James ‘Jimmy’ Shepherd 1945 – 2017


Posted by in July's Magazine

At the Humanist ceremony the speaker who has an unfortunate tendency toward mumbling seems to be telling us that the area of Leith that Jimmy Shepherd grew up in was called “The Bowery”, but this can’t be right, Jimmy’s stamping ground was what is now Swanfield Industrial Estate – keeping look out for his dad and his mates while they indulged in various gambling shenanigans that the local constabulary took a more than passing interest in. Not so much a Dead End Kid from the actual Bowery more of a Bash Street Kid or a ‘Bert Hardy boy’ from Leith. A little pocket battleship of mischief and high jinks with a seeming heart of gold; he once got a roasting for giving his brand new raincoat to a homeless man because “he looked freezing”.

The family bought a bed & breakfast in Annandale Street (I feel sure Jimmy once told me Pilrig Street), whichever, the Shepherd boys indulged in joyous mayhem, much to the annoyance of the new neighbours who fancied themselves middle class and didn’t take kindly to a bunch of kids actually playing in – well, rampaging through – the back gardens.

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Around this time Jimmy became familiar with the inside of those now defunct blue police boxes and on one of his first dates with his future wife managed to get himself thrown out of the dancing by the bouncers. A visit to the courts, where his cheeky reaction to a £25 fine saw it upped to £50 followed by a feature in next day’s paper, set him on the straight and narrow. Though, in truth, he had never really strayed far.

After marriage he moved to Elm Row where according to my notes, his first attempts at DIY included; blowing the electrics and hammering nails into the gas pipe. Luckily he proved more competent in other pursuits travelling to the Far and Middle East as what he termed “an oil man.” Welding was his thing too, and when he had kids and settled, he worked at the Docks. An enthusiastic union man, it was ‘one out all out’ when their mess hut was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter and there was even a strike about ‘rough toilet paper”. He was censured for nipping into a couple of pubs during a protest march.

In later life he became chief carer for his wife and his aged aunt and spent a lot of time with his grandson Charlie. They were inseparable. The tragic death of a granddaughter, who hoped to be a vet, made him an enthusiastic collector for the SSPCA. He also managed to fit in shifts pulling pints at the Alan Breck bar – even finding time to organise the golf section – were he was much loved and I first met him.

Not long ago he gave me a metal briefcase that weighed a ton adding, “Obviously you’re not a real journalist but at least you’ll look like one.” And then almost as an afterthought “Oh, and by the way, I can’t remember the combination for the locks. You’ll have to work it out before you can use it.” Completely and utterly useless then. I was going to throw it out, but not any more…now it takes pride of place beside my desk.

At his wake the phrases “he helped everyone” and “he was a beautiful person” were much in use…descriptors not given to many of us. Go well, James old sport.

Billy Gould

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