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Alistair Macduff - his autobiography

Myself, A Stranger


Copyright 1999 - Alistair Macduff


Parts 1 to 9 - - Parts 10 to 17 - - Parts 18 to 26 - - Parts 27 to 39 - - Parts 40 to 48 - - Parts 49 to 58
Parts 59 to 63 - - Parts 68 to 76/U - - Parts 77 to 88 - - Parts 89 to 106
Parts 107 to 127 - - Parts 128 to 139 - - Parts 140 to 150 - - Parts 151 to 153

Part 64

About "Auld Reekie" - - - Work, Friends, Activities and Worthies

There is no doubt that Edinburgh was, is, and probably will ever be a fine and beautiful city. It is architecturally grand and gracious. It is historically fascinating, and extraordinarily clean. It is also extraordinarily cold in it's own unique way. You cannot compare it's type or quality of cold with cities like Winnipeg, or the Polar Arctic - Auld Reekie has it's own kind of cold. I have felt just as uncomfortable there as I ever did at the north end of Baffin Island, or Montreal. For all that, it is a fine city in which to live, move, and have your being.

As I believe I have said, I worked extremely hard, because my craft fascinated me, my inspiration coming from the great Chinese potters. When you have worked in clay for a while - I mean for ten years or more, you realise it's infinite possibilities. You realise, no matter how long you live, experiment and practice, in the scheme of things, you will really know very little - all you will know is what you have done, and that a ten year old child might do something with success - something which never occured to you. Surely, that in itself is a spur. For example, I was fascinated by the possibilities of slips - thick or thin creamy liquid clay - memories of Dorothy Dorman! I did quite a lot of slip work - dipping terra-cotta pots in a black slip, then when leather hard, cutting scraffito through and into the red body, in an Etruscan style. Using the same black slip over white or grey burning body and so on. If I had the health and energy right now, which I don't at my age, there is nothing I would like better than to go back to making pots using exclusively slip techniques. I know that in a short time I could easily produce a range of pots unlike anything ever seen before, and sell them in the gallery where I am consultant, or privately from my home. We do not have enough years in this lifetime, or in the next, really to express what creativity we have. In any case, I've got this journal to finish. All my work was easily sold between my Edinburgh gallery, my two London galleries, and to my private clientele.

Part 65

I was a member of the Scottish Craft Centre in the Royal Mile, the fascinating street running between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood House, the Queen's residence when in Edinburgh. Only a few yards - I mean maybe one hundred yards, higher up and on the opposite side of the Royal Mile was the establishment of the famous Esta Henry - one of the most prestigious, albeit eccentric fine-art dealers in the world - known and respected around the world. I got to know her in my early days in Edinburgh - around 1947 - 1948. She told me that she came to Edinburgh when she was just a poor little girl of about eleven years of age, without a coat or shoes, wheeling a bicycle and with only a few pennies in her pocket. Of course there could never be time enough - and I spent a lot of time with her - for her to tell me precisely what happened from that day forward. Being with her was something like being in a hurricane. Her mind ran free, the words poured out increasingly on whatever topic she chose to discuss. When I met her first I had gone into her antique shop because it was simply so intriguing. It had a small front and side window crammed with everything.

Georgian silver items in abundance - she loved Georgian silver. Crystal of the highest quality - heavy silver and precious stone jewellery; Gold and silver enamel-top boxes of several periods of France; T'ang earthenware, Han dynasty funerary jars, Sung monochromes, all in two little windows. What one did not know was that the premises went back forever, and had a basement like you would expect to find in the Mint - lined with rows and rows of glass cases filled with more gold and silver enamel-top boxes, the entire vault wired to God. She took me through this vault on one occasion. As far as I can remember it contained about fifteen cases, each case about four feet by two and a half feet. In each case were about fifty boxes - they were I believe, snuff boxes. I picked one at random, and asked her if I might look at it closely. She said, "You have good taste - it belonged to Marie Antoinette." She unlocked the case and gave it to me. It was solid gold and heavy, beautifully made, the enamel work extraordinarily intricate, and in brilliant peacock, dark blue and yellow. Although I do not like ornate things, I thought that it would have been a suitable gift for my mother. "What is it's value, Mrs. Henry?" I asked. "I will get fifteen thousand pounds for it," she said. I handed it back gingerly.

At the time I did a rough mental calculation. Fifteen cases, each containing fifty boxes equals seven hundred and fifty boxes, perhaps averaging eight thousand pounds, amounts to six million pounds - in one vault alone! There were other vaults in this subterranean gold mine which I did not visit. I wonder what they contained. I'm getting a little ahead of myself, and must return to the occasion when I first met Mrs. Henry.

She was engaged with two English ladies who were interested in silver jewellery. There was very little space in which to move around, but in the centre of the floor were no less than four Han Dynasty funerary jars, similar to the ones in the window. These funerary jars do not vary a great deal in their design - they vary more in height - eighteen inches high would be an average. They are made of creamy-grey stoneware body, so thinly glazed that they might well have simply picked up glaze spume during a high-temperature glost fire.

They look like tall, slim temples, with a shallow domed top which is the lid. Tiers of human figures are modeled all around them - sometime two tiers, sometimes three - also around the base. In the spectrum of Chinese porcelains, they are unique, and once seen, can never be confused with anything else. As I examined them carefully, gently running the tips of my fingers over their form, I could see Mrs. Henry's piercing dark eyes flash at me from time to time, and then back to the two ladies with whom she obviously was getting fed up. I was not listening to the conversation because it certainly did not interest me, but I was deeply engrossed with the Han treasures.

From time to time I could hear the ladies saying, "Oh, that's very expensive," and, "I saw one like that in Chester, and it was not nearly so expensive."

Without warning, Mrs. Henry moved from behind the glass counter on which she had been showing the jewellery, opened the door, hustled them both out and into the street. She took one of the ladies by the elbow, and said, pointing up the hill, "I'll tell you where to go - go right up to the top, turn right, go down the hill and you'll see a big shop, with a red sign and gold letters - you'll find what you're looking for there."

She came back in wearing a wicked smile - "Woolworths, that's where they belong." She said. I laughed along with her.

She looked pure Gypsy. Of uncertain age - not less than sixty-five - maybe eighty. About five feet tall, emaciated. A thin, lined face. Sharp, black burning eyes. Perhaps eighty-five or ninety pounds in weight. She always seemed to wear the same shapeless dark maroon trousers, and sort of nondescript top. Her black, greying hair had been brushed back in bellerina style in the morning, but now was hanging down, kind of wild and loose. That was Esta Henry, and I never saw her any other way. She fixed her eyes on me, searching, assessing, her gaze piercing and direct. "You know what you're looking at, don't you - you know about these!" It wasn't a question - it was a statement.

"The Han jars," I said, "Yes I know about them." She thought about that for a while, then walked away. She came back holding a small dark brown bowl in her hands. "Do you also know about this?" she said. She was crushingly direct. "It's a Hares-fur bowl - Sung dynasty," I said.

She stood looking hard at me - her eyes wide, and the beginning of a smile on her lips. Again, she walked away into the back and returned with another small bowl. This bowl had a subtle greenish brown glaze - it was very rare. "What about this, young gentleman?" she now addressed me. "It's a tea-dust bowl," I said, "Also Sung dynasty."

She stood stock-still, just looking at me, her eyes burning into me - now smiling a wry, strange smile. She reached out with skeleton like fore-finger, poke me in the chest and said, "Come and have some tea."

I followed her into her tiny office, piled high with papers, and sat down on one of two rickety chairs. At the top of her voice, she called "Jeannie - tea for two". She studied me for a while - her black eyes were really disconcerting - like a gypsy fortune tellers. "What's your name?" "Alistair Macduff," I said. "Alistair Macduff, eh'" - eyes never leaving mine. "Where do you live?" "Cramond." I said. "What do you do?" "I make pottery." I said. Her eyes widened again. "I'll come down and see you." She said.

"I will be happy to show you my work and my studio." I said. "Good." Then, tea and biscuits arrived, and for the next hour or so she interrogated me about my entire life. As I spoke, always this searching look in her eyes - a slight, quick lift of an eyebrow - a tiny smile - a slight shake of her head - almost in wonder. We became great friends, and I saw a lot of her over the years. She was indeed a rare creature - one of a kind. Any time she decided to pay me a visit, I would receive a call in the forenoon, about ten am. "Young man - I'm coming down to see you - I'll be at your place in half an hour." She never asked if it was suitable and I didn't mind because she expected me to get on with my work while she watched and asked a million questions. She had found someone from whom she could learn about the practical side of ceramics and that was of value to her. In half an hour she would arrive like a skinny black crow armed with a generous picnic lunch - a bottle of wine - such wine - French bread, butter, cheese of several kinds, grapes, a lot of chocolates. Often, she would bring a camera and photograph my hands working the clay on the wheel.

Anyones hands in the process of conditioning clay on a wheel, or shaping the pot, cannot make anything else but fascinating studies. Where are they now, I wonder? Why did I not value them more at the time, and take care of them? I suppose because my life was crammed and flying all the time. She would say, "Why do you do that?" or, "Why do you do this?" "Why is it that colour now, and why is it this colour after it's fired?"

A free ceramics education, one day at a time, when she chose. Oddly enough, when she wasn't calling me young man it was Ali, my father's pet name for me. She never issued suggestions, like, "Let's have some lunch," - it was, "Stop, we're going to eat now." If she was coming, I would thoroughly clean up my big plaster wedging block put a cloth on it and we would dine like royalty. Sometimes she would come in her great beautiful black shining Daimler, send the driver down to Cramond Inn for lunch, telling him to return at four pm. Sometime she would use a taxi, and when four pm came around, I would call a cab for her.

A typical departure would be, Mrs. Henry, laden down with pots she had chosen, running towards my gate, singing at the top of her voice - I'm the Queen of Scotland, Henry the 8th, I am, I am, etc., etc - then get her driver to cram the remains of lunch and her new acquisitions into the back seat of the limosine where she could keep an eye on them, and tear up the road until the next time. John, her driver and I would grin at each other, and off they would go. A hundred yards up the road the tyres would scream to a stop - her head would pop out of the window and she would shout back, "Ali, first time you're in town, come in and I'll pay you." - she never carried money. Her credit was good, not only in Edinburgh, but around the world.

After most firings, if she was in town, I had something of an obligation to call her to be present at the actual opening of the kiln when she would arrive at the arranged time. As the still hot pots came out she would put aside what she wanted. I did not call her every time, otherwise I would have been failing my agents, but I humoured her from time to time just to keep her happy.

I always went in to see her when I was in town, and we would sit down to tea. On about a square yard of painted plaster wall above her desk, were scores and scores of scribbled calculations. This was her purchase ledger. After tea, she would say, "Oh, Aye - I owe you three hundred and eleven pounds - Jeannie, bring some money." Jeannie, who made the tea, kept the place clean, ran errands, was also the internal banker. She would appear, still wet from mopping the floor, holding out her floral apron, with enough money in it for a down payment on the Ark Royal. Mrs. Henry would pull the notes she required, rummage around in a desk drawer for change, give me the proceeds, and with a rag, wipe the entry off the wall. What a headache it must have been for the officers of the Inland Revenue as we call our official bandits in the U.K.

Just before I left her one day, she called me back, and said, "Ali, would you do something for me?" - unusual, a request instead of a direct order. "Certainly, I said, "What is it?" "In Dowels sale tomorrow there are a few things I want, and I can't go." She produced a scrap of paper, all screwed up, flattened it out, with a list of items in her scrawley writing. They were Chinese porcelains of greatly varying types and periods. "Go down and have a look at them at the viewing today." I said to her, "Once I've had a look at them, can you give me some idea of how high I should go for each one?"

"Oh, it doesn't matter," she said, "Just get them." I was far from comfortable with this loose, dangerous comment, and she could see it. "Ali, it doesn't matter, just get them - I must have them!" I could see that the subject was closed. She had never asked me to buy for her before, and not having seen the porcelain, I had no idea what she or I were talking about.

I went down to Dowells, the principal auction house in Eastern Scotland, got a catalogue and began tracking down the pieces she was interested in. The first one gave me a fright - I was so far out of my depth. It was a porcelain vase, the kind which only the Emperors had in their palaces - or perhaps, the kind which did become part of export wares at the very end of the Ching Dynasty - I recognised it as very late Ching Dynasty - I knew that much - that means from 1880 to 1911 or even a bit earlier.

It was huge, about four feet tall and ornate beyond words. I cannot stand the sight of the export wares - especially this type - however, many thousands love them, so there you are. I hadn't the vaguest idea what it would make, and I continued to feel uncomfortable. The next items were a pair of Sang de Boeuf Cockerels - utterly magnificent - the dark red glaze thick and unctuous - I drooled over these. They were indeed rare, and I was sure that they were Ming Dynasty, but very unusual for that period. I knew that they would make a lot of money, but how much? The remaining two pieces were typical Ming blue and white vases, the cobalt being intense and purplish - a sign of their quality, although, as they say in New York, not my bag.

The following day, I was at the auction house in good time, dressed in my best - conservative and as unnoticable as possible.

I saw James Wildman there, the best antique dealer in eastern Scotland, other than Esta. I knew him because I used to buy Chinese plate stands for my own work at his gallery. He was a very nice man, courteous and gentlemanly. He came cross and said, "Hello, Alistair, we've never seen you here before - do you attend auctions?" "No," I said, "just occasionally - I just happened to be passing." "Well, nice to see you," and off he went. In time, the Ching monster came up - I stayed at the back. "Ladies and Gentlemen, we now have a late Ching Emperors vase in mint condition, do I hear five hundred pounds?" - "Yes," he heard five hundred, my stomach was turning over. "550 pounds, yes, 600," a slight lull. I now bid 650 pounds. "700 pounds - the lady in the corner - thank you - 750 - the young gentleman in the back"- another lull - "850 pounds - thank you - the lady in the corner."

The auctioneer looks as if the bidding should stop there - but no - "nine hundred pounds - the young gentleman in the back." The young gentleman is now sweating thumb tacks, but he goes on, and people are turning their heads to see who this is. The lady in the corner obviously wants this Ching vase very much, and raises her hand and her voice, "One thousand pounds," she calls out to put an end to the nerve racking battle. "I now have 1,000 pounds from the lady in the corner," says the auctioneer, looking directly at me, as well as the other buyers. "Eleven hundred pounds," I say quietly - there's something of a stir in the action room. "I am bid 1,100 pounds from the courageous young man at the back," says the auctioneer.

He looks at the lady who shakes her head, and seems very disappointed. The auctioneer's gavel comes down, "eleven hundred pounds for the Ching Vase - to," he looks enquiringly at me - "AM", I say. "Thank you sir, to AM." I am now feeling better - this is fun, spending Esta's money. Many items come and go on the block and then the Ming Sang de Boeuf Cockerels. Away we go again. "Ladies and gentlemen, we now have a pair of rare Ming Cockerels, in Sang de Boeuf glaze, aren't they magnificent?" Do I hear 3000 pounds?" I'm feeling shaky again.

3,000 pounds is bid, by whom, none other than James Wildman. The auctioneer says, "I have 3,000 pounds by JW." Nothing is happening - I am getting very nervous. I raise my hand, "3,500 pounds," I say. "3,500 pounds from the young man at the back." says the auctioneer. Mr. Wildman is staring at me now, baffled. "3750 pounds," he calls, hoping to end it. "I have a bid of 3750 pounds for the Ming cockerels," says the auctioneer and looks directly at me. "4,250 Pounds," I say recklessly, and there is drawing in of breath. Who is this? all are asking themselves. The auctioneer, gavel at the ready, looks at Mr. Wildman who is shaking his head in disbelief. "The Ching Cockerels at 4,250 pounds," says the auctioneer - to AM. (I am now known - I feel good) - bang, down comes the gavel.

People are openly looking at me. I feign boredom and look at my watch. The disposal of the Ming blue and whites went in the same way - everyone who was interested simply out- bid. I skirt the side of the auction room, move up to one of the clerks, and say, "I'm buying for Esta Henry."

His eyebrows go up, and he says, "Oh, I see - thank you - that's fine." I leave under the gaze of the defeated, feeling like the Aga Khan.

The following day I made my way to Mrs. Henry's feeling anxious and, indeed, worried. Had I done the right thing? I had carried out her instructions to the letter. It was like steering a big ship to a given compass point, without the experience and in the fog. As I entered the door, the bell clanged and out she came from her office. She was really smiling. My heart lifted. "Ali, that was great, that was just great, thank you - come and have some tea - Jeannie, bring some tea." She sipped the tea and munched a digestive biscuit. She was smiling and studying me, her eyes boring into me. "Was Wildman there?" she asked. "Yes he was." I said. She chuckled, "That'll teach him." She said. I didn't pursue it. "I would like you to buy for me if I can't be there anytime." She said. "I would love to." I said. She reached into her desk drawer and pulled out a scruffy envelope. "Put that in your pocket." She said. I began to protest, and she said, "I'm busy now - I'll see you soon," and waved me out of the door. Going back to my car, I opened the envelope - four hundred pounds.

I just couldn't keep up with this lady - she was an enigma with variations. Several years after I met her, there appeared in the Edinburgh Scotsman a furore about someone called Paul, whose last name I now cannot remember, but I am almost certain that he was Czechoslovakian. By whatever means he had entered the country illegally, and sadly was put into Saughton Prison, the local jail. These were surely harsh measures, and a lot of people felt strongly about the issue.

None felt as strongly as Esta Henry about Paul's plight and she began writing very strong letters to the local government, to the Scottish Administration, to MPs and I've no doubt even to the Queen. She did not mince her words, but excoriated everyone whom she considered had had a direct connection with his incarceration.

The ripples of her energy and sense of justice were being felt in local government and the news media was on her side, giving her an inordinate amount of coverage. She was visiting the prison on a daily basis, bringing her Prince Paul as she now called him, all kinds of luxuries. She declared to the roof tops, let my Prince Paul out of jail - I will be responsible for him in every way. I will give him a home, and money, and a job and show you paper-shufflers what a fine, substantial, upstanding and responsible man he is.

Pressure was mounting against the various departments of the administration, and finally she blew them away when she announced that Henry the Eighth and Prince Paul were going to be married, in or out of Saughton Jail. That did it. He was released, and in the evening of his freedom, an enormous crowd gathered at the ponderous gates of the jail. Prince Paul emerged in a light tan suit, pink complexioned, beautifully groomed, to fall into the arms of his saviour, the one and only Esta Henry, who by that time had lost her shoes. They embraced to the deafening cheers of the multitude, climbed into the Daimler, and sped away to South Africa where Esta had a fruit farm.

I have no idea how long they were gone, but one day I got a phone call from Esta. "Ali, we're home, come up and meet my Prince Paul." We had dinner together at her apartment, which I had never seen before. It was small, but modern and in excellent taste. During the evening, I excused myself to go to the washroom. It too was small - about eight by six feet. It had a mirror over a wash basin, and a toilet. From ceiling to mid wall level it was shelved with white-painted shelves on which stood nothing but T'ang dynasty figures. Horses, camels, musicians, court ladies, grooms, concubines. I did what I had to do with trembling care, and departed. After a while the romance went a bit sour. That I only gathered by innuendo from both.

What happened to Paul I do not know, but Esta lost her life in an air crash over some tropical jungle. As I said, she was one of a kind, and those who were fortunate enough to have her in their lives were indeed enriched.

An amusing story concerning Esta Henry took place during the international auction of King Farouk's treasures after his demise. Such an auction would and did attract the attention of every major antique and fine art dealer in the world. Esta was, of course, among them.

It seems that it was common knowledge among her fellow dealers that above all else there was a mantel clock which she wanted desperately.

Knowing her firey temperament and her determination not to be beaten, the other dealers formed a conspiracy to keep bidding this clock away above it's reasonable value, just to see what would happen. This conspiracy was quite without malice for they admired and respected Mrs. Henry.

The item came on the block, and let us say for argument, for I have long forgotten the details, the auctioneer started the bidding at fifteen thousand dollars. Mrs. Henry waited until it got to twenty thousand dollars - all the dealers had a fair idea of what it would make. Then they began to slowly bid it up. $21,000 - she would bid $22,000 - another bid somewhere at $23,000 - Mrs. Henry at $24,000 - another bid to $25,000. At that, she realised what was going on. She turned round and shouted to the assembly, "You're not getting it," marched up to the rostrum, snatched it up and sat down in her seat with the clock in her lap. The house broke up in laughter and the auctioneer accepted the joke.

Part 66

My telephone rang one day and when I picked it up, a crisp Scottish/London BBC voice said, "Mr. Macduff." I replied, "This is Alistair Macduff speaking." "Would you hold the line please, the Countess of Errol would like to speak with you." The Countess of Errol, I thought, never heard of her! "Mr. Macduff, this is the Countess of Errol, and I have been advised by John Noble of Ardkinglas, Chairman of the Scottish Craft Centre, that you would probably be the best person to help me." "Well, certainly, if I can, your honour." (Hope that is right, I thought).

"Well, we, my husband and I have to attend a very important wedding in the near future, and we would like to commission you to make something very special, as a gift to the bride and bridegroom," she added, "It would have pride of place at the show of presents, of course." I said, "I would be happy to do that for you, your honour." "Oh, thank you so much Mr. Macduff, may we come to your house to discuss it?" "Yes, please let me know when you would like to come," I said. A time and date was fixed, and they arrived in an official car, with several flags flying from the left mudguard. There were three people. The Countess of Errol, The Hereditary High Constable of Scotland (I had just discovered), her husband, bearing the title, Captain Ian Moncrieff, of Easter Moncrieff, of that ilk of Easter Moncrieff - that's not a name you would confuse with Tommy Smith! The third member of this illustrious trio was Iain Pottinger, a court painter. We all sat down to sip coffee and make small talk.

Finally, Lady Errol said, "Well, you see Mr. Macduff, this wedding is between the Countess D'Ursel of Belguim, and one of the Broun-Lindsays of Haddington - it is a very important wedding indeed, and we would like you to make something very special." I am listening intently. At that point there seemed to be a hiatus in the conversation, so I said, "Do you have something particular in mind?" "Oh, yes," a chorus came back, "Oh, yes, we really do." I waited and waited. The Countess was studying my fascinating white ceiling. Captain Moncrieff was saying, "May I smoke, Mr. Macduff?" "Certainly." Pottinger said, "You have a very nice home." "Thank you." I said, and waited, and waited and waited. Finally, the hereditary High Constable said, turning to her husband, "Iain, please tell Mr. Macduff what it is we require." The captain took a long draw of his fag and said, "Well, Puffin, it was really your idea you know." I studied the Countess, she really was quite a puffin with a big hooter. "Pottinger, you tell him," said Moncrieff. Pottinger gathered his wits about him and said, "Oh, yes, well, it's like this Mr. Macduff." He was not a happy camper at all - the other two, his superiors, were enjoying watching him squirm.

"Well, you see Mr. Macduff, the bride and bridegroom are both very close friends to the Countess and Captain Moncrieff - very close - and it's a kind of joke, you see." No, I didn't see. "Well now, Mr. Macduff, we would like you to make a very handsome - eh, handsome, chamber pot." The dark secret was out - there was a distinct sense of relief in the room, mixed with a little embarrassment.

"Would you do that for us, please?" Pottinger asked. "Of course," I said, "It's a very simple thing to make." They were very happy now. Then Moncrieff said, "If I give you their respective coats of arms could you reproduce them side by side on the, eh, chamber pot?" "Yes, I can do that also," I said.

They thanked me profusely and as quickly as they could, piled into their limozine and sped off, flags a-flying. In due course, Captain Moncrieff delivered the heraldry to me, and I got on with the job. I made the chamber pot larger than life, glazed it in a thick celadon glaze with the two family coats of arms standing out clear and proud. When they came down to collect it they shrieked with joy. Not only was I well paid, but Captain Moncrieff gave me a black leather tubular case, which contained a special Rampant Lion Flag, bearing the Countesses insignia. He said, "Fly this on your car, and no one will challenge you regardless of where you park it. It worked.

Part 67

My life in Edinburgh consisted largely of work as I have described it, for my output was prolific. At this time however, I began to see more of my sisters, Shena the younger and Cara the elder. After Shena left school she began her training as a nurse at Cardross Park, a hospital only a few miles from Helensburgh. After some years training she joined the navy To see the world as the senior service itself used to advertise on huge posters.

After some years doing that, having seen all of the world which she wanted, and not being too interested in the rank of Admiral, she quit.

I think the truth of the matter was that the rum ration had been cut in half! She was now out in the real world - what to do?

This is my version of her life which may not be, as they say, on the money, but it's close. She went to work as a nurse in an establishment called Whittingham, a special organisation for somewhat backward children. I'll take a guess - Whittingham is somewhere in Berwickshire.

There she met a young man called Ian Melvin, a staff member, teaching physical education. He was very good looking, very athletic, a champion high-board diver and these two seemed to find in each other, the qualities they required for a lifetime union. They were married in Helenburgh in 1952 and held the reception, dinner and dance in the Queens Hotel, a beautiful place right on the water. For the week before the wedding, my poor mother was trying to fight off an attack of influenza, without success. On the day of the wedding, she was desperately ill. I hardly remember seeing anyone so ill, and still on her feet. Somehow, she got through it, and once she saw her youngest daughter married she collapsed.

With Shena and Ian living in Whittingham, they were not so very far from me in Edinburgh so we found time to be together when we could. In the fullness of time they moved to Gourock, which is only a mile or two from where they live now, in Greenock. The Gourock house had a two million dollar view of the Clyde estuary - it was utterly magnificent. Their present house which is almost in the water has only a one million dollar view.

The other branch of the family, the Macduff - Rushforths found their first manse, I believe, in a village called Leadhills. Leadhills competed with Tomintoul as the highest village in Scotland, and as it seemed to be a matter of inches, I don't know if the claims and controversies were ever settled.

Like most of my sister and brother-in-law's manses, it was big! Many rooms, high ceilings, long corridors, and steep staircases. It was chilly in the summer, but in the winter it defied description, except that when I built, and lived in snowhouses in the Polar Arctic in the months of February and March, they reminded me of Cara and Eugen's Manse in Leadhills.

After a while, Cara and Eugen began to have troubles. The first one was christened Catriona - after that Michael, and to bring up the rear guard, Athol. Catriona was a clone of Eugen, Michael was a clone of me, and Athol, an equal mixture of both - the best of both worlds. These two branches of the family, and myself making up the third, if you like, all pursued our respective careers, meeting from time to time when we could, and all visiting my parents in their new house in Helensburgh. It seem superfluous to say that we were not aware of our lives passing so rapidly, because we were all making our way, but at one point or another, suddenly we came face to face with that sombre realisation.

Alistair Macduff's Autobiography Continues



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