The Ties that Bind – a love story for Valentine’s Day

These characters are fictional, any similarity to any persons, living or dead, is probably intentional…

The scene is an old fashioned hospital ward with high ceilings, big windows and curtain rails above each bed. It is mid-February, but a weak winter sun lights up the room. It is quiet, a lull in the middle of the afternoon. The only sounds are the quiet beeping of a monitor and the low murmuring of some staff at the nurses’ station. There is a rumble of distant traffic.

There are about 10 beds, only a few with any occupants. All are asleep or unconscious.

Three women sit by one of the occupied beds, Molly’s bed. One holds the old lady’s hand, the other two are talking quietly, heads close together.

There are some more figures around the bed, but none of the living can see them.

BRIDGET: Come on here Maeve, what the hell are you doing over there? Let that poor boy die in peace.

MAEVE: But he’s got no-one Bree, he’s confused, like our wee cousin Paddy, remember him? His name is Simon, surely it wouldn’t do any harm to just hold his hand until his Ma and Da come? I heard that nurse say they’re on the way. That one, with the red hair.

BRIDGET: Oh, bring him over here then, but stay behind me, I don’t want him confusing poor Molly. It’ll not be long now, maybe once Christine and Frances get here.

MAEVE: Oh, are they coming then?

BRIDGET: Audrey got a text message, they’re on the way from the station now. Which you’d know if you weren’t so busy poking your nose in other peoples’ business.

LIAM: Girls! We’re supposed to be here for Molly, not bickering like children.

MAEVE: Ah Liam, you always were the peacemaker. Sorry Bree. What about the grandkids, will they be here, and the little ones?

BRIDGET: Honestly Maeve you’ve a head like a sieve! The boys were here yesterday, don’t you remember? And the girls brought the wee ones in last week.

MAEVE: Ah, was that yesterday? I DO remember, it’s just this time thing, it’s a bit hard to get used to when you’ve come back from eternity. Those boys are fine young men, sure, one of them even has a tattoo.

LIAM: Ah, that’ll be young Joe, Vera’s boy, did you see the muscles on him? He’ll soon be rowing for the University I wouldn’t wonder. Or boxing.

MAEVE: Oh no, Vera wouldn’t like that, I think.

BRIDGET: Well Vera will just have to lump it. And who cares what YOU think anyway? You always did want to be the centre of attention, right from when you were a child. Ma and Da were far too soft on you.

MA and DA: No we weren’t!

MA: She was poorly as a baby. She was the wee lamb you needed to wrap in a blanket and feed with milk drop by drop.

BRIDGET: Ahh, maybe so, but she could always wrap you round her little finger so she could! She was the favourite.

LIAM: No, Da’s favourite was always Molly, remember how he’d always take her with him to mend the walls?

SIMON (whispering to Maeve): Is that your Mum and Dad? How come? You seem so… sorry… old. And they seem younger. I don’t understand.

MAEVE: Yes, that’s me Ma, and me Da. They died when they were a lot younger than me. I was older when I passed. You see?

SIMON: No, not really. They died? You died? And me? Did I die?

MAEVE: Yes son, you were in a crash, don’t you remember? Your motorbike? I heard the doc telling the nurses, massive brain trauma they said, no chance of survival, and sure enough you just slipped away before they could even stick a needle in you. Look that’s you over there, they drew the curtains around you when you stopped breathing.

SIMON: That’s…me? I don’t remember anything. I want to see.

MAEVE: They’re just waiting for your Ma and Da to get here and then a porter will take you to the Mortuary. You can go in and look – just pass through them curtains, that’s it.

GRANNY: Hello Simon

SIMON: Granny? But, but…

GRANNY: Come here my lovely boy, let me give you a hug. We’re just waiting for Betty and Alan so you can say good bye, I heard that red-haired nurse say they were stuck in traffic.

SIMON: Mum and Dad? But, Granny! You’re… I mean, I was at your funeral… is that really you? You’re just the same as I remember you, you even smell the same. You feel like granny. Mum and Dad, will… Will they see you?

GRANNY: It’s only spirits that can see spirits Simon. But we will all meet up again, eventually.

MAEVE: I’m away back to Molly now Simon, you’ll be fine now your gran’s come.

SIMON: Thanks Maeve, for helping me understand.  And Molly, is she…?

MAEVE: My sister, she called to us. It’s the ties that bind, you see, the blood ties. And the one true love, of course – that’s yer man there at her head. Jack. She’s missed him every day for 30 years. And he’s missed her too, and all the family. He’d have loved to have been a great grandad, there’s nine little ones now you know.

SIMON: Why are there so many of you here? I’ve just got Granny.

MAEVE: Ah sure, her passing’s not been as sudden as yours, she had a big stroke and she’s been unconscious for a month and more. And she’s a very old lady, the oldest of us. 95.  Her mind has been wandering all over the place for years. She’s even forgotten the house she lived in for 50 years. Her thoughts just go back to Ireland, and to Jack.

Ah, here’s Frances and Christine arriving at last. I need to be there, Molly will maybe be able to let go now. You can come back over and watch if you like…

SIMON: Granny? Do you mind…?

GRANNY: Away you go, I’ll just stay here and watch over you until your parents get here.

SIMON: I’m sorry, Granny, I guess you’re not supposed to die when you’re only 19.

GRANNY: Things are as they are Simon. And I have you now, it’s Betty and Alan who have lost you, who have to say goodbye to their child.

There is a murmur of voices as Vera, Audrey and Lizzie greet Christine and Frances.

LIAM: Look, she’s stirring a little, I think she can feel those kisses on her cheeks.

MAEVE: And the tears.

BRIDGET: Come to us Molly, we’re waiting for you, dear sister.

MOLLY: Bridget? But…

LIAM and MAEVE: Hello Molly.

MOLLY: Liam! Maeve! And Mam and Da! I’ve been dreaming about you all.

And Jack! My poor dear Jack!

JACK: You’ve been asleep a long time darling Molly, but now the girls have set you free, free to fly to me again. Look at them, they’re holding hands just like they did when they were children.

MOLLY: Oh Jack, have you been there this whole time? Look at poor Lizzie, she looks worn out.

JACK: She’s come here faithfully first thing every morning and sat with you all day. And Vera and Audrey have come after work and made her rest and eat. And Frances and Christine would come up from London when they could.

MOLLY: Our girls, so full of love. They’ve always made us proud. And Jack, we have grandchildren, and they have children.

JACK: I know Molly, I’ve only ever been a whisper away from you, and now you’ve come back to me.

MOLLY: Oh, but I’ve got so old, so very old!

JACK: Nothing like that matters any more my darling. And anyway, you are the same to me as that day we first met. You were the best thing that ever happened to me, in life and in death. I loved you then and I love you now and I will love you forever.

MOLLY: Oh Jack….

HeartDuo2

Advertisements

To Kiev and beyond – more of Mum’s Travels

Last time, we left Ellen just about to pack to travel from Moscow to Kiev. Let’s pick up the thread from there.

44b52692b9202c9a2098bac4f06c00a7--traditional-toys-russian-folk-art

18th May Wed. 

Bykovo Airport, then a lovely flight 1 hr 10 min to Kiev. Lovely, gorgeous place, full of nice flowering horse chestnut and poplars. Fantastic drive in from airport up in the 80’s. Every street is lined with seats. Thousands of Tourists. The Hotel – Rus – is the one built for the foreign athletes for the Olympic trials. The Stadium is next door.  Went for walk after lunch, different from Moscow. People very friendly, talked to old lady. Built on River Dneiper which is very wide. Had ice cream. 

Went to see the Ukraine Ballet Co in the evening –  very dramatic, I loved it. Theatre beautiful Venetian style. Walked home.

19th May Thur.

Went to the Beryoska shop but did not buy anything apart from book about Kiev. I could spend a lot on books but they are so heavy. 

IMG_1584
These are just a few of the books Mum collected over the years! She also brought back souvenirs, but it was always books that first caught her attention.

19 to 23 May – Five days packed with yet more cultural delights. Here’s just a taste of them – click on the pictures to read the captions.

Let’s go back to Ellen’s diary for a description of what she regarded as the highlight of the Kiev visit. First, an anecdote…

We also went into a Hospital grounds and a shabby-looking man came and talked in English to us. His phrases were very flowery. He said he was a Doctor, but if so I’m the KGB – or perhaps it was a mental hospital!

After lunch the Highlight. We went to the Monastery of St Anthony, and went into the Catacombs. A monk, Anthony – and Theodacious – lived in caves near the River Dneiper in 1051. In 1070 they started to build the Monastery. The Catacombs are a series of caves which were burial places as well as for the Monks – I bought a book about them. The soil is such that it preserved the bodies and many of them are housed in caskets with glass tops. The bodies are quite short, in vestments with embroidered cloths over the faces, but the little brown hands are on view. St Anthony’s cell is there and what looks like little alcoves where they lived. Full of Grottos and treasures but an unbelievable place. They are still venerated as saints – I have never heard so much about Saints and Religious matters. Lovely weather, in 90s.

On Monday 23 May, the group headed off to Leningrad (now St Petersburg) for the final leg of the tour. Again, here is a montage of just some of the wonderful places they visited.

Our bus – the Leningrad Driver is so polite, he gets out first and helps each of us off! The others in Kiev and Moscow just looked out the window – though I always made a point of chatting them up! And thanking them for being so kind – you can do these things when you are a granny!!! We have a Leningrad guide, Katerina, a lovely girl – vivacious, lovely English. She has a great sense of humour! Like, Peter the Great’s hobby was dentistry – he used to take out teeth for free!

Katerina took us into the Winter Palace and showed us right through the Czar’s private quarters. Such rooms of gold, porcelain dinner services – the one presented by the English with the “green frog” lovely and the Clock under the mushroom. Fabulous wealth – I am not surprised the serfs rose and swept them away! Such opulence I never saw, furniture from France inlaid with gold and ivory, beautiful rooms and each room had its own theme and colour. The dining rooms and gold legged chairs and – oh I could not describe it all, you’d have to see it.

Tonight we went to the circus. Very good. Quick acts and some great acrobats. Beautiful horses and Cossack-type riding. Dogs, monkeys, 8 tigers, 7 lions. High wire walkers, 2 porcupines, rats, a cockerel and a young clown who was best of all. The tigers and lions were naughty all over the floor and the smell!!!

circus dolls

After breakfast went with Guide to the House of Friendship – once a palace which Catherine II presented to one of her Courtiers, a most beautiful place of marble and gold, We went into a big panelled room and were met by 8 or 9 Russians who introduced themselves. There was a girl who translated, two engineers, a science and maths lecturer (a grandmother by the way), some teachers and an old boy who seemed to be from the Politburo. They invited us to form groups and ask them questions.

I went and sat beside a girl who turned out to be a post-graduate student of English, which she spoke quite well. Her mother had been in England and Scotland 8 years ago. She asked me about what kind of house I had, if I owned it, about my family, if we were diet-conscious, and what we ate – she was very hefty and had trouble dieting. She worked hard at English and played the piano. I told her all about our government, our orchestras, and film making, our election! The Loch Ness Monster (she had heard about it). I told her I believed in Nessie! I told her all about Dad. She gave me a carved spoon as a gift and we exchanged addresses. I must send her something from Scotland. Her name is Vera.

My chat turned out to be the most successful – they all talked about education and said afterwards they did not get any satisfaction of the visit. But I disagreed. Privately I think they all tried too hard to impress the Russians, who are not easily impressed. Vera told me about her mother, her holidays – she has been to Rumania and Bulgaria – but would like to come to Scotland.

After lunch we went to the Hermitage. After a while the crowds and noise got too much so five of us went for a sail on the River Neva, 2 hours out on the open deck. I enjoyed it so much. Only 70 Kopecs. I saw the Cruiser Aurora. Then back to the Hotel, dinner and dress. We went to hear the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra. Wonderful music. 

Sat 28th May.

Breakfast and a bit of shopping. I went across to the Monument of the Leningrad Freedom Fighters. As memorials go it is superb. There is an underground way in. Full of flowers, an eternal flame. There are groups of sculptures, dark bronze, and an underground museum. Most dramatic place. Rows of lights flickering – one for everybody who is buried there. Showcases where there are mementos of the siege. A continuous film at which teachers give a commentary to groups of school children. There were older people there who had lost loved ones – the siege lasted for 900 days and nights and thousands of people starved and were killed by the German shells. There is a violin in one of the cases presented by Shostakovich. An old Russian woman who was crying told me whose violin it was. Makes you think – these people really suffered.

004 (3)

At 12.15 we got on the bus to go to the Airport. A lovely drive, sun shining. Had good look back at Leningrad and took last picture.

3.30 pm. I am sitting on the plane next to the window.  My five medals are placed as follows: 1 in the Kremlin, 1 just outside the wall in the Convent of the New Maidens duck pond! 1 in Kiev near the Hotel, and 2 in Leningrad in the River Neva. Our Lady will do the rest. Now I am just longing to see my loved ones – funny, I’ll be home by teatime.

013 (3)

Ellen loved her family dearly. At the same time, she remained a self contained person whose instinct was always to rely on her own inner strengths. And not always easy or comfortable to get close to, at least not perhaps until later years. That’s why it has been such a delight to catch a glimpse, in the pages of this diary, of another Ellen, a more relaxed, mischievous, unencumbered Ellen, free to be truly herself with like minded people who shared her passions.

It was lovely to see our first glimpse of Scotland, dear old Scotland, so green and small! And do you know all our roads are curvy and the walls around our fields, and our houses and farms and hills. Lovely but so small! Even our blocks of flats look small, great to see individual houses. The lack of officialese at Glasgow Airport was just lovely – just a couple of guys standing there as if they would rather go for their tea! And best of all a little man on the tarmac waving two red flags – we all laughed at that, after the headphones and walkie-talkie things in the Russian Airports! Mary Chapman, Dinah McKay and I took a taxi from the Airport home and I was so excited to see my Grace and Catriona – who gave me a lovely welcome. I am glad to be back. I have had a fabulous trip – the most amazing holiday anyone could have. I shall never forget Russia in the warm sun. I hope they can come over here to sample our ‘Scotch Mist’.

Finito. God bless. Mum

In the next decade or so, most years saw Ellen – and Mary Chapman! – intrepidly signing up for one cultural tour after another. In 1986 it was to the Baltic, when she fulfilled her desire to revisit Moscow and Leningrad (where she and Mary were as likely to branch out on their own as to follow the official itinerary) as well as Tallin and Riga. Over the years, the passions that they shared for history, art, architecture, everything, took them on tours in Italy, France, Estonia, West Germany, as well as numerous interesting historical locations around Britain.

By this time, Ellen, with her inexhaustible thirst for knowledge, was a member of the archaeological society and various history study groups; she took art courses ranging in style from the Italian renaissance to Cubism, two classical music courses and she obtained diplomas in French and German. A true journey of the mind and a chance, at last, to indulge in the learning she always felt had been denied her as a child.

Visits to the family also took Ellen to Holland, the Cotswolds, Tyndrum, Switzerland, London. She also visited her family in Ireland and had them come and visit her in Glasgow. Ellen’s final long-distance trip came in 2001, when my sister Grace surprised her with a ticket to New York and the pair of them took off together for the Big Apple for a few days of sightseeing. Here she is, aged 78, still eager for new experiences.

010 (2)

 

 

Travels with my Parents – Mum

Mum and DadNellie and John – Mum and Dad – loved getting away from the city and heading for the hills. I have no doubt that once John retired, with the family flown the nest they would have extended their horizons and started taking longer trips across the Channel and beyond. But it was not to be; John hadn’t even reached retirement age when he died, aged 60, in 1981 and whatever dreams they may have had were never fulfilled. But much though she missed her “poor dear John”, Nellie, or Ellen as she preferred, was not one to sit around moping and it wasn’t long before she was signing up for adult education classes at Glasgow University, namely Art and Architecture, and she also trained as a Guide in the Kelvingrove Art Galleries.

So, by 1983, the year she turned 60, Ellen’s diary shows a packed schedule encompassing work (Ultrasound Assistant in the Western Infirmary), classes, guiding, babysitting (daughter Grace and grand-daughter Tia had come to live at number 8), visits to and from family members, rambles with her walking group, concerts, reminders to write letters, make phone calls, send birthday cards. And, in the May, she signed up for a two week cultural exchange visit to Russia, an extension of her University class. Ellen brought back photos, but even better than that, she kept a journal (6,000 words), which conjures up the trip and her impressions of it perfectly – lets just say she was a much better writer than a photographer! I’d like to think she might be intrigued and delighted to know that edited highlights from that travel diary are now going to feature in this post. So, in her own words:

The Russian Tripkremlin_1 (2)

Sat 14 May ’83. Moscow.

My Dear Ones. It is 11.37 pm and I have just got into bed. I am so tired and my neck is stiff from looking from side to side. I can’t really believe I am here in the Belgrad II Hotel. It is in the Smolensk Square and is not far from the Kremlin. I am on the 15th floor, room 18 – we got single rooms after all. 

Ellen had been due to share with one Mary Chapman, whom, she reports, she had met up with at the bus station in Glasgow at the start of their journey. This is a notable meeting because it marks the beginning of what would become a lifelong friendship. Ellen and Mary hit it off from the start and they not only buddied up on further cultural exchanges and trips to historical places in Scotland, but were more or less continuously in touch and would meet up for lunch or a cuppa whenever they could. In 1985, when that year’s trip to Florence was cancelled, the pair of them booked up for a Cotter’s Tour of Ireland, with Ellen visiting her home country as if she was a tourist, which I suppose was something she’d never done before.

But, let’s get back to 1983…

It is very warm in Moscow – in the 70’s in fact, and my room is sweltering. It is small and compact with a bay window – double glazed – but you can open it, it looks out over the River Moscova and a bridge. I can see the Red Star lit over the Kremlin. I am just looking out over the city and there are millions of lights. There are 8.8 million people in Moscow! And it stands on 240,000 acres.

The drive from the Airport was something I won’t forget. Huge blocks of flats as far as the eye can see, and it was amazing to see a small boy playing with a dog on the banks of a canal – might be Glasgow!  Or a woman hanging out clothes on a balcony. Everywhere there seem to be huge cranes looming into the sky and things being built. The Highway was wide and fast into Moscow from the Airport – there were fields and open spaces – and a little group of black wooden sort of little cottages. I saw a woman in a little garden and I think I saw a cow – or was it a dream?

As we lost height to refuel at Riga in Latvia I could see out the window and the country is completely flat. Roads stretch for miles as straight as a die and there are many canals. Nothing is curved – everything has straight angles. There are forests. The country is quite remarkable. And vast. I could see small groups of houses and houses on their own and some cars on a road – but usually rivers and in the distance the sea. We flew for an hour and the landscape did not vary. Rivers, canals, roads, what looked like fields and even the forests were all squared up as straight as a ribbon – quite extraordinary and fascinating. Could hardly believe I was looking down on Russia!

Another aside – immersed in reading this diary, I’d find myself, on the bus, looking at the passing vista with new eyes, as if I was Mum. For example, on the approach to Kilmarnock: “And here we have a row of ordinary looking pebble dashed council houses, rather run down and with unkempt gardens, some with rusty old cars in various states of disrepair”.

A bus without seats meets passengers out on the tarmac and squeezes twice the legal amount of bodies in and rushes back to the Reception. The building was very nice really. We were met by our Guide Tanya and an Intourist Bus. Slim young girl who chain smokes …

At the Airport – customs turnstiles manned behind glass cubicles by young lads in military looking uniforms, peaked caps, green coloured, short back and sides! – unsmiling, completely unsmiling. / There were women about – cleaners – very drab, small, squat, shapeless, fat and not very well dressed, no stockings, flat shoes, raw kind of faces, and amazingly all looked dressed the same – all unsmiling. And then at the Hotel – one of the Porters is nice – he smiles, at least when I smiled at him he smiled back. 

Sunday May 15th. Moscow.

Did not sleep much because of the heat. I opened the window, and the roar of the traffic was deafening but better than the heat. Went with Guide and our Bus to tour Moscow. It is an unbelievable place, massive buildings, full of décor, statues, palaces, buildings with marble colonades. The shops look nothing like ours. They just have posters and very little goods in the windows – and some do not have big windows like ours. There are giant blocks of flats and there are always shops in the ground floor. The highways and boulevards are so wide – 12 or 14 lanes – all straight, lots of lovely bridges over the rivers.

IMG_0429 (2)

We went to the Kremlin to see the Changing of the Guard on Lenin’s Tomb. There is a high red wall with towers at the angles – beautiful architecture. Each tower has a special name – one is Trinity Tower, with an icon of the Trinity painted on it. There are lovely white and yellow buildings and palaces inside and five monasteries. There were hundreds of people – tourists with guides taking photographs. Guards – young lads, short back and sides, goosestepped out of a courtyard at 10 a.m. and made their way to Lenin’s Tomb while the three on duty goosestepped back the way. I was right beside them and they had a sort of unseeing look on their faces. I kind of felt sorry for them.

Beautiful-Saint-Cathderal-At-Kremlin-Moscow

I went inside St Basil’s but had no kopecs to go through the turnstyles. Then the bus took us all round Moscow – to the Lenin Hills to see the University, a palace. The Olympic Stadium, Bolshoi Ballet, Theatres, Museums – all of which we hope to visit. By the way, the Lenin Hills is not really hills. Then back to the Hotel for lunch.

And indeed, over the next few days the group DID visit all of those places, and more – The Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, The Palace of Congress, the Kremlin Cathedrals, the Convent of the New Maidens, The Tchaikovsky Conservatoire, the Tretyakov Museum and Art Gallery, each place seemingly more gorgeous than the last, with frescoes, gold ceilings, angels and cherubs, chandeliers, statues. They viewed beautiful works of art and marvelous furniture inlaid with gold and ivory, and attended Il Trovatore in Russian, a Symphony concert, a concert of excerpts from classical ballets.

013 (2)

Everywhere she went, Ellen was able to indulge her inexhaustible appetite for more knowledge, more information, more culture. When they went to the Tretyakov Gallery she wrote Lovely, lovely place, chandeliers with statues, gorgeous floors, paintings by famous Russian Painters. I enjoyed it as I had read a lot about it.

And always with her unique – not to say subversive! – angle on everything. Here are her impressions of the Palace of Congresses where they went to the opera:  … an enormous place with marble columns and marble stairs and floors. Could use the stairs 20 abreast. Enjoyed it very much. Sat beside a smiling dark lady. She spoke to me and said she was Czeck. Seemed anxious I knew she was not Russian. You know, sign language is great – we became quite friends… It holds thousands and the seats are wired for microphones. I have been looking around my room for bugs and there is a wire and a switch under my bedside table that I can’t account for – it’s very exciting! Hey you, Jimmy!

112793225_a4d44c29db_b (2)Monday 16 May. Moscow. 

Went in bus to Kremlin to see the Cathedrals – out of this world – frescoes all over the walls, lovely painted ceilings, gold and icons on the east walls. Not used as Churches nowadays but I have never heard so much about Christian things, Angels, the Virgin Mary, God the Father, etc. I was pleased to hear these holy names on our guide’s lips, and she certainly knew her stuff. I put one of my miraculous medals in a drain inside the Kremlin and another outside the walls. There is the Convent of the New Maidens where the daughters and womenfolk of the aristocracy took the veil – just outside the Kremlin Wall. It is the oldest, most massive, most beautiful place I have ever seen – that is where I put the second medal. We got a talk on history and architecture of all the buildings – most interesting.miraculous-medal-doorplate-med3419 (2)I know! Miraculous medals in the Kremlin! It’s for the conversion of Russia, you see. Mum took five of these medals with her – tune in to the next episode to find out what she did with the other three!

Later that day, they went to the Andrei Rubliov Museum, which was a particular favourite. I can do no better than to show you the actual diary page where Ellen has made a sketch of the layout.

005 (3)

That last sentence reads I think that must be the highlight for me – I seem to like icons.

Tue 17 May. Moscow.

After lunch went to the Botanical Gardens with Alma and Margaret in a taxi. Huge place. Different to ours. Met lovely Russian woman at main gate who gave us tickets. When we thanked her she said “Don’t mention it”!! We were so surprised and told her where we came from. She knew of Scotland. She said her name was Eleana and said we have the same name. Then she put her hand on my shoulder and said “God bless you”. I gave her a hug. She was lovely: wonderful when you make contact. 

After supper we went to the Tchaikovsky Conservatory for a Symphony Concert by the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra. Lovely Building on three sides of square, trees in front. We could hear young musicians in the various buildings practicing. Enjoyed the concert, great orchestra, then hotel and pack for Kiev in the morning.

012 (2)

 

 

 

to be continued…