Bramble soup for breakfast – not bad but glad have rice porridge as well. A small salt fish with the rice for supper. No outing today. Bill Leslie told me yesterday that the EW’s name for PB is B the B (Basil the Bastard). Have exchanged my book with Minggail for ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ by Baroness Orczy. Took down my cupboard from wall yesterday and held spring cleaning. Tough job getting it back on wall.
Bert Fullerton and I were bosom friends while at College and were the founders of the LLT which meant the League of Long Togs and membership was naturally confined to those who had achieved the distinction of wearing long trousers. The League had neither aim nor object and must have been prompted, I imagine, by the feeling for mutual support among those of our tender years who had had the temerity to a abandon shorts and knickerbockers. Yes, Bert and I were very close friends during these years which makes it all the more regrettable that the snobbery bug hit him after he proceeded to the University and he ceased to know me. A schoolboy friendship of a more worthy type was that between John Troup and myself while I was still at Sunnybank School. Though our ways lay pretty much apart after I went on to Gordon’s we never quite lost touch and it did my heart good to meet good old John again in 1938 and to recall the times and pranks we had had together. Many the time have John and I hunted the elusive tadpole in the pools of Scotstown Moor and many the pound of lead, in the form of spent bullets, did we collect from the sand hillocks behind the shooting butts at the beach, and sell to rag and bone merchants at 2d per pound. John and I only had one quarrel. The cause I have forgotten but the result was a real hammer and tongs set to in which poor John got his nose bled. In his discomfort and my own intense distress and both our efforts to staunch the flow, we quite forgot our difference whatever it was and finished up firmer friends than ever. John is now a shoemaker with his own business and two shops, happily married to a very nice girl and has one daughter. My college career was not at all noteworthy, an all round average of about 75% representing my achievements there. I had been quite used to holding it as ‘top boy’ all the time at Sunnybank School but quickly found my proper level when I found myself along with the cream of all the primary schools in town. The pupils at Gordon’s College were of two classes, those who came from the west end as paying pupils and, as the school was built, used the imposing entrance gate on Schoolhill, and those like myself, of the poorer class, who had gained scholarships and who crept in and out the back gate giving on to St Andrew Street. This is, of course, generally speaking and entirely due to the fact of the College being situated in the centre of the town with consequently one of the two gates facing more or less the residential part of the city and the other leading to the poorer districts. There was never any visible snobbery in the College. I spent four years at Gordon’s College. My scholarship was for three years, but if a pupil’s progress merited further encouragement, it lay in the power of the Board of Trustees, on the principal’s recommendation, to extend such scholarships for a further two years in order that the student might have the opportunity of going on to the University after having gained his Higher Leaving Certificate. But in 1919 I felt that my duty called me to take an active part in the supporting of the household and I decided to leave College, having gained the Lower Leaving Certificate the previous year. Consequently I applied for and obtained a position in the Aberdeen Public Library. My duties kept me in the Lending Department during the forenoon and as attendant in the Reading Room in the afternoon. I had always been an insatiable reader (and still am) but alas, for my expectations of a daily feast among the hundreds of volumes on all subjects which lay to my hand there. By order of the Librarian, G M Fraser, it was forbidden to the assistants to read. It was more that I could stand, hanging about among the bookshelves on rainy days (and there were many) when few borrowers came or to spend my time in the public Reading Room walking up and down the aisles between the tables and gently shaking the shoulders of old gentlemen who had become drowsy in the steam heated air and had dozed off over the periodicals. Hence my abrupt departure from those precincts and escape from the ennui with the Balmorals. So at last I return, almost, to the starting point of these reminiscences and as it seems to me that an explanation at this point of my being present in a prison cell would mean skipping more than twenty two years, I feel it would be advisable for a clearer understanding of my present position and also in the interest of continuity, to avoid such an abrupt termination to this biography which forms my escape from Soekamiskin. The intervening years between 1920 and 1942 will, I hope, occupy me thus pleasantly until my release. At the same time, I cannot promise that events will be related chronologically. While writing, a word here and there strikes a chord of memory and recalls rather haphazardly other events and experiences during my 39 years of life. Thinking of the Library, for instance, I see myself, on a quiet rainy day standing in the gloom between the tall bookcases scribbling my epic poem ‘ A German Sea Yarn’ and that reminds me of the period when writing of poetry (?) broke out on me like a rash. My first effort when I was 14, prompted by Heaven knows what, was quite a splash and ran as follows:
‘Soft eyes, gleaming ‘neath silken lashes,
Do smile on me; so that I
Who thought myself quite safe
From foolish pangs of love,
Do feel the blood pulsating in quick flashes
Through my veins; so that I
Needs must remove my gaze
From thy flowerlike countenance
Lest I should give offence
By mine too ardent glances.’
not exactly poetry but rather blankety blank verse. It was about this time too, that I started composing music for my poems and produced such masterpieces in the heroic sea shanties.
About this time I became afflicted with a spasm of calf love for a girl of my own age who played the violin and whom I was sent to accompany on the piano on frequent occasions. She eventually was engaged to play at a cinema in Peterhead, these being still the days of silent film when such depended on a piano or small orchestra to enhance the emotions depicted by the actions on the screen. Lovelorn, I cycled once (and only once) the 18 miles to Peterhead to see my inamorata. Rejected and dejected my reaction resulted in the following:
Till You Return
Oft in my dreams, my love, I long for you
When the nightshades gather round painting scenes a new.
God grant it be at hand, that blissful day
When we shall meet to part no more, I pray.
Till you come back once more, dear,
I shall ever be true to thee,
Tho’ the years be dark and dreary
And cast their shade o’er me.
I shall live for thee, dear,
As I know you shall live for me;
Till you return to me, my love,
I’ll be true to thee.
Tho’ I am sad and lonely and skies are grey,
Still I dream of you, dear one, by night and day.
In your dear arms, my love, may I find rest
Until we tread together on pathway to the West.
Till you come back etc.
The fit was still on me even when I was with the ‘Balmorals’, because when we were at Lossiemouth I wrote, with sublime conceit, ‘Advice from Old Age to Youth’.
I seem to have taken my own advice, all the same, because there do not appear to have been any further effusions and within a few months I had definitely settled down to make a living in the Aberdeen Savings Bank.
Note from the blog author, Pat O’Neill:
I remember when I travelled to Scotland as a child with my parents being taken to John Troup’s shoe shop. It was a hive of activity and as soon as you entered you gained the wonderful rich smell of leather and polish. Before leaving John handed me a miniature shoe measuring no more than a couple of inches. It was black and a perfect replica of a man’s smart lace up shoe. I kept it for many a year to remind me of our trip.