Sunday, 31 March 2013

A life in letters: Dibden, Charles

I think his name was Charles Dibden – he was a few years ahead of me at Wishaw High School – and I remember him for a singular kindness he showed me. When I was about 15, and a member of the Junior Debating Society I took part, on behalf of the school, at a Public Speaking Competition organised by the local Junior Gavel Club and held at Motherwell Town Hall. My parents dropped me off before the event, and I was to get the ‘bus home to Carluke afterwards. Charles must, I assume have been there to participate in the senior level of the competition – to me, he seemed vastly older and maturer than I was.  My turn came, and I delivered my prepared speech, a rant entitled ‘Wolves in society’ about those who prey on the weak. The winner, however, was a speaker from another school in the area who  seemed younger and more boyish than me and who spoke with such poise, persuasiveness and humour that the moment  he opened his mouth I knew I hadn't a chance of winning. And so it turned out. I caught the 'bus home feeling rather dejected and Charles, whom I presume also lived in Carluke, accompanied me. I believe that his only motive – certainly it was the only motive he articulated - was a brotherly concern that I might be upset not to have won.  He got off at my ‘bus stop, and walked with me to my front gate. I suspect that on the night I was too much wrapped up in myself to respond as openly as his intervention deserved. Certainly I would have preferred space to work through the events of my evening myself. But I have never forgotten what seemed to me to be such a sensitive thoughtfulness.

A life in letters: Motor Show

As a child in the late 1950s and early 1960s I loved attending the Motor Shows held regularly at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow, when it seemed to me that every conceivable make of vehicle was on display. My father was always enthusiastic about cars, and until the last few years of his life remained knowledgeable about, and able to identify many of the new models. My interest was, and remains limited, but as we walked up and down the bustling aisles between the stands what I did enjoy was collecting, simply for the sake of it, the glossy advertising brochures which seemed to be in much more plentiful supply than in later years. Sometimes I had to sneak copies off the coffee tables when the salesmen manning the stalls were deep in discussion with potential clients over carburettors and miles-per-gallon. Curiously, my parents did not discourage this petty pilfering.  I’d fill one or two plastic bags with this material, and at the end of the day carry them back to our car clutched tightly to my chest as the handles would inevitably be on the point of severing due to the weight. Back home, these bags would lie abandoned in the corner of my bedroom for a week or so, before ending up in the bin. It was, I suppose, simply the joy of accumulating.  What I liked most about the Motor Show was the much quieter section at the far end where the latest commercial vehicles were on display. Lorries fascinated me, and there was a special thrill in sitting alone on the top deck of a brand-new bus, its paintwork shiny, its saloons redolent of leather. The fact that it was actually parked inside a building, a secure cocoon within a busy public space only increased the attraction.

A life in letters: Erythema ab igne

It’s erythema ab igne, my father would smile when I was sitting close to the open fire in our house at Westerton, and the expanse of my leg between my short trousers and my woolly grey socks was covered in red blotches. He may also have explained that  ‘ab igne’ comes from Latin, and means ‘from the fire.’ I recall being rather proud of this piece of recondite knowledge and paraded it in appropriate situations where I felt my erudition would impress. Given that my skin returned to its normal condition soon after I left the fireside I suspect that my father’s diagnosis was less than strictly accurate. But it sounded good.