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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