Marie, my dear and longstanding ‘amie,’ has for many years marked my birthday either before we would go off on holiday or after we had returned and she wasn’t about to change this habit now. A phone call, gently but firmly made, informed me that a quiet little meal had been arranged on Thursday, the twenty fifth with two of our good friends, Ellen and May.
Dear May. It is two years since May’s husband died suddenly of what was termed a silent heart attack. The first school term of 2000/01 had only just begun.We knew that she was worried about him but we also knew that the doctors were closely involved. We were not greatly concerned. But his condition deteriorated so rapidly that when May took the action herself of calling an ambulance it was too late for the doctors at the hospital to save him. May’s husband died . He was sixty one. His name was Hugh…. Hugh…………
We were stunned. Everyone was stunned. I will never forget the effect it had on those of us who worked closely with May at our work base. This was a situation none of us had experienced in our team, that of a colleague losing a partner. Many of us had worked together over a ten year period. We were, we are, kindred spirits and we were devastated. It fell to Nancy, our manager, to counsel and care for her shattered team. This was to become Nancy’s ‘annus horibilis’ for misfortune continued to befall individuals throughout that year and Nancy’s management skills were tested to the limit, tried, tested but never found wanting. For Nancy, too, is a kindred spirit, care and compassion being high on her list of priorities.
In time, May returned to work. How could we even imagine what she was going through. Yes we knew that she had a loving family and a dear sister who was her constant companion but did this always address the pain and desolation we could see in her eyes? We were encouraged when we saw her laughing or telling one of her many stories. Stories which she and my Hugh had often shared for they had this in common : they both originated from the exclusive community that is the village of Cleland. We felt good when she discussed and shared work related problems and successes .Were things getting back to the way they were? In the beginning I tried hard not to bring my Hugh’s name into conversations thinking I was being sensitive and tactful. Oh I was so sad for May and would often try to grasp what it must have been like for her but I knew I could never fully understand.
My retiral came at the end of that school year – June 2001. May, along with the rest of my colleagues, threw herself into the preparations for my departure. It was a wonderful evening shared with dear friends and colleagues. Only Alison, who masterminds all our celebrations, was missing. Hugh, Pauline, Joseph and Catherine arrived to bring the evening to a wonderful conclusion. I was so happy and Hugh could not contain his delight. It had been eleven years since his own retiral and he had longed for this day. We were now, officially, a ‘retired couple.’
I remember clearly watching May watching me .
Oh God, how unfair life is I thought to myself .Retiral was something that May and I had often discussed and looked forward to eagerly with our respective spouses: Hugh Dominic and Hugh Vincent. How different May’s retiral would be to mine. But I was determined that I would throw myself wholeheartedly into the planning and preparation whatever form it was to take.In the event, when May retired in June 2002, I was not even there. May understood completely.
Our little dinner gathering was pleasant and distracting
‘How did you enjoy your evening, Mosie? Did you have a good meal? How are the girls doing ?’
‘It was fine, Hugh, the meal was enjoyable and the girls tried not to mention you at all . I’m glad to be home. I’m tired trying to be whole.’
‘Yes, darling, I know but you’ve got to keep trying. A day at a time …………..’
Friday is my housework day.
‘Mum, are you sure you want to do this ?’ When I decided to claim Fridays for myself I wasn’t sure at all that it was a good idea but I knew I had to try.
I wanted to get to grips with my housework, I needed to get myself organised, I needed to think for myself, I needed to walk out of my own front door unaccompanied, I needed to feel what it was like to be on my own – even if it was just to walk around the garden. Besides I wanted Anne to have some space to do the same thing at her own home. She didn’t like it but I was resolute.
A Friday night, as I remember, was housework night when I was a girl. My oldest sister, Sheila, would be left in charge while mum and dad went out for the evening usually to the flicks – that was when people like Edward G.Robinson, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwick and Claudette Colbert were among the star attractions and Motherwell and Wishaw had at least seven cinemas to choose from. We were all assigned a specific task and Sheila, who saw her role of ‘Kompaniefuhrer’ as a very responsible one indeed took no prisoners when she made her final inspection of the camp! I was always assigned to the bathroom and armed with Vim, bleach, Mansion Polish and elbow grease I would attempt to render the smallest room in the house fit and fragrant enough to satisfy Sheila’s exacting standards.It didn’t always work. I detested having to ‘do that bit again’ but it had to be done without question ‘OR ELSE!’
What a threat that was ,’….or else !’ Mum always said it.
‘Or else what?’ Nobody ever asked for any clarification but it was invariably effective enough to improve our quality of work.
‘See ! You can do it if you try!’
‘But I was trying….’
‘Well obviously not hard enough! There’s always room for improvement.’So I always felt that my best was never quite good enough.
‘Mum, I got nine out of ten for my sums.’
‘What happened to the other mark?’
A pattern of behaviour was obviously set in place then which has dogged me throughout my life and persists in nagging me even now.
When Hugh became ill that Thursday morning, did I do all that I could have done in the circumstances? Did I do my best? Was that the best I could do? Wasn’t there something that I could have done better? Oh I am so sorry Hugh that I didn’t get it right. I know if I got the chance again I’d try much harder, do even better……get it right……or else………..
I do feel a certain satisfaction when the housework is finished.I go at it hell for leather, every room, as much as I can manage in the time . Does everything have to be done on a Friday though? Seems like it. It is a huge pressure out of the way. Even when I was teaching,I felt compelled to ‘go my duster’ on Friday evenings unless otherwise engaged. It just made me feel better.So now I set to on a Friday.I dust and polish, spray and scour, wash and hoover, all without ‘Gusto’ who seems to have abandoned me entirely,for my limbs are leaden and my energy levels low.I find it hard to see the point in it all right now but I am driven nonetheless.I drag the hoover around the crumbless carpets, its noise drowning out my wailing. Often I sink into Hugh’s chair and weep sorely into my duster. ‘You’ve missed a bit ,’ he would say jokingly, and knowing exactly how to extricate me from my self- imposed purgatory, ‘Do you fancy a wee run up the Clydeside, Mosie?’ You couldn’t see me for dusters !
On the Sunday after my birthday we went to the Tinto Hotel for our meal. This was Anne and Thomas’ treat and it was lovely. Joe and Catherine couldn’t make it as Catherine had another engagement and needed the car.
‘But, Pauline, we could have picked Joe up,’ I protested.
‘No, it’s alright Mum, Joe wants to get a bit more work done on his recording . He’s got loads to do and he’ll have the house to himself……..’
My heart skipped a beat when Anne first mentioned Tinto, just in the way my heart had skipped a few beats back in 1961 when Hugh asked me to be his date for the very formal Dinner Dance at the same Tinto Hotel. I was so, so happy. It’s all a blur now even as it was then – a great swirl of chiffon gowns and evening suits, quicksteps, twists and blissfully slow, slow foxtrots. (You were quite a dancer, Hugh, and you certainly swept me off my feet !) I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve spent there over the years , celebrating this event or that or escaping, just the two of us, for afternoon tea on a Saturday (outwith the football season of course !)
Auntie Marie, Hugh’s dear departed sister would often treat us to our Sunday lunch there – times still fondly remembered by us all, including the children. Some years ago, however, the then manager of the Tinto opened a new hotel nearer Biggar. Hugh and I were curious and decided to try it out. We liked it and it became our new bolt hole. We had to pass the Tinto en route to Cornhill House but not once did Hugh express any inclination to ‘go back’. He was perfectly content with the new venue.
However, on Sunday 28th April this year we decided, on a whim, to revisit the ‘old place’ and rediscover, hopefully, all that we had enjoyed about their Chicken Maryland. We were not disappointed. The whole meal was excellent and we promised ourselves that we would return. Eleven days later Hugh was in intensive care…….
But I was OK about going back without you, really I was. I could never have gone to Cornhill House but this was fine except……. you were everywhere I looked……. ordering drinks, reading the menu, savouring your Chicken Maryland, inclining your head to catch the conversation, adjusting your hearing aids, paying the bill, looking at your watch – eyes saying that it was time, Mosie, to go home…….
I phoned Joe to tell him that we’d missed him. His voice was quiet and tense .
‘How was it , Mum, are you OK? Pretty daft question but you know what I mean…..’
Yes, son, I think quietly to myself, I know what you mean.I can read you very well, what you say, what you don’t say, your body language, your face.That face which can be in turn worryingly serious, beaming, downright clownish, distant, preoccupied, mischievous and animated. It’s like looking in a mirror.
‘Joe’s worried about something,’ I would say to your dad
‘How do you know ? You’ve only been on the phone for two minutes .’
‘I can tell.’
‘Why didn’t you ask him if there’s a problem then?’
‘Wrong time, he wouldn’t have told me. I’ll know when to ask.’
And you’ve had lots of problems in your professional life Joe, it has to be said, none of which were down to you. The popular music industry is a precarious one full of unscrupulous characters, petty jealousies and money making considerations. Real talent has to struggle hard for recognition and poses a serious threat to the bland and insecure. Many performers have sacrificed talent for a fast buck or two but others persevere in their efforts to remain true to themselves and their music hoping for that essential promotion and necessary bit of luck that will bring them to the attention of a well pitched and sympathetic ear.
Perhaps it’s in your genes, this struggle for recognition.
Your papa, Allan, was a fine singer. He had a beautiful tenor voice and was much in demand locally for both concert and light opera performances, particularly Gilbert and Sullivan. As a young man, he had the opportunity to be sponsored in a singing career by a wealthy patroness of the arts. Sadly the offer was rejected by his parents who had already chosen his career for him. He was to be a steelworker like his father and bring home the necessary weekly wage. Again he had an opportunity to audition for BBC Radio. He tried unsuccessfully to reorganise his shift at work in order to accommodate the audition time as of course there was no question of taking a day off. When he arrived late at the studios he was, despite his pleas, denied the chance to perform. A punctual young man by the name of Robert Wilson was the triumphant candidate and subsequently went on to fame and fortune via the airwaves. He was very lucky, in my opinion, for he was not a patch on your papa who could sing with such sweetness and soul.
You should have heard him sing, ‘I Hear a Thrush at Eve,’ ‘Macushla,’ ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ or ‘Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes’.He just loved to sing.He sang passionately and lustily around the house especially when washing off the dust and grime of the steelworks after yet another tiring shift. I remember I liked to sit on his knee but when he started to sing, as he inevitably did, quietly and intimately, a song called, ‘Johnnie Clark,’ I was done for. With great, gulping sobs I used to plead, ‘Don’t sing that song, Daddy, it’s too sa-a-a-ad !’ But it didn’t stop him. I and the rest of my sisters learned many a tune at his knee.
I think I was about eleven when we acquired a piano. That must have been a wonderful day in my father’s life. Getting someone to play it well, was another matter.Getting someone to play it well enough for your papa was very difficult indeed. When, many years later, your dad came into my life, your papa was ecstatic – a match made in heaven for me and for him – a ‘built in’ accompanist. I tried to listen to your dad’s audio tapes of some of their performances after your papa died but I found it too overwhelming, much too sad. Now , I fear, it will be impossible.
“He could sing like your father if he wanted to,’ your dad would say of you. Now that Joe, is a real compliment.
And what about your dad. Well you grew up with all his music both Church and secular.I know that your dad used to be well impressed with your earnest attempts to sing the difficult music of the Mass with the adult Cathedral Choir,- and in Latin too…….your own version of course. Indeed you achieved your Higher Music as his student and you both sung and played under his baton. Being in his classes, working closely with him, never seemed to phase you at all. Anne, on the other hand, would have died of embarrassment. But you were, from a very early age, a great socialiser. Where Anne would be sitting busily burying our feet in the sand or littering the perimeter of the picnic rug with sand pies, you would be running up and down the beach with buckets of water and a new found friend, emptying the contents of the sea into the moat of your newly built castle. You would be totally focused on the job in hand while Anne would be clamouring to know what we would be doing ‘tomorrow.’
Because you were so close in age you both played well together – as long as it was on Anne’s terms! As an under five you would often protest but she was older and very persuasive and you learned to comply. I still have this wonderful picture of you allowing yourself to be hurled up and down in Anne’s dolls’ pram with the lid of a toy teapot (or was it a percolator?) stuck, like a soother, in your mouth. Anne was mummy and you were either en route to the shops or the chapel.
‘This cannot be all there is to life,’the expression on your face seemed to say even at that very early age.Then you discovered trikes and bikes and go-carts, cars and trains and football. Action man had arrived!
As I trawl through my special trunk of memories of the late sixties and early seventies, many, many stories are called to mind which make me laugh even now as I write (do you hear me laughing, Hugh? Is that OK?)
Like the time , when you were six, you told the class that your Dad didn’t work – he was still at school.Then there was the day you came home from school wanting to know where you had come from. This I thought was man’s talk and should be left until your Dad came home from his ‘non’-work. We sat down to eat.
‘Dad, where did I come from?’ There followed a musical interlude while your dad fiddled with his hearing aid.‘Dad, mum says you’ll tell me where I came from.’
‘Well, now…. eat your dinner,son. We’ll talk about it after your dinner. I need a wee word with your mum first.’……..
‘But , Dad……..’
‘Joseph, son……it’ll keep till you’ve had your dinner.’
‘Do you not know where I came from, Dad?’
‘Joseph! I don’t think your new teacher will be very pleased to know that you can’t do as your Dad tells you!’
‘But Dad it’s the teacher who wants to know where I came from. I know we lived in Dumbarton but I couldn’t remember the name of the place I was borned !’
The relief on your Dad’s face was wonderful to behold.
‘Helensburgh, son, you came from Helensburgh.’
And that, Joe, is a fact of your life, as told to you by your dear father.
When you were about seven or eight an amazing thing happened. It was a Saturday and your Dad had been at a Music Festival with two of his most talented students, Bernard Docherty and Tommy McIntyre. It had been a long day for them and your Dad brought them back to our house in Holytown for their tea. Your Papa was visiting at the time and of course urged the boys to play their festival piece. So Tommy sat down at our piano to accompany Bernard on violin.
The piece they played was ‘Meditation’ by Massenet. Your Papa was very moved, your Dad very proud and you were totally transfixed. You announced there and then that you wanted a violin like Bernard’s. Your musical career was born.
‘Joe’s worried about something Hugh,’ I whispered.
‘Mum? Are you OK?’ Joe’s voice cut through my thoughts.
‘What.?…….oh yes , Joe, I’m OK,’I hear myself saying, ‘I was miles away there.’
I didn’t know it then but I wasn’t the only one who was miles away. At that time and on that day, Sunday 28th July. Catherine had left Joe. They say that when one door closes another slams in your face. Joe was barely coping with his Dad’s death and now this . I have only spoken to Catherine once by telephone since she walked out of our lives and I did say to her that I felt she had given us all, but particularly Joe, another death to deal with. She thought it unfair of me to say such a thing and protested that she loved all of us dearly, including Joe, and would never knowingly hurt us…………but she was desperately unhappy and as far as she and Joe were concerned it was too late for talking.
No, Catherine dear, it is not too late – both of you are still alive.
…..to be continued…….