It was Christmas 1974 and Shettleston was knee deep
in thick hard snow. The cold seeped in through the badly designed council
window frames and the coal strikes coupled with the 3 day week, made us all
feel what Russia must be like. We were hungry and freezing.
My mum and dad had just split up and it was rough
going, the bedroom was chittering cold and my mum was deeply depressed, swaying
between bitter rages and horrible weeping. I was 13 years old and didn't know
how to cope. My big brother was worried as well, but at a loss as what to do,
we were just kids.
I provided lots of hot mugs of tea as she sang Patsy
Cline in an angry spitting voice. Passive/aggressive singing is something all
the women in her circle were very good at, you haven't experienced rage till
you have heard a Carpenters song screamed into your face at full beer breathe
Mum was busy shouting at the Morecambe and Wise
Christmas special "Stupid English bastards dancing with that poof Nureyev,
this isn't even funny" proving she could be racist and homophobic it one
"Janey, black up and climb over the school yard
wall and steal some coal, that bastard Janitor sells it, we may as well steal
it, am freezing" she said. So I did. I put my hand up the chimney,
blackened my face....did an Al Jolson song (it was the 70s my mammy needed a
laugh) and went off stealing a bag of coal from the stockpile in the school
yard down the road.
I felt like the man from the Black Magic chocolate
advert, all black and climbing over walls and being creepy.
I was headed home when I saw a woman sitting on the
snow in the street. It was disconcerting, what was she doing? Did she fall? I
got closer, put down my bag, pulled off my woollen hat and offered her my hand.
"Excuse me, you ok?" I said and she looked
up at me and of course what she saw a small child with a blackened face and
ragged clothes, carrying a sack of coal.
"ARRGGHHHH" she screamed and got up,
drunkenly falling about and ran through the snow screaming "It's a wee
black ghost, a wee dark ghost, it a wee black dead wean"
I just stood there and watched her stagger about
running...she fell over and panicked, screaming, clawing at the snow and
finally she got up and wobbled off. I waited ages watching her making her way
up the street, people were staring at her.
Finally, I picked up my coal bag & I headed off
home. We had soup for Christmas dinner and at least we would now have a fire
and if my dad popped by with some cash (which I knew he would) we could have a
good Boxing Day supper and maybe mammy would sing a song without the tears
getting in the way.
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