A Profitable Summer Break!
day after I left Dairsie School, Willie Simpson came to my home and asked me if I would
like to work in his market garden until September when I would begin studies at the Harris
Academy, Dundee. Naturally, I asked how much he would pay me per hour and when I told him
Geordie Fowler, a rival in business, had already called and promised me more, he at once
countered with, 'I ken you'll no tell me a lee in front of your Mither. I'll give ye a
penny more per hoor.'
worked with Willie Simpson, at 'Magic Well', Balmullo, for most of my summer holidays.
When I had my first pay of 14/- for the first week, Willie, who was a bit tipsy, remarked
drunkenly, 'Maybe, I'm payin' yi too much, it's been a bad week for me.'
pocketed my pay and casually replied, 'All right Willie, I'll go down to Geordie Fowler on
remark acted like a bucket of cold water over him for he pleaded earnestly and soberly,
'No, no, Alick! I'm only joking.'
main tasks included looking after the horse and loading up the lorry so that Willie could
make an early morning start with his deliveries to St Andrews' greengrocers. My first job
each morning, which I loved and looked forward to, was to water, feed and groom the
cart-horse, then muck-out and tidy up the stall. As the next major part of my duties I
weighed up all the punnets of fruit and baskets of peas, boxed the lettuces, bunched the
early turnips and carrots, packed the cabbages and other things brought in by the field
workers and loaded up the lorry ready for the morning deliveries. When I accepted these
responsibilities I was not yet thirteen years old. I knew the ropes because I had worked
in similar market gardens for most of five previous summers and so I knew most routine
tasks quite well. Willie had good value for his money and imposed on youthful goodwill and
zeal to do well as can be seen from the following regular incident.
worked uncomplainingly for most of that summer for Willie. Words just cannot illustrate
Willie's frequent terrible behaviour tantrums when he came home dirty, dishevelled and the
worse for drink, after delivering his precious load of choice fruit and vegetables to
shops in St Andrews. Sometimes he was uncontrollably and belligerently wild, but somehow I
got his boots off. Amazingly, walking back to the house in his stocking feet calmed him
down. Then, when I led him inside and lowered him into his favourite fireside chair by a
warm fire which I had already prepared in readiness for his arrival, he would instantly
fall asleep, sometimes for hours. When he woke up his dried-out and cleaned boots would be
Willie would give me an extra shilling for my care of him. Even so, my mother felt that he
was a bad influence. It was true that I had too much to do which involved lots of extra
unpaid hours and not even much thanks for it. So, to please my mother, I moved to Geordie
Fowler's market garden.
of stark contrast with Willie Simpson my new employer demanded high standards, could not
tolerate laziness, but was just, sober and reasonable. The work was hard, for sometimes I
had to do digging and a lot of planting. All we workers liked Geordie for he never
expected us to do tasks he could not do himself. He was the only gardener to allow a ten
minute break in the forenoon and afternoon and to pay overtime money for us working beyond
agreed eight and a half hours to complete berry orders. My basic pay was 16/-. I gave
Mother 12/- and saved 4/-. For the urgent delivery of goods to St Andrews, outside working
hours, Geordie paid me 1/- and the fruiterer added the same amount. I loved saving money.
spite of all this work I made time for exercise during the long bright warm evenings. My
brother David gave me the use of his cycle for my friend and we visited many interesting
such favourite evening trip I remember was to a part of the River Tay where the Mars was
moored. It was a training ship which was used to give young offenders, so called naughty
boys, short sharp shock treatment to prevent them becoming criminals. While ashore, the
boys gave drill displays and band concerts to show what they had learned.
on to Newport Ferry, another nearby place and also an absorbing hive of activity. The
ferry carried all kinds of cargo, horse drawn lorries, brakes, carts, pony traps, cattle,
sheep and a large number of people, on foot or with cycles.
we made for Tayport, a pretty place where we could see ships unloading bales of Esparto
grass for Guardbridge Paper Mill. The dockers worked very hard for, as we learned, they
were on 'piece time', the harder they worked, the more they earned.
and though late in the evening, we visited a sawmill which we heard grinding, only to find
that the Foreman knew us as he was a Balmullo man and we were invited to look at the work.
He showed us different types of wood from many countries and explained what they were
useful for. As usual, I had my notebook and wrote such information down. All too soon it
was too dark to see properly, the lamplighter was doing his evening rounds and the few gas
lamps in Tayport were soon hissing brightly. Day was spent. We lit our oil cycle lamps and
made a very leisurely trip home.
one Saturday free that August for 'The Dundee Courier' had intimated that a brake-load of
geologists from Dundee were to explore Dura Den and the Kemback areas in search of
samples. I had met some of the party mentioned when Mr Seath took me in his senior class
on a field-trip to Dura Den. Two of the party, who had lived in Balmullo, knew me and
asked me to help them find fossils.
armed for action with a small mason's chisel, a light hammer and an old pair of shoes. The
two geologists I knew wanted to find fish fossils and I knew just where they were! Not far
from the mill beside the Dura Burn and at the top of a hill was a sandstone dike made from
stones originally taken from the river-bed or its banks. Mr Seath had shown us how to
secure fossils from this dike. I explained what I intended and where as well as why, we
could search successfully and asked them to follow me. They laughed and said that the
stream bed was the only sensible place to find fossils as the running water washed away
the softer sandstone to reveal where there was a sample. After further argument they
decided to humour me, followed me up to the dike and surprise after surprise, they found
two splendid specimens of fish, within as many hours, without making themselves wet or
secret was kept from the others by my companions telling lies about the source of the
finds. I was paid 2/- to say nothing, fed with sandwiches and got a small bottle of very
refreshing soda cream lemonade.
rest of the party wanted me to lift stones out of the water for them so I resumed work
after lunch by paddling in the burn, lifting out stones of all sizes and leaving them on
the bank. Others in the party examined the stones and some useful parts of fish, insects,
ferns and dark blobs like charcoal were found.
was called to the lifting, chipping and searching at about six o'clock. I was glad, for I
had become a 'slave', expected to meet every order from the eager party, with their
insistent commands. 'Do this!' And, 'Look here!' Also, 'Try over there!' Sometimes, 'Chip
finds were carefully wrapped up, labelled and put in a big hamper which was carried back
and stowed in the two horse brake. We made for the main Cupar to Newport road and when the
party stopped at Dairsie Hotel for refreshment, I knew that it would be hours before the
journey continued and so I offered to walk home to Balmullo. The Leader thanked me and
gave me 2/6, others gave me tips. On the way home I counted up my earnings of 8/- which
was much appreciated. It would help pay for some textbooks that would soon be required.
summer holidays were coming to an end, country schools were already in session from early
August, but the city ones did not resume until September. My parents insisted that I
should have a holiday. I cycled to Lundin Links for a few days' stay with my grandmother,
my dear Granny Rodger. She was so pleased to see me and, to my great delight, my mother
came by the afternoon train bringing my younger brother William, aged five with her.
a pleasant evening so Mother and I visited many relatives. Later, Uncle Jim, Mother's
brother from Methil and two of his daughters looked in. So at about nine o'clock, together
with my cousins Ruby and Jean, we youngsters had a walk down to Largo Harbour, through
Largo as far as the net factory at Temple and then retraced our steps home to Burnside
House. Granny thought we were lost and we had this lecture: 'In my young day, all children
would be safe in bed long before this time, nine o'clock.'
some supper, Uncle Jim and my cousins left at ten p.m. to walk back to Methil. Granny's
house was silent by ten thirty
Saturday I was again at Methil, touring the docks with my two older female cousins where
German ships were loading coal into their holds. Their mother, my Aunt Helen, was not in
good health. They looked after her and appreciated a break and some company. Uncle Jim,
their father, was head of the 'Trimmers', the men who levelled the coal out in the ship's
holds. It was a dirty and very dangerous job, but all men were well paid and fully insured
by their employers which was a most liberal fringe benefit. Next we explored Leven where
we had a snack lunch costing 1/- each and paid for by Uncle Jim, then a walk along the
seashore to Lundin Links and all to Granny's house.
older cousins, Jenny and Nell, arrived in the late afternoon, with a basket of all kinds
of food, so it was a happy event, one that delighted Granny and my mother. Our visitors
left about eight o'clock, so we had an early evening in bed for once. The following day,
after church, I had a cycle run along the east coast. Near Colinsburgh, I saw some lovely
chestnut trees; in a few minutes I had a pocket full of half ripe chestnuts. Weeks later I
would have some fine 'conker' games with them. My young brother was bedded early. Mother
and I visited Bella Burns (Mother's cousin). She stayed in the house where I was born.
Then it was house after house, where Mother visited people she had known when she was a
girl. I learned a great deal about Largo Parish and my mother's family background.
following day I saw Mother and Angus off on the train for Leuchars and home. Later, after
a meal with Granny, I was homeward bound taking side roads which wound through Balcurvie,
Kennoway, Chance Inn, Ceres, Cupar and so home to Balmullo. It was a wonderful cycle run
and I had noted many things and places that were of interest.
nearing time for me to buy my new Harris Academy rigout. I had a note of most of the
things I required. One pleasant afternoon Mother and I walked to Leuchars Junction and
caught a train to Dundee. We walked from Tay Bridge Station to Smith Brothers, where my
eldest brothers got their clothes. In my pocket I had my own money, saved up during the
holiday work and money I had from many errands for people.
indeed a rich boy, with £2.15.0d jingling in my pocket. I bought shorts, 8/-, cardigan,
2/5, blazer, 4/11, hose, two pairs for 2/4, two shirts, 4/-, two pairs of pants, 3/-, four
collars 2/-, two ties, 1/6, cap 1/- and three hankies, 7d. One of the directors, a Mr
Smith, knew Mother and gave us two tickets to go upstairs for tea. Next we walked to
Potter's Shoe Shop where we purchased one pair of boots for 4/9, shoes, 4/3, plimsoles,
1/-, two pairs of laces which were free. Our next stop was Meldrum's for a school bag
costing 2/9. Down by the market we saw a man selling lace curtains who called us to come
near. I still had money left so I bought mum the curtains she wanted for 4/11. All I had
left was 6d and with this I bought 1 lb of sweets. Of course I also paid for the rail and
tram tickets. Mother did enjoy her journey to Dundee and I loved going with her, she was
always so charming. This was my first real visit to Dundee, although some weeks before by
way of a recce I had cycled with a friend to Newport and crossed the River Tay by ferry to
Dundee and back.
days passed quickly - or so it seemed and soon my young life was to change in many ways
for I would be plunged from the serene quietness of little Balmullo into the speed of
trains, tramcars, constant movement of traffic and city people, in Dundee.
made me try out my new clothing so that she could make any necessary alterations. Adorned
in my school uniform, plus a cap on my head, I felt like a new being. Boys never wore caps
in the village of Balmullo as we were all proud of our fine crops of hair. The cap would
not fit properly and the hair had to go!
barbering services, the dairyman at Balmullo Farm, John Seth, cut the hair of the village
boys on a Saturday evening each month in his kitchen and the last boy had to sweep up. A
week before going to school in Dundee I was the last boy to be shorn in this way. I
dutifully cleaned up, threw the hair in the fire and set his 'lum' (chimney) alight! What
frantic activity putting it out and what a mess of soot and water was caused in the room.
It had to be spring cleaned - in August!