Sunday, July 20, 2008


I remember ....

I remember a time around 1965 when I was on a bus with my first real girlfriend. We were sixteen and had spent this Friday night at the movies. I guess the time was around half past ten or so when we boarded the bus at the town's main bus station, elegantly situated next to the abbatoir. This was a time when few people of my acquaintance owned a car and bus travel was not just a convenience, it was one of life's basic necessities. The bus station had a row of about eight stances, the closest one to the abbatoir door being Grieve Road, then Braeside, Fancyfarm, Larkfield, Branchton and so on, these being Greenock's outlying council housing schemes.

At that time of night, in my memory it's autumn and chilly, the bus shelters were packed inside with queues of hopeful passengers tailing outside and usually on a Friday night a one-legged man would be playing the clarinet on the traffic island opposite. In those days the pubs shut at ten o'clock so he could usually count on a generous audience as the crowds waited for the buses home. He played the kind of tunes popular to the over forties of that era, people who had experienced war and rationing and who worked and endured and got through things together.

After a while our bus arrived and we rushed on and secured a seat upstairs not far from the back. Of course upstairs was the smoking area and the atmosphere was a fug of cigarette smoke, beery breath, Soir de Paris, and Old Spice. There was a group of older men and women at the back of the bus and some of them were neigbours of my girlfriend. There was a bit of friendly banter directed towards us and generally a bit of taking the mickey out of me for being shy and gauche with my first real girlfriend.

As the bus trundled through town's dark streets the crowd upstairs began singing. The song took over and soon almost everyone upstairs was happily belting out an old classic called Dear Hearts And Gentle People It was one of those scenes which seemed, just for a fleeting moment as other passengers joined in the song, to capture the feeling of a community full of hope and love for each other. I know that I am idealising something which, even as I was experiencing it, was changing. Post-war deprivation had developed into the relative prosperity of the fifties and early sixties and for a while there was a kind of stability and comfort in full employment and affordable housing. Greenock's shipyards, sugar refineries and mills were booming. There was a promising future ahead for the young people on that bus, or so it seemed.

I miss them, those dear hearts and gentle people who lived and loved in my home town all those years ago. I miss the factories and the shipyards and wee men in bunnets and tackety boots, who worked in hard trades like moulder and boilermaker and welder and shipwright. That's what people had back then; work and self-respect. Because the promising future slowly evaporated as the yards, mills and sugar refineries closed down and twenty years after that Friday night bus journey the destination posted on the front of that bus had become a byword for deprivation and drug dependent hopelessness.

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