All posts by Neil MacCormick



NEIL MACCORMICK of the WILLiAM line.  Linda Towne’s father.

IAIN MACCORMICK of the NEIL line.  My uncle.   His son, Neil in Canada, tells me his father’s  landing point  was Sword Beach.  (He remarkably also earlier left the Continent safely  in the Dunkirk evacuation.)

Both since sadly deceased.


If you are old fashioned enough to send Christmas cards and want to save money on stamps….well, in the UK, yer too late for using surface mail  to reach your friends and relatives on time  in many countries around the world.  For example, Royal Mail tells us that  September 28 was the last date for sending cards to Australia at the cheapest rate for Christmas delivery.  

What do   you think they do with your stuff for almost three months?  Maybe they have figured out the ocean currents and drop crates of cards at the right spots to be carried to their destinations by Christmas.

Anyway, I will check the US Postal Service for their Christmas deadlines.  But I suspect that postal services around the world agree on such matters.

To be completely fair however, keep in mind that for Australia, you have until December 10 to use airmail for  timely delivery.  So they give you lots of time to save up for that extra cost!

Yes, my Australian and other correspondents around the world, I will send most of you a card this year.  My piggy bank is gradually filling up.

























This is the only one of these tales not originating from my own years  as a New York banker.

In 1949, while on his first return visit to his native  Scotland in over thirty years, a Granduncle, now a citizen of the USA, decided to cash a few of the travelers checks he had prudently bought for this memorable trip.  And the bank he chose to handle this transaction was unsurprisingly that very establishment in his home town still standing, remembered from his younger days.  As he walked through the door,  he was faced with an unchanged layout and decor.  But he still felt a sense of intimidation which banks in the past sought to inculcate in the public.

Nevertheless, recalling his new status as a proud American, he strode up to the counter and declared that he would like to cash some travelers checks.  The bank clerk excused himself and disappeared in the direction of his manager’s office.  When he returned a few moments later, he offered his apologies to the visitor.  “I am very sorry sir.  We only cash travelers checks for our  customers.”

This was quite an astonishing statement, one in direct contradiction of the essence of the travelers checks system of the time.

Not to be repulsed so easily, my Granduncle reached into a pocket and produced a rather dog-eared bank book.  “Well, sir, I am a customer and here is my passbook in evidence.  In addition to exchanging my travelers checks, I would like to take the remaining account balance in cash!”

The poor clerk took the passbook and again raced to consult his mansger.  When he returned, he again apologised but this time in a slightly more gracious  way.  “Would you please have a seat over there sir.   We first have to examine this account.”

It transpired that indeed the account was quite in order.  But the remaining challenge was that  interest had not been accrued for over thirty years.  The clerk had to enlist the help of a colleague and they poured over dusty ledgers, reckoning the periodic earnings, interest upon interest.  And this was long before the digital/computer age and calculator machines were not widely available.

After a considerable time during which the returned native watched the labouring clerks toil over his account, he enjoyed seeing the occasional local enter and conduct whatever business they had.  Memories of his own experiences there came flooding back.  He wondered what happened to that haughty lady behind the counter who treated all her customers as if she was doing them a great favour by taking in their filthy money or allowing them to take her clean money right out of the bank- as if it was their own!

“Excuse me, sir.” My Granduncle was stirred from his daydreams by the clerk. “We have completed our reckoning of your account. With thirty years of interest, you account is now valued at seven shillings and sixpence. Here are three half crowns and your closed account book.”

“Now, how much in travelers checks do you wish to cash?”

I never did ask Granduncle Donald if he would have bothered closing the ancient account if his original request had been honoured. 



splitrockI think it was in the late 1980s when, with my eldest son, Neil, my mother, Jenny MacCormick,  and my  sister, Morag, we made the multi-part  journey from Gourock to Fionnphort where we would get the ferry to Iona.  We parked the car and strolled by the shore.   My mother pointed to one of the row houses up from the pier  and told me to take young    Neil and knock on the door.   I felt a bit embarrassed because I did not know anyone in the hamlet.  The door opened and an elderly gentleman greeted us. .  It transpired that he was delighted to meet two Neil MacCormicks, namesakes and descendants of a well known local figure.  Over  a cup of tea and some cake, he told us a few tales of  Neil of Tormore of which the most memorable was this one.

He pointed out of his window to the huge rock standing alone on  the shore.  (From my rudimentary knowledge of geology I knew it was termed an ‘erratic’ deposited there during  the melt of the retreating Ice Age.)   “See that split in the rock, well that was  made  by Neil Tormore.’   The villagers wanted to know if the rock could be used as building material and asked Great grandfather Neil to assess that possibility.  The quarrymaster brought some explosives to the site and inserted them in holes he had bored.  Alas, after the test, he declared that the rock had faults in its grain revealed in the split  that would make it unusable for building. 

And so the Split Rock of Fionnphort has remained solitary on the beach,  a curiousity for visitors and one whose origins might not otherwise be known.


OK so this is hardly a quote. But it has intrigued me ever since, as an eleven year old, I came upon it in my first French text book, at Woodside Senior Secondary School, . Glasgow.   It was accompanied by a drawing which served to explain the seeming circular  nature of the piece.  My lack of drawing skills prevents me from replicating the small sketch.   But it’s an easy read for those with more than an elementary knowledge of the language. 

Je  suis ce que je suis.

Je ne suis pas ce que je suis.

Si j’etais ce que je suis,

je ne serais pas ce que je suis.




The Maine, USA, artist, Marsden Hartley

‘We return to our childhood home at our peril. The familiarity may be comforting; the contact with ghosts, consoling. But the inevitable, entropic pull back into old patterns of thinking and feeling we spend a lifetime trying to undo can….be difficult.’



Many many Glaswegians will have their own stories about the Glasgow School of Art, now in ruins, victim again of an unforgiving conflagration.

My stories are from my childhood in the 1930s into World War 2.  

From the age of four, for six yeats,  I passed the Glasgow Schoolof Art four times a day, going to and from Garnetbank Primary School.  Did I realise then that I was being exposed to  the masterpiece  hallmark icon of a building by  Charles Rennie MacIntosh?  No.  Nor was I even aware then of the structure’s purpose.  

But I have no doubt that. the style.  the swagger, the  unique designs were etched firmly then in my young brain. 

My second Glasgow School of Art story, again from childhood, is eerily related to the current tragedy.  

During World War 2, the government,  as part of preparation for attack by air, had built on vacant plots in cities, large steel tanks – as I recall, about forty feet long by fifteen feet wide.   Thry were filled with water to be used as auxiliary supplies against fire and had a wire net on top to try and prevent wee folk from falling in.  

One such structure was placed on a vacant lot just below the Glasgow School of Art, adjacent to the Regal Cinema (predecessor of the O2).  My best pal, Roderick Bruce, lived on the other side of the Art School, at the corner of Scott  and Renfrew Streets.  So the water tank was fair game for us.  We found pieces of wood and sailed these ‘boats’ in the smelly stagnant waters.  (A bonus from that wasteland was finding a film frame of Betty Grable in full technicolour discarded by a Regal projectionist.)

In retrospect, think of  that lonely tank of water when  you compare it with the need almost eighty years later to lay fire hose from  Renfrew Street all the way to the River Clyde – about 3/4 mile –  to attempt control of the 2018 Glasgow  Art School blaze.  

As an adult, I have boasted to all within hearing in various parts of the world, especially in the U.S.A.,  of the remarkable creations of Charles Rennie Macintosh and his partners, known as ‘The Four.’

Now I am in tears, and angry that not a wartime incendiary bomb but something  preventable has taken away a lifelong symbol of the Glasgow I grew up in and admired – no, loved.








Tonight, I  will join my classmates in Ithaca, New York , via the internet, in their celebration of the  60th anniversary of our graduation  from Cornell University in 1958.   This will be the third and last night of their gathering and I look forward to greeting as many old friends  as possible via Facetime.

At the Memorial Service yesterday, my piece, An Alumni Hymn, was sung. 


EPSON scanner image
EPSON scanner image

My Class CoChair, Dick Haggard, tells me that the piece was well  received and that it is likely that it will become a standard Cornell song.