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Monkeys, Bears and Gutta Percha:
Memories of Manse, Hospital and War

‘Flashbacks’ series No. 11
Colin MacLean

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Subject: Scottish folklife
Demy octavo 160 pp
Illustrated: 8-page plate section
ISBN: 1 86232 103 5
paperback £7.99

In Monkeys, Bears and Gutta Percha Colin MacLean picks up and develops the family story as told by his mother, Isabella G. MacLean, in the remarkable collection of her letters, Your Father and I (Flashback No. 6). He looks back across a varied career in journalism and publishing, highlighting many of the distinctive – some now far-distant – features in school and university education, in conditions of health and hygiene, in language, and in the social and religious attitudes of his early years. His strongly personal account traces the span of one family’s contacts with two wolrd wars and presents the moving and often painful story of the impact on his sister Isabel of her brief and unexpected war service at Bletchley Park, where the Ultra Secret was being unravelled – in the most intense secrecy.

The Rev Alexander MacLean died in 1932 when his son Colin was seven years old. Six decades later Colin chanced upon a copy of the address his father had given, some days before he died, at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland: Mr MacLean had told of a schoolboy who wrote, ‘Monkeys, bears and other animals are to be found in theological gardens’, a thought which Colin has found relevant to his own story. As for the gutta percha, that belongs with a real animal in an old family story.

Author: After graduating from Aberdeen University Colin MacLean was a journalist for 27 years – in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London. He then spent 15 years in publishing – with Chambers, Aberdeen University Press, and Elsevier-Pergamon where he was managing editor and a subject editor (Politics and Media) for the ten-volume Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. He now lives at Bridge of Tilt, Pitlochry.