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Confessions of a Banffshire Loon

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My seventh book has been by far the longest in gestation because of the huge amount of research involved in digging up the past.
I would call it a labour of love. How else would you describe slopping through snow in windswept cemeteries in search of long-dead ancestors and not-so-long-dead relations in, as I later found out, shoes that let in water? My long-suffering wife, despite her waterproof boots, put it alternatively and more succinctly as "insanity". But then, as I was later to find out, I was merely following in the family footsteps of some of my forebears.
It may be, in part, a personal memoir, but it is certainly not all about me by any means. It is also about the lives and times of my relations from the late 17th century to the present day. It was a voyage of discovery that was to lead me across the seas to North America and the Antipodes where I discovered relations I never knew existed.
Naturally, if you are a relation curious about your provenance, this book will hold more of an immediate appeal for you, but even if you have not the remotest connection to me, if you like sad tales and glad tales and stories of sex and violence and even murder, you will find them all here. What more could you ask for from a book?
Well, there is also a great deal of laughter.

It was not the best of mixes, my mother’s age and mine.  Like two different worlds colliding, it was explosive. She was going through the menopause just as I was hitting puberty and when you add to that her short fuse, inherited from her father, and my short temper, inherited from her, it is little wonder that it was not an uncommon sight to see me running round and round the garden, not in the least like the teddy bear in the child’s rhyme, but pursued by my mother intent on tickling my backside with a bamboo cane.  Long and slender, it made a horrifying swishing noise when she connected only with fresh air and which lent spurs to my heels.  Being so pliable, there was no danger of my poor bones accidentally breaking one of my father’s precious raspberry canes, but even if they had, he had plenty more.

“Come back here, you little bleeder!” she could be heard to remark on these occasions.  Or, for the sake of variety I suppose, she sometimes called me a “little heller” to which I made the rejoinder over my shoulder once, but only once, “I am not an obsolete Austrian coin!”  It’s amazing what you learn from collecting stamps, even if you do not learn when it is a good idea to keep your smart aleck remarks to yourself.

As far as my mother was concerned, I could easily outpace her, but I could not run forever.  My hope was that the fury might spend itself with the effort of the chase and the strong arm might be borne more lightly.  Once I took refuge in the bathroom, the only room in the house with a lock. If I could have existed only on water, I could have stayed there for days, certainly longer than the rest of the family could before they felt the need to obey the call of nature.  I knew I had a strong negotiating position but did not have the nerve to stick to it.  The longer I remained in this self-imposed incarceration, so I reasoned, the rage and revenge would grow in direct proportion to the length of time the family’s legs were crossed. So, like a lamb to the slaughter, I reluctantly surrendered my backside and thighs to their stripy rendezvous with the cane. 

My father never used it, but I did exasperate him enormously too.

Having passed it and “graduated” as the Americans say, to High School, in other words, to that non-icon of academe, Keith Grammar, one day my father was helping me with my Maths, trying to get me to see what was so obvious to him but which I still I could not see and which my father misinterpreted as “would” not see.  How could anyone not see, let alone a son of his?  It had to be perverseness and he would knock that out of me. He picked up the hearthside brush. It was red with stiff black bristles. I’ll never forget my mother’s reaction.

“No, George, no!”

My heart leapt up at this unlikely source of salvation.  My mother cares, I thought. But I was soon disillusioned.

“That’ll make his clothes dirty! Here, use the poker.”

The funny thing is it was probably even sootier.

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