Sunday, 16 January 2011

A heart as big as himself . . .

The title says it all really, when you consider to whom I am referring. My pal, he could have been your pal, everybody's pal. George Chambers, miner, delivery driver, salesman, insurance collector, husband, father, friend and not least Pastor.

Many a story could be written about his exploits, from his conversion to Christianity as a young man, sharing his faith in the coal mines of the Lothian coal field, to his bravado as a delivery driver for Campbell Brothers, the butchers - on one occasion driving so erratically that he had to jump into the back of the van as it careered down a hill before plunging into a snow covered field, spilling its contents (mainly fresh liver) out, and himself walking away from the wreck bloodied but unbowed. (The company had a safety bonus for all drivers, he never picked up a bonus in the years he worked with them!).

To say he was fearless, would be an understatement, his clear witness of his personal beliefs was such that it did not matter to him how a person positioned themselves in society, if the opportunity arose to witness to his faith he grasped it and pressed forward. At the Lady Victoria coal mine he had been sharing his faith with one of his colleagues and in the dining hall the man decided to pray the 'Sinner's Prayer'! At that moment George and friend knelt beside one another and a prayer of commitment was breathed from the lips of the enquirer. A hush decended over the dining hall packed with up to 1500 men - it had been transferred into a Bethel - a place where man and God met!

I could probably write a book about his escapades, but it is as a pal I write today. George Chambers, husband of Joan, father of Gail and Ruth, father-in-law and grandfather passed away on Saturday 15th January 2011, and I lost probably the best pal I have ever had (apart from my soul-mate my darling wife).

William Shakespeare wrote: Be not afraid of greatness, some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them. This statement from Twelfth Night could have been, in my opinion, quoined to refer to George Chambers he was a big man in stature, but also a man of great faith and vision, in his day he would not see anything stand in his way to thwart what he perceived as the way forward.

In the early 1970s George and Joan gathered together a group of friends, if my memory serves me correctly, a small number famillies, Bill and Sadie Welsh, Anne and Mike Heath, Margaret and I and themselves with a view to planting a church in Livingston, then just a group of housing estates with hardly a shop and very few community facilities. The plans were made in the living room of their house in Pitt Street, Leith the decision was taken to go for it. George and Joan, and the twins, moved to Livingston, Anne and Mike moved as well, Margaret and I were part of the group but had committed ourselves to inner city mission work and were part of the congregation but our involvement did not fully commence until our return from Peterhead in 1984.

George had a vision for a church in Livingston , in the early years meetings were held in houses and homes, then community centres always, wondering if the lease would be renewed, nevertheless, George and Joan encouraged the people to continue to trust God and follow the vision. Like all church families, people came and people passed through, there were the curious, the lonely, the disappointed, and then there were the disciples, the faithful, it did not matter to George whether there were 2 in the meeting or thirty, as a man who had a Pastors heart as long as there were people who needed him he would be there for them. The house at Corston Park became the headquarters of project Livingston, the door was open to all 24/7 you would never be turned away, the kettle was always on the boil, the biscuits and cakes were there and the welcome was always warm. The door never stopped, the phone was always ringing, do you know, that for over twenty five years day and daily I was mentioned in his prayers - that's what he did for his pals - he prayed for them, with them and about them every single day!!!

Not every day was a good day, he had his moments, as I said earlier in this piece he was no respector of persons, great or small they were all the same to him. On one occasion he was in conversation with one of the leading lights in the Livingston Development Corporation, without much ado, the gentleman engaged George in conversation, the gentleman asked if there was anything that was needed by the fellowship to further its aims. George never slow to ask, said yes there is, we need a piece of land to build a church, we have no money but we do have faith. The response was not too encouraging, 'Well we don't have much land available for the type of enterprise that you wish to establish, but I'll see what can be done!' The conversation ended. A few weeks later George received a letter or phone call, telling him of the possibility of a piece of land. With great faith and excitement we went together to the plot of land. We were like Joshua and Caleb of a bygone day, or were we just two pals, enthused by the thought of a place to call home? (I wonder). We strode onto the land at the end of Maple Grove, not believing the size, noted the potential, but most of all we did what George in his own inimitable style wanted to do - we claimed the land for Jesus, praying that the blessing of the Lord would be granted and a work established! The rest they say is History! The LDC told George and the church that they could have the land for a small annual rental and that they would never gain title to the land. That was then - things change although God cannot change!

George Chambers, my pal has gone home to his reward, I can see him just now sitting amongst the saints, singing, praising, and playing his tambourine, or maybe arms folded in front of him as he worships the true and living one! Someone reading this blog may say what a load of fanciful nonsense, well you are welcome to your opinion, but I know what my pal would want me to think - fanciful or not!

I will miss him greatly! His vision for a thousand souls, in my opinion has been more than matched, I would like to think that when he arrived at the gates of glory, he would be greeted with the following words: 'Come in George - my Pal!'

Monday, 10 January 2011

Leaving footprints in the sand!

A couple of weeks ago there was an announcement in the B/D/M column of 'The Scotsman'. It simply stated that Grace Doull had died peacefully in an Edinburgh Nursing Home. Subsequent to that notice an acknowledgement was posted in the same newspaper, thanking various people for their kindness towards Grace during her final years. Both the announcement and the acknowledgement simply stated the obvious or did it?

To many people, when they read such material will just see what it says no more no less, to the Campbell family formerly of the Canongate, Edinburgh, the notice evokes memories which go back at least three generations. Grace Doull had an influence on my parents, she was a Girl Guide officer who took an interest in my Mother in the 1930's, as a nursery school teacher, she cared for my brothers, Billy, James during the early 1940's and after the war my sister Helen and myself up until the early 1950's. In the 1960's and 1970s the next generation of Campbell's were cared for by 'Miss Doull'.

I cannot speak for my brother or sister but I am sure they would agree with me that Grace Doull left the gentle touch of her way of life with us.

Over the years I was able to meet her, and regardless of where it was, she always remembered my name, and asked after my mother, brother and sister without hesitation. I worked for many years as a taxi driver and picked her up on occasion from the Cameron Toll Shopping centre. We chatted about the days I spent at the Cowgate Nursery School, the conversations were never long - however, they were always memorable and it was my privilege to take care of her.
Grace Doull left an indelible imprint on my life and probably my story could be rehearsed by thousands of others who have come under her influence. A simple announcement it may have been but her life means far more than can be recounted in any obituary.

The phrase . . . 'They broke the mould, when . . .!' could have been quoted just for her. She is one of a kind. A Southside Lady who will not be forgotten by at least one Southside Laddie.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Cranston Street - turning back the clock

In November last year we moved house! The first time in 25 years, before that moving was a regular past-time for the Campbell's. When we moved to our new home, (it has a name in Hebrew it is called Mibtach, the translation is 'Sure Dwellings') it was supposed to be down sizing but turned out to be a sideways move to a slightly larger house - more floor space and it also has an attic space - previous house had a flat roof - Margaret (the lady I live with) reckoned it was not really a proper house not having a pitched roof.

Anyway, the new house has a large yard which up until this morning had quite a few shrubs - not any more - we decided shortly after our move to Dechmont that the shrubs should go. Shirley, my middle daughter, spoke with a friend in the village, who came across and had a look, indicating that she could find a home for the shrubs.
Today the shrubs have been removed from the garden, placed in the back of a van and off! Now you may wonder -'what's strange about that?' Well the thing is; where the plants have gone to! A community garden in Cranston Street, Edinburgh to fill a space beside the Women's Hostel. Many years ago - in the early years of the last century Cranston Street School (now used as the Hostel) was the School my father attended before he started work with William Younger and Co the brewers.

Some would say that it is quite a coincidence that plants in a garden in Dechmont have been donated to a garden just off the Canongate and that is it! I take the view that the plants from the garden in Dechmont turn the clock back even further coincidence or not - when I heard where the plants were destined for I immediately thought of my long since departed dad, of what he means to me, both as a father and friend. The principles he instilled in us by his gentleness and kindness, those plants will never make mutch of a statement, they will not be loud or difficult to handle, they will do the job that they were planted to fulfil - just like my dad.
Somethings you might like to know about Jimmy Campbell.
  • I never heard him ever raise his voice in anger
  • I never discovered the secret of his never losing his temper, he had plenty of reason to, my mother being one!
  • I never heard him complain, even in his final illness after he had been used as some kind of test (guinea pig) for the medical profession
  • He went off to war, willingly, he had a deep seated distaste of facism, he demonstrated against the brownshirts during the 1930s
  • He made a great number of friends during his service time in the army, serving with the Royal Scots, the Kings Own Royal Rifles and finally with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. His discharge papers from the Army have a short statement concerning his character and commitment - exemplary!
  • He returned from the Burma Campaign physically a wreck, having contracted typhus fever, malaria and some kind of parasitic worm.
  • He came back to Edinburgh and picked up where he left off 6 years before.
  • He was born in 1912 at 19 Canongate, when he married in 1938 he lived with my Mother, brothers and sister at No 6 Canongate.
  • Most of his adult life until about 1970 was spent half a mile away from Cranston Street, where those plants have been sent to.

I don't even need to close my eyes to see my 'Old Man', I can hear him whistling as he came up the stair, I can hear the tune 'D'you ken John Peel', it was his signature tune. The plants from Dechmont are now embedded in the Cranston Street of my father's youth and a reminder at least to me of where my roots are!

Quite a leap, by any stretch of the imagination. I honour his memory and the memories I have of my growing up in the Canongate.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Peterhead - A flying visit!

For a few hours yesterday, I was able to turn the clock back! That does not happen too often but it did for me when I visited Peterhead in Aberdeenshire. The occasion was the funeral of the matriarch of the Duncan Family - 'Granny Pearl - at the grand old age of 93 after a very long and productive life, Pearl passed away - in the words of the funeral oration - 'absent from the body - present with the Lord!' - which is far better. An old acquaintance of many years ago would comment at times like this 'from the promise to the presence!'!

Pearl Duncan took over the reins of the family following the sudden death of her husband. She had to be strong of character to be able to make sure that the business operated by her husband would continue to go from strength to strength. They were 'fisher' - pure and simple - the family for many generations had sought out and caught fish! No mean feat! I only spoke to her maybe a dozen or twenty times during my time living and working in Peterhead and the last time was about 10 years ago on the early death of her youngest son Michael. Her impression on me was made through my friendship with her son Peter, his wife, Jean and their children, Peter junior and Jennifer.

With Peter, the strength of character that he had learned from both his father and mother came through. He was and still is great company. His tales of fishing and the sea are absolutely fabulous and a great source of material for any one who will take the time to listen. More than that he is the kind of friend that will prove his friendship in ways that will surprise, astonish and astound! I am looking at this moment at a photograph taken of the MFV Marigold PD145 just as she was about to enter the inner harbour at Peterhead. She had been to sea for a fishing trip and Peter, the skipper had decided that he needed to attend a meeting of the church of which for a short time I was minister. The only trouble was that his decision to make the meeting of the church came during one of the worst storms of the winter - he had been fishing 150 miles off - probably near Shetland or the Fair Isle. The wind was hurricane force and blowing contrary to the way he would normally travel home. His decision to come home caused him to take his vessel sixty miles out into the North Sea to a point at which he would safely turn the ship and head her back in a north westerly direction towards Peterhead. The term batten down the hatches would not mean much to a person such as myself - born and bred in the heart of the City of Edinburgh - but it meant something to the 8 members of his crew. The order was made secure all the hatches and every man on the vessel was instructed to come on to the bridge and there they watched as the drama unfolded. Battling through enormous seas being thrown about like a cork on the ocean the skipper at the wheel and making what some would say was a foolhardy attempt to make port - but he was and still is a man of resolution - at least to me! Others will have their opinion, naturally - but I have mine - he came in that day for me!

He believed in me! Why I do not know, there is nothing much of me, I was not and never will be a great orator, a charismatic leader, all I was then was a fellow who had come to live and work in a community I had nothing in common with, except a desire to serve people. He believed in what I was doing and was willing to put his presence at that meeting as a top priority! I watched the Marigold enter the harbour, I was standing at the door of his house, which overlooks the bay at Peterhead speaking to Jean, I drove her down to the Harbour and as the boat was being tied up I overheard a couple of seasoned fishermen say, 'that in all their years working in Peterhead they had never seen such a feat of seamanship'.

He stepped ashore gave his shocked wife a gentle cuddle and assured her that all was well, recounted to me what had taken place, and said quite clearly - 'I'll be there tonight!'
I had never had the chance to acknowledge my thanks for what he did that day. Maybe that was why when I heard of the passing of Granny Pearl, my first thought was to mark her passing with a visit to my friend, his wife and family. I had the privilege of meeting up with them and spending time with them - all be it only a few hours - but nevertheless it was the least I could do for a family that have such a large part in my life.

The outcome of the meeting? - inconclusive! It will be recorded in a minute book; will show nothing of the emotion, the effort, the sacrifice, of those involved either for or against! I know however that there was an outcome! A bond was created on that occasion which would tie Peter Duncan and myself, that will be hard to break. I eventually left Peterhead, but the Duncans of Peterhead and the Campbells of wherever are linked, and who is responsible for that, you might ask - Oh I would say quite simply on this occasion - Granny Pearl. The strength that along with her husband she engendered in Peter worked out through his life and affected me.

He was not the only person to influence my life during my time in Peterhead there are others and I will probably return to their effect on me, but for the time being my Flying Visit has brought to my attention the fact that I had never really said:

Thanks Big 'D'!

Friday, 25 January 2008

A significant date on the calendar

This is a special date in the calendar for Scot's the world over!

It is the date when we remember the birth of Robert Burns, poet, social commentator and customs officer. For the last week on the radio at 5.40 a.m. the Rev. Johnston McKay has started the day recounting something of the life of Burns, during the prayer for the day spot on radio 4. Most interesting and encouraging!

All over the world people will be raising a glass in memory of Burns, his writings and commentary make interesting reading. The further you are from the source it seems the clearer the picture he paints becomes. I remember an occasion in 1970 sitting in our flat in Johannesburg on the 25th January and reading a few lines from one of his poems. Written in Edinburgh, the opening line of which: 'Edina Scotia's darling seat,' in my mind - I could see him sitting on the side of the Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh overlooking the City, watching all the reeking lums (smoking chimneys) spewing out their grey clouds into the atmosphere, listening to the noise and the hustle and bustle of the town as people went about their daily tasks. Smelling the sweet odours of the breweries and the other stench of the City itself.

From our flat in Johannesburg I was transported to the side of the Salisbury Crags and I too could see and smell and almost touch the City of my birth and the place of my heritage. Edinburgh has always had that kind of fascination for me - regardless where I have lived. Even today I can go to a bedroom window and look out and see part of the City even though I live 15 miles from it. I like to think that although I am not a poet Edinburgh has the same influence over me that it had over Robert Burns.

It is not just that this is a significant date on the calendar because of the birthday of Robert Burns - there is more to it than that! In 1942 my brother James was born on this day, sadly he did not survive much more than infancy! By 1944 he was gone, a victim of a measles outbreak. I only know this because I remember my father telling me the story of how he found out about his passing. Note the date 1944 - nearing the end of the 2nd World War. My father was serving with the forces in Burma, miles behind enemy lines, a private soldier, attached to the Kings Own Royal Rifles, a Lancashire Regiment, operating as part of a mortar platoon. He told me he was returning from a patrol and as he travelled through the jungle back to his base he had a strange feeling that he would be hearing bad news! His worst fears were realised, James, a son he had only seen for the shortest of periods was gone. Knowing my dad as I did he must have been devastated and how he ever survived emotionally I will never know!

Ever since the day and I discovered the date of my brothers' birth I have always kept 25th January as a special day! I never knew him, there are no photos of him and very little record of him but he is my brother - he was and is special to me.

A few years ago along with Julie, my oldest daughter we went to visit our old nursery school in the Cowgate in Edinburgh. It was closing and the staff decided to invite all former attendees to visit the school and look at old pictures and records. Can you imagine my surpirse to look at the old register and see the names of both my brothers and the dates they enrolled in the nursery and the dates they left. I was thrilled and delighted. Then as we searched through the same register I looked for and found my own name being added and a little later my sister. Subsequently two of my older brothers' children were enrolled and my own two older girls had their names added.

In my mind it is true that one generation can speak to the next and so on. James Campbell, jnr is remembered - even though he lies in a simple grave in Piershill Cemetery alongside his grandmother - he has a real place in the affection of this brother who he never knew and who never knew him. This significant date on the calendar will always be James' Birthday - my brother!

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Things are different now!

I was out in the car the other day, radio playing, Classic FM, the piece of music playing was Sibelius, 'Karerlia Suite'. I said to the MD who was co-piloting at the time: 'That was Vernon's favourite'. The reply was immediate: drop him an e-mail and tell him you were thinking about him.

Vernon? My oldest and best friend. Met him in the summer of '61 he was the older apprentice in the print shop I was sent to to learn the art of being a compositor. Some would say a trade, but the way it seemed to me then and does so now, it was an art form. Taking lumps of lead and turning those lumps of lead by many different methods into words and phrases that could communicate a message, a thought, a philosophy, the paths that lead soldiers could go on were many and varied, what they could achieve for good or ill, well I leave the rest to you.

Back to Vernon! I could write a book about our exploits over the next 6 years. He was from a different back ground to myself. His father was an architect and worked for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland. A leading light in the British Humanist Society and an all round good guy!

How Vernon ever became involved in the printing industry I will never know.

Anyway summer '61, my first day at work. Told by my father to watch what I was doing and sent off. Vernon took me under his wing, like a brother, and over the past 46 years I have probably looked on him as such. That July morning will remain with me as long as I live. A little bit of history will help here!

The printing trade was riddled with restrictive practices, in the small factory that I was to be apprenticed in with a staff of no more than 50 people there would be at least 5 trade unions if not more. There were nearly a dozen printing trades unions in total throughout the whole of the industry. Each union controlled a particular part of the factory. Anyway on day one I fell foul of trade union legislation within minutes of starting work. I was informed that as a union card had not materialised for me I would not be able to commence my apprenticeship and as such was destined to be the message boy for the despatch department until such time as the 'card' was delivered to the father of the chapel (the shop steward)! It arrived 6 weeks later, I had almost given up hope of it ever appearing.

My new found friend came searching for me in the bowels of the warehouse. he encouraged me to follow him on a tour of the factory, that was to be my home from home, for the next six years. I followed him all over the factory being introduced to all and sundry. Then we arrived in the case room (this was the nerve centre of the whole operation - no compositors - no printing)! Vernon encouraged me to use a simple piece of equipment! I had no sooner started to experiment with this highly technical and specialist item (not) when the shop steward (father of the chapel) came from his work bench and told me to eff off until I had a union card to allow me to work in the case room. Welcome to the real world. I have had an aversion to trades unions ever since, I wonder why? My mentor did not mince his words when speaking to this 'father of the chapel', save to say it was colourful!

But enough of my tales of the case room stone and back to my e-mail, I sent it off and was delighted to receive a reply from this old pal. He says that he is the grumpy one in the corner. The strange thing is that is how I am seen by my family, in fact my grandchildren often refer to me as 'Grumpy'.

Vernon is fine and living in the south of England. I will probably return to talk of him again. We had great times, you would not believe what we did during those years of working and having fun. We were real compositors who were direct descendants of 'Bill Caxton'! Vernon in his e-mail reminded me that up until about 1975 Bill Caxton could have returned and been able to work in a case room without any bother. But within 10 years all that had been swept away. The only place you will find a case room is in a museum of printing and there are precious few of those.

Things are different now! And How!

Friday, 11 January 2008

Thanks for allowing me to serve you!

I am not the most disciplined when it comes to doing things. Regardless of what those 'things' maybe. I have never been known for having a tidy work bench, desk or even motor car. In fact I offered the local minister and his wife a run home from the city the other day, and it was only after we arrived at the car - my 'skip on wheels' that I remembered just how untidy it was. I apologised for the mess and delivered them safely home.

My only thought when I offered them a lift was, why wait on a bus, when we could all be home that much earlier by car.

I found it a privilege and pleasure to be able to serve them in a small way. I have not been able to attend the services recently, but I can honestly say it has always been a joy to listen to an able communicator at work. Clear and concise and not too long winded. Must have learned his craft in the school of 'the head can only take in what the seat can endure'.

They will soon be retiring from the Church and are looking forward to that experience with a deal of trepidation. It probably will not be easy but I am sure they will be fine.

  • Ever wondered what a shepherd does when he retires and does not have the soft calling of the sheep in his ear every day, with their moans and groans?
  • Continually looking for fresh pasture for his sheep not wanting them to be undernourished.

Reminds me of the story I heard at a conference 20-25 years ago by a 'real' shepherd. His sheep were continually going over the wall. He would find them miles away on another farmers land. He would bring them home and they would settle for a few days, then off they would go again. only to be found miles away! This went on for a few months until he decided he had better investigate the matter.

They always seemed to land up in the same place, so he went and had a conversation with the farmer. He asked him how he organised his farm, took notes and also samples of the feed and grazing. He sent the grass of for analysis to the local agricultural college along with samples of his own grass and feed.

The answer came back and he was amazed the two samples showed that the other farmer's grazing was far richer in nutrients than the home pasture. The college suggested ways of improvement, the shepherd did just that the result the sheep did not stray!

I think that is the essence of Psalm 23 keep it simple and keep it fresh.

Thanks! Its my pleasure!