41101: Calum Beag (III): Entertainments

Reminiscences by Calum Beag, Malcolm Nicolson, of Lemreway and Glasgow


III Entertainments

After my experiences of hardship and misery on my previous boat, it was nice to return to humanity and friendly companionship on my next one. This boat was owned by three brothers, my stepmother’s brother and a cousin. I was paid ten shillings (50 pence) every Friday by one of the brothers out of his own pocket, whether the boat earned it or not. That was a lot of money in those days. My step uncle was exceptionally good to me and he was also a great joker. You need a lot of humour around when you are confined together in a small space for days on end.

Everyone joined in the task of keeping the boat going and I seldom cleaned a herring all season. It was a good year and on one occasion, we had to cut free fifteen nets as we could not get them all aboard due to the weight of the herring. We landed seventy crans that day. It seemed like there was a herring in every mesh. At the end of the season, my reward was fifteen pounds, twice as much as the highest in any other boat. It was worthwhile working hard for such a generous, kindly group of people, but it brought to an end my days as cook and coiler, although the experience would serve me in good stead later on.

During the long Winter evenings, we did not have much to do so we used to gather in an old widow’s black house with a cosy fire in the middle of the floor. I have seen as many as twenty of us there of an evening playing cards and other games and generally passing the time away in harmless fund. We called the house “The Custom House”. There was always one of the old lady’s nieces around who was about our own age and added to the attraction of the place. The old lady was fond of company and we used to do all sorts of things to help her – cut the peats, modernise her fireplace and fix and mend things. They said that she died of a broken heart when we all left suddenly to go off to War in 1939.

There was a wedding in Orinsay once and only about half the Village of Lemreway were invited. The old lady, my mate and myself were among those not invited, so we decided to organise an evening of feasting and fun of our own. My mate’s uncle had recently slaughtered a cow and it was hanging in the barn. A generous portion of it was acquired and put into a pot above the open fire in the Custom House with instructions to the old lady to watch over it till we returned from the dance. When we came back about midnight, we could smell the aroma of lovely grub as we opened the door. The old lady had gone to bed and when we lifted the lid, there was about six inches of froth on the rim of the pot. “Look at all the goodness in my uncle’s beef” said my mate as Kate sank her fork into the pot and brought out the lump of meat with a bar of soap stuck underneath it. The rest of the gang fortunate enough to get an invitation to the wedding were under suspicion, but to this day, have never admitted it. Not to be outdone, Donald returned to the hanging cow and cut off another juicy joint while Kate and I cleaned and prepared the pans. We patiently waited for our feast until four or five in the morning and having washed it down with a couple of screwtops, we went on our way rejoicing.

Another popular pastime was raiding the girls’ homes at night. Very few doors had locks on them and if they were locked, the maidens inside were often willing enough to welcome a “bramar”. Of course, some of them had steady boyfriends and we were not given any encouragement. We respected established relationships and did not interfere. Once inside, you had to conduct yourself with decorum, as territory between the chin and the knees was strictly off limits and the slightest squeal was likely to bring Daddy wielding his ‘bat’ rushing onto the scene. We sometimes travelled as far as ten miles during the night when optional attractions turned up in other villages.

One night a friend and I were on such a safari when I became a cropper. It was about midnight and we were speeding down a steep hill when I crashed into a man walking up the hill with his own bicycle. He landed up about ten feet away in the heather and I finished up unconscious on the road. Stitches were inserted above my eye and in my forehead and my nose has never returned to its original shape. I managed to get home and sneaked into my bed. When they came to call me in the morning, they thought someone had placed a “mummy” in my bed. I was up and about again in a week’s time and was pleased to note that my Flights Bike was not too badly damaged.

My auntie lived two or three crofts away and she had two girls. Because my mother died when I was a child, she always regarded me as an orphan and in her eyes, I could do no wrong. She always thought that I was not getting fed properly and she used to put aside some of the cream out of the milk basin for me. We used to go in and tease the girls at night until one time at two o’clock in the morning, she caught us with our noses dipped into the cream she was saving up to make butter. The girls were warned not to let us in at night after that and sure enough, the door was bolted from then on.

One night, however, we devised a plan. We knew that the cow was due to calve and the barn was some distance away from the house. I went into a drain next to the house and started “mooing” in the manner of a cow in labour. Sure enough, the door soon burst open and Auntie sallied forth with lanterns, buckets and all the apparatus needed to calve a cow. We slipped in and hid under the girls’ bed and they didn’t betray us when Auntie returned all puzzled and gloomy, asking the girls if they had heard the cow whining. They couldn’t say anything in case they burst out laughing and gave the game away.

We did not take too much of her cream that time and when I told her the story next day, she laughed out loud at our audacity – bless her soul.

Another night, we were out poaching for trout about six miles out of Lemreway. We landed a dozen each and slung them on the handlebars of the bikes. We were hungry by the time we got back to the Village and went into the Custom House for something to eat, leaving the bikes standing against the wall of the house. When we returned to our bikes, we discovered that all that was left on the handlebars were the trout heads. We were not very pleased and vowed to decapitate every cat in Lemreway before the end of the week.

At dinner time next day, I met my Auntie and she invited me in to see the treat that her son had got for her. They were all sitting round the table with a large ashet in the middle with twenty-four golden brown, fried trout resting on it. Her son had taken our fish while we regaled ourselves in the Custom House and poor old Auntie was none the wiser. I suppose nowadays all that carry-on would be regarded as theft, but then, it was all good, clean fun. We all got on well with one another, but you needed a large eye in the back of your head.


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