Publications by Jess Smith


Click on an image above to read more ... All books are published by Birlinn and available from Booksource, Waterstones, Amazon and all good book shops

Testimonials / Reviews

"Takes you into an unfamiliar world ... remarkable." - Caledonia

"It is a captivating and enjoyable read which is filled with wonderful descriptions… and I am convinced that one day it will be adapted into a film." - Strathearn Herald review of Bruar's Rest

throughout my books I mention 'the Bobbin Mill' at Pitlochry, Perthshire. It was my maternal Granny's wee house and the place where we'd both sit at the fire and she'd tell me tales both fact and fiction of the old Tinker ways. Indeed chunks of my ancestral history were fluently relayed as I laid my head upon her knees and she puffed upon an old clap pipe.

I loved Granny's wee house and every summer couldn't wait to escape to Pitlochry, meet up with many cousins to laugh and giggle watching and drooling as she spread home made raspberry jam on her specially baked scones.

 

Trees of all shapes and sizes were fantastic playgrounds and many's the grazed knee I'd had shinning up some birch or beech only to drop hard upon the ground. In the sixties Granny left her haven to move closer to her family who were mainly scattered around Fife; including us. I never went back, preferred to remember it with Granny intact and her religious paraphernalia adorning walls and above bed and fireplace.

Recently some Travellers who reside in the area invited me to visit. Why? Because the old place was being demolished and they thought I may want one last look before it vanished. It was kind to be invited but I must admit as Dave and I drove up the A9 there were a few apprehensions.I had mixed emotions, no doubt there would be a great deal of dilapidation and I still preferred to keep my memories. From a distance not much had changed but approaching the wee house it was apparent that it was only a shell and was long past its best. As I stepped inside and saw the damage of broken glass, ripped wall paper, the shredded remains of narrow curtains, a flood of sadness seemed to pour through me, I was choking on the lump growing in my throat. I think it was the little fireplace with the the faded Virgin Mary photo hanging on a rusty nail above. There were dark shadows in every corner, gaping holes in the ceiling and broken floor boards. Dave asked if I'd like a few photos, I didn't think he'd remembered the camera but thanks to modern technology his phone had one. I went outside for a moment to gather my memories and through a chink in the clouds a slither of sunshine shone down upon the river Tummel. I could hear in the distance some blackbirds singing sweetly and clearly remembered Granny's warning, 'dinna gan too near the river noo bairn. It rained the hale nicht lang and there'll be a roar a watter ploughin' down, them wee tweetaks aye sing louder tae warn the bairns. ' Granny called all birds tweetaks. I never always obeyed and many's a time I crawled back soaked to the skin and her saying, I should have listened to the birds . When did she take possession of her home in the woods which was one of a block of four? This newspaper cutting from DC Thomson's Dundee Courier. 1947 provided the answer.. 'PERTHSHIRE HOMES FOR TINKERS' Monday was red letter day for members of the tinker fraternity at Pitlochry, when four families were each presented with the key of a two apartment house provided by Perth County Council. standing in a wood near the former Bobbin Mill, the houses are in one block built from a converted army hut, with brick partitions. Each has a living room, bedroom, scullery with cold water tap, and inside lavatory. They are said to be the first new buildings to be erected for tinkers in Scotland by any authority. Rev. W. Alexander Ross, county council member for Pitlochry presided at the inauguration ceremony. The condition of let having been read over, each tenant signed the missive and was handed the key. Rents were fixed at £1/12s/6p per month. The Rev. W.A. Ross congratulated the new tenants on their good fortune in having incurred a substantial dwelling house. After a lifetime of homeless wandering and living in tents they had every reason to believe that they had not been neglected or forgotten, but God had been remembering them. After the ceremony a Tinker's blessings was invoked upon the council gents taking part.

Truth be told Granny had no problem with her old ways; she'd come from generations of wandering folk who didn't suffer harassment but there came a time when laws were forced upon them, making their lifestyle almost impossible to continue. The bridle paths, riversides and old roads which once held happy childhood memories soon became dangerous places where police and cruelty men patrolled at random. Whole families saw their tent homes torched, bairns forcibly taken from parents and old folks imprisoned in poorhouses. Only safe to be was in a house,under a roof. Of course it also meant the end of 'freedom' but that was a price that twentieth century wanderers had to pay to survive.

But for me being born in 1948 I always connect Granny with the Bobbin Mill where Lily o' the valley shared a carpet of moss with dandelions and wild daisies. It was my Disney world, the home of Green Sloory and Humpitt Roy, my playmates of the forest. Whatever the past dire treatment of my people were, on that quiet winter's afternoon, although tinged with a deep sadness, I felt privileged to be a witness to the last day of 'Granny's wee hoose' in the wood at Pitlochry. The dampness made me shiver and I could swear a thin arm looped into mine and a gentle voice whispered, 'mind the tweekaks noo bairn .'

Love you Granny.