Expat turns back time with colourful memories
WHO nailed a kipper under a desk at
The Oban Times? And where did Mrs Macaulay’s wig fly off to?
Donnie MacKinnon, 87, who worked as a clerk at The Oban Times between 1944 and 1953, dropped in to our office to tell us.
‘It was a magnificent, joyful place to work,’ Donnie recalled. ‘Everyone was friends with each other. There were so many Donalds there that I was known as Bertie.’
It was a reporter calling from London, asking if we could see a ship sinking off Kerrera. Sure enough, there was Donnie MacKinnon former Oban man
The editor then was Mrs Flora Macaulay, born Flora Anne Cameron in 1859, who lived on the second floor of The Oban Times building on Corran Esplanade.
‘She was 93 and still the editor when I emigrated to Canada,’ he remembered. ‘She had been the oldest living editor. She had a partial wig on, but one day it fell off. There were eight or 10 of us looking on the beach for her wig.’
After it was found among the sand and seaweed, Mrs Macaulay gave all the staff a pound in gratitude.
‘She was the boss,’ Donnie continued. ‘She was in complete control of her paper. She insisted on endorsing every cheque. Almost always she would fall asleep while doing it, and sometimes in the middle of a signature. She would be gently woken up and she carried on as if nothing had happened.
‘No women were employed, except for herself. I didn’t know why. After the war, every man came back to the same job, no question about it. That was how she was.
‘There was only one telephone, in Mrs Macaulay’s office, and only she was allowed to answer it.’
One day, in 1945, Donnie said the phone rang and rang as Mrs Macaulay was off for her usual two-hour lunch – or a nap – with the senior of the paper’s two reporters, ‘Coffee’ Dan MacIntosh, out chasing a story.
‘You answer it, Bertie,’ ordered Mrs Macaulay’s nephew, and future editor, Alan Cameron bravely. It was a Times reporter calling from London, Donnie recalled, asking if they could see the ship sinking off Kerrera.
‘Sure enough,’ Donnie said, ‘ you could see crew members on the launches.’ The Times reporter then told his entire newsroom to listen to Donnie’s dispatch from the bay.
‘I worked in the counting house,’ Donnie remembered. ‘I was typing invoices for advertisers and the subscription list. I would deliver mail and generally run errands. The press was constantly breaking down, and we were constantly late getting the paper to the station for John Menzies.’
Once The Oban Times almost lost its contract with the newsagent, when the paper missed the train at Oban, and Donnie was sent to catch it at Connel. Their car only caught up with the locomotive as it was just pulling out of Taynuilt. ‘I had to shout: “Stop the train: it’s The Oban Times!”,’ Donnie recalled. He then had to run seven or eight heavy bundles of newspapers over the footbridge, and the contract was saved.
Another of Donnie’s jobs, every Wednesday, was making the glue for postage, mixing up flour, alum and water in a pail in the boiler room. Another day, Donnie remembered, ‘there was a terrible smell from the office, and it was getting worse. Snooky Anderson had apparently nailed a kipper under the desk one weekend and left it there, just to create havoc.
‘The front page was hatches, matches and dispatches: births, marriages and deaths. It would go up on the window every Thursday, and if people wanted to know more they could buy the paper. The big events would be a shinty match or a piping competition, the sheriff court or farming sales. The stories were very different.’
With no formal education and nothing but the skills and contacts book he acquired from The Oban Times, Donnie emigrated to Canada in 1953 aboard the SS Ascania, having worked extra hours at night as a telephone operator to save up enough money for the fare. There he worked as a commodity broker for Merrill Lynch until 1989, when he and his wife Thelma, whom he met in Canada, retired to Dunoon. Their four daughters all live in Canada, and six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren are scattered across the Americas.
Donnie and Thelma MacKinnon returned to Oban from Canada.