Jock Kirkcaldy origins

The Author realised recently that he had omitted to explain the origins of the name of his alter ego, and thoughtfully has sought to redress the situation, hoping to appease his army of Facebook and Twitter followers.

The Origins of Jock Kirkcaldy, by F R Crowe

Second edition, 20 March 2020

It is often said that we all have a book in us and it was something I took to heart but found little time to progress that idea until I was nearing retirement when Alastair Allanach encouraged me to write a few golf short stories towards the end of 2016.

The title came naturally and a bit from the subliminal.    I was born and brought up in Kirkcaldy which was a fine booming place when I was young and impressionable and I regarded it as the de facto capital of Fife.    It certainly was the biggest town and to my mind had the best football team – Raith Rovers. That loyalty came at a price and I realised you couldn’t expect to win every week – sometimes only a few times a season. It was the linoleum town best remembered in the poem The Boy in the Train by Mary Campbell Smith which ends with the immortal words:-

There’s a gey wheen boats at the harbour mou’,
And eh! dae ya see the cruisers?
The cinnamon drop I was sookin’ the noo
Has tummelt an’ stuck tae ma troosers. . .
I’ll sune be ringin’ ma Gran’ma’s bell,
She’ll cry, ‘Come ben, my laddie’,
For I ken mysel’ by the queer-like smell
That the next stop’s Kirkcaddy!

To read the full poem, click here

As well as linoleum and Raith Rovers, Kirkcaldy is famous for Gordon Brown, Jocky Wilson, the World Darts Champion, oh and that boy Adam Smith who wrote “The Wealth of Nations” and was one of the founding fathers of bourgeois economics.

So much then for the Kirkcaldy bit.

The family moved to Edinburgh when I was 13 much to my dismay and rather blighted my teenage years apart from getting away often on my own to play golf, studying horseracing form – it was the golden era of Lester Piggott, but in 1967 Noel Murless the flat race trainer and his Australian jockey won all the big races including 4 of the 5 Classics, and on the National Hunt front the great sire Vulgan had his son Foinavon win an incident packed Grand National and many other races with his progeny such as Vultrix, Bassnet and Moidore’s Token, the latter trained by Ken Oliver whose stables were in the Scottish Borders. Around this time Deep Purple had a hit in the US with a heavy version of Joe South’s “Hush” and I began to play their records all the time until they hit the big time a few years later with the “In Rock” album and thereafter the incomparable “Smoke on the Water”.

A map of Greyfriars School and its estate, as depicted on the inside front and back covers of one of Frank Richards’s books. The Billy Bunter’s stories featured on BBC TV from 1952 to 1961. Likened by by the Author to the Royal High School he was moved to aged 13.

Changing schools from Kirkcaldy High, a mixed state school to the elite boys only Royal High was a bit traumatic.    It seemed like going to Eton or perhaps Billy Bunter’s Greyfriars; changing schools at 13 is not easy as most pupils have made friends particularly those who attended the feeder Royal High Primary School at Jock’s Lodge and others who won scholarships from the local primary schools throughout Edinburgh. Into this heady, traditional brew was thrust the roughly spoken youth fae Fife! I had been in the top set at Kirkcaldy but at the Royal High found my level about halfway down 2A2. I could do the new Maths but my French accent was execrable and Science poor, however I enjoyed Latin, History, Geography and English.   The Royal High English Department was particularly excellent, and despite Sir Walter Scott  being an old boy, our teachers worked on the basis that literature began after the Second World War and we were grounded in Orwell, “A Pattern of Islands”, “Lucky Jim” and “Lord of the Flies”. We were also encouraged to write our own stories and poetry and review works of fiction we read.

Around this time I read a short story in a book we had at school which, in retrospect, had a profound effect on me. It was about golf, was a murder mystery, was written in the first person by the narrator Philip Trent.   I had warmed to Dr Watson’s narration (I always thought Sherlock Holmes, while clever, to have been a bit weird).

‘Sweet Spot’ was originally published in ‘Trent Intervenes‘ around 1938

After searching for this story for some time I found it again last week when visiting our seaside house near Berwick.   The story is ‘The Sweet Spot‘ by E C Bentley ( Edmund Clerihew Bentley 1875-1956) and was first published in 1938.   I recollect it was in a book of mystery short stories but the copy I have was published in an anthology Great Golf Stories which was published by Michael O’Mara Books Ltd ISBN 1-85479-153-2 and edited by Gordon Jarvie in 1993.    He is an Edinburgh-based writer who devised the Dictionary of Idioms (1996) and the Bloomsbury Grammar Guide. I have since tracked down the original in a book of short stories entitled ‘Trent Intervenes‘written by EC Bentley himself . This excellent book is still in print in the Collins Crime Club series.

It turns out that Philip Trent was E C Bentley’s in-house sleuth who made his first appearance paradoxically in 1913 in a full-length story entitled ‘Trent’s Last Case‘, also known as ‘The Woman in Black‘. Trent glides through the stories portraying a painter cum crime-reporter who has excellent relations with senior police officers and moves about cheerily in circles where servants abound. Many other books were written by Bentley, who was called as a barrister but instead became a journalist, a noted humourist and poet who invented the Clerihew poem, a 4 liner about a famous person involving whimsy and some rather strained rhymes. For example:

Marilyn Monroe
A girl every boy should know
Although she pretended to be a dumb blonde
Her talents were above and beyond

I imagine because of his all-round standing as a writer E C Bentley was thought fit for young Royal High boys to read.

First published 1993 – A collection of great golf stories from masters such as P G Wodehouse, F Scott Fitzgerald, Ring Lardner and John Updike

The narrator was a visitor to the fictitious Kempshill Golf Club having returned from working abroad and arranged a fortnight’s golf through the Club Secretary Captain Royden.    It appeared that an unpopular member, Arthur Freer, had been found dead on the course a few months previously in mysterious circumstances.  Although Freer was a low handicap golfer he had a bit of a temper and ended up playing 9 holes on his own most mornings before breakfast.  He was found lying dead in a hollow in the middle of the second fairway, the apparent victim of a lightning strike.   By the time the narrator arrives on the scene an inquest had already taken place and a verdict of death from misadventure returned.

The deceased was known to play a brassie (i.e. a 2 wood) for his second shot, a long blind shot over a ridge to the green, and that morning had executed the shot to perfection with the ball coming to rest within 2 feet of the pin.   The narrator does a bit of sleuthing while relaxing and playing golf at Kempshill and eventually solves the mystery that death was due to an explosion, not a lightning strike.

As a teenager brought up in a police household and weaned by my father’s slide show of grisly detective stories which turned on forensic evidence, the story intrigued me.   However in my subsequent study of Forensic Medicine and in these modern days of CSI it seems difficult to mistake a lightning strike on an otherwise fine day to an explosion which happened to kill the only person in the vicinity of that part of the golf course.   Still it is a charming tale and worth a read – I won’t spoil the plot further for you.

Other tales of skulduggery on the golf course have been written but I have spared you such a tale – so far anyway! The E C Bentley story struck a resonance with me and for a few years I was the master of the brassie – well as any 18 handicapper can be: first with a George Nicol laminated wood version and later with a graphite shafted Adams with the so-called inverted head.    Nothing is new in golf and recently I succumbed to buying mail order an American club that you can drive without a tee and features a shortish shaft and a heavy sole – why not just call the GX-7X metal hybrid teeless driver with 14 degrees of loft, a brassie !

As for the name Jock, it was a name we heard a lot in Kirkcaldy growing up as boys watching workmen brewing up tea in old Tate and Lyall sugar tins. They were invariably called Jock or Tam or Neebs, the Fife for neighbour meaning your mate.    

Lotus 43 Formula 5000

I think the Jocks were a throwback to what these men were up to during the war, but there were few Jocks about as I grew up apart from Jock Wallace the Rangers manager and former Berwick Rangers goalkeeper when the Wee Rangers beat Glasgow Rangers in the Scottish Cup in 1967, and Jock Russell who used to drive a Lotus 43 Formula 5000 single seater at Ingliston in the 1970s. It was a fearsome machine which Jock drove with verve but never quite managed to win a race. Then off course there was the inimitable Jock Stein, who managed Celtic to win many titles, including their famous 1967 European Cup win. One of my few claims to fame was that when my family moved to Edinburgh, I got the place at the Royal High vacated by Jock’s son when his father moved as manager from Hibernian to Celtic in 1965.

Then there was my colleague as a young prosecutor in the Procurator Fiscal Jock Thomson who later became an advocate and QC.    He was a bit older than the rest of us having served in the Merchant Navy and the Police before studying law.   He was tall and slim with a great court voice and a fund of stories in the Billy Connolly mould.    

Once on a lunchtime walk we were wandering about looking for bits and pieces for our holidays when we spotted some young men looking suspicious.   Jock gave them the eye and that coupled with the raincoats we were wearing was enough for the young men to put down the things they had picked up in the shop and run off thinking we were detectives.   Subsequently when at the Scottish Bar he was simply known to all and sundry as Jock.   Not many people are famous by their first name alone.

I always hoped one of my daughters would have named a son Jock or Tam but these good Scots names seem so out of fashion and replaced by US imports like Cody or Dre or characters from Game of Thrones.

Anyway Jock Kirkcaldy it is and it Googles well!

Frank R Crowe

Edinburgh January 2020 (updated 20 March 2020)

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