Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Boats and bumf

Just back from waving Neil off on the ferry, I was recalling similar scenes from childhood – not in Dunoon, but at Brodick pier. If you are sufficiently aged, you may be able to picture this. There are people on the pier dressed for holidays on Arran – knee-length shorts (navy or khaki) with long socks on middle-aged men was the dead giveaway that they were not boarding the ferry yet. They would be there to see off visitors who might have stayed over a weekend, sharing their rented cottage, or perhaps a family member whose holiday didn’t extend to a month and who was returning to an office for the week (back on Friday, on the “Fathers’ Boat”). The shorted men would be accompanied by women and children in variants of holiday attire – anything from waterproofs to summer dresses or “slacks”.

As the boat – usually the evening boat – prepared to sail, the people left waving farewell would produce toilet rolls, which in these days were of the strong, slippery variety well-suited to their intended purpose, and throw them at the departing ferry. The skilled among them would hold them in such a way that they retained one end while the friend on board would catch the unravelling roll and chuck it back, holding in turn their end of this streamer of bumf. And so it was that the ferry sailed, with the symbolic breaking of the bonds of bumf as the gap between ship and pier increased.

It may be that I have a slightly misleading detail in there, for it was always said that the bumf-chuckers half-inched the toilet rolls from boarding house loos, so perhaps they came from boarding houses rather than cottages such as the one we lived in for our hols. We tended to look down our noses at such vulgar display – though I recall a surge of delight when a heartily lobbed roll vanished down a funnel.

This exuberant ritual no longer accompanies the departure of the ferries, as far as I know - but then maybe Dunoon didn't have quite the same sense of the remote that an island can bring. Whatever the reason, I was not hurling streamers of Andrex after the departing 5.50 boat this evening. I hope no-one was disappointed.


  1. I love it! I never knew about the toilet rolls. What fun.

  2. Anonymous1:55 PM

    Ah, happy days! We used to watch one or other of the Duchesses leaving Campbeltown of an afternoon, then return to the isolation that is Kintyre at any season. We did not, however, throw toilet rolls - nor even cut-up sheets of the Daily Record on a string. If we had been in a railway station, my dad would encourage us to cry "Wave yer train - yer maw's awa in a hanky!"

    Incidentally, in a sudden access of tidiness, I've been going through assorted boxes and drawers and have discovered slides of the Duchess of Montrose sailing past Largs, the King George V coming in to Oban and, on film, the PS Talisman heading for Largs. It's like eating a madeleine.

  3. Wow...such imagery! I could just imagine this and had such a nice chuckle this morning...