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Roamin' in the Gloamin'

I WOULD be about eighteen when I started to "love a lassie"! The tender passion comes early to the boys and girls in the Black Country. At least it did so in my time. We were men and women at sixteen and seventeen. School days were left far behind. We were battling for bread at an age which today would be looked upon as childhood. I was "boss o' the hoose" when I was thirteen; a year or two later I was a man earning a man's pay and with a man's outlook on life. Was it to be wondered at, therefore, that I early fell under the spell of two bonnie blue eyes and a mass of dark curls when the former flashed a look at me from a Salvation Army "ring" in the Black's Well one Sunday afternoon? I was smitten on the spot. I was captured and enraptured It was love at first sight—first, last, and only. Annie Vallance—Nance! It's just on forty years ago, but I can scarcely write the dear name for the feelings that memory causes to surge within me. If ever a bonnie lassie knocked a young fellow "tapsalteerie" (literally, dizzy) fourteen-year-old .Annie ValIance did me! I couldn't eat the first night I saw her, I couldn't sleep, and the next day I couldn't work! I had got it bad. Oh, dear me! I thought I was going to die. But there's aye a Providence in these things. I managed to get an introduction through one of her young brothers. For Torn Valiance I have had a very soft side from that day to this. I taught him his job as a miner and he is now, as he has been for thirty years, my faithful friend and manager. Where I go Tom goes. I do nothing without consulting him. He is almost as well known all over the world as I am!

Did the course of true love run smooth in our case? I don't know that it did. There were lots of chaps after Nance, but I told her plump and plain that I would fight any- body who tried to take her from rue. Yes, I would kill any three men in Hamilton who dared to look at her! As for Nance herself—if ever I saw her turn a "keek" in any other direction—well it would be the worse for her. This sheikh stuff did not go down well with the young lady, but that it had some slight effect I still flatter myself to this day. But sweethearts we soon became. Sweethearts we remain. [Since writing the earlier part of these memoirs my darling wife has been taken from me. She died suddenly in Glasgow in August 17 I cannot bring myself to alter in any shape or fashion the many tender references to her throughout these pages. H. L.] Once I was interviewed by a prominent American journalist who said he wanted to get my views on divorce problems. What I told him was this, "I don't know any- thing at all about divorce problems. I've been coming to the States for twenty years and I always bring the same wife with me!"

To consolidate my position, so to speak, I got a job at Number 7 Pit in the Quarter, a village close to Hamilton. The underground manager was Nance's father, Jamie Val lance. At first he did not know anything about me or that I was courting his daughter. He was a stern, dignified but straightforward man. No liberties were tolerated by "Jammuck"—in these days he was as good with his "jukes" as any prizefighter and any of the "younkers" who thought they had an easy mark to deal with in him speedily learned their mistake. Every man at the Quarter held the underground manager in a mixture of fear and wholesome respect and esteem. I know I did.

For months I did everything I could to earn Jamie's good opinion. I worked very hard and had always a cheery time-a-day for the boss when he came along the workings or I met him above ground. Nance would now be about seventeen and I about twenty. My brothers and sisters were all working. Plenty of money was going into our house. There was no more call for me to hand over all my pay to my mother. I determined to get married. Nance was quite willing, but in her case she realized a difficulty. She was the eldest girl in the family, her own mother's mainstay and there was a troop of younger brothers and sisters to be cared for and "raised." Neither of us knew just how the "auld folks"—not yet forty themselves, by the way—would take the proposition; we were nervous of broaching it.

But one Saturday night I happened to meet the manager down-town. He was in a genial mood. We stood and "clavered" for a while and then I invited Mr. Valiance to have a refreshment in the bar of the Royal Hotel. He indicated his willingness to partake of my hospitality, but I could see from the look he gave me that he was wondering whether I had started to drink beer at my comparatively early age. However, when I ordered a lemonade for myself and a "wee hauf" for him, he thawed considerably.

"Now or never!" said I to myself, and there and then I told him, nervously but without any waste of words, that I was in love with his daughter, Nance, and wanted to marry her right away. Jamie eyed me up and down without saying a word. He took a deep breath or two. I looked anxiously towards the door suddenly remembering all the stories I had heard about his quick temper. Should I run for it while the going was good? Then he turned to the bar attendant and slowly ordered "the same again." I was saved—for the time being.

After drinking his "nip," the manager put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Harry, ma lad, ye've 'put a sair problem to me this nicht! Answer me a'e question—do ye love her?" With tears in my eyes I replied that I loved her with a' ma heart and that I would try my best to mak' her happy.

"Swear it, Harry!" said he.

"I swear it, Jamie !" I answered, and lifted my right hand.

We were silent for a moment or two. Then the manager turned to me again and said, "Harry, if there's love in the camp atween you and oor Nance, tak' her an' joy be wi' ye! But," he added quickly, "ye'll hae to ask her mither first!"

I couldn't get out of the hotel quick enough; Nance was waiting for me round the corner. We were both overjoyed at the result of the interview with her father. There would be no trouble with the mother, Nance assured me, for that good lady, with the intuition of every true mother, knew all about our little romance. Do you mind, Nance, that we stayed out till nearly eleven that night? That we strolled up and down the Lanark Road about nineteen times not knowing what we were doing or saying, or where we were going? How I told you I was determined to be a great man one day and make you a lady, with silk gowns to wear, a carriage-and-pair to ride in, and a big house to live in with double doors and hot water laid on? Do you mind how you laughed and said I was daft, but that I was your own Harry Lauder and that nothing else mattered? You will remember all that perhaps, but neither you nor I can remember how often we kissed each other, how often we looked in each other's eyes, how often we sighed and cuddled up closer and closer!

"Aw, cut out this sob stuff, Harry!" I can hear some of you chaps saying as you read my last page or two. But I can't. It's in my bones. I know I'm a sentimental old duffer now. I've been sentimental all my life—Nance made me so in the first instance, and she still keeps me full of sentiment today.

Long courtships are not encouraged in the mining districts of Scotland and when Nance and I had been "walkin' out" for a few months we decided to get married as soon as we could find a house. Fortunately we met with no difficulty in this direction. The colliery proprietors I was working for at the time had a house vacant in the Weaver's Land, a colony of miners' residences owned and controlled by them. The rent was three and sixpence a week, which sum was kept off the weekly pay envelope. As I was working on "contract" and earning about three pounds a week the rent could not be considered excessive. Moreover, I had always been of a saving disposition, especially since falling in love, and had over twenty pounds in the bank, a sum more than ample to set us on our feet as a young married couple. The vacant but-and-ben having been repainted and papered, we started to furnish the humble nest right away.

The main article of furniture which engrossed our most earnest attention was the kitchen dresser. No working man's house in Scotland in those days was complete without a dresser. This is a highly polished wooden contraption with two swinging doors in front and a "back" rising above the level of the top boarding. Her dresser was—and still is so far as I know—the special joy and pride of the Scottish housewife. In its shelves below, and outside on top, she displays her crockery and ornaments and table equipment to the best advantage. As often as not a doyley is spread outside and on this ornamentation the clock, or a pair of vases, or a couple of toddy bowls are placed with an eye to effect. The whole thing is kept as shiny and spotless as possible. The first thing the visitor to the miner's home does is to examine the dresser with a most critical eye; it is the keynote to the taste, the cleanliness and the general housewifely qualities of the lady in command.

As I have said, Nance and I spent a lot of time and thought over the purchase of our dresser. But at last the die was cast—we selected one which cost us three pounds ten shillings. It was a beauty. Dark-stained and so perfectly polished that we could see our faces in the wood. We were so enamoured of this marvellous piece of furniture that we went back to the cabinetmaker's shop again and again just to make sure that he hadn't sold it. And immediately the house was ready for us the dresser was installed with much formality and care. A bed, bedclothes, a table and some chairs, together with a paraffin lamp and a strip of carpet to go in front of the fireplace practically completed our purchases for the house; the little extras such as a clock, ornaments, knives and forks and spoons we knew we would get as wedding presents!

If I remember rightly I spent less than fifteen pounds on furnishing our first house, which meant that I was left with the handsome margin of about five pounds for eventualities. I was so anxious to complete the home that I carried practically all the "plenishings" from the shops to the Weaver's Land. Even the kitchen table was transported on my head, its legs sticking up in the air, and I laugh now as I recollect the amount of banter I had to submit to from friends and acquaintances as I trudged down the main street.

A couple of weeks before the marriage our wee house was "as neat as ninepence." You could have taken your breakfast off the floor, as we say in Scotland. Nance's mother was the guiding spirit in getting the habitation shipshape. Night after night she and I went along and we scrubbed and polished, polished and scrubbed until every mortal thing in the place shone like a mirror. I was so happy that I danced and sang as we worked. And wasn't I the proud young fellow when I took my young wife home to her "ain hoose" for the first time!

After being "cried" in the Parish Church for three weeks and having the banns posted at the Registrar's window for a like period (we went down town every night and stood reading this solemn document until we knew every word of it by heart) we were married in the Valiance home in The Bent, Hamilton, on the eighteenth day of June, '890. Nance looked a picture in a new white dress I had given her as my marriage gift. She also wore a wee poke bonnet with red ribbons tied beneath her chin. My! but she was bonnie. I don't know how I looked, but I know that I had on my Sunday suit with a stiff white shirt—the first I ever possessed—a standing-up peaked collar and a very loud tie with green spots on a yellow background. On my feet was a pair of gutta percha shoes, half leather and half canvas. The whole outfit, barring the suit, which I had had for some months, cost me less than ten shillings at Harry Wilson's, the local outfitter.

Doubtless I was in the height of fashion for a miner's wedding at that time, but my own opinion is that a minister of today would refuse to marry a man accoutred as I was at the "altar"—my father-in-law's plush-covered parlour table! When the time came for me to produce the ring I was so excited and nervous that I could not get it out of my waistcoat pocket for quite a long time. Ultimately I unearthed it from among a mixture of odds and ends such as a knife, a plug of tobacco, a broken pipe and a piece of string! The incident, accompanied as it was by the tittering of my brothers and sisters, almost brought me to a state of collapse. Long years afterwards I made good use of it as a bit of stage-play in my song "Roarnin' in the Gloamin'."

After the ceremony was all over we adjourned to the Lesser Victoria Hall where the marriage "spree" took place. Our marriage was what is known in Scotland as a "pay-waddin' "—all the outside guests paid for their tickets. Most marriages in the Black Country forty years ago were conducted on these highly sensible lines. Men with marriageable daughters had no money wherewith to give fancy wedding parties. If you wanted to attend a friend's marriage you cheerfully "paid your whack." In our case, the price was fixed at eight-and-six-pence the double ticket. The two families drew up lists of probable well-wishers and issued invitations to them, marking the financial obligation very clearly on the "invite." My brother, Matt, who was my best man, and Nance's sister, Kate, who acted as best maid, sold thirty double tickets and they joyfully reported to me that they could have sold as many more had the hail been big enough to accommodate the extra number.

Like the wedding of Sandy MacNab, our "do" was a swell affair! There were lashings of steak pie, chappit tatties, rice pudding, tea and pastries. There was beer in abundance for all who wished it. And there were bottles of Scotch for the "heid yins" at the top table. "Jamie" presided over the function. He said a brief grace and ordered the assembled company to "fa' tae!" (English—get busy on the grub!) They required no second bidding. Some of the young miners had refrained from eating any food for a day or two so that they could do full justice to the steaming pies, the endless plates of potatoes and cabbage and car- rots and the enormous helpings of rice and raisin pudding. The fun and clatter became fast and furious; the din was deafening.

Nance and I sat together at the foot of the main table. We were very much in love, but we had both hearty appetites, and we tucked in with the best and bravest of them— at least, I did. After the tables were cleared there were speeches and toasts. My health and the health of the bride were duly toasted. Then the chairman sang a song, "Norah, the Pride of Kildare," only stopping twice or three times in the middle of it to implore silence from some of the more obstreperous spirits who had started arguments about how much coal they could cut if the "face" was workable at all!

In any social gathering of miners the conversation generally gets down to coal-cutting! Millions of mythical tons must have been "cut" on the night I was married! Then old Sandy Lennox was called upon for a song. Sandy had an extraordinary big nose which always seemed to be insecurely attached to his "dial" and when he sang he had a habit of shaking his head. This made his nose wobble in the most comical fashion. He had not sung more than half a dozen words when all the company were convulsed by the antics of his nose so he sat down in high dudgeon, which was only mollified by a good stiff "nip" passed along to him from a crony at the top table. I sang "Annie Laurie" and "Scotland Yet" and everybody who could sing or recite, or do anything at all was called upon in due course. By eleven o'clock the "conversations" was declared at an end. Then the dancing was started and was kept up, with constant hoochs and skins and screeches until four or five in the morning.

I would not take the responsibility of asserting that all the wedding party were strictly sober when the early hours arrived, but I can truthfully say that everybody enjoyed themselves to the full. So much so, that when Nance and I quietly "jookit awa'" from the hail about three o'clock in the morning, we were never missed! And that is a fairly ac curate description of a "pay-waddin" in Scotland forty years ago.

Next morning, a Saturday, Nance and I were up early and off to Glasgow for our honeymoon—of one day's duration! We spent most of the time in McLeod's Wax Works in the Trongate, standing spell-bound before the effigies of Charlie Peace, Burke and Hare, and other notorious robbers and scoundrels and murderers! What a honeymoon! But in those days a visit to the Wax Works was considered one of the greatest treats to which a man could entertain his wife or his sweetheart. Later we went for a run on the top of a tram-car to the gates of Barlinnie Prison after which we wandered down to the Broomilaw, had a sniff of the Clyde, and this finished the day for us in more ways than one! Tired, but completely happy and contented, we got back to Hamilton and "oor ain fireside!" We were "kirkit" the next day and on the Monday morning I was up at five o'clock and off to drive another yard or two of the Lauder Level in Allenton Colliery.


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