Thursday, August 28, 2008

Curling at altitude

It’s now more than thirty years ago that a remarkable curling match took place. Near the top of the Jungfrau in the Bernese Alps and close to the Jungfraujoch station of the Jungrau Railway is a cavern, or as some advertisements put it, a cathedral, or a palace, carved out of the ice of the glacier there.

During the Grindelwald Bull competition in 1977, Jim Gardner, Calwell Loughridge, John Grant and I, all members of the Abbotsford Curling Society, took some time off from our busy schedule to inspect this large hole in the ice. We all thought it might be great fun to have a game away up there but there wasn’t time that year. The next year I was unable to go and the rink with a Smith-substitute played in the bonspiel under the flag of Ballindalloch CC, which was only right because it was well fuelled throughout by that product of the distillery situated at Ballindalloch, Glenfarclas.

That year the arrangements were successful and two rinks, that of Ballindalloch and a local rink skipped by Hans-Peter Glarner, plus some Scots umpires, took their stones up the railway with them to the cavern to play what they claimed was the highest game of curling ever played. They were 11,333 feet above sea level.

The photograph above shows Calwell and Jim ready to sweep a John Grant stone, while Hugh Lyburn, then of Wigtownshire and now of Brandon, Manitoba, looks on. All I learned about the game was that it had been great fun and that the score was a diplomatic 6 all. Whether the word peels was added to the Grindelwald/Swiss vocabulary I do not know.

I wonder, however, whether their claim is correct. 15,000 feet up Mount Kenya beside the Lewis Glacier there is a small lake called in all the books the Curling Pond. In Kenya Mountain, 1926, the author EAT Dutton describes his companion, JD Melhuish, skating on the Pond, and causing consternation among the porters who had never before seen a 'white man dancing with knives on his feet'. In The Mountain Club of Kenya Guide to Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro it is said that Dutton taught Melhuish to curl on the Pond in 1919. The report is silent as to who carried the curling stones to that great height, and as to their number.

Found on the web. This is apparently a Jack Jackson photo, for sale as a hi-res poster image here. It is captioned 'Point Lenana, 4985M, and the Curling Pond, from Top Hut, Mount Kenya, Kenya'.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Uniroyal World Junior Championship 1976, Aviemore, Scotland

In these days of the internet, digital cameras, interactive television and webcasting, it is easy to forget how difficult it was to record in pictures the curling events of years past. In 1976 I travelled to Aviemore to watch the second Uniroyal World Junior Championship at the rink in the Aviemore Centre.

I had my camera with me, and took a few 35mm slides. The results weren't very good. I kept a few of the slides over the intervening years and had them digitised recently. The Scottish team (above) was L-R Bob Kelly, Ken Horton, Willie Jamieson and Keith Douglas, from Glasgow Young Curlers Club. Here are three more of my pics from that wonderful week - the first time I had watched a complete international event.

Canada's Paul Gowsell encourages his sweepers.

Canada's Glen Jackson delivers, with Neil Houston and Kelly Stearne ready to sweep.

The presentation ceremony, Team Canada on top of the world!

But the above was not the main reason for today's post. Bob Kelly recently lent me a VHS videotape that had been converted from the 16mm film which Uniroyal made at the time for promotional purposes. Bob knew of my interest in rescuing old video footage of curling. This thirty minute film record of the 1976 event is now on DVD. Perhaps one day (soon) it will be possible for all to see again on the web. Already tantalising snippets of historic curling footage can be seen on YouTube (for example here), and in the CBC archive. The future is indeed exciting for the curling historian.

What can be done today though is to extract singles frames from the DVD. The quality is not great, even allowing for the fact that the original film image has been twice converted. See what you think!

The championship flag, with just two venues on it.

Something you don't see every day - Scotland's World Champion skip (from 1967) Chuck Hay sweeping! It was the opening stone of the event.

Bob Kelly and his team lost to Canada in the semifinal. All the records are on the WCF site here.

Sweden's Jan Ullsten and his team lost the final to Canada.

Another pic of Team Canada. I think it fair to say that the 'colourful' Gowsell team caused some raised eyebrows amongst the traditionalists in Scotland!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

W K Jackson

David B Smith writes:
Amongst the objects forming the Jackson Collection acquired recently by the RCCC Charitable Trust (see here) is an ephemeral document, the official identity card of Willie Jackson as a competitor in the Winter Olympic Games at Chamonix in 1924. Of course, the actual gold medals won by WK and his son Laurence were an important reason for acquiring the collection, but this small card very much adds to the feeling of what it was like to be a competitor.

Incidentally, among the objects I was given from the estate of Robin Welsh was a competitor’s badge from the same games, for Robin Welsh, senior, was also a gold medal curler in this rink; and this badge must have been his.

The photographs from Chamonix of the curlers in action are disappointing: none of them is very sharp. I have found one that shows WK holding the brush. Another shows two other members of the winning rink, Robin Welsh and TB Murray, in some sort of action on the ice, which was, of course, in the open air.

Jackson had been famous in curling Scotland before 1924. He was vice-president of the Royal Club in 1921-2. But the Olympic win undoubtedly added to his fame; and he added to his fame every year throughout the Twenties. He was again elected vice-president in 1931-32. Such was the regard in which he was held that he was elected President in 1933-4. In proposing his election Lord Sempill said that apart from farming he had been a justice of the peace and county councillor, a director of Edinburgh Ice Rink, and a member of the Royal Club Council for over twenty years.

Throughout the years Jackson won many, many trophies and great respect, but he also won the affection of everyone as the following poem by the Rev. A. Gordon Mitchell, chaplain of the RCCC, clearly shows. It first appeared in the Annual for 1933-4.



O Willie, Willie Jackson,
In your presiding year
Your legion of admirers
Acclaim you wi’ a cheer.
We’re prood to see ye winnin’
Where ye deserve to be.
We thocht frae the beginnin’
Ye’d reach the Curlin’ Tee.

It is a prood position,
As weel ye ken yoursel’,
Made famous by tradition
O’ them that filled it well;
Fu’ mony a belted Thanie
Was prood to win that chair,
An’ those that lo’e the stanie
Were gled to see them there.

A noble and a rare man
Ye’ve pruived yoursel’ fu’ weel,
Ye’ll mak a peerless chairman,
And, as ye play the spiel
To nane ava a second,
Sae owre us ye’ll preside,
By ane an’ a’ aye reckoned
The curlers’ joy and pride.

Three cheers for Willie Jackson,
The champion of the Rink:
There’s nane will grudge to gie them
That wields the kowe, I think.
Cheer till ye’re hairse and roopit!
And wuss that it may be
His stane may aye be soopit
To sit upon the tee.

Top: WK Jackson’s identity card, front and back.

WK Jackson skipping at Chamonix at the Winter Olympics, 1924.

The Great Britain gold medal winning rink at play. Left is Robin Welsh. Next to him is TB Murray.

A competitor’s badge, probably that of Robin Welsh. 'Concurrent' is the French for 'competitor'.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Thomas Durham Weir portrait

With the recent death of Bob Gardner, pictured at the Royal Club's AGM last year, the curling world lost a great philanthropist. His obituary is here.

Bob's generosity saw him gift a remarkable painting to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 2002. David Smith wrote about this in the October 2002 Scottish Curler magazine. This is what he wrote:

'In 1862 the curlers of Bathgate held a big dinner in honour of their president for the previous thirty three years or so, Thomas Durham Weir of Boghead. The large pond in his policies had afforded them curling for decades. The manner in which he was honoured was by the commissioning and presentation to him of his portrait, executed by William Smellie Watson, one of the best painters of his day.

As was the custom in the Victorian era the speeches were long, and they were recorded for posterity. The laird himself distributed them in the form of a small book, privately printed, and entitled, The Bathgate Curlers’ Dinner.

In August 2002 the part played in Scottish curling by another notable curler was marked by the presentation to the RCCC of this very portrait.

Bob Gardner, formerly of Falkirk CC and Council member in 1982-6, acquired the picture and decided to give it to the curlers of Scotland in memory of his late wife Chris.

Christina Anderson Gardner died earlier this year after a long and full life. She began curling in 1960 as a founder member of Falkirk Ladies Sixty CC and such were her keenness for the game and her natural abilities, on and off the ice, that it was inevitable that in 1973-4 she was elected President of the Ladies Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

Chris worked tirelessly in the promotion of her favourite game. She and Bob, at their own expense, became ambassadors for curling all over the world, and in particular in its most distant parts. For example, in 1971 they went all the way to New Zealand with a small group of like-minded, curling-daft Scots and played the game there. They also visited Japan in order to promote the game. They were assiduous 'fans' of Scotland at a long series of world championships.

Chris’s greatest claim to fame, however, is that she was largely responsible for the institution of the World Ladies’ Curling Championship, which began in Perth in 1979.

The painting is a three quarter length portrait of a distinguished, middle-aged man. As he faces the painter one can see that his left hand rests upon a fine curling stone handle placed on a table beside a silver medal. In the bottom left corner one can discern curlers at play at Boghead. Round his neck and suspended from a massive gold chain is a large miniature curling stone, of green chalcedony with a gold handle.

Thomas Durham Weir was at the founding of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club. He was one of the group which drew up the first constitution. He was a vice-president for the season 1843-4. He was a keen exponent of the game, who, according to John Kerr, “was always at his best at the head of the [Bathgate] curlers, and with his enthusiastic ‘bravissimo’ he led them on to many a gallant victory.” He not only played in the Grand Match on Linlithgow Loch on 25 January 1848, but he made an impassioned and humorous speech in honour of 'Scotland’s ain grand game o’ curling' at the dinner which followed the historic event. When he died on 31 May 1869, 'universally loved and esteemed', Henry Shanks, the Bathgate poet, celebrated his memory in these lines:

How sad to remember, when frosty December,
Calls forth to the bonspiel her bands full of glee,
No more will he take his stand cheerful with broom in hand,
The pride of the rink, and the joy of the tee.

No more shall we hear again his ‘O be unerring, men!’
All too unerring hath fallen the blow;
No more shall his ringing cheer, trumpet-toned, high, and clear,
Shout o’er the victory, his ‘bravissimo.’

Blow no more over us, blustering Boreas,
Come no more south with thy snow-covered head:
Gone, and for aye, is he who would have welcomed thee;
The Saul of our curlers, our Durham is dead.

Well hast thou played thy part, manly and feeling heart;
How many will miss thee, now bid thee farewell.
Sleep on and sleep soundly. For ever and fondly
The Laird of Boghead in our memories shall dwell.

The curlers of Scotland have every reason to be grateful to Bob Gardner for this extremely generous gift, which at one fell swoop rekindles in us the memory of two notable curlers who both dedicated themselves to 'Scotland’s ain grand game o’ curling', and in their different ways did so much to promote its success.'

Bob Gardner's photo and that of the painting of Thomas Durham Weir are by Bob Cowan.