One of Gran’s favourite stories was the Blairgowrie lion.
Blairgowrie is a small town to the north of Perth. It is very famous for being the berry capital of Great Britain. The best raspberries and strawberries in the world are grown in the locale and picked by seasonal travellers who just appear on the scene every summer. It’s second claim to fame, as ar as we kids were concerned, was the best Italian ice cream ever. Whenever we passed through the town, we were lucky to be treated to an amazing ice cream.
Lesser known in Blairgowrie’s history is the episode of the escaped lion. Chipperfield’s Circus once toured the country and included many live animal acts. These days, travelling circuses have a completely different character and the performers are all human. That’s quite right, as, on reflection, the training and use of animals, although spectacular, was cruel.
One day, when the circus was in town, a lioness escaped and wandered around the town. Naturally, everyone was alarmed and retreated behind the closed doors of shops and houses.
My grandmother was unphased, mainly because she had no idea of the danger that the big cat posed. She had no idea that this was a killer. “It was so sweet!”
The streets were deserted, apart from Gran and the lioness. Some of the folk opened doors and windows to shout warnings to Gran. Most looked on in horror, fearing her inevitable demise.
Gran walked, fearlessly, toward the lioness.
“Come on, pretty kitty,” she urged, in her gentle Highland lilt. “Come back to the circus, where you belong.”
The lioness backed into the entrance of the tailor’s shop and meekly lay down, purring loudly.
Gran continued to talk to the peaceful cat until the trainer arrived to take her away.
It was in all the papers and Gran never thought much of it.
At least, that is the story that she told us. My grandfather, shamelessly, supported her account.
The truth of the matter is that a lioness really did escape from Chipperfield’s Circus, but that happened in 1905. Gran wasn’t born until 1910 and she only lived near Blairgowrie for a few years on her migration path between Bonar Bridge and Perth in the 1940s. We think that she must have heard the story while she lived there and adopted it for herself just to entertain us, her grandchildren. As she told it so often, she started to believe her own involvement.
We certainly believed it and it definitely entertained us.
The big bonus for me was that one of the many cuddly toys that Gran made for me was a lion pyjama case, complete with mane. I loved Leo, my cuddly lion, as much as I loved the woman who stitched him together for me. He stayed with me until I was well into my thirties, when he fell apart.