An Unsavoury Scene and How Janet is Relieved of the Burden

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.

Disappointment, and How Best to Deal With It

The disappointment of there being no Harvest Home – Voiced by Uncle George and the eight-year-old Janet, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)

“I don’t think there is going to be a Harvest Home this year,” George said.

“That’s foolishness, George Sandison!” I was indignant. “There is always a Harvest Home. Why isn’t there going to be one.”

George leaned on his rake and stared away at the Ben in that searching way, and Tom said: “Well, ye see, since the War things is not the same. Apples and raisins and things is very, very dear, and your father says the Laird kind of feels that he canna afford it like he used to.”

“But we don’t have to have raisin dumpling! We could sing and dance—“

“Listen,” George said. “I don’t think we should be speaking about it. If Sir Torquil feels he canna afford it, to be speaking about it and showing that a person is disappointed will chust make things worse for him. For me, I am just going to go on as usual as if I had never heard o’ such a thing as a Harvest Home.”

“But you are disappointed all the same, George?”

“Och aye, surely. But when a person’s disappointed it’s better to be disappointed in to yourself and not be bawling about it at people. That only makes it worse …. Man, Tom, I wish I had a sweetie! You wouldna have a black-strippit ball about you?”


The Old Brewery, Cromarty

I have just returned from a Weekend Residential held in the village of Cromarty, the Achcraggan of the My Friend… series of books. For only the second time since I started my Creative Writing course at college last September, I met up with my classmates in a non-virtual fashion, so it was a great chance to catch up. Courses like ours are mainly done online nowadays, with lectures being given via Video Conference. ‘Tis the times, but the weekend was a resounding success so more will follow no doubt.

The centre where we stayed is an old brewery, so what better name for this quite fabulous centre for the arts than, The Old Brewery. I am local-ish, so know the village well, and my husband’s very first job was at the local pottery (it is a very artsy place), but for people who have never visited before, it really is quite something – Almost a time capsule from the 18th century when Cromarty was one of the most prosperous places in Scotland because of trade with Northern Europe, and because of the vast shoals of silver darlings (herring to you and I) that were caught off its shores.

I did say it was almost an 18th century time capsule however, and that would be because if you look west along the firth, the view is something like this. I went out for an evening walk amongst the quaint streets of the old fishertown, but when I joined the shore road, I was quite mesmerised by the scale of the lit-up structures attached to the oil fabrication yard on the north side of the firth.

Drilling rigs are parked up in the Cromarty Firth near Invergordon, Scotland

The Oil Fabrication Yard at Nigg

However, in the morning, I woke up to this – What a weird mix of old and new, but strangely alluring too, as it brings a modern-day sharpness to the quaint and slightly twee village.


The quaint village of Cromarty

Over the course of the weekend, an invitation went out to give readings of either your own work, or that of a favourite author. Of course for me it was simple, as what better to read when in Cromarty, but a couple of excerpts from My Friends the Miss Boyds. The two I chose have already featured in this blog, The Freedom of the Individual and The Difference between Townsfolk and Countryfolk.

I think they both went down quite well.


The Difference between Townsfolk and Countryfolk

Discussing the ineptitude of townsfolk on Red Cross collection day – Voiced by Tom and the eight-year-old Janet, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)


So down Tom and I went to the village on Friday afternoon, both in very good form behind Dulcie, who was spanking along, as if she thought it a fine thing to be alive and so it was. Everybody knew us, of course, and stopped to speak to us, and Doctor Mackay put a threepenny piece in the box on the shore road “just for luck” he said. The butter, eggs and honey we had with us would be delivered at the houses that had ordered them, and some would be exchanged for our groceries and butcher-meat through accounts that had been going on for years but the wild raspberries I had picked and the pigeons Tom had shot, were for our Red Cross.

“And we have this new call to make the-day, on the Miss Boyds,” said Tom. “Should we be keeping a pair of Red Cross pigeons for them, do you think?”

“Maybe they couldn’t pluck them, Tom,” I said. “They are awful handless-looking, somehow.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Tom agreed. It’s them being from the town, the poor craiturs. People from the town is very inclined to be useless in a lot of ways. They’ll be buying their pigeons from a mannie that plucks them all ready for the pot, so they never get a chance to learn a thing for themselves. Aye. We’ll just chust sell the pigeons as usual and maybe they’ll be putting a penny in the boxie whateffer.”

Sandy Bawn and The Giant Redwood

The “tall tales” told by people who had emigrated to America – Voiced by Uncle George and Tom, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)

Usually, if George, Tom and I went to the moor we had a riotously happy time, out of the hearing of my grandmother, with George and Tom clowning about telling yarns about old Sandy Bawn who had gone to America in the long ago, had come back and told fearful stories of the size of the trees there.

“And he would tell them as solemn as if it was the God’s truth he was telling you, man!” Tom would say.

“Aye, yon one about the redwood tree – was that the name if it? That he said was as big around as the steeple o’ Achcraggan Church!” George would add. “What a danged liar the man was, Tom, when you think on it.”

“Och, something terrible, man. And him swearing on his Bible oath it was the truth. Av coorse, there was always a soft bittie in Sandy Bawn, George – he was for ever thinking he was far cleverer than others, and a man has to be gey soft to be thinking like that.”

The Dangers of Becoming Over-Ambitious

Remembering the time Janet discovered George and Tom’s illicit still – Voiced by Uncle George, 1947

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)

“Why you were never caught, I don’t know,” I told them.

“Och,” said George modestly, “Tom and me were never the ambeetious kind to go in for anything in a big commercial way, to be making money at it, like. Any jobbies that him and me ever went in for – like taking a bit fish out of the river at night or the like o’ that – we aye did it chust for pleasure, in a quiet way, among ourselves and our cronies. Tom and me was never clever enough to get ambeetious. It’s when people will get ambeetious to be making money at a thing that the bother comes in – that’s what I always think whatever.”

museum - illegal distillery

Different Kinds of Foolishness

When folk have no idea what’s expected o’ them – Voiced by Uncle George, Tom and the eight-year-old Janet, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)


“Man, George, yon was terrible,” said Tom soberly when they had finished mimicking the Miss Boyds’ performance of “Huntingtower.”

“It was like as if you and me had set ourselves up to sing the Psalm like John-the-Smith, Tom. It is an awful thing when folk has no idea what’s expected o’ them.”

“How does folk know, George?” I asked.

“Ach if a person has any sense they can see for theirselves what they should do and what they leave alone. You wouldna be dancing your Sword Dance if Sir Torquil wasna asking your father. And Tom and me wouldna be at that capers o’ the reel if folk wasna at us to be doing it. It is chust common sense. But when Sir Torquil has all that fancy visitors there, he’s not needing people to be making fools of theirselves, except the like o’ Tom and me. People knows we canna dance or sing good, and they know we are being foolish at it on purpose. There’s a-all the difference in the world between being foolish on purpose and being foolish because you are too foolish to know you are being foolish, like.”

The Foolishness of Grown-Ups

Eavesdropping on a hitherto dull, adult conversation – Voiced by the eight-year-old Janet, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)


My grandmother said something which I could not hear and Miss Tulloch spoke again. “Och, the bairn is busy choosing the buns, Mrs Sandison, although I’ll give you that she’s a lively little clip.” They were talking about me, and I thought how foolish grown-up people were, for now that my granny had been to see the Miss Boyds I was not interested in them, or would not have been if they had not talked about me in between. But, now that they had brought me into it, where, before, I had been hearing without attending, I now began to listen hard to their low-pitched conversation.

The Dying Art of Good Stacking

The realisation that people in one’s family are mortal – Voiced by the eight-year-old Janet, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)

Along the gable of the barn were nine front stacks and woven into the thatch of each stack in dark-green broom, which showed black in the moonlight, was a letter, so that the front row of stacks spelled “Poyntdale”.

“Who did it?” some man’s voice asked.

“Duncan Reachfar, the grieve,” said Sir Torquil. “He and his brother and Tom, their man, are the only men left about here that I know who can do it now. Old Reachfar taught them. But the very art of good stacking is dying out. That’s only the finishing touch to a high-class job, but it’s bonnie.”

I thought Sir Torquil’s voice was unduly sad when he said that only the men of my family, in our district, could thatch and mark his stacks like that, for what was he worrying about? Even if my father got sick (a thing I had never known to happen) at harvest-time, Tom or George would come down and thatch his stacks for him, for it was impossible that they could all be sick at once. “Dying out,” he had said. Dying. Did he mean that when my father, George and Tom died there would be nobody left who could –? But that was not possible! These men were not mortal! They had always been there, they were never sick, people like a person’s father and a person’s friends did not die! Only old, old people died – people like old Granny Macintosh, maybe….But everyone was getting older all the time. Even I was Big Enough now to come to the Harvest Home! And if I was a year older, my father was a year older, everybody was a year older than last year – a year more like old Granny Macintosh….


Emotional Intelligence

When people are not “in their usual” – Voiced by the eight-year-old Janet, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)


Even at home, at supper, Tom went on being unusual until my uncle noticed it. Of course, my uncle would just be the one to notice a thing like that. The Big World outside Reachfar thought that my father was far cleverer that his brother, my uncle, but all of us in my family knew that this was not the case. My father was cleverer than my uncle at letter-writing and business – though not at farming of course – and my father was a year older which gave him a little more of that thing called experience, but my father would never be as good or as quick as my uncle at noticing when people were not “in their usual” as Tom was tonight.