Monthly Archives: October 2014
Christmas is almost upon us again. It’s a time of year that for me triggers memories of Christmas past right down to the type of lights that decorated our tree back in the 1960s. Unlike the stark, cold micro LED lights that are available today the lights then were warm, cosy and welcoming. The memory that dominates however is the once upon a Christmas Eve spent at Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall Circus. As an excited nine-year old focusing my thoughts on the imminent arrival of Christmas Day there was no room in them for a form of entertainment that I wasn’t particularly interested in. However, as far as my parents were concerned it was a treat that I was meant to be grateful for and expected to be excited about. I duly obliged but behind the mask I was a reluctant attendee that not even the large candy floss in my hand could assuage. High in the ceiling directly above the circus ring was a large circular skylight window. Rather than watch the performances taking place in the circle before me I instead fixed my gaze on the circle above willing night to descend and thus hasten the arrival of the magic day. Meanwhile, the audience around me were sporadically applauding the performances taking place in the ring. I was reserving mine for the end of the performance unfolding above. The audience also laughed at the antics of the clowns, a reaction that puzzled me. I could never see what was funny about men in ridiculous shoes tripping over planks of wood or throwing pails of confetti over each other nor could I stand being expected to join in with the collective ‘Oh yes he is,’ response to the stupid clown’s ‘Oh no he isn’t’ prompt. Okay, I was a miserable sod but at least I was me and not some puppet dangling on somebody else’s expectations. As with the applause I reserved my laughter. When darkness finally fell upon the skylight window I was relieved. It fell just as the circus’ final curtain fell thus I was able to applaud and laugh without stirring any suspicion. Time to go home and straight to bed – the only time of year when I didn’t need to be told twice – and hasten the arrival of the magic day even quicker. Here I am years later, the circus denying nine-year old within me still excitedly looking up at that skylight window as Christmas approaches. Meanwhile the man in me has been too busy looking up at many other skylight windows since then.
There he was like a lone bean pole standing almost erect, mesmerised by the procession of vegetables on parade before him. “Fffffffffff…what was that recipe again?” he wondered as the root section marched by. Gosh, it seemed like a maternity but was in fact only a few seaweeds before realisation penetrated his puzzlement: “Text Jen,” it whispered in its best Yul Brynner voice. How David and the vegetables all screamed and danced for joy when they saw the recipe come surfing along the crest of the astral wave proceeding from Jen’s ethereal fingertips into the palm of David’s outstretched relief. He strode triumphantly to the indifferent till, recipe held aloft for all iphones to see, paid the ball and socket girl the four and twenty bank notes then strode proudly into the bright afterlubrious sunshine
I saw the original 1960 Spartacus with one of my older brothers when it came to our local cinema for a second time around 1963. There was an A4 size booklet on sale consisting of stills and portraits of the cast from the film. My brother bought one. When I returned home I flicked through the booklet recalling some of the scenes and actors. The one cast member that stood out for me was Jean Simmons. The elegant contours of her face were too hard for my artistic eye to resist. I grabbed my sketch pad and did a pencil portrait of her and took it to school on the Monday to show my teacher. She was very pleased and thanked me very much for it before placing it carefully in her desk drawer. I was confused; I only meant to show her the drawing not give it to her. I returned to my seat not knowing what to say or do to get it back. However, as I sat through the lesson I looked at the teacher and discovered a remarkable similarity between her delicate face and that of Jean Simmons’. It then dawned on me that the teacher thought the drawing was a portrait of her and that was why she thanked me. A case of mistaken identity. I decided not to rectify the mistake, pleased that she thought it good enough to keep. After class she gathered her things including the drawing and dismissed us.. I wonder if she still has it.
I worked in agriculture when I left school. It was a great job for a young lad – outdoors, working with livestock, tractor work and wholesome food. The wages did not reflect the long hours worked – 60 hour week – but at 15 I didn’t really notice. I was too busy enjoying the work. Be this as it may while the job was enjoyable it was not always the case with the farmer I worked for especially at one farm as the following illustrates.
I cycled into the farmstead one rain lashed morning to learn that sheep had escaped from a field and found their way to the nearby colliery slag heap. Typical dumb animal thing to do going from grassland to barren land; from protection to vulnerability. We finished the milking then went for breakfast after which we left the table to round the hapless fugitives up. It was still lashing with rain so it was oil skins at the double. The old farmer lifted his oil skins from the hook followed by his son who lifted his. When it came to me there were no oil skins left on the hooks. “Is there another pair?” I innocently asked. Without looking back at me the old farmer replied, “Yer skin’s water proof, is it not?” Swine sheep.
I never knew what my Dad thought of me other than through his rhetorical outbursts e.g. ‘Ya wee rat, ye,’ or ‘Ya dirty swine.’ whenever I’d transgressed one of his unwritten transgressions as a child. But these utterances were borne out of anger or frustration. What I longed to know was whether or not he loved me. He was not the sort of man who you could go up to and ask this question. I tried to elicit the answer via other means such as pleasing him in some way. However no matter how many means I attempted the most I received was a slight nod; a morsel of approval. Our relationship when I reached my late teens was tempestuous at best. I finally left home then. By my early thirties he chose to disown me because of my conversion to the Christian faith. I never knew why he was so hostile to it though I did learn that he had been educated in a socialist Sunday school as a child. Remarkable too that he was the one who sent me to the church Sunday school every week. This was not for spiritual succour I hasten to add but rather to clear the house in order to give him peace and quiet. Be this as it may he died in 1992 taking with him the unresolved question: did Dad love me?
Some time after his death Mother and me were going through his effects when I came across one of his wallets. Inside was a wad of photographs of his brothers and sisters and also of Mother. Of his eight offspring there was only one photo – a coloured, slightly creased snap of me as a seven-year old. I was touched, even more so when I turned the photo over. There written on the back in his handwriting and with a sweeping, confident flourish were the tender words: “Dad’s pet, David.” Question resolved