Friday, September 23, 2005

My Life: Origins

Born in Glasgow (Scotland) in 1955, Duke Street Hospital to be exact, I grew up in Maryhill in what you'd call a standard working class family. We weren't exactly poor but money was something that was carefully looked after.

Home, Sweet Home

Home for mum, dad and myself was in Hinshaw Street. We lived up a close, two floors up in a standard Glasgow tenement in what was known as a "room and kitchen", which was exactly what it sounds like, a single bedroom and a kitchen that also had a bed recess. It also had a small lobby and associated coal bunker and I can still remember the sooty, coaly smell of it even now. Each close and landing was lit by a gas lamp at night, which helped light the stairs as well.

We had no hot running water and the toilet was outside, down the stairs on the half landing. If you wanted a wash, it had to be in the kitchen sink with water boiled in the kettle and no, it wasn't an electric one. If I wanted to "go" after dark, then it was a creepy walk down the stairs in the diminishing light of the gas lamp and a serious run back up before the boogey man got me.

The advent of central heating hadn't materialised for most of us Glaswegians at that time but we had a real coal fire in the kitchen and I can remember spending hours in front of it watching the coals burn, the flames flickering in and out with little cracking and popping noises. Of course, having a real fire meant that we had a real chimney and that always meant stockings on the fireplace at Christmas and a note popped up the lum, telling Santa what I wanted.

The Back

The tenement block had a central, enclosed courtyard commonly referred to as "The Back" and this is where most of the local kids played. It was pretty big, a wasteland by today's standards, but it also contained the communal wash-houses and middens. The wash-houses were unused in my youth, having been a throw back to a time before the local Steamie, and were more or less derelict but provided useful cover when playing such games as "Hide-and-Seek", "Japs'n'Americans or "Cowboys and Indians" - all concepts probably alien, and a bit non-PC, to the kids of today. We had no computers, games consoles or internet in those days, we didn't even have a television until 1963 and that was black and white and only got the BBC.

The middens were another endless resource of fun and it was pretty common for a group of us to go midgie raking to see if there was anything useful a small boy could salvage such as old toys, broken clocks or radios, comics, wheels, etc. I know it sounds terrible nowadays and we used to get into terrible trouble if we got caught at it but that wee hint of danger and the possibility of discovering some "treasure" made it a worthwhile adventure for an under-ten year old boy. We'd even occasionally go on raking expeditions to the back courts of some of our more affluent neighnours as they always threw out better quality stuff. Of course, more often than not there was nothing useful to be found and all you got was covered in ashes or if you were really unlucky, some rotten vegetables.

My pool of friends came from different streets so the territory covered a few blocks and we could be found playing in any one of several streets or backs, only coming home for dinner, tea or occasionally shouting up for "piece", which would be thrown out of the window wrapped in paper to make sure it didn't get dirty hitting the ground. Great was the kudos if you caught the falling sandwich but that was a rare occurrence.

Another great source of fun were puddles but I've written enough for today so until Chapter Two...

3 comments:

Jimmy said...
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Tony said...
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ChrisWoznitza said...

Hi I´m Chris. Greatings from Germany Bottrop !!