Life & Times as remembered by Bob McMillan
Childhood Memories

10. Bits and pieces - including a Glossary

Having just been in bed with 'flu, it occurred to me as I lay there that sights and sounds also play a part in your memories and this led me to think back to the special sights, sounds and other sensory triggers which still evoke nostalgic snap shots in my minds eye when I recall them.

Though steam trains are all but gone now I can still detect a steam whistle through any cacophony of noise. The strident shriek of a steam whistle at close range or the mournful cry of a distant loco can still catch my attention and make the hairs stand on the back of my neck.

When they were charging or filling the blast furnaces at Gartsherrie the sky would light up a deep red as the top of the furnace opened. Also, when walking along Gartgill Road which bordered the iron works, it was a treat to see the coke ovens being discharged. In this process coal was baked in a long bank of superheated ovens where the gas was extracted from the gaseous Lanarkshire or Northumbrian coal. While the gas was used in iron works, the remnant of this process was coke which was added to the furnace with the ironstone and also sold off as fuel.

The coke ovens were some twenty or thirty feet tall and probably three to four feet wide. A removable door formed each end of the tall narrow chamber thus formed. Coal was pushed in at one end by a Charger to form an almost solid block inside the oven. Once the chamber was sealed superheated air was used to force the coal to give up its gas without actually combusting. Thus the gas was recovered and the coal remained as a useable fuel, known as coke. Much as the charcoal burners of old would aim to achieve in their ovens.

At the opposite side of the oven a discharging machine removed the oven door automatically. The charger then forced out the block of glowing coke. As the coke was pushed out of the end of the oven it glowed white hot. It came out as a solid mass and was pushed out into a special truck fitted with a tall steel lattice frame. The frame had sections of chain fitted in line with the exiting coke mass to break up the coke as it came out of the oven. The bottom of the truck formed a large hopper. When full, the truck took the coke along the track to be cooled under a water deluge which produced great gouts of steam, again an awe inspiring sight to a child.

The slag, or molten stone waste from the blast furnace in the iron works was discharged from the bottom of the blast furnace in to special brick-insulated tipping wagons. The wagons had a brick insulated crucible mounted on a frame that allowed them to be tipped to either side by using compressed air. The little pug engine (a 0-4-0 or 0-6-0 saddle tank loco if memory serves) then took the still molten slag away to be dumped over the slag heap way out on the Glenboig road beyond Greenhill Industrial Estate. We used to watch for this train coming and tried to be on the road bridge under which the rails passed at Glenboig (Coatbridge) Road. How daring we thought we were standing there getting covered in soot and steam from the engine and feeling the blast of heat from the molten mass in each wagon. We used to throw boulders, and anything we could find lying about, into the molten mass hoping to produce a shower of sparks but usually to no effect as the top surface was ,by then, hard enough to resist our feeble efforts. When the slag was tipped over the edge of the slag heap the glow of its malevolent red mass slurping down the side of the slag heap could be seen for miles. To be standing anywhere in sight of this spectacle made the hairs on the back of your neck prickle. It was often suspected that the body of Moira Anderson, the young girl who went missing from Eglinton Street, could well have been disposed off in this place. The heat generated when the slag was tipped would consume everything in its path and the slag would effectively entomb any body.

Summer days brought a lunch of Spam (luncheon meat) tomatoes and cucumber, served on the green baize-covered card table in front of the window at home, where the warm sun completed the memory. The smell of freshly cut cucumber still evokes this memory.

Ive just looked inside a cupboard in the kitchen (5/9/2003) and there I found a memory that I must record. It is a glass, the only one left from my childhood. Every Christmas and New Year, when we had a visit from my Aunts Bella and Lena, these glasses appeared on the table as mentioned elsewhere in this narrative. Well there is but one left. This I will photograph to ensure that I do not forget them. Where they came from I know not but these green frosted-look glasses with their curving gold decoration are a symbol of such occasions. They never contained anything stronger than Barrs Irn Bru yet somehow they are a symbol of happy times. Today if I have a whisky, a beer or a Gin & Tonic I would never select such a glass yet they were a highlight, a thrill, on the celebratory table in those times when few celebrations were held.

10.1 The Dentist

The Cordiner family yielded two very well known and totally essential gentlemen in Coatbridge, Doctor Jim and Dentist Lindsay. The dental surgery was in a couple of rooms in a big house on Church Street, about halfway up the left side when coming up from Sunnyside Cross. The rest of the house was the dentists residence. As you entered the front door you passed the surgery on your right, went down the hall a little and turned right in to another short corridor. Turn left and you were in to a room with a small, squat window high up on the right-hand wall. A few odd chairs, table with the customary old magazines and a radio completed the room. The radio was always on the BBC Light Programme which yielded soothing music (Hmmmm!). I recall that both the waiting room must have been wood panelled at one time as the vertical wooden slats of the panel edges were still there, as was the picture hanging ledge (Dado rail) at the top.

In the surgery the dentists chair and drill were in black Japanned lacquer finish. The room was cream with what appeared to be wallpaper that has been gloss painted. A pedal-operated drill sat on stand-by in the corner. This busy practice was operated by one dentist and one receptionist/ nurse. Compare this to the modern multi-dentist, multi-staffed set-ups of today!

At one time, when I was about 6 years of age, I had to get ten teeth out all at the one time (see earlier comments on my sweet tooth!) This was carried out by the two Cordiners (dentist and doctor) coming to our house. The kitchen table, scrubbed till it was white, was placed in front of the living room window and I was plopped on top. I can still remember the gauze mask covered with lint being placed over my mouth. Chloroform was the anaesthetic then and I can remember fighting the smell. The next memory is waking up in bed and hearing Mum talking to someone. It was all over bar the blood, horrible taste and the all pervading fear of dentists. This was only cured when the practice was sold to a new dentist Mr. Jim Blair in whom I soon had total faith.

10.2 Holidays.

Even now, having lived near the sea for sixteen years I still get a thrill each time I look at the sea. I can always conjure up memories of our annual holiday by the sea at Ayr or Saltcoats. Both towns still hold fond memories for me yet my children cannot understand why anyone should wish to spend a holiday there. The world is truly shrinking!

The build up to the annual summer holiday started about Easter. Around this time my mother would take a day trip to the chosen location, probably Ayr or Saltcoats. These locations were very popular with Glasgow and Lanarkshire families as the rail network made travel to both towns quite easy. On her day trip Mum would locate suitable accommodation for us. This was usually a rented room in someones house with shared use of the bathroom and kitchen facilities. In out case we stayed a couple of times in Ayr, once on each side of the harbour then we moved allegiance to Saltcoats staying first with a family called Anderson. Then with Mrs. Andersons mother-in-law Mrs. Gibson. The Gibsons had an up and down stair, semi-detached council house in Rosa Place in a new (post war) housing estate above the High Road in Saltcoats. This was about a couple of miles or so from the beach but such a walk was undertaken several times each day with not a second thought.

10.3 The excitement begins

About two weeks before our chosen departure date Mum would pull the family trunk, a very large rectangular box with curved corners, a hinged lid and secure locks, out from under the bed and dust it down. When not needed for holiday use it doubled as a linen store. The trunk was duly packed with all of the clothing, bedding (sheets, blankets, pillow cases etc.) required for our comfort. Any additional space would be packed with tinned food, wet weather gear and games to play in the evening if we could not get out. Around one week to go and the first day of the great excitement arrived. This was the day when the railway carrier arrived with the three wheeler truck and trailer to collect the locked and rope-lashed trunk for transit to our holiday destination. No twenty-four hour delivery in those days!

10.4 Off we go!

On the appointed Saturday we, Mum, Dad and myself, complete with many bags, plus bucket and spade, made our way to Sunnyside railway station. From memory we usually left about 9 a.m. as this got us to Glasgow Queen Street station in time to walk to Glasgow Central for the train to Saltcoats about 11 a.m. In those days there would be long queues of families in the various Glasgow stations all heading off on holiday. Working folks got two weeks holiday in the summer and, if you were lucky New Years day. Thus the summer holiday had much more significance than perhaps it has in our multi-holidayed society of today.

The railway ran from Glasgow though Paisley, where it passed by the Paisley canal, then on towards Kilwinning. It was only as you approached Stevenston, just prior to Saltcoats that you got a first glimpse of the sea. Oh what joy to a town dweller that sight was! Imagine what it must have meant to a child who lived the rest of the year in a big city like Glasgow and never saw the countryside let alone the sea. We arrived at Saltcoats and bustled out of the station with assorted suitcases and bags. Next to the station the Gibson family had a fruit & vegetable shop and it was here that we collected the house key or were directed as to where it could be obtained. A short walk up the hill to the bus stop (A1 Bus company) at the gas works....yes and still in operation! The bus took us to the Co-operative store not far from Rosa Place and it was a short walk to the house. The trunk would be there waiting for us and Dad and I would usually leave Mum to unpack while we went off To check that the sea and beach were still there.

1 0.5 Early morning and the docks.

If the weather was fair Dad and I would be up before eight oclock and off for a walk down Jacks Road and along towards Ardrossan, the adjacent town. A trot up to the ruins of Ardrossan castle and we were down at Ardrossan harbour, still a busy port in those days. Fishing boats, small freighters and the ferries to Ireland, Isle of Man and Isle of Arran populated the harbour. The main attraction was the dry dock with the chance of a boat on the slips for repair. The gates of the two dry docks were unusual in that, unlike the normal swing-opening half-gates which are held closed by the water pressure of the outer side of the gates, the Ardrossan gates were one piece and dropped flat on to the bottom of the entry. Thus the ship had to pass over the gate to get in or out of the dry dock. The gate was then hoisted in to the vertical position and butted against wooden seating on the sides of the entry. When the water was pumped out of the dock the gate was held in place by the external water forcing it against the wooden seating. On our way back to the house we would collect the morning paper and bread rolls for both the breakfast and lunchtime picnic.

10.6 The beach.

After a breakfast of cereal, a roll with butter and jam and a cup of tea, Mum, who had made up the beds and tidied our room while Dad and I were out for our walk, would prepare a picnic and we would head off to the beach. A previously mentioned, the timing of all meals had to be based around the needs of the host family and so our early morning routine kept us clear of the house until the family had breakfasted and gone off to work. It seems strange that in the vastness of the Saltcoats and Ardrossan south beach we selected a spot on our first visit of the holiday and usually returned there each day. Woe betide any other child found playing on the remnants of my sandcastle from yesterday! Parochial or what, Bob? There we would stay until around 4.30 or 5 p.m. on an average day. I was in and out of the sea, played on the beach or strolled along the promenade with Dad. Lunch was our picnic of rolls with cold meat, fruit and tea from a vacuum flask. The odd ice cream from a promenade vendor would complete our food intake. Inclement weather really didnt keep us off the beach unless it was very bad.

Holidays at Ayr and Saltcoats.

 It was not uncommon for children to be happily playing on the beach in the rain while mothers sat there wrapped in a rainmate and plastic rain mac while trying to keep the ever present knitting dry. If really pushed by the weather Mum would retreat to the nearest shelter on the promenade. These cleverly designed structures had a wall structure that allowed sheltered seating on all four sides. Roofed over against the elements the design allowed its partial use regardless of which way the wind or rain was blowing. While Mum was never happy with me out of her sight it was a tough job to get me off the beach unless the blowing sand made life there impossible. Even then we usually shifted along to a rocky outcrop. Every moment of the holiday was precious and was not to be wasted under any circumstances.

10.7 Exercise

After tea (see house rules) we would get tidied up and head out for a walk. This could easily take us to the far end of Ardrossan and back the long way via the shore road, a distance of probably 5 miles and perfectly acceptable every evening of the holidays. Our holidays were certainly not slothful and I still enjoy a good walk, albeit that it is now without the ice cream or the bag of chips enroute!

Sundays meant church whenever possible and the Reverend Moore had previously moved from our church in Coatbridge to a church in Saltcoats and so it was naturally our home from home on Sunday morning.

10.8 The house rules.

Since we shared the kitchen with the family with whom we were living it was only proper that they had unrestricted access to prepare the evening meal for their men folk coming in from work. This often meant that we did not eat until between 6 and 6.30 p.m. We would head back to our room about 9.30 and a game of Snakes & Ladders or Ludo till bedtime.

If the weather was bad we still had to stay out of the house till at least late afternoon. This usually meant that people stayed on the beach in all but the worst of the weather which, on the Clyde coast could be quite wet and windy even in the height of summer. When we could not get out for our walk in the evenings we would occasionally be invited to join the family and watch television, a rare treat as we did not have a set at home.

10.9 Father escapes.

Most years my Dad would stay with us only for one week. He would then go home and do some maintenance or decorating at home. I sometimes think that this was more of a holiday for him than being at the seaside with an energetic youngster! I guess I have taken after Dad as, like him, I cannot sit on the beach for any length of time without getting up and going for a walk or exploring the rocks and seashore.

10.10 Bye bye blues.

At the end of out two-week holiday it was back on to the train and a last look at the sea as the train turned inland between Stevenston and Kilwinning. With a lump in my throat I bade farewell to the sea for another year. Perhaps this explains why, after living by the sea for twenty four years now, I still take every opportunity to look at the water or even drive along the seashore.

As I read back my description of a typical holiday I am laughing to myself at the simplicity of it! Money was tight and travel over long distances something that most people would not attempt in those days. Indeed a long distance probably included a trip to the coast for most people. For all of its simplicity we were more fortunate than a lot of people in that we actually had a holiday for two weeks. Even in my circle of friends at home and at school many never went further than the local park all year.

10.11 Mystery tours

Occasionally I would be treated to a mystery tour on a Sunday afternoon. These coach tours departed from Water Street, off Bank Street not far from the Fountain. Tickets were purchased from a newsagents shop on Bank Street and of course being a mystery tour you never knew where you would end up. They were usually about an hour or sos travel in each direction and so became predictable by the route they took out of Coatbridge. Callender, Largs, Helensburgh and Saltcoats were common destinations. Such tours, together with others going to advertised destination, were very popular and the bus terminus would be lined with busses on a Sunday afternoon. Departure times varied but were usually between 2 pm and 4 pm with about 1 hours to 2 hours being available to do your own thing at the other end. I cant remember whether they were run by Baxters or the SMT bus company.

10.12 Sunday School

A Sunday School took place in almost every Church, either while the Church service was in progress or in the afternoon. In the case of Albert Street Church it was, as mentioned elsewhere, run for the smaller, primary class children during the Church service but in the early afternoon for the older ones. Here you were taught about the bible, the church and Christianity each week. No lesson plans, structured teaching or yearly strategy then, just good people trying to teach children about their religion and good Christian values.

The two highlights of the year were the Christmas party and the annual Sunday School trip. The party was the traditional fun and games with the requisite visit from a certain gentleman in red. Food was a Purvey, that is food provided by an outside supplier, in this case usually City Bakers or Gillies the bakers. Breadboards of sausage rolls, sandwiches and cakes were carried round the children at the appropriate time in the proceedings. Drinks were usually small bottles of lemonade, Barrs Irn Bru or Tizer.

The Sunday School trip was held at the end of the Sunday School year, usually a Saturday in June, and involved a bus trip to some exotic location such as Strathaven, Linlithgow or Saltcoats. Again it was all fun and games with the customary three-legged race, egg and spoon race, sack race et al. Once again it was a purvey supplied via a local baker at the destination. This usually took the form of a paper bag containing a couple of sandwiches and a cake with the ubiquitous breadboard of hot Scotch pies appearing if things went to plan. Quite often an insulated container of ice cream and a box of wafer cones would appear from a local caf.

It was of course customary to bedeck every bus with streamers of coloured paper bought specially for the occasion. Every window that opened had coils of streamers thrown out as soon as the bus started to move towards the destination or on the homeward journey. Few parents came with the children and it was left to the teachers and helpers to take care of the assembled mass of excited children. Often two double-decker busses would leave Albert Street Church about 10.30 or 11 am packed with upwards of 50 children plus helpers in each.

Given the unreliability of the Scottish weather it was usual to have a local Church hall on standby as an alternative venue if the weather was too bad when you arrived at your destination. The program of games etc. didnt change but the little free time allowed became something of a drudge in such conditions as you were usually decanted from the hall to fend for yourself. Local cafes, Woolworths stores etc. passed the time and allowed the pocket money to be absorbed in to the community.

It was to be expected that someone would have a sore tummy, be sick, have a wee accident or miss their mummy in the course of the day but this was all taken in their stride by the teachers and helpers. And a tired bunch of children were returned to their parents around 9pm. Good days of simple fun for the children but still exhausting for the teachers and helpers. Sunday School took a holiday from then until about the beginning of September.

After a house . Most lower and middle-class housing was either council owned or was privately owned and rented out. As can be imagined (indeed it is still the same today) there were more prospective tenants than houses to accommodate them. Landlords were very fussy to whom they rented their properties and, in many cases, you had to be spoken for or accredited by an existing tenant of that landlord. Such was the shortage of good, economic housing that the merest suggestion of a house becoming available in a good property triggered an alert which spread like wildfire by word of mouth.
If you approached a landlord with a view to becoming one of his / her tenants it was then considered that you were after, or sought to rent, the house. A letter of reference would then be sought, from a friend or acquaintance who was already a tenant of that landlord, to attest your honesty, cleanliness and ability to pay the rent.

Frieze and Border Along with your rolls of wallpaper you purchased rolls of border. This was a strip of patterned, embossed paper about one and a half to two inches across. The border was used to cover the joint of the patterned wallpaper and the plain white "frieze" paper, which usually covered the space from the ceiling down some 15 to 18 inches. This idea may have been a carry over from the original wooden "Dado" rail or wooden profile that ran round Victorian rooms and from which picture frames could be hung. Most houses had this round the walls about 15 to 18 inches from the ceiling at one time. I can remember some of ours being removed by my father while he was decorating the room. The mark where it had been always showed through again.

Wallpaper came with a margin down each edge. This I assume was to allow an overlap but of course it had to be trimmed off one edge or it would have shown. This laborious task had to be done with scissors, a good eye for a straight line and a very steady hand or an uneven joint between sheets of paper resulted.
Wallpaper tended to be flat with a printed coloured pattern and it was a long time before embossed papers appeared. Oddly, embossed borders were common.
Wallpaper paste was made from a thin mix of size and water. Size was, I believe, a yeast based product and was used to seal plaster and other porous surfaces. Eventually, purpose made wallpaper pastes became available.

A Bookmaker. A Bookmaker, shortened to Bookie was originally a man who, despite the letter of the law, collected bets on various horse races, football pools coupons etc. for the general public who could not, or would not go to an authorised betting shop (Bookmakers or Turn Accountants as they later came to be called). In many cases their customers were men, sometimes women, who did not want to be seen betting. The Bookie would lurk in an alleyway, close or street corner where he could slip away easily if the local constabulary came to call. Usually a friend or acquaintance would keep watch for the price of a drink or a packet of cigarettes. Once he had amassed his customers bets the Bookie would go himself to a betting shop to lay off the bets he thought might win. In this way he spread his losses if any of the bets came up (he collected the winnings from the betting shop but paid out slightly less to his customer). He would hold the less favourable bets himself and, if they did not win, he pocketed the money and made a profit. If any of these bets did win, he was the looser. The art was of course knowing which bet was liable to win.

A Dyke . A dyke was a wall. Usually made of rough stone. This was usually topped with thin stones set up on edge or a Coping stone made of sandstone and cut in to a half circle, flat at the bottom and curved at the top across the width of the dyke. While a conventional dyke was held together with cement a Dry stane dyke, or dry stone dyke, was held together purely by the fit of the individual stones. This kind of construction was to be found all over the countryside using stone found locally and accumulated by farmers clearing it out of fields or from small quarries. The art of dry stane dyking is sadly being lost as farmers and estate owners tend to use post & wire fencing now.

Coory doon Snuggle down in to the bedclothes.

Pen, Pend or Close This was a tunnel-like access way built in to many long fronted buildings. It gave access to the area, or houses, behind the main road front structure. Mostly they were of two types, a narrow one about 2 metres wide, often with house doors leading from it, for pedestrian access and one of vehicular access size, albeit that most people did not have vehicles to go through them.

Skliffing Skliffing can best be described as akin to making a skating motion with the legs and feet but much more violently. Almost like trying to kick a stone but causing the sole of your shoe to scrape along the ground. Think of it as shoddy tap dancing!

Cossies Cossies were whinstone blocks used to make hard wearing roads. These came in different sizes but were mostly about 12 inches long by 4 inches square. They were notoriously slippy in wet or frosty weather.

Gutties Gutties were lightweight, lacing shoes made of canvas uppers and gutta-percha soles, hence the nickname of Gutties. They came in a range of coloursblack and white! Commonly used for tennis and badminton they were the forerunner of the modern day trainers.

Bread board A bread board was a wooden tray used in bakery delivery vehicles for carrying the produce. Made of plywood and approximately 5 feet long by 18 inches wide with 2 inch wooden side walls this device was quite common in the 50s. Delivery men used to carry them on their head when taking bread, cakes, pies and sausage rolls between their van and the bakers shop. Such a board would hold about 10 dozen cakes. In the instances referred to in this narrative they were synonymous with Purveys, food for an event delivered direct from the bakers. Thus cakes, sandwiches, pies, sausage rolls or the ubiquitous pokes of food were all delivered in an identical fashion and the appearance of the bread board signalled the cessation of all activities and an all out assault on the carrier of said bread board or the disburser of the food.

Poke . Poke was the local name for a paper bag of any size or colour. A poke of sweets could be a conical shaped bag some three inches high or a rectangular bag possibly up to six inches square. A poke of chips would be quite different. This would consist of a greaseproof bag about three inches high by six inches across, often with a serrated top edge, placed in either further greaseproof paper sheet and wrapped up in old newspaper or inside a regular white paper bag about eight inches square.

Measurements. It occurs to me that anyone who may read this may not be familiar with the old imperial measurements I have referred to. 1 (one inch) is equal to 25.4 millimetres. 1ft. (one foot) is equivalent to 12 and 3 feet made up 1 yd. (one yard). 1 metre is equivalent to 1 yard plus 3 inches.
2.2lbs (2.2 pounds) weight is equivalent to 1 kg. There were 16 oz (sixteen ounces) in 1lb. 1st. (one stone) is equivalent to 14lb.

Dedicated to Nan and Bert without whom none of this could have been experienced.
View Site in Mobile | Classic
Share by: