this (pen­i­tent) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Jim Hous­ton

When I was a lad grow­ing up in the 1950s in the Glas­gow ten­e­ments, my friends and I reg­u­larly used to raid the gar­den of the only large house in our area for pears, goose­ber­ries, ap­ples — what­ever was grow­ing.

The house was in­hab­ited by a Mr Gart­side, who was in charge of the Glas­gow Parks and Gar­dens. We talked of this place as though it were an or­chard, but it was just a big gar­den.

Our ac­tiv­i­ties were naughty, and we knew it, but it was fun for wee boys who didn’t have gar­dens them­selves. Most of the fruit wasn’t ripe; that didn’t mat­ter, the ex­cite­ment was the thing.

One day, a few of us went on a lunchtime raid. We must have made a lot of noise — like a herd of ele­phants com­ing through the yard.

The gar­dener ap­peared and we all scarpered, but I was caught. He got me by the scruff of the neck, ex­tracted my name and ad­dress, and marched me un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously down the road to our ten­e­ment, in the full and em­bar­rass­ing view of the neigh­bour­hood.

My mother was so an­gry she didn’t speak at first. Her look said it all. She sent me away to get washed and changed into my Sun­day best. I was then marched back to the “large house”, again in full view of our neigh­bours, and as we ap­proached the front door I was ter­ri­fied.

I was made to knock on the door and ask to speak to the “lady of the house”. When she ap­peared, I stum­blingly apol­o­gised, promis­ing never to steal from her gar­den again. It was a prom­ise I never broke. In ret­ro­spect, I’m sure the adults were all hav­ing a quiet lit­tle gig­gle about the turn of events. Wee boys nick­ing fruit; it’s not ex­actly the crime of the cen­tury.

How­ever, it was an im­por­tant silent mes­sage for me. Noth­ing was said, no whacks or belt­ings de­liv­ered. I was just made to re­alise I had done the wrong thing.

What Dad said that night when he came home from work I don’t re­mem­ber. I was rightly made to feel that I’d shamed the fam­ily, although it was never said ex­plic­itly.

My friends and I stopped our gar­den raids forth­with, though I’m sure we found other mis­chief to be­come in­volved in.

Of course, there was no po­lice in­volve­ment, and I have no stain on my record. I don’t even think we had social work­ers back then. What would hap­pen nowa­days would be rather dif­fer­ent, of course.

I re­ceived no coun­selling for trauma. Why the heck should I? My mother didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day. This had a great ef­fect on me, which I now know was the point. I’ve never for­got­ten it.

Les­son learned.

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