Football boots for Christmas (Revised Version) – Part Five


Baw was sitting out on their front step on Main Street, on the first row in the Auld Raws, in line with their new Zebra Crossing with it’s two big Belisha Beacons; watching the traffic. At the same time imagining himself blackening the eyes of all the bully-boys in the place. Between times was scoring goals that would be talked about for years to come.

Them there were the only Belisha Beacons in the whole of West Lothian so far, or so their faither reckoned. Had a bit in the Sunday Post about them two or three weeks back. Claimed he was what it said was ‘our correspondent’ and had cut it out neat and tidy and laid it on top of the wireless, like it was made of spider’s webs. Lay there a couple of days, till he hadn’t a match to light his fag.

Their row of Auld Raws houses backed onto the new row back to back, so the sculleries stuck out towards each other like the teeth of two grass rakes; prongs to prongs. When they had big washings the women hang it out across the tarmac pad, between the ends of the sculleries, where big steel hooks had been driven into the brickwork. It meant four houses, from their kitchen windows, looked into the same wee square space, that held four wee’r drying greens and four wee’r coal hooses.

Meant on Fridays and Tuesdays the West Calder Co-op van and the fish woman and her creel from Newhaven had a deal of bother getting through the washing lines. Mothers cared more for good drying than tea-breid and only the Cath’lics an auld Mrs Miller and her cat ate fish on Fridays.

The Auld Raws was five rows, each cut it two so making ten blocks, ten houses to each block. Must have minded God of the 6-4 when he looked down on a clear day, even though He wasn’t supposed to hold with dominoes, cards and the like. The New Raws was even bigger.

Maybe God having as many fisherman as disciples made fish better than the likes of mince or corned beef eating. Friday was usually pay-day, so it might have had something to do with that. Had asked Annie Johnston, his Sunday School teacher. She was going to ask Mr. Young bit still hadn’t come back to him.

They had a big branch of Broxburn Co-op here in the village and folk said West Calder Co-op Society vans had no right coming round the doors stealing trade, and so cutting their dividend. Some said that if the Council ever got round to building that road bridge across the Forth, the first across to Fife would be a West Calder Co-op van. One was even seen in Ireland on Movietone News

The village had new big concrete streetlights that gave everybody a jaundice look. Three telephone boxes as well and a split new public lavatory, right across from the ‘Store’ grocery. Folk said they were getting something out of the war at last, even new council houses without sculleries, but kitchens big enough to eat in, sitting down and plenty built-in cupboards and a separate place they cried a living-room. Had been the talk of the place for yonks, and gardens back and front and, airing cupboards. Some even had their own gate. An airing cupboard was a place to put clothes that weren’t right dry.

Folk were talking about the Websters as well. They had moved into the Millgate with their own television set that they sat and watched in the dark with the curtains wide to the wall, so folk keeking in as they passed could see the shadows dancing about their wallpaper.

Baw, their mother, and wee Jimmy, cause there was nobody about at the time to keep an eye on him, had been across to see what there was to see. Their mother said she would much rather watch Maggie Broon stippling a wall with a rolled up rag. Going to stop smoking again so as to get Maggie back to do the lobby. Going by the state of the Webster’s wallpaper they could be getting Maggie in as well.

The Websters were incomers. Some said he worked for West Calder Co-op, driving a van. Others said West Calder Co-op must have been working for him. Some said working on a Co-op butcher van was second only to winning the Treble Chance.

If Baw won money he would send away for that Charles Atlas course in the Sunday Post. That and the Stanley Mathews Football Training Manual in the Wizard. Maybe get new nobs for the wireless with what was left.

His favourite story in the Wizard this last while had about a nervous wee teacher having a hard time. His posh cousin had sent him a chest-expander that even Charles Atlas would have had bother with. Said in the letter it was made to measure for weaklings.

Every night for weeks the nervous wee man, on his own in his digs, fair black affronted at himself, had been pulling at the handles with all his might, but it hadn’t budged. Then three weeks back it moved a fraction. They were awfy pleased, baith Baw and the wee schoolmaister.

In the previous week’s comic the schoolmaister was playing the chest expander like an accordion. Now had arms that could have wrestled ‘Morgan the Mighty’. Had ended up no knowing his own strength, but neither did Percy, his landlady’s bully of a son. Them in Primary Six, as well as Spug Getty couldn’t wait for Tuesday next. They would have liked the story even more if the wee schoolmaister finally used his new strength to knock lumps out of that cousin of his that had sent him the expanders in the first place. Winchburgh was full of his cousin’s kind.

The week before a split-new serial story had started in the Rover; the big coal bing on the side of a mountain opposite a wee Welsh village was really a giant prehistoric monster. Must have been a wheen of Rover readers besides Baw that lived near bings, who would be having bother sleeping this last wee while. The Winchburgh bing, looked at from about the top of Niddry Brae,was the shape of a giant rat, nibbling away at the Works Office. A wee taster maybe afore starting on the Auld Raws.

A night or two afore he had been dreaming about an aeroplane flying into Turnhouse and then crashing into the bing and a nest of them bursting out and making straight for the Store Bakery as he wakened up.

In the meantime to keep his mind off giant rats had been reading the Rover again about Nick Smith, the legendary centre forward and his halfback pal Arnold Tabbs. Had taken over Kingsbury Rovers, a struggling third division side and had just gone and beaten English first division champions Ramboro.

What a load of keech! First division champions Rambro, with five full English internationalists in their side, getting beat at home by a struggling third division side 9-1. At home!

An odd goal fine, maybe the result of a breakaway against the run of play, would have been believable, or a wee deflection coming from a hopeful punt out of defence in bad weather, or an unplayable pitch, but 9-1. Football was what they were interested in, no fairy tales.

How could they expect them to look forward to next week’s episode. Never got daft scores like that with ‘Limp Along Leslie’ in the Wizard.

The Nick Smith story had to do with this Atomic Research Station, a couple of mile away from the Rover’s ground. The local papers were making out the radiation from the nuclear reactor was making Nick and his team play out their skin; just didn’t seem right, mixing football up with the likes of that.

Thinking and dreaming all the time about football got Baw into awfy bother, specially at school, but that Miss Tripney didn’t help, her ranting on and on for ages at a time, then stopping dead when nobody was right ready, like Stanley Mathews of England.

When she stopped you would think she was in pain, the way her face screwed up, then she would tell them to think out the rest out for themselves. She kept her medicine on the wee table behind the fish tank.

If teachers weren’t teachers they would have bother getting a job anywhere else, even the Store. Being nice to folk in buying bananas for instance was far more important than knowing where they came from.

Baw would be sitting there thinking about things like that when she would butt in again with a wheen more education. Then her and her clique, almost as good as measured for Broxburn High School blazers, would move off again to wherever it was the answers were hid, leaving the rest of the front stalls feeling even more stupid than ever.

Even if Baw had been the Lone Ranger and Tonto in the desk long sides him, rather than ‘Pitch’ Black, he still wouldn’t have been able to pick up their tracks; just end up back at Hampden Park scoring last minute goals past big Frank Swift, the English goalkeeper. He was from Blackpool and as a laddie had looked after his father’s donkeys at the seaside; hands on him like shovels that folk say he got them skelping the donkeys’ bums.

Baw wasn’t that big word that meant cheeky; she had changed the subject that day when nobody was looking; asked them who was Scotland’s saviour; put his hand up and said, Jimmy Cowan, the Morton goalkeeper.

The week before she’d been on about history and Bannockburn, and this was her getting back onto that stuff and expecting some of her pets to say Robert the Bruce ; ended up screamed at Baw; never listened to a word she said.

Once she’d calmed down he said ‘Please Miss last night, was reading Billy Getty’s, ‘Annual of Scottish Football’ and the last story was about our international against England; was called ‘Scotland’s Saviour- Jimmy Cowan’.

Screamed at him again to sit down, then threw the wooden duster in his direction. Wasn’t half as clever as she made out; didn’t know the English king never stopped running away from Bannockburn till he got here to Winchburgh, where he had a change of horses and a bit to eat. His fleet were moored at Leith or Dunbar. Auld Sanny hadn’t been too sure about that bit; was him who telt them all about ‘Paraffin’ Young, Robert the Bruce and Robbie Burns and Mary Queen of Scots.

He would have made a far better teacher than her, if only he hadn’t been so fond of smoothing out wee lassies dresses for them. Some said he was a dirty auld man, but there must be more to it than that, or they wouldn’t have locked him up. Had been going to tell them next about the war and the hard times he gave the Japs. Or maybe the other way about.

Baw’s faither said he was an auld haver and rejected cause of his flat feet; strange thing for the army to hold against folk. Would think marching would be easier on flat feet than any other kind. Was going to ask their faither if the navy and air force were as fussy, but as usual he was awfy busy with something else at the time,

Their faither’s granny reared him; was all they know. Their mother had gone doolally that time Bobby spiered her about it; telt him he should know better than ask. Bobby was daft on pictures and always had been. Said their faither and his uncles must have come from outer space, with the rest of the aliens. Bobby was always near top of the class, so Mr. George had nothing to complain about to their faither.

Liked the football, but never went near the Albion games, or anywhere else their faither was likely to be. Sneaked out the house, even when it was raining, if their faither was bydin in. Never spoke to him, no after the time he asked him what happened to his mother, their Granny Findlay, no his Granny Findlay, but theirs. Should have left it at that when their faither snarled back at him across the table, but Bobby spiered him again.

Took the big ham fist full in the face, bursting his nose and his lip that bad it need stitched. Never cried then, or since, even when Dr. Gracie was sewing him up. Said he’d bumped into a tree. Dr.Gracie must have wondered at that, it being the early dark and cowboys and Indians out of season.

Bobby had taken a kicking the day before off Davie Johnston. Davie had been shouting his mouth off about their ‘Courier Man’ faither thinking himself a big man and being nothing but a Findlay ‘b’ . Bobby went for him, but got the worst of it.

Davie was two year aulder than Bobby, but that didn’t make any difference; Bobby said folk had to stick up for their own; was feart for nothing, bar being taken for a feartie. No bigger laddies get hitting Baw neither. Got his own back on Davie in the early dark, just the same as he got his own back on Tommy Clark, and he was bigger again than Davy Johnston. Him in the Holy Bible shortened the odds with a sling. Bobby favoured a palin stab.

A labourer down at the brickwork, coming out a kiln, just as they were passing by heading for the canal banks, had sneered when he saw Baw’s green shoes; cried him Robin Hood. Bobby waited till the labourer disappeared back into the kiln then let down his bike tyres and fed his piece to the ducks.

He was just a wee bit cock-eyed and said his name was Rob Moffat if anybody asked. That was his middle name, after Grandpa Moffat. Even asked Grandpaw Moffat if you could see his way to adopting him and taking him through to Ayton to byde.

Being the part-time Courier man that wrote the Winchburgh news, and secretary of the Albion, and near everything else in the village, kept their faither busy yet he was always away seeing a man about a dog – spent most nights out and about the place bumping into awfy interesting folk he hadn’t seen since the night afore.

The odd time their faither did stop in was to batter his wee typewriter or try to mend it, or shoes. When his fingers were blue it was off the typewriter ribbon. When some fingers were black as well as blue the coal hammer had been missing them wee segs again – sticking plaster or a bandage could mean the bread knife had slipped again when he had been back cutting leather or rubber heels; always seem to start off the wrong size.

Then the rest of them got no peace to listen to ‘Dick Barton, Special Agent’ or ‘The McFlannels’; their wireless couldn’t get Radio Luxembourg, even though it was electric. Couldn’t even get the English stations unless they poked about it with the bread knife and a pair of pliers, if they could find them. Some played ‘hunt the thimble’ on wet Sundays; they hunted the pliers. The wireless had belonged to their father’s granny. Must have got it second-hand as wedding present.

Most families about the place got new clothes from their Store dividend. They got pots and pans and new rings for the cooker. The week before they got tatties and sausage grease left over from the day before – Baw was sick all over the new rubbers he got for the Gala-Day. Later on when he asked Mrs. Scott, who had taken jaundice the year before, if she’d been eating sausage grease, she run her pram right over his toes then elbowed him out the road.

If they were American, Bobby said they would be black and wearing straw hats, ever since he watched that film about Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Their row on Main Street had been the Gaffer’s Row, where their faither’s granfaither byde; he had been the crawpicker at the shale mine right at the start. Anytime they mentioned Findlays to their mother she lifted the sweeping brush and chased him out the house. Using bad words or even tearing their clothes didn’t seem to bother her half as much as them asking about their faither’s relations. Never caught Baw, him being tricky, and grease lighting over short distances.

She was an incomer, though nobody really held that against her; had to leave school at eleven to look after Granny Moffat and to deliver rolls out a wee handcairt and eat Nestles Milk out the can, so wasn’t clever like everybody, including their faither, says their faither was.

She had never even heard of malt till Meg Reid telt her she could get her some from the whisky bond down the Edinburgh road at Cheesetoun were she worked. Now, according to her, malt was hotching with all the things Boyd Orr on the wireless said was good and healthy; the best thing in the whole world after her new Acme wringer, that they were paying up to Coulter’s van.

Wasn’t always a lot to eat in their house, but they never run out of Stedman Powders or malt. She even told auld Mr.Balfour, the Woodend minister who christened wee Jimmy, and whose daughter fancied their faither when he was a sergeant in the Boys Brigade, that it wasn’t pennies but malt they should be giving the Protestant black babies; that and their faither’s distemper brush.

Mr. Balfour near choked at her saying such a thing and dropped the wee china cup; the one she kept special for the likes of him – smashing into smithereens off the fender. When Mr. Young, the new Winchburgh minister, came in the week after, he got a mug with L.N.E.R. stamped down the handle. Grandpa Moffat worked on the railway and if there had been sugar in the railways’ mugs, would have pinched that as well.

They had about as many ministers and elders coming about the house, hoping to get their names in The Courier column, as they had tickmen, yet their faither never went near the Kirk. And their mother, with a Bible with her name on the inside certificate page for perfect attendance as a wee lassie in Ayton, wasn’t much better. And Bobby was nowhere near as regular as their faither liked to imagine.

Their faither has little time for all these ‘tea-jennies’, except Dale Smith’s tickman, Mr. Sutherland from Broxburn, who played long sides before the war and well minded him scoring a hat-trick against Easton Rovers and knocking ‘Widdy’ Armstrong out cold. Was the hardest man in Bathgate in his day and no that much wee’er than King Kong.

Cheesetoun was Kirkliston’s nickname; lots of them building the Forth Brig were in digs there and their landladies always gave them cheese. There was a bond in the Ferry as well, till it burned down and the whisky ran along the gutters into the sivers, but not it all. The Ferry police keep their share in a fifty-gallon drum in the cells. Their faither when down that regular for a while their mother was feart he was going to go blind, or get knocked down on the way home up the Betley Road.

She was is in the Women’s Rural but didn’t always get, no with their faither never off the top of the road, attending to umpteen things all at the same time; was a wonder he didn’t go out some nights and meet himself on the road back. The night’s the Rural was on an she couldn’t get she just nipped out to the Post Office and got The Red Letter and Five Woodbine and sends them to bed early.

When she hadn’t any money she just read auld magazines that Mrs. Buchanan has handed in, or else knitted; wasn’t good at turning heels. The pair of socks she made for their faither could have fitted a giraffe. The rags she cut for making a rug were still on top of the wardrobe.

Had she been a Rural regular they might even have learned her to cook; wee simple things to start with, like how to turn the gas down and take things off afore they burned or dried out; blamed her time in ‘service’;the posh family she was with only taught her skivvying.

Mrs Duncan across in Duntarvie View, her married to the brickie who works in the mine, was the assistant housekeeper in service at Baw’s mother’s place in Edinburgh’s West End and invited her out to Winchburgh to stay with the Whytes one weekend.

That’s how she met their faither, at a dance in the British Legion hall afore the war. Said he liked her because she could make him laugh; must have worn out his funny bone.

That was Miss Tripney closing the register. A brickie who works down a mine! Could they have been kidding him on again, or so he imagined. Woke up when their mother shouted him through for his dinner.