Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Stories by Peter Logue
When I look Back On My Childhood

Rain was coming in fast across the Firth of Clyde. Carried by turbulent winds, it lifted over hillside and glen before lashing downward in dense waves onto the streets of my childhood. I paused for a moment at the top of Craddock Hill, lifted the collar of my raincoat and gazed skyward. The clouds were as dark as slate, only the slightest hint of clearance on the southern horizon. How I had forgotten the weather, I thought, as I lit my cigarette, blew a plume of smoke skyward and moved up the Lane.

21 Craddock Hill came into view almost immediately, its wide gable end and slated roof presenting an integral part of what I remember of the old place. As I drew nearer, I had a notion in my head that the house, by some strange means, was as aware of my presence as I was of it. Ghosts of my own mind, I suppose, for I can't, not by any stretch of the imagination, say that the house spoke to me in any manner, not even figuratively speaking. But yet I felt that its awareness of my presence was as real as would emanate from any living thing.

Feeling slightly elated, for I was looking forward to this reunion as if 21 Craddock Hill were an old friend I had not seen in more than four decades, I found my pace quicken as I made my way along the narrow lane. With each step I wondered just how the house of my childhood might have changed. Perhaps, like the village itself, which, as far as I could tell, had remained relatively unchanged over the years, the house, too, might not have changed much. Forty years had changed me, to be sure, and not always to the best, I grant you, so I was quite prepared for any reality, vis-a-vis, whither the bricks and mortar of my old home had faired as poorly as myself, or whither forty years and Margaret Thatcher’s “Right-To-Buy” scheme had contrived to improve things to any extent.

I tossed my cigarette and turned the next corner, bringing the old council semi-detached into full view and, to be certain, I was nothing short of disgusted at what lay before me. Owner neglect, it seems, had been blatant through the years, expediting a shameful decay of the old place so that it resembled a building slated for demolition. Its lawns and gardens, once my mother’s pride and joy, were now a tract of forgotten wasteland. Crab grass grew everywhere, and at the side of the house an ancient Ford Escort lay in ruins on its belly, all wheels gone.

I have a mind to remember that 21 had always been an old house, even when we first moved into it in 1962. I remember well kept lawns and trimmed hedges, white washed copings and a fresh coat of paint on windows and sills. Such was the way back then, a way of folks taking a bit of pride in their homes. Right now, that old house, in its transformation, was as far removed from my childhood home as was possible. It was too much for me, really, and I looked away, my eyes catching the reflection of the house in a large puddle nearby, it's straight bold corners now distorted in the ripples of the pouring rain. Through the constant downpour I tried to remember what I tried to forget.

* * *

I was seven...

Dad disnae like the new hoose. He disnae like it and he never will. He disnae like it because it has a stone floor and he tells us it'll be blasted cold in here come winter. And "Ah, Lord, will you look at that," he moans, shaking a hand in the direction of the large picture window which dominates the front room. "Its glass is old and weather-beaten and yer mother will never be able tae put a shine tae it no matter wit she does!" There's a crack in one of the panes and of the two side windows, the ones you can open, dad says they're warped and buckled and as true as God and his blessed Mother he could stuff a rolled-up pound note through that crack at the bottom, which is what he might as well be doing, he says, as try tae heat this blasted place.

My aunt Jean, dad's sister, is up for a visit and a cup of tea and to see that mum is alright with the new baby when it arrives. Dad says its all mum's fault. 'And why did she huv tae go and get pregnant in the first place. We'd still be in Bowie street with the warm wooden floors and back boiler and wisnae it a mid-terrace that stayed warm in winter and didn't the good Lord give her the rhythm method and why the devil hadn't she stuck tae it!'

Dad might have been right about the stone floor and buckled front window, but it wasn't mum’s fault that we had to leave Bowie street. Bowie street was a part of Wee Dublin. To live in wee Dublin you'd have to be working for William Denny, either in Denny Shipyards by the river Leven, or in the Denniston Steel Mill. If you didn't work for Mr. Denny, then Mr. Denny wasn't obliged to provide a two up two down with outhouse, rats included, for as little as one pound and six shillings a week. If you got taken with the drink and didn't bother to show up for work, then to the devil with you, for there was many a man willing and able to take your place.

The week before last year's Christmas was when dad picked up his last pay-packet from Denny and Son and didn't stagger up the road until past midnight, the deep mournful drone of Danny Boy lifting and rolling with the wind, falling into silence as he paused to gain his bearings. From my cold bed I'd listen to his approach as the rain rattled on my window pane, wind whistling through a crack into which one could slip a rolled-up pound note. I was only seven, rather helpless in my bed as I listened to the awful sound of the squeak from that back gate. I would pray for mum for the beating she'd get as soon as he was in the door. I would pray as hard as I could, pray for Jesus to intervene and, if he was busy, couldn't he have a word with his dad, God Almighty? "And if you could please hurry, Jesus, I'll never miss mass again."

" Oh, Danny boy, the pipes the pipes are calling. " Dad will blame mum for our lot in life and for having to be kicked out of Bowie Street. He'll blame the Protestants, the Orange Lodge and the Free Masons for the fact that he cant' get work, but all the time I knew it was the drink.

* * *

When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I ever had so much fun, given that the pockets of my threadbare breeks were forever lacking in a penny or two. I did have my catapult, though, and my plastic, three-penny rocket, complete with a half roll of exploding caps. What a toy this was! To play rockets, you'd lift the little metal plunger on the nose, slip in a cap or two and toss the rocket into the air for it to come zooming down with a resounding bang! They didn't always come down, of course. Heavens knows how many plastic rockets I had lost in the eaves of that house, and I'll bet there's a remnant or to up there to this very day, their once shiny plastic bodies now dry and bleached from the sun of many a decade of other children's summers.

Last but not least, tucked into my rear pocket, was my notepad and two-inch pencil. With these I'd write down and collect numbers of passing locomotives on the Glasgow Oban line. Alas, though, no money.

Wiggy and Sticks were lucky. They didn't have a ton of brothers and sisters to divide the family-allowance budget. They always had plenty of cash, three-pennies, six-pennies, and even the odd shilling. It was no trouble, no trouble at all for those two to have as much as a whole half-crown between them on any given Saturday morning. How many Saturday mornings had I stood just inside the door of Tucky's sweet-shop, looking on with great envy as Wiggy and Sticks filled their pockets with McGowan's toffee, pineapple chunks. kola cubes and black cats by the dozen and I'd wish I had parents like they had.

Wiggy's dad was a boss on the railways and Sticks' dad was a rigger in Yarrows shipbuilders on the Clyde. Their mums worked also, both of them full time at Singer in Clydebank. It goes without saying they had all the mod cons in their house -- solid wooden toilet seats and wall to wall carpeting, colour telly and tumble dryer.

Things were a little different in our house. Mum didn't work. And how could she with five children, three boys and two girls and a legendary, alcoholic husband who never, in sixteen years, handed over a full pay packet.

"Ach, Maggie sure ye know I have a wee tipple with the boysh," he'd protest in that sluggish alcoholic drone as he leaned forward, almost hanging out of that same old unwashed raincoat. "And ye know I owed Joe Mac a few pound from lasht week!" Licking his lips halfway through a one sided stagger, he'd add. "But itsh all there if ye don't count my overtime."

It seemed that dad was under the impression that regular time was family money, whereas overtime was drinking money. What mum could never understand, then, much to dad's frustration, for he had no trouble understanding it at all, was that regular time money, should the need arise, pay for drinking money which he had borrowed through the week. "Yer dead useless," Mum would yell tearfully, slapping at dad's broad shoulder with a damp washcloth. "A pure waste of space! Just how am I going tae get shoes for the girls this week! And, God, Patrick," she'd cry, "Patrick. Lord help us but. there's the collections agent for Household, threatening tae bring the sheriff's officer tae the door next time he calls if he disnae get a payment!"

“Ah, no, ” dad said in a disgruntled tone, a hand waving dismissively before wiping upward and across a luxuriously reddened nose. "Joe Mac will see us alright!" He offered a sickening and sardonic grin that was meant to reassure, then added, "Sure, Joe Mac is alwaysh good for a few pound."

Wiggy and Sticks were okay mates, though, never ones to forget that, though I had no money in my pockets, I did have a mouth in the middle of my face. I never had long to wait before one or the other smacked a tablet of toffee up against the corner of a stone wall, unwrapped it's sticky paper and handed me a delicious chunk or two of that wondrous, creamy confection.

Shoulder to shoulder we'd wander through the bramble bushes and up Crag Hill and sit on a bed of bluebells under the shade of our favourite tree, overlooking the grey-slated rooftops of our small Scottish town.

From our vantage point high up on Crag hill, the small sleepy streets resembled something from a child's pre-school television programme. I could see Postman Pat saunter up Wallace Lane, a large brown sack over his shoulder. I could see the Co-Op butcher's van making it's rounds on Cradock Road, that all familiar horn calling wifies out for a chat and to purchase a sausage or two for hubbies dinner. I could just hear them now, "Aye, just the one sausage, Jimmy. And my old scunner disnae even deserve that, so he disnae, the money he's bringing hame!"

Off in the distance, the far distance, beyond the green hills, beyond the blue haze, across the gleaming waters of the Firth Of Clyde, I could see the McBraines ferry cut through the water on it’s way to the outer isles. Happy holiday makers, I thought. Rich fancy Americans in purple trousers and white shoes. I crunched on my toffee and pointed to the small ship. "See that yon boat." I told Wiggy and Sticks. "One day I'm going tae drive a boat just like that."

Wiggy spat on the grass between his feet and turned to me with a spittled grimace. "Ye don't drive a boat, you idiot. Ye sale a boat!"

"No, ye don't," Sticks snorted. "Both of yous are daft. Everyone knows ye don't drive a boat! And ye cannae sail a boat that has nae sails. Yer both so daft ye should be legally twinned!" With a chortle he added. "And Road Runner should be yer old man!"

Road Runner was the town's oddity, a slight figure of a man in his late sixties who, because of an obsessive compulsive disorder, could not stop running. Road Runner ran everywhere; a non-stop, twenty-four hours per day jogger. No one ever knew where his travels took him, if indeed there ever was any destination. Road Runner just ran - and ran - and ran.

As if that wasn't odd enough, Road Runner, as the name implies, ran not on the pavement or grass verge, but the road itself! Consequently, it was many an angered driver who found himself stuck behind Road Runner on the Tarbert to Helensburgh Road, a narrow and winding two lane artery flanked on both sides by a low dry-stone wall, for Road Runner was never in any hurry to pull over, so to speak, and allow the backup of vehicles to pass.

"Get aff the blasted road ye bloody idiot!" came Heightened and gradually intensifying yells from the rear, yells of no moral or intellectual value. They were wasting their time, of course, for although the shouts elevated to a considerable degree, Roadrunner ignored the onslaught of abuse and continued unabated until he approached a passing zone. On nearing such a zone, Road Runner would stick out his left arm, indicating his intent and slowly pull into the side.

Roadrunner would jog on the spot right where he stood, a stolid and unconcerned figure as the fleet of vehicles drove passed, honking and bipping their driver's disapproval. I don't know where he ever got the stamina, but Road Runner was known to jog on the spot for as many minutes as required until an appreciative lull appeared in the traffic. When this moment arrived, Road Runner would throw up his right arm to indicate his intention to merge, pull out onto the road and continue his journey.

Night or day Road Runner was seen on his travels in and around our small quiet town, yielding for stop signs and red lights, obeying the traffic code by the book. Not that his dedication to the traffic code helped him at all, for many years later I learned that Road Runner was tragically killed while doing what he loved most.

Wiggy and Sticks and I would sit under that tree and tell jokes and lies until every trace and morsel of those sweets were gone. "Earwigs get in yer ear and eat yer brains!" Wiggy announced emphatically as he stomped on a crawling bug at his feet. Wiggy was always saying things like that, banging out stupidities that never failed to infuriate Sticks. It is said that Scottish people are a rough and tough culture. Maybe so, but, even with the Scottish no more prominent than in the rough and tumble character of Sticks McGuire, I still think that a two inch thick branch tossed against Wiggy's forehead was going too far and, once again, Wiggy would saunter tearfully homeward in a certain state of pain.

* * *

"Oh boy, the Shows are coming tae town!" I yelled, lifting my eyes from the local newspaper. I love the Shows . The bumping cars, the ferris wheel, the helter-skelter, the motor bikes, the hall of mirrors, every one and all. "Can I go, Dad?"

"No, ye cannae. It'll rain." dad said. "It always does when the fun fair is in town. Huv ye ever known the fun fair to be in town and it no' rain?"

"Ach, Dad. It'll no' rain," I protested.

"Its the electricity they generate," dad says. "All that electricity in the air, charging up the clouds and drawing them tae the village like a magnet."

"Aye, just so," Aunt Jean agreed, "Its a scentific thing."

"Scientific." dad corrected her.

"That's wit I said. A scentific thing."

They pay no heed, no particular notice whatsoever, that the fun fair is here for a week. Logic would dictate, seeing as we live on the north west coast of Scotland, wherein, given the period of any seven consecutive days and the seasonal average rainfall, we're more than likely to be rained upon for three of those seven days, fun fair or not.

"Pay nae mind tae yer father," Aunt Jean chortled, "Ye know fine how he likes to tease. Of course ye'll go tae the fun fair." With that Aunt Jean opened her purse, removed a sixpence and placed it into the palm of my hand.

I was sixpence and none the richer until dad said, "Go on then," and dipping into his own pocket, drew out another sixpence. "For this I'll want ye tae wash my car, son."

I gave him raised eyebrows, "But, Dad, ye don't huv a car."

"No' yet I don't. But yer going tae win one for me at that fun fair, aren't ye?"

"Aye, Dad. I will."

Just then, Patricia, my eldest sister, barged into the living room. "Dad, aunt Jean," she yelled, "Come quickly. The baby stopped breathing."

Aunt Jean immediately dropped her cup and was off the chair, across the room and out the door in an instant, her big fat arse rocking from side to side as she took the stairs two at a time. To this very day I can still hear the resounding thump thump thump of her feet on those thinly carpeted steps.

Mum is in tears beside herself, praying to the sacred heart of Jesus, The Holy Mother of God, all the saints and brethren of her one Catholic and Apostolic church to save her wee girl. The baby is blue and she is not breathing. There is nothing the midwife can do. And there is nothing the district nurse can do, for the hospitals are full because of the smog and not even an ambulance can get through the thick yellow muck.

"Oot the way ye useless pair,” aunt Jean bellowed as she grabbed the baby, still wet with afterbirth and slipped it into a pillowcase. I looked on as aunt Jean began to swing it in circles above her head. I thought she was mad, absolutely mad, but aunt Jean continued to swing that baby in the pillowcase as if her whole life depended on it.

I knew babies went to heaven and became angels when they died, for they didn't do anything bad, but I had no idea this was how they got there. Would my little sister disappear halfway through the next swing. Would its little soul go flying through the window, leaving aunt Jean with an empty pillowcase? Six swings later, however, aunt Jean placed the bundle onto the bed and removed the baby. Amazingly, the baby was no longer blue. In fact, she was now breathing. Her little arms were swinging. Her little legs were kicking, and with one gasp my wee sister began to cry like a banshee.

* * *

Next day we took the double-decker bus to the Shows, Wiggy, Jacko, Sticks and myself, all of us crouching at floor level hoping and praying that the conductress, should she have a mind to check the mirror from the foot of the stairs, would see nothing but empty seats on the upper level. Duking our fare was a terrible thing to do, of course, stealing money from the Central Transit Authority, but I would go to confessions the following night and put things right.

Five minutes later the bus rolled over Craddock bridge, the site of the Ferris wheel clearly in view above the library. "Oor stop!" Wiggy croacked. immediately thereafter came the rumble of eight stampeding feet as Wiggy, Sticks, Jacko and I scrambled our escape along the length of the upper level.

"Ye Dukers!" came the yell of the conductress as we tumbled down the circular stairs and off the bus. "Jimmy Wiggins!" she yelled. "I know you! You, tae, Jack Kelly. Stephen McGuire. And you, tae, Peter Gibson. I know ye all and I know yer poor mothers. God bless them and wid they ever take a stroke and die if they knew wit ye were up tae!"

I'm bothered for a while, wondering if the conductress will tell our mothers or not. But in that first bite of my delicious candy-apple, had you seen the smile on my face and with the ravenous manner in which I devour that rounded chunk of heaven on earth, its sweet sticky taffy all over my teeth, my lips, my face, you'll understand that my sins were the last thing on my mind and have you ever tasted anything so good!

The fair ground is surely heaven on earth. A psychoactive delicacy of undulating and pulsating lights in combination with a cacophony of psychedelic wails and screams. There is yellow florescent, pink florescent and dancing whites. I'm dazzled by it all, caught up in some kind of intrinsic emotion. I hear The Rolling Stones, Donovan, and Herman's Hermits, The Swinging Blue Jeans and Mungo Gerry.

 "In The Summertime
when the weather is hot,
you can stretch right  up
and touch the sky.
When the weather's fine we'll go swimming.
Or  go fishing in the sea."

Wiggy and Sticks and me are on the motorbikes with the Hippy Hippy Shake blaring in our ears, and we're up and down and around we go and if I don't hang on for dear life I'm going to go flying right off. I glance at Jacko in the heliographing mirrors, which are spinning in the opposite direction of myself, and I wonder how he can kneel up on his motorbike, arms extended as he yells Yeee-ha, for all I can think is that if I don't get off this darn ride I'm going to lose my heavenly chunk of candy apple and my dinner as well.

The helter-skelter is much more fun and half the price. Its a tall tube of a structure some fifty feet high, with a slide running around and down the outside. To get to the top you pay your money, grab a straw-like doormat and climb the narrow, circular stairs to the top. At the top, you place your mat on the smooth steel runner, sit your backside on the mat, give yourself a wee push and you are off.

Jacko, however, instead of riding the mat in a sitting position, decided to ride the helter-skelter in an unconventional manner. "Torpedo style!" He yelled.

I looked on as Jacko placed his mat. "Head first?" I asked, "Are you daft?"

"Dare-devil. That's me," Jacko boasted, "Just think, I'll be the first person tae go doon the helter-skelter head first!"

To this end, speed and momentum had to be gained in some fashion other than conventional means. One couldn't just 'push-off' in a normal manner, not when one is laying flat on one's face. And so, Jacko, on realising he would have to overcome this predicament, stepped back a few paces, yelled Gangway! and proceeded to make a run at his mat.

I saw the disaster coming. I think we all did. Even before Jacko lept into the air, we knew he would overshoot by at least two feet. And that is exactly what happened. What none of us had foreseen, however, was that without the protective mat, the consequence of which meant a great deal more friction to the body, Jacko lost his trousers and underpants right down to his knees before he disappeared around the first bend. To this day I can still hear his screams throughout the entire descent. For Jacko, that ride was one he is never likely to forget.

It is seven o'clock in the evening. Jacko, suffering a certain amount of pain, had earlier gone home in the bus. Wiggy and Sticks are skint and their eyes are never off the ground in search of that stray penny or two. Without the tu'penny fare for the bus, they'll have to walk home, for its tempting fate to duke the conductress twice in the same day. I have my tu'penny fare. I can go home in the bus. But, I thought, could I really do that? Leave Wiggy and Sticks to walk the three miles home by themselves? It didn’t take me long to realise that I couldn’t.

I toyed with my two pennies for only a moment before strolling over to the nearest game stall. "Roll up! Roll up! Put the ping pong into a goldfish bowl and win yerself a smashing wee goldfish," the man yelled. "Its as easy as pie, son," he assured me. "Sure, haven't they been doing it all day! Roll up! Roll up!"

I looked at the table full of goldfish bowls, already knowing that I didn't have a chance. I've never been lucky. Yer name is Gibson, dad often told me. And it will never bring ye an ounce of luck!

"One ball, please." I said to the man. I placed my penny, took careful aim and pitched the little white ball. It bounced three times, two forward and one to the right, and rattled as it settled between two bowls. "One more, sir?" I asked, handing over my last penny.

Before taking my last pitch I looked back on the day, the fun I had with Jacko, Wiggy, and Sticks McGuire and I wondered what dad was talking about when he said I would never be lucky. I'm lucky to have friends like Wiggy and Sticks and poor Jacko. I pitch. Plonk! "Give that man a goldfish! One more winner here folks! Roll up! Roll up!"

Wiggy, Sticks and I are shoulder to shoulder as we start on the long walk home. Just three wee figures now, strolling under the glow of an overhead streetlight, sauntering away from the drone and glitter of the still vibrant fairground. And do you know what? It didn't even rain!

Later that night, mum let me hold the baby. She weighs nothing at all, really, and has the most beautiful little face. She's so fair and her eyes are as blue as the sky on a summer's day. She's making a little circle with her lips and a little bubble of spit pops out and bursts and I tell mum that dad has snuck out the back door again. Mum says he has gone to see a man about a dog. But I know he is after the drink. I daren't tell mum, but, as true as God and his Blessed Mother, when the pubs close, we'll hear Danny Boy stagger up Craddock Hill!

* * *

Three weeks later the sheriff came to our house, accompanied by two officials from the Strathclyde Warrant office. Mum began to cry and dad walked out the back door again. Moments later, a man put a mark on our telly with yellow chalk and told us it was an offence to wipe it off. He did the same to all of the furniture in the house, including our beds and dressers, and even the kitchen table. The policeman was nice, though, kept calling my Mum Maggie and apologising for something I didn't understand.

Next day, our house was filled with the presence of our neighbours. Mr. Wallace tapped our telly and gave an official some money and took it away. Some other people made off with our dressers and drapes. Mr. Williams took our dining table and chairs, while another neighbour paid for and removed our washer.

At the end of the day mum was heartbroken. Looking around we saw that our house had been stripped and all the nice furniture that mum and dad had worked for had been taken away. Mum said that the money from the sale of our furniture had gone to pay off creditors. Just then the shilling for the electric ran out, plunging our little home into total darkness. It would stay that way for the rest of the night, for we didn't have another shilling to put into the meter. Luckily, though, we still had a few chunks of coal. With that, and a bucket of dross, mum managed a small fire, and in the licking flames of the next hour. as the black and orange ghosts danced around the ceiling and walls of that living room, we fell asleep. But not before I think I thought I saw mum cry.

Next morning I made tea in the teapot and used Jam jars for cups. The cups had all been sold to pay the criptirs. Mum was still crying, wiping her face like an old shoe so that her eyes were black. Yer dad husnae come hame, she said. She said he'd gone on a boat tae find a job, that's what she said. But I knew dad had gone away and wisnae coming back. I bit down hard on a biscuit and something got in my eye, for I loved my daddy, but most of all I wanted him tae be happy.

An hour later there was a knock at the door and our next door neighbour, Mrs Wallace, stepped inside, carrying the television that her husband had bought for a pittance the day before. She strolled over to the telly stand, placed our telly down on top of it and plugged it in. Another knock at the door saw Mr and Mrs Williams from down the street with our dining table and chairs. Yet another knock brought our washing machine and a set of dishes. I watched as one neighbour after another strolled into our living room, their arms laden with the same items that they had purchased only the day before.

Mr Kelly and Mr Nugent carried in our bedroom wardrobe, while Mrs Saunders and Mrs Crompton busied themselves in replacing dishes into the kitchen cupboards. Once again, mum began to cry, the corner of her apron lifting to wipe at her tears. "Hold yer bubbling, Maggie," a neighbour told her, laughing softly, "Did ye really think we'd let the Sheriff's office get the better of ye?"

Later on that day, I played with my dog Sheba, a black and white, Heinz57 of a pup who came to our family as a favour when he was only eight weeks old. What fun I had, laying on the hot concrete porch outside our front door as Sheba licked and nibbled at my increasingly reddening ear. As she snarled and nibbled to her heart's content, I drummed my feet on the hot slab and looked back on the day. "Me and Wiggy twins?" I thought, "Nae chance!"

I can still see that wee boy, and although many years have past between then an now, one version of a particular childhood remains unchanged. I thank God that, in these last few months of my life, I managed to come back to the old place and, in some strange sense, allow my heart to re-play moments of those early years, to see once more the playground of my childhood, to know that every nook and cranny, every hole in the hedge, every marble hole that was dug with a wee boy’s heel, is as well mapped in my mind today as when I was seven. Yes, I thank God for my childhood, and, as I lift my eyes to the eaves of that old semi-detached, wondering if there is indeed a remnant or two of a little three-penny rocket up there, I thank God for the rain.

Return to Peter Logue's Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus