v 6.10.00
20 Jun 2020
updated 6 Jan 2021

A Pebble on the Beach

This autobiographical memoir was (to judge from one or two extraneous details) written in the early to mid 1950's when Donaldson was living at Denhamgreen Place in Edinburgh, far removed from the Croydon of her youth, or the remote fastness of Ardnamurchan in which she had spent the happiest years of her life.

Yet it is a remarkably tranquil and serene account of her life, happy with what she accomplished, and entirely without rancour or bitterness for the slights that she would inevitably have suffered as an unreservedly sapphic tomboy making her very individual way through what was still a man's world. Interestingly, though, she was politically Conservative, and opposed to female suffrage, or at least to the violence of the Suffragettes.

The memoir is written in the third person, referring rather mysteriously to Donaldson as Dart, and to Bonus to Althea. I've absolutely no idea where these pseudonyms came from.

Separately, there is also a dedication page, to Althea, which may not actually be part of the memoir, but which is ascribed to one Hilarius, who was a pupil of the eminent mediæval theologian Peter Abelard, about whom Helen Waddell wrote her celebrated novel Abelard and Heloïse in 1933. Could Hilarius be a pseudonym for Hannah Findlay, subsequently Waddell? Or just an earlier nom de plume for Donaldson?

It's very possible that the two-page Introduction that follows, and the ensuing 7 pages entitled Before They Met, collectively constitute the opening part of the Pebble on the Beach, especially as there seems to be a narrative continuity. I've assumed this to be the case.

The memoir does, however end very abruptly as Dart and Althea head off erratically into Caledonia stern and wild in their new motor car, and it would be nice to think that a substantial further and final section may yet be discovered.

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So maybe we have Pebble on the Beach from its very beginning, and our copy ends prematurely and surely there should be more.

But to some extent it already tells us the important early stuff which until now hasn't been in the public domain.

It says for example that "H" becomes engaged in 1909, and so they can no longer mean so much to each other. I guess that this refers to the engagement of Hannah Findlay to Robert Waddell, and is in fact quite a plausible date. I wonder if it would have been announced in (for example) The Scotsman, a publication whose proprietors (the Ritchie family) held Hannah and her sister Val very close to their hearts. It also makes an earlier reference to two sisters (obviously Hannah and Val) who had been portrayed as unbearably well-behaved, but in reality proved to be very good fun.

And, for those who fidget about such matters, I don't think that so much as a hand was ever stretched from one sleeping bag to the other, let alone a lower limb. They seem to have been twin souls rather than bed-mates, but IMHO (and admittedly I know next to nothing about such things), Althea's chronic migraines, bowel inflammations etc, might well have been magically relieved had she and Dart regularly engaged in closer contact of the third kind.

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