Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Monday, 31 March 2008

Murdo in America.

Murdo was in America for a spell,but when, and how he got there I do not know. Isn't it strange that I can give the dates of my great-great uncle,John Macleod in America(1830s-1905),yet I cannot state,for sure,when my uncle Murdo was in the USA,but,from the stories I was told by him and others,it was around 1930.The people of the isles were well acquainted with emigration,and in the 1920s and 1930s,there were sizable emigrations from Lewis to Canada,USA and to a lesser extent Australia.Most of these young men and women would arrive in Canada.The men would work mainly on the prairie farms,the women would work in service,as maids. Ontario was where many of them finally settled. Others made their way across the Canadian/US border and found employment in Detroit's car industry.Others stuck to what they knew best and found themselves jobs in the sheep farms of Montana. A family from Carloway went to Patagonia in Argentina where the father managed a large sheep farm.When they finally returned,the children could only speak Spanish,but in a short time they were fluent in English(and Gaelic).A lot more Welsh people settled in Patagonia. I know that a cousin of my mother,who was established in a Ford plant in Detroit,had a job lined up for Murdo,"but you couldn't shift the bugger from his bed".Murdo was taken with the boxing scene in the States and I remember him mentioning the heavyweight boxers of that era - Primo Carnera,Max Baer and Jack Sharkey.This places Murdo in the USA in the early 1930s,the beginning of the Great Depression. I believe he got around in the railway boxcars,and I believe he saw Primo Carnera fight.I know he stayed in a working man's boarding house,when he couldn't pay for his lodgings. But the lady who owned the house "had a soft spot for Murdo" and would invite him to dinner by stating in front of all the other men,"Would Mr.Maclennan please sit up at the table?" I believe Murdo initially wrote home to his parents in Dalmore,and then for seven years no one on this side of the Atlantic heard anymore about him. One day,a gaunt figure was seen passing the houses in Dalmore,and someone said "I think that man is Murchadh Shoudie",more in disbelief.One can only guess how his rap at the door would affect his old parents.I think this would be around 1936-38,because Murdo was back in Lewis before the outbreak of the Second World War. I would guess that Murdo entered the USA in 1927/28. My father and his brother John were in the Royal Navy during the war,while Murdo was exempt,looking after the croft and his old parents,who both passed away during these war years. It seems that Murdo was seeing a lady from Breasclete and they were planning to marry.The lady was even bringing a calf,in way of a dowry, In 1945/46 when John was returning home after the war,someone button- holed him in Stornoway,and informed John of the forthcoming nuptials in Breasclete. John made haste over to Dalmore and told his older brother Murdo that there would no wedding,and the calf would be returning whence it came. Murdo meekly accepted the advice of his brother,and the two brothers lived happily ever after.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Murdo the Memory Man.

Murdo had received only a basic education at Carloway School,as he would often be called on to help with essential work on the croft. Despite this,he was competent in the 3Rs. He was however a voracious reader,which his "relaxed" lifestyle permitted. One would often find Murdo on a hard upright wooden chair,back to the dresser,right shoulder propped against the wall,warmed by the peat fire. Tiny round spectacles perched low down his nose,you were likely to see Murdo holding a weighty tome on history or a copy of "Ring Magazine" or "National Geographic". Despite his fragmented schooling,Murdo had an exceptional memory,which is identified as"eidetic" today. He was able to reproduce a clear image of any page he had read,be it pages on the Schmelling/Louis fight or the order of battle at Waterloo. I remember once discussing the Crimean War with Murdo and a friend of mine,an historian, and the conversation finally centred on the "Charge of the Light Brigade",with the decisions of Lords Raglan and Cardigan coming under scrutiny.Murdo asked my friend which officer had handed Captain Nolan the order to charge.Not knowing,Murdo supplied him with the answer. My friend was impressed. Although he was bald,Murdo had sported red hair in his youth,as had his mother before him. Some referred to him as "a fear ruadh",the "red one". I could never see my uncle Murdo as a young boy with or without his red hair,until my mother shared with me this story, which has two combatants - A nine year old Murdo and a married man of the district,whose relations with some other women were common knowledge. It was a winter's day with a good covering of snow on the ground,and Murdo and his pals were sledging down a hill,across the road and down the other side. As "Calla",the district lothario approached the "Cresta Run",wee Murdo took off at great speed downhill, only to collide with the unfortunate Calla,precipitating the man head-first into a deep snow drift. To say Calla was in a blue rage is an understatement,and the invective directed at young Murchadh Shoudie was equally as blue. Murdo wisely put some distance between himself and the abominable snowman and addressed him as follows.
"Calla.Calla magairlean iarunn" which translates as "Calla,Calla testicles of iron". Not bad for a wee 9 year old. Calla probably took some kudos from this remark, after his rage subsided. You might say that honours were shared that day.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Balaich Shoudie. Murchadh am Phost.

On the morning after our arrival in Dalmore,our first visit was always to our Maclennan uncles whose house nestled underneath the "beinn"(hill) on the other side of the valley,where in years past(you'll remember),a lady had been miraculously cured by midges.Murchadh and Iain Shoudie(Murdo and John) were my father Alasdair's two brothers,who lived happily in their blackhouse on No.4 Dalmore.Murdo was the eldest(b.1900),John(b.1902)and my father Alexander(Gael.Alasdair)(b.1904) - nicely spaced,don't you think? Alexander is a common Christian name found among Maclennans as far back as 1704 when the first of them arrived in Lewis to settle the tack of Little Bernera. My two uncles were bachelors,and were known far and wide as "Balaich Shoudie" (The Shoudie Boys). They took things very easy and work was only entered into when absolutely necessary. They did what they thought had to be done,and no more. They certainly were not ambitious,nor smitten with avarice, and in a way,were content to live as their people had in the past.They made no concessions to modernity,with the exception of the electric light. They had no power points in their home, and to be frank,there would never be any need for any electrical appliances or those shiny new white goods that others were so keen to have. They did cut their peats and so the fire was always there for a cup of tea or some fried bacon.When they got a radio(which they loved),it was powered by batteries. No need for "electricity" you see. When mains water finally arrived in the village,the workmen brought the water pipe all the way up to just outside their house and even fitted a tap. The "Boys" never used it, and continued to use the old spring well above the house,and which was by general consent the coldest,sweetest water you ever would taste. Murdo was employed for many years as the postman for Dalmore and its neighbour,Dalbeg. Each morning(Sunday except)Murdo would don his PO uniform and cap,and leaving the house about 7.00am,he would walk the mile out the Dalmore road to its end,where he'd be picked up by the Royal Mail van,travelling north through the various villages. In the 10 minutes it took to reach Dalbeg road end,Murdo would sort the mail for both villages and safely entrust these to his copious mail sack. Murdo had around 5 or 6 deliveries in Dalbeg,and leaving there, he skirted the beautiful little loch,full of water lilies and trout,before climbing the "Cleit" to reach the top of the hill. A thirty minute walk would see Murdo pass through very familiar territory. These were the hills,lochs and moors far behind his family home,which he knew and loved so well,where they kept their sheep and tended their cows.Murdo knew the name of every hill and lochan as old friends. He often would sit with his cattle by the side of Loch Dubh na Cleit of a summer's evening, smoking a Senior Service cigarette. About 8.45 am you would see Murchaid am Phost descend the hill into Dalmore. It must be remembered that Murdo didn't just deliver letters and parcels. Murdo passed on the news and gossip he had gleaned from the mail van driver(world news and weather!) but also from his "clients" in both villages.They would hear that one of their sheep was being held for its collection in a village on the other side of the island.Notice of births,deaths and marriages never needed an insertion in the newspaper. Murdo had a great memory and was up to speed on all the local news,and was rightly proud of his reputation. However,one morning when he entered our house,my mother,his sister-in law, asked if he had any news. Apart from giving the weather for that day,he said that he had no news. My mother who enjoyed a laugh,said "Well,Murdo,I have some news for you.Did you hear that the "Brandy" died last night in Shawbost?" Murdo dwelt on the information for a moment before replying "No,Annie,I didn't hear that,but didn't he have such a sweet,sweet name".

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Dalmore's Own Delicatessan.

Along the way,there were some interesting variations to the diet,and some welcome treats. The Co-op van was good for a limited selection of fruit,usually oranges and bruised apples of a questionable age. Some sweets were on offer,but as long as we got our "Creamola foam"(the next best drink to Murray's mineral waters),then we were "well happy". When Iain Mor na Chnaimhan ( John Maciver,Detective Superintendent,Met.Police)was up in Dalmore on holiday with his parents at No.10,he went out fishing almost nightly on Loch Roag with his relatives from Doune. They seemed to catch a lot of large crabs,in addition to the fish. For all I know, they might have set some baited pots on the way out.Being a close friend of my mother,he would arrive in our house with a bag of giant crabs' claws. Our favourite way of cooking these was to turn a burning peat over to expose the red-hot surface,placing a couple of claws on top,and allowing them to cook in their own juices. Removing them with the "clobha" (fireside tongs),and cracking open the shells,the juicy white crab meat was food "fit for the gods". Even today,I prefer crab to lobster,not that I'm often put to the test.
We had an aunt(through marriage)who was often ill, and of a delicate constitution,and we were made aware that she required a special diet of white meat and fish. Fish was no problem at this time of year,but chickens were not for eating,chickens were for laying. My Uncle Shonnie was resourceful and bought a ferret which we learned to use to catch rabbits on the grassy slopes overlooking the beach.In quarter of an hour,we could easily trap 6-8 rabbits,which my mother would gut and skin, and these with a few chopped onions gave a delicate sweet stew.
An unusual happening was what the locals called "a road".This was an extremely low tide,where the sun and moon conspired to pull the seas away from the land. With the seas so far out,we could access whole areas of the beach and the rocks for some "fruits de mer". Mussels,limpets and red dulse were collected,but the harvesting of sandeels was our main priority. A sandeel is actually a fish,silver bodied.long and thin with a pointed head,which it uses to burrow down into the sand at the approach of danger. In the beautiful photos of puffins,it is sandeels you see arranged along their beaks. We used a sickle to catch the sandeels.The sickle would be drawn through the wet sand at a depth of 3-6 inches,and when resistance was met,you thrust your hand down,fingers down,palm open and grabbed the fish. We would fill a couple of buckets of fish in this way,and great sport it seemed to us. The "road" would last 3/4 days. A very tasty fish soup was made with milk,onion and a small bit of butter - as good as any you might taste on the Brittany coast.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Grey Soup,Scones and the "Striolla"

The big feast of the week was Sunday Lunch and fish,eggs and porridge were off menu that day,porridge, because the great big pot it was made in,was needed to make the soup on the Sunday. This black caste-iron pot was huge and hung from what we called a "striolla"(Sp?). This was a stout chain attached to a transverse metal bar which had been embedded half way up the chimney,probably from day one. Into this pot went water(of course),2 pounds of salt mutton,an equal amount of fresh mutton,pearl barley,onions and green cabbage(if available). Some flour was added later to thicken the soup a little. It has to be said that the large piece of dry salt meat was steeped in water overnight to remove some of the salt. We city lads christened the resulting potage "Grey Soup". The meats were placed on a large salver,the soup was ladled onto plates,and a large terrine of "first crop" potatoes took centre stage on the table. Apart from the soup spoons,there was no need for cutlery here. Who could ever forget the flavour of the meats,the wonderful taste of that soup,and the freshness of the Kerr's Pinks? This was truly "a finger-lickin'" feast; after all,it was only our fingers we used.
One cannot talk of food here without mentioning the Stornoway bread,to be exact their "plain loaf". This was(and still is)a tall white loaf of exquisite taste whose crust,top and bottom,is best kept to the last. Even after 2 or 3 days it's as flavoursome as ever. My favourite is still a thick slice of this loaf,buttered and crowned with a grilled slice of black pudding.
Every afternoon,when the lunch dishes were washed and put away, my mother and Aunt Dolly would set up the large baking board on the table. I remember that the board had "gates" at each of the four corners through which the flour could be brushed out. The brush was a bunch of seagull feathers tied with some Harris wool. The brush was used also to wipe clean the girdle(griddle). Mother made the scones and Aunt Dolly the oatcakes - and I can still taste them,but sadly only in my memory. Occasionally we were treated to pancakes.
One might understandably think that I have a fixation on the foods of a bygone age,but not so. I only want to put on record the food the people ate and how they prepared it. This was 60 years ago and in only a few years the blackhouses were abandoned,overtaken by modernity. The way of life over hundreds of years would change,but this was to exact a high price within the Lewis communities.

Friday, 14 March 2008

The Milky Way To Heavenly Delights.

My aunts had various enamel pails and basins used only for handling milk ,and these were kept scrupulously clean,and out of reach of children and animals. The various basins were kept in a tall,deep cupboard in the coolest part of the house,which we called the "closet". In the different basins,you would find milk undergoing all the stages of change,giving us single,then double cream( cream - "barr" or ""uachdar" )and finally resulting in large basins of natural yoghurt,thick and sour(we called this "bainne tiugh" - thick milk). Slabs of "bainne tiugh" would be lifted from the basin using a saucer,and we would have a bowl of this with salt herring and potatoes. Another way of taking this thick milk,was as "lamb's feed",where a handful of oatmeal was added and the whole thing stirred vigourously with a fork. Bainne tiugh was delicious any old way,except with porridge,of course. Most of the thick milk was boiled in a large pot over the peat fire,giving curds("gruth") and whey. The curds could be used to make cheese,but not in my time. We were a little modern now,and got our cheese from the Co-op van. The cream was sometimes used to make butter,in a plunger- type churn. Some of it was preserved with the ubiquitous salt. It was fine if you did not mind crunching through large rock salt crystals. But the crowdie(curds) was mixed with the blend of creams to give the ever popular "gruth agus barr". Crowdie and cream spread thickly on buttered bread or on a fresh girdle scone - Heaven ! So,you can see just how important the cows were to us,especially Daisy,our beautiful,brown and white Ayrshire. Here endeth the lesson on "Milk".

Thursday, 13 March 2008

On Homely Fare We Dined.

As for meat,it was exclusively mutton we ate, fresh or salted. Lamb, being under one year old was never slaughtered, since there would a better return as a ewe,ram or wether(or wedder). The young tups were castrated to give us the wedders which provided us with the meat. Lewis mutton has a distinctively sweet taste,which,they say,is due to the young heather shoots they eat amongst the grass. The carcass is cut up into manageable size pieces for salting. The intestines are used to make "maragan" (like a sausage,but no meat)whose contents are oatmeal,mutton fat and onion. These are forced into the intestine to give the white puddings,so called in the rest of Britain. "Marag gheal" we called them(geal - white). If sheep's blood is added to the mix,we get the famous black pudding (marag dubh),which has for many years been exported far and wide by two Stornoway butchers. Sheep's head and trotters,I saw prepared only once. It is time consuming as all of the wool has to burnt off,using red-hot irons. A soup is made with these and the flesh on the cheeks is most tender. My mother said that it was very popular in the exclusive gentlemen's club where she worked in Glasgow. Eggs we had in abundance. They would,I believe, qualify today as "organic" eggs,as the hens and cockerel were free to roam in the fields at will. They ate only seed corn,cold cooked potato and any porridge left over from morning. The empty egg-shells were never discarded,and these were crushed and added to their feed. They were happy hens! The eggs had shells as hard as porcelain.
Milk was very important in the Lewis home,and because of the numbers in the family home during school holidays,there were always two milking cows,usually Ayrshires. Hand milking is an art,and cows appreciate the gentle touch . Their response is seen in a greater milk yield. Cattle in Lewis were not tuberculin tested until 1951,and the milk was never pasteurised while it was a "cottage industry". Two large white enamelled pails would arrive full of milk on the kitchen table,and my aunts and my mother were transformed into three experienced dairy maids. The "cop" (foam) was removed and offered to our three demented cats. Fancy got some hot milk in her bowl,as we did(but at the table,of course). A bowl of warm milk straight from the cow - just what the doctor ordered. When I was tested for tuberculosis years later in school,the scratch resulted in a reaction the size of an old penny. I wonder why ! We liked it then,but I cannot abide hot milk now. No latte nor cafe au lait - just strong and black for me. Believe me,there's much more to say about milk. We'll do more on milk in the next blog - fresh milk,sour milk,thick milk,single cream,double cream,crowdie(curds)and butter.I did say that milk was important in the Lewis home.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Herring,Haddock - Haute Cuisine.

It may not have been fancy-nancy cooking,but the food we had in Dalmore,as in other parts of Lewis,was tasty and nourishing. This was "organic food",50 years before the word "organic" came into common parlance. What carries that label now is a pale imitation of the foods we enjoyed back then . People were strong, and healthy and fit for quite demanding physical work, men and women alike. Then,no one had an allergy to food,except for me and the cats with porridge. Apart from certain essentials,everything which was consumed on the croft came from the croft, or from "the town" (Stornoway). Salt(rock salt crystals)was a very important item, and like flour and oatmeal it came in large sacks. Without electricity,there was no refrigeration,and the only recourse to preserving fresh food was salting(curing)or smoking (kippering). When, for example,a lot of fish had been caught,you would have fresh fish(boiled or fried) three times daily,then the remainder of the "catch" would be salted in large wooden tubs for a couple of days,and then dried indoors near the fire,or in sunny weather,draped over the fence outside the house,with someone sitting seagull watch. Fancy was a keen birdwatcher,but we would turn a blind eye to Phylax,or her kittens pinching a wee haddie. The fish(haddock was favourite) could then be stored dry,and could be boiled at a later date,and ,believe me,you would think you were eating a fresh haddock,albeit slightly salty. When we went fishing on my Uncle Shonnie's boat,there were plenty of fish in the seas then,and we could expect to catch a large variety,including haddock,whiting,mackerel,saith,sole,skate,gurnard and dogfish(rock salmon).We will go fishing another time !
But the main source of Omega 3( 'twas exuding from every pore)was the herring,referred to in song as the "Silver Darlings". The herring,of course,was caught well out to sea and unloaded at Stornoway,then a famous herring port. The herring was gutted,washed and packed into large wooden barrels,with alternate layers of herring and rock salt.After a time the herring would settle,and this allowed a few more layers to be added before the lid was secured. Too little salt caused the herring to "rust", where the salt had not reached the backbone. This was a terrible waste of good fish,and all for the sake of a few shillings worth of salt. "Glass", my grandfather,cured his own herring. He and another man would go over with his horse and cart to meet the herring fleet arriving in Stornoway in the "wee sma'hours" (a 50 mile round trip). They purchased a cart load of fish and cured the herring themselves. My grandpa's "sgadan sailte" was the sweetest you would ever taste.
My mother told me of a beauty contest organised by Neptune, King of the Seas, eons ago,in which " all the beautiful fish" were entered.After various eliminating rounds,the contest came down to one between the silver herring(A'Sgadan) and the beautiful sole, with its bright red spots on top,and its pure white skin on the underside.The sole expected to win,but when Neptune named the Herring the "Queen of the Seas",the sole, in bad grace and with utter contempt for the verdict exclaimed "A' Sgadan"(The Herring),twisting her mouth to emphasise her disgust.In that instant,her mouth froze in a terrible rictus,twisted for all eternity.

Shelley. Always good to hear from you !

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Ever Seen Porridge in a Drawer?

In most houses in Lewis at that time,there was no need to second guess what was for "brekkers". There was no grapefruit,orange juice,toast,marmalade. Yes,you've got it - porridge - a massive cauldron of the stuff which everyone enjoyed - man,woman child,dog and even the hens. There were two exceptions to the porridge fan club, me and our discerning felines. We could not stomach the stuff,and personally I could not even bear to watch it being consumed. The cats and I had negotiated ourselves out of the porridge contract,and instead, this likely lad was offered a large triangular girdle scone,topped with crowdie and cream. The cats purred over their milk or cream. It was tough going. I used to think that "Philax the Piseag" gave me a knowing wink.( piseag - kitten,young cat )
Before anyone,including the tourist,starts asserting how wonderful is porridge( or porage if you wear a kilt up a ladder ),let me tell you that "lite" (pronouced "leet-ch")as it is called in Gaelic is made from rough oatmeal,and it comes in very large hessian sacks,with the mill's name front and back.
Making "real" porridge is an art,I'm told - blending the raw oatmeal with the hot water,deft use of the spurtle and knowing how much salt to add. All I took in was when the large ladle of spluttering porridge hit the soup plate(no fancy porridge bowls here),there was an immediate phase change from liquid to solid state. Instantaneous,amazing,solid but wobbly "homely fare". Because it is solid,every porridge aficionado must, with their spoon, excavate a hole in the middle of this mass. From here on in, the variety of fillers used would amaze you,or turn you green. I have seen porridge with treacle,golden syrup,fresh milk,thick sour milk and cream,but never sugar.
When people,in times past,were strictly sabbatarian,even preparing food on the Lord's Day was looked on as work,which went against the Commandment forbidding man,oxen and asses from any work at all on that day. So a large batch of porridge would be prepared on the Saturday evening and poured into the "porridge drawer" in the dresser. After church,three times on Sunday,you would be given a large slab of cold porridge,with treacle,if that was your thing. The cats and I might have had a wee problem, in these "good old days".

Harris Tweed Blankets and a Beautiful Beach.

Try moving your body or a wee pair of legs with as many as as six Harris Tweed blankets on top of you. That was the norm in the "black house bed",no sheets or fancy bed cover, but thankfully we had pillows with pillow cases as the feathers from long departed hens would have been too much to bear. Whatever position you finally adopted under the blankets(and that wasn't easy),that was you for the duration.The formula used in calculating the number of blankets was conceived over many years and reflected the ambient temperatures. This was summer, so God knows how one survived the weight of the winter issue. Still,it was cosy,even though you were immobilised for up to eight hours. When you managed to extricate yourself from the bed in the morning,you were not entirely free from the rough feel of the "Harris". There was the Harris guernsey and the Harris stockings,standard issue with wellies on the occasional rainy day(occasional? - am using a bit of licence here). A quick cup of tea and a scone and butter and we were "out with the cows",which consisted of two milking cows and a heifer. Taking them up and over two hills to the best pastures,they were watered at the allt(stream) and led through two gated fences and down to the Gearraidh. "Fancy",our collie,was good at keeping the cattle on the move. With the cows contentedly grazing,we would leave them to roam freely and would not see them again until the evening hours. For us(my older brother Donald would be with me) and of course our "faithful tyke" Fancy,it was over the cliff paths to the beautiful beach at Dalmore Bay. This was the most special place on earth for two little city lads like us. Here was half a mile of golden sand,an azure blue sea and white rollers crashing against the beach. It was so wonderful here with not another soul in sight. Fancy loved to circle us at speed,and finally to head straight at us,but always evading our grasp by inches .She could keep this up "for ever",or until we started hectically digging for imaginary rabbits on the beach with our hands. Fancy would join in,this being an acknowledged skill of coastal collies. Within a short time,she would disappear into a deep hole from which sand was being furiously expelled.At times,her wee face would appear above the parapet,totally covered in sand,to check if we had caught a rabbit. At last,it was time for breakfast. After all, it was two hours since I had that scone.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Grandpa Glass Takes The Book.

At that age(perhaps 7/8 years),I slept in the same bed as my grandad(we called him "Grandpa"),with him on the outside of the bed,and me at his back.beside the wall.My grandpa was a good man,an elder of the church(when it meant something)and a Christian in thought and deed.He was wise,and yet a tolerant man.He was no "Holy Wullie"Fisher,as portrayed by Burns,but walked quietly with his Lord.As in Burns' "A Cotter's Saturday Night","The Book would be taken" every night before retiring.Grandpa would select and read a passage from the large Gaelic Bible,after which everyone went down on their knees for prayer,again led by Old Glass.It was not required of the adults to retire at this hour,but this wee soul dutifully followed his gramps "up to the room" for bed.The heavyweight religious session was only just beginning for me as Grandpa's private prayers,whispered but still audible,could last another 20 to 30 minutes.I did not mind,as the language of prayer is not what one hears in every day Gaelic about the house.I enjoyed listening to Grandpa whose only language was A'Ghaidhlig,the first language of the Garden of Eden. His prayer was replete with words like "Tighearna","mathanas","anam"(Lord,forgiveness,soul)which took me some time to fathom.In my papa's time they received their education wholly in Gaelic,and they only attended school in Carloway when they were not needed at home,on the croft. Still, he was able to read and write with ease. In my mother's time at school,children were taught only in English,and their native tongue,Gaelic,was wholly proscribed.If a pupil was caught speaking Gaelic,even outside in the playground.they were given "the strap" with the leather "Lochgelly".My mother greatly resented not being taught her own language along with English.There is now a bilingual approach to teaching in Highland schools.
Note.1. The only English my grandad claimed to know,and which he used to call bedtime was "Clear lower decks",heard no doubt at sea.
Note.2.The "room" in a black house was built slightly above the level of the kitchen/living room and was the "grandest" of rooms.Ours was frankly like a large bedroom you would find in the city.There were two double beds,end to end,a large double wardrobe,with mirrors which contained every one's Sunday best,and dozens of mothballs.The walls were covered in a very pretty paper,the floor in linoleum,with a scattering of "rugs"(actually the cured skins of young calves).A beautiful settee and various basket chairs completed our boudoir.There were lace curtains on the only true window to be found in any black house.The only ones who might peek through the window were the hens,from next door.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

In The Bosom of Our People

As we left the bus,and headed over the"stairean" (path from road to house),they were all there,with their arms extended ready to wrap you in their embrace.My grandfather,Donald Macleod (Glass),now nearly 90 years gave me a big hug and a kiss and none of this two cheek caper.His navy blue crew necked sweater smelled of wool oil,herring and peat smoke - magnificent! He was the image of the old king,George the Fifth, as any coin of the realm might bear witness.His bald pate and neatly trimmed white beard bore a very strong resemblance to the old king.My Auntie Peggy and Auntie Dolly were there to smother us in hugs and kisses,and I swear that our lovely collie,Fancy,got in on the act.The two cats and the kitten sat at the doorway in no way exercised by our arrival,waiting for their tin plate of hot milk,straight from the cows. Inside everything was as I imagined it to be,cosy,clean and warm.My aunts kept what was recognised as the most beautiful "black house" in the district.It was more like one these old English cottages you see on calenders.The white-washed stacks on either side of the peat burning fire supported a couple of kettles brimming with hot water. The two large dressers displayed colourful table-ware,sailing boats in bottles,a highly polished Howitzer shell case and various photographs.A long bench lay opposite,running about two-thirds of the length of the room and the bed my aunts occupied was located at the top.Placed centrally in the room and directly below a large Tilley lamp was the "kitchen table",a huge rectangular affair which I once saw accommodate 17 people for lunch.Various chairs,chests and stools made up the rest of the furniture.There were "wally dugs" and Chinese bowls on the mantlepiece, and above one of the dressers, a beautiful brass timepiece enclosed in its polished wooden case.Only Old Bodach Glass saw to the clock,and no one else.
After a supper of girdle scones,crowdie and cream,fresh milk and perhaps pancakes and rhubarb jam,we were ready for bed.Tomorrow would be the beginning of something new.

Monday, 3 March 2008

The Magaran's Bus.

In the late evening of a glorious summer's day,as the sun sets over the west coast of Lewis,you will witness the most wonderful sight anywhere on earth. The sky and sea glow in shades of gold,orange,yellow and red,throwing the hills and islands into dark relief. There is a beautiful Gaelic saying which does real credit to such a Hebredian sunset. Seeing,let me assure you,is believing
As we passed through the villages in the Magaran's bus(a step up from a charabanc),we drank in the sights of home.The "feannagan" of corn,potatoes and hay could be seen running away from the road into the middle distance. Two points of information. 1. A schoolmistress asked me if the "Magaran" was the name of the bus.No,the "Magaran" was the nickname of the driver of the bus. Remember everyone from here needs his/her unique name as there may be 30 Macleods in just a few houses.
2. A "feannag" is a long narrow strip of cultivated land,with drainage trenches dug along the sides. Edward Dwelly,an ENGLISHMAN,in 1901 published the most complete dictionary of Gaelic in existence.He says that the term "lazybed" applied to "feannag" in English "is merely a southern odium on the system of farming in Gaeldom,where soil was scarce,and where bog-land could not be cultivated in any other way".Well said,Mr.Dwelly ! The bus would slow as we passed cows on their way home for milking. The lambs could be heard answering the call of their mothers.As that large orange sphere sank towards the horizon,we would see here and there the warm yellow light through the windows of some houses.The favoured source of light was the "Tilley Lamp",which came in all shapes and sizes. There were still in these years(late 1940s) a good number of the traditional "black houses",long, low and thatched. With walls six feet thick,and built without mortar from local stone,these were the houses that sheltered the people and their animals for centuries,but which were slowly giving way to the "taigh geal",the "white houses".
Coming along the road at the back of Dalmore,my mother,called"The Commander" but never to her face,would start negotiating with her erstwhile school chum,the Magaran, about taking the bus the one mile into Dalmore with herself, "her exhausted wee bairns" and some very heavy Kellogg's Cornflakes boxes."Annie,this is not the approved route,and it's more than my job's worth".This was where the half-crowns would make their last appearance of the journey.I knew that even without the "tip", the Magaran was going to pull his bus off the Carloway road and head into Dalmore,God's Little Acre.