Normally, I sit down to write my log on a Thursday, and today, Thursday 27th May, happens to be the 20th anniversary of my mum’s death. I was based in Dublin at the time, and that date happened to be, in Ireland, the Solemnity of the Ascension. So, needless to say, I have come to associate the Lord’s Ascension into heaven with my mum’s death ever since; the end of one kind of presence, and the beginning of a new kind of presence. My mum was cremated, as she was claustrophobic. That went back to her younger days when she was on the subway, and the subway got stuck in a tunnel for some hours, and, ever after, she couldn’t abide being in enclosed spaces. One consequence of that was that she would never go on the subway again. My father was from Govan and so, whenever we would go to visit his family, we had to take the Govan Ferry from Partick, and I have many memories of dashing down the Ferry Road as a family, and just managing to jump on the ferry before it set off on its short journey across the River Clyde, from north to south, and then, later that night, back again from south to north. She also wouldn’t go on a lift, and when her mother, my granny, was moved from her Partick tenement to the 18th floor of a high-rise flat on Lincoln Avenue in Knightswood, my mum would climb the 18 flights of stairs, have a wee blether, do a bit of housework, then descend back down again, go and do her mother’s shopping, then carry the shopping back up the 18 flights of stairs a second time. Thankfully my granny was soon moved back to Partick.
Like many of her generation, my mum was a hard worker. She had to be, especially after my father died and left her with 3 bairns to raise. She worked about 4 jobs, both day and night. She did school cleaning in the early morning, then cleaned wealthy people’s houses during the day, and at night she was a barmaid at the Downhill Bar in Partick. She was legendary among the regular clientele. I can vouch for how hard the work was as, in my earlier years as a Passionist student, when we had longer holidays in the summer, she got me a job in the bar to earn a few shillings and, between the setting up, the constant pulling pints, opening bottles, pouring wee hawfs from the optics, and then the cleaning up afterwards, I always went home totally exhausted. How she did that, day in, day out, year in, year out, I’ll never know; but she loved it, and it left a big gap in her life when she retired. When she could, she loved a game of Bingo. She would go with her sister, or a friend. If she won a line, she would come home bearing fish and chips, but mostly she was always “just waiting on wan” for the big prize.
She was very small, a good bit under five feet, and I think I’ve mentioned before that I was 11½ pounds at birth, which she said nearly killed her. When I think of my time in the womb, I often think it should have been me that was claustrophobic and not her, as it must have been very cramped in there. She was a constant worrier, and I take a bit of that from her too. She could never go to sleep at night without knowing that we were all safely home, which was understandable as our teenage years coincided with the gangland era in Glasgow. By this stage we had moved from Partick to Drumchapel, which had a plethora of gangs, but I always found the thought of facing my mum when I came home later than I was meant to, far more terrifying than facing the Fleet, the Tongs, or whoever. Drumchapel never had the help of Frankie Vaughan, as Easterhouse did, but there was an ex-boxer called Peter Keenan who did a lot for us. My mum also worried when joining the Passionists meant that I started out in the North of Ireland, in Enniskillen, at the height of the troubles; and again, years later, when I went out to do a stint in South Africa when things were very volatile there too. Looking back, I regret having been the cause of so much worry, but that was the way she was. She worried about my older brother too, the doyen of Scottish Sports journalism, when he was getting a rough time from callers on Super Scoreboard. She had no interest in football, but she liked to listen to her son on the radio. Her favourite, though, was our younger brother, and rightly so. He looked after her so well in later life, and now I look after him a bit, with no regrets. So, on that note, look after yourselves, loved ones, and others, and look after Christ in your lives.