AmbesmallThe Big Bar – L (Glasgow 1973)

Sometimes we would go and stay at my Granny and Grandpa’s house, just me and my little brother. Grandpa was a prison officer at Barlinnie Prison and they lived in a prison house right next to the wall. The wall was as wide as a pavement and the sky above it always seemed bluer than anywhere else. I liked to imagine myself skipping along it, singing my rhymes to the slap of the rope on it’s glistening sandy surface. Sometimes we would try to throw things over it, multi-coloured rubber balls, fluffy gonks and teddies. We imagined the prisoners delight as the toys fell at their feet.

I remember when we stayed with them for a whole two weeks. Granny sent me to school – Smithicroft. I was taken charge of by the girl next door, Trudy. She seemed rather proud of me, explaining to everyone who I was, steering me round the building. I looked at the bare walls of the corridors and asked: “Where are the paintings?” Her friends hooted with laughter. At playtime some of them pinned me to the railings and made me say the F word. Trudy stood nearby, chatting with her friends, unperturbed.

I must have come home upset because Granny didn’t send me again. Instead we went shopping with her and her big red trolley. It was a really big trolley and she needed it because she bought lots of stuff. There were always shortages in those days, potatoes, coal, candles (during the power cuts), that year it was sugar. Granny took us round every shop we could walk to, buying all the sugar they would give us then we took it home and put it in the pantry.

Word soon got round and a steady stream of women trundled in and out of the house to buy sugar from Granny at a relatively reasonable price. Sometimes they would have a cup of tea – tasting the merchandise. Granny had glass tea cups and we begged the women to put the sugar in first because we liked to see it swirling around in the amber liquid. When they had finished Granny would read their tea leaves. There was always something happening in those ladies lives.

In the evening Grandpa would come home and tell us jokes and stories about when human beings were monkeys and lived in trees. We would walk Brucie the dog and practice whistling. Sometimes we were successful and the dog would come running up to us excitedly then turn away disappointed, he didn’t like us that dog. We tried to get Grandpa to tell us about the prisoners but he was always cagey about them. “What about Jimmy Boyle?” I asked him one day. “What’s he like?” He stopped and dropped to my height and I looked into his weary brown eyes. “He’s a bad bugger, that’s what he’s like, a bad bugger, and I hope you never meet the likes of him.” Then he stood up again, his big hand on my shoulder and whistled to his dog.

Granny would bring us hot milk and sugar in bed at night and we would snuggle under the soft candy striped sheets, lights out, safely bathed in the soft orange glow of the Big Bar L.

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