An Easterhouse Summer.
Nobody had a veranda in the tenements of Shettleston or in the wee flats where we lived. Nothing so exotic, we just had a close entry in the front and a close exit out the back.
Out the back among the wandering dogs- some stray and growling, ripping up the bins with one anxious eye on you and some dogs you knew like they were your own kin.
Laddie, Charlie, Bonnie and Lassie all with a friendly tail wagging welcome but no patience for yet another tuggy haired wean annoying them. Cats that ran quiet and sleekit through the railings that divided up the back courts for those who valued territory in the places that nurtured TB, washing ropes and wee women with big sheets pegged out and flapping like the sails of boats in a high wind.
Wee teenage wives with a floral apron wrapped around them, tied at the waist like their mammies showed them, trying to catch the ends of the startlingly white bed linen to stop it wrapping around the rope. She’d smell the sheets and smile as it no longer reeked of the secret aroma of men, booze and sticky babies that crawled in beside them in the night. The walk up the close to her own wee flat with her empty washing basket under her arm as she viewed her domain from the close window.
But the veranda, oh the veranda…that my auntie had in her flat in Easterhouse held such allure for me. It was a balcony off your living room, it was no longer Easterhouse it was Italy, it was looking out over an azure sea, it was no longer an urban ghetto on the farmlands of Gartloch, it was like something from a movie I had saw on the telly. I yearned for a veranda.
The summer’s we spent up at her flat, plastic shoes skidding about the landings and a van that came with ice cream. It was like heaven to me.
You were in your house BUT not in your house, you were on the veranda…a word I had to practise saying as it was so foreign to me. Me and my mammy sat on the big green bus up to Auntie’s and the sun would burn me through the bus window.
All the houses looked the same but not like the black tenements, these ones were covered in grey and brown pebbles and six to a block.
Many had veranda’s, some used them to store bikes or hang out a washing.
My auntie’s veranda had a pot plant and chairs.
The view looked out over the loch and towards the big Victorian mental hospital with scary turrets, but if you shut your eyes and let the sun warm your body you could be in Paris. On a balcony or whatever the French word is for veranda.
Auntie Betty would bring out crusty rolls filled with thick gammon with a big cup of Kia Ora orange juice. Nothing tasted better. She would turn on her radio and sing along to ‘Lola and Yellow River’ as she organised the seating then we would all sit there in the sunshine watching the comings and goings of the people of Easterhouse. I would listen to the gossip as I stroked her big black and white dog Sheba.
“Margaret’s man was back in the jail, big Izzy was on new nerve tablets and a woman called Fiona lost a baby” I wanted to ask where she lost it and couldn’t we all go look for it but something inside made me know it wasn’t that ‘kind of lost’ and best not to ask.
I never wanted to leave the veranda, but the ice cream van came and I had some pennies to get a cone. I would run downstairs, wait the queue, get my ice cream cone and belt back up to the veranda.
When I came back my mammy and Auntie Betty were topping up vodka with dark warm cola and taking off their stockings and shoes to get ‘some air about them’.
Mammy would lie her head back as she smoked and would relax on the wall of the veranda and Auntie Betty would be taking off her bra under her jumper as she gripped her ciggie hard in her mouth. “A special trick” she giggled as she nodded at me.
Everything would go quiet and we would soak in the sun on the glorious wonderful veranda. We sat there until the sun went away over the back of the bus terminus. My mammy sang and Betty cried and they both cuddled me as they got drunk.
They shouted across friendly conversations to other women sitting on veranda’s across from them. Soon it was time to get the big green bus and leave the magical veranda behind us.
Many years later when Betty and my mammy were long dead and gone, I was in New Zealand on tour doing comedy with my daughter Ashley.
I opened the sliding door to the hotel balcony and stepped out in the bright sunshine and shut my eyes.
I sat down and turned my face up to the sun, I could almost smell the gammon roll and I could hear ‘Lola’ playing on someone’s radio.
I slipped my fingers up my jumper and took my bra off, I rolled up my jeans and I let the memory wash over me. I could hear my mammy’s voice, I could see the dog sitting at my feet — the visions of Easterhouse came into my mind.
I was back on the veranda.