Friday, 3 June 2011

Let Me Show You Around The Place

Bennachie in the near distance
Mother and I have completed the long overnight journey from London, England, and have just alighted from a bus, having finally arrived at our destination. A croft, in the shadow of the mountain Bennachie, about twenty miles distant from Aberdeen in north east Scotland. I have enjoyed the journey, and wish it could go on for a bit longer. It has been wonderful being the focus of my Mums attention. At the same time I am excited to know what comes next.
It is 1959. I am twelve years old. Until her sudden appearance at my foster home yesterday, I had not seen my Mother for many years. She is almost a stranger. A stranger I am thrilled to know and love.
On our right hand side as we lugged our suitcases up the gently sloping track to the crofthouse was a well tended vegetable garden. Neatly spaced, tidy rows of plants growing in profuse, well ordered abundance. On the left were the back walls of the next door crofthouse and outbuildings. All of the same ubiquitous grey granite which also made up all the drystone walls in this region.
The track led to a yard enclosed on two sides by a house with outbuildings. As we drew near, a flock of what seemed to be hundreds of chickens but in reality was about fifty, came flapping and squawking towards us, and milled chaotically around our feet, so that I didn't know where to step next. Mum disappeared into one of the buildings and reappeared with a pan of corn which she began to scatter on the ground. All the while screeching raucously, "Heeeere chickchick chicks. Heeeere chickchick chicks". This was the first time I had heard anyone calling chickens, and I found it highly amusing. I was also glad that they responded to her calling and left me in peace. Nowadays I use the same call to get my chickens attention at feed times. I notice that my extremely handsome son George has adopted the same call. It is becoming a tradition, perhaps it will go on forever.
It was a kind of relief when I found out that Jimmy, Mum's new husband was not yet home from his work at the local quarry. I don't know why I was apprehensive. Maybe just a boys shyness. Awkwardness about knowing what to say at a first meeting. But anyway I was concerned for some reason and was glad to find I could put off the moment.
This also gave me the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity about my new home and environment, and explore unhindered by my innate shyness.

After the journey the need to answer a call of nature was somewhat urgent upon me and I asked my Mother where the toilet was. It was a bit of a surprise when she directed me to a small wooden building at the back of the house. Inside was a plank of wood with a round hole in it. Underneath the plank and aligned with the hole, was a white enamel bucket with a handful of grass in the bottom. This was the primitive toilet. It turned out that this was mainly there for the comfort of visitors. I would soon be expected to take a spade and do my business up the hill, among the gorse bushes. I quickly got used to it.
There was no bathroom. The only place to wash in any degree of comfort was at the stone sink in the kitchen.  The water came from a well via a cast iron hand pump. It was always cold and refreshing to drink. This pump had to be primed before each use by pouring a jug of water down it.
There was also a bigger water pump in the yard which was mainly used to fill the cattle trough, but was also where Jimmy had his morning wash. I have no idea where Jimmy had a bath.
My fortnightly scrub was in a tin tub full of lukewarm water in the living room. Not surprisingly this was a bit of an ordeal and I liked to get it over as quickly as I could. Mum had the same routine as me.
The first time I saw Mum taking a bath in this way I felt terribly embarrassed and disconcerted. I had never seen a real live naked woman. She however didn't seem at all concerned by her nudity or the fact that I was in the room, and even used to get me to scrub her back with a flannel. Most times though we would just have a strip wash beside the kitchen sink. This wasn't unusual. Lots of people used this method of personal hygiene in those days. Especially in country areas.
At this stage I want to apologise dear reader. I feel that this post is not well constructed. I am drifting from my  intended purpose which was to introduce you in an ordered way to my new home. My chaotic mind is in full flow this evening. However, it will I am quite hopeful, lead to the place I want to take you.
The house was small. Two rooms upstairs and two down. My bedroom was upstairs. The sloping ceiling had a small skylight window on one side, and the room was quite dark. There was no electricity. I would see my way with candles or oil lamp. The bed was old and very high off the floor. Which gave plenty of room for the china chamber pot underneath it. The feather mattress was soft and yielding and would almost engulf my body when I lay down on it. It was really cosy in the winter, especially when I also had a stone hot water bottle beside me.
The other room upstairs was always locked. But a locked door is a source of immense interest. When I did find the key I could not resist a look inside. It was a store room, and contained all the belongings, clothing and photographs of Jimmy's first wife who had died many years before. He had kept everything. I felt like an intruder, and did not look in there again.
Downstairs was the living room. There was a small cooking range here but Mum mainly used a small electric cooker in the kitchen. The socket for this was the only source of electricity in the house. Despite the lack of facilities she was a fantastic cook and I discovered how good food could be when I lived with her. I had always been a fussy eater in the past. This was probably due to the quality of the food served up.
The kitchen was just a wooden lean to attached to the front of the house. It was also the only way in or out of the house.
The other room downstairs was Mum and Jimmy's bedroom.
 It soon became apparent that there was not a lot of marital bliss went on at the other side of that door.


  1. Very, very interesting. I'll be back for the next installment.

  2. The mountain is beautiful. I hope you had a long stay with your mother. So far you seem cautiously happy.

  3. I think that chicken call is a universal thing now. It's the way I've always heard it done. I guess it must be the best way to do it.

  4. M'encanta el gatet amb el colla vermell !!
    Salutacions des de Catalunya .

  5. We called our chickens the same way. I remember visiting relatives who lived very much the same way.
    I have many questions but will wait perhaps you will answer them in the next chapter.

  6. These memoirs really would make a good book/TV serial.
    Jane x

  7. I'm glad I got back to read part 2 and looking forward to more. You have a great memory and have a way of inviting us into the story.