Seen From A Throne

Growing up in a tenement had its inconveniences but ours was mainly that the convenience was outside on the landing and shared between two or three families.  However ours had a special luxury. If you stood on the lavatory seat and stared out of the window, you had a wonderful view of Glasgow.

 As a young boy, I was convinced that, in looking out that particular window, I could see the Queen Mary liner berthed nearby. Geographically, this was impossible, since this beautiful ship was docked in Southampton at the time. What I was really seeing was the corrugated iron wall of Stark’s Woodyard superimposed on the roof of the Wireworks with its poles, which in turn were seen against the buildings of Riverside School, which were set against the big, fat chimneys of Dalmarnock Power Station. Altogether they created the image of the famous Queen Mary which had been built not long before on the Clyde at Clydebank. I realise now I made up that picture, but then you needed some imagination to live in an East End tenement.

 The irony is that only a few weeks ago, Alannah and I dined on the actual Queen Mary where it is now berthed permanently at Long Beach, California. We were being entertained to a champagne lunch by good friends and enjoyed the ambience of 1930’s luxury still there in the beautiful interiors. I looked out of the window at one time on to modern America on the starboard bow, but really what I could see was the Dalmarnock Power Station, Riverside School, the Wireworks and Stark’s Woodyard.

The First Photograph

'Nostalgia for a Tenement' painted by John Cairney can be seen at Compass Gallery, 178 West Regent Street, Claghow G24RL Tel: 0141 221 637 email: Open: Mon-Sat 9.30am-5.30pm

I’ve spent a lot of my life being photographed. It is part of an actor’s job and I have never enjoyed it, not matter the skill of the excellent photographers who took them. Perhaps this reluctance to pose for a picture comes from the fact that the very first photo I ever had taken was by my uncle on the beach at Ayr. I was trying to get into the awkward swimming costume, a heavy black full body one piece, that I had to pull over my ankles and up over my shoulders. I was very young but old enough to try to be modest about it and was struggling with this when one of my uncles on holiday with us as part of the party got a snap of my bare posterior, much to the amusement of the others around at the time. I was mortified and pursued him along the sands as he ran off laughing with the camera. The resulting still was passed round so many hands that it eventually fell apart, much to my relief.

In A Word

It’s hard to have nostalgia for words that didn’t exist before yesterday. For instance, why does the word ‘blog’ sound so ugly to me and the word ‘agog’ sound the very opposite? Is it because blog sounds aggressive and agog exciting and open, or is just that I’m used to the meaning of ‘agog’ but not to the meaning of ‘blog’? ‘Next’ isn’t so beautiful, it sounds as if you’re cutting your teeth on the words you utter, but lovely words like ‘essay’ and ‘mellifluous’ when spoken are caressed and passed on tenderly to the hearer, not spat out like a bullet. Yet ‘blaggard’ and ‘bluster’ are in a way phonetically related to ‘blog’, yet I don’t find them difficult. Is it only because I know what they mean and therefore should I learn what ‘blog’ means? I’ve looked it up. According to, it means ‘a web site containing the writer’s experience, observations, opinions etc.’ Now I know I might get used to it. Happy blog!

The Park

At the foot of our street was an open space bounded by the wall of Strathclyde Juniors Football Park on the left, by the fence belonging to Coulson’s Wireworks at the bottom and up the right hand side were the lock-up garages, the milkman’s stable for his horse and cart and Stark’s Wood Yard. Despite the fact that it was totally disreputable, full of an uneven surface, bits of stone sticking out, patches of grass, bunches of nettles and a last resort for street rubbish, nonetheless it was our playground. We played football there of course, rounders and our version of cricket. We even learned to ride our bikes going in and out the obstacles. Altogether it was our leisure resort. We called it The Park.

The Wartime Banana

Everything was short in the wartime and what there was you had to queue up for. There was one woman I remember who queued up for oranges and ended up giving blood – blood oranges! Apples were also scarce. It depended on the Atlantic convoys whether we ever got them from Canada. Chocolate was rationed and you were allowed one chocolate biscuit a week. My young brother used to see me his for a penny. What this scarcity did would make you appreciate what you did have, such as powdered milk and potoatoes with everything, but we never ever saw a banana.

Many children grew up not knowing what it tasted like and when they started to arrive again from the West Indies near the end of the war, some boys in my class ate it skin and all, not realising you had to peel it.  I was recently told that when my art teacher asked our class to draw a banana, I was the only one who drew it half-peeled. At least I knew how it tasted and to this day, I still regard the banana as my luxury fruit.

A Dress Sense

As I went on at primary school in Glasgow one thing always intrigued me. The fellow pupils of mine who come from poorer homes always looked better dressed than the rest of us. While we didn’t come from rich homes, we were always well-shod, well-clad and well-fed. However what we called ‘the poor boys’ turned up each day in Harris tweed suits, short trousers of course, dark blue jerseys with red piping on the collar, black socks with the similar red tops and brand new leather boots all provided by courtesy of Glasgow Corporation, meaning the rate payers of the City. I was often envious in my zipped-up lumber jacket and old baseball boots. In fact, I was the one who felt under-privileged, but it does occur to me now how good the old Glasgow was to its less fortunate citizens.

Starting School

School days are supposed to be the happiest days of one’s life. At least they look that way in retrospect. But I can honestly say that my first day at school was the happiest day of my life up till then.

I was five years old. I remember being walked to Elba Lane’s Primary School in Glasgow with my mother, dressed in my best, whatever that was then. I particularly remember how shiny my shoes were, probably because they were brand new. They carried me into the Infant Class, which I thought was instant heaven. It was filled with toys of every kind, it was surrounded by coloured cards and pictures and everything that was rampantly joyful to an infant mind. I dropped my mother’s hand as if it were red hot and made immediately for a bright red and black Post Office van, which I commandeered immediately for my own use, despite the squeals of protest from other infants, whom I had never noticed till that moment. I don’t know what my mother did, she must have left while I played happily in this newfound Paradise.

But nothing lasts forever and when it came time to come home, infants were yanked up and hurriedly dressed in coats and I was suddenly left all alone but quite happy in the middle of Toyland. When my mother came to collect me, I refused to go. She called on the infant teacher to help. Both of them tried to convince me to drop the toys and come away. I was adamant I was not going anywhere. The janitor came in, presumably to lock up, at which my mother grabbed my hand and dragged me out kicking and screaming.

Welcome to No. 1 Nostalgia Place

This is a warm invitation to the world to write to me at No. 1 Nostalgia Place just off Memory Lane in Everever land to tell me your first memory. It should come right out of your head without thinking, the very first image you can recall. It’s part of the anchor-basis, which ties you to the sub-conscious, which is only another name for the inner space we all have within us.

My own first memory is of a very high wall, which was gradually pressing in on me In fact it was the perambulator in which my mother was pushing my little brother gradually crushing me against the wall. My mother didn’t seem to notice. She was walking along singing quite happily until my shouts alerted her. She immediately laughed, pulled the pram to the left and carried on singing. I can feel the scrape of that stone wall on my bare arm yet.

Memories are important. They are the little pockets of nostalgia we dip into now and again just to remember what the past tasted like and sometimes it was good. In this way, we can build up a whole ladder of memories and reach a whole other world whenever we want it. It’s comforting, it’s an escape, but why not?

By the way, I returned to the scene of that wall recently to find that it is no more

than waist-high. Such is the mist of memory.