Under the Clock

August turned out to be a bit of a hiatus for the blog – not altogether planned, but what can you do! However, here’s a wee story to try and get geared up again for September.

Everyone waits under the clock, I mused. As usual I was horrendously early, Amy horrendously late. But I knew better than to expect anything else of my scatterbrained sister. She’d turn up in her own good time, hair flying, possessions in disarray, full of apologies, and can-you-forgive-me’s, and you-know-what-I’m-like. And of course, I do and I can and we’ll hug and head off for a lovely lunch at Patisserie Valerie – so handy for the station, how clever of you Jen!

But sometimes, just sometimes, why can’t it be me that’s the scatty one? The one who always makes the big entrance,  instantly claims the limelight and has everyone vying for her attention. I sighed. That just wasn’t me. I’d always be the one hovering in the wings, ready to hang up the coats, fill the glasses, pass round the hors d’oevres.  I was the Martha, she the Mary.

My mind wandered thus as I watched the hustle and bustle of the busy station, the ebbs and flows of  arriving and departing passengers. I like people-watching; it’s kind of soothing, endlessly fascinating. That’s probably why I lecture in drama and psychology at the University. Ah there she was, on the other side of the barrier hunting furiously in her bag. She’ll have lost her ticket I thought. I resigned myself to wait a little longer – you can’t get through the barrier without your ticket these days.

All at once I became aware of a figure headed in my direction. Oh my goodness, it was Ethan, almost as I’d made him materialise just by the power of thought. If I’m honest he was never exactly out of my thoughts, ever since that time we worked together on the end of term production. I thought he felt the same but he seemed to just disappear once the show was over. I suspected that he’d overheard me telling that creep Russell Tyler that I wasn’t interested in having a relationship with anyone because I was focused on my career. But all the same, if he’d been really interested surely he’d have asked me about it. I was just glad I hadn’t made a fool of myself over it.

And now he seemed to be heading straight for me with that great big stupid grin on his face. Except… I took a quick look over my shoulder, I’ve been caught out more than once responding to a smile that was actually meant for someone standing behind me. But no, he came right up to me. “Jenny! I was just thinking about you and hey presto there you are!” He was thinking about me??

I didn’t reply and must have stood there like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Ethan’s smile faltered and he looked ready to retreat. I suddenly panicked and grabbed his sleeve. “Ethan! I’m sorry, you just took me by surprise. My dad always used to say that if you stood long enough under the clock at Central Station, you’d see the whole world go by!” Now I’d started, my mouth just wouldn’t stop talking.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Amy standing a few yards away, watching the spectacle of her big sister, the academic, clutching at the sleeve of a rather dishy young man and chattering away nineteen to the dozen. Rather to my surprise she didn’t rush up and demand to be introduced.

I’d just got to the bit where I was starting to explain the whole Russell Tyler thing when Ethan gently put a finger on my lips and shook his head. “I know. And I’m sorry I didn’t stay in touch but there was a bit of a family emergency and I’ve not been around for a while. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I got off the train and there you were almost as if you were waiting for me.”

Which of course I was. I could hardly breathe as we looked deep into each other’s eyes. I knew I was going to make a complete fool of myself now and I didn’t care. Just before I closed my eyes, I saw Amy give me a thumbs up as she turned around and melted back into the crowd. I’ll say this for my sister, she may be scatty, but she’s a blooming genius when it comes to emotional intelligence…

cnetral station clock

Perfect Moments

Looking at old photos can be a bittersweet experience. There are often very mixed sentiments involved in remembering those captured moments. Perhaps because it’s painful to look back at a time that is lost and regretted. Or because the smiles were just for the camera and were hiding some personal turmoil. The pictures can only record a single moment, but looking at them can sometimes stir up a whole complicated set of emotions. I suppose its inevitable that as you get older you are increasingly remembering people that are no longer with us or a self that that seems long gone.

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A moment full of hopes and dreams from our wedding in 1974. Both sets of parent and Father Gerry Hughes, have since passed away, as has our marriage. But it’s a lovely memory nonetheless, and one I can look back on with fondness.

But you can’t keep looking back at the past and blaming yourself for the way things turned out, the if-only’s. I confess that sometimes that tendency is there in me. And then I have to remind myself that the only way to heal is to forgive yourself for your shortcomings and understand that you did the best you could at the time. It’s human to get waylaid by wishing that things could have been different. The trick is to remember that our history is what makes us the people we are today, inevitably older, but hopefully wiser and more tolerant too.

So, while there will always be a few ghosts along the way when we delve into our past, there are also, happily, some moments of perfect joy. Moments which encompass so much more than just the image, but all the emotions associated with it. For me, many of those moments centre around my children and grandchildren, from the instant I first held them in my arms to all the small childhood tragedies and triumphs along the way, when yet another little bit of your heart is captured and gladly given away.

One such instance comes from decades ago, a sunny day at the beach when we’d packed the children into the car for an impromptu picnic, not something we did all that often. It was when we were living in Holland near the border with Germany, so the beach was one on the banks of the River Rhine – there are sandy beaches along its length just at that point. Anyway, the children had run down to the water’s edge and were splashing each other, jumping in and out of the spray.  I have an idea they were wearing those plastic sandals called jellies – or maybe they were just wearing their good sandals!

It was such a lovely day, bright and hot, and I closed my eyes for a moment, breathing deep. I opened them to see the image that has stayed with me all these years – the sunlight sparkling on the water, a heat haze over the wet sand and my four children visible through it as they played on the shore maybe 40 metres away, the sound of their squeals of laughter floating towards me. All wasn’t well with our marriage at this point and I don’t have a photograph, but this was a perfect moment out of time which nothing has ever been able to spoil.

These moment, these tender moments of the heart, I think come much closer to our true memories than any camera can ever capture. Sometimes you look at a photograph and although you know you were there – the proof is laid out in front of you – you can’t actually recall how it felt to be there, how YOU felt. Or you know that the photographer has failed to record the real all-singing, all-dancing you but instead has brutally chosen the moment when you are looking uncomfortable in a badly chosen outfit or were squinting at the sun.

All in all I prefer to close my eyes and explore the inner pictures which are much clearer, much nearer to who I really am and how I remember things. Often those moments aren’t the ones that are imperfectly captured on film, but are instead indelibly imprinted on my heart and remembered with infinite tenderness.

sparkling on water

 

 

 

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.

pencil

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!

it-is-a-truth-tom-gauld

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.

no 8

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

A Walk in the Park

A story for Christmas…

A sharp blast of wind caught Alfie as he turned in the gate of the Botanic Gardens and shrugged his duffle bag more tightly onto his shoulder. At least it’s not raining, he thought as he headed straight up the main driveway towards the glasshouses. It had been nearly a month since Erin has issued her invitation and Alfie had still not given her an answer. He’d spent most of December agonising about it, endlessly going over the pros and cons in his mind. Peter and Robert had been no help and he’d just about stopped even listening to their mumblings and grumblings. “What do you want to go to New Zealand for anyway?” “What about us and OUR families?” “Don’t you care if you never see us again?”

Well of course he cared! Why did they think it was such a difficult decision? But the truth was that, despite these two sons of his being no further away from Glasgow than Aberdeen and London, he never did see anything of them. His sons were fine men with great careers and lovely wives and families, sons to be proud of. But their lives were full and busy and while they were always making promises, they never actually found the time to make the trip to their home town to visit their old Da.

Of course it had been different when Nancy was alive and still herself. Somehow she’d been the magnet that had drawn them all together for Christmas and had orchestrated the complicated arrangements with her daughters in law which meant that they’d bring the grandchildren to visit for a few days on the way to or from some more exotic holiday destination. But these days…

He stepped inside the Kibble Palace and loosened his scarf as the warm blast hit him. It had been quite a while since he’d visited this place, but as he strolled by the goldfish pond, the memories came flooding back. He smiled at the mother of a young child who giggled as she plopped pebbles into the water, just as his own children had done all those years ago when he used to give them a penny and tell them to make a wish as it hit the water. Just as he had done as a youngster.

It had been just the two of them, him and his mum. His dad had been injured in the second world war and had never really recovered from his injuries, though he’d managed to return to work as a train driver for a few years before the bullet fragment that was lodged in his brain had one day shifted slightly and killed him suddenly and silently.  Alfie had been five years old and he still remembered the day when his mother, white as a sheet, had collected him from school at home time. The fierce hug she gave him, and her tears, told him that something terrible had happened before she even managed to spit out the words.

They had moved from Partick to live with his Aunt Maureen in her big flat in Hillhead. “Of course you must come and stay with me, Peggy! Look at me, rattling around all by myself in this big house – you and Alfie are just what this place needs!” And Alfie discovered that the formidable woman he’d always been a little afraid of turned out to have a heart of pure gold. The temporary arrangement became a permanent one, with Peggy keeping house for them all, and Auntie Maureen dropping Alfie at St Peter’s Primary every day on her way to the High School where she was the Headmistress.

Alfie stopped when he reached the statue called ‘Stepping Stones’. It depicted a young girl carrying a younger child with his arms around her neck, their heads close together as she carefully stretched out her bare foot to feel for the next stone. This had been their favourite, his and his mum’s, and they had visited it often on the way home. They’d walk round the circuit, carefully examining each of the marble statues in turn, before deciding that yes, ‘Stepping Stones’ was the best. Satisfied, they’d return home where it would soon be time for Auntie Maureen to come home and they’d all have their tea together.

Alfie quietly wiped away a tear as he returned to the main driveway. He wasn’t really one for feeling sorry for himself, but visiting the statues had only highlighted the fact that here he was on Christmas Day taking a solitary walk in the park. He told himself not to be daft and continued on up the hill, allowing the memories to flood in. That’s what he was here for, wasn’t it? To lay those memories to rest?

So many memories associated with this place.  Of his mother, his wife, his daughter, all gone now. Of his sons, who had always chosen the statue of the naked man with the monkey on his knee. Of Auntie Maureen who, to his surprise and childish embarrassment, had professed a liking for the statue of the naked Eve. This was on one of the rare occasions when she had joined them for their Sunday walk. Not long before her death, he remembered. He’d always regretted that Auntie Maureen hadn’t lived to see him go to University and follow in her footsteps into the teaching profession, first as a lecturer and finally professor.

And of course Erin was still very much alive, albeit gone to the other side of the world.

Erin… So much younger than Peter and Robert, who had already grown up and left home by the time their little sister, the ‘afterthought baby’, had been born. She’d been a happy, mischievous child who had given her middle aged parents so much joy as she grew up, and caused them such anxiety when at 18 she’d announced that instead of going to University like her brothers she was going to take a gap year and see the world.

The gap year had turned into a decade, and a way of life where there was always something new to see, somewhere new to go, all funded by a few month’s work as a nanny or a bartender or a tutor. They learned to stop worrying about what their daughter was going to do with her life and instead stuck a map of the world on the kitchen wall where they could follow her progress with coloured pins and make a border of the postcards she faithfully sent from the four corners of the globe.

Until the day, on one of her rare visits home, she had lost her heart to the tall New Zealander she’d bumped into in, of all places, Sauchiehall Street! Her brothers had had plenty to disapprove of as the whirlwind romance turned into a registry office wedding. “You’ve only known him 5 minutes” “Why can’t you have a proper wedding in a church?” “This will kill your poor mother.” But the ‘poor mother’ had been Erin’s staunchest ally and had reminded her sons that they had previously spent their sister’s flying visits asking “When are you going to get married and settle down?” They could hardly have it both ways now, even if settling down was so alarmingly far away.

Alfie too had surprised himself by being quite sanguine about Erin and Niall. After all, he had learned long ago that Erin was someone who, like her mother, would always follow her own path in life no matter what anyone thought. In any case, who was he to judge? He and Nancy had only known each other a couple of months before they had got married in the student chaplaincy. They saw no point in waiting and knew that if they did it would be too late for Peggy, prematurely old and frail with heart problems. He had never forgotten his mother’s face, shining with happiness, as she sat between Nancy’s parents in the small friendly chapel. The three of them had held hands as they watched their offspring make vows that were heartfelt and – as it turned out – long lasting.

It was as if the wedding had given Peggy permission to slip away and she died peacefully in her sleep the following week. Just like her to leave without a fuss, thought Alfie. He was a little out of breath now as he reached the top of the hill and stood for a moment waiting for his heart to slow down. There was always a choice to be made at this point. On weekdays, he and his mother would turn left and start heading for home. On Sundays, they’d go right and he’d get a chance to explore the overgrown pathways that led down to the river, thrashing at the bushes with a stick and sometimes coming across frogs or a pretty pebble that he’d slip into his pocket to give to his mother when they met up again at the bottom of the hill.

He’d once asked if it wasn’t boring for her just walking quietly by herself down the path while he dashed off into the undergrowth. “Oh no, dear,” she’d said. “I love it here, it reminds me of your father. We used to come here when we were courting. See that big oak tree over there? That’s where he proposed to me” Suddenly he understood the dreamy look she sometimes had on her face as she strolled calmly down the hill and then sat on the bench at the bottom while she waited for her son to come running up, dirty and dishevelled, and eager to tell her about the frog he’d seen, or to put a round pink pebble into her hand.

He’d seen his mother in a different light after that, imagining her and the handsome young man from their wedding photograph strolling hand in hand under the trees and maybe even kissing, as he’d seen people do in the movies. How he’d blushed at the thought – he must have been maybe 9 or 10 when he had that revelation. And somehow he had understood that no-one would ever take his dad’s place in Peggy’s heart. That was why instead of burying her, he’d brought her ashes home and had placed them on the mantlepiece beside the urn that contained his dad’s.

Nancy had understood, but had occasionally asked when he was going to scatter his parents’ ashes. “When the time is right” he would reply. She’s never say any more, but when her time came he’d known what she would want and had taken the boat to Millport one sunny day two summers ago and committed her ashes to the waters of the Firth of Clyde, so that the ocean currents could sweep her away to the far off places she’d never had a chance to visit in life.

He took the path to the left and as he strode down the hill it occurred to him that it wasn’t until he had sons of his own that he had understood what a solitary child he had been, tending to shy away from the rough and tumble of the school yard rather than being in the thick of it as his boys inevitably were. They had been such scamps as children, so close in ages as to be almost like twins, and inseparable as they got into one scrape after another, climbing trees and falling out of them again, laughing their heads off. He was pretty sure he remembered rescuing one of them from that big monkey puzzle tree there at the corner. Probably Robert – he never could turn down a dare.

He listened to the men they had become tell him how impossible this proposal of Erin’s was and how he should just dismiss the idea out of hand. “I mean, do you expect us to come all the way to New Zealand just to visit you?” Well, why not, he thought. What happened to those carefree boys of mine who were always looking for adventure? But you couldn’t really say a thing like that out loud, could you?

Erin could though. “Just ignore them Dad, they never even come to Glasgow, never mind New  Zealand!” She was right, and more than that, she also addressed head-on the question which bothered him more than any other – what would happen to him as he got older and perhaps could no longer look after himself. His sons were vague, “Oh you don’t need to worry about that yet, Dad, you’re fit and healthy aren’t you? Why concern yourself with something that might never happen? We’ll do our duty by you, you know that.” He knew they realised that getting older was inevitable. He also knew that their avoidance of the issue was because of their unwillingness to admit that once their father could no longer fend for himself, their duty would consist of finding a nice care home in which he could live out his final days. The thought made him shudder.

On the other side of the world, Erin was the one who understood, who chatted with him practically every day on Skype and actually listened to his concerns. He’d learned how to open his heart to his daughter during the dark days when Nancy had reached the point where she no longer knew him and couldn’t be left safely alone in the house for fear she would leave the cooker on or would wander out into the street and forget how to get home again.  He’d refused to even countenance putting her in a home – she might have forgotten me, he told his sons, but I remember HER – and he took early retirement to look after her until, finally, his beloved Nancy had passed away in his arms after a massive stroke.

Unlike the boys, Erin was never satisfied with his assurance that he was fine, he was coping okay. She had gently insisted that he tell her how he really felt, that he share his sadness and despair with her. She had been with him every step of the way.

And now she was asking the killer question “What’s to stop you Dad? We want you with us, Niall and me. I can’t bear the thought of you ending your days all alone in some home or other when you can come and live with us on the farm. When you can have a new life: have some fun for goodness sake! You know I’ll look after you when the time comes. How could I ever put you in a home after all you did for Mum? Don’t you think it’s no more than you deserve, it’s no more than I can do? I know Mum would agree…”

Alfie took a deep breath. He knew the answer, he’d known for a while. In the past few weeks he’d been visiting all his old haunts, saying goodbye. He knew that if he did this, he’d probably never see Glasgow again, even though the Glasgow he knew was really only somewhere that existed in his memory. But ‘never’ and ‘forever’ were words that could stop you in your tracks, and he had one more thing to do before he’d be ready.

He had to push aside some overgrown brambles to reach the spot, but sure enough, there it was, surrounded by some sturdy railings. The low level platform of Botanic Gardens Station, deserted for some 70 years and now completely overgrown and covered in graffitti. He hadn’t been the only one to be fascinated by this glimpse of the past. Over the years many people, old and young, had stood right here to gaze down at this tantalising and perhaps haunted relic of the Victorian era. He’d always been glad of the substantial railings, preventing his mischievous boys from surely climbing down and disappearing into the tunnel.

They’d always listened in wide eyed wonder, and Erin had too, when he told them about their own special connection with the railway that used to run under the Botanic Gardens. Because their own grandfather, his dad, had actually driven the train that had taken this route! They knew the story well but never tired of hearing how in the olden days Botanic Gardens Station had stood just there, near the main gates. They’d imagine the Victorian ladies and gentlemen standing on the platform waiting for trains that would chuff into the station in a great cloud of smoke and steam and noise. And no, your grandpa didn’t drive a steam train, it would have been diesel engines by then, this was after the second world war.

He smiled as he remembered his eager children always asking the same questions as he told the tale. They especially liked the part where he told them how the actual station had been closed just before the war, never to open as a station again. But that the trains had continued to run through the ghost station for another decade and more until the line had been closed for good in the 1960’s and the station demolished in 1970 after a fire. Yes, that’s before you were born! But not before YOU were born, Daddy, they would prompt.

And he would tell them what he could recall. How as a little boy he remembered his dad coming home in his railway uniform – yes, he had a cap – and talk about about the train that would run without stopping through the subterranean ghost station all the way under the Gardens until it came out at another station called Kirklee. And no, I don’t know if he ever saw any ghosts, but I suppose he might have. There are lots of ghost stories to do with old railway lines, did I ever tell you about the Gray Lady of Hillhead, she was supposed to be a happy ghost who smiled at people….

In truth Alfie couldn’t really remember whether it had been his father who had talked about the ghost station. Or perhaps it had been his mother who had taken to occasionally taking him for trips on the very line where her dear Jack used to travel. As a train-mad youngster, these trips had been a huge treat.

“Why do you shut your eyes when we go into the tunnel Mummy, are you scared?” “Oh no darling, I know it might seem daft, but it makes me feel closer to your Daddy, this was the same train as he used to drive.” It didn’t seem at all daft to Alfie, it seemed to make perfect sense, and he took to also closing his eyes in the tunnel to feel close to the father he could barely remember. Perhaps his ghost did come and join us in the tunnel he thought. Perhaps it was waiting there still. Why not?

He took his  duffle bag and opened it to retrieve a plastic food container. It had amazed and touched him when he’d emptied the urns to see how small a space the ashes of two human beings took up. He took a quick look around to check there was no-one near, then carefully opened the box and reached over the railing to shake out the contents. At that moment a sudden gust caught the ashes, sending them in a joyful upward spiral. To his eye it was as if the two lonely spirits were entwining in an everlasting dance before disappearing together into the ether.

“The time is right, Nancy,” he whispered.

It was with a lighter heart and a lighter step that Alfie walked out through the gates of the Botanic Gardens that day. He’d be just in time for Christmas Lunch with his neighbours the Dempseys, a kind young couple who had insisted he join them as soon as they discovered that his family had other plans which didn’t involve him. And then he’d go home and listen to the radio while he waited for Erin’s call round about 8.00. By then it would be early on Boxing Day morning in New Zealand and Erin would be having her first coffee of the day while she checked in with her Dad. She’d wake up fast, he thought, when she heard what he had to say.  “Yes Erin, I’d love to come and live with you in New Zealand.”

 

 

 

The Story of a House, part 5

After the war, a family called Campbell made their home at 8 Kersland Street. All I know about them (from the electoral register) are their names – James, Catherine, Hugh, Mary, Jane. So, possibly a mother and father and at least three children old enough to vote? They stayed a good long time, from 1947 all through the 1950’s, until, in 1960, the house was bought by William and Fay Darling. And this, dear reader, is a very significant moment!

If you have been following this story you may have noticed that up until this point all the residents of 8 Kersland Street have been tenants. It turns out (now that I’ve procured a copy of the historic title deeds from the Land Registry) that through all these long years the landlords, the owners of the property, were named Blackie and were in fact members of the famous Glasgow publishing firm, Blackie and Son. The firm ceased business in 1991, but you may be familiar with some of the iconic childrens’ books they published, including Cecily May Barker’s Flower Fairies books.

flower fairies

The Blackie we are interested in is John Blackie Jnr, whose father – John Snr – founded Blackie’s in 1809. He had originally been in business as a weaver, but was persuaded that money could be made by selling sizeable books in monthly or quarterly instalments, by subscription. Money could indeed be made and the enterprise developed and prospered for another 180-odd years.

Blackie_John jnr

John Junior entered the business with his father and from 1831 the firm became known as Blackie and Son . But John’s sphere of influence would grow wider when in 1857 he was elected to the Glasgow City Council and in 1863 became Lord Provost and served a term in that position. He proposed the City Improvement Scheme, a major plan to improve the quality of life in the poorer areas and was also involved in bringing water to the city from Loch Katrine.

The 1861 census shows John and his wife Agnes living at Lilybank House, Hillhead with their three young sons, John, William and Albert. His profession is given as “Publisher employing 20 men and boys”, a proud declaration one feels, and by this time he would have also been involved in city politics. But… Lilybank House…?

Lilybank House was built sometime around 1830 for the merchant Robert Allen. This would have been quite early in the evolution of the suburb of Hillhead, when James Gibson was selling off plots of land for development as villas and terraces. When John Blackie took on the tenancy in 1857, Lilybank House was a small Georgian villa with a large walled garden and greenhouses.  Once he actually purchased it in 1864, he commissioned architect Alexander “Greek” Thomson to add a new wing to the south end and relocate the entrance. During his term as Provost, Blackie had the satisfaction of entertaining both William Gladstone and young Prince Alfred, son of Queen Victoria, at his newly enhanced residence.

Lilybank_House_1
Lilybank House has undergone various additions and alterations over the years. In 1894 it was converted to a Hall of Residence for women attending Queen Margaret College, known as Queen Margaret Hall. It was taken over by Glasgow University in 1924 and after it ceased to be a hall of residence in 1966, it has been used to house various departments of the University. It has been the subject of further refurbishment and conservation work and is now part of the Thompson Heritage Trail.

Lilybank House is of particular interest to us because it is situated in Bute Gardens, which is more or less a continuation of the other end of Kersland Street from number 8. So James Blackie Jnr would have been ideally placed to witness the streets of Hillhead emerge and grow before his very eyes, indeed it’s not unlikely that he and James Gibson would have been well acquainted with each other. Which probably explains why in 1871 Blackie purchased a plot measuring 738 and four ninths square yards of ground on the West Side of Kersland Street and, I think, other plots which I can’t identify.

upstairs

Did John Blackie then take a daily stroll down Kersland Street to monitor the progress of the construction which was growing into the 4-storey tenement building which became numbers 8 and 10 Kersland Street (for he was the owner of both addresses). I’d like to think he did, it’s what I would have done, wouldn’t you?

But John did not survive long to live to appreciate his investment. His health had been undermined due to overstrain during the years of his Provostship and he finally succumbed to a sharp attack of pleurisy on February 12th, 1873, in his 68th year. John Senior outlived his son and he died the following year at the grand old age of 91.

John Jnr’s widow Agnes moved out of Lilybank House and took up residence nearby at 6 Wilson Street, now known as Oakfield Avenue, and only four streets away from Kersland Street. In her household were her coachman and two female servants, so her “private means”, including the rental from numbers 8 and 10 and possibly other properties, seems to have left her comfortably off. It tickles me to think that Agnes Blackie and her tenant Madame Stewart might have actually known each other. But I’m probably being fanciful – presumably a woman of property and a tenant would have moved in different social circles, especially as all the actual renting out and collecting moneys and property management would have been done by an agent. It’s not impossible though, is it?

Inkedhillhead 1860
This 1860 map neatly illustrates the proximity of the site of 8 Kersland Street (#1) to Lilybank House (#2), Hillhead House (#3) and 6 Wilson Street (#4).
hillhead 1894
By 1894 the whole area has been transformed, and Hillhead House is no longer there, having been demolished in 1878.

On the death of Agnes in 1887, the Kersland Street properties were passed on to William Gourlie Blackie, John and Agnes’s middle son. One gets a feeling that after the death of his father in 1873, life hadn’t been particularly easy for William. He had married Katherine Rankin in 1875 and their son William R was born in London the following year. Two daughters, Agnes Mary and Ruby Katherine, came along over the next couple of years, both born in Kirkcudbrightshire, and then it’s back to London where another son, John Herndon was born in 1880. William was only 21 when his first child was born – could it be that he left Glasgow under a cloud? Why didn’t he join the family firm? Of course it could be that he just wanted to strike out on his own…

The 1881 census shows William to be an “unemployed printer” living in Clapham with his wife and four small children. Very sadly, they lost the youngest, John, the following year when he was only 2 years old. We find the family still in London 10 years later and William is now working in the publishing industry. There are clues which put the family in Canada in 1901 – indeed Blackie’s had an office there, so perhaps William did after all come to hold down a position with the family firm. But whatever dreams took William and Katherine to Canada, they didn’t last, for the next we hear is the report of William’s death in 1905 at Ballantrae in Ayrshire, at the age of only 51.

Katherine and her daughters then seem to have lived on their ‘private means’ in various places in the south of England until Katherine passed away in 1911 at Hastings in Sussex. She was then 57.

Agnes and Ruby would have been in their early thirties when they inherited numbers 8 and 10 Kersland Street. The sisters never married and as far as I can tell had set up house together and were living in Tunbridge Wells when their mother died. I don’t know that they always lived together – at one point they seem to have had separate houses in St Leonards on Sea and at another time are recorded as residing in Stirling, where I think they may have had relatives. I’m picking up these tiny tidbits from the title deeds and, to be honest it’s a miracle you can pick up anything from them as they are written in that arcane legal language so beloved of solicitors and their ilk. Here’s a wee snippet to show you what I mean (this is one of the clearer bits!)

deeds snippet

Anyway, the years rolled by and the rentals rolled in, until Agnes Mary passed away in 1929, age 50. Ruby Katherine carried on as sole proprietor and at some point in the mid nineteen thirties came to live at 24 Hamilton Park Avenue in Glasgow, a rather nice looking terraced house not a stone’s throw away from Kersland Street. (Hamilton Park Avenue is indicated by the blue arrow on the map below, and Kersland Street by the yellow one). The tenement properties were being managed by agents, but I can’t believe that Ruby wouldn’t have been familiar with them. She could hardly have avoided them whenever she passed by on her way to the Botanic Gardens, or the shops of Byres Road.

So what brought Ruby to Glasgow? As far as I know she’d never lived there, hadn’t known her grandparents, who had died before she was even born, hadn’t known the imposing house where her father had been brought up. I think that once again geography can come to our aid here. When you place 24 Hamilton Park Avenue (then known as James Street) on our 1860 map (#5) and realise how it fits in to the general scheme of things, I think it’s not unreasonable to conclude that this property must surely have been another acquired by the far sighted John Blackie Junior, and that in taking up residence there, Ruby was doing no more than coming home.

inked ham park ave

I’d like to think that Ruby felt a sense of belonging when she came home to Hillhead and got to know the area her family came from and the various locations which were part of her own history.

Economic conditions became more difficult after the second world war and the title deeds show us that Ruby, through her agents, began selling off the various flats at 10 Kersland Street in 1949, and that this continued throughout the 1950’s, culminating in the sale of number 8 in 1960. This no doubt enabling her to maintain herself as she became older and frailer (she’d have reached her 80th birthday in 1958). Ruby eventually moved into a nearby old folks home (Henderson House) and then possibly one in Edinburgh, where I think she lived out her days and died some time in the mid sixties.

My mum used to say that before us only one family had ever lived in our house, which, as we’ve seen, isn’t right. But she WAS correct in thinking that only one family had ever owned it in the previous 90 years. I wish I could tell her she was right, but she probably knew that anyway; she knew things, did my mum…