Jane King Blane
Remembered by her grand daughter, Helen van Pletzen née Begg
My memories of Granny Begg only go up to when I was 21 as I left Scotland in 1957 and only saw Granny after that on the few visits we made to Scotland. We kept in touch by letter and she wrote faithfully – always starting her letters with “Dear Eln” as she spelled as she spoke. When she was unable to write herself she would get someone to do it for her.
Granny became a widow at the age of fifty, the year before I was born. She then rented a room from a Mrs Todd who had a big house in The Castle, New Cumnock, Ayrshire, Scotland. “The Castle ” was the name given to the main street in New Cumnock. Her room was up one flight of stairs. It was a very large and pleasant room with a window looking over the street and a window looking out to the garden and washing lines at the back and she made it comfortable and homely. There was an open fire and she also had one gas burner that she could use for cooking. The lighting was also gas. She had a gas meter that she fed with coins and when the money ran out so did the gas. She would bring food to the boil on the gas ring and then sit the pot on the hob by the fire to continue cooking. If she had food in two pots then she would turn one pot lid upside down and sit the second pot into the lid. Granny always made sure she had a nice cooked meal every day and if anyone dropped in to visit the food was shared between them. She made scones and pancakes on the girdle over the gas burner and put them to steam between dish towels on a cooling tray on top of her bed. When she wanted to bake in the oven she would prepare everything and then go downstairs and bake in Mrs Todd’s oven. Her room had a walk-in recess and she had a beaded curtain hanging in the entrance. In there was a counter top for working on and there she would do her washing up and preparations for food etc. She always had a basin of of clean water to wash hands in. There was also a bucket with a lid for slops and another one to use as a toilet as she had no toilet or running water in the room. Everything had to be carried from Mrs Todd’s kitchen downstairs.
If Granny needed to “pass” more than “water” then she had to go and use the toilet downstairs. She was so clean and kept a spotless little home. Each side of the fireplace were easy chairs and she had a long couch in front of the one window. Her bed was pushed against the wall and she had two big chests of drawers. She had a drop leaf table kept out of the way under the window and only brought out and laid for meal times. There was always a tablecover.
Her bed was a big double bed with a feather mattress and it had a white frill hanging from the base to the floor. She liked to sleep with high pillows and she had lots of pillows. When I was very little and went to stay with her she would push two armchairs together to make a safe little bed for me. The leather covered couch had one arm on a hinge so that it could be let down and the couch used as a bed.
I loved to watch Granny getting ready for bed. When she had undressed and taken off her corsets she would put on her long white cotton nightie with long sleeves and high neck. She would loosen out her bun, plait her long thin hair in one plait and tie a knot in the end. It amazed me that the hair would knot so easily but the plait was very thin at the end. She would have loved to have white hair but her hair was an iron grey. Then she would kneel by the side of her bed and say her evening prayers.
When she did her hair in the morning it was pulled back into a severe bun and this was held in place with long, bone hairpins which she kept in a dish on the mantelpiece. Her mirror was above the mantelpiece. She also had long hatpins which she jabbed through her hat to hold it on to her head. I thought surely she must stick them into her scalp the way she thrust them through.
Granny usually dressed in black and even wore thick black lisle stockings. Sometimes she would accidentally drop some bleach on her stockings making little white blobs but this did not faze her. She just dipped her finger in black ink and covered the white spots. She wore very sensible black shoes with thick little heels and walked with smart, quick footsteps. When it was raining she had special rubber galoshes that fitted over her shoes exactly and fastened with stud fasteners. These kept her feet dry. Her handbag had to be big enough to carry her Bible to Church. The bus stop was close to her house and she used the bus to attend Church at Connel Park.
She made her own carpets. Uncle Sam, her eldest son designed them for her and she would cut up rags and weave the design on to hessian. She had a special tool that she pushed into the hessian and pulled the strip of rag through and knotted it. They were called rag rugs. She decided to make a big one to cover the whole floor. Uncle Sam planned the design and when she had finished it had a most attractive pattern. It must have taken many hours of work and quite an accomplishment.
She loved to crotchet and did fine cotton crotchet. She made mats and lace edgings and antimacasser sets. She could not follow a written pattern but could work out the pattern herself when she saw a sample. She referred to it as a “pattron” and called recipes “receipts”. Her fingers were never idle. She also embroidered most beautifully. When she was knitting and had to count the stitches, she counted in threes. I thought this was so clever.
Granny had very little schooling and went into service at a very young age. Her spelling was self taught and she just spelled phonetically. Once I gave her a dictionary thinking it would aid her spelling but she said, “Och, hen ye hae tae ken hoo tae spell tae fin’ the words.” She faithfully read from her Bible every day. When I stayed with her we would read a chapter every morning each reading aloud a verse at a time. She also had this sweet little box which held texts and each day we would use these little tweezers to pull out the text for the day. Each text was rolled up and all fitted neatly into the box. I loved going to stay with her. The first time I ever went to Church was with Granny Begg and this was before I had started school. They were singing a hymn and I joined in. Not knowing the hymn I sang at the top of my voice, “Do you like my new shoes, they are all made of wood.” Granny stopped me saying, “Wheesht hen, ye cannae sing that in the kirk.”
For some reason when we weans visited she would always give us “opening medicine” even though we were quite “regular”. She had a thing about bowels. Once when I stayed she gave me Californinan Syrup of Figs. Then she decided that the contents of the bottle were too old so she made this tea with senna pods. Then, just in case that didn’t work, she gave me this special chewing gum that encouraged bowels to work – I think it was called Brooklax. I spent the weekend running down the stairs to use Mrs Todd’s toilet.
She had games we played like Ludo and Snakes and Ladders. She also had a tin of buttons that I played with. It had such nice buttons and gave me hours of pleasure. One of the first things I wanted when I had my own home was a button box and I still have my button box today. Once all three of us lassies were visiting her and we were sitting round the fire playing “I Spy”. It was my turn and I had just learned a new word – Bullop (pronounce bull to rhyme with dull) – which was colloquial for a man’s fly. Nobody could guess what this B could be and all eventually gave in. When I said, “Bullop”, Granny Begg just laughed her quiet, bosom shaking laugh and, with tears running down her cheeks she exclaimed,”An’ there’s no’ even a man amongst us.”
I started taking dancing lessons and Granny did not approve. She looked at me and shook her head and said,”These little feet dancin’ their way into Hell.” Anyway she must have changed her mind for she took me to visit friends of hers who had a bedridden son who suffered from Sleeping Sickness. He lay in a recess bed in their living room. I had to dance and sing for him and he would clap his hands and dribble at the mouth and seemed to enjoy my performance. Granny took me there quite often. Then she also saw me dancing at the yearly “Old Folks’ Party” and seemed quite proud to see me on the stage.
Once Granny was on a bridge and this youngster did something stupid. Granny was cross and said, “Ye bowly legged bauchle ah’ll daud yer lug.” This was likely the Afton Brig as their mining house in Connel Park then was near the bridge. Another expression of hers was to describe someone as “staunin’ there lik a stookie” – standing there like a statue and doing nothing. When asked her age she always gave her age next birthday and qualified it by saying, “If ah’m sparet”
Granny met Grandpa Begg when she was a young girl in service. Grandpa was five years older than her. Granny was nineteen when they married on 19 June 1903. Grandpa was a coal miner. Granny said that when the new hobble skirts came into fashion she just had to have one. She wore it when she and Grandpa were walking out and when they came to a stile she couldn’t climb over it. She said Grandpa just laughed and laughed at her and she was so put out that she never wore the dratted skirt again. As a young woman she wore long skirts which were the fashion of the day. They both joined the Baptist Church before they married and kept to their strict code of ethics all their lives. Granny was twenty when their first child was born.
When they were young marrieds thay did not have much money and when the children were small, during a depression, Granny ran a little shop from her home selling sweets etc. They had four children – three boys and a girl – Samuel, known as Sam, Thomas, known as Tam, James and Mary. My father, Thomas being the second child. Once the family went on holiday and granny said there was a big tank where the two older boys swam. She did not know that effluent went into this tank and both boys went down with enteric fever and were so very ill. She thought she was going to lose them. Granny’s father, our Great Grandpa Blane, stayed with Granny’s sister Mary in Ardrossan and would come to Granny for visits. Granny then slept on the couch giving Grandpa the bed. We lassies would visit and play Ludo with Grandpa but we had to let him win otherwise he would go into a huff. He was a very old man then in his late nineties.
Granny was quick to see the funny side of things and she would laugh quietly with her bosom heaving and the tears running down her cheeks. One had to laugh just watching her. Her figure was a bit rounded but she was never fat. She was very strict and would not allow bad language around her. She was very disapproving of women smoking. She said it was allright for a man to smoke but not for a woman. Our mother never smoked in her presence. She did not like my father drinking. There was a pub across the road from her room and she saw my father going in. She asked him why he went into such a place. Daddy said, “Because I like it.” When the children were small they had to attend Church both Sunday morning and evening. Uncle Sam and daddy stopped going to Church when they left their parents’ home. Daddy said they had too much of it.
Because Granny was so religious those of the family who did not go to Church tended to ridicule her. I admired her for being true to her beliefs and liked attending Church with her. Aunt Mary Anderson, her only daughter, sang in the Baptist Church choir and Uncle James went on to become a Baptist Church minister. Both Uncle Sam and our father helped to put him through college. The special faith I have today began with Granny Begg.
She did not believe in going to films and once Granny went on a Church outing and they were shown a religious film. It was the first time she had ever seen a talking movie and she was so enthusiastic about it. She told us how it was like watching real people and she was so impressed. We lassies were so blasé about it all as we were used to going to films.
Every so often she would have a holiday at “The Home”. I presume it was an old age home to give elderly people a holiday. Granny seemed to enjoy it and it was in the country and she took her handwork and enjoyed meeting the other people.
Her niece, Mary Campbell, was a district nurse and was assigned to the Isle of Arran. She asked Granny to go and keep house for her and Granny enjoyed this experience and the change.
After about 17 years in her one room Granny was allocated a new house. It was to be in the same street as the one her daughter Mary and family were given. Granny’s flat was in a block of four and hers was an upstairs flat. A lovely place with a comfortable lounge, a bedroom, a kitchen and a bathroom. Everyone helped her to move and I remember helping Aunty Mary Anderson to carry her big carpet from The Castle up to Blarene Drive in the new housing estate. It was quite a long walk and up a hill and dreadful weather. She no longer had the rag rug and had been given a lovely nine by twelve. We wanted to have the carpet down before the furniture was carried in.
She made her new home so nice with lovely curtains and the same furniture she had in her room fitted the flat. There was an open fire in the lounge for heating and she had a wall cupboard outside her front door which held the coal. She kept buckets of coal in the kitchen ready to stoke up the fire. In later years central heating was installed in the houses.
The cooker was a gas one and the North Sea gas was piped through. Granny was not impressed and said the gas should have been left at the bottom of the sea. The gas lit up with a bang and a flare and one had to be careful and not stand too close. She loved visitors and there was always something in the tins for them made by herself. If someone arrived at mealtime she would stretch the mince by baking a bit of pastry. She made delicious parkins. She called them “purrkins”. I asked mam to send me the recipe to South Africa. Granny did not have the recipe written down so mam watched her bake them and wrote the recipe down for me. I still make them.
Granny lived in this flat for the next 27 years when, at the age of 98, she moved into an old age complex. She had become a prisoner in her upstairs flat as she was no longer able to climb up and down the stairs. She still had all her faculties and only used a walking stick as she was not so steady on her feet She was given this walking stick when her sister Mary died and it was the stick Mary had used to get around. Granny was interviewed by the local paper in her new little ground floor flat. She told them it was a lovely place but “It could have done with a woman’s touch in the kitchen.”
Her 100th birthday was being planned but granny fell and never came out of hospital. She died three weeks before her 100th birthday so instead of a birthday party there was a funeral. She is buried in the same grave as her husband in Afton Cemetery in New Cumnock.
I am so often amazed at the progress man has made in my lifetime, but Granny Begg went from horse power to man landing on the moon. In her latter years she enjoyed TV in her home and Jean tells me her favourite programme was Blue Peter.
GRANNY BEGG’S PARKINS
2 Cups Oats 1 teasp. Mixed Spice
2 Cups Self Raising Flour 1 teasp. Ground Cinnamon
1 Teasp. Bicarbonate of Soda 1 teasp. Ground Ginger
1 Cup Sugar 250 grams Margarine
3/4 cup Golden Syrup 1 Egg
Mix all dry ingredients. Cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Add syrup and egg and mix in dry ingredients into a paste. Place small balls of mixture on a greased baking sheet. Allow room for them to sread. Press tops down with a fork. Bake at 180degrees cent. until golden brown. Allow to cool a little before removing from the tray as they harden as they cool. Be careful as they burn easily because of the syrup.
To measure syrup first make cup hot with boiling water and the syrup will slide out of the cup easily.