A true, shocking and humorous account of life in a Glasgow slum
Scottish journalist Meg Henderson grew up in Glasgow during the fifties and sixties as part of a large and often troubled family. The tenement block in which they lived collapsed and they were moved to the notorious Blackball district, where religious sectarianism, gang warfare and struggles with hostile bureaucrats were part of daily life for the people. Meg was born into a mixed-religion family, where there was warmth and laughter as well as conflict. She had a close relationship with her mother, Nan, and her mother’s sister Meg’s Aunt Peggy, two idealistic, emotional women who took on the troubles of the world. Together they shaped Meg’s life, shielded her from the effects of her father’s heavy drinking and helped her to move on, eventually, from the slums of Glasgow.
A hopeless romantic, Peggy searched for a husband until late in her life and then endured a harsh, unhappy marriage until she died tragically in childbirth. Her death devastated the family and destroyed Meg’s childhood, but it was only as an adult, after the death of her own mother, that Meg was able to discover the shocking facts behind Peggy’s untimely demise.
Such a mix of emotions reading this book. Happy, laughing, crying, angry… It’s all there. Such a rough life, but they had each other and were happy with so little. Then tragedy strikes and the extended family is torn asunder with grief. At the age of 13, Meg’s happy carefree life is forever changed.
The oldest son in the family contracted TB in his knee. I looked it up, it happens! And spent most of his childhood in the hospital. He was under the delusion that his family was rich as Nan scrimped and saved to always bring him presents and whatever he wanted. When he came home and found they were dirt poor and lived in the tenements there was much animosity. Meg got Meningitis when she was 15. Her dad was a drunk, her mom ended up with Epilepsy and Meg had to grow up fast. No shortage of heartache in this family. And yet Meg grew up to be a successful journalist and novelist. She trained for and worked as a Cardiologist Technician for several years after high school before she she got brave enough to to follow her dream. She’s wrote several novels, mostly set in pre-war and wartime Glasgow. All of which will count for the Read Scotland Challenge! Check out the list of them HERE.
What drew me to this book of course was the mystery surrounding Aunt Peggy’s death. Very sad.
Such a kind and fun lady and so afraid of spinsterhood that she married a hateful man and a sad life. But the sense of neighboring and looking out for each other and appreciation they had for simple things makes me kind of wish I had lived then and there!
Here are a few quotes out of the book to whet your appetite!
When people couldn’t pay their debts they had what they called a warrant sale. The sheriff came in and they sold off their possessions to pay off their debts…
“The goods being sold off, few as they were, often went to the sheriff officers themselves at knock-down prices, so the local women pooled whatever money they could lay hands on and bought everything up, then returned it to the victim. I didn’t regard this as heroic at the time any more than the women themselves did. They knew that if their turn came next the same rescue operation would be mounted for them. It was part of the way things were to me as a small child, but looking back now from an era where nobody cares much about anyone else, and especially knowing how tight money was in those days, I admire their strength and decency in a way I feel, but can’t adequately explain.
On that particular day I was off school with tonsillitis, a constant complaint throughout my childhood, and I was hanging onto the handles of Nan’s message bag as she and the other women made their way to the home of the hapless debtor. The sheriff officers had taken the precaution of bringing police protection with them, a move that amused the women and made their loathing of both stronger. After all, what kind of men could they be, to be afraid to face a bunch of women without bringing the police for protection? The sheriff officers and the police saw it as a demonstration of strength, but the women regarded it as an admission of fear. Nothing much happened, the goods were snapped up by the women, but I can remember the tension as they stood in ranks so close that the intruders could barely move. When the sale ended the weeping woman once more took possession of her bits and pieces.”
This bit is after they lost a man from a heart attack. He was a welder from the Clydeside shipyards. He knew every word Burns had written by heart and to divert his mind from the pain he recited it constantly. He died with his words on lips…
“They were the kind of people I had grown up with and the more I knew about them the more I respected them. I was always the last to give up on cardiac arrests. ‘Christ, Meg!’ the rest of the team would argue each time, ‘You have to accept it, we’ve lost this one!’, but I always wanted to keep trying and afterwards I would analyze the whole event for something we could have done that we hadn’t.
The doctors were representatives of the monied classes, everything about their backgrounds kept them far removed from the people they dealt with. As a rule, unlike the vast majority of their patients, they had gone to fee-paying schools, had lived all their lives in wealthy, high-amenity areas and they spoke differently. Living on a different level they often missed the true worth and richness of the people that Charlie represented, while I was one of them and so I knew exactly what was being lost. Maybe that was why I had giving up and why I fought harder each time; it was after all what I had been brought up to do, to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.”
A good book.