Sandy had many stories of his own, and he liked to have your full attention when he told them. He would at a pinch interpose his arm between you and your work and say ‘Here!’ If you seemed absorbed in what you were doing, or for some reason not prepared to take him on, he would say, ‘Ye’re shortsome fellahs!’ and clear out.
It was worth while telling him a story. He appreciated it to the full at the moment, and long afterwards would repeat the point of any saying in it.
I once told him of a football match I had witnessed in Peterhead in which the local team was being rather badly beaten by a combination from Aberdeen city. One of the Peterhead men was hurt in the play, and an elderly local fishcurer, chagrinned at the way the match was going, shouted the unchivalrous comment, ‘Tak ’im awa’---ye wunna miss ’im!’ This derisive one our old friend repeated afterwards again and again.
I told him of a new office-boy who was asked by his employer to write out a pro forma invoice to a certain customer. ‘Do you know what that means?’ asked the principal. ‘Yes,’ said the new boy disdainfully. ‘It means he’s a rotter.’ This also was repeated in various connections.
Cran was a very good bowler, and his remarks on the play, equally of rivals and associates, sometimes proved disconcerting, but usually raised a laugh. When his side scored he would shout ‘Coo-ee, coo-ee!’ and execute a little dance. A team of donnish visitors taking play very seriously have been known to be ‘put off their game’ by these demonstrations of a grey-bearded septuagenarian.
A keen and successful card-player, his acceptance of ‘the rigour of the game’ would hardly have come up to Sarah Battle’s standards, and of the levity of some of his comments she would have strongly disapproved. But the levity, by all accounts, did not affect his own play.
At Public Meetings.
It was at public meetings that he was most enjoyable. A Tory himself, if anything, he attended the meetings of all parties, and questions by Cran formed one of the most acceptable features of the proceedings.
In one of the immediate post-War years there was a shortage of Duke of York potatoes so acute that growers were requested by the authorities to use them only as seed. Sandy turned up at a political meeting with a pair of potatoes, and at question time, standing near the platform, he asked the chairman, ‘Could you tell me, sir, which of these potatoes is Duke o’ York?’ The chairman, ‘chancing his hand,’ pointed to a particular tuber. ‘Would you believe me, sir, there’s none o’ them Duke o’ York,’ said the questioner blandly. Needless to say, the aim, apart from the desire to raise a laugh, was to turn to ridicule the idea of an inquisition with respect to seed potatoes.
At a meeting addressed by the other candidate, Sandy asked why Duke of Yorks had been selected for restriction. The candidate said he had no idea. Whereupon the questioner remarked that he supposed he would need to ask the Duke of York himself. This elicited from a man in the audience the suggestion ‘Better speir at the Duchess.’ That there was no Duchess at the time was in nonsensical keeping with the remark that suggested it.
In the General Election immediately following the close of the Great War an idea in favour with the authorities was to put demobilised soldiers on the land, of which certain tracts had been purchased here and there by the Government with that purpose. Of a gentleman-farmer candidate Sandy asked; ‘Would you be in favour, sir, of givin’ every man a change o’ a job, takin’ men away from the job they know and puttin’ them to some other job, the wives to change jobs with their men?’ The candidate sat and laughed, as at a question which answered itself.
There was a slight agitation for a Rat Week, and Sandy’s contribution took a dramatic turn. Rising slowly in a front seat, he produced from somewhere an enormous rat, which he hung suspended by the tail. When the laughter and clamour had subsided he announced the exhibit as ‘Best Turriff fed!’ We had a neighbour who used to put down such quantities of food to his fowls that they and the rats might be seen feeding amicably all day together. It was from this source that Sandy got his specimen.
A Chance Missed.
At a meeting in connection with an election of the local School Management Committee he asked the candidates: ‘Can yon tell me the date o’ the Battle o’ Bannockburn?’ The only lady candidate laughingly answered, ‘1314’; but one of the others suggested that Sandy had missed a stupendous opportunity of selling tombstones owing to his not having been alive at that time.
Sandy used to come in and ask me for likely questions to put. ‘Ay, my kin’ o’ them,’ he would say. At the Hang-the-Kaiser election, it may be recalled, the Government candidates had official coupons. Sandy, as instructed, said: ‘I understand, sir, that you are a coupon candidate. Have you any objection to tellin’ us the number of your coupon, sir?’ ‘Not at all. I’m Number One!’ was the jaunty but rather staggering reply.
On another occasion our friend asked the sitting member: ‘Is that your wife, sir?’ ‘Yes, it is,’ the member laughingly replied. ‘That’s not the same one I saw ye wi’ last time I saw ye,’ was the comment, which might in certain circumstances have been delicate or even dangerous. Fortunately the audience knew all the three persons, and especially the impish questioner.
At one meeting the then Provost, from the chair, referred to the rise in prices. Doing his best to look obtuse and harmless, Cran said eggs had not risen in price, the point of the remark being that the Provost bought eggs on a large scale. ‘Ye surely keep hens, Cran,’ said A Voice. ‘I keep ane; but she’s grouin’ gey aul’,’ was the response. He was very much distressed when he lost her, all the same.
He would say at a public meeting almost anything that he would have said in private. At a largely-attended political gathering, where I was a member of the platform party, he explained an occurrence that had happened, as he said, ’When I was takin’ up His Nibs’s ash-backet,’ I being his nibs.
An Old Feud.
He got a great deal of interest and excitement out of a notorious leaflet issued by W. Lotinga, at one time sports editor of John Bull. Lotinga quarrelled with Horatio Bottomley, his chief, and he issued a broadside, sensationally printed in red and black, in which he accused Bottomley of many crimes and immoralities, and among the rest, withholding the money won by readers in competitions.
It appears the first issue of the leaflet had borne no printer’s name, and Bottomley advertised offering a reward of £50 to anyone who would give him the names of those responsible for the document. Lotinga replied stating that he was the writer, responsible printer, and publisher of the leaflet, and he claimed the reward for the Red Cross funds. No notice being taken, Lotinga instituted proceedings, and the £50 was paid into court.
All this and much more that was sensational was set forth in the edition I had of the leaflet, and Cran thought that to libel a man, and get £50 for doing it, was a record. Bottomley had many admirers at the time, and repeatedly Sandy would dash in, saying, ‘Gie’s Lotinga, will ye? Here’s a Bottomley man!’
The Printed Word.
The present generation is not as much moved by the printed word as was that of my old friend. There is so little of the old potency of leadership and there are so many forms of appeal to both eye and ear that letterpress as the vehicle of ideas has not its former importance and inevitableness; though one still hears of simple folk saying of a statement, ‘It was papered!’ as if that set the seal of absolute validity upon it. But in the same way as the Lotinga circular excited Sandy, so was he tickled by another and much shorter piece of print. On a quarto royal piece of cardboard (12½ by 10¼) lettered and ornamented in black and red, and fitted with eyelets and a red ribbon suspender, the following, which I had just finished, was one day shown to him: -
OUR business has been established ever since 1858. We have been pleasing and displeasing people ever since. We have made money and lost money. We have been cussed and discussed, knocked about, talked about, lied about, held up, robbed, etc., to the end of the chapter. The only reason why we are remaining in business is to see what the ……… will happen next.
He was tickled, and, while passing the tuppence for a copy, he canvassed the various wordies that might, could, should, and would be used to fill the blank space. He altered the date to ‘1878 ‘to suit his own case, and hung up the placard in his little office. He had many leisured callers, mostly not on business, and he must have drawn attention to it, for he often came in for another one, probably giving them away.
With a liking for anything heightened and telling - exaggerated, if you will - his own talk often had a blend of these elements. Coming in one evening from visiting a flower show, his breezy comment was; ‘A lot o’ fine stuff yonder, an’ some o’t groun bi the fowk themsels!’
Working in granite and occasionally marble, as he did, he had no great admiration for the soft local red sandstone. Of it he said; ‘Ay, a fine handy steen: ye can jine’t thegither wi’ a palin’ nail!’
Once he borrowed a board or two from me. Knowing we had proposed to cut them up for firewood, his way of returning the loan was to bring in several armfuls of chopped wood. When I mildly protested that he was giving me too much, he said, ‘No, I wye’t them!’
A local dairy farmer, on returning from a visit to London, was met by Cran, who asked him what was doing there - a large order. The farmer, who also had a turn for hazing and extravaganza, said he had met Lloyd George (then at the height of his power), and the Premier had asked if Sandy Cran had gotten fause teeth yet. Sandy explained he had replied that there was no need for his going to the dentist. ‘The like o’ me that works about kirkyards can easy get a set o’ teeth.’ And presently he added: ‘But na, na. I’ll jist work awa wi’ the droon’t loaf.’
It was said he loved a bit of chaff and blarney over a transaction. I had no experience of that kind with him. But a shopkeeper tells me that he once exclaimed to Sandy, ‘Ye’re a bloomin’ old twister!’ With well-simulated indignation the accused repudiated the allegation; and then, with a complete change of tone, he said, ‘I was nivver fun’ oot ony wye!’
He was allowed a good deal of latitude, even by women, in the stories he told and the remarks he made. One Rabelaisian tale he told was about a man who had dropped his jacket into a midden. He was dredging for the jacket with a rake when someone said he could hardly wear it again even if he found it; it would be ruined. ‘Och,’ said the man, ‘it’s nae the aul’ jaicket I’m carin’ for; but my denner’s in ane o’ the pooches!’ A dainty dame who had had the story at second-hand from one of her own sex, meeting Sandy some time afterwards, asked him with a smile if the man did recover his jacket.
Pride of Ownership.
As we stood looking out of window and talking one morning, an old, grey-bearded pedlar came down the road jauntily, his broad, flat box slung over his back by a broad leather strap, and I remarked that I had seen the box at close quarters, and that, covered with American cloth, and the lid studded all round the edge with brass tacks, it was quite a nobby box. ‘Ay,’ said my friend, ‘he was drinkin’ out about wi’ a younger man ae nicht, an’ they got to words, an’ the young ane was to go for ’im. The aul’ man stood up on his box, an’ said, ‘Ye wouldna strick a man in his ain shop, would ye?’’
A local tale he liked to tell was of an adjutant of volunteers who came to Turriff for a field day which required that he should be on horseback. His mount was a spirited horse usually yoked in a hearse as one of a proud pair. Conscious of his martial paraphernalia, the horse was more than usually lively, and the adjutant was an equestrian so little accomplished that he manifestly felt slightly uneasy at the capering and side-cutting of his charger. The horse was all the more excited from being surrounded by a bevy of eager and voluble boys. ‘Run away, run away!’ said the nervous rider. ‘Did you never before see a warhorse?’ ‘Ay,’ said one ready loon, ‘we’ve seen a waur horse; but we’ve nivver seen a waur rider!’
‘Out of the mouths of babes.’
Sandy’s grandson, who bears the Christian name of Cran, was seated at dinner with his grandparents one day as Mrs. Cran made s0me reference to a man whose name she did not know. ‘It’s yon man that drives Robbie Paiterson’s horse - the horse wi’ the lang white face,’ she explained. This did not meet young Cran’s idea of an explanation (he would have been about seven at the time), and he said slowly as he spooned his broth, ‘A’ horses hiv lang faces. Ye never saw a horse wi’ a roon face!’ A horse with a round face would in truth be rather a freak. The grandfather told that one with some satisfaction.
The old man was in a public office one day where a fellow-countryman of Benito Mussolini was having his income tax return filled up for him by an obliging official, whose business lies in another field. ‘How many children’ he asked. ‘Two - t’ree in a few days,’ said the Italian, holding up three fingers. With an excited turn and a tug at his beard, Sandy said, with shining eyes, ‘Allooance for a kid that’s nae born! Beats a’!’
A Final Flicker.
My old friend had a good deal of physical distress before the end came. While being treated in an Aberdeen nursing home he had a Turriff man as a fellow-patient in the same room, One morning early a maid came in sweeping and moving about at the furniture with the noise and hustle that with some seem to be regarded as a necessary part of such work. Lying in poorish case, Sandy gave a characteristic flicker of the old humour. In sleepy tones he said to his fellow-patient, ‘The jiners is in early this mornin’, Morrisin!’
A Serious Side.
It is the penalty of having a reputation for fun and chaff that you are assumed out of doors not to have a serious side to your nature. As one who saw Cran under varying conditions I was in no danger of sharing that assumption. At a nearby forge he was allowed special privileges in connection with the sharpening of the tools he used - I do not know exactly what privileges - but he conveyed the impression that he did at least some considerable part of the trying smith-work himself. He would come home in the evening very tired – ‘dirt deen’ was how he expressed it; but as he nevertheless came in to see me, I fear I did not fully estimate what this meant to one of his years.
He felt very deeply the loss of his partner in a long and happy married life, and sometimes made confessions which would have surprised those who knew him chiefly as a maker of sport. He was, however, fundamentally cheerful as well as lively, and it would be an error to suggest that there was ever any serious or long-continued reaction from the humour in which he was so well known. But at least everyone has two sides to his character.
Mr. David Parker, the genial local postmaster, tells how one night at ten o’clock Sandy rang his house doorbell and came in to explain, with great penitence, that a complaint he had made about a postal order having gone astray was quite wrong: the order had just turned up among his own papers and he had hurried off at once for fear a postman would be unjustly blamed.
One day I introduced Cran to Dr. William Fergusson, of Banff, towards the end of his long career as a greatly skilled and honoured practitioner. The doctor derived from Ellon, where his father was for many years the Free Church minister. I thought the doctor would have known Sandy; but he had been only a visitor to Ellon during the stonecutter’s stay there, and his memory had to be jogged.
‘Your place was at the back of the Poorhouse, wasn’t it?’ he said.
‘Ay,’ said Sandy, ‘I’m still at the back o’ the Poorhouse; but still outside it!’
‘A character!’ said the doctor, turning to me with a smile. Yes, it did not take long to find that out.
A TREE OF DIVERSE FRUITS.
Since the foregoing pages were printed we have been waiting for a portrait of Sandy; and now that it has arrived it has to be confessed that it does less than justice to the alert original. There was no really up-to-date photo. of the old man, and the trouble taken and the money spent on trying to secure a characterful sketch, on the basis of photos and information supplied, have not been justified by the result.
In the waiting period, however, two additional stories have come to hand.
An Aberdeen correspondent tells how Sandy, buying block granite in the Granite City, would say to the clerk at the yard, ‘Pit anither ten shillin’s on to the accoont, will ye? The wife keeps me short o’ spendin’ money.’
Touching a plum-tree of Sandy’s, the same correspondent tells me of an incident which had oddly slipped my memory. The tree grew on the face of a wall which is high on the garden side, but low on the side next to the road. It produced luscious plums, but one morning bore a very different kind of fruit. A midnight passer-by, tempted by what he had seen in daylight, had leaned down over the wall to help himself, and while so engaged had been suddenly alarmed. In a hasty withdrawal he had left behind his silver watch and chain, which had got entangled in a branch. Sandy came in carrying the lost property, and among other highly-coloured comments, he said, ‘There’s nae mony trees in Turriff that grou watches and chains!’
This wonderful tree is no longer there to tempt to breaches of the Eighth Commandment - or to snare watches and chains.
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