As winter turned to spring I picked up full-time employment on the three upland farms which formed that remote part of the estate near Blackford in Perthshire. The good thing about my new situation was that I didn’t work directly under my father but shared my efforts wherever I was needed and work as part of a team became something to look forward to.
The nearby village of Blackford was built around the Maltings. A large multi-level stone building where the grain from barley was brought in from the threshing mills on the farms and prepared for distilling into whisky. In the old days this preparation was done by hand and involved arduous amounts of shovelling using the special large size grain shovels in dusty, hot conditions.
Luckily I didn’t have the misfortune to graduate to working in the maltings although it would have paid more than farm work. No, my interest in Blackford lay in something else. Inititially it was the bus to Auchterarder or Perth on a Saturday afternoon with my new-found wealth from a weekly wage burning a hole in my pocket that was the high point of the week.
A visit to the cinema followed by a fish supper before catching a bus home become a regular treat. Having a sweet tooth and being able to buy ‘sweeties’ for the first time, it became a habit to buy a quarter of Qualty Street before boarding the bus home at the South Inch. The sweets were supposed to last me through the following week but somehow the packet was always empty by the time I reached home. If I needed a reminder of my greed and stupidity the painfull red spots quickly erupting on my face and neck were enough. Especially in the months to come when I discovered dancing, and girls!
Girls were foreign territory for someone brought up with three brothers for company. Yes I had been in a mixed class at high school but girls were the class swots and boys played rugby in the winter or did athletics in the summer. I’d had one date with a girl from my class before leaving the Borders. We went to the cinema in Earlston, her home town about three miles away from the farm. Then she walked me through the graveyard where we sat on a flat gravestone and chatted before I cycled home. That was my sole experience of ‘girls’.
Now I was a man! Well not quite! I was only sixteen years of age, earning a wage and unofficially able to buy a couple of drinks at the pub in the backstreet as a loosener before going to the Saturday night dances in the village hall. Music was by Bobby McLeod or Jimmy Shand and their accordian bands or others of that ilk. A modern quick-step or slow-foxtrot time about with a gay gordons, a boisterous strip the willow or an equally birling eightsome reel. How I would look forward to Saturday nights!
The farms where I worked neighboured the famous Gleneagles Hotel golfcourses and I would often walk there on a sunny Sunday afternoon on the pre-text of looking for lost golfballs. It was there I met Jeannie – a red-haired waitress from the hotel. Older than me and more experienced in the ways of the world in her white blouse, fitted knee-length black skirt and medium heeled black shoes – now I am a man!
It wasn’t long before my father was promoted to manage his own farm and we moved lock, stock and barrel to Greenyards Farm near Dunblane. Father was in charge as Farm Manager and my older brother Jim and I worked under him. Jim was blessed with a kindly placid nature while I was always a firebrand. Always asking questions! Always wanting to know what comes next?
My father’s nature was too like my own. I remember asking him how to do a particular job and his reply – ‘you want to know in five minutes what it has taken me a lifetime to learn’. He never did tell me how to do the job. That’s probably why I’m self-taught in most things. It became a trait. I only needed to see something done once and I could do it, either that or I worked it out for myself.
Dancing was learned in similar fashion. I loved it – I couldn’t get enough! Scottish country dancing, modern, jive, twist, six nights a week at one time. As soon as work was over for the day I would have a quick wash at the sink in the big farmhouse and run the two miles to town. There would be a modern local dance in the Victoria Hall with it’s sprung floor on a Saturday night and dancing to a Big Band at Stirling Plaza during the week. I couldn’t get enough of the dances at the Victoria Hall but they soon had enough of me.
Groups of hard young miners from Cowie or toughs from the Stirling Raploch housing estate would dominate the hall depending on which team was on top at the time. I was the only local lad going there so it was only a matter of time before trouble came my way. Yes I got a good kicking from the Raploch heavy squad one night and started looking elsewhere on a Saturday.
Back to Blackford, down the Stirling Plaza, way over to Forteviot on the motorbike with my mate Hamish or even up to Glasgow to the jazz clubs. Dancing was in my soul and I even had visions of becoming a dancer on stage before Billy Elliot came along. If dancing was in my soul, motorbikes weren’t far away.
My elder brother Jim helped me to buy my first bike. A 350cc black and gold Velocette from one of my mates who had fallen for an Edinburgh girl in a big way and had decided to get married. Having my own bike was like having a passport to another world!. I even rode the hundred miles to Kelso for the Saturday night dances in the Corn Exchange. The fact it was dead of winter was no deterrent for I remember riding home alone over Soutra Hill in the snow after midnight. Little things like clutch slipping and lights failing were just par for the course!
I had met my own ‘Edinburgh Girl’ by this time which led to my final fraca with my old man. All over a half hour to be worked or not to be worked on a Saturday morning. I had been told by other estate workers that since the clocks changed to summer time, finishing time on a Saturday was eleven thirty instead of the twelve noon we had worked to when on winter hours. I made my date with Georgina my Edinburgh Girl accordingly and was back in the farmhouse by eleven thirty.
Father – ever a stickler for protocol – hadn’t been told officially of the change to summer hours so when I walked into the back kitchen and took my boots off at eleven thirty that Saturday morning he was waiting for me! Without saying a word a right hook to the jaw put me out through the still open half doors onto my back in the yard! My boots quickly followed accompanied by a few expletives! That was to be the last time my father touched me, or spoke to me for that matter!
I gave notice to the estate factor at his house that same afternoon while on my way up to Edinburgh on the Velocette. It wasn’t to be my day as the traffic police caught me shortly afterwards while I was trying to make up time by speeding through Stirling with my mind elsewhere. A fine followed for doing 42mph in a 30mph area.! Still with ‘L’ plates, I had only been on the road a few short weeks! To make matters worse, I don’t think my sophisticated Edinburgh Girl was too impressed with my split lip either!