Friends and Neighbours
Among May's great friends there were our neighbours the Stewarts - Edith, Mary, Lucy, Alice, and their brother, Charles - all distinguished by their beauty, good looks and charm. May used to visit with them their cousins at Blairgowrie, a memory she always looked back on with pleasure. There she met some handsome Highland Stewarts who admired her greatly. Hinton Stewart especially was a charming fellow.
Opposite to us at Lingdale in another great house lived the Binghams, another large family of girls, all dowered with good looks. Down in the Park lived the Callendar family of five or six girls and one brother: Louie and Elsie were May's friends throughout their lives. Another talented family, again six girls and one boy, were the William Jacksons: some of these, again, were life long friends. They excelled at Amateur Theatricals, another of Birkenhead's entertaining activities. These I have mentioned by no means exhausted the list of really fine families. Another exceptionally handsome family were the Crittendons in St Aidan's Terrace, a row of great roomy four-storey houses built on the Scotch plan with fine stone fronts facing the College wood. A rather younger family were the Anguses: there were nine of them, and they lived in a beautiful house on Bidston Hill. The three younger girls, Minnie and Marion and Nina were great friends of Mary and Frieda.
Rather later came the MacIvers, about whom you know everything - so good and happy and such a blessing in all our lives. And, besides all these were our lifelong friends from very babyhood, the Andersons. Often they joined us, and we them, on our Summer Holidays. Once we were all at Barmouth together: and one day, at a picnic at Arthog near Cader Idris (opposite to which fine mountain Giles was born in 1920 at Fronderew, Bontddu) we were bathing in the beautiful but treacherous Mawddach estuary when Rae, my great friend, got into difficulties. May, who was a strong swimmer, went to his help and towed him safely to land. Mary, the eldest daughter, had wonderful red-gold hair, as fine-spun as silk. She was a true loyal character, and was forthright and downright with everyone. She always had a devoted admiration for May, though she was ten years her junior.
Most of these families I have mentioned went to the same Church, the Trinity Presbyterian, as we did. Old Dr Alexander MacLeod was a grand type of the Highlander: and Mother & Father had a great affection for him. His kindly, handsome, countenance, his dignity, and his strong highland pride, distinguished him in my youthful estimation above all his confrères and successors; but he was to be followed by a rare orator and genius, Dr William Watson, who filled the Church to overflowing. He had a great admiration for Father & Mother, and a strong influence over us all. He was, without any doubt, a great man and a saintly character.
Father & Mother set us all a fine example by their regular and devout attendance at Church. Mother seldom missed going twice every Sunday and I think Father was no less assiduous.
I have told you something of the gay winters; but I have not described the tobogganing on Tollemache Hill outside our house. This was huge and glorious fun, for the whole neighbourhood took part in it. There were no trams, and no police to interfere with us. Often we took our toboggans further afield down Upton Hill, down Bidston Hill and the long lane below Mill Hill at the end of Talbot Road. Then there were skating parties in Birkenhead Park, at Raby Mere, at Meols, and, once, on the cold bleak Sefton Meadows.
In the great frost of 1895 we skated up the Dee as far as Eaton Hall. in every winter there were frosty days, and we often met our friends on Ravenscroft's pond behind the Binghams, on Copie Slack, on Bidston Hill, and sometimes in a neighbouring pit called Turton's.
You may be sure Mary was a sunny and popular figure on all these occasions, she could skate and run and play games like any boy. Oh Spacious days! It often makes me sad to think how much the much harassed youth of the present day have missed, through no fault of their own.
Nor was activity and entertaining any less in summer time. There were garden parties, golf at wallasey and Hoylake, on the Wirral Ladies Golf links (of which Mother was a founder) and at Moreton. I must tell you of the Moreton Ladies Spring Meeting. The links were close to the old Leasowe Lighthouse - we sometimes had tea with the lighthouse keeper. There would be a huge Marquee for the Meeting, which lasted three days. It was an extraordinarily popular event. All the beauty and fashion of the neighbourhood used to attend. They came out in their carriages and high-stepping horses, with cockaded coachmen, and footmen on the box seats. They brought their butlers and pretty waitresses. They brought turkeys - boned turkeys beautifully stuffed - boars heads, salmons and mayonnaises, hams and tongues, jellies and trifles and creams, claret cups and hock cups and cider cups and spirits. There may even have been champagne - but I think not. They brought, for tea, huge baskets of strawberries, iced cakes, and innumerable sandwiches made of thin bread and butter, tomatoes, cucumber, egg and cress, - and enormous tea urns. It was a three day feast of unforgettable memory.
There was a mixed foursome tournament; and, on the last day, the whole gathering used to walk round and follow the finalists. May and I, who were reasonably handicapped, were the winners. In the course of the tournament we met and defeated the redoubtable champion John Ball and his sister, the lady champion Miss Lottie Dod & her brother Anthony (a delightful match, they were both such charming people). Miss Molly Graham, another lady champion, was also in the tournament. May, who never missed a drive or an approach or a putt, and who showed the coolest pluck right through, won a chain belt made of chased silver; and I received an aneroid barometer, which is on the mantlepiece above me as I write.
The whole family loved the game of golf. Father was a useful player, despite his stiff finger stump: Mother was in the first class of lady golfers. She used to play in Championships. Both she and Father loved their visits to Cannes, where they used to have a high old time, and carried home many a rich and opulent prize. There they met and mingled with the great world. May, too, won prizes at Cannes. Bertram could drive further than any of us; but he was erratic. Arthur's exploits I have already referred to: he played in a championship at Hoylake, and, driving from the first tee hooked his ball towards the club house. The incident was noted in 'Punch':-
"Mr.A.N.R.Jager ran under the Press Tent. Coward!"Mary and Frieda, too, were keen little golfers when we went for three memorable holidays to St Andrews, and also to Buncrana on Lough Swilly in Ireland.
The visit to Ireland was full of incident and interest. The whole family sailed from Liverpool on a smallish steamer to Londonderry. Embarking late at night, a calm passage found us all having slept well, and made very hungry by the sea air in the morning as we steamed along the rugged north coast of Ireland; but there was no food aboard that ship - possibly a little tea and some biscuits. I believe the Steward banked on the fact that the voyage was generally rough when nobody ever wanted to eat. It was darkly hinted that the money which should have been spent on provisioning had been put to other uses! Anyhow, for one of the few occasions in our lives we fasted if we did not actually starve, for it was late in the afternoon before we landed in Derry and got a rather scratchy sort of high tea at a very dirty and dingy hotel.