Story by Paul Howthorne (Scotland)
Published in The Ofi Press issue 36.
I walked into Girdwoods Bar in Wishaw for a wee blether and a look, at ma auld Da’s face. He was sitting as usual at the corner of his bar with a large whisky in front of him. He was smiling and talking, you couldn’t stop him, my father didn’t have conversations, he held court. His left hand always held an ash laden, smoking cigarette. He was wearing his dark green suit, with a pristine white shirt and bow tie. His brown brogues, highly polished, sat below fluorescent lime green socks. The socks were my mother’s way of getting her own back on her chauvinistic husband.
I could just imagine the pair of them that morning when my dad was bending to put them on.
“ Eh, they’re awffie bright Cathy. Are yie sure these socks will go wie ma green suit? “
“Joe, They’re green, the suits green, whit’s yir problem? “
“ Aye, well fair enough.”
His underwear was legendary; no one had ever seen it. He never changed it, and we never saw it on the washing line. Auld Joe’s drawers were an enigma that was never resolved. His vest, secreted below the very white shirt, was covered in stains from his meals and was one day away from being a full breakfast.
Ma Da had HIS chair in the house. Anyone could sit on it if he was out. If my father came home however, and someone had the audacity to be sitting there, he would walk towards the miscreant, and while waving him or her out, he would say,
“cumoan, swap yie seats. “
It was a large fabric covered armchair, with wings at the top for resting the head. Joe used to say,
“ Never buy a chair withoot wee wings oan it fur drappin yir weary heid intae. They’re a great wee bonus fur a hard working man.”
Auld Joe was sitting in this chair in the early morning, wearing his white shirt from the day before. With the shirt open to the waist, revealing his vociferous vest or semmit as he called it, which was tucked into his industrious undergarments. The open zip on his fly, had a permanently shocked look, and never closed its jaws, this, thankfully, helped with ventilation.
His left hand hung over the arm of the chair bleeding fag ash. The charred carpet beside his throne was witness to this. A copy of the Observer newspaper folded at the crossword, lay across his lap. Jagged, tiny holes from tobacco burns covered his shiny blue trousers, which terminated in bare feet. His right big toe nail was a black, ridged and armoured claw, a result of him dropping a drain cover on it as a boy.
His varifocals were always perched precariously on his large, wedged shaped, and hooked nose. At his feet, sleeping, but always alert, lay Charlie, his wee King Charles spaniel.
Auld Joe was in this position, when my sister, who was estranged from her husband at the time, came into the living on her way to the kitchen.
“ Oh, morning hen, how are yie.”
“ Morning father I’m fine. How are you this morning? You’re up early?”
“ Aye, I’ve always been an early riser. Are you jist oot the shower? wie that towel wrapped roond yir heid there.”
“ Yes dad I am. Why?”
“ How dae you women dae that wie the towel? It’s the same wie elastic bands. Gie a wuman wie hair ae oanny length, an elastic band, and wie a flick ae her fingers she’s goat her hair in a perfect ponytail. It’s always amazed me that... Oh aye, the waters freezing. How did yie manage tae shower in cauld water Hen?”
“ It’s a power shower dad.”
“ A power shower, whit’s that when it’s at hame?
“ It heats its own water as yie use it dad. Yie don’t need tae huv hot water. Huv you never used it?”
“ Naw “
There was no bath in the house and the shower had been fitted two years previously.
Auld Joe didn’t have a problem with personal hygiene, as would be supposed by the undiscerning. Joe was from a large family; eleven boys and seven sisters, gaining entry to the bathroom would have been almost impossible for one of the younger brothers. My father would stand at the sink and wash everywhere using a bar of carbolic soap if he could get it. Most folk have a face cloth. Dad had a body cloth.
After dressing, Joe would put his dug jaiket on. This was a green wax jacket with pockets deep enough to hold dog biscuits, or saliva soaked, half chewed sticks. He would shove the wee dog into the passenger seat of his wee grey mini-van. After rolling the window down for Charlie, they would both head to Gresham House, via auld Jeannie Bell’s shop for ‘treasure’.
After Charlie had had enough of chasing sticks and running after enticing animal trails, and dad had planked his treasure. They would return in the van and go round the family homes picking up his thirteen grandchildren.
At Gresham House, the sound of excited children and one very excited King Charles bloomed along with the flowers. My father walked behind the eight girls and five boys as they gambolled like young lambs along the path. He would point to a bush or tree and say.
“ I think that’s a Mars bar tree over there. The girls screamed, the dog barked and the older boys self-consciously slouched and rolled their eyes as they walked towards the chosen tree. The first to find the bounteous carrier bag distributed the goodies and the walk continued, for the girls, to the fairy ring, and for the boys, past the eight hundred year old Covenanter tree planted by David King of Scots, to the dungeons and dogs graveyard outside the old Carbarns graveyard.
The kids returned home exercised, and educated with the names of the wild flowers in bloom that day. They would also have found out who was the fastest girl and who was the bravest boy.
Auld Joe, his duty done, would change into his impeccable green suit, his very white shirt (hiding his semmit) with his green bowtie and shiny brogues. He would call a taxi and make his way to his pub, Girdwoods Bar, where he would sit in the corner on HIS bar stool.
Paul Hawthorne is a self employed taxi driver in West Lothian. He has only been scribbling for eighteen months and blames the Sky + box. The Sweetness records everything so even when he tries to watch tele, the box is too busy to accommodate him.