Sunday, 5 April 2009

Fact is stranger than fiction...

.......It is you know. Many years ago when my mother was a young girl, she lived in the south of Glasgow in a housing complex called tenements. These Victorian red stone buildings were a series of dwellings that house four floors of apartments. The entrance to each dwelling is called a close that has stairs leading to the upper floors. In essence they are vertical villages for they housed many families, often several members of one family, to just two rooms called a room and kitchen. Built in a large rectangle, there was a huge central area out the back where the middens were kept for disposing of household rubbish; where the lavvies, (toilets), were placed, where lines and lines of washing hung in addition to the area serving as a great big play pen for the weans to play in. Games of kick the can, hide and seek, postman's knock and spin the bottle could be heard echoing around the area as the weans laughed and screamed in their play. Everyone knew everyone’s business which was sometimes a good thing and sometimes a bad thing too. But in the 1930’s and the great depression, poverty, hardship and struggle were commonplace. Inside toilets were a thing to be dreamed of and tin baths in front of the fire were the norm for a family of ten or so. The luxury of separate bedrooms for the parents let alone the children was something only the wealthy could aspire to. God knows how people with large families survived but certainly with no National Health Service and a visit to the doctor for a prescription costing more than a wage packet denting shilling, infant mortality was high and family health in general was poor. Even so, with little or no contraception to talk of, families continued to grow, stretching the already thin wage packet that if you were lucky, the man of the house brought home on a Friday evening. Jobs were hard to come by during the depression and the sight of men queuing for work on a Monday morning at the steel works would fair break your heart at the desperation of it all as many were turned away, returning home with an acute sense of worry and hopelessness etched firmly on their weary faces. But as my wee mammy used to say, desperate as those times were, families stuck together, looked out for each other, lent each other money when shoes were needed or a loaf of bread meant the difference between going to bed hungry or not. Often when the man of the house had one too many and spent the wages at the pub before coming home as one local Da was prone to do, a kind hearted neighbour would take pity and lend a frantic mother a shilling tae get the weans their dinner.

It was in this vein that my mammy and her sister Aunt T had the regular task of walking the wee wean for the wee wumman upstairs. Her man was away working and so a bit of respite from being a lone parent was my granny’s way of helping her out. Every day, after finishing their chores, mammy and her sister would gleefully run upstairs and bang heavily on the door for the wee wumman played her radio so loud that she often didn’t hear her door go, as we say up north. Grabbing the weans’ buggy, one at the back and one at the front, they’d negotiate the stairs until finally they emerged into the sunlight and wheeled the wean away down the road at speed, making him giggle at the fun of it all. He was a bright wee boy and fell easily to laughter and for this reason my wee mammy and her sister loved taking him out. A few years went by and my mammy and her family moved to better accommodation in the shape of a new council house in a new development in the south of Glasgow.

In time, they thought no more of that little boy until quite a few years later. At first they weren’t quite sure that it was him, for he had changed his surname and now lived in northern England but as details of his life unfolded in the press, there before their eyes was the confirmation that it was THAT little boy; the little boy with the rosy cheeks who would laugh hysterically as they ran so carefree with him all those years before. There he was as bold as brass - Ian Sloane – now known as Ian Brady, the Moors murderer; a serial killer of young children. My mammy said she was so shocked at such a coincidence that she almost didn’t believe it was him.

In a further twist of fate, some years later my younger sister married the son of a Doctor of Psychology who was the director of the southern region for the Open University. I would see her father-in-law regularly for the Open University hired classrooms at the large education and training centre in Milton Keynes where I worked. Had I done my psychology degree course with them at that time, he would likely have been my tutor. We’d often have a chat as our two sets of students frequented the bar before and after dinner and it was expected that lecturers would join their students on the first night for a welcoming drink.

On my way to my desk one morning I stopped at reception to pick up my daily newspaper. In an instant I was drawn to the headlines and photograph on the front page of the Sun newspaper; a red top tabloid noted for its sensationalism in news reporting. There in full Technicolor was my sister's father-in-law presenting Myra Hindley with her psychology degree. To say you could have knocked me down with a feather is an understatement. It struck me as quite strange that first Ian Brady’s connection with my mother and aunt and then his female partner in crime being associated with my sister’s in-laws. It was bizarre and sometime later when I saw my sister’s FIL I asked him about the experience. I can’t tell you what he said as it was a confidence he shared with me and not mine to tell. I can say that he thought it was to be done in private but that Lord Longford, a long time sympathiser and supporter of Hindley had arranged for the press to be present. I can also tell you that it was an experience he was none too fond of. The fact that Hindley was born on the 23rd of July doesn’t thrill me either as we share the same birthday....AAAARRRGGGHHH! Hopefully, that’s where the coincidences end......And, as himself has just read this, he says, hopefully that's where the coincidences end too.

And finally, just as an aside, my sister’s F-I-L is the direct descendant of the man who shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand on the 28th of June 1914, thus technically starting World War 1. The 28th of June is the day I got engaged to the man who was to become my first husband and one of his given names is Wilhelm, same as the archduke.

Strange old world isn’t it?!