Friday, 14 September 2012

Fifi Lamaar Travels To See MacCollie

It was a summer's evening in early August around 9 o'clock when the Loch Seaforth came alongside Pier Number One in Stornoway. The boat was full to capacity and there was a buzz of excitement among its passengers. A large throng of relatives and friends had gathered on the quay.  The tired but happy families were beginning to descend the gangway, assisted by the strong hands of the dockers. The sweet smell of peat smoke and the gentle lilt of Gaelic brought back memories of their island youth. " Bha na duine bho tir mor a' tilleadh dhachaigh." Gael :  The people from the mainland were returning home.
                   Suddenly there was a hush among the assembled crowd. Donald Alex, who was carrying luggage across the pier, turned round to see what might be amiss.  There at the top of the gangway stood this magnificent black creature, which was, as it were, posing for some unseen cameras. Here stood this tall, elegant "standard" poodle, whose curly coat had been cut in the most amazing way, reminiscent, it seemed of the way tall hedges are shaped in the gardens of fine houses. They call it the art of 'topiary'. This female had teeth of incredible whiteness, and eyelashes as long as the bristles of a scrubbing brush. She had a pink ribbon fashioned as a bow atop her head, and the most dazzling collar of diamonte on leather.
 "An e cu na caora ha sinn air neo an Donas Dubh ?" shouted Donald Alex to a work colleague. Gael : Is that a dog or a sheep or the Devil.  There were few on that quay who had ever seen or heard of a standard poodle, except perhaps those making their way to Matheson Road. But people were thrilled to see this exquisite lady moving like one of those fabulous horses of the Spanish Riding School. Slowly she made her way to the buses parked on South Beach Street. It was then that one realised that the lady in charge of her was the lady five steps behind.
                    Lewis had witnessed the arrival of a very special personage, Miss Fifi Lamaar from Glasgow, whose name would be engraved on the memory of people on this island for years to come. Miss Lamaar and partner obviously knew which bus to board, as they alighted the blue bus destined for Carloway. The "Magaran" helped them on board and, carrying their fine leather cases, he found them seats at the rear of the bus. A crowd of Stornoway children were now gathered below the window at which Fifi sat. They were entranced at the sight of this exquisite creature, and waved and cheered as the Carloway bus moved off. Fifi responded with a beautiful smile and waved a bejewelled 'spog' in the manner of Her Majesty. It began to rain as the bus made it way across the Barvas moor. Fifi and her companion, Isobel, looked forlornly out of the misted-up windows, looking for evidence of a living creature. Apart from the distant cry of a sheep, there were only heather clad moors, giant boulders and small lochs dotted across the landscape. Isobel could see that Fifi looked worried, if not a little afraid, and putting her arm around her, she whispered consoling words in her ear. Fifi might not understand what Isobel was saying, but there was no doubt of the love behind these words. After reaching the village of Barvas, the rain had stopped, and the red rays of the setting sun fell upon the faces of the passengers. Fifi's spirits rose as she saw the lights go on in the houses. Children, gathered beside a small shop, waved at the people in the bus as it passed. Up the road a bit, the bus came to a standstill, as a group of cows were slowly making there way home for milking.
                                          As the bus slowly made its way through various villages, it would stop at times to let whole families of Gaels off to be met by their "cairdean". Gael. relatives.   Tears, and tears of laughter would see the Magaran put the cases and boxes down by the croft gate. A half crown often made its way into a pocket in his bib overall. Fifi had formed a picture in her mind of this countryside, and only after delving into the recesses of her memory, did she make the connection. Stanley Baxter used to read the Broons to her during breaks in rehearsal, and her favourite stories would see the entire Broons family at their 'but an' ben'  in the country. This was as near to that as one was likely to get. This was a unique place, but very different from her home at Charing Cross Mansions in Glasgow, which she shared with Isobel.  It was now darker, and the headlights of the bus picked out sheep with their lambs, many lying down on the road, where it is said they benefit from the heat absorbed during the day.At Beinn Ghuidalum, overlooking the village of Dalbeg, a large part of that hill had been excavated in successive quarrying operations. The large number of lorries and various machines would suggest that Beinn Ghuidalum was working at full tilt at present. The darkness within the bus and the drone of its engine had lulled Fifi into a pleasant reverie. She instinctively knew that the journey which had begun at Queen Street Station this morning at 6am.must now be near an end.
                                           At that moment, the Magaran announced that they were now at Carloway Bridge, and that this was the terminus ( he didn't use that word, exactly ). He was saying that this was as far as he and his bus was going.  "Is this near Doune Carloway", asked Isobel.  "No, lady, this is Knock Carloway.  Doune Carloway is a couple of miles further on past Chiribhig, but this bus doesn't go there. Fifi whispered something in Isobel's ear. " Sir, would it be possible to hire this bus as a taxi with you as driver of course? We could then get to Doune Carloway?"   "Ah, well now. That is an unusual request, but being as it is dark, and late , I'm sure something can be arranged," said the Magaran. "Do you have in mind an address there. "Yes," said Isobel. "It's the Church of Scotland manse house in Doune."   The Magaran was Free Church, but this was business.  More half-crowns would be exchanged before the "taxi " reached the gate leading up to the Doune manse. The Magaran led the way to the front door, where he deposited the ladies' luggage, before making a timely retreat back to the bus. There were lights on in the two rooms either side of the front door, but the heavy drapes inside the windows were only partially closed.
                                               The moment had arrived, and with Fifi's nose maintaining pressure on Isobel's back, there would be no going back. Isobel stretched her arm to the wrought iron bell-pull, and pulling hard, the sounds that followed might have wakened the good people of Doune, if not Hell itself.  The bell or bells peeled for a long time, or so it seemed to Isobel. The movement of shadows cast by the lights in the room suggested that someone, or something was stirring in that house. "Co tha aig an doras aig an uair seo?" could be heard quite clearly, but these words were lost on the ladies outside.  Gael.  Who's at the door at this hour ?  Shortly, the door opened and silhouetted in the hallway was this tall, powerfully built man. This was the Reverend Kenneth Graham, the minister residing in the Church of Scotland manse at Doune Carloway. What the Reverend Graham saw on the other side of the threshold struck him with awe and disbelief.. In front of him stood a woman dressed in  gypsy garb, and tethered to her was this very large black beast with pink ribbons in its hair and a collar sparkling bright in the hall light. The reverend gentleman was very confused when Isobel made their introductions. " Sir, let me introduce myself and my friend to you. I am Miss Isobel Craig and this is Miss Fifi Lamaar, theatrical personages from Glasgow. I regret descending on you at this late hour, but Miss Lamaar is here at the invitation of her close friend, the Reverend John MacCollie, whose acquaintance she made a while back at the Cardonald Reunion in Glasgow. We believe he resides here with you."   Fifi revealed her full set of brilliant white teeth, and gave a rapid flutter of her long black eye lashes. The Reverend Graham was by now apoplectic, and summoning  his last reserves, he called out in a booming voice, MACCOLLIE ! ! !
                                       Big John MacCollie appeared at the top of the stairs, a bit unsteady and bleary-eyed, as if he had just emerged from a sleep ( which he had ). He gave a high pitched strangled bark, very unlike the deep growl his congregation were used to. Told he had visitors, John started down the stairs. He couldn't believe his eyes. There in front of him was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Fifi and John could not hide their love, which Isobel knew about, but which was all news to John's master, the Reverend Graham. "Come now," said he, "Let us all come through to the sitting room, where the peat fire is burning warmly. Perhaps someone can tell me what's going on. What do you say, Iain,'a bhalaich"  Gael.
John, my boy.  John couldn't say anything except to bark very quietly. Isobel might be able to explain the present situation, but for a fuller account the interpretative skills of 'An 'Houdie would be needed. John and Fifi's tails were wagging in a show of love. The Reverend Graham mused that tongues would be wagging before long.
                                         They all went down to Dalmore to visit their friends in taigh 'Houdie  Gael.  Shoudie's house. where they received a warm welcome. The animals were amazed to see the Reverend MacCollie ( it wasn't time for the communions,) but his lady friend, Miss Lamaar, rendered them all speechless. A visit from the Queen could not have been more surprising. It was noted that John MacCollie had dispensed with his dog collar and sported very modern casual wear, which you could only buy in Glasgow. He was by Fifi's side as he introduced her and Isobel to each one there. Fred thought that Miss Fifi was a "big darling" ( a "brammer" in the local vernacular ), and hoped that he too could find a beautiful curly cutie like Fifi.  John assured the Wee Man that the poodle was a very popular dog out in Glasgow, and that they come in all sizes and colours ( well, black or white, to be sure ). For Fred, this news made leaving Dalmore a little easier to take. Big John was now relaxed about being without his clerical collar, which at times felt like a burden to him. He seemed to have experienced a kind of rebirth, which had imbued in him a new happiness, for which the beautiful Fifi could take much of the credit. Iain 'Houdie placed Fifi and John in front of the fire, with his arms around their shoulders. He spoke to them ( as only he could ) about their future plans, and whether these involved living in Lewis or going off to Glasgow. Confiding in 'An 'Houdie, they revealed that they had determined to live in Glasgow, where Fifi could continue her theatrical career, and where John would probably find a charge in one of the many Animal Churches in the Glasgow area. Isobel would stay with them, of course.
                            The holidays were over now for both the people and their animals, and they would return to the "tir mor"  Gael.  the mainland.  For John it would be to start anew in the City of Glasgow, albeit with Fifi by his side. For Jura, Fred, Guinness and Victoria home for them was Renfrew. Although everybody was sad at leaving Dalmore, they knew that they would return again. Iain 'Houdie spoke to the animals once more, and recited this little ditty, which brought a tear to some eyes.

                  When Big Fred Hill will come with the bus,
                  There will be no more winking again,
                  One more wink at Stornoway Quay,
                  And no more winking again.
                  One more wink at Kyle of Lochalsh,
                  And no more winking again,
                  And one more wink at Renfrew Cross,
                  And no more winking again.
I know, I know, but it did have some meaning for the cats and dogs.

Dalmore Tails is now available as a book ( 196 pages ) from Amazon Books and on Kindle. It can also be sourced from many outlets on the Isle of Lewis

Google Amazon Books and enter "Donald John Maclennan" in the box named Book.

My original book "Dalmore - Tales of a Lewis Village" appears as a New Edition, newly ( also on Amazon ) formatted and greatly expanded, with new stories and 60 more photographs ( 333 pages )

Cost of books :

Dalmore Tails  £9.95
Dalmore Tales of a Lewis Village  £13.95


Friday, 7 September 2012

MacCollie returns to Cardonald.

School reunions are not always what we imagine them to be. We harbour sentimental thoughts about our fellow alumni, and imagine them to be larger and older versions of how we saw them, all those years ago. Reunions, if they have to be arranged, should take place within the first twenty years of leaving school, but not after that. A favourite with some is the "Class of '54" type reunion, an idea which has come from America, like so many other things. The Class of '54 involves all the pupils who started their first year at school with you in 1954. I knew of an old friend of mine, Robert, who was invited to his Class of '03 school reunion dinner in a large hotel in Edinburgh. This was to be a 50th anniversary reunion, the first time most of these people had seen or heard of any of their "old school friends", bar a few. For our old friend, it is easy to compute that the reunion of '03 took place last year in 1953, and that he would be around 11 years of age when he started secondary school in 1903. So, if you're still with me and your arithmetic is holding, it is obvious that Robert was 64 years of age when he entered the portals of that grand hotel in Edinburgh. What he expected, goodness alone knows. What he saw was something entirely different. Before entering the reception room proper, Robert was handed his name badge by an ancient man, bald and lean, whose name meant nothing to Robert now, nor for that matter 50 years ago. With a handshake of welcome, and a weak smile, my friend passed through "on the other side." Holding his drink, he started to navigate his way through this throng of long forgotten names and faces. People would approach him to ask quite openly, without demurring, "Who are you, and do I know you." Robert felt like saying "Read the bloody name plate," but of course he didn't. Here was a collection of grey hair, blue hair, no hair, people with cocktail sticks, others with walking sticks, and the whole atmosphere replete with the smell of eau de cologne and moth balls. People were peering closely at the names on lapels, hoping to find someone to hold on to, someone to talk to, a person they might have remembered from the distant past. They quietly moved away with him/her, as if it were their first morning with their new pal in the school playground all these years ago. Robert had a terrible premonition that he was attending a future Christmas party at his own eventide home. He panicked at the Hogarthian scene before him, and left as soon as he could, without causing offence. A 50 year anniversary reunion only happens once in a life time, and for some it is once too often. It is an intimation of one's mortality which can be a frightening thing.
The Right Reverend John MacCollie had risen early that morning and was fully dressed as he prepared a simple breakfast for himself in the kitchen of the manse in Doune, Carloway. The postie had left three letters on the hall table. "Is that a new collar you've got on ?," asked the postman as he left. MacCollie barked once in affirmation, thinking it pointless to tell the man that it was a new clerical collar of the best quality. However, 'An 'Houdie would understand, and what a boon that was, when his services were called upon to mediate between man and beast. You will remember that Big MacCollie took the "curam" at the same time as his master all these years back during the great "revival" (or awakening) that had swept through the island, His master had entered the ministry, and Doune was held up as a truly unique place where one man and his dog occupied the same manse house in two branches of the established church. John MacCollie was handed one of the letters, which he could not read nor understand, and which his master could not translate for him. Told that the letter was from Glasgow, John became very excited, and he determined to make his way to Dalmore to have Iain 'Houdie look it over.
MacCollie handed his letter to 'An 'Houdie ( to be accurate, it was passed from mouth to hand) and sat down on his haunches, tail wagging in excitement. He straightened his new dog collar with a spog, and watched Iain's face as he read the letter. Finally Iain 'Houdie sat down beside him and said, "Well, a' Mhinistear, this will be a surprise, for sure. This letter is from the staff at the Cardonald Dog and Cat Home in Glasgow, inviting you to the first ever reunion of former alumni ( whatever that is) in Glasgow at the end of September. They go on to say that, for obvious reasons, the number of guests must be restricted, and in that regard,they are looking to invite those that have made their mark in the animal world. A similar reunion will be held for the cats who started their lives in Cardonald."
At the end of September, John MacCollie travelled to Glasgow by train and Macbrayne (wee joke), accompanied by 'An 'Houdie who would intercede on his behalf, and Fred, the wee Glasgow dog, who would connect with the 'keelie dugs' (as he said) using the approved greetings of 'Big Man' or 'Wee Man'. A bit of a swagger and a good deal of attitude were important when confronted by the baying hounds of the South Side Team. Fred and Big Eck had a long-standing respect for one another. Fred called Eck 'Big Man', and Eck called Fred the 'Wee Man'. Thus honour and respect were mutually satisfied. Big Eck was of course the leader of the South Side Team, which Fred knew controlled the Cardonald area.
Reunion day arrived and the Cardonald Home was spick and span for the occasion. Iain 'Houdie accompanied John to the venue, and they were astonished to know that each famous alumnus was announced at the door. "Right Reverend John MacCollie, former Moderator of the Animal Church in Scotland, now ministering to our people on the Isle of Lewis. John was of the Class of '49. Welcome John ." There was applause, but many eyes were fixed on 'An 'Houdie whose presence was strange, to say the least - what was he doing here, among the great and the good of the dog world ? Over a beautiful meal, MacCollie got to know many of his fellow alumni. Bill was a black labrador, very like Jura, but, in truth, he thought they all looked the same anyway ! Bill was a guide dog for a young lady, born blind. He was very skilled and it could be hard work depending on what the young lady was doing. It had its benefits and people were very kind. With the young lady, he was allowed into shops, cinemas and various other places where an unaccompanied dog could not go. Then there was Maisie, a cross collie who, she said, was a "sniffer" dog and worked along with the police and the fire brigade. John thought that all dogs did a bit of sniffing, but to land a job sniffing, well ........ "It's not something I'd care to mention in polite company", he told 'An 'Houdie. There were dogs who saved lives, dogs who could bark out answers to arithmetic problems, employed by the banks, and a beautiful standard poodle who had a large repertoire of songs, which saw her perform in the Five Past Eight Show at the Alhambra with Jimmy Logan and Stanley Baxter. She went under the name of Fifi Lamarr. She
even persuaded our minister that he'd feel cooler and more comfortable, if he removed his dog collar - and he did ! In the company of so many dogs, Iain's presence here was of growing interest. Many had seen Iain and MacCollie in conversation, and it wasn't long before 'An 'Houdie's secret was out. This was amazing - a person who could talk to all animals and understand them. As you can imagine, he was feted by the alumni, who spoke as if they'd never get another chance to speak to a human being on equal terms.
Iain and John MacCollie were met by Fred outside the Cardonald Home. Fred gave them a guided tour of Glasgow's south side, ending up at Water Row,beside the Govan Ferry. There in numbers were the South Side Team, with Big Eck at the front. Eck asked if the Reverend MacCollie would give him and his boys a blessing, which our minister felt would not be amiss, under the circumstances. Passengers off the ferry were amazed at the sight of perhaps thirty dogs, all with their heads bowed, listening to the barkings of a large black and white collie.
There was one final surprise in this amazing week. Some time later, another letter arrived at the Doune manse for Big John. He hurried down to Dalmore with this letter to have 'An 'Houdie take a look. Iain's face said it all. This was a letter from Stanley Baxter to say that his friend, Fifi Lamaar, was sending her warmest greetings to the Rt. Rev. MacCollie. He was, she added, an imposing figure and a fine Highland dog, whose company she was blessed to keep. She did say that he didn't need to wear his dog collar at all times, and she looked forward to them meeting in the not so distant future. The assembled group on "leathad 'Houdie" clapped and cheered, and although John was a bit embarrassed, Fred noticed a smile breaking on that bonnie, sonsie face of his. Donnachadh Spagach, the church precentor noticed a marked difference in his minister's demeanour. John was now easy going, and happy as the day's long. Duncan was happy for his friend who went to Glasgow fairly often now, on church business of course.