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.