Let’s Talk

As part of the EERC’s partnership with D&G Libraries and Archives, the EERC has contributed to the Let’s Talk Project run by Alison Burgess at the Ewart Library, Dumfries.

This project gathers together photographs, objects and sound clips in 20 themed packs which are used by community groups across the region in reminiscence sessions.  This imaginative use of 200 clips from the over 350 interviews form the Dumfries and Galloway: A Regional Ethnology Study meets one of the main aims of the project – to give back to the people of D&G their own material.  It is great to know that the work of the EERC is now being used to allow the people of D&G to talk freely and openly about their lives.  It is also gratifying to know that those who make use of D&G Libraries and Archives ‘Let’s Talk’ project get an immense amount of enjoyment and fun out of it all.

The huge task of selecting appropriate sound clips fell to our transcriber, Sheila Findlay, and here she writes about her experiences and shares with us transcriptions from some of the material she chose.

I believe that the oral histories should be made available to a wide audience so this initiative really appealed to me.  To use excerpts from the fieldwork recordings in this way seemed a great way to enable a wide range of listeners to hear the material and by doing so generating engagement and discussion.

After agreeing to take up the challenge I was duly given access to approximately 300 sound files, some of which had been transcribed and many which hadn’t.  I was also supplied with a list of topics and given advice about the length of the extracts to choose.  Where possible, the final selection was to reflect the various accents heard in the region and include the memories of both men and women.

I was to select ten extracts for each of these chosen topics: Clothes, Clothing and Textiles; Dumfries and Galloway; Education and schools; Fairs and Customs; Family Life; Food and Drink; Hotels and Hospitality; Industry; Men; My Community; Occupations; Shops and Businesses; Sport, Leisure and Tourism; Women; World War One and World War Two.

Where to begin and how to go about the task?  The thought of listening to all the material from beginning to end was daunting and wouldn’t have been best use of the time I had been allocated for the task. Searching the transcriptions was one way of quickly assessing the suitability of the content and a plan was needed.  Where no transcription was available I developed the skill of listening to the audio files speeded up.  I created folders for each topic with one file for the extracts and another for the timing data.  Each time I found a suitable piece I popped it into the relevant file.  However, often the chosen extract fitted neatly into more than one category, such as in this recollection of the Land Army uniform recalled by May Taylor:

MT:  Well the very first thing we had to do, when we arrived at the farm, of course, our uniforms were there and the excitement of getting into uniform, you know, so we both got dressed up in wir Land Army uniform and we thought we were toffs [laughter].  Not what other people thought but we thought we were toffs.

KR:  And can you describe the uniform?

MT:  We had a great-coat which was a three-quarter coat and breeches, a hat, a green jumper, we had brogue shoes, heavy stockings that we pulled up, like knee length stockings.  What else did we have?  Of course we were supplied with the overalls, overcoats, all that was necessary really.

KR:  Did you have Wellingtons?

MT:  Wellington boots, yea, wellington boots which we used when we were going into the byres.

Where should it go, Women, World War Two or Clothing and Textiles?  I put in ‘Clothing and Textiles’ but would you have?  As the work progressed extracts were often shunted from one file to another as I reconsidered where they would most suitably fit.

I was concerned that when I had located a suitable quote that removing it from its context might weaken its relevance.  Gladly, in most instances, the opposite was the result.  By taking away the geographic and personal detail the information became more general.  For example, when Heather Miller from Kirkcudbright was asked by Tanya Gardener if she could remember Cooper’s shop she said:

‘Yes, aye, it smelt lovely of coffee when you went in, it was aw the coffee beans, they used to grind them in the shop.’

This evoked memory of the grocers’ shops in my own home town, many miles from Dumfries and Galloway, making me think back to those days of the big steel coffee grinder on the counter, beside the bacon slicer and the cheese wire, long before supermarkets came along to change the shopping experience.  I knew that this had to be used and popped it in the Shops and Businesses file.

I’ve already mentioned that I’d been asked to use the regional accents from the area and this was mentioned when Mark Mulhern interviewed Kenneth Brown:

KB:  The Stranraer folk are different from us, they talk different [laughter].  Call them Galloway Irish.

MM:  Well, the accent is very different.

KB:  The accent’s different, aye it is.  It is quite a nice accent, actually, there’s nothing wrong with their accent.  They just talk different from us.

MM:  Then, if you go over to Langholm there, the accent’s different there, again.

KB:  Different again, Annan’s the same.

MM:  Aye.

KB:  Annan, they have a kinna funny way of talking in Annan too.  And it’s not far from us [laughter].  That’s just common all over, isn’t it?

MM:  Aye, yes indeed.

So, here was a perfect extract to use in the Dumfries and Galloway topic, and I must admit that by the time I finished this task I was very aware of the differing regional accents, and yes, I could detect a touch of the Ulster in the Stranraer accents.

Working my way through the files I occasionally came across wee stand-alone gems that didn’t fit neatly into any of the listed categories so another category, Miscellany, was added.  One example from this selection harked back to the days of food rationing during and after World War Two when there was a Government initiative to encourage the public to collect rosehips which were then sent away and processed to extract the vitamin C content.  Isobel Gow from Lochmaben recalled taking part in this:

PG:  Did you have to collect anything for school days or-?

IG:  Yes, well the wild flowers was one thing, the other thing were rosehips.  We got a wee card an we’d take in so many pounds of rosehips and it would be noted in the card an ye got some money, ah can’t remember how much it was.  An ah remember complainin tae ma other that it was only me collectin it an the Gibson boys all got loads because there was loads o them to pick the rosehips.  An ah remember them getting weighed and Miss Dunbar was the secretary, she stamped the card or wrote on the card, and ah think you maybe got a badge when you got so many pounds but ah never got enough to get the badge.

Most of the recollections of childhood memories were covered by the Family Life and the School and Education topics so it was interesting to hear how children spent time out of doors, away from the watchful eyes of adults, and another section, Child’s Play, was subsequently added to the topics.  There is a huge contrast between these memories and how youngsters spend their time today.  No digital devices or computers to play games on, no social media to use to communicate with friends.  Instead they seemed to be free to roam the countryside, guddle for fish, ferret for rabbits, enjoy nature and landscape in all its glory while learning life skills such as risk assessment and self-reliance.  For those living in towns it was safe to play out in the street enjoying games of peevers and marbles with their friends without constant road traffic interrupting their fun.

I came across so much of interest while I was going through the interviews, making my selections.  I found the next two related items very powerful and thought-provoking.  First is Margaret Livingstone-Bussell, from a military family, who was interviewed by Mike Duguid recalled the start of World War Two:

ML-B:  From there, one day we were crouched round our wireless set listening to the old King talking and we’d had the Abdication and we were anxious about him because he had this terrible stammer and he started to quote ‘I said to the man that stood at the gate of the year’ he paused, there was a terrible pause, and we held our breath that he would go on, and he managed and after that I walked round the corner and joined up in the ATS [Auxiliary Territorial Service], enlisted myself, I was seventeen and three quarters.

MD:  So, what did your parents think about you joining up?

ML-B:  Oh, thrilled to bits.  I was a soldier’s daughter and that was where I ought to be, serving my country.

I’m sure that King George VI’s speech will be familiar to many of us, as it has been heard time and time again over the years in different media, but here was someone who actually heard it on the day and clearly remembered the occasion.  This, I had to use.

Alan Faulds, from Isle of Whithorn, also recalled the early days of World War Two as he told Philip Skinner:

AF:  Ah went to school at five, the year war broke out, an the first thing ah can remember about the War was the old lady along the road when ah was comin home for ma lunch, ah was to tell ma father that France had capitulated an ah didnae really know what that meant but ah went in and told them, they were sittin havin their lunch an they were very, he was very down in the mouth cause, ah mean, ah think he thought the Germans would be here the next week, you know?

The contrasting reactions of the Mrs Livingstone-Bussell, a teenager ready to join up and do her duty for her country with the recollection of the elderly lady who had presumably lived through World War One and was anxious to pass on the latest news to Alan’s father (and then his own despondent reaction) reflect the impact of the War on different generations.

Moving on to happier subjects, here’s an extract from the Child’s Play file in which Ronnie Waugh, brought up in Throughgate, is talking to Margaret Smith.

RW:  I mean ah had the most happy childhood and we never had the facilities like kids have got now, ah mean we had literally nothing, one or two toys, mostly what the Germans had made us, but we had very little, but the whole countryside was our playground.  We didn’t want anything else we were happy, we had never known anything better so we never missed things and the countryside, was our playground, you know what ah mean, we would, in the good weather we were literally away from morning till night.

MS:  So, what kind of things did you do?

RW:  Well, I will get round to the mischief an the stuff but, generally speaking, when we went away for a day we weren’t getting up, we just loved roamin the hills, goin intae the woods an we lived off the countryside, we would eat all the wild berries, the raspberries, there was one, there was a patch o strawberries at one place.  You would have your hazelnuts, your gooseberries, and the odd wee turnip that ye would pinch out o a field somewhere.  And most wee boys would have a pocket knife then and we would skin the turnip an eat it, you know.  How we never ended up wi serious stomach aches, but we never did, but we always had a, most boys had a penknife and there was an old man lived just up the road from me, a right old worthy, and he always used to say ‘Boy, if ye’ve got a penknife, a piece of string and a penny in your pocket, ye’ll never go wrong.’  That was what he used to tell us.  So we would start walking around wi a penknife and a penny but we never had a penny, we might have a farthing, which is a thing of the past as well.  But the whole countryside was a playground and we would literally roam from morning tae night and sometimes we might have a biscuit or something in oor pocket but normally we jist lived off the country and then of course you’d go home at night, you’d be dead tired, ye’d be filthy dirty and, back in these days, you couldnae go home and get intae a nice hot bath or a shower, didn’t exist.

By the time I had completed the task I had chosen extracts across the eighteen topics and felt that I had a good knowledge of Dumfries and Galloway.  This was confirmed during a recent holiday in the region when place names on road signs were all familiar to me and information and anecdotes that I had listed to came to mind.  The Let’s Talk material contains a wealth of information which is likely to tug at the memories of those who use it and I’m glad to have been involved in a project which enables us to shares some of the material which has been gathered during the EERC D&G Study.

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