Renfrewshire Council

Musings of the Tannahill Makar: Shaking hands with Christmas past

The following three poems I've written because my mind asked the question, why do I sometimes feel a heightened sense of sadness when Christmas comes around? Is it because of COVID this year? Shouldn't be because it seems to happen annually.

I think we cannot help but shake hands with Christmases past, by that I mean memories, people, places and the whole gambit of sensory connections we have stored in our souls. So the following is my personal take on the subject. If you're of a mind to it'd be interesting to put your own thoughts down on paper. Sometimes a Christmas stroll down memory lane can be uplifting as well as sad. Whatever it is I feel it's programmed into us and we can't resist the shaking hands with it.

 

THE FIRE AND THE TREE

Christmas-Eve.

Mum cleaned the grate of yesterday's fireplace
replenished it with crumpled newspaper, kindling, adding course-coal
she lit, gently puffing her cheeks, blowing to fan the new-born flame.

She'd stand the coal-shovel
against the flu
fronted by a spread open newspaper
to create a vacuum that sucked the flame to life.

With his little poker, brush and shovel set,
dad would poke, jab and prod the spitting coals,
brush the sooty dirt from the hearth.

In the sixties, the tree's pine-needle scent
seemed stronger when it hadn't been sprayed
to make it last in pristine condition.

We luxuriated in anticipating 
the inevitable early shedding
resulting in the living room rug
having its own carpet of green needles.

But, till then, the sprigs, alive
weighted down with homemade
gummed paper decorations
and small wax candles clipped and flickering their spell.

With almond, brazil and hazelnuts
in German decorated bowels
at the base of the tree no gifts, only

a glass of Schnapps, a saucer of Lebkuchen biscuits
and a carrot, of course.

All this as dad dozed
the remains of an early-shift in his chair
after his 4:00 am start the day before
driving the Clockwork Orange.

Round and round and round in the dark tunnel.

Early on I'd ask if it was time to go to bed
because I'd be in such a hurry the next morning
to ask if it was time to get up.


THE QUILT AND THE BOOK

Christmas Day.

I'd waken, buried under a giant's pillow
filled with the million feathers
that was my continental quilt mum had hand-made.
I asked if it was time to get up.

My council house room appropriately cold for Christmas day
the ice freezing the insides of my windows.
But in the living room,
the coal fire spat its welcome against the mesh-fireguard.

At the base of the tree Santa's glass and saucer empty
and the reindeer's carrot gone,
Instead, a few brightly wrapped presents.

One that I held with my fingertips.

Feeling its shape.
Sniffing for a clue through the wrapping.
Raising it up and down to gauge its weight.
Tapping it with my knuckle to hear its sound.

The Sherlock Holmes in me
deducted an annual ... which one though?

The Dandy, The Beano, The Hotspur,
The Valiant, Roy of the Rovers, The Eagle,
The Wizard, Oor Wullie or The Broons?

With Gorgeous Gus, The Tough of the Track,
Wilson the Wonder from Winter Island,
Dan Dare and the Mekons,
Wee Eck, P.C. Murdoch, or Maw & Paw Broon.

The cracking of the spine.
The aroma of fresh pages.The black of Indian-ink.
The imagination of escapism.

The headiness of it all,
a branding I still carry to this very day.


THE BALL AND THE BOOTS

Boxing Day.

Charlie Boyd, he'd got the boots,
Adidas high ankled leather boots.
Black with three white vertical stripes
and screw-in studs.
Each boot a thing of beauty.

Me, I didn't get boots but ...
I'd got a leather Panel, Size 5, football.

The leather was porous so the wetter it got
the heavier it got even when you dubbined it
and if you headed the knotted lace after it rained
there was a danger you could knock yourself out.

Still, a thing of beauty.

So, cared not a jot.

That day it snowed
and the pitch at St. Pius school
had a good covering with the snow still falling
obliterating all the lines so you couldn't see
if the ball was in play or not.

As I said, we didn't care,
didn't feel the cold,
imagined we were playing for Scotland at Wembley.

His boots ... my ball
we took to the field, us two, determined
to have our game at all costs.

Charlie was Dennis Law
I was Eric Caldow.

Eric Caldow chipped over a cross
that Dennis Law first timed past Gordon Banks
and Charlie and I wheeled with our arms aero-planing

Momentarily crunching two solitary tracks of footprints
in the still falling snow.

Brian Whittingham


Published 24 December 2020