Glass Remembered … The Simple Life

We are grateful to Louise Mangles (nee Nicol) for the following article..

It’s easy to take for granted all the facilities and amenities we have available nowadays especially when living in urban surroundings. In rural Scotland in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s it was a different story.

The gamekeeper’s tied house my sister and I were brought up in had no electricity. The Hydro Electric pylons didn’t come down our valley and the generator that supplied the Lodge and the estate workers cottages beside it wasn’t powerful enough to extend power to the keeper’s house. We had an Aladdin paraffin lamp for the living room and oil lamps and candles for the bedrooms. Eventually Father installed a Calor gas light in the living room. I remember it well – the glass shade fell off once and hit me on the forehead resulting in the need for stitches. I still have the scar! Mother cooked on Calor gas rings and baked in the oven attached to the Superheat grate. Many farms had their own generators and the constant throb emanating from somewhere in the steading was a familiar sound. There were no streetlights of course and it really did get very dark at night. One of my jobs was to go to the home farm after the evening milking to collect our pail of fresh milk. It was a lovely job to walk through the fields in the summer and wait by the byre door as the cows were milked. We had full fat whole milk
warm from the cow and we were none the worse for it. However walking across the fields in winter in the dark with a torch was a different matter and I had the fright of my life once when a large white shape loomed up out of the grass and bellowed at me – it was just one of the dairy cows. It was normal for us to carry torches when we went out and about and we had lights on our bikes literally to see where we were going as much as for us being seen as there was so little traffic on the roads.

Rubbish disposal was something country folk dealt with by themselves. There was no point putting stuff in a rubbish bin as there was no bin collection. First of all we didn’t have much rubbish – very little was wasted. Quite a lot was burnt on the open fire, vegetation was composted and food scraps were fed to the hens we kept. Empty glass jars were re-used for home made jam and marmalade and bottles were returned from whence they came. We did re-cycling before re-cycling was trendy! Tin cans were really the only disposal problem and Father buried them in a big hole in the wood behind the kennels. Even the mats on the stone flagged farm kitchen floors were rag rugs made from strips of old clothing cut into lengths and pulled through in tufts into an old hessian tattie sack using a rug hook.

The water supply wasn’t exactly mains – ours came from a hill spring and was often brown with peat.The only stipulation there was about drinking from the burns on the moors was to check that there wasn’t a dead sheep in the water immediately above where you were drinking! Sewage was dealt with in a cesspit and there were dire warnings not to walk on the great slab of slate that covered ours in case it broke and you fell in.

We were lucky to have a local general store that also had a Post Office counter, a telephone kiosk and a petrol pump. My earliest memories of the shop included my mother still having ration books to hand over. Food packaging was minimal in those days with biscuits loose in big square tins with glass squares in the lids, bacon and ham on a slicing machine to be cut to order and butter and cheese cut off big blocks and wrapped in paper and weighed out. We also had vans that visited everywhere and sold groceries, butcher meat and fish. The supermarkets have just about caught up with this idea and now they too are delivering peoples grocery orders in vans!

We had a local bus company that provided the essential school bus to take students to school in Huntly. The bus was also available for use by the public and the bus driver knew his passengers so well. He would often stop at the end of farm roads with no one in sight and just wait. Eventually someone would rush out grabbing their belongings as they came. He seemed to know which days which folk would be going for their messages. As well as students and shoppers the bus often carried packages to be delivered along the route and there were sometimes even boxes of day old chicks cheeping away on their way to some farmers wife.

Life was simpler and not always easy because of all these limitations. In spite of that we managed to be healthy and happy and we were well read and educated and for centuries Scotland has produced engineers, explorers, inventors, scientists, philosophers and philanthropists from just such backgrounds are this.

Louise Mangles