John Mann

‘Smiler’ is a Campbell family nickname. 

Johnny’s dad, also called John, had the nickname ‘Smiler’ as a child because he smiled all the time, and Johnny’s elder sister, Morag, was also called ‘Smiler’ for the same reason.  And our daughter Islay is called ‘Sm-Islay’, a play on words, by her brother.

Last weekend, Johnny’s dad, now known as ‘Papa’ to his grandchildren, came to stay at Powdermills Bed & Breakfast to celebrate his 91st birthday.  It has been our first break for four months of nearly 100% occupancy. It was great break for us both as our daughters joined us from London. The weekend recharged our batteries for the final weeks’ of the season.

We are often entertained by the stories of our guests, but John senior was on fine form regaling us of his exploits during the war and during his national service in Singapore. What an age, what a trooper and what a memory.

He told us a story that we had not heard before of when he was a little boy of three years old. It was 1931 and John lived with his family in Pitt Street, Leith, Edinburgh.  He was out shopping with his mother on this day and they were in a butcher’s shop nearby.  Being somewhat bored as his mother talked to the butcher, John, walked to the front of the shop and outside on the pavement he smiled at a young girl.  She asked him if he was lost and he said that he was.  “I’ll take you to the Police station,” she said, and off they went.  He was taken to the Police station at Constitution Street over a mile away.

John and the young girl reached the Police station.  The girl explained to a policeman that he was lost.  He settled John onto a chair and he was given a supply of chocolate biscuits.  He remembered how happy he was and not scared. Chocolate was a special treat for him.

“Well, well,” said the Policeman to John.  “You’re a smiler, aren’t you?”   

“So, what’s your name, young smiler?” John beamed a big smile. 

“John the Man,” he said.

Meanwhile, John’s mother, who was frantic at losing her son, ran into the street shouting out to anyone who might have seen him. Word of a missing small boy spread around Leith like wildfire.  And at the Police Station on Constitution St, a relative enquired if the police had seen a small boy called John Campbell.

“No,” said a police officer, but we have a young chap here called John Mann.  

It transpires that little John did not know his full name but thought he was called ‘John, my wee man‘, as that is what his Mum and two older sisters called him! As he was telling this tale from over 88 years ago, he was grinning from ear to ear because he has never forgotten how wonderful the chocolate biscuits tasted!