From Kirkcaldy, Scotland, to the Manse kitchen, it’s – linoleum!

Forbo linoelum tile, yellow and white

Is that a happy kitchen floor or what? This is linoleum flooring made by Forbo (a company with an interesting distant connection to us, as you’ll see if you read on), and I think it would look lovely in the Manse’s kitchen. Or maybe in turquoise instead of yellow… (Photo from Forbo Flooring Systems)

You know, it’s been far too long since I wrote on the subject of linoleum. But I am inspired to do so this evening by the very recent discovery that a friend of ours from the church we attended in Montreal grew up in the Scottish town that was – and perhaps still is – the world capital of linoleum manufacturing. (She shared this information having read some of my earlier posts, like here, about the vintage linoleum “carpets” that grace the bedrooms of the Manse, which I think are quite beautiful. I also wrote here about how much I’d like to re-create the turquoise-and-white linoleum floor that was in the Manse’s kitchen in my early childhood.)

The town in question has the lovely name Kirkcaldy, and you can read more about it (and its connection to linoleum manufacturing) here and here.

But here’s what our friend wrote, from her own memories:

“There were two companies in town by the railway station. The smell (linseed oil I think) inspired a famous poem about a boy on a train, that ends with “I ken mysel’ by the queer like smell the next stops Kirkcaldy”!  It’s posted as a piece of art in the station today.”

Indeed it would have been linseed oil – a key ingredient of linoleum, as I discovered in my research on the subject (reported here). That research also led to the discovery that even though linoleum is very retro, it is extremely environmentally friendly and, perhaps for that reason, is coming back into vogue after being displaced for all those late-20th-century years by wall-to-wall carpeting. So all the more reason for hanging onto our vintage linoleum carpets – and also, I hope, installing a linoleum floor in our renovated Manse kitchen!

And thanks to the tip from our friend, I think I have a line on that, and some cool ideas.

(Oh: were you wondering about the poem about the boy on the train? Never fear – I’ll get to that.)

I did a bit more poking around on the internet, looking up the company based in Kirkcaldy that is still making linoleum and, according to this BBC site, is one of only three producers in the world. It is called Forbo-Nairn (one Michael Nairn having been the founder of the operation in Kirkcaldy), but it’s mostly just shortened to Forbo in its marketing efforts, as far as I can see.

And this company has lovely linoleum flooring. Look!

Ah, this gives me ideas. And then there’s this one, which isn’t tiles at all but a deep red (my favourite colour) with a very nice decorative trim:

red linoleum with decorative trim

This feels so 1950s and so modern at the same time. Love it! (Photos from Forbo Flooring Systems)

But back to The Boy in the Train, because isn’t a little poem always a good way to finish a post? This is how the site introduces it: “This poem by M.C. [Mary Campbell] Smith is full of the anticipation – and questioning – of an excited child on his way to see his Gran in Kirkcaldy – which is known more for the smell from the linoleum factories than as a tourist destination!” You will have to figure out (or look up) some of the Scottishisms, but it’s very sweet:

The Boy in the Train

Whit wey does the engine say ‘Toot-toot’?
Is it feart to gang in the tunnel?
Whit wey is the furnace no pit oot
When the rain gangs doon the funnel?
What’ll I hae for my tea the nicht?
A herrin’, or maybe a haddie?
Has Gran’ma gotten electric licht?
Is the next stop Kirkcaddy?

There’s a hoodie-craw on yon turnip-raw!
An’ seagulls! – sax or seeven.
I’ll no fa’ oot o’ the windae, Maw,
Its sneckit, as sure as I’m leevin’.
We’re into the tunnel! we’re a’ in the dark!
But dinna be frichtit, Daddy,
We’ll sune be comin’ to Beveridge Park,
And the next stop’s Kirkcaddy!

Is yon the mune I see in the sky?
It’s awfu’ wee an’ curly,
See! there’s a coo and a cauf ootbye,
An’ a lassie pu’in’ a hurly!
He’s chackit the tickets and gien them back,
Sae gie me my ain yin, Daddy.
Lift doon the bag frae the luggage rack,
For the next stop’s Kirkcaddy!

There’s a gey wheen boats at the harbour mou’,
And eh! dae ya see the cruisers?
The cinnamon drop I was sookin’ the noo
Has tummelt an’ stuck tae ma troosers. . .
I’ll sune be ringin’ ma Gran’ma’s bell,
She’ll cry, ‘Come ben, my laddie’,
For I ken mysel’ by the queer-like smell
That the next stop’s Kirkcaddy!

Linoleum-floor ideas photos and a Scottish poem: thank you, Elizabeth!

4 thoughts on “From Kirkcaldy, Scotland, to the Manse kitchen, it’s – linoleum!

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