Memory Of Hope Mcarthur

Innes Carmichael :- I wrote this memory of Hope MacArthur in 1994

"Looking for flying flounders"

The coach engine whined in protest as it reversed slowly along the sinuous, hilly road. Muttering darkly, and drawing hard on his evil-smelling pipe, the driver leaned over to select a newspaper-wrapped parcel from the wicker hamper beside him. With a cursory attempt at aiming, he hurled it in the general direction of the farm road-end. There'd be fish for tea in that house after all.
"Are we there yet Mum?" asked the small girl, wriggling in her seat to see if anyone was around to rescue the fish parcel. "Not long now." came the patient reply, although the mother was obviously wondering how many more miles would be traveled in reverse. The number of parcels in the basket was diminishing, but Davie did have an unfortunate tendency to overlook them,unless there was a figure waiting at a gate or driveway to jog his memory -hence the backwards progression.
The coach had an odour all of it's own, leather upholstery, humanity, fish and Thick Black tobacco. Some folk found that it combined with the twisting road and erratic progress to form a queasy torture, but the small girl associated it with fun and holidays, and it troubled her not at all.
Did POPEYE forget the lady's parcel Mum? Did he?" piped the high pitched , clear voice. With an embarrassed blush her mother "shushed" her and suppressed a grin. Davie, tweed bunnet or not, was POPEYE personified - years of wrestling with large steering wheels had even endowed him with the necessary forearm musculature. A fixture on the Dunoon-St Catherine's bus route, he might overlook the odd parcel, but Montgomery's coach was part of the landscape - and everyone could rely on Davie to get them safely to their destination come what may, and, more or less, on time.
Much later, it seemed, and with the hamper almost empty, the coach drew in to Montgomery's Garage at Strachur. Some of the passengers left the bus, and a couple of rucksack laden hikers joined it. The girl's father helped them to wedge their rucksacks into one of the front seats. It was not far now to St. Catherine's with its smart hotel and slime encrusted jetty, where Davie would decant his passengers and huckle his coach around for the return trip.
Excitement mounted as I urged my father to "get the bags, we're nearly there!" -for the wriggling child was myself and I remembered that we were almost at the end of the journey when the bus hurtled down the long hill and Loch Fyne stretched out below us. Almost there, but with the best bit of the trip still to come, I could hardly contain my eagerness as I knelt on the seat and scanned the Loch.
"He's coming ,Mum! Look! It's the RED One - what does the Red One mean , Mum?" The Red One was the Red Ensign. Fluttering importantly from the flag mast on the tiny ferry as it headed unerringly for the jetty, it "meant" that there were passengers for the coach - and Davie would await the ferry's arrival if he knew what was good for him! The appearance of the White Ensign told him that he was free to execute one of his startling about-turns and head off for Dunoon…but not today, today it was the Red One!.
As Dad marshaled the family luggage, and Mum buttoned me into my velvet collared coat, I spied an old, lame ewe hirpling up the road. "Look! There's Bandy Legged Lizzy!" I yelled in delight. Blushing furiously once more, my poor mother had quite a job convincing the rather stiff-jointed woman who happened to be struggling down the coach steps that I didn't mean her! The original Lizzie was a pet lamb kept in outrageous luxury at my Uncle's farm in Inveraray.
The ferry, meanwhile, was in the process of tying up at the jetty, and it's disparate collection of passengers alighting with varying degrees of agility. We watched with amused interest as the ferryman deftly unloaded a couple of bicycles while their obviously city-bred owners fussed around him.
If Davie looked like Popeye then, in later years I was to realise that Hop MacArthur was the image of the actor, Duncan Mac Rae -especially in his role of Para Handy. From the tip of his merchant seaman's cap to the toes of his snow-white plimsolls he was every inch the seaman. His craggy, square-jawed face was stern and weather beaten, the mouth a straight line, crow's feet and frown lines from staring into the wind giving a forbidding cast to his expression. At first sight an almost grim face, but, on taking a second glance the eyes, which twinkled with mischief, gave a different impression - as many a tourist was to find to their cost!
Hope turned his attention to this new lot of passengers. The gimlet gaze swept over us all, missing nothing. The presence of my family was noted of a certainty, as the first salvo was fired even as we walked down the jetty.
"That's the weather had it now, all right…here's the crew from Greenock -and they'll have brought their weather with them! Rain for a fortnight-and all their fault!"
In grave danger of slipping on the virulent green weed which covered the slipway, I stamped towards him, fists balled at my sides in fury, hotly denying this patent injustice at the top of my shrill little voice. Of course, my crumpled face and obvious fury entertained Hope thoroughly and put him in a rare humour for more sport. Mum, as a native of Glen Aray, knew what to expect and, whilst enjoying the fun, had great difficulty stopping herself from laughing out loud once Hope was in full flow.
Once all the passengers were safely aboard and the tickets purchased, the luggage expertly stowed out of the way, Hope prepared to cast off. As he was untying one of the lines, a movement further up the jetty caught his eye. It was two anglers, their rods nodding and the flaps of their canvas bags gaping like mouths as they scurried gingerly down the greasy jetty. Hope slowly straightened, arms folded, eyes narrowed, his expression unreadable.
"Aye here they come right enough! A fusherman's tale -wet Erse and nae fush".
The, by now, scarlet faced and flustered fishermen were duly attended to and settled and we were underway!

The next part of my mother's ordeal now loomed. Hope deposited me on top of the engine cover, my small feet placed on the tiny brass wheel so that I could"steer" the boat -bliss! Free board between me and the "bottomless Loch Fyne was around 3".
"oh Hope, be careful, she's all we've got!" my mother implored.
"Shut up wummun. Who the Hell worried about you when you were at the same thing?" was the reply. As a child, she had been taken out on the loch fishing by an elderly man who had suffered a stroke. The boat was small, the children couldn't swim, and the old boy was semi-paralysed. Hope had a point, and she knew it but it didn't really help as she watched me teetering oblivious but happy atop the engine box.

A pair of lady "towrists" had been deep in discussion as to the purpose of the tower, Dunchuach, which they could see on top of the hill above Inveraray Castle. One of the braver ones asked Hope what it was. "It's a spare toilet for the Castle" was his reply -deadpan as usual. On other occasions it became "an airmen s' canteen left over from the War - they used to swoop down and get handed their mugs of cocoa and never have to land. Sometimes they'd make a second pass if they wanted a piece!"
Dependent on his mood, and the manner of the person asking the question, Hope would tailor his answer accordingly. Another of his ploys was to convince visitors, usually English ones that "the flounder's the fastest fush in the sea. Often ah've seen them myself as they jump oot o' the watter and flap their fins like wings and fly along the surface to save time!" His acid tongue was used without fear or favour on everyone. On one occasion a rather grand lady who had been visiting the Castle made great mileage out of her "sore leg", thus giving Hope much fuss and bother getting her installed onto his ferry. Eventually he had to carry her bodily on board and as she was no light weight it had been quite a task. The whole performance repeated in reverse at the other side, and his back must have been protesting after these Herculean efforts. As she walked up the jetty at St Catherine's she was alarmed by Davie revving his bus engine, and, convinced she was about to be left behind, began to break into a run. "Ther's no Hellish much up wi' yer leg noo!" roared Hope, in disgust.

A popular figure at local concerts, Hope had a pleasing baritone which he used to good effect in renditions of "It's a grand life, a Bobby" and "Tillietudlums Castle". His ferry served as a vital transport link in the days before the road improvements which were to render it redundant. He was very proud of his ferry which he had sailed round to Loch Fyne from Eyemouth, and I often wonder what happened to it when it was no longer needed.
Life moved on. Inveraray got a new road, and a new Primary School.My cousin came home from his first day in the new school in a dreadful rush to get to the bathroom. "For goodness sake. There ARE toilets in the school you know," said my aunt. "yes, Mum - but I don't think we're allowed to use them." was his grave reply.
The Janitor was Hope MacArthur!