Mine was a peculiarly mixed upbringing. My father’s parents lived in a ‘room and kitchen’ tenement in Maryhill with an outside toilet. My mother’s family lived in a bungalow in Milngavie.
My maternal granny, to whom I was very close, was Indian, having been born in Delhi. She spoke fluent English, Hindi, Punjabi and some Hebrew and often mixed words into natural conversation, which we also learned and thought normal. Our visit to the first Indian Restaurant in Glasgow in Gibson Street was a joy, as my granny talked to all the waiters in their own tongues. The chef even came out to speak to her. I remember being both a little embarrassed and also terribly proud. We went to her house most Sundays for lunch, which was egg curry (she was vegetarian) served to us in the dining room while she ate in the kitchen.
My Maryhill grandparents’ trick to keep us occupied as children was a box they brought out for us to stand on at the sink by the window to watch the rats in the midden in the backcourt. They also kept a stick you took to the communal toilet to rattle inside before going in to chase the rats out. We found all of that very exciting. This was the sixties in Glasgow.
My father’s siblings all died in infancy, when no National Health Service was available, and he was left the only surviving child. He was self-educated, working hard as a merchant navy apprentice then gaining engineering qualifications at night school, and he provided a decent and safe life for us but with very little disposable income.
We could choose treats from The Embassy Catalogue, a cigarette company’s coupon rewards scheme, as both my parents smoked. Smoking killed my dad at the age of 53 with cancer. But we got tennis racquets.
Despite being incredibly well read, highly intelligent and creative, my mum worked her whole life in low paid nonprofessional jobs, as there was no money in her family to send her to university. I’m still the only person in my immediate family with a degree.
Family holidays, when we had them, were mostly camping in a borrowed tent in the north of Scotland. I never went abroad until I was in my late teens.
My brother and I spent many hours just playing outside. I mostly played alone, making up stories, building little dens in dangerous places like old car scrap yards, and only coming home when it started to get dark. As a parent now it seems outrageous how we were allowed to live as children, with complete freedom and entirely unsupervised.
However, unlike far too many children today, we knew we were loved and safe at home, and we never went hungry or cold.
I can never thank my darling parents enough for providing us with that. The gift of unconditional love and security is more precious than any material possession. It lasts a lifetime, and you can, and should, pass it on.
A long way away from childhood
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