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People & Culture
Short story: A Rare Day Out
See if I’d been a Charlotte, or a Simone? My name wouldnae have come out all draggy like that.
“Haazzel - gonnae stop lookin' at me all the time, I'm no' in a flippin' Xabition. Play wi’ yer doll, look out the window, d’you not you see all that lovely countryside out there?”
In the book-box in our classroom the teacher keeps a wee dictionary, foreby we wouldnae recognise the words in a bigger one, which isnae lie.
If it’s information you’re after but, Donnie Kelly sometimes knows how tae find out stuff.
Mostly she’s just dour, our teacher, foreby she gets intae one of her tempers. “Single mothers, absent fathers, generation of layabouts scrounging off the benefit - the rest of us paying through the nose for it! Why do I even bother? These test results - disgusting! A bunch of lazy wee nothings, that's what you lot are! Even you, Donnie Kelly!”
We are not lazy but. Reading, sums, spellings, Picts, Romans, Vikings - you name it we do it.
Donnie Kelly can do the teacher's work better'n anybody, ‘cept he’s mostly got his heid stuck in some picture book instead. Big glossy pictures, that’s his favourite thing. Yesterday outta the children’s section of the front street library, Donnie Kelly got whole folder fulla pictures, a perfolio it’s called, loadsa glossy photos of everything under the sun: pyramids, chariots, big boats, tanks, rockets an’ landings on the moon. Musta been loaned out tae hundreds that perfolio, the covers all manky, cup stains on the pictures, bits torn off the corners of photos, doodles and dents where folk has tried tae copy the rockets an’ stuff ontae tracing paper.
Thinks a lot of hisself, Donnie Kelly - an’ without him even seem tae realise it he can be more sarcastic than is good for anybody. Sometimes I'm left with not a lotta choice but to give Donnie Kelly a few hard kicks under the table.
See when I don’t know what the teacher’s on about an’ cannae dae her work? I just put my mind tae somethin’ else entirely but.
See when Jamie Dowd cannae dae her work? He starts cheeking the teacher. On some days Jamie Dowd can get sent to the Headmaster’s office not once, not twice, but three times.
In our class the right case and a half but, that’s Gary Dewar – cannae even write his own name.
Gary Dewar’s faither had the barefaced cheek to come up the school, kick open the classroom door, stand there reeking of fags and beer, same feart look on his face as Gary, bawlin’ at the teacher, “Gonnae you stop ignoring my wain!”
D’you want to know what my most favourite thing is? Dancing. After school, me, my Mammy, even Auntie Linda used to dance in to Kool FM in the kitchen, a right scream so it was.
Not in the mood for dancin’ these days but, my Mammy.
When my Da’s got work, he leaves our flat so early in the mornin' it's still dark, an’ my Mammy’s got four cleaning jobs.
When they just don’t like you - an’ probly when they’re fed up tae the back teeth about somethin' else as well but - certain people, they use bad words on you.
Changing Barbie from her trouser suit into her beach outfit is a very fiddly job at the best of times. Brain in six places at once trying tae figure out what I could come up with tae shift my Mammy’s mood, nae wonder Barbie’s gold sandals has ended up on the wrong feet!
Barbie was bought for me by Auntie Linda for fifty pence at the charity shop, thirty-five pence for a whole bag of her outfits.
With her wee pink comb now, I'm gonnae get the tangles outta Barbie's ponytail, then I'm gonnae walk her across the headrest of the seat in front.
“Look Mammy- Barbie’s goin’ to the beach!”
With that shake of her head, that sigh, Mammy turns away, looks out the window. Shoulda known better - even at the best of times, Mammy doesnae have much of a good word to say about Barbie.
Would you look at that but – right down to the front of the bus, rows of wee grey and white heids, half the men all baldy pink.
The only wain on this bus is me.
My Mammy an’ my Da, they’ll be old one day - foreby they don’t die beforehand. From the way things are goin’ but - foreby they don’t die beforehand - those two could be livin’ on their tod. Or married tae other folk even.
Me, I don’t go tae chapel.
Dae every bit of homework goin’, wash the cat’s saucer twice a day but, if only God would bring Mammy and my Da back to the way they were. Might no’ be a god but, so plenty of times I just out-and-out wish my Mammy and my Da would hurry up an’ put their annoyances behind them.
“Hasnae even got the price of a cheap day out at seaside for her, that Phil Andrin brother o’ yours,” is what my Mammy telt Auntie Linda. “Decent air in her lungs, in dire need of it so she is. S’posed tae be sunny Friday, I'm takin’ her doon the coast for the day, bugger the school, sod the gas bill.”
“Naw, them’s no his middle names, pet,” is what Auntie Linda telt me, “You’re too wee, it’s nothin’ to dae with you, Hazel, just you never mind.”
With her rheumatics an’ a weak heart, Auntie Linda doesnae go out tae a job any more, so after school I stay at Auntie Linda’s till my Mammy or my Da come tae get me after they’ve finished work.
If my Da’s not in work, he’ll be waiting at the school gates for me. Mostly we go to the swing park, sometimes to the swimming baths, 'cept that’s money to get in. In the summer when it’s sunny, sometimes we go to crazy golf, twenty-five pence for me, fifty pence for my Da.
Waiting at the bus station for Mammy coming from her Friday morning cleaning job, what do me and Auntie Linda see but my Da running into the bus station, jacket, jeans, workbooks all dusty from the job he’d started up the town on Tuesday workin’ on the big digger.
Clocking my Da as she’s hurrying over to the bus stand, Mammy starts talkin' nineteen to the dozen tae Auntie Linda - as if my Da isnae even there. “Kath …here’s Alec's come to see you…”
“Forgot tae get the Irn Bru, back in a tick, I’ll just run an’ get a bottle from the kiosk.”
“...an’ the wain off but.”
Rufflin’ my hair, my Da tells me, “Mind an’ get plenty o’ good clean air intae yer lungs today Hazel, right? Here, an’ don’t forget tae have a rare day out while you’re at it but,” he says pressin’ a five pound note wrapped around some coins intae my hand.
“Where’d that come frae?” says Auntie Linda lookin’ at the fiver.
“Gaffer’s comin’ at half past four tae pay us but – Tam, he’s on the crane.”
Whenever my Mammy comes out with the words Other Woman, my Da turns away sharp as if some ghost nobody else can see has just slapped his face. Mammy didnae say it at the bus station - but you could see her thinking it.
Not even lookin’ at her now, my Da is sayin’ quiet tae her quiet, “You wi’ the brains no' tae credit many's the lie, Kath what’s makin’ you hang ontae this one?”
Mammy and me get on the bus.
I wave goodbye to my Da and Auntie Linda.
Rain in the air - though she didnae tell my Mammy - the rheumatics playin’ her up since morning, Auntie Linda is hobbling away now, her back to us , but my Mammy, determined not to look at my Da, keeps on waving tae Auntie Linda.
“Them enamel mugs, the very dab for a picnic,” Auntie Linda says last night to my Mammy, “if only I could mind where I put them.. Easy make up a coupla rolls for you an’ the wain when I’m doin’ Jimmy's pieces for his work. Uch aye, it’s comin' tae me now – in yon auld message bag behind that five litre tin 'o paint the hall cupboard. Bucket an’ spade in there an’ all from when our Karen was wee. Jimmy came across that hint o’ apricot doon Paddy's Market, must be a year since, right bargain so it was – an’ here’s me still waitin’ on him doin' out the living room but.”
Coughin’ my guts out with the bronchitis, Auntie Linda had brought me in a whole bag of Golden Delicious, sayin’, all cheery, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” which sent my Mammy off on one. More like she cannae barely believe the half of what goes on, even when she’s steamin’ my Mammy hardly ever talks loud, she’s more of an angry mutterer you could say – but she does swear.
“Apples is it? Bastardn landlord tae fix the bloody damp, more like.”
“Shouldnae swear in front of the wain, Kath. It…”
“Everywherebloodywhere you turn, bastards, rogues an’ liars - an’ I’m s’posed tae shut it, act bloody comatose? Fascist wee git of a supervisor lookin’ at us like we’re no’ worth his breath? Six minutes a cubicle, an' he’s got the barefaced cheek tae be creepin’ efter us runnin’ his fingers round the back of the computers checkin’ for dust? That Claire, sixteen year old just outta the school, followin’ her around, the sleazebag, hears her tellin’ Eileen she’s a good mind tae tell him where tae shove his bloody checklists - gives her the shove, out on her ear. Aye, it’s free speech fer some.”
“Calm yersel’ doon, Kath, give yersel’ a rest. You Aquarians, y’ve a habit o’ shuntin’ yer brains intae six places at once so you have - an’ gonnae stop bitin’ yer nails, you’ve them nearly down tae the quick. An what’s the point o’ keepin’ them depression pills stuck at the back o’ the kitchen drawer?
“Tellin’ grown wimmen they’ve tae start grassin’ each other up? Doon in black an’ white in his supervisor’s handbook under peer bloody review - don’t bother arguin’ the toss, he says?”
“Any sense, he’d ignore it.”
“In our own time we’ve tae come tae the bloody office for a monthly earbashin’? Concession tae me for havin’ tae rush from one job to the next, he’s gonnae give me a selection o’ dates? Him stood there lookin’ at me for all the world as if he’s just turnt umpteen shades o’ shite intae a bloody privilege?”
“Says in the Bible but, Kath, render unto Caesar that which is....”
“Third bloody millennium we’re in, Linda - an’ still folks is lettin’ the bastards get way with bloody murder - they’re even planning cities fer theirselves on the bloody moon now, foreby they’d turn their minds tae decency on earth.”
“Uch, we cannae be that bad off, Kath, or them immigrants wouldnae keep floodin’ in. Here, just imagine livin' in countries with nae…”
“Who’s no’ frae immigrant stock, yersel’ included, Linda, the bastards, rogues an’ liars slobberin’ as ever they did over the cheap labour?”
“…toilets. Here, did you see on the TV, all them wains barefoot in the snow in that Afghanistan?”
“At the back o’ it all, pure greed, the bosses, the bankers an’ bloody politicians the world over all linin’ their pockets aff the back o’ ordinary folk.”
“Uch, we’re in the world Kath, but we don’t have tae be of it. I've still got my faith – what’ve you got?”
“Streets hoachin’ with young lassies on the game? Folk around here actin’ like what else can you expect? - That’s what yer faith does for yis, is it?”
“Choices, Kath - they made their beds…”
“A generation o’ wains who’ll lift anything that’s no’ battened down - so’s they can blank themselves oot wi’ a needle o’ horse, a litre o’ booze, a whiff o’ crack? For wains that’s already wasted, what sorta meanin’ does choice have? An’ as fer the rest of us, what choice but tae be payin’ out for two Mortise locks and a bloody big chain for the door.”
Mammy, chewin’ at her nails, will soon say, “Dirty thieving bastards, the world over they’ve got folk over a barrel.. When are we gonnae tell them bloody naw? How are we gonnae get a future fer the wains, Linda? Where’s it gonnae come frae, the wherewithal?
“Mark my words, Kath, it's the faithful that gets comfort.”
My Mammy, lookin’ like she’s gonnae blow a gasket, it’s her I always feel sorry for, Auntie Linda hardly ever lookin’ even fazed.
“Talkin’ outta both sides o' their greedy gobs, draggin’ folk intae one filthy war after another? What about the wains, Linda, what’s the future got in store for them? Hazel, what’s gonnae happen tae her?
“Uch Kath, whatever did communism dae for the Russians but - your poor mother, if she could hear the half o' what comes outta your mouth these days, turn in her grave so she would, god rest her soul.”
“Whenever did the Russians nor any other bastards ever practice it? Lyin’ buncha thugs, not one true backbone between them, they drove stakes right through the heart o’ it, flung decency straight intae the bloody midden so they did. An’ that Phil Andrin brother o’ yours - where’s his backbone? He’s flinging his own very family intae the bloody midden so he is - what’s life tae him these days but his dinner on the table an’ his bit on the side?”
“Listen you tae me, Kath, that Jessie Macklin’s a poor demented soul - an’ she didnae see what she says she saw. Kath, from the minute he laid eyes on you - an’ don’t tell me you don’t know this - you’re Alec’s dream, so you are. An’ here was me thinkin’ he was yours. Believe you me, Kath, you’ve nae call whatsoever fer even one jot o’ jealousy so ye havnae. ”
“Jealousy? Never seen the point, Linda, nothin’ tae be done aboot changed feelings, it’s the dishonesty, the deceit, I cannae thole - I thought he was bettern that.”
“Uch Kath, you’ve the wrong end o’ the stick entirely, my brother’s as decent as they come - an’ he thinks the sun shines outta your arse. An’ listen you here tae me, Kath, adamant as ye are aboot no’ settin’ foot inside the chapel, if you’ll no’ even talk tae Alec, maybe it’s still God you’re waiting’ on tae fix things up for ye.”
After their mother died, it was Auntie Linda who brought my Da up, an’ both of them shy away from plain speakin’, so when she came out wi’ arse insteada backside, I knew that Auntie Linda herself was getting’ wee bit riled now.
The old men stand up, a bit stiff, reach up to the luggage racks, bring down their coats.
The wives stay in their seats, wriggling into their rainproofs. Now the men are bringing down the message bags with the sandwiches, lemonade and biscuits.
The men hand the message bags tae the women.
Grabbing up our message bag with one hand, my Mammy is pushin’ me into the aisle with the other. “Quick Hazel, look at them bloody rain clouds, gonnae miss the best of the day before we've even got here so we are.”
“Mammy, why don’t the men just hang on tae the message bags themselves but?”
”Hurry it up, Hazel - c’mon, aff the bus.”
“But Mammy, why don’t the men…”
“Because in their day, Hazel, men didnae carry message bags. Here, put your fleece on - blowin’ a bloody gale outside, so it is.
“How was it their day but?”
“Did you get toast an’ Yeastvite at Auntie Linda’s this morning?
“Cornflakes an’ banana.”
No way of getting off this bus in a hurry but, old people, they move slow.
Shuffling behind my Mammy, I take the packet of money my Da gave me outta my fleece pocket. Wrapped up inside the five pound note isnae a two- pence an’ a one-pence piece - it’s a two-pound coin an’ a one-pound coin.
“Telt you again, did she, tae ask me tae let you go with them tae chapel Sunday?”
“Mammy, see even if it rains, we can still paddle in the sea, right? Can’t we but?”
To confess their sins, Auntie Linda and my Da go to chapel, the priest giving them two to five hail Marys depending. I remember goin’ with them a few times before Mammy put her foot down. I liked the singing. Smell of the incense made me feel a bit queasy but, couldnae eat my dinner.
Every Sunday morning Auntie Linda says the same thing to my Mammy. “So let me take the wain tae the chapel for you, Kath.”
“Over my dead body - no wain of mine is gonnae live under the spell of priests and chapels. The day I hear the Pope or any of them other mad mullahs fulminating against the thievin’ of the very futures offa people, that’s the day I’ll change my mind. An’ nae contraceptives? Who the bloody hell does he think he is?”
Donnie Kelly an’ me play confessions down in the back court. Sunday gone he telt me he stole two fly cemeteries off the tray on the counter in the shop where he goes to get his Mammy's cigarettes. Pockets all gungy from where he'd hid the fruit slices, he cannae ask his Mammy tae wash his trousers, 'cause the minute she figures out what he done he’ll never hear the end of it.
Me, I confessed to wishing the Other Woman would lose her job, get well behind in her rent, be evicted, have tae flit somewhere very far away.
Donnie Kelly tries slappin’ five hail Mary’s ontae me for wicked thoughts – who the bloody hell does he think he is?
I telt Donnie Kelly about the priests castin' their spells in the chapels.
Donnie Kelly had the barefaced cheek to say to me, “Pull the other one!” He got a few hard kicks under the table, telt tae go away an’ make hisself useful, look up fulminating, fascist, adamant an’ communist.
Donnie Kelly comes back wi’ the excuse there’s no such words in the book-box dictionary, but that he came across hullaballoo - an’ now he reckons that’s what Gary Dewar faither done.
Mammy says the one person she can talk to without first doin' battle tae get out frae under the mountain o’ rubbish on her back is Uncle Jimmy – foreby due to Auntie Linda he’ll no’ speak on religion but. These days they’ve been goin’ on about Venezuela. Uncle Jimmy says all what’s goin’ on down there comes as a big surprise tae him, it bein’ such a Catholic country. Mammy says them Venezuelans had better watch their backs, 'cause the bastards, don't forget, has been tryin' tae bring doon Cuba for forty year an’ more.
“A great relief tae know but, i’nt Jimmy, how them Venezuelans has managed tae get out from under the mumbo jumbo of heaven when we’re deid in favour o’ a decent life fer folk’ in the here an now?”
“Right parched, so I am but, Kath – I’ll see yis later,” an’ quick as a flash Uncle Jimmy’s off down the boozer.
Priests is s'posed tae know all what goes on, an’ since Donnie Kelly's Mammy cleans the priest's house, he was tae get his Mammy tae ask the priest what it was that was going on down in that Venezuela an’ why the bastards had it in for Cuba.
Here’s me still waiting on an answer, an’ there’s Donnie Kelly leafin’ through his manky auld perfolio as if he didnae have a care in the world, nattering on at me instead about how clever the ancient Egyptians was at building pyramids.
“Ouch! What’s your problem?”
“OK, OK! I’ll find out an’ tell you tomorrow!”
Had to wait till numeracy hour on Wednesday before Donnie Kelly finally comes over tae me tae say in his big know-it-all voice that his Da says Cuba’s a nightclub up the town for them as can afford it - an' did I know that the earth spins at hundreds of miles an hour ‘cept you cannae feel it.
Donnie Kelly is telt tae get his big brother tae find out on the computer at his work what’s the best medicine for rheumatics an’ what’s tae be done about a weak heart.
Donnie Kelly goes away an’ looks us up in the Dictionary of Names for Boys and Girls instead but.
Donald means ‘world ruler’.
When I telt my Mammy that Hazel means ‘God sees’, her words came whooshing out of her like the flames outta that Guy Fawkes bonfire they’d soaked in petrol, “Let me tell you somethin’ for nothing, Hazel’ - he doesnae see the bloody half of it!”
Mammy follows the sign that says, “To the Beach.” Luckily it takes us right down the front street.
“Clean sea air, that's what we’ve come for, Hazel – anyway, there's no money for the shops.”
At the front street department store I stop for a look in the window. “Mammy, can we not go in - just for a wee minute?”
Mammy gives that shake of her head, that sigh - then pushes open the big glass doors.
It’s nice an’ warm inside. From the front counter comes the lovely smell of the perfumes. Mammy sprays a tester on herself. “Have some, Hazel, cover the smell o’ damp on yer clothes.” Mammy gives me a squirt. an’ her an’ me breathe in the lovely smell, till Mammy, checking the prices, walks off mutterin’ under her breath.
The saleslady in the clothes department is tidying up the display of woollens. “Some folk’ll just rummage through the merchandise,” she says fitting a pink fluffy cardigan back on its hanger, “with nae thought of puttin’ things back in its right place.”
“How much “ I ask her, “are wear-with-alls?”
“Overalls, you mean pet - days o’ the factories, used tae have some over there in menswear - outta fashion now but, it’s all jeans an’ T-shirts now.”
I check to see where my Mammy is. She’s over there in the china department picking up cups and saucers, reading the signs on the bottom - and she isnae watching me.
At the jewellery counter what dae I see but a whole row of lovely wee broaches at, guess what, seven pounds ninety-nine each.
Mammy’s calling me over to have a look, and true enough when she holds it up tae the window you can the daylight coming through the side of the cup. “This is how you tell if it’s the real McCoy, Hazel - listen.” Mammy flicks the cup with her finger and the china cup goes ‘ping’.
“Yes, this is a genuine china tea cup – very refined. Lovely delicate wee snowdrop pattern, don’t you think so, Hazel? An’ who doesnae want a wee bit of refinement in their lives now an’ then but?” Mammy checks the price, nearly drops the cup.
“Mammy, see that rack of scarves over there, lovely colours - d’you not want to have a wee look? Me, I’m just gonnae have a decko at the toys, OK?”
Back at the jewellery counter I give those broaches a thorough going over, get it down to between the cute wee penguin one, the nice wee clown one, the goldy pearly grapes one.
“Haazzel – where on earth have you got tae now?”
Mammy’s still standing by the rack of scarves bitin’ her nails, not a glimmer of interest in the Top Designs in Quality Polyester, two for £15 or £8.99 each “Too bloody hot in this shop, Hazel. See you outside in ten minutes - ten minutes mind.”
When we get to the seashore, I’ll say “Mammy, this is for you,” an’ when Mammy sees the lovely wee broach, her dark mood will be all shifted, an her face will open right up in one of Mammy’s lovely big smiles.
Which one is it but – the most refined?
“A present for yer Granny is it, pet?“
“Hmmm…uch well… s’pose she’ll be pleased enough...seein' as it was her wee lassie that bought it for her.”
“Included in the price is it, the wee red box?”
“Aye, each one comes with its own wee box. That woman who was fancying the china - nearly dropped that cup - was she yer Mammy, pet?”
“That’s what she’d really like, a genuine china tea cup - too dear but.”
“Uch dae I know the very dab!” says the saleslady chucking the goldy pearly grapes back into the display cabinet, snapping the glass panel shut, locking it, hurrying me away from the jewellery counter saying,” You just come with me, pet!”
Now the saleslady is pointing to a pile of tatty brown cardboard boxes stacked underneath the china department counter. Stamped down the sides of the boxes is the words ‘Genuine China Coffee Mug’.
She takes one of the boxes off the pile, puts it on the counter, opens it, brings out a china mug - with nearly the same delicate wee snowdrop pattern as the teacup, except it’s daisies.
“Seconds!” she says, nodding her head an’ smilin’ at me.
Then she bursts out laughing - an’ wastes even more of my minutes holdin’ up the china mug, tellin’ the other salesladies, “I telt this wee lassie, seconds, an’ she whispers, ‘Naw, my Mammy gied me ten minutes!’”
Now the other salesladies burst themselves laughing - then as if I’m not even standin’ right there in front of them they start talking about me amongst themselves.
“Don’t think the wain gets the drift but.”
“How old would you say she was?”
“Good few years before this one gets the vote.”
“Their day soon enough but - her generation.”
“Peely wally looking wee thing.”
“Contagious that cough – keep yer distance.”
“Touch of the nervous asthma, if you ask me.”
“Determined looking wee thing but.”
“Heids fulla mortgages, motors an' make-up, I maintain that’s how our generation lost its chances, the wool pulled right over - who can afford the central heatin' now but, never mind the car. Seen the price of bread this week?”
“’Seconds’ – it just means they’re not perfect, hen.”
“Where's her mother?”
“The real McCoy these mugs – all the way from China itself, pet. ”
“She’s waitin' for me outside.”
“Two pound each - you could get four. Put them in a posh wee china department carrier bag for you, will I?
“It’s tea she drinks but – these are for coffee.”
“Uch don’t worry yersel’ about that, pet - y’can drink tea outta them just the same.”
“Wait but! Not ‘perfect'- does that mean they don’t ping?”
“Uch, they ping just finem - listen!”
The ping doesnae last as long as the teacup ping – but definitely it did ping.
The minute I step outta that department shop door, Mammy is hurrying off down the street. “C’mon, hurry it up, Hazel - missin’ the best of the weather here, so we are.”
I catch up, pushing the posh carrier bag at her back.
Mammy turns around sharp, ready to be all annoyed.
Mammy takes the posh carrier off me, lookin’ baffled. “But where’d you get…”
“Da, he gave me pocket money but.”
Mammy opens the posh carrier, brings out one of the boxes “Genuine china coffee mug?”
“Go on - open it!
Mammy opens the box, takes out the genuine china coffee mug with the lovely wee daisy pattern.
“But Mammy, it doesnae even matter if it says ‘Coffee Mug’!”
I search inside our message bag for the four sheets of paper towel I know Auntie Linda put in there.
“Mammy y’can can drink tea out of it just the same - that’s what the woman in the shop telt me but!”
Mammy blows her nose, dries her eyes, puts the china mug back into its tatty box, the box into the carrier.
She’s takin’ off her fleece now, she’s wrapping the posh carrier bag up inside it, placing the bundle carefully inside our message bag.
I feel my face going red at the thought – feart in case the china mugs could get broke before she gets the refund, Mammy’s gonnae take the coffee mugs back intae the shop, ask for the money back.
But before I know it but, Mammy, reaching out to hold my face in her hands, is lookin’ straight into my eyes.
Neither blue nor brown, my Mammy’s eyes arenae all that big, just ordinary. When my Mammy looks at you but, you know you’ve been looked at.
Even Auntie Linda says that when my Mammy stops biting her nails long enough to give folks one of her looks, the world itself might as well be stood still.
This must be what Auntie Linda means: still probly doin’ all its spinnin’, there’s nothin’ in the world that can right this minute stop me feeling this well-known an’ peaceful.
Pickin’ up our message bag with one hand, Mammy reaches out an’ clasps my hand in the other – an’ now Mammy and me is running laughing all the way down to the seashore.
When we reach the sand, Mammy asks this auld fella lying half asleep in a deck chair covered up to his ears in a manky old blanket if he’ll keep an eye on our things, an’ he says, aye nae bother.
At the water’s edge, Mammy makes me stand facing the waves. “Now take in as many breaths of that fresh sea air as you can, Hazel - try breathin’ really deep, see if it'll clear your lungs.”
I can tell yis somethin’ for nothing but - y'can soon get bored tae bloody tears doin’ nothin’ but bloody breathin’, so you can.
“That’s the ticket, Hazel - here, cough that gunk up intae this paper towel. OK, let’s go an’ get a wee drink o’ Irn Bru now, settle yer nerves. ”
“But it’s time for our paddle in the sea now Mammy!”
“Naw, Hazel, water’s far too icy still, cannae risk you getting’ any more cold - an’ look, it’s gonnae rain any minute.”
“Mammy, take your shoes an’ socks off - we're not comin’ all the way to the seaside an’ not goin’ for a paddle!”
“Oh don’t for any sake get your clothes wet, Hazel!” says my Mammy rolling my tracksuit bottoms right up to my backside.
Then Mammy and me, a right scream so it is, we're running straight into the waves and back again, over and over, shouting right out loud with all the freedom and the pleasure.
Into the plastic cup off the top of his tea flask, Mammy pours the auld fella some Irn Bru. We have ours in Auntie Linda's enamel mugs, very handy.
Inside one of those big margarine tubs Auntie Linda keeps for Uncle Jimmy’s pieces there's a roll each for Mammy an' me - sausage and onion, very tasty.
The auld fella bein’ mostly gumsy doesnae want a piece of apple, but he takes half a scone and jam.
The sand’s just moist enough from the right amount of rain for me an’ Mammy with the bucket an’ spade from when Karen was wee to build a lovely big fabulous sandcastle - you shoulda seen it.
On the bus back home I ask my Mammy, “'Generation' – what's it mean?”
“All yous wains of the same age, you’re all of one generation, see?”
“An’ when they give us the vote – what is it that we get but?
“Haazzel - don’t get me bloodywell started!”
Opening our front door ontae the smell o’ the damp, Mammy’s starts her mutterin’ about the thievin’ bastards, dumps our message bag ontae the sideboard, checks the time, says ” Yer stomach must thinks yer throat’s cut, Hazel, well past seven o’clock so it is - you take a drink of milk an’ a biscuit, till I get the dinner made.”
A right shock must’ve been waiting for her in the kitchen but – ‘cause now my Mammy’s running out of our flat like she’s just seen a monster.
My Da is running after her.
Now my Da's bringing Mammy back, coaxing her right into the kitchen, the cat pelting out of it, dashing over tae sharpen her claws on the scratching post.
I put my head around the kitchen door - and what dae I see but the Other Woman.
My Da closes the door.
Me an' the cat go and sit on the couch.
My Da, is he gonnae go away?
Is my Da gonnae go an’ live with the Other Woman?
Me an' the cat don't move.
Tonight, Is my Da gonnae leave us tonight?
At long, long last that kitchen door opens.
Nobody comes out.
I can hear the voice of the Other Woman now but - loud.
“That Jessie Macklin, from our primary school days, aye pretendin’ herself the princess, the girl with the pony, thinkin’ hersel’ top dog. Can yis credit this but - the minute her wee blue-eyed boy takes tae horse, Jessie Macklin takes it intae her heid that at least she’s got the best marriage, starts rubbishin’ everybody else’s. As fer the gay boys an' lesbians like myself? Accordin’ tae her we’ve no' even got the right tae life itself – who the bloody hell does she think she is?”
Not even noticing me an' the cat sittin’ waitin’ on the couch, the Other Woman is hurrying out of our flat now saying, “Tell yis somethin’ for nothin’ but, efter I get through settin’ folk straight about her pack o’ dirty lies, that Jessie Macklin’s no’ gonnae know where tae put herself, silly bitch.”
I get up, put the chain on the front door.
The kitchen door still being open, me and the cat wander over for a look inside.
My Mammy’s holding tight onto my Da, sobbing, “Oh Alec...Alec…oh Alec,” tears running down her cheeks.
My Da, breathin’ intae her hair, is tellin’ her, “You an’ me, Kath…we’re alright…we’ll be…”
“Oh Alec…what if it had been true but…so feart…”
“Listen here, Kath, forever at the strugglin’, every day a battle, no’ knowin’ who ye can trust, is it any wonder the effects but? You an’ me though, nae place for doubt an’ fear between you an’ me - is there Kath?”
The kitchen door closes.
The cat and me go back to the couch.
The minute that door opens again, the cat springs off my lap, belting straight into the kitchen, all aggravated about the delays tae her dinner.
I follow the cat.
My Mammy is at the sink scrubbin’ the potatoes. From the tin he’s just opened, my Da is spooning the baked beans intae the pyrex bowl, he sprinkles on some pepper.
The cat, pawing at my Da’s legs, is miaowing for food. I open the fridge, get out the tin of cat food, fork some into her dish, mash it up.
She turns up her nose at it.
I wash the cat’s saucer, pour her some fresh milk.
“Here, this kitchen’s no’ big enough,” says my Mammy, “yous two away ben the room, I'll bring the dinner through when it's ready - an' before I trip over her, gonnae take the cat with yis.”
My Da switches on the telly, half watches the billiards, half reads the paper.
The cat jumps onto my Da’s lap, he strokes her tummy, she purrs away like she’s in cat heaven.
I get out my homework.
Tae be coloured in there's a Viking longboat with an auld monster prow that’s supposed to scare folk. Plenty more things tae be feart of than some dirty big boat from the olden times but.
“Spite o’ the rain, did yis have a half decent day out, Hazel?”
As from when the day started but, there’s one humungous thing less tae be worried about now so there is.
Out of the genuine china coffee mugs, my Mammy and my Da have their tea, I have my cocoa, my Mammy tellin’ the story of our rare day out, not forgettin’, “An’ the woman behind the counter says ‘Seconds!’ an’ Hazel tells her ‘Naw, my Mammy gied me ten minutes!'”
Rufflin’ my hair, my Da says, “Forever at the learnin’ in the school o’ life, aren’t we, Hazel? Here, would yis look at this but?” he says holding up the genuine china coffee mug. “Developin’ a taste for the finer things in life, are ye Hazel - whatever next, I wonder?”
Mammy finishes sewing the button on my school blouse.
My Da, scanning the sports pages, hands my Mammy the suduko page. Her pen doesnae touch the paper but. Twirlin’ the biro between her fingers, my Mammy’s put her mind tae somethin’ else entirely. Only the once does my Da have tae cover her hands with his tae stop her from bitin’ her nails.
Sunday morning Mammy tells Auntie Linda as usual,. “Naw, she’s no’ goin’ tae the chapel, Linda. Here, let me tell yis somethin’ else for nothin’ but - see waitin’ on God? Finished with that for good now too, so I have.”
On the Monday when Mammy came tae pick me up after her cleaning job at the betting office, she says tae Auntie Linda, “It’s goin’ doon in black an’ white aboot the damp, don’t give a monkeys about the spellin’, we’re no' havin’ the wain’s lungs wasted. Eighty bloody buildings tae manage, so it all takes time – who’re they kiddin’? One week an’ nae excuses this time tae get the mould scraped off the walls, the plaster knocked back tae the brick, ready for a proper bloody damp course - or Alec an’ me is going doon the newspaper offices, see if they’’ll print a showin' up. Tell yis somethin’ for nothin’ but, Linda, print it or no’, one way or another, that thievin’ bastard of a landlord an’ his lyin’ swine of a factor is gonnae get put where they bloodywell belong - in the hot bloody seat.”
The workmen couldnae put the damp course on till the bricks was pure dry, so for two weeks we had drying lamps. We didnae mind but - saved a packet on the heatin’ bill.
A coupla Mondays later when Mammy came to pick me up from Auntie Linda’s, she tells her, “Me an’ the lassies at work, this mornin’ we telt that evil wee eejit of a supervisor tae shove his peer review where the sun don’t shine.”
“His type but, Kath, boss rattlin’ his cage mind, he’ll mebbe no’ take the hint.”
“Ontae plan bloody B then so it is: high time that ugly wee neb an’ his ignoramus of a boss got taught the lesson o’ their miserable bloody lifetimes so it is - an’ one way or another that’s what us lassies is gonnae dae so it is.
On the Thursday when Mammy’s takin me to school, waiting for her at the school gates is Gary Dewar’s and Jamie Dowd’s Mums.
Us wains is all stood in our lines in the playground, me tryin’ tae keep tae the back o’ mine so’s I can see what’s goin’ on. When I turn around at the lobby door for a last look, the three of them is still talkin’ in a huddle.
We’re no’ in the classroom five minutes when the door opens an’ those three march right intae the classroom like they’ve come tae put the teacher straight.
Desperate not tae miss a word, wains is sayin’, “Ssshhh but!” tae the ones makin’ a racket. “Gonnae sssshh!“
“…an’ listen here,” my Mammy is sayin’ tae the teacher, “ tellin’ these wains they’re a bunch of lazy wee nothings, from here on in, yer tae stop that nonsense – d’ye understand?”
“Aye,” says Gary Dewar’s Mum, “an’ forever teachin’ them all about the deid - yer tae stop that rubbish as well but.”
“’Cause what these wains need tae know,” says Jamie Dowd’s Mum, “is everything under the bloody sun about how tae survive in the here an’ now - d’you get it?”
Though she’s still on the dour side, the teacher has stopped calling us a bunch of lazy wee nothings, so I don’t worry so much at school nowadays about when tae speak an’ when tae keep my mouth shut.
Just right this minute the teacher is tellin' us she's movin' us on from the Vikings tae the Tudors - an’ that we’ve tae tell parents that it’s no’ her who says what’s tae be taught, it’s the higher ups - an’ she has tae work for a living.
I turn around tae ask Donnie Kelly, “Them Tudors, are they amongst the livin' - or is she still on the deid?”
In his big sarcastic know-it-all voice, Donnie Kelly says to me, “If it’s any consolation tae you, Hazel, them Tudors hasnae been dead for half as long as the Vikings.”
Not once, not twice, but three times do I have to kick Donnie Kelly under the table before he twigs enough to tell me - as if he himself thought it was - “Means ‘comfort', OK?”
“Bloodywell isnae but! An’ see all us wains in this class - we’re all of a generation, so we are!”
As if he hasnae heard a word I’ve just said, Donnie Kelly keeps on turning over the pictures in his manky perfolio. Pickin’ out two of them, he lays them in front of me. “Clever eh? Done a sputnik first, the Russians. It was Americans that landed on the moon but - an’ now probes has even been sent up tae Mars an' Jupiter!”
“Donnie Kelly, high time you listened tae me but, ‘cause I can tell ye somethin' fer nothing - soon it's gonnae be our day so it is!”
Laughing at me like a drain, Donnie Kelly has the barefaced cheek to say to me, “Pull the other one!”
Left with not a lotta choice, I lean over, grab Donnie Kelly's manky perfolio off his desk, scrunch up his raggedy auld pictures - an’ fling the whole dirty rotten mess straight intae the bloody bin.
For many years a teacher in UK inner-city schools, Bella Govan advocates the production of a literature reflecting the identities, experiences and observations of working-class youngsters.