STEWART MASSON’S MEMORIES OF PORTSOY
Many people reading this won’t know me, especially the younger readers. I was born in Portsoy, the Pearl of the Moray Firth, back in 1951 and grew up there. My parents were Bill and May Masson, who were to take over and run Riddoch’s shop in the Square.
Apart from about four years away, I spent forty-two years in Portsoy. The other four years I worked and stayed mainly in Aberdeen, where I met my wife Moira at the “dancin” – as they say in Aberdeen.
As a youngster growing up in Portsoy life was bliss, and it’s hard to think of a better place to grow up in.
In the fifties and sixties, the town was virtually crime-free. Our house door was very rarely locked, even at night. Hard to believe, I know, but true: that’s how safe life was in the town.
Most of my childhood was spent up at the park playing football with my pals, and many summer days you would find us all “doon at the pool”, which was booming in those days and it was there that Danny Sutherland taught us all to swim. He was a gem!
Football really was my life then – and it still is, as Moira will be quick to tell you! I was never far away from the park, and we even used the streetlights as makeshift floodlights in the dark winter nights. They shone on the part that used to be the putting green and gave us enough light to play for hours. That was another thing about growing up in Portsoy: our folks knew where we were, and that we were safe.
When I reached fourteen I got my first game for the F.C. and I loved playing for them. I met some great characters and made many great friends through the club. I was still playing when a very young lad called Eoin Jess made his debut playing for us. It was immediately clear that Eoin would go far in the game, and he was also a very likeable lad. Someone else from Portsoy, who should have got to the same level as Eoin, was Kippers (William Wilson). He was a genius with the ba’ at his feet. I think Kippers, like a lot of us, got led a wee bit astray with – just let’s say ‘other things’. The most talented FC team I played in was season 1975 when we won the league and four cups, taking the league from Whitehills, who were really a select from Banff and Macduff. This was no mean feat, I can assure you, as they were a big and powerful team as well as a lot more experienced than most of our young lads.
A little story on one of the cup finals that season, played at Princess Royal against Whitehills: We were 3-0 down at half time, but in a Kippers inspired second half we beat them 4-3! What followed was a great night, celebrated in great fashion at the Boyne Hotel. One of my friends, Syd Imlach, even managed to get himself locked in the back part of the lounge and was found by the cleaners the next morning!
At seventeen I moved to Aberdeen and worked with Thomas Cook, the travel agents, for about four years. I shared a flat with my best mate Kenny (and boy could I tell you a few stories, but I will refrain!!). A lot of good times were had in Aberdeen, but the novelty and the bright lights soon wore off and so, after a few months, we started going home to Portsoy to spend the weekend there in a much friendlier environment.
When my pals and I started enjoying a pint, we made our way to the Shore inn – surely one of the best little pubs to be found anywhere! The hosts in those days were Alistair and Roslyn Gregor, and I have yet to find better hosts. They ran a great pub and looked after us young lads. My old man found out I had been having a wee drink in the Shories, and as I was just a little under age, he had a word in Alistair’s ear, unbeknownst to me. I walked in, as usual, on the Friday night and got my pint before Alistair gave me the bad news. “Don’t worry, Stewart,” he said, “we will play this low key and your old man need never know.”
Portsoy was full of great characters in those days, and many of them I met in my favourite watering hole. There was Dod Anderson, who enjoyed a rum, Jackie (coogans) McDonald, Dr. Scott, a lovely guy, La La – now he could tell a story of which about ten percent you could believe! John Watson, who recently passed away, Ronnie Slater, the coalman . . . I could go on forever. Portsoy had so many wonderful people
At the age of twenty-one, Moira and I moved backed to Portsoy to help my mum run the shop when my father was unable to work after a series of very bad heart attacks. We stayed there for the next 22 years, running the shop and bringing up our two daughters, Karen and Shelly. After the girls left school we started thinking about uprooting and moving on. Small shops were under great pressure from the big supermarkets and I just had a hunch that things were going to change a lot in the town. I had heard on the grapevine that the bank next door to us might close, and I knew that would take even more people out of the town. A few years later the bank did close – and so did many of the small shops around the square.
Anyway, we put the shop and house up for sale and had a buyer within two months, then within five months we had moved to the holiday island of Tenerife. The idea was to open a bar, and after a few of our scouting missions we found an empty local, which we turned into The Bobbins Bar – Moira picked the name, by the way. The bar was very hard work but very fruitful. My idea was to turn the bar into a Rangers pub but I didn’t mention this to Moira, as I had no idea how she would react. For the first year I had one picture of Ibrox on show – nothing else.
We needed to build up a good family trade and I knew that the Rangers theme would turn many people away! I’m sure most of you are aware that Rangers have a huge support but, to put it mildly, we are not very well liked by a lot of people, LOL. After the first hard year things were looking very good, and slowly but surely I added the Rangers memorabilia to the walls. By the end of the second year we were a Rangers pub – but we made everyone welcome.
We were taken aback by how quickly the bar grew and we had to employ another two staff to help Moira, myself and the girls run it. Many people from Portsoy came to visit us, and along with all the Rangers supporters they helped us become very successful. When I look back now I often think what a gamble we took, but when you are younger things seem easier. We used to return to Portsoy twice a year to see my mum – my dad had passed on by then – and our mates. We really enjoyed our holidays back at hame! Portsoy will always be hame, no matter how long we are away.
My mum passed away more than seven years ago, and our visits are less frequent now, but there are always friends holidaying here on the Sunshine Isle. We are now retired here but we still own the freehold to The Bobbins, which is still going strong. I don’t know if this is us here now for life, as you can never say never! Maybe one day we will return to bonnie Portsoy, the Jewel of the Moray Firth.
Characters who came into the shop
Jackie McDonald (coogans) – Jackie came to the shop every other day for his tobacco, often on his old bike, which he called the Rolls Royce. On this particular day, I was speaking to someone at the shop door when I spotted Jackie pushing his bike towards Forest the baker’s. He was struggling a wee bit, as he had come from the Boyne Hotel after having a few ‘refreshments’.
He eventually got the bike parked and went into the baker’s. After the baker’s he crossed to us to get his tobacco and we had our usual news. The bike was left at the bakers: he had forgotten about it! But that was a good thing. After he left, I got the Rolls and put it up the close at the side of the shop. Next day, Jackie came in and I asked how he was. “A bit rough,” he said, “but a major disaster: av lost the Rolls Royce!” When I showed him his prized possession, you would have thought he had won the pools. Needless to say, he sent over a pint to me the next time I met him in the Shories.
About Colin Murray’s Granda
I know a lot of folk fell foul of him, but I got on okay with him.
When he moved to Burnside he used to walk up the steps to the corner of the square beside Forests and then roar over to me: “Masson, I need some bogie roll, I canna get breath, bring it o’er to me.” Now, bogie roll was the strongest tobacco you could get! Then I took it over to him and he would say: “This will be the last ounce I buy, I canna breathe.” But he bought the stuff for a long time after that!
A Rangers Game in Glasgow
This story shows the crime-free area, and the trust our folks put in us when we told them we were only going a few miles up the coast:
Kenny and I were both Rangers daft. We had seen our team play in Aberdeen but we had never been to Ibrox, for 200 miles away seemed like the other side of the world in the sixties! We were fifteen and planned the trip all summer, never letting on where we intended going. After two hard days we made it as far as Perth, where we pitched the tent, and we were going to catch the train to Glasgow on the Saturday.
We made it to Ibrox no problem and the Gers won. All in all, it was a fantastic experience for two young lads from Portsoy. The downside was, it started raining on the Friday and never stopped – it was torrential – and when we got back to the tent after the game all our gear was soaking. Saturday night was a long night. In the morning, very bedraggled, we decided to get the train to Aberdeen. We had just enough money left.
We parked the bikes at the transport cafe in Perth, where Kenny’s dad Charlie picked them up in his lorry when he passed through the following week. As we left the station in Aberdeen to start thumbing it home to Portsoy – our money had now run out – we heard a shout: “What are you lads doing here?” It was Ivan Smith, another Portsoy character who is sadly no longer with us. We told him our tale, to which he replied, “You’re coming hame in the bus wi’ me loons, the fare’s on me.” We gladly accepted and said we would pay him back, but he was having none of it. Ivan had just come off one of the trawlers and just wanted to help out some Portsoy loons.