Two small stars to guide me.


I’m sure You have already worked out by now that Jimmy was my father (James Hamilton).

With five women still living at home, dad called our cooncil hoose, Bedlam Hall, and when the noise reached a crescendo, he would escape to his workshop, I like a faithful puppy dog at his heels. I spent a lot of time with my father as a young lad, working in his workshop, or travelling around the country on the back of his motorcycle, we would even go camping together, sitting at the camp fire I would listen, wide eyed to his stories from around the world, his real-life adventures, that was magical. I would also listen in when men gather, to smoke and blether on the street corner or down the Seaman’s Union. All of the stories that you have read were based on his true-life experiences. OK, I did not know all the details, some I tried to research, some I tried to fit into a time scale that would have been about right, and yes I did use some poetic licence.

Dad was much older than mum, but he always looked young for his age so the difference never showed until the latter years of his life, his attitude to life gave him that persona of young and modern, so helped hide his true age too. But if you knew them both, as I did, dad was very much in the 19th century mum in the 20th in many ways dad was very Victorian in his attitude. He was a Darwinian, for a start, live and let live, survival of the fittest, and the church, as far as he was concerned, was a corrupt sham. When the Pope appeared on television, dad calls him “Old Father, do them all”. Still, he was happy to see us, his kids, go off to Sunday School, like mum I suppose it got us from under his feet for an hour.

Reading the Sunday papers were almost a ritual, he would read the papers from cover to cover, reading allowed passages that he thought his wife would (or should) be interesting in, then give his comments on those affairs. Mum just sat in an identical chair at the opposite side of the fire, knitting needles clicking away twenty to the dozen, and I’m sure her ears firmly closed to his wise words.

To me it was a happy house and so different from homes today. For a start mum was always at home. Thinking back she was a hard-working woman. There to send dad off to the pit, no matter what shift he was on. Then my big, big sisters, and finally Irene, my big sister, would be sent off to work. Then came my two sibling sisters and I, full of porridge, off to school we would go (there were big gaps in the family, dad being a sea, during the war years and the whaling, saw to that).

I’m sure she hardly had time to lift her head when dad would be back home from the day shift, then we kids would burst in a happy screening horde, or at least we must have seemed like a legion most of the time. Irene from the Co-op would soon follow, then would come the others. We always had meals together around the big table, with its pull out leaves, Copious amounts of Scottish fare, stew, potatoes and what ever vegetable was in season, or possibly a big bowl of thick, home made, vegetable soup, always followed by pudding, custard poured over sponge cake, apple crumble, or Semolina with a big dollop of home made jam in the middle, Rhubarb and Ginger was mums favourite.

Mum had to go into hospital for an operation, all I knew about her condition was “It was Woman’s trouble” which normally would mean having a baby but I think mum was already too old to have babies, or at least this is what I had overheard.

Dad would be looking after us whilst mum was in the hospital. Dad was a good cook but no cake, no fancy puddings just plain fare. Breakfast was, as always, porridge, cooled on the back doorstep. Irene came down the stairs, rushing at the last minute, as usual, Irene liked her bed and would lie until the very last moment then everything was a rush. “I don’t want porridge this morning” she called to dad as she flew out the front door. “That’s all right,” he told her, but by then she was out the door and I don’t believe she would have heard his response.

Irene arrived home from work, she was always first in, the Co-op being in the village and closed around five in the evening. When dinner was served, we all had potatoes and mince, Irene had the porridge she did not want at breakfast. Another of dads Victorian ideals, “Waste not, Want not”.

If mum was not in the living room then you would find her in the kitchen, preparing or cooking food, making jam, baking cakes, or on that special day, buried in a cloud of steam, pulling white linen sheets from the boiler, feeding them into the big sink for rinsing, then through the ringer that would be clamped between the two sinks. I would help out by turning the handle for her as she worked the sheets in through the rollers.

I’m an engineer, ma mither has a mangle,

When she dis the washin’, she lets me turn the handle.

Our bright yellow canary, lived in a cage that hung in the kitchen window, he would now, be lost from sight in a room full of steam, singing his heart out with his beautiful rolling song, keeping it going hour after hour until the washing was done. Mum said he was enjoying his bath.

Mum and dad were married on the 12th November 1925 and lived together until dads demise on 26th September 1983. Two gemstones of different material. They lived through two wars, depression, hardship, apart and together all those years from their marriage until dad died. By the time of their retirement, the waters of life that washed constantly over them, often turbulent flash floods, certainly in the early days, that tossed and tumbled them, knocking off their rough edges only succeeded in smoothing and polishing their nature like a lapidaries sands. I was privileged to know them in times when quieter waters lapped over them, two highly polished pebbles now lying still and peaceful together side by side, in quieter times. I was mums carer for the last years of her life and she would tell me stories of her early childhood and married life, and they were not the romantic stories I had grown up with, there were no “Good Old Day”, but what I remember most from that time was how much she missed ‘Her Jimmy’.

I have enjoyed this wee dip into my past, it has been very therapeutic for me, maybe you would like to find out more about your family if so, do not leave it too late, once your parents have passed, there will be no one to answers the questions you so desperately wish answers to, only questions will remain.

When I want to feel you near me,

I stand in this quite place,

With the silver light of countless stars,

Falling on my face,

They all shine so brightly,

And it comforts me to know,

The ones that shine the brightest,

Died an eternity ago.

Lyrics from a song written by Eric Bogle.

We buried mum on the Tuesday, the following Saturday I had taken my sister Irene, to an Eric Bogle concert. We chatted with Eric and John (Munro) sitting outside on the veranda before the concert, as a request, he sang “One Small Star” for us at that evening’s concert. Precious moments, like these last a lifetime.   

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