The Family Shop – Onwards and Upwards

shop 1907 - Copy

And I mean that quite literally! At some point after Peter T took over from his father Archie, he was able to buy the property, and to continue with the improvements that we noted in my last post. As you can see from the postcard below, a whole new floor was added to the house and a porch between the windows of the shop, so that it assumed the final configuration we would recognise today.

Shop 4 001

I feel sure that it would have been Archie’s plan to continue to develop the business and the dwelling in this way, in fact perhaps it might originally have been his father Peter’s dream – he was a carpenter and contractor by trade after all – so Archie could have grown up with this vision implanted in his brain, all ready to put into action when the time was right. It’s just unfortunate that he passed away in 1908 before he could see the completion of the master plan.

Archie’s son Peter Thomas (I’m calling him Peter T to distinguish him from all the other Peters) would only have been 21 when he took over, along with his sister Mary Theresa, 10 years older. Mary Theresa never married and lived on at the shop for most of her days until her death in 1961. We can get a glimpse of what the shop was like in those early days of the 20th century in this extract from a piece entitled “Down Memory Lane” written by Peter’s grandson David for local Braes Magazine. (Further extracts are mostly from the same article)

In those days businesses such as ours sold all household supplies, clothing and agricultural commodities such as hay, corn, seeds and, believe it or not, shrouds. The latter were always sold after hours, in the dark, from the back of the shop. There was also a paraffin store with all fuels and barrels of salt herring and a garage for the travelling shop.

Peter T married Margaret Mary MacDonald (Daisy) in 1916. They had six of a family, the youngest of whom, Margaret, is a widow, still living in South Africa. She’s the tot in this photograph, taken round the side of the house in, I reckon, about 1933 or 34.

Pop and young family
From left to right: Archie, Peter T (known as Pop), Catherine (Cath), Mary Frances (Marac), Rosalie (Posie), little Margaret, Margaret Mary (Daisy) and Donald. Of the girls, Marac, Posie and Margaret married and had their own families. Sadly, Cath was killed, age 33, in a motor bike accident in 1953, and her mother Daisy died just a couple of years later. It would be the boys who would eventually carry on the business.

These are the cousins who were contemporaries of my Dad, of whom he had such fond memories. He wrote to his mother after Christmas 1931:  … in the afternoon we went to Speanbridge and we had a very happy time indeed, Archie and I were bursting the balloons, but it was only in fun.

Here’s another snippet from “Down Memory Lane”

Grandfather sent all the children to boarding school – the boys to St Aloysius in Glasgow and then Fort Augustus and the girls to Notre Dame in Dumbarton. Trade during the war years was difficult and as all the children had been educated privately, he was not well off.

The two boys served in the armed forces during World War II, Archie joining the RAF in 1940, and Donald the Scots Guards, though being younger this was later. When Donald came back after the war he joined his father Peter T and brother Archie in the family business. His job was the travelling shop which operated six days a week with a different route each day. The shop went as far as Letterfinlay, Kilmonivaig, Bohuntin, Fersit and Tulloch. As boys we all shared some of these trips during holidays getting to know the people and places. 

AJDPShop
Archie (L) and Donald in the shop doorway, I think in the early 1960’s
PopShop
And a picture of ‘Pop’ on what looks like the same day. Pop would have retired years before. He passed away in 1970, having been a widower for many years after Daisy died in 1955.

Donald retired from the shop in 1974 and then ran a successful bed and breakfast business in Spean Bridge for many years along with his wife Lies. He died only last year, leaving behind Lies, five children, 14 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. Donald will be fondly remembered for his good nature, wit and his service to the Lochaber community over many years. He was my hero as a youngster.

As you can see from the above pictures, it was Archie’s name which eventually appeared above the shop door. Here’s more from his son David about how it all started:

My father, Archie, joined the RAF in 1940 and was immediately sent to flight training school in the prairies at Medicine Hat in Canada; when he got his wings, he was going to return to UK for posting to a night fighter squadron but instead, was retained there as an instructor. He met my mother, Elsa, and married in Prince Edward Island in January 1945 and was demobbed in 1945. Before demob, my father remained at one of the RAF bases in the south and my mother travelled by train to Spean to meet her in-laws. Imagine the impression that post-war Britain made on a young Canadian girl who had experienced none of the shortages and dangers of the war; my grandfather lived in the Shop House with my grandmother and Mary Theresa, an unmarried aunt with whom my mother had to share a bedroom before her husband returned. She couldn’t believe that chamber pots were still in use!

The chamber pots didn’t seem to have put Elsa off and she and Archie went on to have  three sons and a daughter – here they are in a photo from the mid 1950’s. These children, now in their sixties and seventies, are my own contemporaries, though I didn’t know anything about them until recently. The little chap looking dapper in his bow tie is Cousin Robert, who I am indebted to for most of the Spean Bridge material that has appeared in recent posts. As well as the primitive plumbing, Robert can remember a time before the electricity supply was connected and the house was lit by Tilley (paraffin) lamps.

 

archie, elsa and children
Elsa, Linda (Canada), Donald (Inverness), Robert (South Africa), David (Spean Bridge), Archie.

It was David, the oldest son who would eventually take over from Archie, but not before spending 10 action packed years in the Royal Navy, a period he describes as one of the most enjoyable in his life. After his discharge in Feb 1971, he writes that he left Portsmouth with all my possessions in two suitcases. It wasn’t long before he and Archie had built the “new shop”, opened in 1975 – perhaps not so new now! These days, David is retired and lives with his wife Liz in the house that Archie built for his retirement, while David’s son Iain presides over the family business and lives in the original house, the sixth generation to do so.

AJ&DJShop
David and Archie and the new shop, 1970’s.

As I bring this account to a close, I wonder whether, if I were ever up in Spean Bridge, would I have the temerity to knock on the door and introduce myself to Iain, my third cousin once removed? I rather think I would! Who could resist? I’d love to go in and try and work out where it was that my father played the piano and burst Christmas balloons with his cousin Archie – perhaps it might have been in the same room where his own grandfather was born nearly a century before. And perhaps I might catch a glimpse of the ghost of the original Peter, nodding in satisfaction to see how the business he started in the middle of the 19th century has grown and prospered right through the 20th and well into the 21st.

aerial old shop

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Nightmare!

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Aaargh! My laptop’s playing up today and I just accidentally posted what was still a work in progress – it shouldn’t be that easy!!!

Please would you delete it if you just received a New Post notification? I’ll be posting the finished article later today once it’s all tidied up.  For now I need to go and take some time out to recover from the trauma…

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A Family Business

Let me introduce you to my great great grandparents, Peter MacFarlane and his wife Mary, nee MacDonald. Peter’s father was one John MacFarlane of Kingussie, reputed to have been in his 80’s when his son was born in 1808. His mother Grace was the granddaughter of the Chief of the Keppochs who died leading his clan at the battle of Culloden in 1746. There’s a family tradition, which I really hope is true, that John MacFarlane, my great great great grandfather, may have been one of two MacFarlane brothers who fought at Culloden in 1746, on the Prince’s side.  As John was probably born in 1724, he would have been in his early twenties at the time of the Jacobite rising of 1745 and at that age was unable to resist the adventure and appeal of Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

Anecdote: – “Two MacFarlane brothers fought at Culloden. (One was short and stocky and very clever and known as the ‘scholar’. The other was tall and very strong but not very bright.) They escaped the massacre by fleeing – the tall one carrying the smaller and the latter doing all the directing.” (from manuscript by Robert MacFarlane, with kind permission.)

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Whether he was the ‘scholar’ or the dim brother, it’s not outwith the bounds of possibility that John MacFarlane might have actually met Bonnie Prince Charlie. We just don’t know, but neither do we know that he didn’t! Robert is working on finding the proof, believe me!

Peter’s father had died when he was just a boy so he was brought up by his uncle, his mother’s brother, in Killiechonate and eventually became a carpenter and contractor. It was there that he met and eventually married Mary MacDonald in 1836. It would appear that he took over the Shop at Spean Bridge in the 1840’s; by the time of the 1851 census he was described as joiner, postmaster and merchant.

Peter and Mary had five sons and one daughter, plus another little girl who died as a toddler as a result of a bonfire accident. It was the second son, Archie, who took over the shop from his father. It seems that John, the oldest, gave up his claim as his brother Archie was lame after being kicked by a horse in his youth. John went off to London and became a successful businessman, making his money in stocks and shares; he married but had no children. The third son, George, trained as a carpenter and emigrated to America, whilst the fourth, Angus, took Holy Orders and eventually became Bishop of Dunkeld. George settled in Cleveland Ohio, where he married and had two children. I don’t have a picture of George (1841-1914), but here are John (1836-1913) and Bishop Angus (1843-1912).

Next in line comes Jane Eliza, who was born in 1847, a couple of years after the sister, also named Jane, who had died in the tragic accident. Jane Eliza married Angus MacIntosh who was a gamekeeper, then land manager of the Loch Shiel Estate. They lived at Arisaig and had eight children. Here are pictures of a young Jane Eliza, and one a few years later.

Jane and family
Here we have Jane and Angus and four of their eight children – Donald, Anne, servant lady also named Ann, Georgina, Peter. Both Anne and Georgina married and had families of their own, but no-one knows what happened to the young men, they seem to have emigrated to Canada and disappeared without trace. Their other children, not pictured here, were John, Mary, Clementina (Clemy) and Grace.

Angus died in 1909 age 79. Jane Eliza survived him for a further 31 years and died in 1940 at Cranachan, where she’d gone to live with her daughter Georgina. She was 93.

Peter and Mary’s seventh child was born in on the 20th June 1849. Here’s an account of his birth (told by Theresa Otto, she who went to South Africa):

My grandfather was born in the house at Spean Bridge. The present sitting room was then 2 rooms and he was born in the middle room.  His father had been away for a period attending a sale. He returned with one or two friends in the evening and his wife served them with a meal. There was a squeak from the corner.  “What’s that?” asked Peter Snr. “That’s your latest son” replied his wife!!!  And that’s how my great grandfather heard of the birth.

Peter 1922

So this – finally! – brings us to my own family’s connection to the Spean Bridge MacFarlanes . The baby who had popped into the world with so little inconvenience to his busy mother, and even less to his father, was my great grandfather, Peter (Jnr). I’ve mentioned him a few times in previous posts, but mostly in his later years when he was already well established in Fort William. However although we are certainly going to trace his story in future posts, for now let’s just note his arrival into this crowded household and turn the focus back on the family business and the brother who eventually took over the shop from their father – Archie, the second son.

archie and catherine

Archie married Catherine Redmond, who I think came from Dublin, in 1875. It is interesting to me that they were wed in Kinning Park in Glasgow, which makes me think that Catherine was perhaps living there at the time. I wonder how they met – perhaps she was working for a supplier and it was love at first sight – wouldn’t you just like to think so? They certainly make a rather handsome couple.

Shop 1 001
The original shop, mid 1870’s. The indistinct figure in front of the building is probably Archie with his oldest child, Catherine.
Shop 2 001
A somewhat clearer picture taken a few years later. Archie is standing in front of the shop – you can see the goods in the window. In front of the house we can see Archie’s wife Catherine (in the hat) and maybe some of his daughters, or children and servant(s). Note that development of the building had begun, with improved chimney pots and a new dormer window above the front porch. Peter Snr was probably out of the picture by now – he died in 1887, five years after his wife Mary.
Shop 3 001
By about 1900, further improvements had been carried out in the shape of some new windows. Here’s Archie standing in front of his newly extended shop.

Archie and Catherine had five daughters and two sons, although the youngest one, John Archibald, born 1889, died of scarlet fever when he was only two or three. Here’s a nice picture of all the family together, taken about 1905, probably capturing a fleeting moment before the grown up daughters would start leaving home. Four of the five got married and started families of their own, as did son Peter Thomas, the youngest surviving child. Mary Theresa never married and ran the shop along with Peter T, who took over the reins once his father died in 1908.

Archie & family 2 - Copy
Standing – Jane Eliza (Jeannie), Peter Thomas, Jessie Margaret (Daisy), Georgina Bride. Seated – Mary Theresa, Archie, Catherine with her first child (Catherine) on her knee and Grandma Catherine by her side.

Drawing together the threads of this narrative has been a slightly disorientating experience for me. It has caused an almost seismic shift in my focus as I’ve gone from regarding Fort William as being THE home of the MacFarlanes to really understanding how the roots of this branch of the family actually lie here in Spean Bridge. And in fact that understanding can make one feel like a bit of an outsider, not really part of the real family, which is probably a slightly ridiculous reaction and one which should be resisted!

I do wonder though if this isn’t part of that legacy of loss I inherited from my father, who if you remember, was always hankering after the past. As I’ve been setting down, step by step, the story of the shop and piecing together the parts played by the various Archies and Peters and Janes and Johns, I’ve started to get much more of a feel for the whole fabric of relationships, and a sense of the family saga which would have been passed down from generation to generation. A saga that seems strangely familiar even though I feel I come to it almost as a visitor from far away.

But not quite a stranger. As I became immersed in the elements of the tale, I was aware of tendrils of memory swirling around, pieces of the jigsaw that suddenly make sense when you see them in conjunction with everything else. I now understand, for example, that the Aunt Clemy that my Dad used to talk about must have been Jane Eliza’s daughter, born in Arisaig, married and living in Corpach. That the ‘Morag Arisaig’ we visited one year was the daughter of Jane’s oldest son John, and that her two brothers, John and Angus, perished in WW2. Robert tells me that Morag only died recently, but I’m NOT going to engage in any regrets that I didn’t have contact with her over the years! (Sigh)

I’ve no doubt that other cousins will take one look at these old photos and will know immediately, or can work out, where they fit in. Robert will see his grandfather Peter T as a young man. Cousin Catriona will see her grandmother Georgina. Others will recognise family names that they share. I expect it will be the same with your family.

We’ll explore the further history of the shop in the next post. Meantime, I’ll leave you with this final family group, Jane Eliza with five of her children. Note that the Georgina in this picture is a different person from the one above. I kind of wonder if this might have been taken during WW1, on account of what looks to me like a VAD uniform. Perhaps Mary had joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment, a unit of civilian volunteers who helped nurse injured soldiers.

Clementina family group
Back – Grace, John, Georgina. Front – Clementina, Jane, Mary

Spean Bridge, a very Highland Village

I’ve made quite a few passing references to Spean Bridge in this blog, largely because it was home to cousins of my father John, and George, his father before him – at various times in their lives both John and George were close to their Spean Bridge cousins. Indeed it is to Spean Bridge that we must turn in order to delve further into my family’s roots, so let’s set the scene.

lochaber map

Both Fort William and Spean Bridge are located in the area known as Lochaber, originally an ancient province of Scotland, and seeped in its myths and legends. There’s a possibly mythical association with St Columba who is supposed to have blessed a poor man’s five cows, which caused them to multiply into a herd 100 strong. Another legend tells of a glaistig, an evil goat-woman, who once lived in the area, not to mention Shakespeare’s Banquo, described by the Bard as Thane (Chief) of Lochaber

The rugged mountains, lochs and valleys of Lochaber formed the backdrop to many of the most dramatic episodes in Scottish history. Perhaps one of the most famous being the Jacobite rising of 1745 when the small hamlet of Glenfinnan saw Bonny Prince Charlie, the ‘Young Pretender’ raise his standard by the shores of Loch Shiel and claim the Scottish and English thrones in the name of his father James Stuart.

It is interesting to note that the first engagement between Government troops and clansmen loyal to Prince Charlie took place at Spean Bridge when a small number of MacDonalds routed a company of government troops on their way from Fort Augustus to Fort William. Dubbed the Highbridge Skirmish, it marked the commencement of hostilities between the two sides. However, despite initial success, the rebellion was doomed to failure and ended ignominiously on the field of Culloden some eight months later.

I’m not going to go any further into the troubled history of conflict between Scotland and England here – just google ‘Jacobite rebellion’ or ‘Highland Clearances’ if you want to know more. You only have to look at the map and see names like Fort William, Fort Augustus and, further north, Fort George to realise that these forts, called after English kings and princes, were built there for the purpose of the subjugation of the troublesome natives. As were many of the spectacular feats of engineering – roads, canals, railway lines, intended initially for military purposes (e.g General Wade’s military roads), but also as an attempt to address the problems of depopulation and open up the Highlands to development.

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The Glenfinnan Monument by the shores of Loch Shiel, commemorating the raising of the Jacobite standard in 1745.
glenfinnan viaduct
The Glenfinnan Viaduct, built 1897-89 by Robert McAlpine, ‘Concrete Bob’. The ‘Jacobite Steam Train’ has featured in several films over the years, including the Harry Potter franchise where it takes the guise of the ‘Hogwarts Express’.
great glen
The magnificent scenery of the Great Glen, a geological fault line between Fort William and Inverness. The Glen divides the Highlands in two and provides a natural travelling route from east to west, utilised by road, rail, and the famous Caledonian Canal, constructed in the early nineteenth century by the Scottish engineer Thomas Telford.
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Commando Memorial outside Spean Bridge, remembering the Commandos who trained in the area during WW2. Based at Achnagarry, 7 miles away, the training of this elite force was intensive and often involved live ammunition. Today, many families of those who have perished in more recent conflicts come to scatter their ashes in the remembrance area.
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Achnagarry Castle 1943, with French Commando forces being put through their paces. Prospective Commandos would alight at Spean Bridge Station after a 14-hour journey, then speed march the 7 miles (11 km) to the training centre in full kit with weapon (total 36 pounds/16 kg). Anyone not arriving within 60 minutes was immediately returned to their unit.
Arisaig-Morar
The view from Arisaig on the west coast, near to the spot from which Bonny Prince Charlie escaped over the sea after his defeat at Culloden in 1746.

Of the thousands of visitors who are drawn to the Highlands every year, many come in search of their roots. They are the children of the diaspora, since the Scots, like the Irish, are a people who have dispersed to the four corners of the world, sometimes to escape poverty and famine, but often in a spirit of adventure and enterprise to seek their fortune in distant lands. The Spean Bridge MacFarlanes are no exception – like many Scottish families, they have fetched up in far flung places throughout the globe, including England, South Africa, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Norway, Australia.  However, for the moment I am more interested in those members of the clan who stayed at home. So we’re going to zoom in on the village once again in order to discover more about their story. This is a screen shot from Google.

spar 2016

Anyone heading for the Commando Memorial just a mile or so outside the village will no doubt pass this Spar shop on the way. Perhaps they will even stop to stock up on provisions. It is this very shop, and the adjoining buildings, which have been associated with the MacFarlane family for some 170 years, providing six generations with a home and a living. Though the current encumbents don’t run the shop any more, but lease it out to Spar, they still live in the house. The self same house that my Dad visited in the 1930’s when he would let himself in and play the piano in the parlour. (See blog entry ‘Tribe of Cousins’, 27 May).

In my next post I’ll share with you some fascinating old photographs which track the shop’s development over the years, as well as the changing face of the various proprietors. They were sent me by my cousin Robert (settled in South Africa) and constitute for him memories of his childhood home, which he is drawn back to Scotland to visit every so often. I am looking forward to meeting him one of these years!

To whet your appetite, here’s a view from around 1875, the earliest picture we have. As you can see, the building has undergone almost a complete transformation since then, but look carefully – could that be the very same porch as the one in the modern screenshot? They didn’t sit still these ancestors of mine – as the Highlands developed, so did they…

Shop 1 001

Come to Your Senses

timeoutI thought I’d share a little mediation exercise with you. You might find it helps you focus when you have too many thoughts swirling around your brain. I suggest you read this through first and then try it out for yourself when you have the odd five or ten minutes to spare to take some time out for yourself.

First, switch off the radio or any other distractions and just sit quietly with your eyes closed, breathing slowly. Turn your attention to the weight of you as you sit on your chair; feel the seat beneath you, your feet pressing against the floor; your legs, back, arms, your chest moving up and down with each breath. Acknowledge any small aches and pains – sometimes I will gently roll my head if my neck is a little stiff – and then pass on…

Next, breath in deeply and notice any smells in the air and, closely related, tastes in your mouth. Perhaps you can both taste and smell toothpaste if you’ve just cleaned your teeth. Or the lingering flavour of a delicious meal. Or a faint scent of cut grass coming in through the open window. Allow your mind to briefly identify the tastes and aromas, and then pass on…

Keeping your eyes shut, open your ears to the sounds that surround you. Is there a clock ticking, or other sounds made by your house? Can you hear peoples’ voices in other rooms or perhaps passing by your window? If you can hear traffic is it individual vehicles or the distant roar of a motorway?  I often find I’m holding my breath as I concentrate on allowing the tiniest noises to come to me. Note each sound as you recognise it, then let it go and pass on…

Finally, open your eyes and try to observe what’s in front of you as if you were seeing it for the first time. What colours and shapes do you notice? Cast your gaze around the room – does something catch your eye that you’ve never really looked at properly before? Today, I found my attention drawn to the vase of sunflowers sitting on my table. I noticed that their bright sunny colour made everything else in the room look quite dull.

Take a deep breath and for a short time just enjoy that feeling of being entirely in the moment. If you’re like me, none of the tasks or issues you might be tussling with will have gone away, but somehow you’ll find yourself looking at them with a fresh perspective. It’s as if focusing on the five physical senses frees up the subconscious mind to get to work like a magical sixth sense that shows you the solutions you knew were there all along, but were too busy to see.

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The Wheels on the Bus

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I’m having a bitty week. It’s often like that when I come to the end of a sequence of posts which involve a lot of research-gathering and thinking. Not to mention trawling through and transcribing old letters, which is rather time-consuming as you can imagine.

So, as I was sitting on the bus yesterday, letting my mind wander and mulling over what to write next, it came to me that one of my favourite pastimes on bus journeys is to try and predict which seats new passengers will choose when they get on board. In fact I’m sure there’s a learned psychological treatise that could be written on this very subject. Let me just check with Professor Google…

Yup, as I thought, I’ve found an article in the Daily Telegraph, 19 June. You can apparently divine people’s personality by where they sit on a double decker bus, and in fact it might be a better indicator than those psychometric tests that companies spend large amounts of money on to ensure they recruit the right people. It seems they would get superior results just jumping on to public transport, according to a study done by one Dr Tom Fawcett of Salford University. This comes as no surprise to me as I have spent years, even decades, observing these very phenomena. If only I’d thought to write it all up, someone might have given me a PhD for it!

red bus

Anyway, according to Dr Tom, bus passengers fall into seven distinct groups. Those at the front on the top deck are generally forward thinkers and those at the back are rebellious types who do not like their personal space being invaded. Sitting in the middle are independent thinkers – usually younger to middle-aged passengers more likely to read a newspaper or listen to a personal music player. On the bottom deck at the front tend to be gregarious meeters-and-greeters while those in the middle are “strong communicators”. Travellers who automatically head for the rear downstairs are said to be risk-takers who like to sit on elevated seats because it makes them feel important. The final group are chameleons – travellers who do not care where they sit because they feel they can fit in anywhere.

I wouldn’t disagree with any of that, especially the bit about those who want to sit up high and lord it over everyone else. My own ‘study’ is rather less scientific, focusing as it does on my ‘where are they going to sit’ guessing game. Which, though I say so myself and don’t have the stats to back it up, is usually fairly accurate. (You’re just going to have to take my word for it). Also, you have to note that my research these days is based on observations made on the single-decker country bus which runs between my small town and the nearby county town, so perhaps not subject to the parameters imposed by City travel on double decker buses.

Not that I haven’t done my fair share of that in my time, having lived in both Glasgow and London AND negotiated both of those fine cities’ public transport systems with young children in tow. I notice that Dr Tom’s study doesn’t seem to include young children and the parents thereof, which might possibly change the dynamic somewhat. Let me assure you that given the choice, young children will always want to climb the stairs and sit at the front of the bus, no matter how much baggage, including pushchair, their parent might have to haul up said stairs. I don’t know if this means that children are forward thinkers, or if they just enjoy being able to see all round from up high, instead of always having to try and see over the heads of taller humans.

I’m talking, by the way, about the days before bus companies felt any need to provide a space where you could just push your sleeping toddler complete with pushchair on board and park them in the designated space for the duration of the journey. In the 1970’s and 80’s we were expected to fold up the pushchair and put it in the luggage rack – always too small – whilst trying to find seats for several small bodies, possibly a bit tired and sticky from a day out in the park, and one of them more than a bit cross from having been wakened from a lovely snooze in their buggy. You’d be surprised how many of those gregarious ‘meeters-and-greeters’ or ‘strong communicators’ on the lower deck fail to make eye contact in these circumstances, and, well, you couldn’t really expect anything of the risk-takers at the back could you? And if you’d had to go and find seats upstairs, well good luck to anyone trying to read their paper, or not have their personal space invaded. I think that one must conclude that children are the archetypal chameleons, neither knowing nor caring whether they fit in or not.

seats on bus

Lets get back to the country bus and my guessing game – carried out from my own preferred vantage point in the second row on the driver’s side, where I like to sit in the aisle seat with my bag in the space beside me, and my deaf ear facing the window. Let the observations begin. First of all, individual people will generally go and sit in any available empty seats so that they have a space to themselves – unless of course they spot a friend in which case they will go and sit beside them. This happens quite a lot on this congenial local bus with its regular patrons. Myself, I tend not to know many of the people getting on – I’ve only been living in the district for about 6 or 7 years, not the several generations necessary to be considered a local in a small Ayrshire town! Usually older folk stay nearer the front, younger ones like to go up the back where no-one can see what they’re up to, especially schoolchildren, who must also be rather deaf because they seem to feel the need to conduct their conversations at the top of their voices.

As the journey progresses and the bus starts to fill up, my theory is that new passengers tend to subliminally seek out someone to sit beside that is most like them – i.e. women beside women, men beside men, older vs younger, flashily vs more soberly dressed, etc. Oldies like me will have already started to double up on the front seats rather than have to battle their way up to the back of a shoogly bus negotiating the twists and turns of a country road. At some point I will have quietly moved over to the window position – it’s a point of honour with me not to have to be asked to move – I feel it is bad bus etiquette not to anticipate the needs of my fellow passengers.

Another point of etiquette is that everyone is generally very good about leaving the front seats free for the aged and infirm or for young mums (and it is usually mums) with babies in buggies. I always feel that the bus company should put up friendlier notices regarding buggies – they make a great fuss about how we should leave room for any wheelchairs (quite rare), but the ones about buggies (much more common) are more along the lines of grudgingly agreeing to them being carried at the driver’s discretion. I think they would do well to remember that these young parents are actually fare-paying passengers, unlike the rest of us oldies who gaily skip on and off the bus waving our free bus pass at the driver. Although ‘skip’, I have to admit is somewhat of an optimistic term in this case.

Were you wondering why I am deaf in my right ear? Well even if you weren’t, I’m going to tell you – I fell off a bus when I was 9 and burst my eardrum! And it wasn’t just any old bus, it was my Dad’s bus. He used to very occasionally take one of us for a trip to the terminus along whatever route he happened to be on at the time. It was exciting to just sit on the bus observing the other passengers coming and going (obviously the start of my data gathering activities) and watching the city go by until we eventually arrived at one of the mysterious destinations Dad used to refer to when he got home, such as Balornock, Shettleston, Penilee. I don’t know that the actual terminus could ever live up to my imagination, but just the sound of their names seemed exotic and mysterious to me and I was filled with curiosity, as I would always be when visiting somewhere new, about what it would be like to live in this different place and whether it would be better than my home in Govan.

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These trips weren’t as unsupervised as it sounds. These were the old style buses with a driver and a conductor, who were normally a regular pair. Dad’s conductor was one John Mackie and they remained friendly for years afterwards even after they no longer worked together. In fact it was John Mackie who eventually bought our flat in Govan and paid the instalments direct to my Dad once a month until the outstanding amount was all paid up. So, it would have been this very John Mackie who was the conductor who issued me with a ticket and kept an eye on me as I sat up front behind my Dad, ensconced as he was in the driver’s cab. I had strict instructions not to lose the ticket and to show it to any inspector if asked. I don’t know if these little jaunts would have been exactly against regulations, but I was taking no chances and duly kept tight hold of my ticket throughout the journey.

Further instructions involved getting off the bus. There was a bus stop just round the corner from where we lived off the Govan Road and, under John Mackie’s supervision, I was supposed to alight there and go straight home where my Mum would be waiting at the appointed time. But on the occasion in question, something went wrong and the bus started to pull away from the stop with me still on board. I totally panicked and jumped off the moving bus.

I have absolutely no memory of subsequent events because the next thing I knew I was recovering consciousness in hospital. I rather think I allowed it to be thought that I’d either fallen or been pushed off the bus platform, rather than admit the truth, which was that I was trying to emulate people I’d seen grabbing the pole and nimbly jumping on or off the moving vehicle (or was that Danny Kaye in the film Merry Andrew...?) I obviously didn’t appreciate the physics involved and I have an impression that rather than going with the direction of travel, I just jumped off the back in the opposite direction and ended up unconscious on the road.  I can only imagine the terrible fright I gave my poor Dad and Mum and Mr Mackie. Fortunately I was given a clean bill of health and sent home. It wasn’t until months, or possibly years later that it was realised that I had no hearing in my right ear and that the fall had burst my eardrum.

Didn’t put me off buses though, and I think I was even allowed to make further journeys in my Dad’s double decker! Today, bus travel seems to me like almost the perfect way to get about. Basically it’s a free half an hour or so to stare out of the window, ponder one’s fellow passengers or get on with one’s book. Someone else doing the driving and navigating and finding a place to park – what’s not to love? The icing on the cake is the odd occasion when one is accompanied by a small grandchild to whom the whole thing is a great adventure. The modern child is more used to being ferried around in the family car, so the humble bus, or indeed train, is a great novelty to be enjoyed in wide eyed wonder, much to the entertainment of their fellow passengers, no matter where they are sitting.

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Reconciliation

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Fort William, 1957

I have characterised my father, John, as someone who found it almost impossible to escape his past. Of course nothing is ever that simple and that’s not the most important thing about him. First and foremost for me being that he was my Dad. Whatever effect the loss of his mother and the subsequent years had on him, one thing it did not deprive him of was a great capacity to love.

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In Nellie, my Mum, John had found a soul mate who would give him the encouragement he sometimes needed to overcome the challenges of life. Nellie was in many ways an altogether tougher, more resilient character. I don’t think I realised as a child how much he depended on her. I just knew he loved me.

John must have been on shore leave when he took his family to Fort William in 1957. I don’t think he’d seen his father since his wedding four years earlier, although George had called in unexpectedly to our home in Govan one time when he was in Glasgow on business and John away at sea. He seemed rather shocked by the humble-ness of our abode, and Nellie felt shamed because she’d been caught unawares with no chance to tidy away the large number of drying nappies taking up every available space.

002 (8)George seems somewhat more relaxed in this picture of him with his two grand-daughters. I’d have been three and Ann just a year old at the time. George could look very dour in photographs so I’m guessing this almost-smile is as good as it’s going to get! He does appear rather pensive though, I wonder now what was on his mind as he posed for the camera, probably with John on the other side of the lense.

Whatever did or didn’t happen between them on that trip, all I know is that we never again visited Fort William as a family while George was alive, and I look in vain for a picture of John with his father later than the 1937 one of young George’s christening that I shared with you in my last post.

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What I do have, thanks to cousin Liz in South Africa (see ‘Tribe of Cousins’, 27 May), is a collection of letters from three of George’s sisters – Winnie, Ettie and Muriel – as they kept in touch with Winnie’s daughter Theresa, who’d gone to live in South Africa in 1948. Let’s turn the focus on Winnie, Liz’s grandmother and George’s third sister. We catch sight of her here in the garden at 50 High Street, together with her sister-in-law Beatrice and father Peter. The two shy little girls are her eldest daughters Lulie and Josephine, and Beatrice is holding baby John, so I reckon the date must be 1922. This is the same garden where we were having our pictures taken some 35 years later. I would have been too young to appreciate it then, but it gives me a shiver now to realise that I was literally treading in their footsteps.

Winifred Grace MacFarlane was born in 1886 and it’s said that her earliest memory was of being lifted up to watch a procession go by to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1887. When she was still a child, about 9 or 10, she hit her shin against the fender in the kitchen and bruised the bone. This became infected and developed into TB of the bone, causing long periods of isolation and hospitalisation. For a period she was the only child in Fort William’s Belford Hospital. She was sent for treatment to the Western Infirmary in Glasgow, and the account of that episode, I have to warn you, is nothing short of gruesome.

The surgeon, Sir John Fraser, wanted to amputate, but her father begged on bended knee that he try to save the leg. In those days more children died from the effects of chloroform than from operations, so Sir John carried out the necessary bone scraping without anaesthetic, Winnie being strapped to the table and with a nurse irrigating the wound direct from the tap. The final step was to graft in some rabbit bone, a very rare procedure. Not surprisingly Winnie later reported that no childbirth ever caused her more pain than that horrific, if life-saving, operation.

Winnie must have been made of stern stuff because she eventually recovered and resumed her education, trained as a teacher and taught in Roy Bridge for 6 years before marrying her long time sweetheart, Alasdair Chisholm, in 1916. The two set up home in a village named Nethybridge, where their first two children were born, and then moved to live in Inverness Castle when Alasdair, a policeman, was promoted to sergeant. There was always a sergeant at the castle because of the overnight cells there; the sergeant’s wife had to keep the prisoners (not out of her own pocket). Winnie used to send tea, bread and butter to the cells.  The Chisholms eventually moved to a police house where they brought up their family of six girls and one boy – Lulie, Josephine, Winifred (who died in childhood), Beatrice, Theresa, Chrissie and Peter. Winnie was widowed in 1957 and lived out her years in that self same house where she and Alasdair had been so happy.

Great Aunt Winnie

There is obviously a lot more to my Great Aunt Winnie than just this whistlestop tour of her life, but I hope this little sketch is enough to give you a sense of what she was like. Perhaps we can go back and fill in more of the detail another time. For now I want to throw the spotlight on the letters she sent to her daughter Theresa, who she remained close to over the years despite the many miles that separated them. In particular I’ve been reading a couple of letters from 1962 when her brother George died. I can do no better than to quote extensively from this account as it affords us such a wonderful contemporaneous impression of the impact this event had on her and her immediate family.

27th October 1962, p.m.

Donald has just phoned from Ft. Wm. to say that Uncle George died at 10.00 p.m. Mary with the baby arrived this morning with Donald and he recognised them and spoke a little. Donald and John both visited him several times when he was in St Raphael’s (in Edinburgh) and Chris also visited him. Before he left the nursing home he asked the surgeon if he’d ever be well again and asked for a frank account of what the operation was. The surgeon said he was sorry that he was unable to do all he’d hoped to do “and after this your work will be advisory only”. George thanked him and added “So now it is a question of time.” From then on he was most resigned and hoped he wouldn’t last too long for the sake of his dear ones. Lulie brought Aunt Ettie up a week today (this is now the Feast of Christ the King) and I went to Ft William by bus after hearing early Mass in St Mary’s. We all returned here that evening after calling in to see Clemmy at Corpach. Lulie and Aunt Ettie had called at Spean Bridge on the way up and found the sons so nice…

Uncle George was very pleased to see us and spoke a lot about the past and about having put his affairs in order – “I’ve done my best for the 9 of them.” We went up again on Friday as he was very much weaker and he was again so pleased to see us. “You see what’s happening Winnie – you’ll know from the pattern of Alister’s illness” he said. I knew too well but it was a great consolation to know he was so resigned to death. He received H. Communion up to the end. John was up on Friday too – he had a long talk with his Father who spoke of Aunt Beatrice and referred to the 26th and 28th being the anniversaries of Uncle Jack and John’s Mother. Now we have 26th, 27th and 28th October as sad dates – may they rest in peace.

Aunt Ettie (Sister Mary Evangeline) is sleeping in the Convent but with us all day. We phoned Beatrice last night – Mary had contacted her before leaving and was afraid she’d be too late to see her Father alive. Thank God she arrived in time. Jessie has been wonderful – the whole family except Peter … is with her and they are really very good. When asked if he’d like Peter to be sent for Uncle George said no “I’ll be sure of his prayers where he is.” Peter was told of the state of affairs before he returned to College. He is an exceptionally nice lad. (Peter was away at seminary, training to be a priest)

Between everything I can’t get down to writing at present. Mass was offered in both our churches this a.m. for George’s soul and very many in Lochaber and elsewhere would hear of the death today. Lulie is writing to Jo just now. Peter and Ishbel were with us for a few nights last week. Had hired a car and we left them to close the house on Friday as we got off to go to Ft. Wm. Lots of love to all, Mama x

The next letter is dated 12 November. Winnie had been laid low with a virus after all the comings and goings surrounding George’s death, but she was sufficiently recovered after a few days rest to write:

… He knew what was wrong with him and prayed that he wouldn’t linger long “to be a trouble to others”. He spoke to me about our mother remarking that “she died in this room” and he said a lot about his first wife Beatrice, remarking “things might be different now with the knowledge of TB”. What a lovely woman she was and what a companion. He appreciated Jessie but the first love remained. Naturally she thinks of her own indulged family – all nice and some of them very good-looking – but there is no place now for the first family.

We were very taken with John whom I hadn’t seen since he married. He had a long interview with his Father who threw his arms round him in a burst of affection. “What I needed,” said John. “I understood and appreciated him more than I knew all my life.” Donald, always full of affection was very cut up at the end but he made good and his father was proud of him. Mary reached Ft. Wm. in time to have a few words also. She looked wretched and so thin.

Lulie took Aunt Ettie and me up to the Requiem. Aunt Ettie stayed with us overnight. We breakfasted before 5 a.m. in order to fast before 8 a.m. Mass. A very large number came to the Mass – Keppochs, Spean Bridge boys, dozens of elderly people from the Braes, Corpach, etc. It was most edifying to see so many approaching the altar. Sandy and Peter were altar servers and John, Donald, Sandy and Peter carried the coffin to the hearse when we returned at midday for the funeral. Young George walked behind the coffin. It looked as if the whole town came to church – the illness was so short that there was quite a wave of sorrow in the district …

So there we are. It’s clear from Winnie’s account that George, on his deathbed, was finally able to reveal those deeply felt emotions that he had kept buried all those years, and be reconciled with the children who had hungered for his love all the while. It seems that as death approached, those years melted away until his heart was laid bare in his final word, “Beatrice”.

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