Douglas West

Newspaper Lass


Sharp rapid blasts of a train whistle reverberated through-out the valley, signalling the approach of the 6;15 to the Douglas West railway station. This was my cue to gobble the remainder of my supper and dash the quarter mile to the station, Sprinting pass the brick and cement houses that fronted the village. I cast side long glances at the black steaming monster slowing down as it neared the station. Sounds of harsh screeching brakes, suddenly accosted my eardrums, and then a sudden silence. The 6;15 had come to a hushed standstill. Minutes later, labouring for breath, I raced down the platform, headed for my destination, the baggage car.

Flushed and smiling, I greeted Mr Jones, the baggage car porter. Jones was a tall thin middle aged man with greying hair and a greying moustache that accentuated his square face. His friendly deep blue eyes almost disappeared within the folds of the facial skin surrounding the, whenever he smiled. The navy blue serge uniform that distinguished all train employees of the British North Western Railroad, hung indifferently on his lean lanky frame. His navy blue jacket supported two rows of gold cord that matched his jacket's brass buttons. They shone under the light of a single naked light bulb that hung on a nearby wooden pole attached to the white picket fence that ran the length of the platform.

Eerie elongated shadows leaped along the platform whenever passengers moved under the light. "Here it is Jean!" Jones shouted. A bundle of string tied newspapers plopped on the platform at my feet with a loud dull thud. Picking up my sixty copies of the Lanark News, I went to the station waiting room, where I deposited my bundle on a nearby bench. I slipped of the knotted string and brown paper wrap that bound the papers. The papers were folded, over the top of each other, tent style, making it easy to pull each one from the centre, to hand to my customers. I buttoned up my nubby, brown tweed coat up to my neck against the chill October air, positioned the pile of folded newspapers under my arm and strode out of the waiting room. The red gravel road crunched crisply under my feet as I walked towards the village.

I was the happy newspaper lass doing a job a job for my dad, who was the newsagent in Douglas West. I was fourteen years old and responsible for getting sixty newspapers into the hands of sixty villagers. I enjoyed the task tremendously, and it provided me with some pennies I could call my own.

The first customers along my route were Mr and Mrs Meek; Mr Meek was the stationmaster. Their white house was surrounded by towering English beeches and spreading Dutch elm. A whit picket fence gathered the property together in a neat half acre garden. A sprinkling of white leghorn chickens peppered the fresh green lawn and suddenly darted in half a dozen directions.

"Pap-a-err" I yelled, and deposited Mr Meeks paper inside their back kitchen door. Mrs Meeks face appeared at the kitchen window and smiled a greeting, I acknowledged with the wave of another paper. I felt a few drops of rain and looked skyward in time to see a huge ominous cloud block out the moon, I hurriedly continued on my route.

Mrs Braid's sweetie shop was next. I entered that veritable fairyland of delicious colourful sweets. The tinkle of the doorbell brought Mrs Braid into the shop from her kitchen "Thanks Jean" she smiled, taking the newspaper I handed to her. "You're welcome" I responded, and left. Mrs Braid's was the only house I entered on my newspaper round, because it was a place of business as well as her home. Suddenly the promised rain came; I ducked back into the sweetie shop to wait it out. "Here Jean, have some peppermint" Mrs Braid said offering me some green mints, "it won't rain long," Just as suddenly it stopped. I was on my way again. I whistled merrily, "I'll take the high road" continuing on my route.

"Pap-a-err!" I yelled at each door as I continued down the front row of houses. I worked my way to Mrs Burt's home. Before I could yell Pap-a-err! Mrs Burt opened the door, "Ah knew you were coming Jean" "I heard you whistling" I finished servicing the front row and crossed to the back row with the lightened load of newspapers. On Saturday night I had two deliveries, the regular one at 6pm and the later edition at 9pm. The football scores of the day were listed in the later edition at 9pm. Many villagers, including my dad, had an active interest in the football games in the area, filling out weekly coupons, listing their choice of the winners and losers. Twelve pairs of opposing teams were listed each week and one had to judge which one would win, and fill out his score accordingly. Twelve wins, a perfect score, captured the big money prize. A lesser score of eleven took second prize. I do not recall any villager ever winning these two coveted prizes, but that never dampened anyone's enthusiasm for very long.

As the next Saturday approached, the optimism of the eager fans would build and their joyful expectations soar to a new high. Once again I would find the usual impatient contestants milling around the white gate waiting for the late train. Douglas West had produced two excellent football players. One of them was my uncle Alex who played for "Leith Athletic" a prominent gold medal team. Uncle Alex was of medium height with sandy coloured hair, and keen blue friendly eyes; his facial features were sharp in profile. There was not an ounce of fat on him. He was all sinew and muscle, the whole ten and a half stone of him. He was exceptionally fast on his feet and he loved football. An even tempered man, he was well liked by his peers, and the villagers had a high respect for him. He coveted his gold medal as did his own villagers.

Saturday night had come, it was an hour before the 9pm was due and I headed for granny's house to spend the waiting time with her. I opened the kitchen door, to find granny seated beside the fireplace. "Come in lass" she said with a smile. "The fire is jist fine for oor tatties" she placed two medium sized potatoes on the hot coals to roast - our usual Saturday night treat. The rich earthy smell penetrated to the four corners of granny's kitchen. As soon as the the tatties were fully cooked granny speared each one with a long steel fork and placed them on the metal fender to cool. Picking up the just cooked potatoes we tossed them from one hand to the other, blowing on our burning hot fingers to cool them. We peeled off the black burnt skins to find the smooth white flesh underneath, add a sprinkle of salt for flavour and feasted on our delicious tatties as we talked about family and how I was getting on at school till it was time for me to leave.

Restless customers, a few dozen or so, roved around the station, smoking Woodbines and heeling out the red stubs, waiting for the late train to arrive in Douglas West. "Here she come!" male voices chorused in unison. I moved slowly down the platform as the train slowed to a halt. Jones' familiar figure stood framed in the doorway of the battered baggage car. In seconds, the bundled newspapers thudded at my feet. "Hi Jean" Jones called loudly "Alex won" Just as he spoke my uncle Alex stepped of the train an ecstatic smile on his face outstretched arms greeted me amid the warm jubilant reception for my uncle. I quickly pulled out one paper after another, feeding those grasping, hungry hands, and extracting deftly, a penny from each hand in exchange for each paper. Silence replaced the noisy din as inquisitive heads were sandwiched between newspaper pages in search of the football scores. Then groans of disappointment filled the station. More than half of my papers were sold at the station on Saturday nights. I proceeded towards the village with the remaining newspapers stashed under my arm.

Older villagers stayed at home by their own comfortable firesides, waiting for my call "Pap-a-err!" I came to Mr Burnsides house. To me he was the most humorous character in the entire village. In height, he was a trifle short of five feet, stocky in build, and greying at the temples. His clothes were usually rumpled but comfortable and he smiled often with an infectious grin that lit up his warm brown eyes. When he walked he rolled from his heels onto his toes in a rocking movement, then, pushed upwards from his toes onto his heels again. Mr Burnside's style of walking was a bona fide original. He was such a jolly individual, one of my favourite individuals. "Pap-a-err!" I yelled, and Mr Burnside opened his door instantly and reached for his paper in high spirits. "This is the week Jean lass" he exulted "ah can feel it in ma bones" I watched his feverish turning of the pages in silence. The only sound was the rustling of the newspaper. He found the page, scanning hastily, his smouldering cigarette gathering ash, he moaned "Glory be, whit rotten luck" he lamented.

Mrs McNeil's house was next. I began whistling "Annie Laurie" on the first three notes "Laddie Boy" went wild. That little dog charged out the door like a hound from hell, but his seeming wildness was all by a way of greeting. Mrs McNeil had finished her checking of the football scores "Nae luck Jean" she said disappointed. I finished my round in the company of "Laddie" he raced eagerly ahead of me, returning at intervals to check my progress, and then he would go of again at full speed. I whistled him right up to the kitchen doorstep "We're here now, boy, in you go" as Mrs McNeil opened the door. With money jingling in my coat pocket, and some of it mine, I skipped merrily home

Jean C Schmidt

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Original story© Jean C Schmidt 2004
Layout, editing and additional material © Dave Sloan 2005, 2012, 2016
'tachras' and 'Winding Yarn' © Dave Sloan 2005, 2012, 2016

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