When I was wee, we used to flit a lot. My first house was in Milton, north Glasgow. Ornsay Street, off Ashgill Road. I can recall the curve of the stairway, which was a kind of replica of the curve of the street where I played with my first girlfriend, Judy. Recently I went back for a look, went for a walk, and was utterly appalled by a sense of abject poverty and got out quick.
We moved to Dowanside Road in Glasgow’s west end. Gentrified now, but a bit rough back then. It was a ground floor flat, with a basement. There was a “speaking tube” between upstairs and downstairs by which no doubt those and such as those could summon the help in a bygone age. There was a common green out the back. Our neighbours were called Heeney. My cousin bullied the Heeney boy mercilessly. Considering the name, this might have had a sectarian connotation. I was reminiscing about the Heeneys with my parents in a Lochalsh Hotel about twelve years ago. We were in a public room and speaking in whispers, as you do in the Gaidhealtachd. An English family group at the next table were eavesdropping, which is quite acceptable, especially as I was eavesdropping on them.
“They’re talking about their neighbours.”
“No, dammit! HEENEY!” By this time, I was in hysterics.
Then we moved a quarter of a mile up to Crown Road North. At this point we were cohabiting with my aunt and uncle, et famille. I hesitate to attempt to explain the convolutions of my family’s domestic arrangements because they are so bizarre, but basically my mum and her three sisters had entered the business of care of the elderly (note this, for this blog does have a point in the end) and were opening up nursing homes in Glasgow’s west end.
It was from Crown Road North that I went to school, in Hyndland, I guess just under a mile away. I really ought to have gone to Dowanhill but mum and dad thought Hyndland was the better option so I snuck in by some dodgy arrangement. Not that I appreciated it. On day two I thought, this is definitely not for me! And scarpered. I went home. I was promptly delivered back to school. I can’t remember my reaction to that, but I can’t say I’ve ever regretted my decision to do that runner.
Incidentally, there was no such thing as “the school run”. Apart from anything else, nobody from our social class owned a car. But me and my pals, all of us 5 year olds, we went everywhere we had to go, unaccompanied, on our own two feet.
Our next move was to Garscadden. Millburn Ave. Why is it that Glasgow suburbs have such desperate names? Auchinshoogle, Stobhill, Riddrie… This was away in the far north-west, miles out of area, but once you’re in, you’re in. So every day it was the No 6 bus from its terminus to Broomhill Cross, and the 10, 10A, or 44 (whichever turned up first) to Clarence Drive. Millburn Ave was a cold house. I recall we had a paraffin heater which just took the edge off it. Oddly enough, in this arctic region, I have a nostalgia for the arrival of the ice cream van.
Next up, the definitive move (I suppose my parents would have thought of it as that) to Rowallan Gardens. A leafy suburb in the west end. I don’t think it was easy for them. The bank was rather snooty about the whole thing. In the end it went ahead because my mum, a trained nurse, took on the care of an elderly lady (in the Gaidhealtachd, a cailleach), and thus assured an extra source of income, which my father dutifully paid into the bank every week. It was a terraced house in a street of character and the walk for me to school took seven minutes. I was seven years old.
Sometimes I take a walk along Rowallan Gardens and past our old house. It recently went on the market and out of curiosity I looked it up on line and did a virtual tour of the old haunts. I must say the improvements were considerable, although the old place was still recognisable. In the end it went for such a vast, eye watering sum that I thought, what’s this all about? It’s only bricks and mortar, a heap of rubble, slightly organised. Get a grip! It crossed my mind to have a look round, as a bogus potential vendor. I just had this great urge to walk up the garden path and be greeted by Jet, cross between a lab and a collie, our beloved dog. But I forget we had a standing feud with our neighbours who, incensed by my brother endlessly playing the piano, and me endlessly playing the viola, would turn their radio up to ghetto-blaster proportions. You forget the bad stuff.
How the hell did I get started into all this? O yes, I tuned into the Andrew Marr show on Sunday morning, as is my wont, and gathered there is a particular preoccupation at the moment about Health and Social Care, and its seamless alignment. Everybody knows that the current state of play in the NHS is that you arrive in “A & E” as a “casualty” (I use inverted commas to indicate that these obsolete and inhuman expressions are to be vilified, reviled, and eschewed), you wait for a period in excess of 4 hours (the shadow politicians prefer the expression “wait” for they would not have you know that something beneficent might be happening to you while you “wait”), and you find you cannot get to the ward because of “access block”. “Access block” occurs because the frail and elderly, who are cramming the wards, cannot be discharged (despite the fact that they no longer need to be there) because they have nowhere to go; that is to say, the provision of “social care” at home is inadequate.
I put all this into the context of my childhood domestic arrangements because it occurs to me that a generation ago, the idea of a crisis in social care would not really have been generally understood. The reason why no problem would have been flagged is that both child care and care of the elderly would have been deemed to be the responsibility of the family unit. In days of yore, one family member would have been the bread winner, and one would have run the household. Can you imagine how it would go down now if a politician were to say to the electorate, in order to care for your parents and children, it is best that you be in a stable relationship and that one of you (no need to stipulate which one) quit work, accept a diminishment of spending power, and devote yourself to running the household.