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Stories and Stovies

From an undated clipping, Dundee Telegraph, approx. 1966

"Real, Genuine, Heathen Cannibals"
R. D. Fox recalls the thrills of Hogmanay, 1906

Overgate - That Street of a Hundred Joys
"Overgate – That Street of a Hundred Joys"

My old school atlas, which I re-discovered the other day, made me think of much more than changed frontiers, vanished empires and fallen dynasties.

I also remembered that Hogmanay, 1906, marked the end of my schooldays

It had been a severe winter, with Dundee and district taking the full brunt of heavy snowstorms.

In the city itself snow was piled in heaps at the kerbs, leaving the pavements slushy and treacherous.

During the late afternoon of Hogmanay I had been engaged by a licensed grocer as an extra message boy, delivering "New Year stuff" in a Babbit’s powder box.

The usual order was a bottle of whisky – 2s 6d; a half bottle of rum – 1s 3d; 6 bottles of tupenny – 1s; total – 4s 9d.

Most customers handed over 5s and told me to keep the threepence.

After I had delivered my last order, and with my "New Year" money safely tucked in my pocket, I joined the Hogmanay throngs in Murraygate.

At that time shops could remain open until 11 p.m. and some of the grocers even beyond.

Panto Hits
Loudest among the raucous voices of the street hawkers were the cries of "all the latest pantomime songs a penny."

These sheets contained not only the current pantomime hits but also songs suitable for New Year parties.

"The Old Bull and Bush," sung by Florrie Forde, was being acclaimed as "Ne’er’s Song," but it was strongly challenged in popularity by "What’s the Use of Worrying Father?" sung by Rose Elliott, "the sweet singer of sensible songs," then appearing at the Palace, in Nethergate. I remember the words –

What’s the use of worrying father,
Life’s too short they say,
You may be down at the present time
But your luck will change some day.
It’s a long lane that never has a turning,
So cheer up and be gay.

The sound of the steam organs in Greenmarket usually had an irresistible attraction for me.

But I decided to postpone these pleasures and made my way to that street of a hundred joys – Overgate. Normally our parents forbade us youngsters to enter this thoroughfare.

Nearly every kind of merchandise being sold by the hawkers was quoted in relation to a penny.

"Sweet Seavile oaranges – fower a penny."
"Sweet rosy aiples – six a penny."
"Home-made toffee – penny a quarter."
"Lucky first futs – penny each."

It was the custom then for young men to carry imitation soldiers’ swagger sticks at New Year time.

Costing a penny each, they were used mostly to tease girls by knocking their hats off.

The Overgate, at holiday time, had many side shows housed in empty shops – a waxworks, the world’s tallest woman, a crackshot calling himself Captain Texas, a Mexican knife-thrower called Pedro Gonzalez, a fire-eater dressed as Mephistopheles and called Captain Wallace, a flea circus, and "real" cannibal’s.

At the entrance to the flea circus a well-known local character had been engaged as a "barker."

He assured the crowd that – "The flechs ye’ll see here are a’ Dundee flechs, a’ bred an’ catched in Paddy Rock’s lodgin’ hoose."

I marveled at the patience and skill that had gone to the harnessing and training of these insects to pull little carriages – which they did with jerky leaps.

Further up the street the "cannibals" were getting an incredible build-up.

"Ladies and gentlemen, them’s real, genuine, heathen cannibal’s, no lang captured in the wilds o’ Timbuctoo."

I forked out my penny admission. When a sufficient number had gathered inside a curtain was drawn to reveal two little black men looking like pygmies.

They had sheepskins round their waists and wore tackety boots much too big for them.

As their "manager" banged on a tom-tom they stamped their feet, uttered piercing yells and brandished large meat bones which they gnawed from time to time.

New Gramophone
I suddenly remembered that I had promised my Uncle Harry to help him carry his wonderful, newly acquired gramophone over to our house.

He was one of the first people in Dundee to own one.

Early gramophone discs, in addition to a label embodied a vocal announcement.

A voice boomed out of the huge horn giving the title of the song, the singer, and ending with "Columbia record" or "Edison-Bell record."

I have memories, too, of the rich feast of entertainment laid on for the younger generation at New Year time apart from the perennial attraction of the Greenmarket.

We had Hamilton’s Excursions, that world tour on giant rolls of painted canvas at the Kinnaird Hall, with exciting lighting and mechanical effects. There was a grand carnival with side shows in the Drill Hall.

On New Year’s Day there was a ten-hour non-stop showing of films in the old Royal Exchange – from midday until 10 p.m.

The pantomine "Little Red Riding Hood" was being staged at Her Majesty’s Theater.

In the Gilfillan Hall we had Calder’s Cinematograph.

Over and above, we had our annual Sunday school soirees and cantatas.

Since these happy days in a carefree and uncomplicated world six decades of Hogmanays have come and gone.

None has ever seemed as happy.

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