It was Christmas 1974 and Shettleston was knee deep in thick hard snow. The cold seeped in through the badly designed council window frames and the coal strikes coupled with the 3 day week, made us all feel what Russia must be like. We were hungry and freezing.
My mum and dad had just split up and it was rough going, the bedroom was chittering cold and my mum was deeply depressed, swaying between bitter rages and horrible weeping. I was 13 years old and didn't know how to cope. My big brother was worried as well, but at a loss as what to do, we were just kids.
I provided lots of hot mugs of tea as she sang Patsy Cline in an angry spitting voice. Passive/aggressive singing is something all the women in her circle were very good at, you haven't experienced rage till you have heard a Carpenters song screamed into your face at full beer breathe volume.
Mum was busy shouting at the Morecambe and Wise Christmas special "Stupid English bastards dancing with that poof Nureyev, this isn't even funny" proving she could be racist and homophobic it one sentence.
"Janey, black up and climb over the school yard wall and steal some coal, that bastard Janitor sells it, we may as well steal it, am freezing" she said. So I did. I put my hand up the chimney, blackened my face....did an Al Jolson song (it was the 70s my mammy needed a laugh) and went off stealing a bag of coal from the stockpile in the school yard down the road.
I felt like the man from the Black Magic chocolate advert, all black and climbing over walls and being creepy.
I was headed home when I saw a woman sitting on the snow in the street. It was disconcerting, what was she doing? Did she fall? I got closer, put down my bag, pulled off my woollen hat and offered her my hand.
"Excuse me, you ok?" I said and she looked up at me and of course what she saw a small child with a blackened face and ragged clothes, carrying a sack of coal.
"ARRGGHHHH" she screamed and got up, drunkenly falling about and ran through the snow screaming "It's a wee black ghost, a wee dark ghost, it a wee black dead wean"
I just stood there and watched her stagger about running...she fell over and panicked, screaming, clawing at the snow and finally she got up and wobbled off. I waited ages watching her making her way up the street, people were staring at her.
Finally, I picked up my coal bag & I headed off home. We had soup for Christmas dinner and at least we would now have a fire and if my dad popped by with some cash (which I knew he would) we could have a good Boxing Day supper and maybe mammy would sing a song without the tears getting in the way.
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