The story goes on! A phone call from Lord Mackie (so the forwarding system from the House of Lords does work), followed by one from his nephew, Charlie Allan.
But in between, other elements had begun to come together. Alan Hill (who originally sent me the photocopy of Jean’s poems) had been in touch with Mary Johnstone, and Mary knew Jean Mackie was the mother of Charlie Allan, “well known NE broadcaster”. She remembered Jean as “one of the famous Ythsie Mackie”, a family with three brothers all supporting different political parties.
Mary Johnstone is, in her own right, a wonderful person. You can tell this from her note. This is what it said:
I knew Mrs Maitland Mackie because my grandparents (Mary and Andra Mackie) lived in a wee house at the end of their days in Tarves. Farm servants were dependent on big farm owners’ charity when it came to finding a place to stay after their working days were done. Mrs Maitland and her daughter – also a Mary but of the famous Ice Cream Mackie and headmistress of a primary school with a name which you don’t pronounce as it’s read somewhere near Aboyne – it will come back to me – used to come down and visit my granny, so Ice Cream Mary told me one time I met her.
And Mary J sent a cutting from the The Press & Journal’s ‘Farm Journal’, Saturday April 13, 1991. It was an obituary by Charlie Allan for his mother, Jean Mackie, written just after her death.
So I was right in my supposition that Jean did indeed do a degree in English. But I hadn’t guessed that the dedication in her pamphlet to John Allan, famer and writer, was a dedication to her husband. Jean Mackie was Jean Allan.
She was, furthermore, a friend of radical theatre director Joan Littlewood and consequently involved in bringing the Theatre Workshop to Aberdeen in the early 50s. All the Mackies were political: Jean was no exception. She was a well-regarded educationalist, contributed to journals throughout the world and set up St Nicholas School in Aberdeen “where she was able to prove that primary education didn’t have to be terrifying or boring”. No wonder she knew the redoubtable R F Mackenzie!
Meanwhile, I have been talking to Charlie, a man after my own heart. He runs a small publishing company himself and so knows about poetry not making money. And he is a man of stories too: a writer, a former broadcaster and athlete. I have sent him a couple of HappenStance pamphlets, the Ruth Pitter and Olive Dehn ones, because they have introductions about their authors. We will see whether something similar can’t be managed for Jean, with an ISB number this time, so it is deposited in all our national libraries, as well as, hopefully, in a good few deserving households.
But for the moment, the project is in the simmering stage, so I’ll end with a couplet from Jean, in the persona of Lady Macbeth:
I shall go back now to my grave. The air
Nimbly and sweetly re-enchants me there.