Chapter 7
Village Characters


One of the joys of the young farmers' recreation was the annual barn dance. The place where many a young farm labourer first met the girl that would later become his wife. It was held in a decorated and clean-swept granary. Forms were brought from school or hall, or specially prepared bunches of straw made good seating. Twelve weeks before the dance well-groomed farm hands and neatly dressed young women attended dancing lessons from an instructor, who was also a fiddler. He commanded strict obedience from his pupils. Woe betide the lad, or lass, who erred. He explained the bow then all the various sets of a dance. Then, thumbing his fiddle, he gave the command, 'Up lads noo! Up lassies too! Twa in a line noo! Let ilka ane boo!' Then he would half sing. '"Ta tiddleum, ta toodleum. . . . Toots Maggie ye're a wrang you! Fine ye're a' richt noo!" Set till ilk ither noo! Turn round aboot noo! Ta Tiddleum, ta toodleum. First frae tap noo! Doon the middle noo! Stan' back Wull Broon, you! Jine haunds noo! Ta Tiddleum, ta toodleum. Dammit, ye he'vy fitted gowks, back t'yer places and get yer bre'th! Ta tiddleum, ta toodleum.'

The pupils loved the fun, loved the teacher and, true to his word, he had them up to scratch and dancin' fit for the farm granary dance with its charming reels, waltzes and set pieces.

On a Friday evening early in each December the three smiddy fires were damped down at Jeck Robertson's smithy at Balmullo. The old railway sleeper floor was swept and trestle tables erected. At seven o'clock all of the oil lamps were lit. Jimmy Nicholson, the carrier, arrived with a load of 'goodies', boxes of oranges, dozens of black buns, scores of round slabs of shortbread, many ginger cakes, packets of sweets, tubs of apples and crates of fruit juices. People from all around made for the smiddy. It was the annual raffle for the festive season. Penny and bawbee tickets were in great demand. The prizes were: (1) twelve oranges and six apples. (2) Slab of shortbread and a ginger cake. (3) Assorted fruit and sweets. The bawbee prizes were mostly for youngsters and were normally fruit and sweets. After a swift half-a-dozen draws for the smaller value tickets came the 'ticky' (threepenny) wagers, with four prizes. By half-past eight the fun was really on. 'Tanner' (sixpenny) raffles with baskets of everything from the stall and a bowl of nuts thrown in. The smiddy raffles were excellent get-togethers with happy people, laughter and fun and a prize of some kind for everyone. Jeck Robertson, at exactly nine-thirty, opened the nail-studded smiddy door and out into the cold trooped the Balmulloites with their 'goodies'. Come weather fair or foul, the raffle was held and at the end of the day no one was disappointed. The smiddy door was shut. Then no one grudged the hardworking organisers a drop of the 'hard stuff after their hectic time.

My grandfather, James Rodger, possessed a fine sense of humour and the following are two stories which he claimed were true and were often told in the village. When church discipline was strict long ago and members, for misdeeds, were brought before the Kirk Session, one minister was so alarmed at husband and wife quarrels that he called a meeting of all married men in the parish. It was decided that all married men be rowed out to the Bass Rock in the Forth for one month. The day came and all married men took to boats, rowed to the Bass Rock and settled down quietly. Three days later there was commotion at Largo Pier. Twenty wives took to boats, while a dozen attempted to swim to the Bass Rock to bring back their husbands. The parish minister was alarmed. He ordered the swimmers to be picked up and the women in the boats to return to harbour. Word was sent to the contented husbands on the Bass Rock to come home. On their return a service of reunion was held at Drummochy and all lived happily ever after.

'That is why,' Grandad would say when ending this story, 'couples live peacefully in Largo today!'

The second story had a sea background. A sailor, after two years at sea, returned to Lundin Mill with his loud-mouthed parrot. He stayed with a family called Davidson. The parrot chatted, chirped like a blackbird and swore at random. One day the minister knocked at the door.

'Who's there?' shouted old Davidson. Like a flash, the parrot screeched, 'Th' auld damned moochin' minister!'

Poor Davidson was brought to book, but his plea was, 'Minister, I never uttered a word!'

One man we watched each morning had a special cycle made with a long padded seat from the back along the bar to the handle bars. He had his cycle close to the wall, mounted very slowly, tucked his jacket up and drove off very slowly all the way to Cupar. He had an exacting job. He believed he had a 'glass bottom'. His actions proved it, for in his office he had a special chair, and he carried a cushion in a briefcase when going for his lunch. He was a clever, well-spoken man, but did not mix with the villagers. One day as he was cycling to work a young farm servant smashed a bottle on a dike. The cyclist threw himself on to a grassy bank - crying and wailing, 'My bottom is smashed.'

He was lifted onto a cart and taken home. Doctor was called in. It took the man a long time to recover from his phobia.

Summer time was a time of greatest activity in the market gardens. Pulling berries, peas, cutting lettuces, cabbage and cauliflower, or gathering early potatoes, carrots and turnips, picking sweet peas, sweet william and other fragrant flowers.

Then there was the woman 'Worthy'. Children called her 'The Witch', and we ran from her. She was a kindly, lovable person, but to us 'The Witch'. She hated thunder. One evening, at a quoiting match, the air was sultry and hot. All at once a loud clap of thunder rent the air. We hurried home, as we did not want to get wet if rain came on. In the distance we could see 'The Witch' rushing up the road, skirts over her head, red petticoat showing. She was mumbling and at times screaming. Boys got pieces of tin, or pot lids to add to the confusion of the rolling thunder. The poor soul ran by instinct up Tea-pot-Close, into her house, no doubt cursing the god of thunder. Many boys got smacked by their mothers for annoying 'The Witch'. I could plead innocence, though inwardly I enjoyed the fun. No rain fell, the thunder ceased, so boys hurried to the quoiting pitch to see Balmullo win the match.

Great excitement took place at General Election time in 1910. My father was Chairman of the Liberal Group. The Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, was the Party Candidate for our area. I delivered the newsletters, dates of hustings and posted up bills. Father, being an excellent speaker, moved to villages around, including Dairsie, where Mr Seath, my Headmaster, was Chairman of the Conservative Group. At one meeting in Dairsie Hall where Mr Seath spoke in favour of Colonel Sprot, the Tory Party Candidate, my Father said, 'No one wants a Tory Candidate who knows nothing but Army Regimentation. I move a Vote of No Confidence in him. Vote for a tried Politician. Vote Liberal.' Great was the applause.

Next day, at school, just after Scripture, Mr Seath said to me, 'Tell your father to stick to Balmullo; he talked a lot of nonsense.

I felt bold and said, 'Yes, sir, I will do that. He got a grand welcome last night from Dairsie Liberals. I was there.'

He countered with, 'Get back to your seat. You are your father's parrot!'

Everything was calm and I enjoyed my lessons, until the election results came out and Asquith had a huge majority.

Next day Mr Seath was quiet, until he said sharply, 'Take that smirk off your face. I know what it means. An upstart Englishman is our new MP - some MP!'




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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.