Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Thursday, 29 January 2009

A Cute Little Loop and a Curly Tail.

I suppose that my formal education started in Dalmore,in a small way,it has to be said,and at an early age - another of these childhood memories. This was a sort of kindergarten,just for me, in a "taigh dubh"(black house),with a slate,slate pencil,newspaper and scissors. The curriculum was tight, and based on what was known as the "3Rs" ( Reading,wRiting,aRithmetic ).
Two memories of my pre-school experiences are as clear today as they were over 60 years ago. It was a summer's evening and "Aonghas Dhomnull Mhor" was over on a ceilidh from Dalbeg,which is about a mile away,across the moor,"as the crow flies"(which we used to say!) Angus Macarthur,a cousin of "Old Glass",was a regular visitor and had consummate ceilidh skills ie. he was "good company". As the adult "comhradh"(talk/ceilidh)continued around the peat fire,I was busy at the large table in the centre of the room,cutting strips of newspaper of varying lengths from a copy of the "Daily Express",which was ubiquitous in Lewis homes at that time. Were the Leodhaisich all Tories at that time? Were they still full of the war-time spirit of John Bull,Beaverbrook and Churchill? So I'd be fashioning capital letters using the scissors viz."A",using two long strips,and one short "crossbar". Rounded letters,such as "S"or"G" were still composed of short straight strips. The letters were posted on the two wooden uprights supporting the mantlepiece,using saliva,mine of course. Angus Dalbeg was,between cups of tea and a bit of "craic", taking an interest in the letters that were beginning to cover the black painted surfaces beside him at the fireside. He was impressed,I think. However,at one point ,Angus thought that the "child wordsmith" had slipped up. I had approached the fireside,with a long strip and one short one. I wet the long strip with saliva and stuck it in a vertical orientation.The short one was attached to it half way down and making an angle of 45 degrees to the vertical(clockwise). To Angus, this looked like a lop-sided "Y",but I wasn't quite finished..I had one more short strip,and under "Dalbeg's nose" the one-legged Y became a fully fashioned "K". Old Angus was taken aback. He hadn't thought of a K. He was duly impressed and my reputation was intact.
Then,I had nursery maths under my Uncle Shonnie's tutelage. With the slate and pencil,I had to reproduce the numbers 1 to 10 as often as I wished on the slate until I tired,or my spine chilled with the screech of slate on slate. Notice that Shonnie did not ask for the numbers from 0 to 9. Shonnie was the budding business man,and did not recognise the "zero",unless it was tucked in behind some other digits (eg. 200 sheep or £3ooo ). For each number I scratched out correctly on the slate,Shonnie would place an "old" penny on top of it. He had a huge banker's cloth bag full of pennies,and as long as I was willing,he would cover the numbers with copper. But there was a snag,more a difference of opinion,concerning the number "2". Shonnie did not recognise a "two" like this "2",with a straight stroke along the bottom. He demanded that the oblique downward stroke of the "2" be followed by a cute little loop and a curly tail. How ridiculous,but try as I might,I could not do this "other"two. I was definitely angry at this.and took my problem over to my Maclennan uncles on the other side of the valley. Using a Daily Express and the stub of a pencil, my Uncle Iain showed me how to do those strange "twos",and had me fill a full page until he was certain that I'd mastered what Shonnie demanded. I raced back to No.5,got Shonnie out of the weaving house and scratched out a multitude of "curly" twos on the slate. Give him his due,for every "2" I inscribed,and there were a lot,Shonnie slapped down another penny. I think that in retrospect I was more concerned with pride than with pennies.I never again wrote a "2" with a"cute little loop and a curly tail".

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