Super Hero’s and Fritters.
All tales have to begin like all journeys we take a first step or not….
The 9th of August 1961 at 10:10 p.m. in the maternity of the Southern General Hospital I issued forth under weight premature and with a healthy dose of cerebral palsy, at that moment undiagnosed. A couple of years later my mother raised my lack of crawling walking with a doctor the cure proffered was to and I quote “ get some sun round his legs”
Dear reader, there are no known benefits of sun in relation to the cure for cerebral palsy, trust me don’t google.
As I sit here now some 50 plus years later trying to sift the dust of memories of who, why and where looking at a faded photograph of my four year old self perched on a muddy worn tricycle which had been rescued from thieves by my father who had probably threatened extreme violence and death to every living thing they might love to reacquire my sacred three wheeled chariot because at the tender age of four I hadn’t yet mastered the trick of walking no matter the amount of Glasgow sunshine that got round my legs.
I recognise the eyes, I mean I know it’s me and I remember in the fuzzy background my older sister is lurking trying to impose her presence on this sepia moment, which now feels like the ghost of a memory as fragments of the event whisper from the deep recesses of my mind. The
little boy is still with me, just out of reach at the corner of my sight if I turn quickly enough I’ll see him sitting there.
This photograph is only an approximation as I attempt to peel back the memory I would like to say that there are no wounds here but they throb in the distance and even years later in a moment they can be raw and weeping.
It’s a curious thing I can’t recall shape or form but in an instant there is happiness.
Sadness confusion and loss, my tongue moves in reflex to a forgotten taste of these moments past, here now I can’t yet paint a true picture and yet still I feel it in my flesh the ache in my heart and he sits in my bones, this small child.
We rationalise some memories as a nostalgia for happier care free times but this lie does not reflect the memories picked at or the doors we scratch at seeking entry, there seems a puzzle of self and memory, maybe there is a reason it is hard to find the key to unlock ourselves because to search for self we will not find a truth but realise we may have lived a deception not that this is deliberate few of us have the capacity to see our true selves naked vulnerable at the mercy of the tides and eddy’s of life events.
It appears to me at least reflected memory with its selective falsehoods is but the little Life raft we build to navigate our course.
We fall into this world as I now fall into the next memory a mechanism which helps me evaluate my worth on a journey between two ultimate points.
The one memory that permeates always is something my father said in one of his deeper moments, which didn’t come around often so I listened.
I always felt I disappointed” not that he ever said anything you see neither he or my mother ever made me feel less than, it was me that carried that and I still do they never had anything to reproach themselves for ever.
I built my own millstone.
My father said “ They say live the next day like its your last …try to live it better than yesterday and better still make it better for someone you don’t know”
This I couldn’t comprehend or grasp its depth at the time but now because of time and events in my life and the lives of others I’m trying to get there.
I stumble through my days catching glimpses of strangers I’m trying not to judge with the naïve untested proclamations of youth because I don’t know what millstone the stranger is carrying.
This lesson has to be learned and it is often learned at a moment of betrayal
I have betrayed as others have betrayed me, everyone at one time or another even though we might not have known it or thought it has betrayed, even a tiny betrayal is a treacherous thing that can reflect our real broken selves but who among us can look truly upon that?
I know we never consciously cast ourselves as the villain in the play of our lives, but time will present you with moments, choices and excuses for the villain that lurks just out of sight the thing you have to do is fight the villain try and do the best you can to do what’s right and hopefully good.
As a child there were many who shone the light on the good and some who fed the darkness where the villain slumbers waiting his moment and sometimes he would show up embodied in others at the age of 5 or 6 I met the villain sitting on the shoulders of the White brothers.
The White brothers at least that’s what my memory tells me, they were slightly older than me not twins no not twins, they shared a strange fixation though…me or at least the torture of me, this began gently enough until the true nature and desires hidden under a mask of friendliness to the wee boy with the tricycle would slip its mask. The wee boy who is now like a phantasm to me, who couldn’t walk but scrambled down tenement steps on his belly propelling with his hands as he slid fish like over the steps.
Robert and john White had plans for me the villains were waiting in the wings for the right moment,timing and opportunity is everything and soon they would soon take the stage.
In the world of the damp tenements of Glasgow in the 1960’s I did not have adventures like the famous 5 or the swallows and amazons in the Kinning Park.
A place of outside toilets gas lamps landings, muddy rubbish strewn backcourts ancient washhouses,out buildings with darting rats and wary pigeons on the lookout for some feral cat crouched among the patches of long grass and weeds.
In these places we played games daydreamed built dens and tents on summer days not trips to the woods for the likes of us but like the woods places like this in the city could still be dark and threatening even in the bright sun somewhere a shadow would be cast on the Victorian brick just beyond the gable a sharp and dark line would be cast and there you caught glimpses of the dark.
If lucky you got invited to play hide and seek or scabby touch or if you were really lucky truth or dare with the possibility of secret kisses if local girls got involved, the White brothers liked their version of the kiss, kick, cuddle or torture game which although they never played it often they played it enough beyond the prying eyes of adults and I became the recipient of this special game.
As a young boy I was exposed to the notion of God via Sunday school, which came to the hospital bed I inhabited for what seemed like years, I would often try to fake sleep or on occasion my own death! to avoid those who proclaimed to be doing the Lord’s work! Now I think on reflection God should sue.
One thing stuck like thorns in my head was the cure the miracles! By the great magician I admit I prayed and prayed in my youth to wake from my nightmare of twisted legs I begged the unnameable unknowable creator for the cure, it never came.
What I got instead were the White brothers.
“God is great, God is good but doesn’t live in this neighbourhood”
In the best horror stories you realise the villains or monsters don’t lurk under the stairs or in the coal bunker at the end of the hall or even in the derelict graveyard, they in fact sometimes stand next to you at the bus stop, in the queue in the supermarket on occasion they can be found behind the desk at school or move around the vestry and now time has exposed them on children’s T.V.
In Easter 1965 I think it was Easter? I’m not a lying I just cant trust the life raft it’s beginning to creak under the strain.
All I can honestly tell you or myself now is I was on my tricycle trundling down the pavement, I was not allowed on the road due to an unfortunate event a week or two earlier when I had decided that I should like to be a policeman or at least I’d like to direct traffic to which end I made it to the busy main road and attempted to stop traffic with the proper signals, in my head I was the best copper in the world at least until the real ones turned up to take over traffic duties and stop me being crushed under the wheels of trucks and cars, they proceeded to take me home informed my poor mother about me impersonating the constabulary, that was an application form I’d never get to fill.
To be safe it was pavements only and only pavements near our street after all it was safe being just outside where neighbours cousins and family would catch the odd glimpses, “safe as houses “ they say but houses burn down and glimpses are fleeting and that’s all it takes for the villains or monsters to appear a fleeting moment of opportunity and timing.
The moment when villains become monsters seems like a sliding scale of betrayals the betrayal of right and wrong mixed with enough lack of the capacity for empathy and that things living or dead are objects out side of me is only of concern in so much as what It can do for me our what use it is to me, no one ever question this madness and monsters are the embodiment of madness they live the unreasonable as reason and cruelty as a twisted righteousness.
The White brothers though young had become artists of cruelty and I was the canvas which they would at first sketch the ideas of pain gently at first making sure not to scratch and gouge too much too soon as a masterpiece takes time to create.
The true horror sometimes is not the final lustful act but the journey and as we know its first steps and on tiptoes they came for me.
The life raft is really creaking now straining its starting to feel unsafe.
Lets pretend for a moment you know none of what has gone before and just take my hand, I promise you’ll be ok but once you see you won’t be able to un see and for that I apologise.
Tiny things matter so I’ll begin with the small stuff, are you ok? Here we go then
“Pavements not roads” that’s what I was thinking as I pedalled along I was also thinking about spam fritters, it’s Saturday and Saturday was mum and dad off to shopping on the main road now my no man’s land and after that when they got home mum would make spam fritters with chips and I was also thinking wouldn’t it be great to be a superhero or have a superhero pal a kind superhero association that would make me safe and look out for me and Spam fritters who doesn’t love them
I was thinking of mum and dad imagining tea the sound of Saturday football scores coming from the T.V. as the sounds and smells floated in from the kitchen a fine day dream and I was happy in my dream but as we all know we have to wake up I was abruptly snapped out my day dream by one of the white brothers coarse call.
“ Hey you!” It was Robert calling over while John hung back conspiratorially at the gable end of the tenement just in the shaft of darkness “ Hey you dae ye want a sweetie?” I’d seen them about. They lived in a house at the bottom of our tenement close and as far I as was aware they got kept in a lot, my sister didn’t like them and they avoided her like ants avoid the sharp heat of a magnifying glass in sunlight. Joan could see them and she could fight like the big boys nobody messed with Joan, my hero.
I cycled over a bit wary at first but sweets were sweets. Sure enough I got a sweet – a lemon bonbon – the sour kind that made you make faces, so there I was sucking on a free sweet from the boys who where kept in a lot and avoided my sister a lot of boys avoided her she took no lip or dirty chat anyone who thought they where smart had to be fast because she could run as well as swing a mean left hook, for a girl she was kind of super.
Robert began to look around from the gable checking the street, I looked too wondering what could be the object that was looked for, then it began John stepped in front of my tricycle and began kicking the front wheel repeating the same word with every kick “ shit Shit shit!!” then Robert chimed up “ Naw he’s shit aren’t ye shit shit!!” With every Kick I was “Shit shit shit” I made to move away but John tightened his grip on the handlebars as Robert began to clench his fists while a strange smile crept upon his face I forgot the sour taste of the bonbon Robert began to draw back his arms as his smile became a sneer “ you’re shit aren’t you shit shit!!”
The moment began to feel darker and darker as if the sun slid behind a really thick cloud the air began to feel charged and all I could feel was a slowly growing dread like when you wake at night and that abandoned coat on the chair begins to look like a monster that any moment will begin to writhe and heave with life as it makes towards the end of the bed this wasn’t a room at night but the darkness began to grow and the warmth of the sun slowly faded till the cold darkness began to caress.
The first slap stung like a swarm of bees on my cheek the second caught me just below the right eye there was a flash of light in my head as the lemon bonbon flew from my mouth, they both laughed at that and then stared at each other as if lost in a strange new feeling their necks blotched red in the moment I was too stunned and confused to cry but an instant urge to leave this place gripped I gripped my tricycle hard and pulled hard but John tightened his grip Robert blotched and staring slowly began to clench his fists drawing his arms back while his brother whispered “ do it, do it” the moment seemed to stretch to forever..
Suddenly a voice cried out full of spite and violence “ Hey you ya pair of Diddies beat it Now!!” the three of us jumped as if woken from some dark spell and in an instant the White brothers ran off dropping the bag of Lemon bonbons “You better run!” it was my sister Joan sent to find me as she helped turn me towards home away from the White brothers who had now disappeared they where thwarted Joan spoke her first non threatening words “ come on you, Fritters”
I didn’t realise till much later my sister was my super hero and she liked fritters too.
Taken from “hells ankles ” j Mcsharry 2019 published Urban free press Glasgow. Thanks to Bobby Christie & Dr. Jim Ferguson.