Fieldwork in Stranraer

Enjoyable and satisfying as it is, the process of editing a book is often quite a lonely task. 

Not so a few weeks ago, when an expedition to Stranraer in pursuit of background information for one of the planned Dumfries and Galloway Flashback publications, provided a hugely enjoyable, laughter-filled interruption to my usual solitary endeavours.

The Flashback I’m working on is based on the 40+ oral history recordings made by the Stranraer and District Local History Trust since January 1999.  The task of deciding what to include in my selection (or rather, what I have no choice but to leave out) has been challenging.  The interviews are packed full of significant material covering a wide range of themes across both rural and town life in the Stranraer area.  As my work progressed and the Introduction for the book began to take shape, I realised that I had a long (and growing) list of questions to ask those who’d been involved with this aspect of the Trust’s work.  After a chat with Mark Mulhern (Flashbacks general editor) we concluded that a fieldtrip to interview the collectors was needed and the Stranraer trip arranged.

Eric Wilson, Nancy McLucas, Christine Wilson and Caroline Milligan.

Left to right: Eric Wilson, Nancy McLucas, Christine Wilson and Caroline Milligan.

We set off to Stranraer in high spirits.  We would be meeting up with Christine Wilson, her husband, Eric, and Nancy MacLucas that afternoon, and we had a further meeting planned, with Donnie Nelson, for the following morning.   Mark and I had last met with Christine, Eric and Donnie when I was first involved with the Dumfries and Galloway Regional Ethnology study and we had visited them, along with Ted Cowan, to collect the interviews which marked the first oral material donated to the project.  It was great to be going back to meet up with them again.  Armed with copies of the draft outline for the book, and lots of questions, we arrived at Christine and Eric’s home in bright sunshine.  Mark had barely time to set up the recording equipment before we were off.  Everyone talking ten to the dozen: remembering the early days of the Trust, their aspirations and prodigious output over the years (as well as the 40+ interviews, the Trust has published 28 titles and administers grants and scholarships with the funds raised from publication sales and membership), and sharing personal anecdotes about many of the interviewees and the interview sessions.

Nancy MacLucas, who is the fieldworker for 35 of the Stranraer interviews, shared some lovely insights with us, such as the time she interviewed a chap who showed her many, many photographs of sheep.  He proudly highlighted particular favourites and asked Nancy for her opinion.  Nancy, a confirmed town lass, remembered ‘So many sheep.  They all looked the same to me’.  Christine, Eric and Nancy went through the draft outline for the book and provided lots of information and comments on the subjects and interviewees selected for inclusion. Before we knew it, two hours had passed and we decided to call it a day.  Nancy was off home to dinner, while Christine and Eric had a meeting of the Antiquarian Society to get to.  These two hours were like an elixir.  The group’s enthusiasm for the book outline, combined with their generosity in sharing their memories with Mark and I, gave me just the encouragement I needed for the final push to complete the Stranraer Flashback.

 Caroline Milligan, Christine Wilson and Donnie Nelson.

Left to right: Caroline Milligan, Christine Wilson and Donnie Nelson.

The following morning saw us back at Christine and Eric’s for a short interview with Christine (again to gather information for the Flashback Introduction) and then Donnie Nelson arrived for our interview.  Mark and I have already met with Donnie a number of times as he plays an important role in this Flashback.  Donnie worked with the Stranraer Free Press for many years and, together with Christine, Eric and Nancy, has been involved with the Trust since the early days.  At the Free Press one of Donnie’s roles was as Picture Editor and he is known for his huge, and impressively well-organised, collection of photographs.  As well as supplying us with photographs for the Flashback, we have also asked Donnie to make a personal selection of 10-12 photographs and to provide supporting narratives for these images which would tell the stories behind them.  At our meeting we went over his selection and he shared more funny stories with us, often with Christine and Eric adding details too.  One of the selected photographs was from a Stranraer Operatic Society performance.  Donnie was in the photograph – one of the main male singers and he explained that both Eric and Christine had been involved too: Eric as Musical Director, and Christine as Wardrobe Mistress.  Christine told me that this particular production had a wardrobe of 300+ items, and, as with other productions, both operatic-related and Historical Trust publications, the physical items were often given a home (short, or long term) in Christine and Eric’s home.

Spending time with Christine, Eric, Nancy and Donnie has been inspiring.  They are full of enthusiasm and encouragement, and it’s infectious.  Each has had a busy professional life: three as teachers, plus Donnie in publishing – yet each has also contributed so much to the local community – and, indeed, they continue to do so.  Writing in 1910, Arnold Bennett expressed his concern that working people were doing very little other than working and then recovering from work by doing very little.  He argued that work consumed only eight hours of the day, leaving twice as much again for other pursuits and he encouraged productive leisure time in order to promote good health and ensure well-being.  This seems to be a philosophy that Christine, Eric, Nancy and Donnie adhere to whole-heartedly, and very successfully!

Caroline Milligan,
30 March 2016

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