Stained Glass Memories by Bob Trotter

By

Bob Trotter

When I was a small boy my granny’s street was a kaleidoscope of colour, depending on how far I could stretch up to stare through the different panes of stained glass on her front door. Some days it was blue, sometimes yellow and on other occasions red or green. My granny lived in Greenland St just off the Shankill Road and it was a place that my parents took me to every Saturday with my brother and sister.

It wasn’t a big street, or a big house but it threw up a wealth of characters and memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was a happy street, and my granny’s house was a happy house, especially on a Saturday when all her family gathered. It was a street where you didn’t have to lock your door and where the neighbours didn’t have to knock to come in but merely open the stained glass door and shout, “Are you in Nellie?” And my granny was always in. Nobody was ever turned away, no matter who they were, girls from the office opposite to use the loo, or mechanics from the top of the street to boil their kettle. My granny’s door was open to everyone, even men running from the peelers.

You see on Saturday afternoons at the top of the street opposite Brady’s Lane, a crowd of men used to gather to play “pitch and toss.” Now for those of you who don’t know, this was a game were five halfpennies were placed on a long flat stick and tossed into the air. The men would then bet on how many would fall as heads and how many tails. And back in those days it must have been the most serious crime that the constabulary had to deal with because they were always trying to raid it. The local men however weren’t daft and had a network of lookouts, mostly young fellahs, posted at every street corner to warn of the police’s arrival.

On a given signal the halfpennies and the stick would be lifted and the men would scatter, and as my granny was only round the corner some of them would run into her house. You could be sitting on a Saturday afternoon when the door would burst open and a crowd of men come rushing into the wee front room. “Alright Mrs Thompson, can we go on through?”

“Alright son, aye go on ahead.” Then they would tramp through the scullery and out into the back yard where they would all huddle round for a smoke and a chat, and when the coast was clear they would thank my granny and go back up the street to continue their illegal gambling, which never did anyone any harm.

Then there was oul Matt and Nellie Todd. They were the local inebriates and every Saturday they would fall out of Owen Duffy’s pub in Cargyll St to their own house just across the road and beat seven bells out of each other. Oul Matt used to be a boxer and you would have thought that would have given him an advantage over Nellie, but believe me by the state of Matt sometimes Nellie give as good as she got. My wee sister Barbara was terrified of her, and every time Nellie appeared she would come running into the house as if the devil himself was after her, and to be honest, that was something me and my big brother took advantage of, because if Barbara didn’t do what we wanted, like share her sweets or something, we would say, “We’ll get Nellie Todd for you.” Big brothers can be really cruel sometimes.

On the odd occasion Matt would have been sober and look almost respectable, but in all my years going to my granny’s I don’t think I ever saw Nellie anything else but full. You would have heard her in the street shouting abuse and expletives to anyone who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. One day I remember she took particular exception to a car that was parked opposite my granny’s in Dayton St. After cursing at the car and its driver for some time, she decided to take off her slippers and leave them sitting on the car’s bonnet. Then off she staggered back home, bare foot, effing and blinding as she went. Now, what harm she had thought she had done by leaving her carpet slippers on the car’s bonnet, I have absolutely no idea, but that was Nellie.

Another character that will always be dear to me was a wee woman called Maggie Jane. Maggie Jane was tiny and hadn’t a bar in her grate, but when she laughed you could have heard her in Woodvale Park at the top of the Shankill. Her and my granny had been friends for years. Apparently towards the end of the war, Maggie Jane fell ill and my granny made extra dinner every day and took it round to her house in Boundary St in a wee pot for the princely sum of five bob a week, just till she got back on her feet. But it must have been the longest illness in history, because almost 40yrs later she was still doing it, and still only charging five bob a week.

I remember one day Maggie came into my granny’s carrying a very large shopping bag full of heavy books. My granny looked at her. “Are you goin’ to the library Maggie? When did you start goin’ to the library?” Maggie laughed that raucous, infectious laugh of hers and her face lit up which exposed her toothless gums.

“Me go to the library. You must be joking Nellie. What the hell would I want to go to the library for?”

“Well you’ve got a big shopping bag full of books,” replied my granny. Maggie tapped the side of her nose.

“I’ll tell ye what they’re for Nellie. There’s an awful bloody oul wind out there today and these are to stop me bein’ blown aff my feet into the middle of the road.”

“Aye well, that’s a good idea,” replied my granny, “as long as ye have enough room for your messages.”And do you know what; it must have worked because I don’t remember Maggie Jane ever getting blown aff her feet into the middle of the road, so maybe there was a method in her madness after all.

In all the years I knew Maggie Jane she had nothing, except a bad tempered mangy looking cat that would attack you for no apparent reason, and a black and white TV which she watched until the wee white dot faded off the screen. Her house was so small that as soon as you walked in through the front door you were halfway up the stairs, but she was the happiest, most jovial wee woman that I can ever remember. She took me and my brother to our first pictures to see Mary Poppins and the whole audience were in fits, not at the film, but at Maggie Jane laughing. That is only one of a rainbow of memories that will stay with me forever.

Unfortunately however as we all know, life’s circle moves and things inevitably change and all those oul characters are gone now. Then about thirteen years ago my uncle Hughie, who was the last one to live in my granny’s died, and with his passing, closed a chapter of my life. The last time I was at my granny’s was to help clear out the house and give the keys back to the man from Executive, and when we had finished, it suddenly struck me that I would never be in that wee house again and I am not ashamed to say that I cried my heart out. Before we left though and pulled the big outer door I walked back inside and stood with my eyes closed and for a few seconds I was transported back in time, to a happier, more innocent time. A time when neighbours all knew each other and looked out for each other, a time of joy and a time of laughter. Then, even though I was a grown man, I became a small boy again and looked out onto Greenland St through the different coloured panes of my granny’s stained glass door for the very last time.