I am cheating slightly with this post, by featuring an object which is not actually in the Usmeum. I suppose I could say it’s on display at the regional branch (my brother’s house). I have featured the artwork of my Dad and my Uncle John in previous posts, so it seems only fair to include something by my other artistically gifted uncle, Robert, and tell something of his life. Young Robert can be seen in this photo (which I like so much I am re-posting it even though it was in my previous post):
He was the 3rd son after James (Dad, centre) and John (standing) and, like them, left school early with no further formal training. He followed my Dad into watchmaking and years later, when they had both passed their apprenticeships, they set up a watch and clock making/repair business in a small Glasgow workshop with their friend Bill Young. Robert was engaged to Bill’s sister Nan, whom he had met at Queen Street station where she worked in a newsagents. My Auntie Nan, as she became, told me some great stories about those days, of the three young socialist lads trying to run a business. They failed, she always said, because they were too soft-hearted, unable to bring themselves to charge elderly widows for their clock repairs. Another source of income for the boys was taking in work from the posh hotels. When wealthy residents deposited their valuable jewellery and watches with the hotel for safekeeping, they were offered a cleaning and repair service. Dad, Bill and Robert would then take these jobs to their workshop. As they had no safe on the premises, the valuables would be collected by Nan and stored overnight under her bed. “I always wondered what those rich folk would think”, she used to say, “If they knew their fine jewels spent the night under a bed in my mam’s room-and-kitchen in the Gorbals!”
Robert served in the R.A.F. during the war, after which he moved his young family (they had two children by then, a girl and a boy) down south, where he worked at Heathrow airport. Two of his brothers, my Dad and uncle Peter, followed him and the 3 of them spent the rest of their working lives at Heathrow. Robert also developed his love of painting and produced (and sold) many beautiful landscapes and wildlife paintings, as well as still lifes like this one, which he gave to my Mum sometime after Dad died. I love the vibrant colours, it doesn’t seem at all still to me.
Auntie Nan died of cancer just 2 years ago, aged 83, after years of caring for her beloved husband. She was, as described in the eulogy at her funeral, “funny, feisty, and took no prisoners”, and I can’t improve on that. Robert lives still; at least, the shell that has carried him for over 90 years remains robustly alive. Sadly, the mind and memories that made him my lovely, funny uncle Robert are long lost to dementia. But I still have my memories of the two of them, of their laughter and songs at family gatherings, of sharing a gin & tonic with Auntie Nan in our garden where Dad would have banished her for having a fag. They were pure Glasgow, and pure brilliant.