Wednesday, 11 April 2012

John Jackson : Granda, scaffy, home maker, smoker and philosopher

John Jackson, my Granda was a great man. He loved everyone and in particular he loved Nellie, my Grannie Jackson. As long as he lived, he'd do anything for her. Mind you she was to become very much in charge of things in their household.

Though poverty still exists in parts of the city, in the 1920s, 30s and even into the 40s there was widespread poverty in Dundee.   Jobs were hard to come by. A great number were unemployed. Many  emigrated to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA for what they hoped would be a new and prosperous life. Dundee was a significant port in those days and so another route into paid work for many of the city's young men was to join the merchant navy. This was a path all three of his  sons were eventually to take but my Granda Jackson didn't.

Following the first world war Granda Jackson got a job as a scaffy and after a while the wages he earned from sweeping the city's streets encouraged him to pluck up the courage to ask Grannie to marry him. A few years later he lost his job because the City Corporation discovered he had a club foot which in his desperation to find work was something he had hidden from the authorities. For the rest of his working life he was either unemployed or doing any temporary odd job he could pick up. In another sense though he wasn't unemployed. Nellie, that is my Grannie Jackson, gained full time work at Cox's Jute Mill in Lochee.  In those days in Dundee it was less difficult for women to find a job than it was for men. The jute mills were keen to employ fast working and less expensive female labour. Still, low wages or not, in many households the women were the breadwinners. Dundee became known as a "women's town." So it was Granda Jackson who was the home maker, who kept the tenement flat they lived in ship-shape and it was he who washed, fed, dressed and sent the weans to school on time. He was the one who made sure there was a dinner ready on the table when Grannie had finished her shift at the mill.

Granda was a great support and source of encouragement to his wife and family.  He was very proud of them too.  He was full of admiration for Chrissie - his eldest daughter and who was, in due course, to become my Mum - when she became a nurse. He was proud too when decades later I became the first member of his family to go to college and train to become a teacher. When he heard that I had qualified he said, "Eh dinnae care whit any o' ye say, Eh'll bla' aboot this tae a' body, and then Eh'll  bla' aboot it again." More than any diploma or degree Granda's pride in me remains the most precious accolade I've ever received.

Granda could be a philosopher. My remembrance of a conversation I had with him when I was about 6 or 7 years old brings this to mind.  Granda was a cigarette smoker.  "Woodbine" I think was his brand. I can't remember clearly because unlike other grown ups during my childhood, he never asked me to go to fetch cigarettes for him from the local shop. Occasionally he would smoke a pipe and I noticed that he did not spit while he was smoking a pipe as my Grandad Sharpe did. Grandad Sharpe was someone who always smoked a pipe. One day I asked Granda why he didn't spit into the fireplace when he was smoking a pipe like Grandad Sharpe did. "Weel, Charlie," he said, "There are twa kinds o' smokers. There are dreh anes and wet anes. Ye're ither granda is a wet smoker."

"But Granda," I persisted, "Why then are there dry smokers and why are there wet smokers ?"

"Ach, Charlie," Granda replied, "afore lang ye learn there're questions there's nae answer tae." 

Sunday, 1 April 2012

He was a friend of mine

David was a friend of mine. I loved him dearly. I hope and I think he thought of me as a friend. If that were the case, then it would be a great honour for me.

David wasn't a demonstrative man - he didn't speak at length but I knew when he talked about his family, his wife, Jean, his children, Gaynor and Lee and his grandchildren, Ryan and Charlie, how much he loved them and how proud he was of them.

David was everything I wasn't. He was good looking, he was practical, he could build things, he could fix things and on numerous occasions he rescued my wife Jackie and me when our central heating went wrong or our fence was blown down or our washing machine wasn't working. He was a linguist, a gifted amateur photographer and he was a good cook. He had fine taste in music and he it was who introduced me to Willie Nelson.

Jackie and I have known Jean, his wife,  and David for over 20 years and during that time we've played badminton together, been in pub quiz teams together, gone to concerts together, been to family anniversaries and parties together, and we have shared many meals together.  We've also walked together and that brings me to the infamous perambulation of Dartmoor  which David and I undertook in the early 1990s. This was the occasion David and I slept together.  Just to warn you, there is not going to be a Brokeback Mountain revelation here. The perambulation is a walk around Dartmoor of almost 60 miles and goes through some fairly tough terrain. We intended to do it over a weekend : the main part of the walk, 36 miles, on the Saturday and the remainder on the Sunday.  Rooms were booked for an overnight stay at the Plume of Feathers Inn at Princetown where having completed our day's hiking we were to meet with Jean and Jackie  to have supper, stay the night and then to complete our expedition on the morrow. From our early Saturday morning start near Brimpts Farm everything went well. The going was good. David encouraged us when we were on the steep ascents and I gained strength when we were going downhill. Soon after midday the weather broke and the rain came down with a vengeance. We were seriously delayed  - streams  became rushing torrents and the ground became boggy. Although it was June the glowering grey clouds made it very dark. We began to lose our footing and increasingly, as the afternoon became evening, we fell down holes and crevices. At about 10 0’clock, fearful of breaking limbs from one of our falls and having missed our schedule for meeting Jean and Jackie we decided it was not safe to go on and that we would bivouac for the night. We were very cold and wet. Before we had set out Jackie had packed, for use in emergency, two special blankets made from the same material as astronauts' suits but  after a thorough ransack of my rucksack I could only find one blanket. We found a peat hole and cuddled up for the night under our one astronaut blanket.

Meanwhile back at the Plume and Feathers  Inn, Jean and Jackie  were becoming concerned about us and at 9 o'clock they told the landlord of the inn that we had not turned up. He contacted the police and the Dartmoor rescue team. Shortly afterwards policemen came and whisked Jean and Jackie from the pub as if they were ladies of the night out on illicit business and took them to Tavistock Police Station to be questioned. Jean and Jackie told them we were well equipped against the weather and when asked what food we had Jackie said I had sandwiches and a Mars Bar and Jean said David had sandwiches and  three bunches of bananas. At the mention of the bananas the police officer turned to his colleague and said, “Well we don't need to worry about him he'll be happily swinging up and down in the trees." Jean and Jackie were returned to the Plume of Feathers and spent a restless night trying to remember if we had any worthwhile life insurance policies.

Up on the moor we woke up at daybreak after a night of unsettled sleep. Taking map readings we calculated that we were 6 miles north of Princetown and headed south. As we were approaching the Tavistock to Ashburton Road about 3 miles from Princetown  we saw  a large group of Land Rovers and other small military looking wagons. One of these had a tall radio mast. It slowly dawned on us that this was the Dartmoor rescue team and that they were out looking for us. When we reached them they established who we were and asked us when we had got lost. We were upset and dismayed by their assessment of our predicament . David insisted that we had made a sensible decision to bivouac on the basis that at that time it was a safer option than continuing our hike. He told them that we had known all along where we had been and that we hadn't ever been lost.This was to no avail. The headline that appeared on the front page of the Western Morning News on the following Monday morning was, "TWO MEN LOST ON DARTMOOR RESCUED" and over the years, however much we have insisted to the contrary, everyone has always called it, "the day David and Charles got lost on Dartmoor." 

After we had been "found" we were taken to Princetown in the back  of one of the rescue team’s Land Rovers – they wouldn’t allow us to walk there – and we met up with Jean and Jackie at the Plume of Feathers,  had breakfast, and returned home.

We completed the remainder of our perambulation the following weekend. During this second stage we confessed to each other that one, if not the main reason for our decision to bivouac for the night was our realisation that  there wasn't any chance we could get to the pub before closing time. A beer was out of the question. 

Well, David it was a great day, you were a special man and I'm missing you.

Link : He was a friend of mine