Have you ever thought about that unsung hero of Geneaology? A person we rely on so much, and yet, tend to take for granted. An individual, who, without their professionalism, patience and attention to detail, SP, GROS, and ourselves would never have got past 'Go'. I refer, of course, to The Registrar ...
[who were YOU thinking of?]
What trials and tribulations these guys must have gone through in their day, as they sat behind their desks, quills poised, psyching themselves up for their next encounter with that most frustrating of adversaries - The Informant.
The following is therefore dedicated to all those Registrars who have, and still do, against all odds, create the records we've come to depend on.


The Informant (Audio Version)

     starring Moonwatcher, Catriona and Mesklin

[Any resemblance to any person, living, dead or collecting benefit, is unintentional]

Scene: Dennistoun Registry Office in Glasgow's East End.
Time: A long time ago.
Protagonists: 'Reggie', the Registrar and 'Jimmy:', the Informant.

The door opens. Reggie the Registrar smiles a warm smile and in walks... Jimmy!

Reggie: "Good afternoon, please take a seat Mr ...?"
Jimmy: "Jimmy."
Reggie: "Jimmy?"
Jimmy: "Aye that's me, evrybiddy caws meh Jimmy."
Reggie: "Yes. How nice. But I'm afraid, as the informant, I'll need your full name please."
Jimmy: "Informant! Noo haud oan a wee minnit son, ahm no here tae inform oan anybiddy. Dae that aroon here an ye en up in eh Clyde wae the concrete wellies oan innat. Know whit a mean innat?"
Reggie: [The epitome of patience and professionalism]
"No, I'm sorry, you don't understand. The informant is the name we give to the person reporting the death."
Jimmy: "Ah! That kinna informant! Ah thoat ye meant ah wid hiv tae clipe oan sumbiddy. I widnae dae that ye know."
Reggie: [Strained smile]
"I'm sure you wouldn't. Now what's your full name?"
Jimmy: "Jimmy."
Reggie: "Second name?"
Jimmy: "Naw that's mah furst name."
Reggie: "Do you hiv, I mean, have, a second name?"
Jimmy: "Aw aye! Doon the pub they caw meh Wee Malky!"
Reggie: [Thinking hard]
"So your name is Malcolm?"
Jimmy: "Eh? Naw, Jimmy!"
Reggie: [Realising this could go on forever, that time is marching on, and the queue outside is building up as a result of the most recent of Glasgow's regular bronchitis epidemics]
"I'll put you down as that okay?"
Jimmy: "Whitever ye say son. You're the man."
Reggie: "Good. Now what relation are you to the deceased?"
Jimmy: [Shocked]
"Diseased! Ah didnae know eh wis diseased. Naebiddy said anyhin aboot im bein diseased! If ah'd known that ah widnae hiv touched im!"
Reggie: "Not diseased! Deceased. You know... Dead?"
Jimmy: "Aw aye, right, ah know that son. Ah know eez deid innat. Aht's whit ahm here furr, tae let ye know innat."
Reggie: [Talking very slowly]
"Quite. Now, what relation was he to you?"
Jimmy: [Bursting into tears and sobbing uncontrollably]
Reggie: "Sorry?"
Jimmy: "A faither son, a faither!"
Reggie: [Seizing the opportunity to make some progress, quickly writes down James Malcom. Son, in the informant section of the death record.]
"Do you have any papers for him? Birth or marriage certificates perhaps?"
Jimmy: [Still sobbing]
"Naw ah hivnae. Never thoat tae ask im afore eh went. Eh wis definitely boarn though! Ah kin tell ye at furr sure!"
Reggie: "What was his first name?"
Jimmy: "Jimmy."
Reggie: "Sorry?"
Jimmy: "Jimmy, that wis eez name; Jimmy."
Reggie: "So you were named after him?"
Jimmy: [Puzzled]
"Naw. Ah don't think so!"
Reggie: [With look of resignation]
"Do you have the doctor's certificate there?"
Jimmy: "Aye. Here it is son."
[Hands over a crumpled, soggy piece of paper.]
"Sorry aboot it bein a wee bit wet son but the wife washed mah troosers last night cos ah wis cummin here an she furgoat tae check the poakits."
Reggie: [Accepts the 'document' between finger and thumb and carefully spreads the sodden, mangled paper on his highly polished walnut desktop, flicking off shreds of tobacco as he does so.]
Jimmy: [Helpfully]
"Ah kin go an ask the doactir fur anither wan if ye like an come back tae ye."
Reggie: [Not wishing a repeat performance]
"No! No! That wont be necessary, this will do fine."
[He scrutinises the pitiful document, eager to get this case over with. The smudged details are difficult to make out but he does his best.]
"The name is unreadable, but you say it was James Malcolm, is that correct?"
Jimmy: [Busy drying his eyes after his show of emotion]
"Sorry, ah didnae catch whit ye said ther. Bit aye! Whit ever ye say."
Reggie: [Taking a deep breath]
"And where did he normally reside?"
Jimmy: "Maistly in Middleton's place."
[He means Middleton's Bar]
Reggie: [Catching the name Middleton, and knowing of a Middleton Place in Garngad, decides to go with that.]
Jimmy: "Aw ther's just the wan son! Jist eh wan."
Reggie: [Looking up hopefully]
"Number one you say?"
Jimmy: [Eager to please]
Reggie: [So the address goes down as 1 Middleton Place, Garngad.]
"And his wife?"
Jimmy: "Naw! No hurr. She widnae set fit in err!"
Reggie: "So they were separated?"
Jimmy: "Aye, ye could say that. She drapped deid aboot five years ago."
Reggie: [Writing furiously, his normal copperplate degenerating into a scrawl]
"So, his wife is deceased."
Jimmy: "Oh aye she wis definitely diseased that yin!"
Reggie: [Ignoring the remark and pushing on]
"Her name?"
Jimmy: "They used tae caw hurr 'Herry Merry."
Reggie: [On a roll now, enters Mary Malcolm and soldier's on.]
"Now, it says here on the doctor's certificate that he died of... Choking. Were you present at the death?"
Jimmy: "Oh aye son, ah wis ther, oh aye, saw it aw ah did, terrible it wis, terrible, jist terrible..."
Reggie: [Interrupting]
"It says here it took place in a dentist's surgery. Whereabouts exactly?"
Jimmy: "In the waitin room son'. Aye, in the waitin room eh the dentist. Terrible it wis, awfae terrible."
Reggie: "What dentist was that?"
Jimmy: "It wis that wan, wan up oan the coarner. The wan thae caw 'The Butcher'. Ah cannae remember the name eh the street."
Reggie: [Realising how many Glasgow dental surgeries fit that description, and beginning to lose the will to live himself, enters Dental Practice, Glasgow as the place of death.]
"I see here a reference after 'Choking' to something that looks like [examining the writing closely] 'toffee' do you know what that might mean?"
Jimmy: "Oh aye, ye see that's whit kilt im! Eh wis chewin oan wan eh em penny dainties an eh accidently swallied it whole, an it choked im!"
Reggie: "He was eating a toffee sweet in the dentist's waiting room?"
Jimmy: "Aye. Eh reckoned that if eh wis gonnae get aw eez teeth oot eh might as well hiv wan last chew furst!"
Reggie: [Pained expression]
"I see. And he choked?"
Jimmy: "Aye.! The dentist tried tae wheech it oot wae a big perra forceps but it wis too faur doon."
Reggie: "And what do you know of his parents?"
Jimmy: [Thinking he means the dentist!]
"They'd be cawd Howie."
Reggie: "Howie?"
Jimmy: "Aye. Must be, cos that wis the name oan the door."
Reggie: "So was James... adopted?"
Jimmy: "Oh ah couldnae tell ye son, if eh wis it wisnae sumhin eh broat up."
Reggie: "And do you know of Mr Howie's occupation?"
Jimmy: "Aye. Ah jist telt ye... a dentist!"
Reggie: [Narrowing his eyes]
"James's father was also a dentist!"
Jimmy: "Wis eh? Noo ther's a coincidence furr ye!"
Reggie: [Hurriedly moving on]
"What do you know of James's mother?"
Jimmy: [Thinks hard]
"Ah remember im wance tellin meh thit eez maw wis aye in a state an thit she wis a scrubber."
Reggie: [In desperation, copies it down as 'Ina State m/s Scrubber', and surreptitiously checks for the whisky bottle in his desk drawer.]
"Thank you Mr Malcolm. You've been a great help. Now could I just get you to sign this here?"
[Hands him a fountain pen and points to the space on the certificate under informant's name of James Malcolm.]
Jimmy: "Certainly son, glad tae be of help innat."
[He promptly scratches a big X... followed by an even bigger blot!]
Reggie: [Writes below it ... 'His Mark']

... and many years later, an unsuspecting family historian ...

Glesca Patter 15
First posted 28 March 2004


Laura - You sittin comfortably oot oan yir deck wae yir coffee? Hope it's no snawin!


Glesca Remedies

Ah wis watchin an advert oan eh telly the ither night. It wis furr a cough syrup "specially formulated for little ones" [they meant weans!] It goat meh thinkin aboot the remedies thit wurr oan the go when ah wis 'a little one'. They wurnae sa much formulated as concocted. As ah recall, the 'medicine boax' wis an auld 'oxo'tin. Okay, so mibbay in some less well aff hooses they'd hiv tae make dae wae a shoe boax urr sumhin, bit we hid a bright red oxo tin. Whitivir the container, the contents wid almost always be aboot the same in any hoosehold ...

    A big ball a Cotton Wool.
    A boatle a Iadeen (Iodine).
    A boatle a Castir Ile (Castor Oil)
    A boatle a Sirrup a Figs (Syrup of Figs)
    A boatle a Callamin (Cally) Lotion (Calamine Lotion)
    A bar a Durbak Soap
    Steel comb
    Safety pins
Plus ...
    Assorted WW1 Dressings.
[These were ex military compressed dressings, very small, hard as a brick, and only to be used in the event of war, which thankfully never materialised!
Actually, they were absolutely useless but looked great in the tin!]

Wae these basic medical supplies, yer Mammy could cure jist aboot anythin an wid pit a M*A*S*H unit tae shame. [Please note there is no swearing intent in that last sentence!]

The doon side of coarse wis thit ther wis nae consideration furr the 'patient' ie. The wean oan the recievin end. Life wis hard, an so wis the treatmint. So, how wir the above items used tae save life? Read oan... an learn.

Cuts and abrasions.

The wound wis furst of aw doused wae Iodine. Nane eh yir gentle hyo-allergenic antiseptic cream here. This wis Glesca. If ye didnae kill aw known germs furst, they'd kill you. So Iodine wis the boy! If ye've never hid Iodine poured, urr dabbed, oantae an open or raw wound, ye don't know the meanin a pain. It left a bright yella (yellow)/orange stain oan yir skin. As a result, ye could aye tell the 'tough kids'in the street, the wans thit wirr aye getting hurt - they wirr cuvirt (covered) in yella blotches wher the Iodine hid done it's stuff. Wore them lik tattoos they did. Showed they hid suffered the pain innat. Had earnt the right of passage.


Of course, some wounds wid bleed lik fury, so ye hid tae stoap the bleedin afore anyhin else. That's wher the cotton wool kim in. A big dod (lump) a fluffy cotton wool right oantae, or better still, intae the wound! That did the trick. The fluffy cotton soaked up the blood like an alky left owernight in a boozer. Stoaped in it's tracks it wis. A miracle in the eyes of onlookers an a testimony to the healin powers eh yir mammy! The doon side wis thit efter an oor (hour) urr so it became rock hard and cemented tae the wound, underlyin tissue, and any top bandage urr claithin thit came intae contact wae it. It became 'wan' wae the victim (ah mean patient). The removal of the wool, excrutiatin fibre by excrutiatin fibre, usually took place over an enamel bowl full of hot steamin watter. As the watter turnt red, ye wir reassured thit by no screamin oot, ye hid the makins eh a man. If ye did scream then ye wir jist a big jesse! Wance aw the wool wis oot ye could look furrit tae the Iodine!


There used tae be a loat (lot) a rashes. Ahm no gaun intae the gory details bit it seemed jist aboot evry childhood aliment in em days broat ye oot in rash of some type. But the oxo tin hid the answer; the bright pink 'Cally Lotion.' Dabbed liberally ower the areas affected, it dried tae a pinky white crust. Jist yer luck if ye hid the measles cos ye endit up lookin like a zombie. An ye daerny cut yersell at the same time urr ye goat the orange/yella blotches tae really set it aff! Noo here's a strange thing, if ther wis measles in the street, aw the maws wid bring the weans igither so thae aw goat it at wance! The Cally Lotion goat laldy durin these maw-made epidemics, an nightime oan the street looked like a scene fae 'Dawn eh the Deid!'

Mouth Ulcers.

Some things wir beyond the scope eh the 'tin', an this wis wan eh thim. 'Sore mooths' wir anither common feature of 'tinnimint' life. A visit tae the 'Clinic' [In oor case it wis the dreaded Glenbar St Clinic in the Garngad] wis the procedure here. In wan door, seen bae the guy in the white coat, an oot the other - wae a wee boatle a 'Genshin Vylitt' (Gentian Violet). This would be liberally dabbed ower yer lips, tongue an inside yer cheeks. It stained evryhin purple, furr weeks! So ther ye wir wae a purple mooth - nae joke. If ye happened tae be really unlucky ye could hiv measles, skint chin, an a mooth ulcer, aw at the wan time. Ye didnae need face paints in em days! If thir wis any 'Jenny Vylitt ' left (an thir usually wis) the boatle wid bae added tae the oxo tin. That wid save anither visit tae the Clinic in the future. [Merr aboot Jenny Vylitt nixt week]


Lice wir aye a problem at school. 'Don't werr anyibiddy else's hat!' These wirr always the loving words that followed ye as ye left the hoose furr school in the moarnin. We aye dreaditt the letter tae take hame fae school informin the maw that the lice hid goat ye an thit we wid need 'The Treatment.' [Ahm scratchin jist thinkin aboot it!] So, ye'd fine yersell hunkered doon ower the steamin bowl again, towel roon yer shooders. The black Durbak soap wid be rubbed intae yer scalp until it stung, rinsed an rubbed in again. Efter the final rinse, the steel comb was broat intae action. It tore through yer scalp leaving it lookin lik a fermer's ploughed field. Ther wisnae much herr tae shield ye fae the wicked teeth, it wis usually short enough tae pass Barlinnie inspection.

Hoaliday Tummy

But of aw the horrors of Glesca childhood remedies, this wan hiz tae 'take the biscuit.' It wis aye the custom furr Glesca faimlies tae go 'doon the coast' furr ther summer hoalidays. Noo, evry year it wis the same, the faimly hid nae sooner goat thimsells settled intae thir digs, an the sun deciditt tae make a brief appearance, thin the weans wid come doon wae a stomach bug. 'Hoaliday Tummy' they euphemistically cawd it. 'The change of air' wis anither. (the 'a' in change pronounced as an 'i' as in 'fine') So, when ye arrived and unpacked, the last thing oot the suitcase wis... you guessed it, the oxo tin. 'Right, take this tae protect ye fae the chinge of air.' says Mammy. An proceeds tae shove a huge tablespoonfull of Syrup of Figs doon yir throat. Twice!
Ah. Jist whit the doactir oardert! That night, an well intae the nixt day ye wirr runnin back an furrit tae the toilet like an olympic runner. Eventually yer luck, or stamina, gave oot an ye didnae make it in time. That wis yer Mammy's cue furr stage two in the treatment protocol - The Castor Ile! Two great tablespoonfulls of the stuff tae sort ye oot!
Eventually things wid settle doon an ye could get oan wae enjoyin yer hoaliday (usually bae the middle of the first week.) But ah could never quite escape the suspicion thit if the boatles hid stied (stayed) in the oxo tin, the hoaliday tummy might no hiv happened!

Soar Throat

Ye know they sore throats ye get? The wans that make ye feel as if the linin eh yer throat's made oot a sandpaper? The wans wher when ye swally sumhin it burns aw the wae doon an feels lik yiv jist swallied a thistle! Well yer mammy hid jist the hing! A big dod a butter, rolled intae a baw (aboot the size eh a golf baw). Then she coated it in sugar. The idea wiz tae swally it doon an let the butter soothe the linin eh yer throat. The sugar made it merr palatable. It wis okay as long as ye swallied it quick (quite nice in fact). Bit iff ye dallied aboot, chewin innat, the sugar diappeared an ye wirr left wae this big glop a butter in yir mooth - yuk. It'd gie ye the boak! But ah tell ye, it worked oan the throat - furr a wee while.

Bad Chests

Noo this niver happened tae me bit ah knew plenty thit it did happin tae. Kids wae 'bad chists', an that could mean anyhin fae a cauld urr bronchitis through tae TB, wirr encouraged/forced tae breathe in the fumes aff the hoat tar whin the roadmen wirr surfacin the road. Some maws went wan step further an hung thir weans ower the hoat tar buckets so thit the 'healin' vapours wid get right intae the alveoli an dae thir stuff [like the wee medical term ther? Ah knew aw that anatomy an physiology studyin wid come in handy some day.] The thing is, when ah wis wee ah liked the smell eh the tar (an still dae.) Ah used tae staun wae the 'sick' kids at the roadside an breathe in the fumes alang wae thim! Nane eh yir fancy glues in them days, Tar McAdam, that wis the thing!

Skin Infections

Okay back tae the oxo tin. Remember the Gentian Violet? Wance they goat thir hauns oan that stuff the maws knew nae bounds. It used tae bae used furr aw manner of skin ailments. Impetigo, Scabies, an Ringworm urr among the wans thit come tae mind. Ah s'ppose ah wis lucky cos ah don't remember evir hivin any eh these but thir wir plenty weans did. They'd turn up at school wae purple blotches aw ower thim. Some seemed tae be permanently gaun aboot lik 'Mr Blobby'.


Ye don't see boils noo-adays dae ye? If ye goat a boil, urr mibbay wan eh them big plooks, yer mammy wid make up a breid (bread) poultice 'tae draw the poison oot'. It consisted of mashed up breid an boiling watter. Mixed intae a paste it wis spread thickly oan tae a pad an applied ower the site eh the infection. Pretty tame ye might hink. But the key word here is 'boilin watter' [awright that's two words]. The poultice was made up very quickly and applied while roastin hoat. Ah remember it burnin lik fury!.


Ah don't know aboot other maws but oors didnae believe in fillins. Mah brother an I wid hiv tae pit up wae toothache until mah maw decidit it wis time tae take us baith tae the dentist. Ah think she goat a discount that wae!

DENTIST: [Lookin intae mah mooth an proddin exposed nerves wae eez steel cattle prod]
"Yes Mrs Wilson, he has three teeth with cavities there but we should able to fill those okay."
MAW: "Fill them? Oh naw! We will no hiv any of that. Jist take thim oot please."
DENTIST: "But I'm sure we can save them Mrs Wilson."
MAW [Thinkin - 'An ah'll save even merr iff they jist come oot!']
"No thankyou! Jist extract them an how much will it cost?"

Ye see, the logic wis this. If the tooth came oot it wis a wan aff price, end of story. If it wis filled (a new concept tae Glesca folk in thae days) the fillin wid be merr costly an wid probably come oot at some point in the future. That wid mean anither visit tae the dentist an merr money - so oot wae the teeth! This was still at a time when folk used tae get aw thir teeth oot as a present furr thir birthday! Imagine it - sittin in the dentists cher (chair) wae aw yir teeth in a steel kidney dish, a wee bithday cake caunil (candle) burnin merrily away in the middle eh the pile a ivorys, an aw yer rellies an the dentist staunin roon aboot ye singing 'happy birthday tae you!' Ahm amazed thit ah've goat as minny teeth left as ah hiv. Tae this day ah think the tooth ferry (fairy) wiz runnin a protection racket in Garngad.

TOOTH FERRY: "Ah don't kerr if they don't hiv toothache Mrs Wilson. Ah want three teeth bae the end eh the week urr the cat gets it!"


Splinters. Ye know thae wee tiny slivers ye get aff rough bits a wid (wood)? Ah don't mean the bigger slivers thit ye kin pick oot wae yir fingernails urr tweezers. Ah'm talkin aboot thae wee 'microscopic' wans thit are barely visible tae the naked eye an even then look like tiny black shaving bristles unner the skin? They might be small bit thir terribly annoying an sometimes sore. Yer mammy urr granny might tell ye stories aboot how, if ye didnae get it oot yir finger it wid bury it's wae doon intae yir blood stream, go straight tae yir hert (heart) an kill ye! Such was the bedside manner and the level of reassurance offered. Personally ah think it wis a ploy tae stoap ye playin in the midgies!.
Anywae. Oot wid come the oxo tin an oot wid come a safety pin. Ther followed a frightnin ceremony that involved yer faither's cigarette lighter, a match or a caunil if thir wis wan aboot at the time. The safey pin wid be bent straight, held in the corner of a tea towel and the jaggy bit passed through the flame until it glowed bright red. This sterilised it furr the operation tae come. As it cooled it wis seen tae be black wae soot so it wid be wiped on the tea towel [which promptly de-sterilised it again!] That ritual ower, the site wis tentatively prodded wae the point eh the pin, very gradual at first as an effort wis made tae locate the skelf through the skin. As patience waned, and the skelf burrowed doon in preparation for it's lethal dash tae yer hert, the prodding and poking became merr vociferous evolvin intae a frenzied dig that resulted in the complete excavation of the site, culminating in a cry of elation as the skelf wis finally vanquished and the Iodine was dabbed oan the crater.


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Original postings on Scotlands People Discussion Group © 2003, 2004 Bob Wilson
Layout, editing and additional material © Dave Sloan 2005, 2012, 2016
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