This afternoon was dreich and drizzly but as I intend to start updating this blog more often, I decided we should have a casual drive through to Cromarty, the Achcraggan of the My Friend… series of books.
The firth is chock-a-block with oil rigs and platforms in the process of being decommissioned at the moment, but the town itself is the same as ever, the Fishertown houses gable end to the sea and the massive old town houses standing proud off the main streets.
Heading past the Old Brewery, we climbed the steep brae that leads out of town and spotted this strange creature in a field.
Once we got closer we realised it was a sculpture, and not the real thing, although many a child is probably convinced otherwise. It made more sense when we discovered it was standing in the grounds of a revamped stable block that now houses a Creative Arts hub. No horses nowadays but rather sculptors and printmakers. It seems they like to play fantastical tricks on unsuspecting passers-by!
On the accidental witnessing of Jamie “taking advantage” of Miss Violet and how George and Tom relieve Janet of the burden – Voiced by Uncle George, Tom and the eight-year-old Janet, 1918
(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)
But it was not any member of my family that came over the green rim of the basin. It was that Miss Iris Boyd and that son of the cattleman at Whitemills that was on leave from the Army, and he had his arm around her waist and she had her head on his shoulder and was giggling in a way so silly that I was red hot all over and rooted to the ground with shame for her. Before Fly and I could feel calm enough to move, they suddenly sat down right beside the clump of broom that held us, and he began to pull at the front of her blouse and she was saying: “Now don’t Jamie!” and giggling, and then again: “Jamie you mustn’t!” and not really meaning it at all, and his face was looking sly and his eyes were bright and his mouth was open and the lips wet and slobbery. And always from Miss Iris there would come that silly ineffectual guilty furtive giggle and the “Now don’t Jamie! You mustn’t take advantage!” After what seemed a very long time of this she suddenly sprang to her feet and ran clumsily like a crab but giggling all the time, across the grass by the pool but I saw Jamie catch up with her and they threw themselves down by another clump of broom and I could see only their feet and his hand now pushing the skirts up from her skinny legs with the black stockings and the pink garters below the knees. Fly and I crawled out, silent and unseen on to the path, then took to our heels and left Miss Iris and Jamie wrestling in the quarry. …
It was all Dreadful, dreadful in a way I could not describe, for my brain would not think about it without having red sparks of shame, and my stomach felt sick. And I was afraid to go home, not just because the broom bushes had torn my hair ribbons, but because I felt that some of the hideous, sly guilt of Jamie’s slobbery mouth was somewhere on me and that my family would see it. I felt that, for the first time in my life, I had been in contact with Real, Awful Sin and it was my fault for going to the quarry where my Friend Tom and my Friend George had told me I must not go.
Several days later:
“Here come now,” said George in a voice more like my father than my clown of an uncle. “Sit up now and tell Tom and me about this.”
“That Miss Boyd and that man – “
I told them. I told them everything – black stockings, pink garters, “Don’t take advantage” and all. They listened in rigid silence and when I had finished I looked from one of them to the other.
“For myself,” said George, “I am hard put till it not to be laughing!” and suddenly he rolled over on the grass towards Tom, caught him around the neck and said: “Come on, Tom, dearie, give me a nice kiss, now!”
“Now, now, Geordie!” said Tom with squeaky refinement, “Don’t be taking advantage!”
They began to roll about on the grass together until I could hardly believe that they hadn’t seen the whole episode for themselves. The longer it went on the funnier it became, and by the time Tom sprang up and began to run, giggling away, with his toes turned out, his hands holding up his trouser legs as Miss Iris had held her skirt, I was holding my aching sides as I laughed, and the dogs were barking their delight and jumping around in circles.
“Was that the way it was, at all?” George asked, after they had sat down again and caught their breath.
“Yes, but not funny like that,” I told him.
“No. That was because they weren’t doing it for pure foolishness like Tom and me. But it was just foolishness that was in them, a-all the same although that Miss Boyd is too foolish to know when she’s being foolish, like.”
“That’s just the way of it,” said Tom. “But man George we’ll have to sort it out so that they will not be at their foolishness at the old quarry. The lady might be getting mud on her pink garters!” They both began to laugh as though they would burst and somehow my Burden of Sin had now disappeared.