Green Fields on a Dusty Road – page 12 contd.

Jimmy can’t remember a family reunion. All he can gather from his father’s notes and his mother’s vague bits of memory is that his father couldn’t settle down after the war and spent the first few post-war years travelling Britain as a sports journalist and newscaster for BBC radio. Jimmy reckons it was his father’s parents who managed to rein him in, or perhaps the birth of Jimmy’s sister Sheila.

During Jack and Jimmy’s stay with foster parents, their mother (named mum throughout) moved from her family home in Greenock to take refuge in Barnet at her ex-employer’s place where Sheila was born. She moved back to her parents in Greenock some time later. Eventually, Jimmy’s father (named dad throughout) returned to Dundee to stay permanently.

The family reunited in Blantyre Place, West Kirkton, Dundee, Scotland a year and a half after Sheila’s birth where dad had taken up engineering at the UK-Times factory.  He spent many an evening at Dundee University catching up on his engineering degree. Their dad’s affection towards his children seemed to be centred on the only girl, Sheila. He was out of this world – the boys just seemed to be in the way, totally dismissed from any fatherly love that may have taken up a few micro millimetres of his heart.

During Sheila’s baby years the family occasionally had meat and vegetables on Sundays. Mum managed to grow the latter in their small back garden. She did her best, but there never seemed to be enough food on the table. For the boys, there was salted gruel for breakfast, without milk and just a piece of bread spread thinly with jam – no sugar in their tea when dad was present. Burping or farting was not allowed. Warnings came from mum about brown stains that smelt, meaning she had more clothes to wash than necessary. Dad seemed to be excluded from mum’s rules as he farted and burped wherever and whenever he chose.

They weren’t allowed to play in the house. ‘Whee-sht,’ was mum’s usual bark, when they came in after playing and bursting with tales to tell, ‘The baby’s asleep and you’ll upset your father!’

When dad was present it was a house of silence – children were to be seen, not heard. Dad had that from his parents – a Victorian upbringing. It was mostly Jimmy who got to feel his dad’s wrath when dad enveloped one of his cathartic outbursts in the form of slaps on the head or anywhere dad could hit him with his hand or thick leather belt.

In comparison, Jimmy was the more courageous of the two brothers, always out for new adventures. Jack’s pusillanimous character led him to take advantage of Jimmy’s daring by sneakily leading him into disadvantageous situations where Jimmy would get the blame and take the punishment should things go wrong. Jack’s lack of courage or shrinking from taking risks seemed to make Jimmy all the bolder. Jimmy’s reward resulted mostly in him slipping into a scapegoat role that let Jack the pussy off the hook and made Jimmy all the more stubborn.

Dad was a stingy Englishman; a Sassanach snob to top off mum’s saying when she got angry with some of his doings. When people make jokes about the Scots being thrifty they should be ashamed. Jimmy is sure the English spread such tales in order to disguise their own stinginess. Mum on the other hand came from a Scottish working class family. Comparing the two families, Jimmy’s preference was for mum’s relatives, the loving Greenockians.

Jimmy’s reminiscences of the years until he went to school, were years of playing games of cowboys and Indians, goodies and baddies and exploring nature and the area around his home, mostly outdoors and in all weathers.