Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Friday, 17 October 2008

Murdo has a Taste for "Drambuie".

Murchadh Shoudie(remember Murchadh am Phost)would take his turn on alternate years,going to Stornoway with the wool. Well,that was the arrangement until shame and opprobrium befell Murdo, "a fear ruadh"(the Red One). I witnessed his fall from grace. On this trip to Stornoway to sell the wool,everything went as one would expect until Murdo,with Seoras and me in attendance,passed through the portals of the Star Inn. Murdo did not have the capacity for liquor that his brother Iain had,but it has to be said that he relished its taste. Iain was "urbane and socially adept" and always kept an eye on "Red". I can still see Murdo at the top end of the bar,getting in the first round for Seoras and himself. Mine was a half pint of "lemonade". Murdo went all posh,and ordered a double Drambuie (yes,I know,a liqueur). It seemed that when Murdo was in town, out of sight of brother John,he liked to imbibe the Jacobite spirit of Charles Edward Stuart. He ordered these double Drambuies,pronouncing their Gaelic name with gusto - "An Dram Buidheach" . After a few more doubles,Murdo was becoming a cause for concern. After his ninth double Drambuie,Murdo collapsed backwards like a falling chimney stack,and it was good fortune that someone was there to break his fall.Seoras was more than concerned now,as blame in these situations is often unfairly levelled at the "innocents". 'An Shoudie's "hooch" had still to be bought at "Buth Henderson",and "Red" delivered to 4 Dalmore in one piece. I still remember Seoras' van approaching the gate at the bottom of the long grassy "leathad"(slope)at No.4,not knowing what to expect. Looking up the hill towards taigh Shoudie,I could see Iain standing in the doorway,and looking over to taigh Glass,I could see my mother(The Commander)standing at the barn door. I don't think they had invented the saying at that time,but if they had, Seoras and I were truly "between a rock and a hard place". Murdo somehow got out of the van,navigated his way past the gate,all this time carrying the precious cargo,with his arms holding it to his chest. A few steps further,and Murdo toppled forward on the grass,still holding the "proveeshons" to his chest. Before we could come to his aid,'An Shoudie was racing down the leathad and was now standing over his brother,"Red". He very carefully turned Murdo over,prised the bag from his grip,and started slowly back up the hill,leaving Murdo lying there looking up at the sky. Seoras and I decided against visiting taigh Shoudie for a good couple of days. Later, we found out that the Glenlivet etc.had survived the crash,and that the giant pork chops went as usual into the soup.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Balaich Shoudie sell their Wool.

There was a time when a sheep's fleece would fetch a decent price ,which made the business of shearing sheep worthwhile. Today,a pound of wool fetches a mere few pennies,and the only reason one can see for using the "deamhais"(shears)is for the comfort of the animal. Why the price of wool has all but evaporated, I am not sure,but try buying a Pringle woollen sweater and it is impossible to reconcile its inflated price with the pittance paid for the wool.
Back in the mid 50s,wool commanded a good price,and for my Maclennan uncles("Balaich Shoudie"),the day they went to sell the year's wool at the Stornoway tweed mills was a day to remember,or not ,as the case might be. Murdo and Iain took it in turn,year about, to sell the wool in town,and undertake some other essential business.For such an outing,smart/casual was the dress order of the day - light pullover over what they now call a "grandad" shirt,navy blue jacket,grey trousers and black shoes. The best cap(not the everyday cap with the stained sweatband)topped all,and was worn at a jaunty angle. It was amazing that the "balaich" could emerge from that "taigh dubh" looking so clean and smart. On the big occasions like weddings or trips to Glasgow,Iain Shoudie donned full "Chicago" dress of dark suit,paper collar and tie,and his wide brimmed hat was worn with the brim pulled slightly over one eye at a rakish angle. Between times,the Chicago suit was kept up in the room,hanging from a nail on the "tallan",and covered by several pages of the Daily Express. I would usually go along on this jaunt with my uncle,who would "hire" the services of Seoras and his Austin A.35 van. After all,we had a large cargo of wool going to Stornoway, and possibly a very different cargo on the way back.
Seoras would have some business of his own in town,but the first stop would be "Moulin Stickey"(Kenneth Mackenzie's mill) to sell the large bales of wool. I never went in to the mill,nor was I privy to how much the wool fetched that day. I just knew that that wool paid well,and that an enjoyable day lay ahead.Certain bills had to be paid,and "proveeshons" acquired,mainly meat, which was not readily available in Carloway.In Willie John Macdonald's shop, beef and beef sausages was the order of the day.Then it was up to Dougie Maclean's butcher shop,and here was purchased two giant pork chops,the likes of which I'd never seen before or since. Onions,carrots.turnip and possibly cabbage completed the shopping list for now,and we all would have lunch in the Royal Hotel,courtesy of the "wool man". If it was 'An Shoudie who was in town,it has to be said that I never came across anyone as well-kent in Stornoway as "himself" . Anywhere 'An Shoudie went,men from different districts seem to know him,and would engage Iain in conversation, mainly of a light hearted nature,and possibly suffused with a little gossip. "Gaireachdaich"(laughter) - it must have been heard in Portnaguran. I'm not sure why 'An Shoudie was so well got with people. He was in the RNR ,did his stints at the Battery and was in the Navy during the war. But so were many other Lewismen. Basically Iain was an extrovert and "a very funny guy",He enjoyed a drink and was very clubbable,and it was guaranteed that your day was better for having met him. It could take half an hour,sometimes,with 'An Shoudie by your side, to travel the short distance from the Royal Hotel to the Town Hall.But I didn't mind-"torr gaireachdaich"
The penultimate stop of the day was always the Star Inn on South Beach Street,where the clientele was in these days mainly "balaich a'Taobh Siar"(West Side Boys). Quite a few nips vanished "down the hatch" and at breakneck speed,while a single half pint of beer seemed to last forever. How do I know such things? Well, this young lad sat in the far corner,watching the action and nursing my own half pint of "lemonade". On the way out of town,somewhere along Bayhead,George's van came to a halt,as if through conditioning. On the opposite side of the road was "Buth Henderson",Stornoway's only licensed grocer(as far as I know),and no sheepman straight from a sale, could pass it by without stocking up. Murdo,Iain's brother,would expect a carry out,and in this he was never disappointed. It invariably consisted of a bottle of Glenlivet whisky,six screwtops of beer, a 20 packet of Capstan Full Strength and another pack of Senior Service cigarettes. And of course,there were the giant pork chops to look forward to.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Iain Mor na Cnamhan.

Iain Mor na Cnamhan was a big man in every sense of the word. After an education in Carloway and at the Nicolson in Stornoway,John Maciver left Dalmore to join the Metropolitan Police in London,and within time,rose to high rank, in this his chosen career. He married a beautiful and delightful lady,a Londoner called Celia,who worked as a telephonist with the B.B.C. They had twins,John and Joan,who like us,spent every summer holiday in Dalmore. More so,they spent the whole of WW2 with their grandparents in Dalmore,away from the Blitz and the frightening V1 and V2 bombs. Through necessity they spent this time away from their mother,Celia, who related to my mother the impossible situation which arose when the twins were returned to London at war's end. Here was a mother who could not understand a word spoken by her children(they spoke only Gaelic),and children transported to an alien environment,now living with a woman whose language was utterly foreign to them. Celia spent a couple of years of hardship,getting the children to accept her,and educating them all over again in English. The strange thing is that ever after,John and Joan could neither speak nor understand a word of Gaelic.
Big John rose to the rank of Detective Chief Superintendent at Scotland Yard and was in charge of many high profile cases including the "Jack Spot" London gangster case,and the Ruth Ellis murder investigations. Ruth Ellis was the last woman to hang in Britain,in 1955. John Maciver was in his time Master Mason of London. Any time we were staying in London or travelling on to mainland Europe,we would stay in Colindale with Celia and John,and we were always welcomed like family. I remember once being driven by John, with Celia at his side, to Euston Station to catch a Saturday evening train back to Glasgow.It was the end of the Glasgow Fair Holiday,and the station was packed with a multitude of people. John navigated his large black saloon through this throng to the station's main entrance. A young London bobby approached the car,and told John firmly but politely that he could not enter and would need to reverse. John said nothing,and his expression remained unchanged. Reaching into a waistcoat pocket,John showed the bobby what was obviously his warrant card."Just follow me,sir.Make way for this car".I felt like a thousand pounds.
P.S. The first time I tasted a mushroom was in Dalmore. Celia,on holiday one year in Dalmore,had espied large mushrooms high up on croft No.10,under the hill. I asked John and Joan why they were harvesting those large saucer like objects. "Come over to the house and you'll see". When I tried my first fried mushroom,it tasted like a juicey piece of steak - truely delicious,although it would be many years on before mushrooms appeared on my plate again.

The Two Annies and the Horse Treatment.

Anna na Cnamhan (Annie Maciver)was one of my mother's best friends,the other being Phemie Galbraith from Acharacle,whom she met during her days in the New Club in Glasgow. Anna na Cnamhan was also known as Annie Bones or Annie Smith,her own proper married name. Ages with my mother,and coming like her from Dalmore, they were in the same class throughout their time in Carloway School. In a class photograph(courtesy of the Carloway Historical Society),Annie appears as a sweet faced "doll"in ringlets,and attired in the most beautiful dress. These were the words of my mother,who had straight hair and no ringlets. "She was the only girl in the Cnamhan's family,and the youngest,and they really treated her like a doll",said my mother without the least hint of jealousy. They both went to Glasgow,where their friendship was further cemented,and they were regular visitors in each other's house. Annie would come to our house in Renfrew for a "sleepover",and bless them,they were just like two young girls again,crying with laughter underneath a pile of Harris Tweed blankets. I remember visiting my mother one Saturday afternoon and noticing that she looked very tired."A graidh,I'm knackered(unaware of this word's etymology,I think).Annie Smith was here yesterday, and we talked and laughed right through the night". I didn't stay too long.
I recall that one of the two Annies came across an article in the Sunday Post,concerning a treatment used by veterinary surgeons in equine "arthritis". The Annies were fellow sufferers of arthritis,and were always on the lookout for novel treatments. The Sunday Post was an invaluable source of modern medical advances. Now,Lewis ladies are never far from expert advice(there are many Ph.Ds around),and through the offices of one such person,they acquired a winchester full of this potent liquid,which would see to their aches and pains once and for all. The fair skin of these ladies are far removed from the hide of a horse,as they were to discover,and the experiment was immediately abandoned. No further mention was made of "the horse treatment" by Anna Glass or her pal Anna na Cnamhan That did not stop me and others from enquiring if there was anything new in the Sunday Post.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

John Maciver. "Na Cnamhan"

While I could never understand the origins of the names "Glass" and "Shoudie" for my two grandfathers,the nickname, "Na Cnamhan", for old John Maciver(10 Dalmore)was at least explicable by virtue of his rangy appearance. Tall and thin, Iain was known as "Na Cnamhan",which translates as "the bones". Note the use of the plural here. We are not talking of a single bone,but a collection. Addressed in the first person,he was known as Iain,but otherwise it was always "Na Cnamhan"(Bones). "Taigh na Cnamhan" was the last house as you left the village,and was the only other "taigh gheal" (white house)in Dalmore, when I was a young boy. Na Cnamhan and his wife had connections in Carloway and Doune(I think),and he was one of the original ten to secure a croft in Dalmore in the early 1920s. I only knew Iain and his wife to see them in the kitchen of No.10,but I do recall his slow sonorous voice. Seoras and Iain Shoudie,my uncle,were testament of Na Cnamhan's quick,and at times acerbic wit,delivered in a slow monotone.
They had a family of four boys(Donald,John,Murdo,Archie) and one girl,Annie,the youngest,who was ages with my own mother(Anna Glass). Donald married one of Seoras'sisters and they settled in Stornoway. Mudd na Cnamhan(Murdo),whom I often spoke to while he was weaving, married a beautiful woman from Shawbost called Mairi Anna,and they went off to live in Barvas. The one member of the family who looked like his father and with a similar physique was Archie,who inherited the croft,and whom I got to know well. Archie lived up to the "Cnamhan" moniker. He was tall,thin and gangly,but could he move on these long legs of his? He had a fine turn of phrase,very dry and very witty. He was a likeable man. Archie obtained his driving licence later in life(like many others in the district)and bought himself a Bedford Dormobile van,de rigeur among the fashionistas of the island,the whaling fraternity. Archie,I don't think,ever mastered the proper use of a car's clutch,and consequently his van travelled along the roads in a peculiar series of leaps and shudders. One tended to pull into the first available passing place at the sight of Archie's chariot in the distance. Maybe this was the reason for Archie's unblemished driving record. Archie often called into Taigh Shoudie for a wee bit morning ceilidh,and even the odd dram.
Archie was called up as a private in the Cameron Highlanders during WW2,and he was one of the unfortunates to be captured at St.Valery in France,when the entire 51st Highland Division were taken by the Germans in 1940. When Archie returned to Lewis after his captivity,he was literally a bag of bones, and very weak. Still,years of good Lewis feeding,especially from his wife Chrissie,was to put that to rights.
N.B. It was only recently that I realised that the Gaelic for Archibald was "Gilleasbuig",which means the "follower of the bishop". Now boys,don't fret. This was in pre-reformation days. A bit more on Clann na Cnamhan in the next post.