THEY say you can’t judge a book by its cover. But sometimes — as in the case of Acair’s latest release, the memoirs of Stornoway gentleman Pat Macfarlane — you can.
Entitled A Stornoway Life, from Scotland Street to South Africa, the book is a collection of Pat’s articles from the Back in the Day historical newspaper. It is charming, laugh-out-loud funny and full of personality — just like Pat himself.
The book has been edited by Pat’s niece Nicolson Institute rector Frances Murray, who loved Fiona Rennie’s photograph of her uncle on the front cover. It shows Pat deep in thought, surrounded by his books. Acair designer Margaret Ann Macleod made the background black and white, allowing Pat to stand out.
“The pictures are fantastic,” said Frances. “I like the way his personality comes through.”
The book begins with Pat’s stories of his early years growing up in Scotland Street — he still lives in the family home at number 16, built by his great-grandfather — and all the games and ploys that went with growing up in that era.
Some of these stories are hilarious and one particularly good one — the one about the turkey that gave Pat the slip and ran away down Kenneth Street, across Bayhead, onto the quay and up the mast of a fishing boat — was the subject of a reading at Pat’s recent book launch in Stornoway library, which was held on his 95th birthday.
Frances recalled listening with rapture to these stories when she and her sisters were little girls. “We loved these stories because what he did was he acted them out — facial expression, actions, body language. He would be all the characters in the story.”
There are many yarns in Pat’s book, which also talks of his service during the war years — he trained pilots how to land planes in early simulators — and his later life in Stornoway, where he had a number of shops, including Loch Erisort, now owned by Hebridean Jewellery. It sold books, jewellery and fine china and was a great place to go for the craic.
Frances said of the book: “It’s a nice summary of the big bits of his life and because the stories were such a big part of home, for us as children, it’s nice to see them in print. I like the fact that it’s of the community. It’s a record of a time past.”
Pat is very much a people person who does not care what nationality a person is and is always looking for that common ground.
He is especially fond of the Germans, always finding them to be “friendly, well educated and intelligent”, and made a point of returning to Germany many years after the war to get to know the country better and learn a little of the language.
He liked the Africans too. As is suggested by the title, he was stationed in South Africa during the war.
“Their humour suited me and I could make them laugh,” he said. They kind of liked me because I acted the fool a bit. Fun and humour are the two things that should blend whole nations together instead of quarreling and fighting and using arms.”
In his foreword to the book, Sandy Matheson hailed it an “absolutely fascinating memoir” that is “much more than a history of the town over the last two centuries”.
Throughout, he said there was a “subliminal description of that most enigmatic and entertaining of characters — a Stornoway cove”.
A Stornoway Life, from Scotland Street to South Africa is available from www.acairbooks.com priced £10.50.