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The Workshop


Dad didn't keep a tidy workshop. Every once in a while, he'd decide to impose some order on the chaos, and move things around. But it was a lost cause - there was just too much stuff.

But what stuff it was: footballs, rugby balls (of course), cricket balls, softballs, baseballs, basketballs, bowling balls, roller skates, ice skates, rugby boots, running spikes, fishing rods, fishing knives, waders, nets, gaffes, starting pistols, antique guns, box cameras, brass lenses, telescopes, a truncheon, hamsters' cages, books on first aid, physical training, self-defence and even silent killing, stacks of old magazines, Practical Mechanics, Readers' Digest, Men Only*, Trout & Salmon, demijohns, jotters, drawing books, pencils, broken clocks and watches, dowelling, wood, hardboard, beaverboard, perforated zinc, drills, hammers, chisels, saws, a lathe, a treadle fretsaw, tins of paint, solidified paintbrushes, glue, paste, turpentine, methylated spirits, broken things of every kind and unidentifiable aborted projects. The Big Vice and the Wee Vice, naturally.

At tea time, Mum would tell one of us to 'give daddy a shout'. The options were: bellow from the bottom of the attic stair, shout at the ceiling just outside the bathroom, or go upstairs to the workshop and say "A shout".

The skylight was a heavy cast iron affair with rippled glass, and provided the only ventilation to the workshop and the printing room. It could get very hot and stuffy up there in summer. Originally there were two skylights, but as the second one was above a part of the attic that you could only reach by crawling under the work-bench and through a hole, when it rotted and started to leak it was taken away and the roof slated over.

If I had to pick one favourite thing from the workshop, it would have to be the box of framed paper pictures that changed with a light behind them. Some were night & day scenes. Others changed completely, from a pastoral scene to a palace. Only one was damaged beyond use, from before my time.

*Men Only, in the early fifties, was a small quarto publication, largely text, with articles on sport, motoring, travel, etc. Occasional issues would have a topless model photographed in black & white. The magazine was not what it became.

Paraglider Unplugged

A vast throng in Stufital was treated on Friday afternoon to a live musical extravaganza performed, separately and together, by Paraglider and Mr G, and even, briefly, by Staffer-D who fielded a telephone call between verses 2 and 3 without losing a beat. Never before in the history of musical entertainment has so much been achieved by so few with a single microphone. In fact, Friday's microphones singularly outnumbered the available mic cables by some 500%. Though this had not been planned, it resulted in some spectacular ducking and weaving to deliver the short alternate lines of that timeless classic, Itchycoo Park. Almost equally impressive was the scene of dereliction left behind them by the Birthday Girl and her party. Who would have guessed a bag of mixed nuts could spread so far! Fortunately, seven maids were on hand, if not seven mops.

The Front Attic


I'm sitting on Dad's shoulders. There's nobody else in the house and we've just listened to "Sailing up the Clyde" on the wind-up gramophone in the sitting room. We're now walking up and down the corridor, Dad giving his own rendering of the Will Fyfe classic in his idiosyncratic light baritone, and pausing after 'bide' to explain what it means.

Mum and Dad had a relationship with Scots that was typical of the social class and period. They spoke standard English with mild local accents and a few Scots words thrown in. If this was a form of gentrification, it was still very much the norm for schoolteachers at the time. I remember wondering why Mum's people, especially Aunts Polly and Aggie, spoke so broadly, and why it was OK for them, but not for us. But I never asked. On the other hand, posh was wrong too, when friends sent their kids to private school in Edinburgh and they came back with 'English' accents. It seemed nobody spoke properly in those days, except us.

Now we're going up the attic stairs! This is a treat because I'm still not allowed to climb the steep flight on my own so I don't get up here nearly often enough. Derrick and Douglas share the attic bedroom at this time and I sleep in the back room on my own. Later, when I'm big enough to manage the stairs safely, I'll move up to share with Douglas, and Derrick will get the backroom to himself "so that he can work for his Highers". Though I don't yet know it, he'll also get an ultramodern 60s-style wooden bookshelf set that I'll be very jealous of. It will be shaped like a stretched piece of Toblerone, but I won't make that connection for another 50 years or so, when I'll do it retrospectively on something still unimaginable called a blog - och shut up!

The front attic was brilliant. It had the only view of the sea from any window in the house, being high enough to see over Eglinton Terrace. We got wonderful sunsets over Arran. These sunsets, by the way, sound exactly like seagulls on the roof and smell of paraffin. In the winter, we'd light the heater, which would make the windows stream with condensation. In the mornings, you could scrape the ice off the inside with your fingernails. But this all came later, for me.

Dad lifts me down, says, "Wait there a wee minute Daidy-toor" and goes into the workshop to get something. I wander out to the top of the stairs just to look at Grandpa's 'stinguisher', an ancient conical purple contraption with a nozzle at the top and a button on the bottom. I know that all I have to do is lift it off the wall, bump it down on the button and . . . but not today. I'm still not strong enough.

The Pantry


Back in the 50s, nobody ever saw out of the pantry window, partly because it was small and high, but mostly because it was behind the perforated zinc fly-screen that gave bug-free ventillation to the old slate meat-shelf below. When Dad took the slate shelf away, it went up to the attic for a while, for no good reason, then, for no better reason, into the garden to lean for evermore against the granite wall, just by the bee-y plant.

When the ball went into the Wilsons' (formerly Robertsons') garden, the slate gave a foothold for climbing onto the wall but, because of the much greater drop, you had to dreep doon on the other side, like wee malkies. So, there was no easy way back. If Kim (the fawn dog) came out, you abandoned the ball and sprinted flat out down the garden. There, there was a heap of stones piled high enough against the back wall to let you climb to the relative safety of a precarious walk home on the loose coping, with a yapping hound on the left and an eight foot drop to the back lane on the right. At one point, the telegraph wires sagged low enough to touch. 80-volt ring tone is not lethal, but stings a bit, especially if it's raining and the wires are wet.

To make a bolas, you tie the ring-tops of two bottling jars to the ends of a few feet of hairy string from the dark room. Sooner or later, it gets tangled round the telegraph wires, just like the kites and parachutes. You throw the long clothes pole at it and on the third attempt, bring down the telegraph wire. You remove the bolas from the broken wire, hide it, put the clothes pole back on the lawn and decide to play inside.

Speaking of jam-jars*, the jelly pan lived on a high shelf in the pantry. Mum was a pretty good jam maker: raspberry, strawberry, bramble (my favourite), red and blackcurrant, gooseberry (which nobody liked much), and of course marmalade. I liked adding the sugar, helping to stir it, and sampling the 'licks' as soon as they were cool enough.

* jam-jars - the insulators on telegraph poles. The wires were spaced apart and bare, not insulated pairs like today's.

The Kitchen


The kitchen wasn't big enough to swing a cat in. There was always one available, but Fitzy Puss McClure was quite a serious chap and not really the swingable type. Outside, and not welcome in the garden, were Theblackcat and Thegreycat. Mum kept a stoneware jar of ham-skins (bacon rinds) on the kitchen dresser and, for a dangled sample, Fitzy could be induced to dance on his hind legs. This, and grass, formed his staple diet, though once he varied it by stealing a mouthful of my red caps. Red caps were round-like-a-wheel not round-like-a-ball and blue caps came in a roll. So the blue ones were better for the cap gun and the red ones better in the wee rockets that you threw into the air, to go bang on landing. Mine was the yellow one.

The window in the photo is a latter-day replacement of the original sash, and one of only two that were ever replaced. (The other was the Living Room). Under the window was a double porcelain sink. The one on the right was usually covered with a board, except on wash-days, when the wringer was clamped onto the divider between the sinks. Sometimes we got to wind the handle or feed the wet clothes and sheets between the rollers, keeping our fingers out. The other kitchen handle I liked turning was the mincer, especially if it was breadcrumbs.

The only electric appliance in the kitchen was the washing machine. The cooker was gas and there was still no fridge. Derrick had a Bunsen burner and was allowed to partially dismantle the gas cooker to fit the rubber tube onto the supply. Douglas's chemistry set had a paraffin burner with a sooty flame. He also had Sooty, who looked completely different in the mirror. The washing machine was a single vertical tub that had to be filled through a thin red hose clamped to the tap and emptied back into the sink through a thick black one. It made a great noise and used Rinso.

Once a week, Mum "phoned through the messages" to George who kept a grocer's shop in Fullarton Street and lived in the other red sandstone house. It was a fine shop with jars of sweeties, boxes of red and green apples, and a coffee grinder that I can still smell working. He would weigh out loose sugar and flour on a scale using polished brass weights, pour it into stiff blue paper bags, then seal them with Selotape. When the messages were delivered on a Friday evening, the treat was to "do the pouring ones". This meant, open the bags and pour the contents into our pantry storage jars. And taste the sugar to check it was OK.

(By the way, the view over the harbour from the kitchen window was not possible until the South Harbour Street warehouses were knocked down, sometime in the 70s, I think).

The Wee Landing


There were seven stairs down from the hall to the Wee Landing and twelve more down from the wee landing to the glass door. This is the wee landing window as seen from the second top step of the flight of seven. (We might as well be accurate here). It was a big window, but not as big as the one halfway down the main flight. Both stair windows were uncurtained but were of rippled glass, reducing the outside world to tonal blocks. (Are you listening, Ewan?)

In later years, the wee landing window shelf, like most of the internal woodwork, was painted white, but back in the 50s, dark brown lacquer was the order of the day. And before Grandpa's crystal vase took pride of place, we used to grow plants on the shelf - cacti, geraniums and patience, mainly. I helped them on their way by feeding them plantoids at every opportunity, from a faded green cardboard box. Plantoids, though they look like mixed oddfellows, should not be eaten, but should be administered to favoured houseplants at the rate of about ten a day until bored. When watering the plants, the trick was to get the water to go under the glass shelf. Then every plant had to be lifted down and the shelf taken off and dried. This was a treat.

Major Robertson lived in the ghost house in the window, smoked a pipe, had a dog, Jim, a wife, Vera, a daughter, Sheila, about Derrick's age, who kept rabbits, and another, Jane, who was younger than me and didn't count. There was something about Jane and a tortoise called Slough-Couch but I can't remember the detail*. Mum and Vera used to talk across the garden wall. Our ground level was a good three or four feet higher than theirs, so Mum leant over the wall and Vera stood below, looking up. The Robertsons were the first people in my life to move away. Till then, I'd always thought people just stayed. On the night before they moved, when they came to the house to say their farewells, they didn't even notice the huge change in Dad. I couldn't let this pass, so interrupted with "Dad you look funny without your moustache!" Job done, I was rewarded with the sounds of general merriment that I'd been waiting for. Moustache gone, Dad never again sported any facial hair.

*postscript: Derrick reminds me that Jane said "If I dropped a brick on Slowcoach, would he break into a hundred pieces?" We didn't let her put it to the test.

The Blind Projectionist

If you've ever looked backwards in a cinema you'll have seen a small window close to the projector. This is so the projectionist can check the image quality and focus, and generally keep an eye on proceedings below in the auditorium. Once, between contracts, Paraglider found himself looking after a 3D Projection Theatre in Saudi, for Aramco, and was surprised to find a wooden slatted venetian blind fitted to the viewing window. It seemed to have no purpose. Until Ladies' Day in the Theatre. Then he had to run all quality checks before the audience was admitted and, throughout the show, the blind was to be firmly closed. This, merely to ensure that the ladies could enjoy the performance without being seen by any man. Now that's paranormal!

The Spare Room


Two down, ten to go (that's how many windows I photographed) and I've decided to get the spare room over and done with. Looking at all twelve pictures, it's the only one that gives me no pleasant feelings. It's strange how, so many years later, I've suddenly happened on something that I must always have felt, but didn't really know till now: I never liked the spare room at all.

The dressing table all but filled the window, and such light as could squeeze through somehow made you look a bit sick in the mirror. Or maybe it just wasn't a nice mirror. The dressing table drawers were for holding tea-towels, Mum's bible and the hymn book. These (not the towels) were taken to church every second Sunday except when we didn't go. Dad never went to church and had a long lie every Sunday. I didn't like church except the bit where Mr Telfer would announce "the Children's Hymn during which the little children will leave". Then Miss Somerville would lead us, holding hands in a chain, into the church hall while the hymn was still going. Maybe she didn't like church either. Sunday school was good fun. She'd show us a big picture of Jesus and let us draw chickens.

But back to the spare room. Douglas had measles in it and it had to be kept dark because bright light would hurt his eyes. I wasn't allowed to go in, but Dad was, and when he gave Douglas a green acetate eye-shade with a stretchy black head band I wished I had measles too.

Strangely enough, I never caught it. I got German measles instead which spread like wildfire but didn't hurt at all. I used them to play golf for a week, at Seafield, in Wellingtons and a green jumper, with Grandpa's old hickory clubs. But that was 1963 and I was a big lad of 10.

The spare room wasn't just a sickroom of course. Aunt Polly was quite a regular visitor, with or without Uncle Donald. She nearly always brought smarties and even tablet. But best of all was that she let you interrupt.

The Wee Bunker


Dad's black Anglia, HAG 390, had a choke and a starter, two cream coloured pull-knobs in the middle of the dashboard. A little below were two smaller cream coloured knobs. These could only be the wee choke and the wee starter, because that's what they looked like. Some would argue that they were the heater controls, but it's appearance that matters.

It was the same in the house. Along the corridor from the Big Bunker was, the Wee Bunker. So what if it was really a small front opening window-cupboard and strictly not-a-bunker-at-all? The laws of how things are must prevail. A Big Bunker requires a Wee Bunker. That's how it goes.

One of the great things about the Wee Bunker was the smell when you opened the door. This was where we kept the soap, the paraffin, the shoe brushes and polishes (kiwi-black or kiwi-brown) and the firelighters. We kept matches there too, to tempt providence. The peg-basket didn't smell of much. Old grey wooden pegs, new yellow ones and broken-plastic ones (there was no plastic back then, only broken-plastic) - you had to get very close to smell the pegs, and when you did, they all smelled of firelighters anyway, like everything else in the Wee Bunker.

There were a couple of mousetraps, which could really hurt, and a load of other stuff that could only have been there to keep the bunker full, because nobody knew what any of it did.

It wasn't much of a window for looking out, the Wee Bunker, and the compulsory net made sure it wasn't much good for looking in either. That's what windows were for then, semi-transparent things to avoid seeing or being seen through.

By the way, the black shape in the foreground is a microwave oven. There was never room for it in the kitchen so it had to sit outside on the Wee Bunker. But that was much later. They still hadn't been invented. Older than the microwave, but dating from the sixties, not the fifties, are the two objects perched on top of the lower sash. It should now come as no surprise to learn their names. They are the Big Cowbell and the Wee Cowbell.

The Big Bunker


The big bunker window looked straight across the yard at its counterpart in MissMcMinn's house. There were actually two MissMcMinns. Their names were NiceMissMcMinn and TheOtherMissMcMinn. NiceMissMcMinn had a dog called Frisky that looked huge when it barked over the wall at us but assumed normal terrier proportions when on a lead in the street. I still don't understand how it did that. NiceMissMcMinn had a reddish-brown coat and a beret and had walked Frisky to the shops every day for a hundred years. TheOtherMissMcMinn wore a blue dress. Always.

The big bunker was where we kept coal and sometimes logs. There were two coal pails and frequent debates about whether they were really coal buckets. The distinction was lost on me. But I knew all about coal and what it was really for. Burning it was a waste. Far better was to go to Roddy's house and make gramophone records out of coal dust and water. I'm sure they'd have sounded just great if we'd been allowed to take them into the house and try them out.

Being quite small, the only way Mum could carry a full pail of coal upstairs from the coal cellar to the big bunker was by taking the handle in her clasped hands, her arms stretched out in front to keep it away from her clothes, in a position that anticipated by some forty-five years Johnny Wilkinson's odd approach to a penalty kick. (Ours was always a rugby house). Derrick, already a natural teacher, would explain that this was the wrong way to carry a pail of coal. "You're putting yourself at a Mechanical Disadvantage", he'd say, and then offer to help, if it was bob-a-job week.

Spread too thin

I've decided to come clean. I have too many outlets on the web and it's becoming impossible to service them all properly. So, here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to kill off Paraplexed because it doesn't really have a purpose in life. I apologise to anyone (*I think there's only one!) who has linked to it. By way of compensation, I'm providing an RSS portal here, on Paranormal, to my Real Life Blog (see side panel). Till now, I've kept the two strictly separate, but it's not really working. So, welcome to the rest of me! Also, I've been writing a fair bit on Hubpages recently. If you haven't come across it, it's a community site with quite a few good writers. But it's more geared towards articles, not blogging. It also makes me a leeetle pocket money on the side. Not enough for a pension, unfortunately. So I'll be here in the Middle East for some time to come. Here endeth the housekeeping...

This is the house -



- that John bought. It was built in 1894. John, my grandfather, must have been built a little earlier, but family history was never my forte. By the time I arrived on the scene, all four grandparents had coiled their mortal slips, the house had been flatted and the downstairs (we never called it the ground floor) sold to Mrs Gordon who ran it as a B&B guest house.

Mrs Gordon merits a paragraph. She was born old, with grey hair tied in a bun. She kept two huge carved wooden pipes on the mantlepiece. Sometimes she would chop wood with a hand-axe. She didn't like us climbing the fence, looking for red ants in her rockery, running on the stairs, shouting, or breaking her window even by accident. I liked her.

Though I never knew old John McClure, the house was full of his presence through what he left behind - walking sticks, plate cameras, brass lenses, a set of bowling balls, ivory chess and draughts sets, silver cigar boxes, a strange pewter coffee pot that you could do tricks with by blowing up the spout, clay pipes... Furniture too, but I'd no interest in that. He must have been great.

I lived in the house from 1952 to 1970, my pre-school and school years, and it was still my home-base through my University time, though I stayed in Glasgow during the term. In October 74, aged 21, I went to London and though there was always a bed for me 'at home', I never really lived there again.

About five years ago, when Mum died, my brothers and I sold the old place. I've not seen it since, even from the outside.

On one of my last visits, on a whim, I walked through the house taking a photograph of every window. Not through every window. I didn't open them to capture the view. These are intentionally pictures of the windows, from inside. The outside could take its chances. Over the next few days, I'm going to post these window pictures, one at a time, each with a memory from my early years - a 50's snapshot, if you like.

(The aerial picture is from Google Earth. I like it because it it lends context to the window pictures.)

Parastasis, apparently

It was as if a year had not passed. The floor is still Paranormal pink. The dartboard, mercifully, shows no signs of having been opened. The corner behind the propped-open door (yes, it was the afternoon) was freezing. Such changes as were perceptible were of degree, not of substance. The bar staff are more mixed, with Ethiopia challenging Romania. Bammy has moved 11 degrees clockwise round the (Scottish) table, enough, perhaps to signify creeping insecurity of tenure? Angie has changed the tailored jacket look for something less formal, but the chin is strong as ever. And Helga? She's not grown an inch - upwards...

Transience, even here

Ani's yellow chiffon descended on his head and, for once, Dindsay was silenced. Even dumbstruck. For all too brief an interval, an other-worldly calm permeated Stufital's Old Manger. Diners sat motionless, their steak-laden forks frozen in mid-air like so many bullrushes in a frosted millpond. Coral, realising her song could suddenly be heard, dropped to a velvet pianissimo. Mr Bab stopped swearing and even the AC seemed to draw breath. Such moments are short-lived. Dindsay found his tongue and the mock-doric noise generator licked back into life, with the grace of a rusty pulley. Normality, sadly, was restored.

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