Life & Times as remembered by Bob McMillan
10. Bits and pieces - including a
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.
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.