The Doric Columns
Snuffy Ivy, a damsel of the evening in her forties, with a cleft palate, TB and epilepsy, charged her customers a shilling. She specialised in farmers and farm servants on a Friday, and had adopted the Woollies marketing approach of low profit, but high turnover to make her living. She had no teeth, a pop star blonde hairstyle of 40’s vintage, a la the Andrews Sisters with hair tucked in to a nylon stocking band tied 'roon the heid' to form an outer ring. Blondish hair, a woollen overcoat and a cheery manner. All her services were performed outdoors. She was constantly drunk and yelled out obscene language at little provocation. I was once in a butcher’s shop getting some messages in King Street. Snuffy Ivy was in the queue in front of me. She suddenly dropped on to the sawdusted floor, and began flailing about in a fit, with sawdust rising everywhere like a Sahara sandstorm. She was having a Grand Mal seizure. I didn’t know that, and simply fled for my life. My mum sent me to another butcher. Customers told her the butcher had to dust off Snuffy Ivy’s sawdust from his cut meat laid out that day.
Big Bertha was a 60 something, rotund woman, with long, curly, once upon a time red hair, massive breasts to waist level, which she supported on her folded forearms, and an exceptionally big, ugly, lumpy face, like a tattie. I think she was the most unfeminine female I’ve ever seen. She importuned from her doorway in East North Street, all day, and got especially busy when the fish and chip shop queue reached her door. She charged a shilling and operated out of her room in East North Street. Her customers were mostly locals, very down on their luck.
The Battle Axe, another in her 50s, had a room in West North Street, and charged five shillings. She too specialised in farmers, but hers had some taste, and some sleazy local shopkeepers. Every year some wag at Marischal College would put up a notice advertising accommodation for a student at her address. Her services were mostly split between her own place, and her customers’, such as a store in Farrier Lane, or sometimes in amongst the demolition rubble there, where her evening tricks from the pub got serenaded by the colony of stray cats, and their ankles bitten by her wee dog. She bought a lot of batteries and bulbs from my granda’s shop. In looks, she was stocky, with dyed hair, a mottled complexion, a hatchet chin, a mooth like a torn pooch, and a cheerful but wary manner. She dressed neatly, drank like a fish but I never saw her drunk.
Farrier's Lane, 8 West North st to Meal Market Lane & West North Street
You might ask how I know all this? By 8 yrs old, I was paid sixpence a week to serve and run messages for my grandfather. Saturday, I served from 1pm - 6pm, then later to 8pm on late night closing, when he stood us a free fish supper. During the week, I served after school, until 6pm. I served all the locals who came in, and fixed the torches of the ladies of the night. I’d put in new bulbs and No 8 batteries, sometimes fix the switch, or a dent in the torch. I didn’t specialise in them, just did it when it was my turn to serve. The damsels of King Street were all affa nice tae me, and consumed a lot of batteries. The Battle Axe used to make me cringe by telling my mother how handsome I was, and what a marvellous man I’d be. She said there was something about my eyes made her think I’d be a great public speaker.
One lassie who was on the game, has haunted me all my life. She appeared out of nowhere, one wet day, hitting up the shop customers in our shop doorway. She might have been 15. I was about eleven, and serving at the counter. She was very beautiful, in a dark Heilan way, with a quiet voice. I heard her saying she charged a pound. Then Snuffy Ivy grabbed one of her potential customers, a well heeled farmer the lassie had bailed up at our door, and shouted “Nivver min’ her! A bob an’ ye kin hae me!” The bonnie quine lost her trick. My mother moved the lassie on from our door, threatening her wi' the bobbies. She didn’t come back, but roved the neighbourhood for some years. Her beautiful face became thinner, and she developed dark circles around her eyes. Often she was staggering drunk. Sometimes she vanished for weeks. The last time I saw her, I was walking down to my new job at Hall Russell’s drawing office, and she was maybe 20, I was 16. There she was at about 8am, lying on the cassies with a shared VP bottle of wine, and a saturnine trawlerman, beside a trawler at the quayside. She was cackling drunk. Same brown tweed coat when I first saw her with at 15 years old. She was still beautiful, a look of childish innocence. That scene has always upset me. Could I have done anything? Could she have been saved for a sweet normal life? I think I wanted to save her, but commonsense intervened. My granddad said she was a soul lost forever. My guess is that Snuffy Ivy started off just like that, and had once been as bonnie..
Maybe Snuffy Ivy had the fit in the Castlegate butcher's....I
canna mind fit shop I was in. After one Girl dumped me in 1958, and
broke my heart, I was walking down East North St with an absolute lookalike to
her, on our way to the beach. She was an affa bonnie quine, a nurse, fae
Inverurie, much prettier than my original girl, but looked like her sister. She
lacked the Ex's sense of humour, however. We walked past a demolished
tenement, opposite the Model Lodging House, where there was a ring of
seated, feekie drinkers sitting around a fire of demolished wood. One of them,
an old tink, I recognised as a customer from our shop, patriarch of a big tinker
family which bought all their poaching gear from our shop: and without thinking,
I shouted "Aye, aye, Mr Lindsay!'' He shouted back "Aye, aye Mr Calder!
Dae ye wint a skoof? Ye've gote a bobbie-dazzler o'a lassie there!" he raised
his bottle up in the air, and fell sideways! The Inverurie nursie quine
was mortified. I had her going on about how could I know someone like
that, why did he call me Calder? How could I speak to him when I was with her?
Did I realise how embarrassed she was - etc etc.
Our relationship didn't blossom after that!
East North Street and the area ‘Roon the Modler’ (Model Lodging House) as it was locally referred to - 33 East North Street.,
The Friday Market sited on Justice Street/Estnorth Street It had been held in the Castlegate for many centuries until it was relocated due to the growing amount of traffic there. The Model Lodging House was 33 East North Street and was converted into flats in 1997. Impromptu exhibitions of strength were often displayed on market days in the tenement gaps in the condemned housing of East North Street by young men sword swallowing, link chain ingesting and tearing up telephone directories for a round wi a hat for coin collection. The rewards soon used for Feek
Abandoned tenements were awash with what mither called ‘feekie’ drinkers as transient dossers. They imbibed all sorts of fire waters of the cheapest and most dangerous feek.
Feekie Drinks and Substitutes
Brasso – this metal polish was strained through a sock or cloth to remove the abrasive agent and yield up the solvent spirit for an instant but risky buzz.
VP Rich Ruby Wine – this was cheap fortified chemical style wine of very short vintage probably from extracts so no import duty. Made by Vine Products in Villiers Road, Kingston on Thames, and sold from a shop at the bottom of the Tuesday market place in East North Street. It had a ready flow of customers and a fine collection of Toby Jugs in the Window which we admired through the glass. VP was also known as 'Vapourised Piss' in Aberdeen. Before fine wines were generally on sale.
Toon Gas Milk – the Feekies if they were lucky enough to find the then Coal Gas Supply still connected would bubble such through the milk with a rubber tube connection and the Gas impregnated the milk with strong Hallucinogenic compounds to give the High they craved for – nothing much changes eh.
Methylated Spirit - Wood Alcohol
Surgical Spirit - Rubbing Alcohol
Dope - Model Makers Glue fro sniffing.
The Modler – A Model Home indeed where the better off down and outs would get a nights digs and wash and brush up with de-louse added in the style of the Nazi dusting given to Concentration Camp inmates. The entrance was white sanitary bricks throughout but we never ventured more than a wee look in the Lobby for fear of such downtrodden inmates.
The Aberdeen Arms – the ‘Hairy Bar’ in the basement just next door to your great Emporium of a shop where we bocht our fishing lines, hooks and sinkers to catch Seaths, Mackerel and Eels from the oil laden Harbour steps – you mother was ever vigilant when we entered the shop and her eyes and ears were alert to these wee scavengers. We admired everything from Jews Harps to Bicycles as we announced our entrance on the hollow wooded floor with our tackety boots and your alert, vigilant mother would appear as if by magic. More careful establishments added the self ringing doorbell on a spring.
Prostitutes – Snuffy Ivy was still active late 50's in our apprenticeships and many a pub doorway sufficed her trade after closing hours but I never gained intimate knowledge of her condition – my granny related stories of her, Cove Mary, Biscuit Facie and Cinnamon Hole as solicitous competitive contemporaries with a ready supply of wide eyed country cheel’s and drunken sailors to indulge in. I fear if such a nuisance were being committed beneath my mothers window a good deal of night water would have been dispensed from the Pail. Many a street in London in the early 60’s had signs saying – Commit No Nuisance! An all encompassing warning when chance plodding Police were about.
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