In this instalment of her father’s life, Edith Paterson (nee McHardy) takes the story to the 1920s and 30s.
When we had been eight years at Little Drumlassie, a new laird lived at Whitehouse, and my father was invited to return as farm-manager. At the age of 62 years he took up the reins again and was to hold them till his retirement 12 years later.
This was the era of involvement in Sheep Dog Trials and broadcasting and the renewal of a close friendship with the folk at Mayfield, Whitehouse. George Laing had been coachman and chauffeur at Whitehouse and had the same background of gentry service as had my father and mother. My mother had cooked in early life for the Earl of Moray at Kinfauns Castle. We had many happy times together and it was Mrs. Laing who with rare discernment suggested once that my mother’s idea of Heaven was “a place wi’ hens and nae relations!!!” Annie, their daughter, has been a life-long friend though we meet but seldom. By then a farmer, George Laing began to vie with my father in preparing dogs for the Trials, and it was George Laing’s car that transported them to the several competition venues.
Father’s best contestant was a descendant of the famous Miller’s “Spot.” A ‘small beast, Tibbie had a very strong eye and gentle movements. Her display of self-control when she won the Penning Cup at Aboyne was quite exceptional. The three sheep that fell to her lot proved to be more skittish than most and very perverse when it came to the Penning. They faced Tibbie stubbornly and, despite my father’s tactics to veer them round into the pen, they held their ground firmly with their backs to the gate. Scarcely showing any movement at all and with her nose almost touching the noses of her recalcitrant charges, Tibbie edged them backwards inch-by-inch, her stern eye never wavering while spectators watched spell-bound. The least rash movement would have scattered the sheep but Tibbie was in splendid command. Back and back she forced them by sheer will- power till at last they were in the pen and the gate was shut. And that was how Tibbie won her Cup. It was her day of triumph.
Soon after, she was helping my father with some sheep on their way to Alford mart. She was excellent on the road with her gentle control. As ever, agog to follow every command, she cleared the way so well for a motorist that he never slackened speed. The sheep were safe, but little Tibbie was run over. Disaster! She was obviously badly hurt but my father could not abandon the flock. Fortunately, a friend, Sandy Watson, in a house beside the road saw what was happening and stood by while father took Tibbie to a shed in the garden. As he said later, “She followed me with her nose at my foot.” By the time father returned from the mart, Tibbie was dead. I am ever-lastingly grateful to Sandy Watson who, when father had buried his faithful helper in the wood, put up a stone to mark the place so that we could locate the place instantly when we passed up and down. It was in our house that night as if one of our own number had died. Tibbie, with her delicate appetite and gentle ways had been a special care all of her four years, and now she was gone. The tune my father composed on his way home that day with Tibbie’s collar in his hand has in it all the heart break of irreplaceable personal loss. The agony of that night is with me still after nearly half a century and my writing is blurred with tears.
Tibbie’s son, Roy, was just nine months old when he had to take over the flock. Without his mother for an example, his training was naturally slower. My father used to run round the sheep as he gave the commands, a laborious way of getting the message across, but Roy and a young dog that father bought about that time, Glen by name, both in time became very proficient sheep-dogs. Roy and Glen were the dogs mentioned earlier which would go to the hill with me only if ordered by the master.
Though my father could be very short-tempered when life went against him, he could still laugh like a boy at a ridiculous situation where he was the victim as on one night when we went with a candle- lantern to look the sheep at lambing-time. He fell spread-eagle over a far-flung tree root and lost the lantern. As he picked himself up and we hunted for it in the pitch darkness our eldritch laughter shattered the late-hour stillness.
Advancing years did nothing to diminish his expertise on pipes and fiddle and he was regularly in demand with either or both. There was a day when he had been at Alford mart and had met Sandy Kellas, an old friend from Strathdon, who insisted on coming to our house that evening for some music. Not only did he invite himself, but staged a sizeable party with men from all the airts. When father arrived home with the news of the impending invasion, my mother, ever practical, put on the girdle (griddle) and baked a pile of scones and dropped scones against the feast. The evening was spent in piping, fiddling and singing and was ever afterwards remembered as “Sandy Kellas’s Party” or “The Party of the Big Men,” most of the seven or eight being six feet tall or over. I forget whether George Davie was with us that evening, but he did spend many an evening with us over the years delighting us with his glorious violin-playing. The later the hour, the better the tune, and we would seek our beds well after midnight. He it was who incited my father to apply for an audition on radio. A booking came soon and he piped a 20-minute programme. Some time later, he had two engagements for the same evening: a 20-minute stint on the pipes and a three-minute programme of fiddle tunes of his own composition with the writer giving him moral support at the piano. For these sessions he was paid three guineas each. He used to point out that I with all my tuition was small fry beside him — “a guinea-a-minute” fiddler.
I used to accompany him on these excursions which we had to make by hired car. Life in the Queen’s service had taught him the valuable attribute of punctuality. He used to say that if the Queen could always be up to time her subjects should be able to do the same. He usually left 30 minutes before the necessary zero hour and did not tolerate any hindrance. On the afternoon of the double engagement, our driver, Jock McLeod, did not appear when he was expected. My mind’s eye can still picture father with pipe-box in one hand and fiddle-case in the other setting off at a brisk pace. He could scarcely have covered the 20-odd miles to Aberdeen in time to keep his engagement, but inactivity was unthinkable. We met Jock half-a-mile down the road but we didn’t embark; we kept tramping on till Jock had found a place to turn his car and had overtaken us.
We broadcast live in those days and there was quite a spell of ‘balancing’ and timing on a different day from the actual performance. The arranger of programmes in Aberdeen then was Moultrie Kelsall, well-known still for his appearances in B.B.C. plays, etc., but unfortunately gone from us. The Sprightly Seventies was a programme of his devising. There is a studio photograph of him with Robbie Meldrum, piper; Willie Meston, singer; Charles Forrest, elocutionist; and my father. Also in the troupe though not in the photograph were Hugh Fraser and Willie Joss. Some of these names are perpetuated in my father’s compositions which proliferated in his later years. It is regrettable that his tunes have never been published and it is hoped that the omission may yet be rectified. There had been a request from Colorado, U.S.A., for an extension of these broadcasts to America but this was then not considered feasible.
When, in preparation for his radio performances, my father practised on his pipes out-of-doors, it was amusing to see the cattle and horses come from the four corners of the field to listen to the music. With commendable manners they always stayed for the whole recital — ranged along the fence like occupants of ring-side
My brother, when he left for Canada having been given our father’s silver-mounted pipes, a very good ivory-mounted set was borrowed and finally bought from George Laing who also made “t’ mewsic”. These pipes still have an honoured place in a display-cabinet together with a small bottle containing a special reed, my father’s tobacco pipe, and Tibbie’s Cup.
In his later years, my father was smitten with a yearning for a kilt outfit in his own tartan. The McHardys, not being a clan but only a sept, have a ‘family’ tartan of a cheerful rich green colour with the sett made up in red and white and black or dark blue cording to the dye. In time my father and I were sporting McHardy tartan kilts and my skirt of the same. My mother, being an Orcadian, and having had no affinity with such distinctive garb.
Remembering that the McHardys were once considerable landowners in Corgarff and the surrounding areas it is somewhat intriguing to think that by the beginning of the 19th century the castle there was garrisoned by troops to keep watch for the smugglers who carried on illicit distilling throughout the district — the McHardys being very active among them. Indeed, one McHardy is said to have been out- lawed for his illegal and undetected practices. My father’s grandfather and his five brothers were all but one over six feet tall, the shortest one at just six feet being nicknamed “The Infant”. A laird has been recorded as having fielded “38 feet of McHardys” at some meeting or other.
It used to be the custom for the small farmers in Corgarff to “drove” their flocks through the hills in winter to the kindlier pastures in the Glens of Angus and to return with them when winter’s snows had gone and grass was again greening in the northern land. Some of their number preferred to remain on the sunnier side of the hills and settled down there. A descendant of one such family was Colonel MacHardy, Town Clerk of Forfar and partner in the banking firm of MacHardy, Alexander and White, who died still in harness at the great age of 90 years. In 1928, he was honoured for his record number of years as Town Clerk and father sent him a congratulatory telegram. Almost by return came a letter asking for news of the McHardys, the Colonel having long since lost all connection. My father wrote a reply of considerable length, but heard no more till the old kinsman died in 1933 leaving a small legacy for our family. My father figured that he would be a cousin of my grandfather. In honour of the legacy, we changed the spelling of our name from McHardy to MacHardy.
(to be continued).
* First pubished in the May 1996 Piping Times.