There are many things that unite the delightful assistants, but when it comes to reading material their tastes are generally very different.
On the whole, delightful assistant no.2 is inclined towards non-fiction, whereas his spouse is an avid reader of fiction. Perhaps that’s why, on a stormy night during a camping holiday when I was a nipper, she made up a story to calm my nerves. The tale involved three sibling rabbits and an adventure they had.
The invention was a great success, I loved the three rabbits and demanded more tales of their escapades. As the stories increased in number so the cast of characters was expanded to include friends of the rabbits: birds, tortoises, fish and no doubt other creatures I’ve now forgotten.
To this day I get little gifts of rabbits on the backs of envelopes or sketched in the corners of notes from delightful assistant no.1. The little rabbit below appeared on a card she gave me recently, thanking me for some cleaning I’d done (the small thing next to the rabbit is a ‘James hoover’, a vacuum cleaner with a smiley face on it). Her pictures of rabbits always make me feel safe and cosy.
By contrast, from an early age delightful assistant no.2 developed a passion for facts and is well known in the family for being obsessed with the recording of factual information.
For him, car journeys are largely notable for their times and mileages. The same journeys are repeatedly recorded in the same way, and have been for many years. As a result, he has accumulated a mass of data that may seem, to some, indescribably dull. Although we tease him for it, I must admit that it is sometimes extremely useful.
Yesterday I had to pop up to the village of Edzell, and had in mind that it would take me roughly an hour to drive there. On quizzing delightful assistant no.2 about this he agreed on the timing, adding that if I set the mileage recorder in the car to ‘zero’ before setting off I’d find that the turn-off I needed on the A90 would appear after a distance of 34.0 miles. He was quite right.
Whenever he makes the journey from home to Edinburgh, the mileage to various points, such as the middle of the Forth Road Bridge, are checked and, unsurprisingly, almost always the same. Occasionally they deviate a little, which causes great excitement.
On one memorable occasion, he noted that at the usual ten mile mark on the route south, rather than displaying the expected 10.0 miles, the meter showed 9.9 miles. Prior to making the journey the car’s tyres had been pumped up more than usual. This, he deduced, must be the reason for the discrepancy. As he explained, with a slightly larger circumference, each rotation of the wheels propelled the car that little bit further than normal, resulting in an extra one hundredth of a mile for each mile travelled.
The recollection of this event still brings a smile of joy to his face.
While rummaging around in a box of old bits and pieces recently, I came across various items of family history.
I suspect that in his teens and early twenties, delightful assistant no.2 spent a fair bit of time reading newspapers, because amongst the treasures were two folders full of newspaper clippings.
Many of the articles he cut out related to science, particularly physics, and most of them were published in 1949 or 1950. At that time he was studying physics at Edinburgh University, so his choice of article was not too surprising.
Several other themes cropped up throughout the cuttings, such as road building and engineering, both of which are still of great interest to him these days.
As well as local events, such as the entertainment of hospital patients by opera singers,
a few national news items were included, such as the birth of Prince Charles to Queen Elizabeth in April 1949.
Some of the photographs were so big that they took up a whole page in the folder, such as the one below of what is currently known as the Queen’s Park (the name changes with the gender of the monarch).
One image that especially caught my eye was the photograph below of Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. I imagine this one made it into the folder because his grandmother, who lived with him when he was young, was from Dunvegan. When she moved to Edinburgh as a young woman she spoke only Gaelic. It must have been like arriving in a foreign country, hearing everyone speaking the strange words of English.
Along with the newspaper cuttings a few other bits of paper had been slipped into the folders. They contained exactly the sort of information I might have expected to find, such as this graph giving his height and the heights of his sisters up to the age of 20.
Such was (and is) his love of recording details, even trips to the dentist provided material for his hobby.
During the Scottish independence referendum last year, I noticed him making little graphs and notes in the run up to, and during, the voting period. With politics, as with so many other areas of life, he saw a wonderful opportunity for the recording of facts.
He had, in fact, been recording political outcomes for decades, as I discovered when I came across a graph drawn up during the 1950 general election. In 2014 he received his information almost exclusively from constant television coverage; in 1950 he gathered the facts by listening intently to radio broadcasts. The graph below was compiled over a period of hours as results came in from voting stations around Britain.
Along with photographs and articles, several little quizzes were pasted into the folders. Each quiz consisted of seven questions about Edinburgh and must, I think, have been a regular feature in The Scotsman or the Edinburgh Evening News in 1949.
I had fun going through the quizzes with the delightful assistants. Much to my astonishment, delightful assistant no.2 was able to answer several rather obscure questions. When I exclaimed my surprise he shrugged it off, saying that it had, after all, been he who pasted these snippets into the folder.
True enough, but to retain those facts 66 years on is, I think, most impressive. I gave him a little round of applause for his efforts.