In 1977 Record company EMI sacks the controversial UK punk rock group the Sex Pistols. Star Wars opens in cinemas and film-goers line up for hours to see it. The TV Mini Series “Roots” is aired on ABC winning top audience figures, 9 Emmys and a Golden Globe. Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols is released. The Clash release their first album “The Clash “. Jimmy Carter becomes president of the USA. The first Apple II computers go on sale, the first commercial flight of Concord happens, NASA space shuttle first test flight, UK Queen’s silver Jubilee celebrations, Roman Polanski is arrested and Charged, Alaskan Oil Pipeline completed, New York City Blackout lasts for 25 hours. Jimmy Carter is elected as the President of United States . The precursor to the GPS system in use today is started by US Department of Defense. Elvis Presley Dies from a heart attack aged 42. And the Atari 2600 arrived in September – changing kids lives forever.
In 1977 we moved to a new house, well I say house, but what I mean is that we moved tenement flats. From the relative luxury of our ‘front and back garden’ bottom flat, with Blairtummock Park immediately behind it, to an old Glasgow sandstone tenement in the old east end in Tollcross. One bedroom with four bunks in it and a living room with an alcove to the right-hand side as you came in the door. A close that opened straight onto the road, and a back ‘garden’ littered with rubble and rocks.
It felt like we had gone to sleep in Baldinnie Road and woke up in 1170 Tollcross Road. No explanations; no reasons – we just moved. That was it.
Bath time on a Sunday really was in a tin bath in the middle of the living room floor .
Mum and dad slept in a double bed squeezed into that tiny alcove in the so called living room. All five of us were crowded into the bunks in the tiny bedroom. Two sets of bunks end to end with not much space between them and the walls.
What I remember clearest though, was on the middle of the wall in the lower bunk, nearest to the door, there was a hole in the wall. Not just a small hole either. It was big! Big enough to crawl through. Which was sort of the point, as probably whilst the tenement was empty before we moved in someone had tunnelled their way through to the wee newsagent’s shop on the other side of the hole. The hole was dark with only a few rough pieces of wood covered over it to ‘stop’ entry. It was bricked up at the newsagent side, but we did not know that then.
Our imagination led us to believe that all we had to do was remove the planks of wood over it and crawl through and help ourselves to the sweets. Dad and the shopkeeper would constantly encourage us to believe that. Can you imagine, being seven years old and thinking you lived within touching distance of such a treasure trove? The nights I would lie awake and stare at those planks trying to work up the courage to ‘just see what was really beyond’ the other side.
Now and again I would say to JP and Gary, but they just laughed. I knew they were as scared of dad as me though so we never tried it. It would never have entered into my mind to suggest it to Yvonne, she was a girl.
The old tenement close opened immediately onto the much busier Tollcross Road. No front garden, no school gates just loads of people – and cars. Cars and vans and lorries and buses screaming and screeching by only three feet from the close. It was be quite intimidating at certain times of the day. Slowly though, I overcame my fear and would begin to explore the area around our house.
I had got a small scooter at some point, and I would use it to journey to unknown destinations miles form our house (the railway bridge a few hundred yards around the corner).
For the six months or so that we lived in Tollcross, I went to Wellshot Primary School. Another old sandstone building that seemed to be miles away from our house. Blairtummock Primary had been right outside our door, and my siblings and I found ourselves having to navigate an environment so alien to the streets we knew only a sleep before.
I remember next to nothing about my classmates there. Considering how fresh so much seems to be, maybe the briefness of how long we were there and the distance in time have dulled those particular files. There are some memories though -vague memories. There are some of one guy I must have been pally with as we used to wander around the gigantic Tollcross Park (we were seven) at lunchtimes. In contrast to the much smaller Blairtummock Park, this was enormous. With trees and paths and flowers and the palace it was easy to go on many imaginative journeys there – we loved it!
One lunchtime , our time for going wandering, this old guy came alongside us. He seemed to be quite civilised and polite. He wore a sharp suit and tie, with an overcoat open. This man would fill us with wonder as he wandered through the paths with us. He would call speak gently, informing us with all these ‘facts’ about the flowers and the foliage that surrounded us. My friend and I were amazed that a proper grown up would take the time to teach us a;ll these things. We came along one path and there were birds feeding on the grass at the side. Just a few of them. Our teacher rolled out a fountain of knowledge on us about the very rare birds we were seeing.
“These birds are almost never spotted in Glasgow,” he said. “This is amazing, what an opportunity you have here.” He continued to point things out to us, each new revelation guiding us further and further along the wooded paths had us mesmerised. We were loving that he would take the time to tell us all about these wonders. He spoke with such knowledge. Every time one of the birds were spotted, (there seemed to be quite a few, for a bird so seemingly rare), he would again exclaim loudly how great this was.
We genuinely thought we were seeing something rare and already chattered excitedly about telling our teacher and parents.
He kept trying to lead and coax us along to see more. These rare birds were larger than the sparrows, black and had yellow beaks. It was years later I realised that these were blackbirds and anything but rare.
My friend and I were aware that we had to return to school. The teacher tried to coax us further on, for “just a few more minutes”. We were more afraid of being in trouble in school, though than we were enthralled at his knowledge.
Lunchtime was over, and we had to go back to class.
Hmmmm! I wonder.
Like most school playgrounds in those days, breaktime (playtime) were filled with the sounds of laughter and screaming. Children enjoying themselves with no thought or care of outside pressure. I joined in with these games, and love the running around that the games entailed. On one particular icy morning, whilst playing in the playground, I slipped and landed on my chin.
That awful, almost metallic, dull thud when your jaws are battered together filled my head, echoing around my skull. I could hardly open my mouth. The school were extremely worried about this, contacted my mum and got me to hospital. The usual questions about tetanus jags etc ensued and I got the full blast.
It seemed I had lockjaw. My mouth could hardly open, my head was killing me, and I had sore stomachs. Lockjaw is one of the symptoms of tetanus, but I was unaware of how serious this was, I just knew that soup and scrambled egg was all I was going to be able to eat for a while. I am sure, to this day, my parents thought that the symptoms were worth the scare – other than vain main mumblings and grunts, I was unable to speak!
Yet another incident from that short period involved my left knee. Our back court in Tollcross was full of very large boulders and rubble and some very, very old sheds. I used to love going out there to play. I remember one day, a boulder taller than me just looked so appealing. Action Man figures (not dolls, figures) were my preferred toy and I started off playing war games with my figure (not doll) climbing the rock. I got inspired though and wanted to be the hero myself – so I started climbing it.
I fell almost immediately and banged my knee off one of the many sharp edges. The blood was everywhere. The boulder seemed to be painting itself a deep shade of crimson – with MY blood. I screamed! (You would have as well if you had been me and seen the blood all over your leg AND the boulder and you were only seven.)
Picking myself up, I made my way around up to the shadowy back door into the close.
Walking through our door I whimpered “mum I’ve cut myself” and stood sheepishly looking at all the blood.
“Whit noo?” as she turned as saw all the blood all over my leg – and my hands and clothes now. “Whit happened?”
“Ah wis playing oot the back and ah fell and banged ma knee.”
“Ach ya stupid eejit!” she said. (This was a tender comment meant to reassure me.)
Off to the doctors again. Butterfly stitches over the wound. (I would have a lot of those in my childhood) and “Don’t bend your knee” said the doctor.
I was seven years old so I took him at his word and would not bend my knee at all – for weeks. Even after the stitches were gone.
When mum would protest with me that I could bend it now, I would defiantly reply with “But the doctor said…”
Whilst my wrecked knee was all stitched up, we visited aunt Margaret and Uncle Bertie’s house in Rachan Street. My mum took this opportunity for me to have a proper bath. Now my knee is still stitched and bandaged, and the doc’s instructions not to bend it is STILL ringing in my ears. “Ma, ah cannae get in the bath, right?” (For the grammar enthusiasts this is a question, me telling my mum I could not do something was me asking how to do it).
“How no?” she shouted through.
“Cos av no tae bend ma knee.”
“Don’t be stupid, ye kin bend it noo.”
“Naw ah cannae, the doctor said.”
I am sure I could hear howls of laughter coming through from the living room.
When, eventually, I did try and bend my knee, I couldn’t. First my jaw, then my knee. Locked in place by the inaction. It took ages for it to bend properly again.
In fact, I have sort of limped on that leg most of my life, I wonder if it was because of that obedience. Hmm
Our time in Tollcross came to an end as abruptly as it begun. I recall coming home from school one dark teatime, with the rain pouring down outside. Mum told us to gather up our stuff (we had not been there long enough to have much). She kept anxiously switching between staring out the living room window and going through the front door to the close entrance, watching for something. If any of us asked what was wrong we would get the “nothing” reply.
She came hurrying in after one of her trips to the front door and shooed us and our stuff outside. All five of us grabbed and put us into the waiting van of family friend John Smith. I can still picture his van sitting parked up in the kerb, with the city traffic screeching and beeping by as we tried to avoid the pouring rain. It seemed to be even darker than usual. Mum and John kept rushing out and in carrying bags and boxes and forcing them into the back of the van. It felt like we were packed in the same way as our belongings. Squeezed in behind the seats.
Dad wasn’t there, and it seemed important to mum that we were gone before he was.
It was a horrible night. We all were crowded into that van in the heavy traffic, rain even heavier as we crawled through the east end streets and up through the city centre to another flat in an unfamiliar location.
It was actually a very large property on the top floor of a very large West End building. Ours was one large room with kitchen facilities and numerous beds all in it. There was a hallway with a bathroom, a proper bathroom, to the right on the way to the main door.
The ceiling was very high.
I don’t think they called these particular ‘multi floored’ dwelling places were called tenements. They were built for an obviously more economically blessed people than those that currently occupied them.
Time would reveal that they were women’s refuge flats. My dad hadn’t been violent towards mum, she was hiding for other reasons though.
We were there for a wee while. Dad wasn’t. It was weeks before we started going back up to Easterhouse and seeing dad.
On one trip, mum, dad and I were making our way from the shopping centre across the pitches. Dad was asking questions about where we were staying and if we were ok. I told him; the address was imprinted on my mind. He told mum. She was very angry with him.
Not long after that we moved into 26 Aberdalgie Road, back in Easterhouse, back across the road from Blairtummock Primary School. This time we were in a middle flat of a block of six.
I also got to go back into my old class with my old friends. I liked that.
The guilt of telling dad where we lived never left me. There would be times as I passed over the dirt path where Platform (Easterhouse Library and community theatre building) now stands that it would rise up. This was my @traitor’s spot’. The reality is it was just one of the few times when people in my life were interested in, not just listening to me, but HEARING me, obviously for their own purposes though.
Hey, THIS is my life!
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Five Weeks in May
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