Perhaps I had ambitions to be an MP - or an undertaker!

Friday, February 13, 2009


The greatest problem of old age is the fear that it may go on too long.


Last week-end ITV showed another episode of that awful detective series that I call “Midsomer Madness.” Normally I avoid it like the plague, but, summoning up all my courage, I forced myself to watch it, and the reason was that an old neighbour of ours was in the cast of that particular episode.

In 1971 we moved to a Victorian terraced house in Lenzie, and found that Thelma Barlow who played Mavis Riley in Coronation Street was living next door with her husband and their two boys. Jean and I hadn’t seen that soap, but naturally we had to have a look at it, and it wasn’t long before we were regular viewers.

We didn’t really get to know her husband at all, but both she and her mother were very pleasant. On one occasion, when Jean locked herself out, Thelma came to help with a large number of assorted keys. In the end she got a friend to climb in through an upstairs window and open the door from inside.

Her work at the Granada studios in Manchester usually took her away from Monday to Friday. I was surprised to learn that she appeared in Coronation Street from 1971 till 1997.

I must mention that Jean still follows the soap faithfully, whereas I have fallen by the wayside. I lost interest when characters like Percy Sugden, Reg Holdsworth, Fred Elliot, Alf Roberts, Derek Wilton and Mavis Riley were written out.


This is a very striking piece of colour “Blossomy of Sichuan” by the Chinese painter Liu Zhengxing


I REMEMBER that our parents insisted that we should always speak proper English, and we were corrected if we used a Scottish word. Broad Scots was the natural language of our grandparents of course, and I was recalling recently that the men in my father’s family, with one exception, were known by their Scottish names -
Robert (my father) was Rabbie, though outside the family he was known as Bob, George was Geordie (pronounced Joerdie), Walter was Wattie (pronounced Wah’ie) and the exception was John (pronounced Joan).

I REMEMBER there were a few strange expressions in those days. When someone was repeating what they had said to someone else, they would prefix their quote with “sigh”. The vowel here was very short indeed. As a wee boy this puzzled me a lot till I realised that the speaker was saying “Says I”, where we would say “I said” or “I told them”.

Another strange word was “ifwurspairt”. This turned out to be “If we’re spared” meaning - if God spares us, and was usually used when talking about some plans for the future. My father might say “If we’re spared, then next summer we’re going to have a vegetable plot there.” I’m sure people didn’t really bring God into it - what they were meaning was “all being well” or “if things work out”.

I REMEMBER when I was very small being shocked when Grandpa Jaap recited to me -
“Albums are red, albums are blue, but in Africa where I have been all bums are black.”

I REMEMBER it was quite common to have to have a framed Bible text on the living room wall. Often they were embroidered in different colours with perhaps fancy lettering or decorated with a flower or two. In our house we had one with the words “I am the Lord. I change not.” I’ve seen some with a lot of lettering, such as the Lord’s Prayer, and others just a few words like “Home, Sweet Home.”

Things like that are now antiques of course, and are much sought after by collectors. Here’s quite a simple example


AFTER I RETIRED from my full-time job, I did quite a bit of entertaining at old people’s retirement homes, playing piano or organ. As you would expect, my programmes were made up of all the old favourite tunes, usually concluding with a sing-a-long medley. Very often I brought an accordionist along with me, and sometimes a soprano.

My visits took place in the morning or afternoon, most of them on a weekly basis, and the residents and I got to know each other pretty well. At one home I overheard an old lady in her nineties telling a neighbour that I had been in her class at school!!!

I must mention that in another home one of the ladies used to get up and leave the room as soon as I sat down at the piano. Perhaps she was a music lover!!!

My experience at those retirement homes inspired me to compose some haiku, and here are a few of them -

in the Old Folk’s Home
silence in the lounge - only
the TV awake

outside the dining
room in the Old People’s Home -
a row of zimmers

her old arthritic
fingers on the yellow keys
“The Old Rugged Cross”

in the old folk’s lounge
an early dusk - no one moves
to switch on the lights

seasons come and go -
in the Old People’s Care Home
it’s always autumn

in the Old Folk’s Home
the lady who never speaks
joins in “Danny Boy”

In the eventide
home, all day she’s knitting socks
that no one can wear

Yes, that very old woman worked away continually with her needles. She knitted me a pair of socks which of course I had to wear at my next appearance at the home. The wool was very coarse, one sock was bigger than the other, and she hadn‘t noticed that, when one ball of wool had finished, the next one wasn‘t quite the same shade.


I’ve chosen two music clips this week, each featuring an outstanding artiste whose life was tragically cut short.

First, Jacqueline du Pre (1945-1987) playing Mendelssohn’s Song without Words in D, accompanied by her mother Iris.

Finally Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953) singing “Down by the Sally Gardens”.

Down by the Sally Gardens, my love and I did meet.
She crossed the Sally Gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree,
But I was young and foolish, and with her did not agree.
In a field down by the river, my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder, she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

W.B.Yeats (1865-1939)

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