Author(s): Andrina Connell
Copyright holder(s): Andrina Connell
He sighed. The bairns who had eagerly pulled apples and oranges, pencils and pennies, from those socks were long grown. He sighed again and wished Peggy was sitting opposite him. But Peggy was in hospital, recovering from an emergency appendix operation, and he was here in his daughter’s swanky villa.
He could hear Susan ben the hoose in the lounge as he was constantly reminded to call the front room. By Jove, Archie reckoned, she was giving it some redd oot. As if it needed it. The room aye looked that spick and span. Wisny he no near terrified to walk on the carpet, for didny a trail o’ footprints follow him across the pale blue Wilton. As for sittin on the pearl grey leather settees, you would need an apron on your bahookie for fear o’ marking them.
He wondered if women were programmed to clean for Christmas. Days past Ne’erday was the high day and holiday. Christmas Day had been an ordinary working day, unless it was a Sunday. But, come Hogmanay, Peggy aye went daft shifting furniture, changing curtains and cushion covers, cajoling him into touching up paintwork that she had jist washed down and buffed up. Not this year, he sighed. Poor Peggy was lying, aw peely wally, in a hospital bed. She looked hardly able to move the bedmat, tucked in tight roon aboot her lik a wrapped loaf, faur less move furniture. Archie had done the moving – to his daughter’s posh home.
He cast his mind back to the morning Peggy went into the hospital. It was the day of the pensioners’ Christmas Lunch in the church hall. Peggy was feeling a bit off colour.
“It must have been that salmon sandwich I had at Jean Taylor’s,” she said, rubbing her abdomen. “Or maybe that shell pie I ate last night wasn’t as fresh as it could have been. Just you go yourself Archie. I’ll make myself some hot milk.”
“Pit a wee tate brandy in it hen,” Archie suggested and went off to the pensioners’ do quite joco.
They put on a fair spread for them and the concert party was a scream. A right bonny lassie sang but the man, a baritone he cried his sel, would have been better singing dumb Archie thought.
At half time they got the purvey and he bumped into Jack McKay. They were both reaching for the same cream cake. Laying the cake on his plate, Archie licked the cream off his fingers and grinned at his old pal. He hadn’t seen Jack for dunkeys. They were due a good natter over a hauf and a hauf pint.
It was coming up for six o’clock when Archie got off the bus for the short walk home. As he turned the corner an ambulance, lights flashing, siren sounding, drove out the street. Some poor soul, got his sel a heart attack for Christmas, he thought, walking on.
It was Archie who nearly go the heart attack when his salmon sandwich-toting neighbour met him at his door.
“Thank hivens yer hame Archie.” Jean Taylor grabbed his arm. “Your Peggy’s jist away in that amblance wi her appendix. The doaktur was here an got your Susan on the phone. Her man’s coming here to take you tae the hostipule.”
Just at that David, his son-in-law, drew up in his car. He thanked Mrs Taylor for her help and got Archie into the house. Over a cup of tea David explained what had happened. They were to wait until Susan phoned from the hospital.
“I only had a wee drink, honest son. Jist a hauf an a haul pint an A niver even swallied that fur it was flat.” Archie excused his lateness on getting home. “I hadny seen Jack since Moses wiz in his basket and Peggy tolt me tae go on ma tod. Dae ye think she’ll be okay? Is she no kinda auld tae be havin an appendix?”
His son-in-law warned, “Don’t you let her hear you say she’s too old for anything.”
The phone rang and Archie signalled that David should answer it. The news was that Peggy was about to be taken into theatre to have her appendix removed. So Archie was taken to his daughter’s home in one of Glasgow’s more salubrious districts.
He was very proud of his family’s success. His son Tom, a prosperous accountant, lived and worked in London with his wife and family. They were due home for Hogmanay. He put up a wee prayer that Peggy would be home, safe and well, by then.
She was propped up in her hospital bed when Archie got in to see her next morning. She smiled at him, ruefully.
“I thought my appendix would have shrivelled up by this time but, I’m telling you, I’m more than glad they got it out of there. That was worse than having a baby.”
“Don’t worry hen,” Archie assured her. “The means o going aboot that has long since shrivelled up.”
“Oh Archie, don’t make me laugh. My stitches!” Peggy protested.
The wry smile was still on his face when Susan came into the room to jolt him back to the present.
“Dad,” she chided gently, “you don’t need to sit and suck an empty pipe. I don’t mind you having a smoke.”
“Thanks lass,” he said. “But I jist like holding it. For comfort, like.”
“Well just you light up whenever you feel like it. Your big son’s been on the phone and I’ve convinced him he doesn’t need to come up any earlier than planned. That’s okay, isn’t it?”
Archie nodded. He was touched by the care and attention his family were bestowing on him and Peggy but he didn’t have the words to say so.
“Fiona’s been on the phone too,” Susan went on. “Her train gets onto Queen Street Station at ten past four.” Fiona, his granddaughter, was at Aberdeen University. “I’ll give you the money for a taxi and you can go in to meet her.”
“I thought we were going to the hospital to see your mother this afternoon.”
Susan busied herself rearranging Christmas cards on the mantelpiece. “We’ve not to go in this afternoon. They’re getting ready for an extra long visiting tonight. For Christmas Eve.” She smiled at her father. “Going into town will keep you busy.”
Aye, and out from under your feet, thought Archie. Still, a wee jaunt would do him no harm. He would go on the bus and keep the taxi fare. It was as well in his pocket as a taxi driver’s.
He set off, a ten pound note safe in his wallet. He had promised Susan he would get a taxi at the Cross but if a bus came first – well. He turned to wave to her. The big silver Christmas tree, its abundant and identical blue satin baubles gleaming in the glow from the twinkling lights, framed Susan like a huge halo. She must have got her good looks and nature from her mother, he reflected. He decided to get her a wee extra for her Christmas.
The town was mobbed with last minute Christmas shoppers as Archie made his way from the bus stance. Glasgow had fair altered over the years and, he considered, not always for the better. The huge greenhouse known as the St Enoch Centre couldn’t hold a candle to the magnificence of the station hotel building that had once dominated the Square.
The red sandstone underground station building, though now a travel information office, still graced the centre of the Square and looked, for all the world, like a mini Kremlin. He walked on into Argyle Street, mourning the old Glasgow, not least the lack of Christmas lights swinging across the busy street. Eventually he reached the emporium he still called the Polytechnic.
Every year, when Susan and Tom were wee, he would leave Peggy to parcel presents in peace while he took the weans to see the special window displays which Lewis’s Polytechnic put on for Christmas. Scenes showed seasonal characters like Snowhite and her seven dwarves, Little Red Riding Hood and many more. Live bunny rabbits scampered around the animated figures, along with puppies and kittens, while songbirds swung on perches. Children stood before the shop windows, fascinated. There were more displays inside the store where queues of eager boys and girls waited their turn to speak to Santa Claus in his Grotto set out in the toy department.
There were no such displays today. The ground floor of the Argyle Street landmark was now given over to separate shops. Archie didn’t recognise one name among them. And this year Peggy would open her Christmas presents in a hospital bed. Archie sighed for Peggy and days past.
Turning into Queen Street the statue of Wellington, capped with a traffic cone, got Archie tut-tutting. Whenever the powers that tried to be removed the cone it was replaced before they had driven out the street. But, Archie admitted, the statue still managed to look imposing. The Duke, astride his huge horse had the backdrop of the elegant pillared entrance to Stirling Library to help preserve his dignity. Archie couldn’t make out whether his spurs were worn back to front, as some folk would have you believe. He wondered what the Iron Duke would make of modern times.
Turning from the statue he stopped in his tracks. George Square was ablaze with strings of coloured lights, the City Chambers looked like a fairy castle and a tall tree twinkled its Christmas message over the statues ranked round the Square.
Glasgow can still flourish, pure dead brilliant, Archie thought, walking on to the station.
Fiona’s face lit up as she spied her grandfather. Once through the barrier she hugged him tightly.
“Just what I wanted for Christmas. A tall, dark, handsome fellow to cuddle,” she grinned then asked, “How’s Gran?”
“Near as impudent as you, you wee clip,” he smiled fondly then frowned, “Have you no coat? You’ll be froze.”
Fiona threw a long scarf over one shoulder, hitched an enormous bag over the other and tucked her arm into his.
“You can stand me a coffee to heat me up. First I’ve to get something in Buchanan Street, a special present for Gran. Come on.” And they left the station.
At the sight of George Square’s glittering decorations Fiona drew in her breath.
“Listen,” she said. A band was playing ‘Away in a manger’. “It really is Christmas.” And she laughed happily as they turned right to cross a queue of crawling cars and walk on through the canyon of tall buildings. Finally, turning left, they found themselves in Buchanan Street’s shove of shoppers. Fiona stopped outside a shop.
“In here,” she instructed.
Archie followed until Fiona found what she was looking for. She handed him a large glossy book for inspection.
“Crivens!” he said. “It’s the recipes from the war. Your Gran’ll be fair chuffed. This is a great book.”
“This shop’s full of old fashioned things,” Fiona assured him. “Have a look round.”
Other books, reminiscent of Archie’s heyday, caught his attention. He’d bring Peggy in here, he promised himself, examining wares that took him back forty years and more. His eye fell on a prettily decorated tube. He picked it up, automatically putting it to his eye. It was a kaleidoscope.
“There was a chap, worked beside me in the shipyard, made these,” he explained to Fiona. “I got one for your Mum when she was wee. She broke her heart when it burst” he handed the kaleidoscope to Fiona. “Have a swatch.”
Fiona looked into the tube and gasped. “It’s absolutely brill! Couldn’t you fix the one Mum had?”
Archie shook his head. “I never managed to get it the gether again an all it was was two wee bit mirrors inside three strips o plywood stuck wi insulating tape, I’ll buy this for her Christmas. I’ll get your Gran one an all!”
Archie, paying for the kaleidoscopes, saw the skin from the taxi money, along with another few pounds, disappear down the stank. The look on Susan’s face and Peggy’s face would be well worth the expense.
Out in the street again Fiona said, “If you’ve any money left you can stand me that coffee.” She led him into what seemed like a close set between the shops but this close sported a long, steep, escalator.
“Where’s this?” Archie asked, bewildered, as he stood on the moving stairs.
“Princes Square,” Fiona replied.
Archie had heard of Princes Square but he had never visited it. His first sight of the restored and refurbished quadrangle made him feel breathless. As if he had climbed, rather than been carried, up to the top of the building. Fiona led him to a café area. He sat at a table and looked around in awe and astonishment.
“It’s something else, isn’t it?” Fiona pushed a cup of coffee towards him.
“Magic. I never knew it was like this.” Archie gazed up at the immense canopied glass roof over the tiered, wrought iron balconies decorated with fairy lights, gold and crimson ribbons and garlands of seasonal greenery. There were two ornate glass elevators moving between levels ringed with shops.
When their coffee was finished they went down past the floors on an elegant escalator. Archie, mesmerised, watched the changing patterns of people on their downward journey.
“It’s jist like a human kaleidoscope. Every time you look it’s different,” he told Fiona. He wished Peggy were beside him and a lump threatened in his throat. Fiona smiled fondly at him and soon had him in a taxi. He sank gratefully back into the seat. It was a long time since he had trudged round shops. It was weary work. Earlier he had grieved for the old Glasgow but these new and different sights were more than worthy to make tomorrow’s memories.
“Come on Grampa.” Fiona dunted his elbow, breaking into his reverie and making him aware of his surroundings. “We’re home. Pay the man, please.”
Still clutching his two small parcels he juggled them round to settle up with the taxi driver. Out on the pavement he gazed around to get his bearings. That’s queer, he thought, what’s happened to Susan’s fancy silver tree? It was definitely there, in the window, when I left.
Fiona gave him another dunt. “Are you okay Grampa?”
He nodded, walking up the drive. The door opened and Susan stepped forward to embrace her daughter. Archie went inside, shedding coat and bunnet and made for the living room at the back of the house.
“Not in there Dad,” commanded Susan. “It’s Christmas Eve. We’re in the lounge.”
With a sigh he turned back and opened the door, hoping he had given his feet a good wipe on the doormat before he tackled that cursed carpet. He halted as he noticed all the furniture had been shifted. The Christmas tree now stood at one side of the stone fireplace. Susan spoke from behind him, her voice excited and highly pitched.
“Santa Claus was here while you were out gallivanting.”
Archie looked round at her, wondering if she had been at the brandy bottle while he was out.
“Go on,” she urged, grinning widely. “Go and see what Santa’s brought you.”
He pushed the door open fully and peered round it. There, in a bed made up on the other side of the fireplace, wearing a bonny blue bed jacket trimmed with tinsel, sat Peggy. A smile, that made his heart thump in his chest, lit her face.
“Come in if your feet’s clean,” she commanded, waving a sprig of mistletoe in invitation.
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Peggy's Party. 2023. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved September 2023, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=836.
"Peggy's Party." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2023. Web. September 2023. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=836.
The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech, s.v., "Peggy's Party," accessed September 2023, http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=836.
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