This is the latest of the Author’s essays seeking to fill in corners of the background to Jock Kirkcaldy’s assorted characters. Jimmy Gibb first enters Jock’s world as a 17 year old entrant in the Scottish Boys Golf Championship. The story called ‘The Boy’s Champion’ describes it thus:
“I will never forget the moment Jimmy Gibb arrived; the locker room door crashed open and it came this tall guy with an ancient worn leather pencil bag slung over his right shoulder, and a Tennant’s lager plastic carrier bag in his other hand which seemed to contain a few bits and pieces. He had spiky hair, a scar down his left cheek and was wearing black drainpipes trousers, black suede brothel creeper shoes and a double breasted black cowboy-type shirt which had white piping on the front and cuffs. He didn’t say anything and made to sit down at an empty part of the bench. “That’s someone’s seat!” I shouted. “Well he’s no here,” replied the newcomer. He took off his shoes revealing day-glo socks and proceeded to put on a plain pair of black golf shoes which had ‘kilties,’ fringed tongues covering the laces.
This essay describes the character who the Author knew when he was young man, whose name he used in the eponymous story in the Jock Kirkcaldy book.
When I was searching for a character name for The Boys’ Champion story I thought he should have an ordinary working class name. No point in calling him Sherlock or Mycroft, or my own favourite Hepolite. I once saw a picture of the magnificently named Mr Hepolite Cornillon WS who started Messrs Cornillon Craig and Co, solicitors in George Street Edinburgh in the 1880s. He was wearing a huge bushy white beard with Hat and looked like George Bernard Shaw. The firm represented my parents in the 1960s when they arrived in Edinburgh. The late Mr Stewart of that firm met them in the passing, and when he found out they had just lost out blind bidding (part of the Scottish legal system) on a house in Craigleith Road, said he had one nearby in an executory which he could sell, sold as seen, before it came on the market. Such behaviour would be regarded s unethical nowadays to act for both sides in a conveyancing transaction but he was a kindly man and a deal was struck which was mutually beneficial to my parents and the trustees of the deceased lady’s estate who were spared the fees in marketing the property.
Many years later around 2000 the firm was winding down and the long lease in Chester Street where they practised had had only two partners left They were a couple in their 60’s who had been at University with my big sister Eve, and no more than a couple of staff.
The firm had employed the Miss Haversham technique where when a partner had retired or died they simply closed off that room. When Eve and I visited to buy some law books, as they were going to relocate the business to their home, we met up in an antediluvian secretary’s room which contained pigeon holes stuffed with wills and executory papers. Most of the clients had died but winding up an estate was quite a lucrative business and this what the firm now seemed to specialise in.
There was a mains operated comptometer machine to add up the fees, a telephone and a manual typewriter and that was it. No sign of any computer stuff but I digress……
Giving the Character a Name
My hero had to be called Jimmy and after rejecting various Mc’s and Mac’s for the surnames I thought what better than to name the hero of the tale after my “Uncle Jimmy” from the Kirkcaldy days of my youth. My parents were both only children and while my maternal grandmother had come from a large family in North Berwick with relatives we still saw, my father had very few relatives, so the two couples who lived nearby and knew my grandmother, became surrogate Aunts and Uncles.
The Gibbs, Nannie and Jimmy were a childless couple who lived in the bottom left house of a block of four at 57 Kennedy Crescent, Kirkcaldy, and “Uncle Peter and Auntie May” lived in the top right flat in a block of four at 57 King Street in the street above. The two men didn’t know each other too well but could see one another from their gardens and would wave to one another and through our family got to know each other better. My grandmother Nellie had worked in a telephone exchange after World War 1 in North Berwick, alongside Peter and May. They must have kept up and got in touch with one another once we moved to Kirkcaldy and granny came to live with us. My Dad used to say darkly that Uncle Peter had been in the Black and Tans back in the day, but I didn’t realise what that meant at the time. Once I learned more I found that knowledge incompatible with the kindly old gent I knew. Peter and May’s daughters had grown up, both had gone to University in the 1950’s, married and moved away South. I only knew of them from their graduation photos which were proudly displayed in the living room and I think were the first such photos I’d ever seen.
I think my granny met Nannie’s Mum at an old folks club and the families got to know one another better. My Dad being a police officer was fairly cautious about making fiends but both couples were decent working class folk from an era now gone. The houses were good, each had front and back gardens and a bit of privet hedge in what was a good area of local authority homes. Our house was a semi-detached nearby in which street also lived the local MP, the Deputy Chief Constable and the Town Chamberlain. Needless to say these houses were all snapped up when the right-to-buy came along in the 1980’s. When I learned about the Chartists in History lessons later at school I agreed with most of their demands like annual Parliaments – we tire of politicians quicker than they think. The other unmet claim was each family should have a house with a garden.
When I lived in Dundee in the mid 1970s, as a young lawyer, I was pleased to note that most of the flats near us which were demolished, just off the Arbroath Road between Baffin Street and Peep O’ day Lane were replaced with “Walk-up Houses” which were much lower than our tenement blocks, and while quite densely packed, were interspersed with garden areas. The same was done in Lower Granton in Edinburgh when the infamous “Trainspotting” blocks which were a boon for muggers with their long passageways and dense bushes nearby were replaced by proper homes with gardens.
Visiting the Gibbs
We used to go for tea as a family to both houses and the main attraction at the Gibbs was that they had a Radio Rentals black and white TV set, years before we did.
I was invited along to see” Champion the Wonder Horse” and “Superman”. Jimmy was a carpenter and worked all his life at Nairn Williamson’s, the linoleum manufacturers. He got the gold watch after 51 years service then retired to look after Nannie who was crippled with arthritis. He used to work a 5 1/2 day week like many then, and had to do a half day on Christmas Day morning, but enjoyed when we went along before lunch (or dinner time as we called it) to show off our presents. Nanny had a beautiful complexion and a kindly face but her hands were twisted with arthritis and her feet were not much better judging from her increasing immobility. I also watched the wrestling on TV on Saturday afternoons after seeing Motocross and Rugby League on BBC with commentary on the latter by the great Yorkshireman Eddie Waring of “it’s and oop and under!” fame. I’m not much of a rugby fan and hated playing the game at school but sometime must go to see a Friday night league game at Hunslet, with the smell of fish and chips in the air.
Uncle Jimmy used to take me to see the motor cycle racing at Beveridge Park in Kirkcaldy. Nannie and Jimmy used to go holidays to the Isle of Man to see the TT races and Jimmy was very enthusiastic about the sport. He was a very mild mannered man and I don’t think he ever had a motor bike nor could he drive a car.
The Beveridge Park track was narrow and in places had a high crown in the middle of the road. It was flanked by substantial trees and fatalities were not uncommon.
Once the late great Bob McIntyre came to race there, shortly before he was killed in 1962 at Oulton Park. Jimmy timed him on his watch and was able to say, before the announcement came over, that he had broken the lap record. Jimmy Rae was another great Scots motorcyclist we watched and the Peatman brothers, Bill and Alf who both raced and had a motor cycle business on the Thornton Road just outside Kirkcaldy.
However my hero was Brian McAnelly who raced his own design of sidecar the BMS (Brian McAnelly Special). He used to win regularly and even raced at the Isle of Man but was killed at Beveridge Park in 1966 when his machine hit a tree and he was thrown over the handlebars into the trunk. I’m glad I was not at that meeting.
“We also went with my Dad to see Raith Rovers playing football at Stark’s Park. In one of the early games there I saw the legendary Jim Baxter playing for Raith when he was still a part-timer.
He was sold in June 1960 to Rangers for the then Scottish record fee of £17,500. Raith used the money to buy floodlights and Baxter went on to have a stellar career until drink, birds and gambling caught up with him. George Best was just a copycat. On another visit to Stark’s Park one Easter we saw Raith Rovers play a charity match against a Showman’s Guild select in the run up the Links Market. Like most things in 2020 this funfair has been cancelled but normally it starts off the Scottish season of “shows” with waltzers, dodgems and miles of stalls along the Lang Toon’s promenade after which the showmen disperse to various smaller fairs throughout Scotland.
Needless to say when at the Links Market I went with Dad and Uncle Jimmy to see the Wall of Death where there were some truly terrifying stunts carried out by two contra-rotating motor cyclists on ancient JAP engined motor bikes and I vaguely recall an attractive young woman somewhere in the performance as well. It scared me off ever wanting to ride a motor bike. I just like looking at them.
Jimmy Gibb it is
I realise in writing this that I may have been like the son the Gibbs didn’t have. They loved my big sister too but she was away at University in the early 1960s and I got all their attention. After retiring, Jimmy looked after Nannie who by this time was housebound. Nannie’s mother (Auld Judy as my dad called her) had died some years earlier. Jimmy was out getting the messages in one morning at the Co-op when he collapsed and died presumably of a heart attack, 9 months after retiring. It was a great shock as he was a fit man who never seemed to be ill. Nannie lived on for about 15 years as a widow, latterly staying in a nursing home nearby. When I passed my driving test aged 17, my father bravely leant me his car to drive solo from Edinburgh to Kirkcaldy to see Nannie. It was about this time, shortly after Jimmy’s death that she gave me his gold watch with the inscription on the back about James C Gibb’s long years of service. It is one of my most treasured possessions.
Auntie Nannie’s Funeral
My diary entry for Monday 8 September 1986 is headed ‘Auntie Nannie’s Funeral’. Poor Auntie Nannie: she had terrible arthritis but was always cheery and she and Uncle Jimmy were good ordinary folk – examples to all and cornerstones of my happy childhood in Kirkcaldy. I shall miss them but have lots of happy memories of their home at 57 Kennedy Crescent.
I found death notice for Nannie. Agnes Emma Pearson or Gibb aged 75 years who died at Victoria Hospital Kirkcaldy aged 75 years on 2 September 1986, “beloved wife of the late James Gibb”. Her address was given as 1 Turriff Place which I think was the house where I visited her.
The service at Kirkcaldy Crematorium took place at 11 30 so I went into the office, did some work, then left at 10, picked up my father at Craigleith Road and we drove to Kirkcaldy.
It was a beautiful day. We went via Auchtertool (on the B925) then attended the funeral. Afterwards there was a cuppa at the Victoria Hotel. We drove home via Winifred Crescent (our old home in Kirkcaldy) and the coast- the A921 via Kinghorn, Burntisland and Aberdour. The end of an era.
I believe Rebus fans queue up and pay to be named as a character in the latest Ian Rankin thriller even if they get killed in the first chapter (Alastair has recounted how he knows someone who did just that). That seems a bit naff to me. I could never repay Jimmy for being one of the many father figures in my life; I had a great Dad but he was often busy at work when I was young and I was away from home in later life and it helps to have these role models taking an interest in you, not giving advice but showing by example. My character is nothing like the real Jimmy Gibb; he never played golf, only a bit of putting at Beveridge Park, but had a hard working, modest, happy life, and he deserves his place in print.
@Frank Crowe 2020