Monday, 31 October 2016

From Smokies in newspaper to high tea in a restaurant : a tale about my youngest sister

In the first half of the 1950s Sunday afternoons in winter were not my favourite part of the week. We were taken on a jaunt in Bessie, the 1931 Standard 10 car that my Daddy drove us around in. Invariably we’d head for Arbroath and go to the seafront by Victoria Park. We’d  play on the grass with a ball or clamber down to the rock pools but I wasn’t too keen on slippery rocks and smelly seaweed. I preferred sandy beaches like the one at Broughty Ferry. After that we’d walk up the clifftop path which started just by St.Ninian’s Well. The cliffs  are not amazingly high there but could still be a wee bit scary. 

Our exercise over for the day my father drove down to the fisherman’s cottages near the harbour  where my parents would buy Smokies from the smokehouse. These were wrapped in newspaper and we drove out to park in a layby on the Dundee Road about two miles out of Arbroath. Mummy, Daddy and my younger sister, J, all loved smokies. I hated them and did without. Just the smell of the smoked haddock almost sickened  me,  I hope I’ve gotten over to you that as a young boy a Sunday afternoon in winter was situated somewhere between misery and anathema.  On every occasion my memory tells me, the weather was cold and dull.

With J, my sister, and Bessie on a cold Sunday in pre-baby sister M days. Mummy is in the car

Then in 1955, my youngest sister. M, came along. We continued to go to the Victoria Park and played ball on the grass and walked up the cliff pushing M in her pram but we did not go on to the rocky beach because it was too slippery to be on carrying a baby.  More importantly for me we did not go to the smokehouse because stopping to eat smokies in a layby for half an hour was not an easy pastime when you had a wee baby to look after. Instead we went to the Star Restaurant in Arbroath  where we enjoyed high tea together. I always had sausage, egg and chips with toast followed by cakes and a cup of tea. This beat smokies hands down as far as I was concerned and of course M was immediately the centre of attention with the waiters and customers : a bonny wee baby. Soon she was old enough to sit at the table in a high chair and she was very early in learning to speak which led to her becoming an even bigger attraction. 

Daddy with M on Broughty Ferry Beach

My father could at times be stern and taciturn  and on these occasions in public places like the restaurant my Mummy would quietly say “Chic, cheer up a bit we’re here to enjoy ourselves.” One Sunday M, though she had not many words at this time, picked up on my Mummy’s remark and with loud self-assurance  hollered to Daddy, “You’re just a big crabbit brute!” Coming from such a wee girl this announcement caused great amusement among the other diners and though I tried to I couldn’t prevent myself laughing for neither my sister J, nor I would ever have had the nerve to shout at Daddy like that. Where she plucked this phrase from I leave to your imagination but I am led to believe very young children learn to speak from the things they hear adults saying. To my surprise Daddy took M’s critical declaration well and we continued going to the Star Restaurant every Sunday. The climate had changed and I remember all of these post-smokie days were sunny In the following weeks and months M continued to entertain her audience and as her vocabulary grew so did her repertoire. We all loved it until the day came when we left for England.

As a footnote I should add that I have grown to like the aroma and taste of smoked haddock. I particularly like it in kedgeree. The best smoked haddock is of course an Arbroath Smokie.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

My mother, Jimmy Shand's band and The Proclaimers : an email exchange


From Noel Howard : 28th September, 2016

Hi Charles,

There used to be a programme on Irish radio in the 50s called Scottish Requests and invariably “The Road to Dundee” featured as well as “The Northern Lights”, and "Sweet Alice Ben Bolt”, among other “hits” of the day with Jimmy Shand always a favourite.

Oh for such simplicities!



From Charles Sharpe : 13th October, 2016

Dear Noel,

I was interested in your recollection of the Irish radio programme which played requests for Scottish songs and airs. 

You mentioned Jimmy Shand who - though he spent most of his childhood in the village of Auchtermuchty in the Kingdom of Fife  -  became in the 1930s (after a spell in the coal mines), a rent collector in Dundee and he used this job as an opportunity to earn extra money by selling accordions on commission for a local music shop. This was at a time when he was also trying to establish himself as a musician assembling his own band. When he came by my grandparents’ tenement each week to collect the rent he’d let my mother practice on the accordion he brought with him and after a few weeks of this she seemed to be showing promise as an accordionist. 

You can guess what happened. Jimmy approached my Granda Jackson and said “John, ye’re lassie’s a braw player. If she were tae ha’e  an accordion I’d be happy tae ha’e her in my band.” My mother who was 12 or 13 at the time, was very excited about this but Granda Jackson couldn’t afford to buy an accordion, so Jimmy didn’t get his sale or any commission and Chrissie, my mother, didn’t get an accordion and never became the only woman to play in Jimmy Shand’s band. 

That’s how the story’s told in our family anyway.

It may only be coincidence, but Charlie and Craig Reid, the Proclaimers, though born in Leith spent most of their childhood in Auchtermuchty.  There may be something in the air in Auchtermuchty if you can afford your instrument.

Best wishes,



From Noel Howard : 13th October, 2016

Really recalling those simpler times of childhood and aspects of it, like the radio programme Scottish Requests, always makes me grateful for the memory of the simple security that such occasions huddled around the radio brought as a family.

Keep in touch.