It's Easter Rising. Last year of course was the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin. For those who believe in such things there was an earlier, religious ‘rising’ which we now celebrate with chocolate eggs. Go figure. Tradition’s a strange thing. And every right minded reader knows that Christmas is the time when new books flock to the fore. However, this month I’m able to tell you of a wheen of new books that have come to my attention.
Hot on the heels of the two William Morris biographies last month, Deveron Press this month brings out James Leatham’s ‘Shakespeare Studies’ (on the anniversary of the date of the death and birth of the Bard.) Of course Shakespeare probably wasn’t born on the 23rd April (handily St Georges Day) any more than Jesus was born on December 25th, but he died (allegedly) on that day and since no one was sure when he was born (I’m still talking Shakespeare here) they tied it all up nicely and gave him the same date to be born and die on. Nice trick if you can manage it.
Leatham’s Shakespeare studies are like nothing you will have read before. Isn’t that enough to whet your appetite. Find out more in our Gateway article.
And Deveron Press are marking the end of the Centenary Year with the full Centenary Collection ready to purchase in one handy set for a bargain price. Find out more HERE.
But Deveron Press are not resting on anyone’s laurels and looking forward to Centenary + the first brand new book is out this May (but pre-publication sales have already been flying off the virtual shelves). It is the debut collection of short stories by Macduff loon Pat Hutchison. You may have come across his stories on the internet, especially on McStorytellers, but Deveron have captured a whole 26 of them in a collection titled ‘Sanners Gow’s Tales and Folklore of the Buchan’ which is out now, though officially launched on May 20th in Turriff. (Macduffers will get a first shout on May 6th) and before that on May 1st at the opening of the ‘New’ Museum in Turriff (the very same building in which James Leatham was Provost) Pat will be ‘in residence’ signing copies and maybe even reading a wee story or two.
And for those who like to be well prepared, word is that Pat’s second short story collection will be out in good time for the Xmas market!
Beyond that, this month sees the anniversary of the death of Samuel Rutherford Crockett, and Orraman offers a reflection on the restoration of reputations. In Gateway another weel kent but lang forgoteen man, Sandy Cran, is featured. All in all there’s plenty to keep you reading well into May.
The higher they climb the harder they fall…
It’s 103 years this month since the death of S.R.Crockett. Most people today are barely aware of his existence yet in 1894 up till his death in 1914 he was one of the leading lights in literature. (nice alliteration there don’t you think?)
After a decade slogging away (often under the title ‘Anon’) in journals and magazines, he ‘burst’ onto the scene with a collection of short stories/sketches titled ‘The Stickit Minister and other common men’ (Yes, I hear you say ‘not exactly a snappy title’). Even in its day the title caused some consternation as folk went into libraries asking for ‘Crockett by the Stickit Minister’ and any number of variations you can imagine.
The following year, 1894 saw Crockett hit the high spots – he had no fewer than four books published in one year and became firmly entrenched upon the bestsellers list for the next decade. He was one of the foremost in the late Victorian cult of celebrity. He had over 70 full length works published in his lifetime and scores more articles, short stories and sketches syndicated in publications worldwide.
So what went wrong? What did he do wrong? He was successful. He was popular. He died at the wrong time. He didn’t take control of his own publications. He didn’t play ‘editor’ or publisher but was a very successful career writer.
Add to that the fact that his reputation was trashed after his death and you’ll see why you’re not still reading him today whereas you might well read Dickens and Hardy and find fellow feeling in both their works.
Here’s a few more reasons why you don’t find Crockett on the bookshelves these days:
Fashion: The times they were a changing. Crockett died just before the outbreak of the First World War. And that war changed everything, including fiction. The modernist movement that came out of the war couldn’t abide looking back and began to see novels from the late 19th century as outmoded. To be fair the ‘Kailyard rural idyll’ slur had been placed on Crockett as early as 1894 – before he had written the bulk of his work and it has stuck around. Give a dog a bad name. I have to say that however much they vaunt Grassic Gibbon and Neill Gunn – they are not miles away from Crockett. It all, I suppose, depends on what you are looking for, and what you relate to, in your fiction. If you want rural realism and romance then Crockett is every bit as good as either of the aforementioned Scots and of course the previously mentioned Dickens and Hardy.
It’s true that even in his own day Crockett was subject to some criticism (though equally to some overblown praise) But this simply reflects the fact that it was a time when literary agents were getting into their stride and publishers really knew how to market hard. With the emergence of the mass market there were fortunes to be made and with it a fair amount of dirty play. Publishing was undergoing a revolution and it was not bloodless.
Beyond this, he was of the wrong class. Crockett wasn’t a ‘gentleman’ writer. He was the illegitimate son of a dairy maid from rural Galloway. He was a ‘lad o’pairts’ who made it to Edinburgh University. He did a decade in the ministry and was never allowed to forget it, however insightful and cutting his criticism of traditional mainstream religion was. While he became famous, he wasn’t of the right socio-economic grouping and his writing was populist both in its content and its reach. He favoured the ‘ordinary’ rural folk and was as far away from the aspirational Downton Abbey Brigade as it’s possible to be. But he wasn’t an ‘out and out’ Grub Street realist either. Oh, and he was Scottish – not North British.
And most importantly perhaps, His reputation was trashed. That in itself should be enough to make one sit up and appreciate that he was worth reading. Those who came immediately after did what they could to dim his light – and the combination of his death and the First World War certainly helped them. I shall name names here and blame the likes of Hugh Macdiarmid (a man who was so unsuccessful writing under his own name of Christopher Grieve that he changed it) A man who condemned prose fiction in favour of poetry but wasn’t averse to casting his judgement (and vitriolic it was at times) on fiction. A man who never let his ignorance get in the way of a good critical gubbing. A man who couldn’t decide if he was a communist or a nationalist and who got thrown out of both parties. A man who decided to invent a new Scots ‘leid’ because he couldn’t get arrested writing in the sort of Scots that was mother’s milk to the likes of Crockett. Am I being unjust to the man? I don’t feel compelled to be ‘more than fair’ to MacDiarmid when he was so instrumental in trashing Crockett’s reputation without good cause. As far as I can see, a touch of the green eyed monsters was the most obvious feature of his criticisms. And Crockett wasn’t alive to fight back. You can tell I feel a bit strongly about this. I don’t apologise for that. You can and will of course, make up your own minds. I don’t want my thrashing of Macdiarmid to prejudice you either for or against Crockett. We all have our own prejudicial demons to fight.
But most importantly it raises the question: how does one restore a reputation so comprehensively (and unfairly) trashed over a period of 100 years?
Well, three years ago Cally Phillips began a one-woman crusade to right the wrongs done to Crockett. She set up The Galloway Raiders (an online Crockett site/literary society) and a publishing company. Through Ayton Publishing she has now brought more than 40 of Crockett’s near 80 full length published works back into print and besides that has published another half dozen books about him, including the only extant literary biography. There is no historic biography of him. Wikipedia and Google are pretty useless as they perpetuate myths and errors which have become clichés.
We do well to remember that History is told by the victors and media is controlled by the moguls. The so called ‘independent’ social media is governed by the techno savvy and depth is certainly a casualty of the breadth of online media ‘platforms’ for whom data harvesting is more important than factual accuracy.
It is in the niche world that one can find accuracy but one has to look for it. Restoring a reputation is a very difficult thing but I believe it is the responsibility of all of us to take heart and direction from pioneers and advocates like Cally Phillips and commit to the following as regards authors and their works with which you are unfamiliar: Read without Prejudice. Open your Mind. Start with primary sources. Always ask questions. Consider appropriate contexts.
There are plenty of authors out there whose work has fallen off the radar. It’s not a reflection of the quality of their work it’s just the way the world turns. And often the world turns in ugly ways when money is a significant factor and creativity is turned into an industry.
Recently I saw something on Facebook which made me laugh. The context is almost irrelevant but a chap there gave the reason for why something was wrong (mobile phone coverage if you’re really interested) as being ‘because capitalism’. That just about sums it up for me. Why did Crockett fall out of favour? The answer is simply ‘because capitalism.’ Because capitalism and because the likes of MacDiarmid were too small as men to acknowledge that other views of the world than their own were possible. Which is, dare I say it, in itself a mark of ‘because capitalism.’
MacDiarmid was mercurial and the one thing Crockett was at least was consistent and honest with his views be they religious or political. In my opinion Crockett was a better socialist than MacDiarmid. You can’t compare them as writers and you shouldn’t try. As men… least said the better on that score. The ultimate irony is that if MacDiarmid had been a bit more open and reasonable he might have realised that Crockett was a writer who represented and produced many of the things he called for in fiction. Was he too close to see this? Or just too jealous? Or just too keen to make a name for himself? I couldn’t possibly judge on that score.
Whether you are a fan of modernism or not, whether you think I’m being unfair to MacDiarmid or not, I ask that should you think about ‘discovering’ Crockett you do so on terms which undertake the read without prejudice principle and judge the books not by the reputation (good or otherwise) of the author, but simply on the content. His work may or may not ‘speak’ to you and it may or may not be ‘your kind’ of fiction. There’s a fair breadth to choose from over a thirty year period – he was innovative, experimental and prolific. Perhaps you will have to reach out to understand the Scots humour or the episodic style. It certainly won’t be ‘what you are used to’ if you read modern fiction. You will be much more comfortable with it if you’re familiar with other 19th century novels and like I said, if you like Dickens and Hardy, or Scott and Stevenson, or Buchan and Grassic Gibbon and Gunn for that matter, you may well find plenty to love in Crockett’s work.
But whatever else you do in approaching Crockett for the first time do this; reach out, learn, open your mind – instead of showing the ignorance that goes with a simple acceptance that a man’s reputation has been trashed by those who sought to gain advantage from their actions.
On a more practical level I’d recommend you embark upon your own journey of discovery of Samuel Rutherford Crockett by visiting The Galloway Raiders site. There are worse virtual places to spend some time. If you fancy a bit of history, adventure and romance you may well find that Crockett’s your go-to man even 103 years after his death.
A short story by Macduff writer Pat Hutchison. From the Forthcoming collection 'Sanners Gow's Tales and Folkore of the Buchan.'
The market wis in full swing and boorachs o fowk were millin aboot lookin at aa the Chaip John stalls. The geets were rinnin aroon wild eed an fair kittelt up wi aa the sichts an sounds o this Aladdin’s cave o furls an fancies. A big ‘gallshicks’ stallie hid set up sellin ivvery kine o sweeties ye could imagine- pu-candy, swiss tablet, bylins, pandrops and Aiberdeen rock tae name but a fyowe.
Mony a wee haan wid shoot oot an grab a sweetie as they ran past at a rate o knots. The lad that echt the staa wis gan gyte at them and wid lash oot at some o them wi a lang stick that wis nae doot made for the job. Nae only wis he bein deeved wi human wasps but there wis cloods o the rale thing seekin some o his stock as weel. A harassed mannie richt eneuch wi a stick in ae haan swipin at the bairns and a flee swat in tither for the wasps or sharp ersed hooers as he caad them.
Anent the sweetie staa there wis a lad that claimed tae be a doctor and he wis selling bottles o Doctor McPherson’s Life Tonic at one shillin an saxpence a bottle. He’d plenty patter did this lad an tellt the githert crowd he’d gotten the secret recipe fae a monk in Tibet and the monk hid been 137 years aul at the time. The doctor fairly lookit a dapper wee mannie wi his top hat, a big tash an mutton chop sidewigs. Some fowk were pairtin wi hard earned siller as they stood open moothed takkin in aa the haivers. For one and sax they were gettin a bottlie o watter coloured wi turmeric and a taespeen o fusky for a bit o flavour.
Anither staa wis selling pocket watches wi chynes an trinkets. A lot o the fairmservant chiels were roon aboot this een because tae belang a pocket watch wis a bit o a status symbol. There wis twa kines o watches though: the dear yins that were gweed watches an wid gie a lifetimes service an the chaip eens that workit for 24 oors then aifter hins they were bang on time twice in ivvery 24 oors. Tae the young lads the chaip eens were jist the ticket because wi them ye got a siller chain an some wee trinkets tae gang w’t. Mony a young loon left the staa wi his chest stuckin oot as he lookit doon at the watch an chyne noo hingin fae his weskit pooch.
Ae lad wis standing in a clearin throwin neeps in the air an splittin them wi his heed an as they cam doon wi a seeckenin ‘thwak’, the neep wid be split in twa. The deemies in the crowd skirled ilka time an turned awa intae their lad's shooder if they hid een. This suited the young loons fine an mony a comfortin cuddle the quines got fae their strong protective ploomen.
The neep splitter wis strippet tae the waist and o aa things he wore a North American Indian chief’s heed dress made up o seagull fedders. Atween neeps he’d tell the huge crowd in a pure Aiberdeen accent that his great granda hid been Chief Sitting Bull the lad that hid slaachtered General Custer and aa his men at the battle o the Little-Bighorn. Ivvery noo an then he’d stop an ging roon the crowd wi a widden bowl painted wi Indians an jook fedders stuck on’t.
The coins were fair rattlin in especially fae the lads thats deemies teen a dwam at the sicht o a real North American Indian like this. He lookit the pairt though wi the seagull feddered heed dress an stripes o sitt on his face as warpaint. He even hid a tomahawk at his side wi gull fedders on it as weel but it wis actually his mither’s aix for chappin sticks. The breeks he wore were buff coloured moleskins and could if yer imagination wis up tae it be rale buckskin. The ae thing that spiled the effect wis the tackety beets instead o moccasins.
The beer tent though wis deein a roaring trade wi it being sic a hett sunny day an hantles o fairm servants and fairmers were sookin back the waarm beer tae weet their wheeples. Some lads though werena in the wye o drinkin sae muckle and feenisht up ootside the tent bleezin drunk. The staff jist pickit them up fae in the tent an laid them tae ae side tae come tee. Sic a sotter! Ae lad, he got up fae the raa o drunks an stytert awa tae hae a look at some o the staallies. On the wye he near gey near cowpit a staa o dishes The wumman that belanged them shouted, “Awa ye go ye drunken gype! Leave ma dishes be!”
At this he stytert alang till anither staa that hid rubbits an wee widden hoosies for them.There were birdies in teeny wee wire cages an pyokes o seed for feedin them. In fack there wis aa kinds o beasties at this staa. The drunk lad though wisna muckle teen wi ony o that; he wis mair teen wi the tray o tortoises. Throwe a haze o drink he says tae the staa keeper, “Heymin! Gimma twa o them things!”
He bocht them an put een intae baith pooches o ees jaicket an stytert awa headin for ither stallies. The owner shook his heed. He’d seen plenty drunk fowk in his time but that lad wis as drunk he couldn’ve bitten his ain finger.
A fair file aifter he saa the drunk lad makkin his wye tae his staa again but this time the bleed wis fleein fae his mooth. Nae doot he must’ve turkit some bugger an got a chap on the lips. The drunk lad stytert up tae the staa an throwe his bleedy mooth said ‘Heymin!’ an pyntit tae the tray o tortoises, “Gimma anither twa o them pies but nae sic hard crusts this time!”
Find out more about Aikey Brae in Leatham's 'Shows and Showfolk' and for more by Pat Hutchison buy the Sanners Gow collection HERE.
‘It is the business of the drama to hold the mirror up to nature not merely as she is, but to show her as she ought to be.’
This month sees the publication, for the first time in their entirety, of Leatham’s seventeen Shakespeare Studies and the above quote from Leatham’s study of Henry V lays out his theory of drama. His literary critiques, of which there are plenty, are generally written from a socialist perspective and his Shakespeare studies are no different. As such they offer a quite unusual interpretation of the work of The Bard. That in itself might be justification, as part of the Deveron Press Centenary Collection, for this new edition. By bringing the studies together into one volume the reader is able to engage with Leatham’s theory in a way previously very difficult if not impossible.
Leatham’s studies were commissioned in the early 1900’s for a girls school in Turriff. He explains how and why this commission came about in his autobiography 60 Years of World-Mending:
‘The Westwood Magazine was nominally the school journal of Westwood, an old private boarding and day school in Turriff; but the principal, Mrs Margaret Fergusson, had ideas about education for which the publishers of schoolbooks did not seem to provide. She had lived in England and Australia. She thought that education was not sufficiently literary and that civics were neglected. The Oxford and Cambridge Board, whose examiners periodically visited this school, used to set, as a test of the teachers’ intelligence, many subjects on which no direct help was to be got from the regular school textbooks. It was Miss Fergusson’s idea that these subjects should be discussed in the Westwood Magazine, which might become a lesson book, not only for her pupils, but for those of other private schools supposed to be conducted more or less in accordance with the Oxford and Cambridge Syllabus...’
Over the following decades Leatham’s studies were published and republished – in Gateway and as a small series of pamphlets. There is no doubt they were revised, sometimes substantially between the original versions and those in the second edition of the 1920s. However the focus of this new edition is not to find definitive answers but rather to bring them together as a body of work for a modern reader to reflect on.
To parody a famous quote regarding poetry and pity, in this volume we discover the Socialism that is in the Shakespeare. This comes not just in Leatham’s justification for printing his studies as pamphlets:
‘Schoolbooks have always been comparatively dear, and to have the origins, merits, and upshot of a Shakespeare play discussed in a threepenny magazine or a twopenny pamphlet was an economical way of covering a good deal of ground. It was found that these papers induced quite a proportion of readers to the authors themselves by bringing a Keats, Coleridge, Milton, or Chaucer down out of the rarefied academic air which makes the masterpieces, ‘Eng. Lit,’ thereafter to be forgotten. A busy lawyer said he did not realise how supremely human and racy Shakespeare could be till reading our study of ‘King John’ led him to the original.’
but also in the content of his critiques. Generally the studies run to an average of 2000 words apiece, and Leatham invariably (but not always) starts by giving the background and history of the play to contextualise it. He often criticises contemporary critics and he can’t help but get political about his interpretations. His criticism of Shakespeare is at times unsettling to the modern reader for whom Shakespeare has achieved a revered, beyond criticism status.
Four hundred years on from the death of Shakespeare one thing is certain – Shakespeare has become the ultimate commodity. As such, when we think about how the Bard ‘speaks’ to us today, we have to consider not just the man and his work but also subsequent cliché and commodification. In the 21st century I suggest we tend to use Shakespeare as a mirror – holding him up to our own present condition and trying to retro-fit – much in the way that Shakespeare himself was doing in writing the plays in the 17th century from earlier stories and different times.
But this is not how Leatham sees it. A century ago, Leatham, while appreciating Shakespeare’s genius, does not categorise it or commodify it as we do today, although I suggest that he does point towards the dangers of deifying and commodifying in equal measure.
In Leatham’s Shakespeare Studies we get a different and thought-provoking interpretation, quite unlike the one with which those of us ‘schooled’ in Shakespeare since the Second World War are familiar. Leatham consistently presents a view which I suggest is in keeping with his socialist principles. He can separate morality from creativity without condemnation, as in his study on Hamlet:
‘Morally one brackets Shakespeare the showman with the enterprising newspaper proprietors of the present day...,’
I suggest that in reading these studies you will not find Leatham trying to define or redefine Shakespeare as a socialist dramatist. Rather, he offers a socialist response to the plays. Thus soldiers, and especially monarchs and their behaviour are presented to us in a way quite different to that which was the acceptable response when I was a student of Shakespeare. And that is quite refreshing. One thing I can promise you – whether you agree, disagree, are shocked or charmed by Leatham’s opinions – you won’t have read Shakespeare critiques like these before. And that has to be a good thing.
[This piece is an abridged version of the Introduction to Leatham’s Shakespeare Studies, published by the Deveron Press on 23rd April 2017 and available NOW from Unco.]
The Real Dilemma of Collectivism.
Social students, such as Dr. Shadwell, write and speak of the ‘dilemma’ in which Socialists are placed by the failure of Sovietism in Russia. They claim, fairly enough, that Communism is simply Socialism in a hurry, and they say that the refusal of the Russian peasants to fall in with the spirit of the revolution is typical of a personal recalcitrancy that might well shipwreck Collectivist attempts elsewhere.
This is so far the most formidable objection that can be urged against Socialism. The objection is that we have not enough public spirit to make full-blown Socialism as satisfactory in its results as even Individualism, defective as we know the present system to be.
The Russian Disappointment.
I have been and still am a defender of the Russian revolution. It was inevitable, and has carried in its train many blessings, among them, as one of the best, the holy war upon illiteracy. One has attributed the failure to reach pre-war productivity to the dislocation and destruction caused by the Great War, the repeated invasions since then, and to the famine caused by the deadly drought of 1921. But all these events are of the receding past. The Russian authorities themselves admit that the recovery is not sufficiently rapid, and in the Soviet Review, which I got regularly till it was discontinued on the expulsion, it was at least once stated that there was a personal demoralization. I am not paying any attention to the lurid tales of reactionaries. I am going by admitted failures reported by the agencies of the Soviet Government. The country in Europe that could most readily be self-supporting is Russia. With her vast territories, her range of climate and variety of products, her natural wealth in timber, oil, furs, great corn lands, and even sub-tropical produce such as tea, Russia ought to have recovered from all her troubles quicker than any other European nation. The shortage of machinery and rolling stock on the railways should long since have been overcome, given the willingness of good citizenship and even the relative efficiency of Tsarist Russia.
Is the average worker not good enough for Collectivism? Will he not work for himself as hard or as carefully as he does for an employer? Does he need the fear of dismissal to keep him up to the full height of his efficiency? Is he incapable of realising in practice that as a public servant he is working for himself? If industry were fully socialised would he wipe out the benefits secured from consolidation, efficiency, and the stoppage of waste by simply becoming a slacker?
Existing Collectivism Hardly a Fair Test.
The answer to these fears is so far to hand. The Socialism of the State and the municipality, one is glad to say, has been overwhelmingly successful on the whole. But outside of Russia this Socialism is still exceptional in the industrial life of the nation. The prevailing atmosphere is still that of Individualism. The State or Municipal employee knows that if he does not attain a certain standard of diligence and efficiency he will be dismissed almost as readily as by a private employer.
The present Postmaster-General is, of course, a Tory, and local postmasters are doubtless not all Socialists. The discipline represented in the system of signing on and off duty, the timing of postmen upon rounds, the keeping of an individual employee’s record, with black marks against him for faults, represent forms of discipline which might conceivably be considerably slackened under Socialist auspices, where the employee would know that he had friends all up through the official hierarchy, and where he would know that he had to be maintained in some way no matter how he behaved?
The Co-operative Movement.
Something of an approach to Socialist conditions is shown in the co-operative movement. It has been called ‘a State within the State.’ Do we find co-operative employees ideally loyal? Are they always as civil and efficient as the servants of private enterprise? Can it honestly be said of the Co-operative Movement as a whole that it serves the public cheaper and better than the private shops? Co-operative prices ought to be lower than shop prices; but they are not. They are often so much higher that, taking them all over and deducting the dividend, it is extremely doubtful, to say the least, whether the store does not take more from the public for the service it renders than does the private shopkeeper. The dividend should stand for the shopkeeper’s profit, but it really seems to be rather a mere rebate, rendered possible only by the higher prices charged.
Many housewives regard the store as a means of compulsory saving, believing that they hand over week by week in higher prices what they receive at the end of the half-year in dividend. This means, to put it bluntly, that the Co-operative movement is spoiled of its full effect by inefficiency and probably a certain amount of corruption. There are, after all, no substitutes for integrity and brains.
An Object Lesson.
I once had, during 4½ years, the manager-editorship of a co-operative newspaper and job printing office. From my young manhood I have had to do with the giving out of work to men and women, and never had any difficulty in ‘managing’ them so long as they were accountable only to myself. But in this concern the employees declared that it had never paid a dividend, and they would ‘take ___ good care it never did.’ This would not have distressed the shareholders, working folk as they were; but they did not want the enterprise to fail. One of the ways in which the payment of a dividend was prevented was by the regular working of overtime, at, of course, overtime rates, and with lessened efficiency during the ordinary time. One overseer complained after I had been there some time that ‘the job wasn’t worth so much,’ meaning that the overtime had been cut down and more labour employed.
When I took over there was also bad time-keeping in the mornings. By being early myself, and often in the work-rooms at starting-time, the latecomers were shamed into punctuality without a word spoken. You passed two men talking in the yard, and not only did they continue their talk, but when you returned five minutes later, the talk was still going on and work was at a standstill, the workplace being indoors. ‘Affect a virtue if you have it not,’ you quoted. They separated at that; but the reproof was resented; for were we not a Socialist concern, and did not Socialists condemn slave-driving?
They made no allowance for handicaps, one of these being that our newspapers had hardly any really profitable advertisements, and another that we worked a forty-eight hours’ week and had few apprentices, while we had to compete for jobwork with rivals who worked a longer week, avoided overtime, and employed many apprentices We paid, besides, a wage higher than the local standard.
Up to that point one’s experience of estimating the time required for a job was that it could usually be done well within the time given, That is entirely as it should be. In fact it is the only line of ultimate solvency. In that establishment, however, the time taken, with machine composition (supposed to be an economy), always substantially exceeded the time-price allowed for hand composition.
Occasional dismissals - sometimes carried out with storm and stress - served to tighten the screws a little, though some of these dismissals meant that I had to take on the duties of the discharged one as an extra.
As showing the spirit of that staff, one operator before my time had been known to tear up an article of which he disapproved, saying he would not set ‘that stuff.’ And the easy-going editor of that time evidently let him off with it!
That concern, launched under favourable auspices, has long since been wound up, with a loss to the shareholders, and the loss, also, of a thousand pounds raised by a bazaar. This was in a district which returns Socialist members to Parliament in a straight fight with both the old schools of politicians. The two privately owned newspapers in that district are still going, for anything I know, although the majority of the citizens vote Labour. This tells its own tale.
It is worth pointing out that, although the shares in this co-operative society were held by working folk, no member of the staff except myself held any shares.
Too much Democracy.
The cause of the industrial-commercial failure of this paper was too much democracy and interference with the management. Even a stupid office-boy could not be dismissed for disobedience without a crisis over it. I resigned some time before the end came to a system that was obviously unworkable. Comparing notes with the managers of similar establishments - some extinct and some still going - I have found general agreement that the chief bugbear to success is indiscipline, the interference of the directorate between manager and men, and the excessive amenableness of directors to outside protest and dictation.
Collectivism can and does abolish a hundred and one wastes - in duplication, advertising, canvassing, and overlapping. Its credit is the best. It can buy to the highest advantage. It can command the best organising skill. But, given a rank-and-file community of comparative slackers, all these advantages might easily he cancelled out.
Give working men a privilege, and how often do we not see it abused? Allow them to smoke at work, or to have afternoon tea, and see how much time will he spent over a concession meant to be for their reasonable use and enjoyment. Stop clocking on, and see how men will come dawdling in, and how they will stand about the works entrance till minutes past the starting-time even if they are doing nothing and not even talking.
Certain it is that Russia should have been by now an object lesson to which we ought to have been able to point with pride and triumph. Instead of that we are constantly explaining and making excuses for her failure to produce more than 6o per cent. of the Tsarist output, and this with the idlers and wasters supposed to be eliminated, and organization at last introduced.
Peace Patriotism Required.
I am deeply sorry that the first Socialist Republic should have made so poor a showing, and should have had to fall back upon partial Capitalism as a ‘New’ Economic Policy. I can but wish that the lesson may be taken to heart by Socialists everywhere. It must be realised that Collectivism is essentially a constructive policy, and that the same ardour is required for the detail work of the transfer from Capitalism to Collectivism that is shown, in the name of patriotism, when a war is being waged.
When working men say they cannot afford to risk coming out into the open as Labour representatives, or that they cannot afford the time, the answer is: Very well, we cannot win the greatest struggle of all.
King Harry on Crispin Crispian’s day sought to hearten his troops by telling them they could ‘gentle’ their condition by fighting and prevailing against the French. What will you do to ‘gentle’ your condition? Will you read? Will you learn to speak and write at least one language correctly or even with some grace, that language being the speech of the country in which you were born? The gentle and strong shall bear rule, ought to bear rule. They have read, they have attended and assimilated cultural lectures, they have undergone the discipline of learning, they have qualified themselves to speak and discuss by reading and writing. The workman may do all these things. He has abundance of time for reading and worthy discussion. ‘The true university,’ said Thomas Carlyle, ‘is a library of books.’ The humblest has access to such a library, and consequently may have a university training of the best, such a training as Shakespeare, Defoe, Dickens, and Shaw had - infinitely better in fact than the first three of these had. The will is all.
There’s Sandy Cran on the Station Road,
Wi’ a hail for a’ that passes.
‘Turra and Prose.’
In old people high spirits and lively talk are always irresistible. The actual sayings may be nothing much, but that threescore and ten should, instead of ‘grips and granes,’ have the verve and the social feeling to care for quick retort or voluntary badinage, elicits our own laughing sympathy and makes age and youth affectionate kin.
The name Sandy Cran comes trippingly off the tongue as if it had been coined for its patness; but Alexander Cran was so christened when he began life in the Aberdeenshire burgh of Inverurie in the fifties of last century. A stonecutter by calling, he mostly referred to himself by that modest title; but as his business was that of a monumental mason, he sometimes in unguarded moments indulged in the more ambitious title of ‘sculptor,’ which he called sculpitir.
After spells of work at his trade in Glasgow and then in Ellon, where he opened a yard of his own, he came at length to Turriff. Here he was my landlord and nearest neighbour. He had come to the little sylvan town for the three good reasons that it was a larger centre, there was no one in his line of business there, and it was Mrs. Cran’s native place.
Sandy was wideawake, and had done well enough for himself. Not only had he the local monopoly, but prices of all funereal paraphernalia would appear to be on a liberal scale everywhere. When one spoke of profits of 20 per cent, he said ‘Is that a’?’ His own margin would be broader than that.
Two Flush Times.
Another old friend in a different calling - he printed on paper while Sandy lettered on stone - said ‘There’s twa times when ye can get yer price. Ye can nail them in their joy for weddin’ cairds and in their grief for black-border’t stationery.’ In Sandy’s trade there would be insurance money, perhaps even a legacy to draw upon, and the price would not be grudged. ‘Ye canna haud in at sic a time,’ said a crofter’s wife in ordering wedding cards for her daughter.
There are grand salesmen in Sandy’s line in the Granite City. Of one of them he said: ‘He can drap a sympathetic tear very ready, an’ it gings a lang wye wi’ the weedah. He collars the order.’ There was nothing of the professional mourner about Sandy. He was more likely to tell a kindly story about the departed that would make the widow smile. He did not even attend funerals nearly as often as most of his fellow-townsmen. Jocularity was more in his line than letting ‘the tear doonfa’.’
I saw a great deal of him, for he had the old-fashioned leisurely Scots habit of popping in if he had any news to give or to ask for. His work did not at all absorb his attention. By the time (early in 1916) when I became his tenant for my long ropewalk line of business premises he was well on in years, and when there was a fair amount of lettering to be done he was accustomed to have out a squire of the chisel from the city, he himself doing the setting up of the stones in the surrounding burial, grounds.
There never, surely, could have been anyone who went about such a job as cheerfully as he. He enjoyed life thoroughly, taking part in the games of the district, and never missing a chance of a gossip or a story, but ready to sympathise in trouble as well as to share good news. One night a passer-by had answered his hail rather forlornly, as we judged, though we did not hear what was said; but Sandy’s ‘Come awa owre and tell’s a’ aboot it!’ was so hearty that two of us who heard it looked each other in the face and laughed broadly.
‘That’s a’ richt.’
Our association began, as said, during the war years. He felt keenly the toll that was being taken of life among young and vigorous men whom he knew; but even then his habit of chaff and story-telling was unquenchable. One summer evening he was plying a Dutch hoe on the terrace in front of my premises where there was a slight growth of green. ‘I saw yer mistress in Aiberdeen the day!’ shouted a farmer as he passed up the road in his gig. ‘Was she wi’ a sodger?’ asked Sandy, gently jogging the hoe, and not looking up. ‘Oh, fie, no!’ said the farmer, in a tone of shock. ‘That’s a’ richt,’ said the man with the hoe, still not looking up.
Sandy sometimes had questions to ask in connection with the monumental business. One day he wanted to know what ‘R.I.P.’ meant. When told that ‘Requiescat in pace’ signified ‘Rest in peace’ he said that RIP, without the full stops between the letters, would have suited the departed not amiss.
When the monogram ‘IHS’ was explained as standing for ‘Iesu hominum salvatur’ (Jesus Saviour of men) he said he had always read it as ‘I have shifted.’ When it was pointed out that the letters were inter-twined and that Pat read them in a different order as signifying ‘I am still here,’ he preferred his own reading.
A Chance Missed.
One summer evening he came in and explained that he had been at a meeting for the election of a Parents’ Representative to the School Management Committee, and that a certain leading citizen had been ‘on the ramp. He lookit roon an’ said there were a lot o’ people here who had no standin’. I askit him to tell’s what a guardian was; but he never tell’t’s yet. How would you define a guardian!’
‘Obviously,’ I said, ‘one who guards or has the care of. You ought to have said I stand in loco parentis to two grandchildren whose father sails the high seas ten months out of the twelve.’ ‘(The father was skipper of an ocean liner, the mother and grandchildren staying with her parents.)
‘What did ye ca’t?’ asked Sandy, greatly impressed.
‘In loco parentis - in the place of a parent,’ I explained.
‘My God, that’s a richt ane!’ he said. ‘If I had kent that ane I wad hae paralysed ’im wi’t!’
He came in next day and got me to write it down for him, and a little later in the day I saw him explaining to two citizens out in the roadway the chance he had missed.
He told me later that one of them had said: ‘It was as weel ye didna begin wi’ the Lat’n. They maybe wad hae answer’t ye in Lat’n, and then ye wad hae been flummoxed.’ But Sandy said he had answered: ‘If I had kent that ane I wad hae riskit it!’
And so he would, too. It was said the Duke of Wellington spoke French ‘with courage,’ and the same might have been said of Sandy’s reading of the newspapers. He had his own pronunciations, but never was at a loss on that account, and he had a shrewd enough knowledge of the gist of what he read.
‘A richt thing.’
When Dr. Charles Murray’s splendidly racy poem, ‘Dockens Afore His Peers’ appeared in the morning paper, Sandy came in with the sheet flying. ‘Man, this is a richt thing!’ he said. And I had to read it aloud for him there and then.
Among the new words originated by the war his version of one that did much service was ‘camaflag’; and ‘arraplane’ was his rendering of another.
About the time when the darkening order was first issued locally a handsome policeman, who had nice ruddy hair and complexion, was chivvying some boys for making a slide at Sandy’s corner. When the boys had got to what they thought might be a safe distance one of them shouted to the bobby: ‘Wa’ an’ get a dark green blind owre yer heid!’
The stonecutter enjoyed reporting that one.
When the Peace celebrations came on I prepared a long streamer in blue and red letters for myself. It was from the King’s speech in ‘Henry VI.’:
Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just,
And he but naked, though locked up in steel,
Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted.
Sandy was struck with this, and asked would I make one for him. ‘Ay, ane o’ my kin’!’
I provided him with this adaptation of an old post-Waterloo toast:-
Nae mair war, an’ nae mair killin’:
Maybe we’ll shortly get a bob’s worth for a shillin’.
As war-prices still prevailed, the second line proved of some acceptance, and was copied by the Banffshire Journal, while my Shakespearean slogan went unheeded, except by the school children, who recognised it and chanted it solemnly.
On the terrace in front of my premises I had built for myself a high wooden structure intended to hold wastepaper, which the mill would take only in large quantities. When the house was finished, with overhanging roof, and painted in green and white, a passer-by shouted to Sandy one night: ‘What’s that for?’
And the answer came back promptly: ‘A henhoose - to keep deuks in!’
This structure suggested a story of a master mason he had known in Ellon long before. He said that when a workman came and asked the mason how he would do a certain piece of work, the short Excelsior-like slogan was ‘Up, up!’
Sandy had many reminiscences of his Ellon days. He had stood for the Town Council there, and was elected. His election agent, a Highlander, was coming up the main street after the count, when Mrs. Cran came to the door and asked if her man was ‘on,’ meaning had he been elected.
The Highlander had his own meaning for the word ‘on,’ and his answer was: ‘Oh, he’s had a nup or two, but he’s not to call on!’
The first time I stood for the Council Sandy was pleased and excited. He promised to instal a sink and a water-tap in my machine-room; ‘but only if ye get on to the coons’l!’ he added. Be it said, I never got it.
Another Elton story was of a half-wit who usually walked about chewing a whole leaf of a popular weekly journal, while he clutched the rest of the paper, in bulky disorder, below his jacket tail. He was not on good terms with the local inspector of poor, who had two good-looking and stylishly turned out daughters, and when the half-wit met them out of doors his scornful jibe, unfailingly and loudly repeated, was: ‘Par-roch! Par-roch!’
Among Sandy’s friends the word ‘Par-roch’ became a kind of disparaging argot for all manner of things that were gratuitous and perhaps a trifle hungry or cheap; though poor relief is no longer so skimpy as it was.
His youthfulness of spirit was shown by his love of a verbal catch.
I had asked him if he knew the story of the Empty Box, and he chuckled to hear that ‘There was nothing in it.’ He was equally pleased with the short story of the Three Eggs: ‘Two bad.’ And then one evening he came in and gravely announced: ‘That man’s neen the waur that got the machine owre’s heid.’
It was not unnatural to answer that it must have been a strong head, and to tell of the nigger who, getting a brick dropped upon him, looked up to the scaffolding and said, ‘If ya doan’ wan’ yer bricks broke ya’ll better keep ’em offen my head.’
This was not what Sandy wanted, and he tried a variant of the original statement. ‘I was speakin’ to the sairjint, and he said he wasna sair hurtit. . . . It was in Peter Davi’son the barber’s shop that it happen’t!’
PART TWO NEXT MONTH
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