Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Barbara. The 'Fishwife' With A Heart Of Pure Gold.

In the days before quota's ruined everything, Aberdeen in Scotland, was a major fishing port. Hundreds of trawlers, drifters, purse netters etc, all used to work out of there, and make a living.
My Mother sometimes worked in the fish trade. She was an expert fish filleter. Actually, if you wanted to earn enough money you had to be an expert at it, because it was all piece work in those days.
It was when she was in the fish trade that she first met Barbara, another expert fish filleter. Despite the obvious differences in their characters, they became good friends, these two 'fishwives'. Probably due to Barbara's innate ability to see the good in everyone.
Barbara and my Mother could quite easily be among these happy women
The term 'fishwife' is, or was, often used in a derogatory manner. Mostly entirely wrongly in my view. These were hard working women, of great character, struggling to earn enough to supplement their fisherman husbands uncertain pay.
In it's worse sense 'fishwife' was used to describe a woman of dubious moral standards. In that respect, and though it pains me to say it, my Mother would  probably qualify at times, although there were some nicer aspects to her character, which made people like her. At least initially. When she was good, as they say, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid. Barbara on the other hand most definitely did not qualify. I loved her.
A short woman of large proportions, she was nearly as wide as she was tall. What a face she had. Open, smiling and pleasant to look at. Full of joy. Full of contentment. Full of hope. Full of love.
Love for Bob, her trawlerman husband. Love for her three beautiful teenage daughters, Elsie, Alice, and Jean. Love for her friends. Love for her friends children.
Things were beginning to go wrong at home between my Mum and Jimmy her new husband, and I would often be sent to stay with 'Auntie Barbara' at her home in Aberdeen.
She and her daughters would spoil me rotten. Barbara and I and her border collie, Lassie, would often get up early and go for coach trips to Braemar. I think it was on these days out that I would develop my love for the mountains.
Of course I loved all the attention. Especially from the girls. At twelve or thirteen I was rapidly developing an interest in the fairer sex. Not that I let them know it of course, they were older than me. Besides which, I was far too shy.
I was in seventh heaven, when Barbara and the girls would sit in company with me, playing board games or cards. Alice, who just edged it, as my favourite, with her long red hair, would give me lessons on the piano. My word it was hard to concentrate, with her sitting so close against me on the piano stool. Especially when she had to lean across me, to show which key to hit, or to turn a page of the music.
Bob was often at sea, but when he was home I would watch Barbara and the girls fuss around him. It made me realise how good family life could be. There were no arguments or fights in their house, at least not that I could see. Occasionally I would see one or the other of the girls looking sad, but that was as a result of boyfriend trouble usually. These lovely girls were not without an interested suitor for long though.
Elsie, the eldest daughter was always wanting to take me shopping for new clothes. Perhaps I was a scruffy kid. I'm certainly a scruffy man.
One day, lovely Elsie spent almost a whole months wages on buying me a suit. She just did it out of pure kindness. Truly a daughter that Barbara and Bob could be proud of. Despite my unhappy childhood, I think it was remembering times such as this, that ultimately saved me from going even further down the wrong path, than I actually did.
Where money was concerned, my stepfather Jimmy was, what would kindly be called 'careful'. Money was probably what he and Mum argued about most.
I think Barbara and the girls felt sorry for my Mum, and thought she deserved some help. Buying things for me was one way they could help ease her financial woes.
Jimmy wasn't poor. In fact due to his 'careful' nature,he was quite wealthy. The trouble was, that after a lifetime of struggling along on very little, Mum was profligate with cash, and after the brief honeymoon period, Jimmy had tightened the purse strings.
There were other reasons why they argued almost constantly. These reasons will become apparent as my story unfolds. They are for another day.
One day Bob did not come home. He had died of a heart attack at sea. Barbara was devastated by the loss of her childhood sweetheart, and she too had a fatal heart attack a few months later. But to my mind she simply could not adjust to life without him, and succumbed to a broken heart.
The girls all married and went their separate ways. Mum and Jimmy argued on. I ended up back in 'care', in a children's home.
The circle of sadness and longing for a normal life had briefly broken. I had experienced happiness. Now the ragged ends had met again.


  1. What a heartbreaking story. When will this kid catch a break?

  2. John, though the ending was tragic, there was happiness and love in Barbara's home. Glad you were able to experience these things not available in your own home life.

  3. Wow- I had a wonderful glimpse of normal family life through a couple who let me spend tons of time with them in college. That alone made it possible for me to create a somewhat normal adult family life. Glad you had some glimpses too, and recognized them as good.

  4. You have had an extraordinary life as shown in these stories. The ups have been poignant and fleeting and the downs have been so extreme. I have no idea how you became the person you are. I hope you are proud of yourself for that.

  5. The Barbara's of this world are worth their weight in gold when a child is crying out for love. I'm glad you experienced their way of life but its so sad that you eventually returned to care. Like Emma said, I hope you are proud of yourself.

  6. It was good for you to experience a "normal" family, albeit not for long.I enjoy your writings.

  7. Some people are just plain good! Glad you found some of them.
    Jane x

  8. I'm glad you knew what sounds like a truly wonderful family. Well told again, I enjoy reading your true life stories and emotions change depending what you are writing about at the time. Have you thought of publishing a book? By the way, that's a lovely header photo of you and your son.

  9. Barbara and her family sound like wonderful people. How lucky for you to have had the chance to spend time with them.
    Sorry I haven't been around, I've gotten myself behind and now i'm trying to catch up with everyone