“Come on! Quickly! Hurry up! Your coat or your cape?” Decisions. If I wore my cape, I could pretend I was a superhero, but the cape had a stupid cap to match; the coat was pink, a colour both loathsome and loathed, but it had big buttons that I could do up myself, and the hat was a fuzzy white beret with two pompoms. “Coat.” “Right. Pop it on then. Daddy’s getting the car out. Gloves? Pop your penny inside your glove so you don’t lose it. Ready? Oops. Lipstick. Don’t tell your grandmother.”
Sunday. Phew. There were so many Sundays in life! “Quick. Hop in. Mind the gear stick. Sitting down? Right. We're off then.” The Beetle juddered and jiggled to life instantly. What was it Woody Allen said in Sleeper? Wow, they really built those things. And with my father at the wheel, a perfect driving combination I deeply resented on Sunday mornings. “I’m cooooold!” “Have you not got your buttons done up? Don’t suck your fingers, now, you’ll ruin your glove…” The Sunday odyssey. The other church was nearer, but my mother’s parents-in-law would be there, my grandfather taking the service with his quasi-apocalyptic sermons, all fire and thunder, his voice expanding to fill the cavernous nave and rattling the bells before dropping to a mere coaxing, beady-eyed whisper. He thorough enjoyed making people squirm, watching them start to feel uncomfortable in their skin, particularly my mother. And my grandmother was….my grandmother. Turban, brooch, black Sunday coat. My mother and my grandmother together, “Hello, good morning, good morning my dear, it’s terribly cold, isn’t it, yes, yes, but of course it is February, yes, yes, goodness look at all the fallen leaves, you would think someone would…yes yes you would wouldn’t you terrible isn’t it…” Thin smiles on the lips only, words muttered as quickly as possible then look away, dig for something in handbags, spot a neighbour.
So we went to the other church, the one across the road from the Big School. A strange thing happened at that church, though, every Sunday: as soon as you set foot through the door, families, the veritable pillar of the community, were separated. Children this way, gentlemen to the left, ladies to the right. For me, trustingly herded off with the children, the greatest excitement of the morning was seeing who was leading Sunday School that day.
“Good morr ning, chill dren” the short hiatus of well-spoken Glasgow. “GOOD MORRRNING” “Have you all left your coats on the coat pegs?” “YES, MISS CAMPBELL”. The slowly drawn out chorus of twenty or thirty freshly washed, shiny scrubbed faces and necks, and comb-slicked heads. “Lettuce spray.” A unison soprano mumble, slow, monotonous “Forgive us our debts and we’ll forgive our daughters” “Well done, children. Sit down please.” Thwump. Splatch. Twenty or thirty Sunday-clothed bottoms hit the floor, twenty or thirty moon-pale faces look expectantly at Scotland’s answer to a young bespectacled Nana Mouskouri in a short tartan skirt and white leatherette knee boots with zips up the side.
It was the job of this school boys’ dream to share with us stories of the tribes of Israel, loaves of bread and fishes (and a Mummy fishy too), lame men who picked up their beds and walked, tombs with huge stones that could move by themselves, and affable young men with multicoloured coats. “..and his brothers were really very jealous of him – do you know what jealous means Kenneth?” “Aye, Muss Cambull” “…and so they stole his….” I wonder what we’re having for lunch today. I wonder if they’ll make me go with Grandpa to pick up Aunt Mabel. “…. And does anyone remember what his Daddy was called?” “Jacob! It wuz Jacob!” “Aye, it was, dear, well done…”. Aunt Mabel is scary, she’s older than the Bible and the multicoloured coat and Jacob all put together. Even older than Miss Campbell. Her voice is made of greaseproof paper and she shakes and her cup rattles and her cutlery clatters and her soup goes ssssssslpsssst as she extracts it from the spoon and she holds her bowl the wrong way round so it tilts away from her and if she ever falls over she'll snap. Oh I hope we’re not going to get Aunt Mabel today. “Halleluyah. Amen!” AMEN. LET’S COLOUR!
It was also Miss Campbell’s job to take us single file – in a crocodile, as we called it – into the church, where we occupied the front pews, dangling feet swinging wildly, and answered a question or two cast our way from the pulpit during the “family” service. Then a hymn or two, and home, after the weekly up-date on the life of the parish and its nephews, outside on the crunchy church driveway. To keep myself awake during the sermon and, later, to stop myself from dozing off while vertical as I stood behind my parents’ legs during the ‘after-chat’, I resorted to my white hat. The one that meant the wearing of the pink coat. This hat, essentially a beret, had two small holes in the centre of the crown, and a white cord had been thoughtfully threaded through these holes before having a fluffy white pompom-ball attached to each end. If I pulled on one ball slowly, it slid downwards causing the other pompom to glide upwards. And if I did it fast enough, I could disconcert the minister. “ ..AND JUST THEN….mmm…I think I just saw…no…umm….so…what?... as I was saying… AND AN ANGEL…”. Once outside, while my parents discussed the progress of the pregnancy, a recipe heard on the Jimmy Young show, or the bleak outlook for the Scottish shipyards dependant on US investment given the precarious situation in Vietnam, I played at helicopters, moving my head in ever faster circles so that my pompoms whizzed around and around with glee, completely oblivious to my sister’s pending arrival, Charlotte pudding or mass unemployment and My Lai.
CUT. Next scene.