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DAN MACKAY: Coiled carpet in Willowbank cottage led to staircase disaster

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The Real MacKay by Dan MacKay

Dan Mackay, Wick.
Dan Mackay, Wick.

Dad was always a sucker for a bargain. I think it was the years he spent working in Glasgow after the war that got him captivated.

He particularly thrived on anything militaria – especially if it was to do with his days in the RAF, or was wireless related. The famous Barrowlands – the Barras – became his spiritual mecca.

Donnie and Jean Mackay outside the Ensign Shop in Wick just before it closed for the final time in 1988.
Donnie and Jean Mackay outside the Ensign Shop in Wick just before it closed for the final time in 1988.

There’s the true story of the Avro Lancaster bomb release mechanism that he took home when I got my first train set. He planned to connect it to the junction points on the rail track and control them independently with this very sophisticated switch device. Only problem was the heavy-duty transformer, half the size of a wheely bin, that came with it!

I’ve no idea how those old crates ever took off weighed down with all that gear onboard. Dad’s vision was impeccable, but even as a nine-year-old I knew that all I had to do was reach over and change the track points – and there were only two – manually…

He’d bring back loads of questionable wireless sets, receivers, transmitters, navigational devices (the shed was only twenty feet away at the bottom of the garden), you name it.

As time went on, he seemed to conjure different accounts of his wartime experiences. And, being a newsagent, thought nothing of delivering local paper rounds in fleece-lined pilot’s bomber jackets with matching thermal boots.

In the winter, when the weather was dire, he would return from his rounds looking rather trachled, leaving customers wondering if he’d just made it back from a raid over the Ruhr or the Rhineland.

Donnie Mackay - Dan's father - in his wartime uniform.
Donnie Mackay - Dan's father - in his wartime uniform.

His all-time best bargain blunder was that infamous stair carpet he literally bought off the back of a lorry. It was miles long but we only lived in a low standing cottage in Willowbank. Of course, Dad refused to have it cut to size.

Instead, through a stroke of his ingenious thinking, he decided to keep it as it was and arranged for a local joiner to rout out long grooves in the riser of each step. This way the excess carpet could be fed through down into the stair cupboard below, which began to look like a coiled snake.

His reasoning was that when the carpet got worn over time, all we had to do was pull it out and relay the shabby parts out-of-sight through the grooves…thus giving the entire staircase a new lease of life.

Mum was less than convinced.

And she had every reason to be, because dad had not factored in a small cottage staircase and his family of four rumbustious teenagers. It was only a matter of time and, as if on cue, the aforementioned staircase collapsed as we bombed up and down to our rooms. It was like something from a Buster Keaton comedy sketch – but with sound effects. Mostly my mother’s!

That same joiner was duly summoned with lengths of expensive iroko hardwood to rebuild what looked like an earthquake zone.

Even in his eighties he once queued outside a local supermarket at dawn to get one of the limited stocks of new generation flat-screen tellies. He was first in line but got trampled over by younger, more desperate customers when staff opened the doors.

How he must have lamented the good old days of the Barras.

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