeth," I said, "my name is Keith."
She peered at me for a second.
"Yer Maisie's wee boy, a kent yer grandfaither, the auld captain, he bided in Argyll Street, aye the captain humsel, a god fearin soul."
Desperate to get awa from the thralls of a boring conversation I said, "I live with my grandfather in Woodland Place, Jock Smith."
The old woman leaned forward with her ear trumpet.
"Na the captain disnae leeve in a wood, he is a seaman."
With that I fled from Fishers Row and headed up Kinloch Road into Lochend Street, then up to Parliament Place where I delivered the last of the bread, then back into Saddel Street and to Joe's shop.
He was leaning over the counter as I entered, combing his hair, which he took a great pride in.
"Ye got roon wie the breed fine Donal," he said, taking a gold hunter from his pocket and glancing at it, "Wur there ony complaints aboot the breed?"
I related the complaint from Rosemount about the cold bread. Joe listened casually, picking his nose at intervals.
"Dina wurry Donal, yon lot at the big hoose are always greetin aboot the breed being cauld, as fur yon sneevlin servant, al gie hum hot breed when he cams in tae pey for his loaves, al gie hum wan sae hot that he wull flee awa hame in a right lather."
I then related the difficulties of the old woman with the ear trumpet.
"Ach yon is auld deef Jessie, dina tak tae hur, jist pit the breed in the grun an wak awa tae yer next hoose."
I was glad when the first Saturday elapsed, and night came. Joe pulled the shutters and damped down the oven, whilst his assistant swept the floor and turned off the gas. Joe went to the till and drew out some coins.
"Here ye are wee Donal, a promised ye five shullins, sae here if four and six"
"But you promised five shillings Mister Black", I protested feebly.
"That I did wee Donal," purred Joe, reaching for his coat, "but the sixpence is fur yer Christmas club. When Christmas comes ye should hae aboot six shullins extra tae come."
"Oh," I said, "Thank you Mister Black, that will be great."
As I left the shop, Joe laughingly said, "Dina gae spending yer four an six in the Gluepot wee Donal."
When I returned home, I told my grandfather about Joe Black deducting sixpence from my wages for a Christmas Club.
"Whit!" roared my grandfather, "The deevil tak hum, fancy cheatin a wee boy o his wages, he hus nae richt , al awa oor oan Monday an gie hum a richt blastin, its like peying tae go tae wurk!"
My grandmother became alarmed at my grandfathers temper.
"Listen Jock ye wull dae nae such thing, al awa oor oan Monday an hae a word wie Joe, we wur freens fur years, when a tak tae hum he wull see reason."
"If he disnae tell hum he wull end up in wan o his pies lak yon Sweeny fella used tae dae tae puir souls in London Toon!" retorted my grandfather, furiously puffing on his pipe.
Monday came, and true to her word, my grandmother visited Joe Black.
That evening as we sat by the fire listening to the latest episode of Dick Barton, she put down her knitting.
"A saw Joe today and he said he made a mistake and has given me a shilling to give to you."
She handed me the coin and continued, "you will have no more bother in that shop and Joe has sent some pies fur yer grandfather."
The following Saturday I reported for duty and Joe smiled at me.
"Sorry about the sixpence deduction from yer wages wee Donal a thocht ye wur full time an forgot ye wur only a Seterday boy, yer granny cam roon tae see me,a kent hur frae awa past, a fine wumman she wus in hur youth."
He winked at his assistant as he spoke.
Well I had no more trouble at Joe Black's and spent a few months in his employ until he told me that as trade was slack he did not require my services any more.
Further up Saddel Street there was an incline called Broom Brae, at the top of the latter on the right hand side ascending, lay the Co-operative Store, Gulliver's Shop and that of Alec Elder -- hirer of bicycles and pedal cars.
I now recall an incident at Gulliver's Shop.
Gulliver was not of Scottish lineage, or so it appeared when he spoke. His shop was full of the usual groceries but also he sold many strange spices, ranging from peppers to musk. He also stocked coffee beans, which were ground to order on a brass plated grinder. On one shelf lay various pickles and amongst them my grandfathers favourite, mango chutney, a mouth watering delicacy retailing at two shillings a jar.
Broom Brae was an ideal incline to race our bogies. The latter constructed from four pram wheels nailed to a flat board; the front two wheels were pivoted and were steered by a rope. Down the hill we used to race and if one bogie reached the junction of Lady Mary Row and Lochend Street then it was considered a winner. There was very little motor traffic in those days, so we could spend hours on the brae.
One day as I was playing with my pals outside Woodland Place my grandmother leaned out of the kitchen window.
"Wee Donal cam up tae a gie ye twa shullins fur tae get a jar o mango chutney fur yer grandfather, ye can get it roon at Gulliver's Shop."
With the two shillings in my hand and sitting on my bogie pulled by my pals we processed up High Street to the top of Broom Brae. Some other boys joined in with their bogies and eventually we reached the crest of the slope.
"Right," I said, "We will coast down to Gulliver's shop, then race to the bottom."
Four bogies, slowly gathering speed, moved down to Gulliver's. However, the laws of momentum cannot be altered and, realising that I had too much speed to pull up at the shop, I tried to steer up on the pavement but only succeeded in flying into Gulliver's and thudding against a barrel of apples. Being at a low level, well down from counter height, Gulliver came through from his back room, cigarette dangling from his lip and a puzzled expression on his face.
"My," he muttered scratching his balding pate, "I thought I heard someone come in?"
Terrified, I reached up with my two shillings clutched in my hand.
"A jar of mango chutney please."
Gulliver peered over the counter, his eyes lighting on the bogie and the dent in the apple barrel.
"No bogies allowed in the shop," he snapped, drawing on the cigarette heavily.
"I knew this would happen, all you boys whirling down the brae at breakneck speeds, anyway what about my Granny Smiths?"
Stupidly, I gaped up at him , not understanding that 'Granny Smith' was a type of apple.
"What is up with Granny Smith, mister Gulliver?"
"Up boy!" he retorted, stubbing the cigarette on the floor, "I will tell you what is up, the Granny Smiths have received a severe blow, someone will have to pay."
"But I do not know Granny Smith mister Gulliver."
"You idiot, what do they teach at Milknowe School? Lessons for idiots, or how not to understand spoken English? Well 'Granny Smith' is a type of apple."
As he spoke I rose from the bogie.
"I am sorry what has happened, but I have only two shillings to pay for the damage."
Gulliver snatched the coin from my hand.
"That will do nicely," he chortled, "Now clear off, and do not let me see you in this shop again."
"But what about the mango chutney for my grandfather?"
"Mango chutney is one and nine pence a jar, have you got one and nine pence?"
I fled from the shop trailing my bogie.
"What am I going to do?" I asked my pals as we trudged back down High Street, fearful of my grandfather's temper.
"Say you lost the twa shullins doon the grattings at the side o Scotia Distillery, av dun it masel," advised one pal, another suggested that I should say some bully had taken it.
I bade my pals farewell, and leaving the bogie at the bottom of the stairs I climbed up to the flat.
"Hae ye got the mango chutney wee Donal?" mused my grandfather as he fondled the dogs ears, then blew smoke into its face, so that the poor animal gasped and spluttered.
"I lost the money in the grating at Scotia Distillery grandfather."
His face darkened, his tobacco stained teeth glinted between his lips.
"Ye wee rascal, whit wur ye daen playin at the gratings, twa shullins doon the drain, al hae ta get ma crow bar an awa up an lever the grating up."
As he spoke he arose from his chair and gave me a clip on the ear.
"Noo al awa doon tae the shed tae git ma crow bar, sae gang awa wie me ye waster, a blame yon comics ye read, whits thur name, aye the Dandy an yon Hotspur."
As we marched down the close we met my grandmother coming up with some washing. She noticed that I was crying.
"Whits wrang wie wee Donal, Jock?"
"Uch the wee deevil loast the twa shullins doon the gratings at Scotia that wir fur the mango chutney, am awa tae git ma tools tae lever the grating up!"
My grandmother looked at me quietly, "Is this the truth wee Donal?"
Hanging my head I muttered, "No grandmother I had an accident with bogie and damaged some apples in Mister Gulliver's shop and he charged me two shillings as compensation."
"Dear me," sighed my grandmother, wiping the tears away with her apron, "Let that be a lesson tae ye. The next time I am up that way I will hae a word wie Gulliver."
My grandfather was speechless as I confessed, then his face contorted in anger.
"Al awa up tae Gulliver the noo wie wee Donal, robbin a wee soul o his money oor some epples."
"They were Granny Smiths," I said.
"A dont care if they were the Queen's!" bellowed my grandfather, "Cam awa wie me the noo, al gie hum epples!"
We duly arrived at Gulliver's followed by my pals, eager to witness the coming confrontation.
In stormed my grandfather firmly grasping me by the hand.
Gulliver was stacking some shelves with jars of jam, "Yes Jock what...?" His face paled as he saw me by my grandfathers side.
"Here Gulliver ye robbed wee Donal o twa shullins a had gein hum tae git a jar o mango chutney, gie us the chutney an we wull cal it quits!"
"But Jock, he damaged my apples with his bogie," protested Gulliver, nervously lighting up a cigarette, "The two shillings was in lieu of damaged goods."
"Nane o yer fancy English tak wie me," snapped my grandfather, "whits a few epples wie dunts in them, whit aboot a yon cats that ur skirlin aboot yer shop a day an the fags ye smoke, al hae tae hae a wurd wie the polis it is against the law where grub is sold."
Gulliver's face turned chalk white, the cigarette dropped to the floor.
"What do you want?" he gasped.
"A jar o mango chutney an the twa shullins back as weel," rasped my grandfather, moving closer to the counter.
Gulliver hesitated then handed over the chutney and the two shillings.
"Do not come back in here again," he croaked.
"Dina wurry Gulliver we wull be back tae buy things an remember a can easily hae a word with the polis or the cooncil man."
We left the shop to the cheers of my pals and some other onlookers.
"Guid wurk Jock," laughed an old man, "yon Gulliver cherges twice as much as the store, it is time he wus oan his travels."
Next to Gulliver's lay Elder's bicycle hire shop. Elder renovated old bikes for sale and hire, plus mechanical horses and foot scooters. He charged sixpence for half an hour or a shilling for an hour.
Many of the bikes were of the roadster variety, with straight handlebars and rod operated brakes. The frames were extremely heavy in many cases and the gearing was of the single sprocket design, which made hard work on the steep hills!
There were vague rules about where you could go when you hired a bike, the cardinal one was to keep within the town limits, the most easterly one being Kilkerran Graveyard and the westerly one The Mill Dam.
One warm summer's day I decided to hire a bike and proceeded to Elder's shop. Within the owner was hunched over a bike, re-spoking a wheel. As I entered he looked up sharply.
"Whit dae ye want wee boy?" he asked, spitting a stream of tobacco juice on the floor.
"Can I hire a bike for an hour."
Elders eyes gleamed. "Whurs yer shullin?" he asked, "av got tae be carefu fur rascals can slip awa wie a bike an no pey me".
I handed over the shilling and he rose and went over to the bike rack, where he selected a giant roadster that, by its age, must have seen service in the Great War.
"Here ye ur wee boy, noo ken that ye cana leeve the toon at a, nae ganging tae Soothend oor awa up tae Clachan, if ye get a puncture dina leeve the bike, but push it back here."
With Elder's voice ringing in my ears I set off down Broom Brae, my feet just managed to reach the pedals. Soon I was along Lochend Street and turned left into Longrow South to the junction with Main Street. Where should I go now, up towards Castlehill or towards the pier?
I decided on the latter, where I wheeled right along Hall Street and came to a halt at the New Quay.
At this point one of my pals appeared riding his new Raleigh with its Sturmy Archer three-speed gears.
"Is that wan o Elders bikes ye hae Donal?"
"Yes," I replied, "But this is the limit I can go."
"Whoo lang hae ye hired it fur?" he asked, straddled on his gleaming machine.
"Weel ye hae ony used ten meenits o yer time sae who aboot comin awa doon tae the Leerside? We wull be back in plenty o time."
I paused for a few minutes, then said, "Okay."
We set off, my pal leading the way, up Quay Street then down Kilkerran Road past the Quarry Green, round the point where the Dhorlin started, then way along the Leerside road.
Initially the going was easy, but as the inclines started and not having the advantage of gears, I tired. When we reached the ridge above Orleans Glen and slumped down on the roadside.
"I will have to turn back mate," I gasped, rubbing my aching legs, "Anyway I have only half an hour left of my time, and Elder said he would mangle me if I was late back!"
"Och let us gang doon intae the glen fur a wee while, then we can cam hame, a few meenits late wulna metter."
As usual I acceded to my pal's request and down into the glen we sped, eventually coming to a halt in the valley bottom.
"Thur is some rare caves doon in the shore line," laughed my pal as we propped the bikes under some trees, "We wull soon reach them doon this path."
He pointed to a narrow path leading down to the shore, which we duly followed, arriving at the shore some ten minutes later.
Nervously I looked at my watch.
"Look," I said, "there is only twenty minutes left of my time on the bike hire."
"Och dont wurry Donal we can leeve yer bike near Elder's shop an scamper awa, he wullna mind at a."
We proceeded down to the caves on the shore line, they were not very deep but an air of sadness seemed to emanate from them, as if some great tragedy had once taken place. The floor of the caves were strewn with flotsam, old boots, rusting cans and the burnt remains of a fire.
"Perheps some pirate wance cam in here tae unload treasure, or some smuggler wie brandy casks. Me fether wance telt me that thur were mony a smuggler doon aboot here in the auld days, they wurked in the nicht fur fear o the Excise."
"What is that noise?" I said, turning my head towards a rocky headland.
Crunching sounds echoed from the pebbled beach, then a stooped figure appeared, dressed in a ragged Army greatcoat. His face was tanned with the sun, his eyes staring in a hostile manner. He opened his mouth.
"Whit ur ye yins dain in ma cave?"
As he spoke he advanced towards us.
"A hae a richt tae al on the shore an a a dina want a interlopers steelin a ma stuff."
"Quick!" exclaimed my pal, "It is Townsley the tinker, ma feither said they eat fowk."
Our eyes fell on some bones in the cave and with a shout we fled up the slope to where the bikes lay.
The journey back to the 'toon' flashed past with great rapidity and eventually we reached Saddel Street. I had over stepped the hire time by two hours!
Nervously I placed the bike against Elder's door, thankful that no one was there. But how wrong I was! The door flew open and Elder burst forth, eyes blazing, watch in hand.
"Ye shood hae been here twa oors ago," he ranted.
"Why what happened Mister Elder?" quipped my pal.
I thought Elder was going to have a fit. As he spluttered a man came up and said, "Elder ye ken yon bike ye hired tae yon wee man half an oor ago?"
"Aye" replied Elder, "a ken fine."
"Well", said the man, the wee fella got roaring drunk in the Gluepot an he went doon the quay an the bike fell intae the Loch."
"Whit!" bellowed Elder, "al awa doon noo, al kill hum, watch ma shop while am awa." With that he raced off and we beat a hasty retreat for home.
Later I learned that he offered a reward for the return of the bike and was inundated with rusting wrecks purporting to be the machine from the bottom of the Loch!
Just up from Elders Shop lay the Coop Store -- an imposing building at the top of Broom Brae.
I remember the great front doors on the place, the strange smells from within, the sawdust on the floor, the long counter with sets of brass scales and on the wall behind shelves of tins and boxes. Above the shelves were faded adverts portraying products such as 'Heinz' beans and 'Quotient' -- the Co-op's own brand of cigarette.
The store was always spotless, with no dogs allowed within and no smoking at the counter. The people who served moved with precision and compared with Dirty Dick's it was like heaven.
I was friendly with the Mason boys who lived in the flat above the Co-op. Access was by means of a stone stair off High Street. The stairs led from a dark well up into a gloomy landing, illuminated in winter with a stuttering gas jet.
From Mason's flat there was a back way down to the bake houses, no longer in use, but a great place to play in, especially the great brick ovens.
One day, as we were playing in the ovens, one of the Mason boys spotted a vent with iron rungs leading upwards.
"I wonder where that leads to?" he said.
"Lets climb up and see," replied his brother, "This whole building is honey combed with passages and openings."
Led by the brothers, up I climbed, the vent was about two foot square and with the aid of the rungs we made good progress. At various points light filtered into the vent through slots. Eventually we reached a point where the vent opened out into a small room with a door at one end. A rusted iron grating was set in the roof and we could hear the sound of voices near.
One of the Mason boys tried the handle of the door. There was a grating sound and the door opened about a foot. Through the dust-filled gap we could see that we were in a store room. There was boxes of biscuits, cases of tins, jars of jam, sacks of sugar and bottles of lemonade. At one end of the store stood another door, slightly open. Footsteps sounded on the other side, someone was coming!
Quickly, we scampered back into the vent and pulled the door closed. Someone clomped into the food store, wheezing and coughing.
"This store needs a guid brush Jeannie, awa an get a mop an some cleaner, we dina want the manager tae fan rats runnin aboot the place. Its yon auld bakehoose that attracts rats, it should be pulled doon."
"Aye Duncan all awa doon an get a mop, while ye are checkin the tins al bring up a cup o tea an a biscuit."
We heard the woman called Jeannie scamper away and Duncan muttering amongst the tins.
"Twa hunner tins o beans, a hunner tins o soup, fower hunner tins o spam, ten sacks o sugar, a sack o lentils", his voice grated on in a lifeless sort of way as if all ambition had long fled his soul. "Three dozen cases o seerup, foor dozen o treacle..."
At that moment one of the Mason boys, his nose assailed by a surfeit of dust, gave an almighty sneeze.
"In the name o God!" exclaimed the startled Duncan at the other side of the door, "Whoot ever size o rat is behun yon door, tae sneeze lak yon it must be a big wan, al awa doon an fetch the heid man."
We heard his feet clomp of into distance, to return a few minutes later with a gaggle of people.
"Ye say Duncan that ye heard a rat sneezin behun yon door, weel as there is nae hanel this side we canna dae onything except pit some boxes aginst the door. A ken that behun the door is a bottomless pit, years ago a wee boy opened yon door an fell in the depths o the auld bake hoose, sae weel lee weel alane, git on wie yer coontin."
Jeannies voice piped up, "Sur dae ye no think we should open the door an see wits doon there?"
"Na," retorted the head man, "as a said weel pile some crates aginst the door, an that ul be that."
Quickly the Mason boys and myself sped back down the vent, into the bake house, and back up the stair to the flat.
When we told our pals they laughed, there was no secret passages in the bake house they said, let alone doors leading into the Co-op Store. Even when we showed them the vent they refused to climb up, more out of fear than doubt.
A few days later my grandfather grabbed me by the arm, "Here wee Donal a hear that the Co-op are havin richt trouble wie rats, a wis takin tae wan o the shop foulk in the Gluepot the other nicht an he telt me o noises behun a door, he said the manager wis sayin it wis rats, but he heard somebuddy sneezin, an rat dina sneeze."
His grip tightened on my arm.
"A ken ye play wie the Masons up in the auld bake hoose an the place is riddled wie passages, a hope ye urna goin intae them?"
He paused for a short while.
"Och dina look feart a used tae play up there when a wis young, sae heres a florin awa tae the Co-op an git me half an oonce o bogie roll."
Thankful to escape a blow I took the coin an raced up High Street to the Co-op. Once inside I went up to the counter to one of the women assistants.
At the point my memory flipped, for the world I could not remember what my grandfather wanted, was it baby rill, baggy reel, or what? Then an inspiration came to me, it must be bacon roll!
"Yes?" said the assistant, "What do you want boy?"
"Half an ounce of bacon roll please."
Her eyes dimmed, her lips curled back.
"This is not a cafe, the Locarno sells such items."
Ashamedly I hurried home to Woodland Place. My grandfather was sitting in the kitchen cleaning his pipe with a cleaner and at intervals poking the implement in his right ear.
"It us wax wee Donal al hae tae awa oor tae McKenzie tae get ma ears syringed, that is if he knows wur ma ears ur!"
He laughed as he spat into the fire, "Onyway whur is ma baccy?"
"They don't sell any at the Co-op, they told me to go to the Lorcano Cafe."
My grandfather's face paled.
"Whit nae baccy, its noo ice cream a want frae the Italians, och gimme the money an al awa up tae the Co-op an gie them a blastin. Onyway who served ye?"
"It was a woman grandfather."
"Och it wull be deef Mary, al awa an git the bogie roll an gie hur a piece o ma mind."
At the words 'bogie roll' I realised my mistake and beat a hasty retreat to Kinloch Park, where I spent a few hours, returning when it was dark.
My grandfather was smoking his pipe when I entered. He looked up sharply when he saw me.
"Well wee Donal yon deef Mary tried tae mak oot that ye asked fur a roll wie bacon, but I soon pit her richt, an a telt her tae clean her ears oot wie wan o ma pipe cleaners!"
One day my mother came back from a visit to a friend who lived in Kirk Street.
"Donal" she said, "Missus Stott said that the Sunday School are going to have a summer picnic at Southend, so on the way back I saw that the Church Hall was open and I put your name down. The picnic is a fortnight on Saturday leaving the hall at ten, you are going by lorry."
A leaden feeling prevaded my bowels, it was like being sentenced to a term of imprisonment. The memory of the 'tar incident' lingered in my mind. The ferocious superintendent who would have been at home in Dantë's Inferno, the teachers many who seemed to use the teaching as a way of releasing sadistic tendencies. Off to Southend to endure Hymn Singing, praise, followed by egg and spoon races, then back home. What an exciting day to look forward to !
"I don't want to go to the picnic!" I wailed, tears running down my cheeks.
"You are going!", snapped my mother, "you have not been to the Sunday School for three weeks and the minister will notice, so no more argument!"
The appointed Saturday came and I was marched to Kirk Street, mug in hand and a satchel with a mac inside. The lorry awaited, a foreboding monster, already half filled with shrieking children. The driver looked like a member of the Afrika Corps, with a denim cap pulled down over his eyes and a Woodbine smouldering in the corner of his mouth. Through thick stubble he eyed me, "Git up oan the back wee boy, pit yer fit in yon step an the others wull pull ye up."
Timidly I obeyed instructions, but had not the strength to pull up to the out stretched hands above, something grabbed me from behind and I was propelled up into the lorry amidst chattering children. The superintendent glared up at me, "You are quite useless Keith, have I to do everything for you, you are completely unfit. As the good book says, the weak shall fall aside for only those in God will reach the gate of hope!"
Eventually the lorry was filled, and off we set towards Southend led by the teachers and the superintendent travelling in a posh Humber, truly all are equal in the eyes of the Lord!
The journey was horrendous. We bounced about, nowhere to sit down, packed against other children. Eventually we reached Southend Bay and were deposited on the rough Machar and told to stand in straight line. The sand, whipped up by the wind, stung our face. (Now I knew how Beau Geste felt!)
The superintendent raised his arms, "The picnic will commence with a short prayer followed by the hymn, 'There Is A Happy Land Far Far Away'. After that we will have our food followed by a walk round the bay then some races!"
An inward groan greeted this announcement as the superintendent bowed his head.
"O lord we bless thee for our rulers, all those above us, our sovereign in London. We thank you for our Empire. As we prepare to enjoy our picnic, let us think of the Hottentots in their huts, let thy word come into them so that they will serve their masters meekly."
As the superintendent droned on, there was shuffling and muttering. I opened one eye. The lorry driver was taking a swig from a hip flask as the prayer ended with a supplication to the Almighty to bless all on the shore.
The hymn commenced. At the end of the first line, ''There is a happy land far, far away', some of the boys began to improvise with, 'Where you get ham and eggs three times a day'. The superintendent, oblivious to the undercurrent of sniggering, sang on. Then, raising his hands in final supplication, shouted, "Now Sunday School, we will have a walk round the shore after we have had our repast."
There was a rush to get into the queue. With mugs in hand we were handed two rolls and a sticky bun, then a squish of tea from a battered urn. The food was soon devoured and we were marched round the beach led by the superintendent.
"Do any of you know what famous man landed in Southend nearly fourteen hundred years ago?" he bellowed above the wind.
One little boy with glasses put up his hand.
"Yes?" snapped the super, his eyes blazing.
"Please sir, it was the giant from the causeway in Ireland, trying to get back the standing stone at Knockscalbert."
The super grabbed the little boy and shook him savagely.
"You idiot! This is what comes of reading comics instead of the Good Book. For that you will hand me a written copy of Genesis next week.
He turned to face the rest of us.
"It was Saint Columbus who landed here, his footsteps are just a mile away." He paused as he spied a boy with his hand to his ear, "What are you doing McPherson?" he snapped.
"Ye said that his footsteps wur only a mile awa, but a canna hear ony footsteps," replied McPherson, as he received a slap from one of the teachers.
"McPherson you will write out the book of Exodus for next week!" roared the super, his face almost purple with rage. "Lord give me strength to impart thy love to such idiots as reside in Kintyre."
The next hour was spent shuffling about the sand dunes looking at rocks on the shore and flowers in the grass. At one point we came under the shadow of Dunaverty Rock, a fearsome tooth of rock towering at the end of the headland, covered on one side with grass, on the other a frightful drop down into the boiling sea. The boom of the waves reached us, like the mad drumming of a giant. On the grass face a path led upwards to the summit.
"No one will go near that rock today," snapped the super, "It is a place tainted with the treachery of the McDonalds, who were punished by the army of the Covenant, and put to the sword."
Well, we moved away from the rock and walked to flat place where the obligatory egg and spoon races were conducted, followed by long and high jumps. Being told at school that I was useless as a sportsman I had to watch most of the races and was thankful when the games came to an end and the super announced that we had an hour to ourselves to visit the village shop or to sunbathe. The lorry would leave at six sharp, any loiterers would be left behind!
Many of the Sunday School went off to the village shop, but my eyes fell on Dunaverty Rock. I must get up there to the summit without being seen.
I slipped away along a gully and after about ten minutes found myself at the foot of the path. The rock seemed to tower above me, the wind almost speaking of the sadness of the place. Up I walked, higher and higher, slithering in places on the incline on polished grass, disturbing roosting seabirds. I looked back down at the beach, the people seemed like dolls drifting to and fro. I came across some half buried stones. Could this be a remnant of the castle, so ably defended by the McDonalds?
Then I was on the summit. I felt like I had climbed Everest. The wind tugged at my clothes. A notice warned of dangerous rocks and to keep away from the edge. From the abyss beyond shrieked sea birds competing with the roar of the sea hammering the rock. I crept right to the edge and, lying down, peered over. A desperate cliff opened before me, splattered with bird droppings. Black ancient rocks stabbed upwards and right at the bottom the sea surged and pounded making the rock tremble. I thought of the great siege of 1647 and of the desperate struggle and massacre, of the people flung over the edge, all in the name of the reformed church!
Time crept on. I edged back from the gaping void and made my way down slowly. When I thought I had reached the shore I sped forward to join up with the rest of the Sunday School. As I moved forward I suddenly plunged down a hole. My knee doubled under me giving a searing jolt of pain. The hole was about six foot deep. I was terrified, how could I get back up?
Wild desperation filled me. I cried for help, but the wind drowned my cries. If I could not get out of here I would end up as bleached bones for someone in later years to come across and ponder over my fate. 'Here lies Donald Keith, the great explorer who vanished on Dunaverty Rock, July 1946.' Then, with superhuman effort I managed to clamber out and limp back to where the Sunday School were assembling to board the lorry.
"Where have you been?" snapped Miss McPhee, a spinster with a grim look and yellow teeth. "One of the boys says he saw you playing near the rock all on your own, I hope you have not been in a dangerous place?"
"No Miss ," I replied, "I fell on the shore and twisted my knee that is why I was late back."
With tender kindness she grabbed my knee, I cried in pain.
"Do not be a baby!" she snapped, "Only a simple sprain, get onto the lorry!"
With great agony I lifted myself onto the lorry and joined the jam for the journey back to Campbeltown.
Before we set off there was the obligatory hymn 'The Day That Though Gave Us Lord Is Ended', followed by a prayer, 'O bless thy humble servants who have partaken of this day and bless our minister now on holiday."
Then away we roared with a crunch of gears, with the driver bellowing out the refrain 'Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag'.
When we reached Kirk Street my knee had swollen to three times its normal size and it took me half an hour to reach Woodland Place, where my grandfather soon applied a poultice of hot bread and gave my a belt on the ear for climbing up Dunaverty Rock. As he said, "Loads o men an wuman hae fallen oor the rock oor the years an their banes lie in the deep, ye could hae been joinin them an oor wee Donal could hae been gapin at the fish. Yon Sunday Skool is a dangerous place fur wee boys sae an gan tae tell yer muther tae keep ye awa frae it an al yon religin!"
I never did enjoy the Sunday School anyway, with its strict rules, and vicious teachers led by a grim superintendent who never seemed to smile, only when he was smacking some poor wretch.
There was a shop in Dalaruan, more like a house, with goods in the front window. It was like most corner shops, but it had one difference: its owner sold 'Fanta Drinks'. Now Fanta Drinks were dispensed in a tall, chrome-plated machine. The drinks came in various flavours, ranging from raspberry to pineapple. All aerated by the injection of carbon dioxide gas. A glass cost threepence and in hot weather tasted delicious.
The owner was an old man with white hair. He stooped, and he walked with a shuffle, one eye seemed to swivel repeatedly as if scanning the whole shop.
One hot day my pals and I approached the 'Fanta Shop', as we called it, and went inside. There was a smell of decay. Dust mingled with moth balls. As we waited the curtains slowly parted and the owner shuffled in.
"Whit dae ye yung snappers want noo?" he slobbered, his mouth opening against a cloud of Woodbine smoke, "Al be closin soon fur ma tea so mak up yer minds."
As he spoke I noticed a faded poster on the wall announcing that 'careless talk costs lives', dated July 1940. The poster tickled my sense of humour and I started to giggle, as did my pals when they saw another poster warning that 'gas masks must be carried at all times'.
"Dinna be lafin at yon posters," growled the old man, "If Adolf had made it tae Dalaruan thur wid be nae Fantas tae drink at a."
Again his remarks drew gales of mirth and he visibly reddened with anger.
"Na mare o this," he scowled, "is it Fantas ye want?"
"Twa raspberry Fantas an an orange wan," said one of my pals as the old man swung into action. He dashed some liquid into the glasses and placing one under the snout of the machine, then pulled the lever. There was a hissing and groaning followed by a gurgling sound; great bubbles of gas swirled down the liquid as it heaved and frothed. The process was repeated until all the glasses were filled and the old man shoved them towards us.
"That will be nine pence," he grunted, lighting up another Woodbine. My pal handed him a two shilling piece.
"Hae ye naw git ony thin weer than this? A hana ony change in ma drawers."
"Naw," replied my pal.
"Weel a hae tae cherge ye twa bob fur the Fantas."
He spoke in a belligerent way, his eye swivelling wildly round the room like a poor man's Long John Silver. Saliva dripped from the corner of his mouth.
"If ye hana the richt muney ye hae nae choice."
"But this is robbery!" we cried.
"Give us our one shilling and threepence," I blurted out, angered at the trick the shopkeeper was pulling. How many unsuspecting boys fell under this trap, I wondered?
By sheer luck Gulla entered the shop with his usual swagger.
"Whits up lads?" he said, looking at the drinks on the counter.
"We ordered three Fantas and he will not give us change from a two shilling piece," I said, as Gulla advanced towards the shopkeeper, who eyed him suspicously, like a cat would a mouse.
"Is thus richt Rab?" snapped Gulla, putting on an hostile face, "Ye could be reported tae the polis fur cheatin wee boys o thur muney an ye ken ye could end up in the jail."
The old man drew on his Woodbine savagely, pushing a cloud of smoke into Gulla's face.
"Whit ur ye gan tae dae aboot it ye sapling, am no feart o ye, clear aff or al gie ye an annie roonie."
Not knowing that 'annie roonie' meant a wallop I piped up in my usual way, "iI that a drink Rab?"
My pals burst out laughing and the old man mouthed some obscenity too fearful to repeat.
Gulla banged his fist on the counter, sending a cloud of dust surging upwards.
"If ye dont gie ma pals thur money am awa tae tell the polis!"
The old man gasped on a lung full of smoke and, as he looked up, the shape of a constable on his beat darkened the glass of the door. Grabbing a handful of peppermint cream bars he flung them on the counter.
"Here tak these an never cam in ma shop agin."
We took the bars and gulped down the Fantas and left the shop laughing, praising Gulla for his courage in facing up to the shopkeeper.
"Ach it wis nothing lads, auld Rab is a fly man but as he is a relation o ma faithers, he kent a wid tell on hum an he wid be in trouble."
Copyright © 1998 Donald Keith.