Monday, 25 May 2009

11 August 1942

Lights went on, dim, at 8.15pm last night and remained so.  there is a 10 watt bulb in each cell and formerly this went on at full strength from 6.30 to 9pm.  Later being reduced to half strength for the rest of the night, returning to full power between 5.30 and 6.30am.  It is not possible to write when the lamp is dimmed and reading is too great a strain on the eyes.  Not very pleasant in the evening now but we don’t mind under the circumstances.  Ribs still very painful.  I have got ‘Alice or the The Mysteries’ by Lord Lytton.  11.45am.  Prison siren is now sounding for the first time.  Probably practice.  We shall know soon if not, I suppose.


Once, when Thompson was still at Torry branch, he received from an Italian confectioner, whom he assisted in connection with an Income Tax return, a full box of Fry’s chocolate bars.  ‘See what I got’, he said to his clerkess, a young girl of about 18, opened the box under her nose revealing the tempting display, and when she had looked her fill, he closed the box again and that was that!  The poor man, I am sure meant well but was naturally clumsy and tactless and was therefore fated to be misunderstood and to be always rubbing his staff the the wrong way.  When he laughed, and that was usually in response to some inane pleasantry on the part of an important depositor, it was as if the vocal organs protested rustily against such an unusual demand and the result was a harsh, unnatural and discordant bellow.  Everybody was amazed when he actually got married and stunned when he lately became a father.  it was like the Bill was as discovery of a volcano in the Arctic regions.  William Ewen was a negative personality.  He was of medium height, slimly built, with fair hair and blue eyes and the manner of a shop walker.  in conversation with depositors, he always wore an ingratiating lip smile and was continually rubbing his hands with invisible soap.  A good man at his job for all that.  ‘Bill’ Cheyne was  a great favourite with us lads.  he was not yet thirty, had served in the War, being discharged on account of a bad leg wound, and had no dignity.  He and I used to have great fun together singing humorous duets in the office at Woodside and many a time were we caught in the act by somebody coming in unexpectedly.  One of our best efforts was the ‘Twin Duet’ which went something like this:

‘We twins are very much alike, but act like not a bit
In fact since childhood we have been each other’s opposite
When mother said, ‘Now don’t do this or you will make me sad’
Then i did not as I was bid, he not as he was bade

So you’ll agree, I think, with me that I and he, my brother
Are opposite and not a bit like each other and one another’.

Bill was small built with black hair prematurely grey at the temples, blue grey eyes and clear cut features.  He had a cheery disposition and on meeting him many years later, in 1938, that I found him a sadly changed man.  A curt, unpleasant individual with a perpetual sneer on his lips.  A man obviously disappointed in life and with no expectation of future happiness.  Poor chap, I suspect his marriage did not turn out successfully.  He married a Miss Fowler, which reminds me that while I was at Gordon’s College during the War, a sister of that lady was our French teacher.  For the first time in the history of the College (and it was founded in 1732) females penetrated the precincts and were appointed to the staff on account of quite a number of the younger masters having joined up.  Miss Herbert took the lower classes in English and Miss Fowler the same classes in French.  Poor women, I wonder if they cried themselves to sleep many a night during the first months of their appointment?  At the age we were then, about 12, all boys, or at least the great majority of them, are barbarians and thoughtlessly cruel, and we were no exception to the general rule.  We were merciless in our treatment of those two young ladies, although as a matter of fact, Miss Fowler received the lion’s share of our attentions in that respect, Miss Herbert being possessed of a quiet, natural dignity and charm of manner which shamed us into a semblance at least of attention and obedience.  Miss Fowler was a sweet natured woman but of too soft fibre to withstand the shocks so freely administered by such a bunch of young fiends.  Many and manifold were the devices, short of actual insubordination, to distract her from the lesson.  To my shame let me admit that one of these tricks was my own.  Seated on one of the back benches, I would give, two or three times in the course of that hour and a quarter, quite a realistic imitation of an aeroplane engine, by growling in the back of my throat with closed lips.  Quite undetectable.  Immediately, two or three accomplices in my near vicinity would jump up excitedly, crying ‘An aeroplane, Miss Fowler!’  A rare avis in those days and in about 5 seconds the whole class would be out of their seats and crowding to the windows, jostling each other aside and peering skywards for a glimpse of the aeroplane which they knew darned well did not exist.  This stunt was good for a 5 minute interruption every time.  The first Christmas Miss Fowler was at Gordon’s, that is to say the day before the commencement of the Christmas vacation, we made her a presentation.  A big cardboard box was lying on her desk when she entered the classroom and from various parts of the room came requests to open the box in our presence.  I really believe that the poor girl thought we had, at this season of goodwill, relented of our past treatment of her.  If she did, then she certainly learned a further bitter lesson as to the sadistic capabilities of the youthful male.  She opened the box and took out, first, an old hat trimmed with odds and ends of rag and wool, and then, a mealy pudding.  I hope Miss Fowler has had much happiness in her life since those days because she certainly deserved that compensation after her martyrdom at Gordon’s in my time.


2pm The sirens have gone in Bandoeng and have been followed by the prison’s signal.  Still practicing? Another pleasant outing from 3.45 to 5.45.  Three ball games.  Rumoured Bt had it and present doings a 5 day trial.


To revert to Bill Cheyne.  I was his assistant at Torry Branch one very hot summer and it seems to me that we spent most of our time there eating ice cream.  One day I noticed that Bill gulped the ice cream instead of, as I believe most people do, allowing it first to melt on the tongue, I tried to do the same but one swallow as enough.  How he could do it and still love is beyond me.  Bill was a heavy cigarette smoker, smoking probably 20 cigarettes a day but he never inhaled.  What satisfaction he got out of smoking at all is still a mystery to me.

Talking of Torry reminds me that, with the exception of course of that district, in Aberdeen the expression ‘Torry English’ is used to describe the lingual result when someone in an effort to talk English succeeds only in Anglicising the Aberdeen dialect.  A perfect example of this hybrid language was provided by my sister Marjory, when we were still very young, Madge about 5 and I probably 6 1/2 .  One Sunday afternoon when out with my father for the usual walk, I happened to climb over a low stone wall which formed the boundary of the grounds of some building or other in the West End.  Marjory, conscious of her Sunday best, the day and the district and influenced also by the approach in our direction of several well dress people, called to quite peremptorily, ‘Willy come out ower!’  Poor Madge has had that phrase thrown at her at intervals ever since.  Coming back to the Bank, others whom I may mention include the Actuary (of course) Sir Thomas Jaffray, whom we rarely say, Alex Simpson, the accountant, James Fiddes, second to Simpson, George S Skinner, Head Office Teller and Charlie Working, clerk.  There were many others whose names and personalities may occur to me as I go along.  Sir Thomas, as I have said, was practically an ‘invisible man’ as far as we were concerned.  He was, I believe, a very clever and successful financier who merely used the Bank office as a pied a terre for the prosecution of more interesting and lucrative operation than Savings banking.  He was a tubby little man with a healthy tanned complexion, grey moustache and hair but almost bald.  He was quick and energetic in movement and possessed a pair of dark brown eyes which were alive with intelligence and dynamic force.  A really strong personality.

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