Mothers Day & Two Years of Blogging

I started this blog coming up to Mother’s Day 2017; I write this one on Mothering Sunday 2019. Didn’t really know back then what the blog was for, other than a desire to share what was in my head. I am somewhat surprised to find, looking back, that I have actually carried out what I intended to do – write about family ramblings, history and observations. I don’t even need to edit my “About” page – except to note that I’m now 65 – as it’s pretty much what I would say today.

I don’t know why I should find this so surprising. I suppose its reassuring to find that I can look back on my 60-odd posts with a degree of pride, and realise that it was probably in me all the time to write consistently and regularly, instead of my rather sporadic attempts in the past. I suppose there was a fear at the back of my mind that I’d make a start only for it to peter out after a while. But it hasn’t. I have what you might call a body of work behind me now and I no longer worry that I’ll run out of things to say. I have screeds of topics lined up that will keep me writing for weeks, months, years to come.

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Some posts almost write themselves, pop in to your head practically fully formed. Others (like this one!) are more of a process of discovery, of delving into one’s skull to try and find out what it is I want to say about a topic. Even when there’s a lot of research, there’s always the question of how to present it, what to leave in, what to leave out. Because I’ve realised that the way you tell a story reveals much, above all, about yourself. You don’t necessarily write it all down, but the process forces you to examine and perhaps re-evaluate what you thought you knew. If you are delving into the past it’s almost inevitable that you will find pain and hurt, whether its your own or someone else’s.

I’ve mentioned before that my intention here is not to uncover dark secrets, but rather to appreciate better the circumstances that made people – and yes, myself – who they were. And more than that, to understand and forgive. The stories, the facts, are always fascinating, the truths universal, and, I venture to suggest, worth sharing!

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I have to confess I felt a bit bereft when I recently came to the end of what turned out to be the 10-part saga of the history of my childhood home. I’d imagined it would be worth two or three posts when I started, but once I got into it…! And the latter part of course was largely about my mother, whose story, for more than half of her long life, was inextricably entwined with that of our house.

And yet she left it without a backward glance. I always felt, in that time when she became confused and lost the ability to safely be left on her own, that it was a kindness that her brain had drawn a veil over that period. She didn’t know it, but we sisters took over the care of the house from her, cleared it out, gave it a fresh coat of paint and, not without some considerable soul searching, let it pass on to someone else.

The one thing my Mum never forgot was her love for all of us. Names would come and go, but those feeling were at her core. I could (and probably will!) grumble on about the shortcomings of my upbringing, but at the end of the day none of that matters any more. I read once that one’s parents’ shortcomings are what make us who we are. I really hope that’s true because, though we do our best, we’re only human and we all fall short in one way or another. I never cease to be grateful and proud of the amazing, delightful people that my own children have turned out to be.

In the end, what matters to me on this Mothering Sunday is the love of my children and grandchildren and the infinite tenderness of my memories of that singular woman who was my mother.

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The Story of a House, part 10

This is the lane that runs down the side of our house. It’s called Sandringham Lane and we’re going to take a walk down there today and have a look. See that bricked up doorway? That marks 6½ Sandringham Lane. It was blocked off during the time of the great repairs, but when I was a child there was a door there, a green door leading to something we knew as the paint store. I haven’t mentioned it before because this back corner of the building didn’t belong to the rest of the house, couldn’t be accessed from our basement, or from the adjoining wash-house. Through the years it was owned by – or rented to – various small businesses as a storage space for goods or materials.

The first of these, who I think owned it from 1874, were Fairley and Reid, who were joiners, wrights and builders, and probably heavily involved in all the new building development work that was going on at the time. They were just the first in a succession of tradesmen who found it a convenient spot to use as a base. Here are just a few of them: 1883-93 John P Scott, slater and plasterer / 1896-98 John Logan, gardener / 1900-01 James Wilson, painter and decorator /1904-06 Charles McGrory, cooper / 1914 James McAlpine, plumber and gasfitter. There was even, in 1902-03, a manufacturers of baskets, hampers, cane and wicker furniture, toys and mail carts. I don’t imagine that S Fredericks & Co would have done any manufacturing in that small cellar, but they obviously needed a storage space for a year or so. And so on through the years.

mail cart
Perhaps Fredericks & Co made mail carts like this. This postie is trundling his letters along the front at Greenock, on the Clyde coast. A rather pleasant ‘posting’ I would have thought. Sorry, couldn’t resist that dreadful pun!

By the time the MacFarlanes (us) took possession of the house in 1963, the store must once again have been owned by a painter/decorator – hence our name for it. I can’t actually remember being aware of anyone using the paint store, but I think it might have been broken into a couple of times. Or that might have been after I’d left home… I should have paid more attention! Suffice to say it was just there, an unremarkable feature of the building that we felt had nothing to do with us.

Until the whole edifice started needing major repairs in the 1980’s, as we’ve already seen (parts 7 and 8). As Mum watched her beloved Victorian house stripped bare, I think more than ever she began to see the building as a whole. You can perhaps get an inkling how she was thinking from this sketch she made around that time…

mum's sketch
We called the little (tiny!) room opposite the stairs the paint room because my Dad used it to store all his tools and DIY materials, in essence his shed! It was this room that was later converted into a shower room. The “paint store” is adjacent.

In the mid 80’s, with yet another round of renovation work looming,  it occurred to Mum to inquire about who actually owned the paint store and the wash-house. This resulted in her taking possession of number 6½ Sandringham Lane in September 1989, having purchased it from one James Duffin for the sum of £850. As to the wash-house, it turned out ownership was divided equally between herself and the various owners of the flats at number 10 – eight shares in all. So she set about asking, through her solicitor, whether the owners would sign over their shares to her, if she agreed to pay the legal bills. There was a certain degree of urgency about all this as Mum had a plan, as we can see from a letter written to the Council by the neighbour in the first floor flat, Sheila Morrison.

This is to verify that I approve the plans of Mrs MacFarlane to put a door from her basement into the now derelict wash-house and store space in the common close. This will enable the area to be aired and kept damp free and will benefit the building. Sheila Morrison. 12 December 1990.

Most of the others agreed with these sentiments and it wasn’t long before Mum had secured ownership of most of the space, together with Planning Permission from the Council for use of washhouse/store as extension to maindoor flat and external alterations, just in time to have incorporated the changes in the major works which were due to commence in 1991. The ‘external alterations’ would have meant restoring the windows at the back, which had been bricked up years before.

site of doors

However, the Planning Permission was dependent upon having approval from all the co-owners and by the time the works were under way Mum only owned a five eighth share of the wash-house and didn’t have full permission from the others who for various reasons had not agreed to the proposals in time. So the work went ahead without incorporating her plan and the quest to gain full ownership of the wash-house space became a bit of a saga. It took well over a decade for Mum to finally gain her goal. She never gave up the idea though and renewed the Planning Permission twice in the intervening years.

The above-mentioned Sheila Morrison seems to have been Mum’s primary supporter, or should I say partner in crime, in the matter of the wash-house and indeed it was this Sheila who had originally initiated the moves to have the back green reinstated. I rather think she might also have been active in the campaign to save the Botanic Gardens Garage. You may remember the Garage had been under threat due to the development plans of Arnold Clark Motors. This campaign also turned into another saga which finally succeeded in its goal in 2007 when the Botanic Gardens Garage was designated a Category A Listed Building. 

From the point of view of Mum and Sheila, the main objection to the development plans had been proposals to make use of Sandringham Lane for access to the back of the garage. Indeed there was always some kind of running battle going on regarding the lane and its use or abuse. In 2007, the new owner of the premises across the lane at number 6, a cafe called Naked Soup, also joined battle and, together with the residents, successfully saw off all attempts at development of the lane.

Naked Soup typifies many of the new enterprises when were starting to spring up in and around Byres Road during the 80’s and 90’s, so that by the millennium the area was taking on a much more cosmopolitan outlook. Over the years, most of the old fashioned grocers, butchers and fishmongers had disappeared, to be replaced by supermarkets, cafes and a whole range of stores from charity shops to fashionable niche boutiques. Even that stalwart of the high street, Woolworth’s, where we used to go to spend our “Saturday penny” disappeared in 2008, and the City Bakeries where I had a Saturday job as a teenager was eventually replaced by Gregg’s.

woolworths byres road
Woolworths, Byres Road, 1984. Note the DER Store next door, also a blast from the past – you don’t see any Television Rental shops around any more, do you?

naked soup cafe

Naked Soup opened at 6 Kersland Street in 2007, just about coinciding with the end of the era when the house was earning its keep as a theatrical digs. It’s under new ownership now, but the original young men who ran this popular takeaway and cafe were very kind to my Mum and would pop across the lane to make sure she was okay and sometimes drop in any delicious sandwiches which were left over from lunchtime. Mum was 86 when she waved goodbye to her final guest in June of 2009. She marked the day by writing this rather sweet note on the flyleaf of her Visitor’s Book:

mum's note

david

By that time, my nephew David had become a permanent fixture in the basement… We would eat fish and chips and watch the snooker. She was always wandering about the house singing. In the later years she slept on her chair a lot. I’d sneak in and she’d wake up pretending she’d been awake the whole time. I never called her out on it. Whenever she wanted a cup of tea it became almost a creative challenge to her to describe the smallest receptacle possible so not to be considered an inconvenience in any way. She settled on ‘a thimble full’. I described her as my flatmate to anyone who knew me. I thought it was cool, some people maybe saw me as a 28 year old living in his grans basement. Wouldn’t change a minute of it…

mum at 90
Mum at 90.

In those latter years Mum’s forgetfulness became more and more marked and one day in 2013, she walked out of the house and forgot her way home. She never again returned to the dwelling she’d lived in for 50 long years and from then on when she talked to us about ‘home’ she meant her childhood home of Davros in County Mayo. She passed away peacefully in 2015 at the grand old age of 92.

So we, her six daughters, sold 8 Kersland Street, our childhood home. We had one last ‘saying goodbye to the house’ party, and I like to think that in turn the house said goodbye to us. But a house never really belongs to you, does it? You belong to it, whether it is for a short while or a long one, but in the end you move on to somewhere else, taking your memories with you.

name plate

I suppose in some ways things haven’t changed all that much in the 166 years since the house was built – most of the streets and buildings would have a familiar feel to anyone who’d lived there and came back for a visit. But change happens nonetheless and even a short stroll around the block would serve to illustrate how things have moved on. The West End of today shows a new, more open and creative face to the world than I could ever have imagined when I was a child…

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Kelvinside Parish Church, at the top of Byres Road, had fallen into disuse and had lain empty and derelict for four years before it was bought in 2002, restored and converted into an arts and entertainment venue called Oran Mor (literally “Big Song”).

From Oran Mor, we can look across the road to the gates of the Botanic Gardens, beloved of children – and grown ups – for generations. Today you can do so much more than take a stroll in the fresh air. For example, in July it becomes an important hub for the West End Festival, an annual celebration of culture and the arts which grew from its humble beginnings in 1996 to become the biggest street festival in Glasgow, with events happening in dozens of venues all over the West End. And it’s not just July. There’s plenty on to catch the eye or tickle the imagination all year round. Here’s just a taste…

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We’re not going in to the Botanic Gardens today though. Let’s continue on past Oran Mor, down Byres Road and round the corner into Vinicombe Street, where we come to the two iconic – now listed – buildings facing each other on either side; the Salon Cinema and the Botanic Gardens Garage. As you can see from this picture from 2015, there’s a much more relaxed feeling in the street than in the days when it was dominated by the constant movement of cars in and out of Arnold Clark’s garage. With the end of the road now closed off, cafe culture is thriving – the sunny side of the street is already busy and once the sun has moved round, the Hillhead Bookstore Restaurant, which took over the old Salon Cinema building, will soon start to fill up. The Botanic Gardens Garage Building, a little further up on the other side will shortly start undergoing renovations.

vinicombe street

8 Kersland Street is home to another family now. Another family who can pop in to Naked Soup for lunch, or take a stroll in the Botanic Gardens, or a bus into town from the stop around the corner; just as we did; just as all those that lived there before us did. Perhaps one day someone might blow the dust off that old planning application and fulfill Mum’s dream of extending the basement. Be that as it may, the house has seen many residents come and go through many decades. It has survived two world wars, rising damp, subsidence, and the ever-shifting political and economic climate. In 2073 it will reach it’s 200th birthday and I’d like to think it’ll still be going strong then.

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The Story of a House, part 9

The repairs to 8 Kersland Street had involved stripping everything back to the bare bones, so it took a while before the interior was restored and redecorated so that it felt like a home again instead of somewhere you just camped out while you waited for the storm to pass. Sadly, Dad’s painstaking work on the lounge cornicing didn’t survive and was one of many features needing the attention of a plasterer. But there could be no regrets, no looking back. Central heating was installed, a new shower room downstairs, a new cooker in the kitchen. Some of us (not me I’m afraid) helped out with the decorating, and in particular, my sister Mary’s flair for interior design did much to give the house a fresh new face.

I’m not sure where the idea came from, but after she retired (ridiculous notion!) Mum hit upon the idea of becoming a theatrical landlady. She’d already been quite used to having waifs and strays stay in the house for varying lengths of time (yes, even in the throes of the repair work!). Sometimes it would be one of us needing a place to stay while our lives were in transition in one way or another, or just coming home for a visit, families in tow. Sometimes a friend, or a friend of a friend needed a bed for a night or three. There was plenty of room and Mum just took it for granted that we’d come and stay in the old family home when we were in Glasgow.

visitors book

Anyway, she signed up with the accommodation registers of the BBC, STV and various Glasgow theatres, bought the Visitors Book you can see above, and in 1994 launched herself and the house on a new career. The next 14 years saw a succession of musicians, artists and actors who came from all over the UK, and indeed the world, to perform in Glasgow. They would enter their names and where they came from in the Visitors Book, and often add a comment or two or a note about what had brought them to Glasgow, from cast members of Evita at the King’s Theatre to artists from Slovenia stopping off for the Glasgow stage of their European tour – next stop Berlin!

As you flick through close on 70 pages of visitors, you quickly see that many of Mum’s guests came back time and time again. When you look at the comments you start to understand that it wasn’t just because of the house’s proximity to the BBC studios at Queen Margaret Drive (literally 5 minutes away) or the short trip into town to reach the King’s or the Theatre Royal.

‘Thanks for the fry-ups, I’ll be back! A welcome return, lovely warm room – many long discussions over cups of tea. Such a wonderful refuge and warm welcome. Many thanks as always for tolerating my quirks and seeming inability to use a wardrobe! Thank you so much, I felt so at home. Hope to return, would not dream of staying anywhere else. Fantastic poached eggs and even better conversation. Ellen it’s a pleasure to meet you, I’m so glad you enjoyed the show and that I have got myself a granny…

As you can see, Mum didn’t just give them bed and breakfast and send them on their way; she had the knack of making them feel at home simply by being genuinely interested in them, in their lives. With her great love of culture, she was in her element  interacting with artistic people and would often attend the shows or concerts where they were performing, especially if they could wangle a complementary ticket for her! I’m sure the catering side of things was no bother to her, having been used to running a household of eight, and I know from the many favourable comments that the guests appreciated very much the good, simple home-made fare, poached eggs a speciality! Conveniently, a small laundrette had opened in the premises on the other side of the lane, so the laundry was a breeze as she could just pop a bag of sheet and pillowcases in for a service wash and pick it up later in the day, all ready for the next visitor.

Intrigued by the entries in the book, daughters, grandchildren and partners started writing comments too when they came to stay or even just have tea with her, “Not so much a daughter as a visitor now”; “It’s like coming home!”; “Just wanted to sign the book, love you Granny.” “Thank you for tea and biscuits.” “I only come for the rich tea biscuits.” We all signed the book when we got together for a party to celebrate her 80th birthday in 2003. Grace wrote “Happy Birthday, Mum. Here’s to radiant days.” and Ann: “The Trossachs, a party, all in one day – what stamina! Love and kisses”. I remember we were all most amused when we weren’t allowed to put up any cards or banners with “80” on them as she didn’t want the guests to know how old she was!

Mum’s Hynes relatives from Ireland also signed when they came to stay and we see regular visits from Rita and Bobby Aird who’d gone to live in Inverness years before after being neighbours round the corner in Vinicombe Street. Mum used to go and stay with them sometimes in Inverness. They had a strong bond.

Those were busy years for the house, always someone coming or going, bringing news from the world, updating their story from the last visit, adding colour and vibrancy and companionship; keeping Mum occupied with the bookings, the shopping, the room preparation. She embraced all comers, and one by one they fell under her spell and felt that 8 Kersland Street was a home from home and not just some anonymous digs which had to be endured until the end of their engagement.

But don’t just take my word for it. I’ve been in touch with one of those guests (just googled her and up she popped!) On the 21st of March 1994, Lauren Bullingham, later Scott, a harpist from London, was the first visitor to sign her name in the Visitor’s Book, and was one of the most frequent guests in the years that followed. Further down that first page is one Andrew Scott…

“Andy and I had only just met when I first started working in Glasgow and staying with your mum, so it was just at the start of our relationship. Lauren tells me that she and Andy met when they were both freelancing with the Halle Orchestra in Manchester, “playing – wait for it – Romeo and Juliet!” It was obviously written in the stars! Andy and Lauren settled in Cheshire, where I think they are to this day. Have a look at Lauren’s website or her blog if you want to know more about her career as a harpist, composer and teacher: http://www.lauren-scott-harp.co.uk, http://www.lauren-scott-harp.co.uk/harpyness.

I absolutely loved staying at your Mum’s house. Very happy times. My husband stayed with her too, she was very significant in our lives at the time as I did quite a bit of work at that time with the BBC SSO and always stayed with her, and my husband (although we weren’t married then) did the odd bit of work with the orchestra as well. At that time there weren’t many (pedal) harpists living in Scotland which was why I was always being asked to travel up from Cheshire. I stopped working regularly in Scotland when I had my kids, but I do remember going up at least once to work with my son as a baby (he’s 23 now!) and I think when we were on a family holiday we stopped off at your mums for tea when we had both kids. So she did get to meet our kids. I did work for a while in Glasgow when the kids were babies (and left them at home with family to look after) and just enjoyed being able to sleep! Your mum was so lovely and sweet and always went out of her way to look after me, and my husband when he was up working in Scotland. We did try to keep in touch with Christmas cards for a few years…

That 1996 entry (Lauren, Stanley and Linda) is when my mum came up with me with my son (Stan) and she looked after him whilst I was at work. Stan was born in April 1996 so he must have been only a few months old. My mum passed away nearly 10 years ago now. Andy and I always called your mum “Mrs M” which used to make her chuckle I think. And we had a lot of fun diving to the grill – one of those eye level ones above a gas cooker as your mum was forever forgetting about the toast. She always insisted we sat down in the kitchen whilst she made breakfast for us, but whilst chatting would forget about the toast. Hence there was always this dash to save the toast. It became a running joke. She was a real diamond your mum.

How did you find her? I asked the BBC for a recommendation and they gave me her number. Music world is quite small really. I always recommended music friends to go to her if they were in Glasgow, and likewise I imagine everyone else did too.

Your mum was always very sociable and caring and was like a surrogate Granny. One more thing – your mum was forever pottering about, EXCEPT when the snooker was on the TV!

You know, I had intended to talk in this post about the changes that were going on in Hillhead at this time, but I’ve been totally diverted by delving into that fascinating Visitors book, so let’s leave that for the next time. Today, 4 March, would have been Mum’s 96th birthday, and it seems rather fitting on this day to celebrate that interesting time in the life of the house when she became a surrogate granny to Lauren and many other artistes who came looking for a bed for the night and found so much more. I’ll ask Lauren to play us out with the haunting old Irish melody I Love My Love in the Morning. Mum would have loved this.