My last post but one featured my Dad’s poems, some of which were about life in the Glasgow of his birth (100 years ago this year). His 4 brothers were also artistically talented, and this post is about his brother John (or John Fulton Doran Grant, to give him his full 4 forenames). At 2 years Dad’s junior, John was the closest of his brothers to him, and not just in age; they shared many youthful adventures together. I have featured Uncle John’s artwork in previous posts; this one showcases his gift for poetry.
First, however, let me introduce my uncle and tell something of his life. He was the only one of the 5 brothers to remain in Glasgow after the war, rather than moving to London. When Grannie R. died in 1959, he and Auntie Lizzie, with their young son Ian, moved in with Grandad R. and my (unmarried) Uncle Tommy, to look after them. John and Lizzie later had a daughter, Helen, and moved to the new town of East Kilbride (Grandad and Uncle Tommy then made the move down south). Helen, just a year older than me, became my best pen-pal and I always enjoyed visiting “EK”.
I remember a warm, funny, affectionate man, with the same smile you can see in the wartime photograph above. Unlike my Dad, John saw some real action during the war, mostly in Sicily and Italy where he served with the Highland Light Infantry. It was near Hastings on the south coast of England, however, where his most dramatic (and, I suspect, traumatic, for such a gentle man) moment came, when he shot down a Messerschmidt with a Bren gun. Helen recalls: “One of his mates said, You are owed some time off as reward for that. When he asked his sergeant he was informed – No chance, that’s your job! Fair enough”. This modesty sounds typical of the uncle I knew.
After the war he joined his father as a driver on the Glasgow trams. They used to help people with their “flittin’ ” (house moving) by taking all their belongings – even rolled-up lino – on the front of the tram. I treasure a painting of Glasgow trams that he did many years later. As a young man, his talent for painting earned him a place at Glasgow School of Art which, sadly, he was unable to take up: even with a scholarship, the family couldn’t afford to do without the wages his job was bringing in. Helen says: “I didn’t know that for years – till he was already in his 60’s – he never dwelt on it”. He continued to paint as a hobby throughout his life, selling many of his works, even though he was colour blind. Perhaps his red grass was seen as a radical innovation!
After the Glasgow trams stopped running, Uncle John worked as a clerk in the local Post Office, as well as in the Centre One tax office. This poem gives a glimpse of life behind the counter when the P.O. started opening on Saturdays:
As colleagues their positions fill
Forms prepared and cash in till
Outside the restless crowds amass
Faces pressed against the glass
All trying to be first in line
As we open at the stroke of nine
Soon begins the endless count
Heads are bent, the pressures mount
Hour upon hour with scarce a break
Watchful lest an error make
All the while the public queue
Each straining for a better view
Risking a hasty upward glance
We see them there in rhythmic dance
All in attitude grotesque
From bandit screen to writing desk
On Saturday the powers that be
Unreason’d decreed that we
Whilst others to hearth and home retire
Alone shall serve all Lanarkshire
In comes the Saturday brigade
In holiday attire arrayed
Mummy leads and Daddy follows
With furry hat and shopping trolley
We pander to their every whim
By staying open after one
Not all is dull and thankless chore
As just emerging through the door
Familiar form and disc in hand
Takes up his unsuspecting stand
Into each eye a gleam of recognisance:
This one’s got a motor licence!
The favoured clerk with malice waits
The envy of all his mates
Every pen in rapture still
As smiling sweetly through the grille
“I’m sorry sir, it can’t be done
Not on a Saturday after one”
Those fleeting pleasures soon are passed
We close the office door at last
As homeward we wind our way
To salvage the remnants of the day
There must, we think, with some misgiving
Be an easier way to earn a living
What madness led us to decide
To be counter clerks in East Kilbride?!
This poem, on the other hand, gives a glimpse of another, all too familiar side of Glasgow life:
The Ballad of Soutar Sanny
In a wine shop in the ‘Brigate’
On a freezin’ Saturday night
At a table in the corner
Nearly out of sight
There sat wee Soutar Sanny
Because he couldnae stand
Cuddlin’ a double ‘Lanny’
In his shakin’ drinkin’ hand.
Sammy was only five foot nil
Drinkin’ was his life
Never worked and never will
Never ta’en a wife,
He was known to back the horses
Never known to win
But just that day at half past three
His ship came steamin’ in
A rank outsider called the ‘bam’
Has Sanny’s fifty pence
Stoated in at ninety-nine tae wan
It’s never happened since.
The moon came up, the stars came out
But the ‘Lanny’ jist went doon,
Another double at the toot
An’ Sanny’s heid went roon.
Many Lanny’s later, and swayin’ in his seat
The barman carried Sanny oot, and stood him in the street.
It was cold and dark, it always is at ten o’clock at night
I wish he’d left me where I wis, I havenae got a light.
As Sanny staggered up the road, fear gripped the wee man’s heart
Ghosts and bogles in his mind, Sanny was feart fae the dark.
Menace in every shape, shadows gaunt and grim
A pillar box with mouth agape came leaping out at him.
Then there came an eerie light as from another world,
A wailing sound came through the night,
The light just birled and birled
Two long arms picked Sanny up
And bundled him inside.
The wee man wasnae frightened noo –
He was bluidy petrified.
Then as he looked his captors in the eye
A smile broke the wee man’s face.
Thank God it’s you
The boys in blue,
No somebody from Outer Space!
My much-loved Uncle John died suddenly of a heart attack in his late 60s, when I was about 20. I’m very glad to have these paintings, poems and photographs to remember him by.