Ex­pat turns back time with colour­ful mem­o­ries

The Oban Times - - NEWS - SANDY NEIL sneil@oban­times.co.uk

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.

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