WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAYS.
“ Out with ye! Ah’m no havin’ ye under mah feet on a day like this. No ye don’t-nae wellies , ahm no havin ye like something oot o’ the ragged school!” Ma took a deep breath. “First day o’ the school holidays an’ ye’ve got me goin’ already. Here ye are ! Jeely piece in a poke. And don’t gie me that look wee yin.” Mah wee brother Ian took a step back. “Huvnae done anything Ma.” “Maybe no’ but ye soon wull-OOT! The baith o’ ye!” And as we clattered doon the stairs,”And come in quiet-your faither wull be in aff the six tae two an’ ye know what he’s like at the end o’ the week!”
Oot we went
and there wis Wullie and Jim
and Reid and Alan an’ wee Eilidh ,
aw on oor bikes and an’ off an’ up
through the Cross
an’ past the foundry tae the wids at Chantinghall
an’ a stop tae keek intae the auld charcoal burners hut
which wisnae a hut but a queer roond stane thing
an’ naw there wisnae an auld tramp kipped up in there
so aff we went up ,
up towards East Kilbride,
past the waterworks
and the AA gun emplacements , bits missing, rustin’ awa’ .
And oh!- Bit scary! Slow doon a wee bit,
no’ hard to dae because we’re aw’ pechin’
We don’t stop, fur whit’s this?
A bunch o’ tinks , bivvied up on the edge o’ the road-
aw’ dark an’ ragged ,
peerin’ oot from the hoops o’ their wagons
-an an auld wife whittling away at some claithespegs
an’ a man lookin’ like Long John Silver
only wi’ twa legs
sherpenin some scissors on a grindstone
an’ lookin’ up at us
an’ bringin’ oot a great big knife
an’ grinnin’ at us
an’ drawin’ it across his throat
an’ we’re aff ,
aff like rockets away on up tae the the quarry at the tap o’ the hill .
The gate’s always open
an in we go an’ sit wi’ oor legs danglin’ ower the edge
an look doon at the watter .
An’ up speaks Wullie
“There’s a German bomber doon there-wi’ aw the men inside
-mah faither shot it doon in the war!”
An’ we aw’ snigger cos we aw ken
that ye couldnae get Wullies dad oot o’ the shelter
even when the raids wis ower-
wis true, wis true—wee Eilidh’s dad had telt her.
So we hiv oor pieces
an’ Reid his brought a screwtap o’ sugarally watter and we drink it
and efter, aw the boys line up an’ see who can pee the farthest
intae the watter
an wee Eilidh says it’s no fair
that she cannae dae that
an’ shows us why ,but tha’ts a bit boring.
An off we go again up tae the highest bit
an’ we look doon at the General’s Brig an’ decide naw
it means goin awa’ doon an’ then up again
an’ we stop an’ just look aroon’
an aw’ ye kin see is the Clyde valley, aw’ chimneys an’ furnaces-
there’s oor dad’s work
-and ower ther the Campsie Fells an’ ye can jst make oot Ben Lomond.
An’ we’re aw smilin’ in the sun for we know here’s the guid bit , whit we came fur
–freewheelin’ aw the way back doon.
Legs aff the pedals
an’ doon we race , laughin’ an’ wheechin’
an suddenly it’s the tinks
an’ they’ve heard us comin’
but they’re aw’ oot an’ ge’in us a cheer
an’ the auld wife is wavin’ her basket
an’ LongJohn Silver is doin’ a wee jig
an’ the dogs is barkin’ an we’re oot the other side
Forty years later and I’m in the driveway..
Standing next to my old blue pickup with its “For Sale £500.” sign. A white panel van pulls onto the verge and debouches five young tinks-I remember that Sam- the- scrap- man’s relatives are over visiting from Ireland-an encampment of vans , wagons and horses clustered round the gates of his yard.
A young fella , his arm gripped protectively by a small dark haired,dark eyed beauty thrusts an envelope at me “Is that enough Mister? Sam said you were alright”
He doesn’t want a drive-he just sits in pickup,, hands on the wheel, eyes shining , looking up at the girl.
She looks at him and it,doesn’t take much to guess whats going on and she says “O.K. Mister”
I get the paperwork and start to go through it with him and he says , he whispers-“Can ye do it ,Mister.Ah canna read or write.”
The world just stops for a minute
I hold my breath as I take that in.
I look at the boy ,the girl even more protective, moving closer to him.
“It’s alright I’ve got a licence!” Proudly.
So I sort out the registration for him and he and the girl and his pals are all over the truck and I say.“ Come over here.” I show him a couple of old copper cylinders and a pile of pipe and brass fittings from the last couple of jobs. “You can have that lot to take away son!”
They go off, ecstatic. “Wait t’ our Da sees this-good scrap an all”
I walk down past the house to the bench looking down on the burn.
“Ah canna read or write.”
I sit down , that wee loss of breath.,that heart squeeze.The cats have appeared from nowhere , up beside me, that thing they do when they sense something is wrong.
I look along the path on either side of me and down along the banks of the burn and they are all there looking at me-I cant make out all the faces ,but there they are-Burns, Byron ,Scott and Shakespeare, Lawrence and Orwell, Huxley , Shaw and Synge and Steinbeck and Russell and, and-“ face after face, memories of lines written and lines read.” ..
“Ah canna read or write”
My cheeks wet and it’s not raining.
Wheeeech! Ian an I dump our bikes in the close
an up the stairs intae oor hoose.
“Yer back then, getting’ a wee bit worrit.” Ma, a bit bright eyed and flustered.
“Boys.” Dad lookin very pleased w’ hissel .”Good day then?Whats on tomorrow?”
From me “Goin up tae Lanark pickin’ at the gooseberry nursery.”
“Ye like that don’t ye son , make some pocket money ,eh”
“Aye Dad ,as long as they big coarse lassies frae Larkha’ urnae there-They try tae pu’ yer troosers doon and jangle yer willie.”
“John Turnbull! Will you SPEAK to that boy!” from Ma, aw rid.
And Dad w’ a wee grin “Whit time does the bus leave,son?”
And Ma giein Dad a mighty thump on the shou’der “JOHN TURNBULL!”
Ian an’ I aw big eyed as the two o’ them stert fallin’ aboot laughin’.