Observations an Experiences in the Life of a Buchan Country Loon
by: Easton, Gordon
My name is Gordon Easton. I was born on 17 April 1923 an wis brocht up, squeeled an lived aa ma life at Wellhead in the Blackhills district in the Pairish of Tyrie.
There has been an affa change in the lifestyle an social conditions in the countryside ower the eers. Bairns gaed tae the squeel fin they were five or six eer auld an hid ta traivel aa the wye on gey roch graivelly roads. There were bigger faimlies langer syne an we aa traivelled doon the road thegither, the bigger scholars takin care o the littler eens. We aa maistly injoyed wir squeel days. The squeel cleaner wifie made oor denners in the little cookin housie that wis aye fine an warm tae gyang intil, if ye happened tae get a soakin on the wye doon the road. The denners wis aye fine: broth on Monday, stovies on Tuesday, tattie soup on Wednesday; mince an tatties on Thursday, an pea soup on Friday.
I spent three eer at the auld squeel, syne we flitted tae the new squeel, opened in 1932. They were baith aboot one mile fae far I bade. Afore Christmas the teachers made us practise for oor annual Christmas concert which was held in the Public Hall, far we aa did oor party piece in front o oor parents an the general audience; syne efter the concert wis finished abody got a cup o tay an a paper bag wi an assortment o fancy biscuits. There wis aye a dunce tae follow the concert, so we begged wir mithers tae bide a file tae listen tae the band playin an watch the dancers. I jist enjoyed listenin tae the music as I wis aye singin, playin the moothie or the melodeon at hame. The simmer picnic wis aye a great thrill: getting a hurl on a bus tae some o the beaches or even jist up tae the den pleasure park.
Country loons could niver get awa fae the squeel seen enough tae get intae lang breeks an help their folk on the fairm, craft or fativer trade their parents made their livin by. I left the squeel at fourteen eer auld an vrocht tae ma Grandfadder learnin a’ the fairm work fae him; sortin nout, lookin efter the horse, plooin, pu’in an cairtin neeps an aa the skills connected wi fairmin. Some o the thrills wis the haytime; it wis great getting tae work a horse tae drag the coles o hay in aboot tae far the men were biggin the hayrucks; nae pick-up balers then. The hairst time wis aye excitin, runnin efter the binder shiftin shaves an deein wir best tae help. We eest tae big stibble ruckies be pu’in oot the stibbles efter the corn wis cut an makin them intae little rucks, the same shape as the big corn rucks. Some loons made a great job o biggin them. Then fin the big traivellin thrashin mull pulled by the muckle steam traction engine cam in tae the district, aa the neepers helped each ither tae dae their thrashin as it not ten or twelve workers tae keep the big mull workin at its full capacity; gey hard work bit shortsome wi aa the folk tae news til. Of course there wis aye a cup of tay an scones an bannocks spread wi straberry jam, half throw the yokin. For the first twa eer I vrocht at hame I jist got ma mait, claes an half a croon (2/6), 30 auld pennies (afore decimialization), on a Setterday nicht.
Social life wis gey different then, gin it is nooadays. Ye hid tae mak yer ain entertainment. Maist faimlies hid a radio an some hid a portable gramophone an some records o their ain choice o entertainment. Nae television, videos, CDs, camcorders, computers in those days. There wis dancin classes held in the public hall by a dancin maister fa played the fiddle an showed us the steps at the same time. He aye encouraged the mair experienced pupils tae come alang tae help coach the younger anes. The classes lasted a puckle weeks wi a finishin ball at the end o the term. As there wis nae local transport then, he also held classes in a fairmer’s big barn or his cornlaft, in different districts. This man was a postie tae trade; he also took in fiddle pupils, so he was a gey busy mannie. Ma ain folk wis aa musically inclined. Ma granny sang, ma mither wis a guid fiddler, so granda eest tae invite the local grocer up for a musical evening, sometimes twice in the course o a winter; he played the fiddle an also took in pupils. He also played at the local fairmers’ meal an ale nichts, concerts, golden weddings, etc. Aa the local folk fa were interested wis aye invited tae oor hoose for this evening; it wis aye on a Setterday nicht, so them that wis willin tae dee a turn wis aye encouraged tae perform. The grocer played aa kind o music an as it wis gut strings that wis used on fiddles at ‘at time, wi the heat o the big peat fire it affected the tension o his strings, so he hid tae re-tune his fiddle atween ilka selection; the present day metal strings are nae affected tae the same extent. Efter midnight it wis jist sacred music that wis played an the company sang alang wi him aa the auld hymns an psalms tae finish the night. Listenin tae him tunin his fiddle sae aften, I could tune my ain fiddle afore I could really play the thing. There wis aye a cup o tay in the middle o the evening, then anither afore they left for hame.
There wis anither great source o entertainment for a winter evenin. There wis a cattleman fee’d at ane o the local fairms fa hid a portable gramophone an a great selection o’ records: instrumental, singin, bothy, comedy, he hid the lot. He eest to come up for an evenin; he rode a motor bike, gramophone strapped on his back an a haversack on each shoulder, astride his motor bike; fut a pleasure he gave aa the folks in the district, an he thoroughly enjoyed himsel.
Syne there wis the traivellin folk wi their packs; they aye got their tay as they were welcome carriers o news, as there wis nae sae mony newspapers then. Some o them had a guid pony an cairt wi dishes etc., they also took aa yer auld discarded claes, rags, rabbit skins, horsehair etc., in exchange for a dish o some kine.
There wis twa faimlies fa camped ilka simmer in the shelter o an auld fun dyke next tae auld Uncle Charlie’s widdie. The men cut willow aff the widdie tae mak claes pegs, also cut birch branches tae mak swipin besoms wi hazel shafts cut fae the wid, also heather cut on the nearby hill tae mak sma besoms an pot scrubbers bound wi string or thin brass wire. All a work of art. Nae nylon scrubbers then. The men worked at the camp an looked aifter the bairns, while the weemen gaed their roonds sellin their wares. The bairns o the camp were touslie headed, hardy, healthy, bonny bairns, aften playin wi a lurcher dog that was kept for catchin a rabbit or a hare for the pot.
The man wi the stallion cam roon the fairms in the springtime. Also the flock master cam roon in the end of the eer wi his 500 flock o sheep an his twa dogs; it wis great spendin some time wi him watchin him control his dogs. The dogs always got a big basin o brose at the end of the day.
Of course, there wis aye plenty local interests in the various districts; ilka ane had their whist club, bowling club, dramatic club, country dancin, etc. Us younger folk attended various local dances at Tyrie, Strichen or Rathen, dependin on far the favourite quines were to be. We aften biked tae the Broch on Setterday nicht tae see a guid film, get oor chips an hame again; sometimes a dizzen o us in company; favourite meeting places in oor corner were the chipper in Strichen an Cauldhame Shop tae buy wir sweeties an Woodbines, by them that liked a fag. Being aye gey keen on music, oor neighbour Jim Park an me biked twelve miles ilka week tae Fetterangus tae play wi the Fetterangus Strathspey and Reel Society. There wis aboot thirty members an it wis great playin wi a lot o very guid fiddlers. In the winter time we did concerts aa ower the district for charity. That’s fan I won my first competition, at a music festival in Mintlaw public hall, in the under 16 years section, sixty-three years ago.
There wis grocer vans; fishwives wi their creels on their backs, an a basket covered by a bonny snow white towel on their airm, for they wid aften exchange fish for butter an eggs.
Fit an advance fae the sickle, the scythe, reaper, binder, tae the combine an the baler, cuttin oot a the labour an sair wark that eest tae be; the average fairmer noo manages the hale fairm himsel wi aa his modern machinery; an changed days on the social side o life wi wir cars, televisions, videos, cassettes, CDs, camcorders, mobile phones, computers, holidays, central heatin, double glazin, etc. Bit I still think oor fore folk hid a mair contented lifestyle than fit we hiv noo wi aa oor modern gadgets, but we maun meeve on an keep up wi the times. There is ae thing we maun be pleased aboot, despite aa the number of folk fae the sooth an ither countries that hae come tae work in the ile industry an live amang us in the North East: we hiv aye managed tae preserve oor ain native Doric language tae a certain extent, although it is mair diluted than it eest tae be. Bit ye jist hiv tae modify a bit sometimes tae be understood if ye are speakin tae some o oor new neepers. Lang may the spoken Doric continue. We’ll dae oor best tae preserve it.