My mother and father first met in 1957 and I’ll use my Mother’s own words and notes to explain their meeting, marriage and her initial impressions of these first few years living in Portlethen.
“Johnny and I met in 1957 when he was working, temporarily, in Stirling, my home area. He invited me to meet his mother in January 1958. She was very friendly and welcoming, as was his sister Chris. On Saturday evening Johnny and I went to the Beach Ballroom, Aberdeen, the next day, Sunday, as I prepared to leave, the weather turned nasty – very nasty – heavy snow. Coming from Fankerton, Stirlingshire, as I did, I was used to heavy snow in winter but Johnny had assured me that snow ‘never lies’ in Portlethen!! In fact all the trains from Aberdeen were cancelled and I had to stay overnight at Portlethen. However friendly his mother was – hot water bottle in bed – the room felt like an ice box to me.
Next morning, Monday, unknown to me, Johnny had already left for work at the salmon fishing at Altens (had to get there quickly to bag the best bunk in the bothy there), leaving me to walk the unfamiliar two miles through snowdrifts and biting winds to the bus stop at the main road. I wasn’t properly dressed for the ordeal and never felt so cold in all my life. Fortunately, a car, unusual in those days, chugged to a halt and I was offered a lift. I very thankfully staggered in and discovered it was a Mr. Campbell who lived in the village. I tried to make pleasant conversation but all the time I was silently screaming inwardly as the blood painfully returned to my frozen limbs.
In Aberdeen I made for Herd’s café, one of the few places I knew (not so many eating places then) as Johnny and I had been there before, and slowly thawed out before making my way to the station nearby. Yes, the trains were running again, and the friendly face of Robert Bremner, Chris’s husband, reassured me with a message from Johnny that he would be in touch very soon (not a lot of phones in these days) but for me at the time it was ‘touch and go’.
Johnny and I were married on 27th December 1958, between Christmas and the New Year. I would have preferred a warmer time of year but Johnny insisted that was the only time that suited and fitted in with his work. I had given up my work in Stirling so would now be a full time housewife. We had managed to get a rented (furnished) cottage in Portlethen Village (number 67).
On returning from our honeymoon in Ayr we were greeted by a heavy fall of snow. Yes, it did lie! The cottage was okay but draughty, old fashioned and the toilet was outside (and no bathroom). Johnny did his best to make it comfortable, wall-papering, keeping draughts out (a bit) and painting, etc.
We were happy and as we were ‘getting on’ - 27 now, we would like to start a family. I was so green and cut off in my new life that I didn’t realise that I could claim for unemployment benefit, as I was entitled to, after paying for it for eleven years and never been off work. At that time it was a normal thing for a girl to give up work for marriage, and I think Johnny felt it was a husband’s place to support his wife.
However as spring arrived in 1959 I did apply for and got a job at Traill and Fletcher, Trinity Quay, Aberdeen, and I enjoyed the work – very central and interesting views from the window to the harbour below. I walked two miles up the road to catch the bus every morning. The summer of 1959 was absolutely wonderful – lasted for months and sunshine every day.
Yes, I was now pregnant and gave up my job at the end of September, which coincided with the end of the salmon fishing season, and the start of Johnny’s annual holiday. We had a cruise holiday to Orkney and Shetland. The brilliant summer weather didn’t quite last into October, but it did stay pleasant enough, and we did have a very enjoyable holiday.
I had never liked the east coast of Scotland. I never went there. It was too windy. Despite being able to see the Forth Bridge away in the distance to the east from our window in Fankerton, I had always headed west to the hills. Now, here I was, living in this cold, wind-swept, treeless corner of Scotland. What we do for love.
In those days, 1959, our village here was the Portlethen. The area up at the primary school (the only school then) had a few nice granite houses and the housing scheme of Burnside Gardens. The railway station had been closed for a number of years. To catch a bus every hour and a half or so, we had to walk up to the main road – also to go to the Doctor’s surgery at Olrig House. There was a little shop in the house now called “Wilderness”, run by a very stern faced lady called Mrs Thomson, who scared me. The Post Office was in a house, also up in “new” Portlethen. The girl there treated me with sullenness, though she was very chatty with the locals. The only “shop” in Portlethen Village itself was at the Neuk pub, run by old Mrs Main, the proprietress. She would greet Johnny in a very friendly, conspiratory way and ignore me completely. The shop was another story! It didn’t sell very much anyway and was mostly shut so I depended on the regular delivery vans that visited the village. It would be nearly thirty years before ASDA arrived at “new” Portlethen.
I felt very insecure among the fisher folk in the village who eyed me with suspicion, being an “incomer”. It didn’t help that I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Although I had spoken with a broad Scots dialect of central Scotland, the north east lingo was like a foreign language to me – even among the shop assistants in Aberdeen at that time.
Although Johnny’s mum and Chris were very kind I did miss my mother and Eunice and missed the friendly and easy going ways of the people of my home village Fankerton and town Denny, and the ever familiar faces of Stirling and Falkirk. I never saw a “weel-kent” face in Aberdeen.
Number 67 Portlethen Village was a semi-detached cottage with a living room, a bedroom, and a small room in the middle with a staircase going up to the loft. The little room in front served as a scullery, with a sink, a draining board and a wall cupboard. There was no hot water and kettles had to be boiled. No bathroom, of course, and the W.C. was in a shed outside at the north gable end. However 1959 turned into a wonderful summer and it was no problem for me, pregnant as I was to dash outside to the toilet in the middle of the night. I knew my way in the dark, but did get a scare one time when I sat on something sticky and discovered a snail on the seat. Another time I was terrified by heavy breathing at the window outside. That turned out to be an inquisitive cow in the nearby field. Despite all that we were happy but it was a blessing in disguise when we had to leave number 67 and get our own house at number 43.
At the time of Ian’s birth, 23rd January 1960, it was snowing – would you believe! In those days the lanes around the village were like cart tracks (no street lights of course) and the main road down to the village wasn’t much better, with pot holes and grass growing in the centre. The doctor at Portlethen assured us that a snow plough would be laid on if we got stuck in the village. Traffic stopped at the “station” in snowy times. Milk crates would be left there for villagers to collect their milk, and delivery vans couldn’t come down until the snow plough had been. However we did get to Foresterhill (later transferred to Queens Cross Maternity Home).
It was about two weeks after Ian’s birth and my mother was up here at the time. I have memories of her saying to Johnny, as he came in the door after paying our rent to Dodie Craig who owned the cottage, ‘Is there something wrong Johnny? You look like you’ve seen a ghost’. Johnny replied “We’ve got three months to get out of this house”. What a bombshell! A two-week old baby, Johnny had just bought his first car, and snow everywhere.
Dodie and Meg Craig were selling the cottage, which had belonged to his two elderly (mentally retarded) sisters, who were living in Hillside Hospital, Montrose – for tax purposes, Dodie said. We tried to get them to think about raising our rent but they refused and said that we would have to go about the highest offer if we wanted to buy the cottage. The last similar house for sale in the village had gone for £900, and it did have a kitchen and bathroom. Well, we had no money and Johnny had just spent his savings on a car.
We had no money to buy number 67 Portlethen Village, nor could we get a loan from a Building Society because of the outside toilet! Johnny’s mum said she could put us up, but we would have to use her front door, and Chris kept saying how sorry she felt for her Mum, who had been let down by her friends Dodie and Meg.
The three months notice had to be extended because Dodie had legal problems, I suppose regarding ownership, so fortunately number 43 (our present home) became available for sale, the owner Mr. Harvey was selling it for £700. We got a ten year loan from Aberdeenshire council at a fixed rate – higher than the Building Societies, but by the time ten years was up, much lower. Number 43 stood at the top of the village and had clear views all around – but was even draughtier than number 67 and needed a lot of work, but it did have a small front porch which contained a small scullery and an inside toilet.
When Ian was about 15 months Johnny suggested that we should start thinking about increasing our family – after all, we were now thirty. I was kept busy with housework, a toddler, nappies, etc, but Johnny was right, two years between them would be about right. My only dread was another baby arriving in the middle of winter, but as fate would have it I quickly became pregnant, which we were pleased about. Ronald was due at the beginning of March 1962. January that year had been a beautiful month. I have recollections of sitting in the garden in the warm sunshine, hoping I would be like Kay Craig who had just had baby Martin. Yes, I thought spring was just around the corner.
Ronald decided to make an appearance on 26th February in Fonthill Nursing Home. While we were in there the weather took a turn for the worse – heavy snowfalls and bitter winds, the worst February and March for many years. So I was back to digging through snow and hanging out two lots of babies’ nappies, no Pampers back then.
In those days Old Portlethen had no “new” houses. The fisherman’s cottages – some in rows, some scattered here and there, were interspersed with spaces of rough ground where once older cottages had stood. Some villagers had used the low walls of the ruins of the old cottages as gardens, some places had been cleared and used as garages (not many cars then) or for caravans, etc but mostly the ground was left for nature to take over. Johnny used the stones from these old foundations to build a stone wall round our garden.
Our house, number 43, being on its own at the top of the hill had a lovely clear view from every direction, apart from Bella Lees black shed in front. (I wish that was all that was in front of us now!).
When my mother died I was very upset and began to feel broody. Johnny was quite pleased with the two boys but we agreed to try for another baby, hopefully this time it might be a girl. So, as on the previous occasions, I immediately fell pregnant. The baby was due on the 27th July – summer time! On 28th July Patricia was born, the final piece in the family jigsaw.”