An insight into Glass way of life – by Louise Mangles (nee Nicol)
Friends and Neighbours
One of the great delights of living in the country of my childhood was knowing the people and their way of life. Rural Aberdeenshire in the early ’50s was still fairly well populated with only a few of the more isolated crofts empty and ruined. Now the Cabrach and the upper reaches of the River Deveron are largely ghostly empty places. This is obviously why the area can now claim to have such low light pollution.
As one of the keepers quines I met with everyone from the lairds domestic staff in the ‘big house’, the farmers and fee’d men, the shepherds and everyone else right up to the Lords and Ladies who came for the shooting. The main professional people we knew were the Doctor, the Minister and the Dominee and we also had the policeman and the district nurse living locally. One of the nurse’s jobs was to visit our primary school regularly to examine the children. We were weighed and measured and she always looked at our hands — I think that was for scabies. She then said what lovely hair we had as she ran her fingers through it while looking for head lice — we never suspected that’s what she was really doing at the time! While the nurse had a little car I only remember the policeman on a pushbike but I do suspect the nurse was the one who had the greater number of emergencies to deal with in our peaceful community.
The doctor who came out from the cottage hospital in Huntly when called was a keen fisherman and he always wore a tweed hat festooned with fishing flies. When he bent over you to examine your throat or your ears you were always in of acute danger of being hooked on a fishing fly. The minister in our parish actually had two churches to preach in. One was referred to as the wee Free Church and was only used occasionally but neither church had any heating so Sunday services in the winter were a Spartan experience. There was the boy’s prep school at Blairmore and the boys attended the Sunday service in their short trousers and school caps. Their fidgetings and whisperings were always a great distraction during the long sermon and one of them invariably managed to coup his bag of pan drops out all over the floor.
Beldorney Primary School which I attended in the early ’50s was a severe stone building with very high windows which meant you were not distracted by anything going on outside. The school was on the side of the road at the top of a hill with just the schoolhouse beside it. Pupils came down from the various glens and were the children of farmers, shepherds and estate workers — my sister and I were one of two gamekeeper families who attended. Each class consisted of just one or two children but in some years there was no intake at all. Eventually when the numbers fell to seven pupils for the whole school and no other children forthcoming it was closed down. There was one big classroom with a big metal fireplace surrounded by a fireguard over which our wet clothing was draped to dry out a bit in the winter in front of the roaring fire. There were outside toilets, no electricity and the only concession to modernity was a wireless, which ran on ‘wet’ acid filled batteries. The radio was used to provide us with a programme called Music and Movement, which was our physical education for the week. There was a piano and we all stood round it every morning while the teacher played and we sang a hymn. The education was good old-fashioned 3Rs and pupils from that little country school went on to be teachers, engineers, scientists, nurses and successful businessmen.
The concept of ‘the big society’ was the way of life we all new about long before politicians ‘discovered’ it. When the shooting season was on the gamekeeper needed beaters and flankers so the farmers, farm workers and shepherds came along. It was a chance to earn some extra money and was a good way of meeting your neighbours to catch up with the news since you’re nearest neighbours would normally be many miles away. By keeping in with the keeper you also increased your chances of being invited to join in at a pigeon shoot or a hare hunt! Then when the hairst needed to be gathered in in the days of binders and stooks Father returned the favour and lent a hand. He could also give a hand shearing sheep to help the shepherds. There was always an information exchange network going when it came to letting people know about broken fences, backit ewes, orphaned lambs, poachers, hoodie’s nests, new fox dens, lost dogs and feral cats. In the winter when the roads were frequently blocked everyone helped to dig out tractors – even the snowplough had to be dug out sometimes — and push cars up hills. Our school bus into Huntly had often to be pushed through deep drifts by the older boys and then when we got to school and found it was to be closed because of ‘worsening weather’ the bus had to pushed back through the same ever deepening drifts.
In the days before everyone had electricity there was also a tradition of neighbourliness when someone new moved in. Because it would take time to get fires going and stoves heated up you always took hot food in to them on moving day when you dropped in to introduce yourself and offer to help — something that might now be construed as being plain nosey! You also left fires laid and some firewood when you moved out to make it easier for the next folk. In the States there’s a tradition called the Welcome Wagon where someone visits with gifts and all the information you need about the locality and services when you first move in — I’m sure that idea must have emigrated from rural Scotland originally!