Enid Blyton: Clippie

31 07 2010

Many readers will recall that Enid Blyton lived in Stornoway for part of the 1950’s (she worked as a clippie on Mitchell’s Buses and lived on Bayhead St) where she got the inspiration to write her well loved ‘Fleekin’ Hardy Five’ series. This long running series of 10 books set in Lewis, took the idea of the Secret Seven and Famous Five and transposed the events and participants into a Stornowegian setting. Although very popular at the time of publishing, subsequent changes in the social order of the country saw the books and the author coming under fierce criticism for the books portrayal of the outdated class system.

Whilst in Stornoway Blyton also wrote a number of ‘Sacred Seven’ stories about the adventures of seven Free Church Elders. These included ‘Seven Go To The Communions’, ‘Seven Buy a New Funeral Hat’, ‘Seven Have a Differing View of The Interpretation of the Scriptures’, ‘Seven Have a Schism’ and, last in the series, ‘Four Go To The Continuing’.

In her Fleekin’ Hardy Five books Blyton portrayed the characters as upper-middle class, (the four Maclennan siblings and their collie dog, Lassie), when in reality, at that time everyone in Stornoway was as common as fleek.

In the books the MacLennan’s had well-off parents; in this case the father was a Manager in Sticky’s Mill, the Mother was a stay at home mum, who shopped in Murdo MacLeans but relied on Mrs Morrison, the cook, to hold the domestic life of the house together; and a range of supporting characters to provide adventure and excitement.

The supporting characters were undoubtedly all seen as either nasty ‘maws’ from ‘beyond the cattle grid’, who spent their time poaching, smuggling or sheep rustling. Other citizens of the town were seen as little more than working class supporting characters, purely in the story to drive it forward. Blyton portrayed areas of the town, such as the Battery, as dodgy no-go areas, with bullies, nasty chaps and unwashed fishwives aplenty.

The books were withdrawn from usage in the 1970’s and soon disappeared from memory, apart from a few copies turning up in Town Hall Sales of Work.

Enid herself left Stornoway in the late 1950’s, unhappy at being made to do the West Side Circle bus route.

We are fortunate to be able to bring you an extract from one of Blyton’s best loved books ‘Five Go Fleekin’ Mental At Arnish Point’.


The Fleekin Hardy Five, whilst out for a trek to Manor Farm to collect some milk (lashings and lashings of it) for Mrs Morrison to enable her to make scones for a yummy afternoon snack, come upon some bad boys from the Battery who are up to no good. The leader of the gang, a nasty crewcut fellow with a scar and tackitty boots, calls them nasty names ( ‘You’re a fleekin’ fleeker!’ most likely).

Forced to run away, the Fleekin’ Hardy Five come upon a dead end on Sand Street. Just as the Battery Boys get closer to their hiding place in a gorse bush, Lassie chases a rabbit and finds a ventilation shaft for Stornoway’s underground railway (see previous entry). They decide to climb down.

Chapter Seven

‘Gosh’ said Calum Murdo, as he peered through the jaggy gorse bush, ‘that’s a simply splendid idea.’

‘Ohhh yes,’ added Kirsty Peigi, ‘you are awfully clever Angus. We’d never have thought of that!’

‘It wasn’t all me,’ blushed Angus, patting Lassie’s head. ‘If Lassie hadn’t sniffed out that rabbit, I’d never have spotted the secret entrance.’

‘Are you sure the tunnel will be safe?’ asked Chrissie Mairi, peering down the hatchway into the gloom. ‘I don’t like dark places.’

‘It will. Don’t you worry!’ said Calum Murdo. ‘If we stay here, those terrible children from the Battery will catch us.’

Kirsty Peigi nodded her head in agreement with Calum Murdo. ‘Yes, don’t you worry, Chrissie Mairi. As soon as we climb down into the tunnel, we’ll be safe from those nasty oiks.’

‘Well…. right then,’ said Chrissie Mairi, bravely trying her hardest not to let the side down by sobbing like a soppy girlie. ‘Oh I do wish Mummy was here.’

‘Shhhh, you silly sausage!’ said Calum Murdo. ‘They’ll hear us!’

At that very moment, the biggest of the Battery Boys turned and looked over in their direction. All four of Fleekin’ Hardy Five ducked for cover behind the bush and watched in horror as he pulled a large catapult from out of his torn and second hand Harris Tweed jacket. The boy bent to pick up a stone, and the children ducked lower, even Kirsty Peigi whimpering just a little bit. But just then Calum Murdo felt something under his hand. He looked down at it and a clever idea came to him.

‘Quickly now! Lets climb down the ladder!’ he yelled, as he threw the old potato, for that’s what it was, towards the villains.

As quick as a flash, the children raced to the hatch and climbed down the ladder. Angus looked back and saw the potato hit the bully square on the nose. The bully fell to the ground and his gang ran off, fearful for the terrible beating they would surely get once kindly PC Macpherson found about their nasty scheme.

Meanwhile, Chrissie Mairi had reached the bottom of the ladder. It was terribly dark in the tunnel, but she could make out faint shapes around her. Soon she was joined by the others.

‘Are all you chaps fine?’ asked Calum Murdo. ‘Just let me take a roll call to make sure!’

As the children lined up across the railway line, Kirsy Peigi said, ‘Gosh Calum Murdo! You were so brave up there. I bet that nasty bully regrets starting all that now!’

‘I say,’ said Angus, ‘lets have three cheers for Calum Murdo!!’

‘Oh, lets, do!’ said Chrissie Mairi. ‘Hip Hip!’ she yelled at the top of her voice.

Just then, the 3.15 from Goathill Farm to Manor Farm hit the Fleekin’ Hardy Five and splattered their remains across the side of the tunnel with lashings and lashings of blood.

An Incredulous Eye On The Isles Through The Ages- Part One

8 03 2010

Many people will be familiar with the Outer Hebridean blog called ‘An Incredulous Eye On The Isles’. This blog has become essential reading for islanders and exiles over the last few years- a sort of ‘Private Eye’ for Hebridean happenings. It has drawn attention to a wide variety of local (and national) issues involving public authorities, politicians and men of the cloth.

Unbeknownst to most readers, this blog can trace its roots back several hundred years, to the time when the Hebrides were part of the Viking sphere of influence. The first recorded instance of AIEOTI was known as ‘An Incredulous Eye-socket On The Isles’ (remember, this was Viking times when things were of a more violent nature). Back then, as now, it was at the forefront of raising awareness of foul deeds, exposing alleged corruption & incompetence in high places and forthcoming orgies of destruction (although there’s not so much about orgies in it nowadays).

Of course, it appeared in a much different format back then, in the days before books.The first version of AIEOTI used the medium of Viking Runes, intricately carved on rock to tell the story of how the local Thingvellir (the local parliament) planned to fill in a large section of the Bayhead River with large ollacs to make a 24 hour ‘sail -through’ Viking Funeral Pyre. The runes telling the full scandalous story were carved on a large rock near the top of Gallows Hill. However, it took 2 years to complete the carving and by then the town had lost interest in the in-fill proposals.

Some years later, towards the end of the Viking influence on Lewis, AIEOTI was tried out in the format of the Norse Saga. These saga’s soon became as well known as the Icelandic Saga’s, with a particularly famous one relating to proposals for Viking raiding parties to leave Stornoway on Odin’s Day. The local tradition had long been in favour of no Odin’s Day activity of any kind. However, there was a growing support for long ship owner Carl Magnus (or Carl-Mag, as he was known) to introduce an Odin’s Day sailing to allow for mainland plundering.

“Those that follow Odin’s way, would never sail ‘pon Odin’s Day,

To cross the Minch for work or play, but on the Ljodahus (Leodhas) they’d rather stay.

But those liberal-minded warrior bands, who would rather follow Thor’s demands

Have long campaigned for a show of hands, to let them pillage far flung lands.

But the Thingvellir is split asunder, ‘tween days of rest ‘gainst days of plunder

Some say the long ship must surely founder, and all aboard get wet as a flounder

Odins Day Observance Society, strongly protests with great piety

That they surely tell no lie-ity, that Holy Day breakers must surely fry-ity

Carl Magnus is keen to sail, across the Minch (even midst gale)

Protestors at the pier dost wail, whilst supporters slake with strong ale”

The Odin’s Day sailings did eventually start and proved very popular (apart from the people getting plundered obviously) and didn’t result in Ragnarok.

Ye Zounds In Ye Groundes

31 08 2009

The ‘Sounds in the Grounds’ Festival in Stornoway has a long and distinguished history and has been responsible for bringing the finest musical talents to island audiences for centuries.

The first recorded evidence of Sounds In The Grounds dates back to Viking times, when the Stjornoway Gazette, the local news parchment, carried an article on the performance of local Norse minstrels ‘Our Longship Activities’ who had headlined the very first Festival.

The Norse influenced period of Sounds in the Grounds continued for several years until the organisers had to give up due to the huge expense involved in replacing burnt and pillaged tents each year. This followed the tradition of the headline act setting fire to the stage and setting it adrift in the harbour. The organiser, a shaggy Viking named Ijnnes The Tent Post, was however, instrumental in starting the movement to bring popular musical culture to the Hebrides.

Fast forwarding to the Georgian period saw an attempt by Lord Seaforth, the owner of Lewis, to try and raise the cultural profile of his subjects, by bringing a number of famous classical composers to play at ‘Ye Foundf in the Groundf’.

Johan Sebastian Bach was invited to headline in 1725 where he premiered his famous ‘Buntatta and Fugue in D minor’. His performance went down so well with the crowds that Lord Seaforth declared that the village of Boke, down in Broadbay, would be renamed Bach in his honour, Unfortunately, the Comhairle workmen took the name down wrong and the sign that went up was spelt ‘Back’ by mistake.

Ludwig van Beethoven was asked to perform at the 1800 festival, but unfortunately it was here that the famous composer went deaf after having his ear pecked by an angry guga.

In 1940 Glenn Millar was the main draw to the festival. To an audience made up of locals and servicemen, Millar and his jazz band performed his favourites ‘In The Moor’ and ‘Little Brown Trout’.

Another notable Sounds in the Grounds took place in 1968 during the heyday of ‘Hippydom’, when Jefferson Tractor and The Graap-full Dead (featuring Jerry Garsiarach) held a four day ‘Piece Festival’ where everyone exchanged recipes for sandwiches. (marag dubh and marmalade was a firm favourite with the festival crowds).

The Discovery of the New (and Old) World

21 07 2009

It’s well known that the Vikings have a cast iron claim to have discovered the New World around 1000AD- a good few hundred years before yon Christopher Columbus cove. But it’s a little known fact that Leif Erikson actually set off for the far side of the Atlantic from Lewis. Eric the Red, Leif’s father had been banished from his Sandwick homelands for over claiming his sheep subsidy and had already fled west to discover Greenland in 985AD (mistakenly thinking that it was Ullapool- he was always getting port and starboard mixed up). Some years later, Leif was sent back to Lewis by his old man to stock up on blackpuddings.  However, on his return journey with a longship full of marags, Leif decided to keep on rowing as far west as he could to see where he would end up.

At the same time as Leif was heading west, an intrepid party of Mi’kmaq Indians were setting sail from their homelands in present day Nova Scotia. They were aiming to see how far east they could get before falling off the edge of the world. Under the leadership of their chief Padd’ehh-W’aq, the Native Americans set out in a large raft made out of dug-out Spruce trees.

With friendly waves, the two bands of explorers took their leaves and set out for their respective destinations, buoyed with the knowledge that there was dry land waiting them at either side of the Atlantic and not sudden drops into space.

As fortune would have it, at exactly the same time, some two weeks later, Leif set foot in Newfoundland and Padd’ehh-W’aq set foot in Uig on the Isle of Lewis.The Lewis Vikings made the Mi’kmaq very welcome after hearing that they had passed Leif in mid Atlantic. The Native Americans were showered with gifts of marags and chess pieces by the Vikings and in return the Mi’kmaq gave presents of tweed patterns and a really good recipe for guga.

Before leaving to return to the America’s, the Mi’kmaq chief presented the local Church of Odin with an ornate carved bone amulet depicting the two Atlantic crossings. This notable occasion passed into common folklore as ‘Mi’kmaq Padd’ehh-W’aq Gave A God A Bone’