Forever In Blue Jeans
Sarah Guppy | Hong Rui Choo
The white wedding cake has little pink roses on it. It is a multi tiered creation with three storeys and thick icing and it took Robert McLeod, my father, and his assistant weeks to make it as they had to order the special marzipan decorations from down south in England, land of the Sassenachs. It was just after the war so you couldn’t get fancy stuff for cakes easily then. The rest they crafted themselves and Robert is sure his fiancée Angela will like it. Women are proving to be expensive like grandfather cabbie Stewart warned. Business at the Fountain bridge bakery is bearing up; it’s just as well the scotch pies and sausage rolls are proving a hit with the lads at the brewery. Workers come in at lunchtime, bringing the smog in with them as they enter. All this was before I was born though.
My name is Shirley and I was born in 1954 in a small flat above the bakery. I followed my grandpa’s line of work but I went one better as now I own my own private hire cab firm. Shirley’s Wheels it is called and it holds its own against the big boys. I will tell you more about this if you can bear with me. My memory and concentration is not what it used to be: I think it is the effect of the drugs. God almighty, if only I can remember straight.
I am told the story of how mum met dad so many times it bored me as a girl to be honest. But anyway, here goes. Grandpa Stewart seems to wheel the story out each Christmas along with the ragged looking Christmas tree. My mum Angela had been working as a secretary at the brewery and dad had noticed her red hair when she had come in to the bakery to buy some rolls. They courted for over two years and grandpa Stewart the black cab driver had hinted at a wedding. Stewart had hoped that his only son Robert would also become a black cab driver when he returned from fighting in Europe.
After all, the money was good as a cabbie, enough to cushion the effects of rationing. But dad was having none of it, “the future is in pies and bread, people always need those” he said. Angela made her wedding dress herself to save shillings. They moved in to the small flat above the bakery and Angela started work in the shop, serving customers and doing accounts.
Dad’s face is red and warm looking from the oven out the back. He has been baking bread since five in the morning. The bakery has a small yard area where wooden crates are stacked and there is a tiny area for plants and a wooden shed. Dad’s disappointment is visible. The workers still come in at lunch time from the brewery but the smog has gone now. I am fourteen and I have just cut my hair very pixie short. They, the parents, the God Almighty’s, they want me to stay on at college to learn some typing skills. The other God Almightys, the teachers at school — they have decided that I am not clever enough for what they call the eleven plus. Now God help me, I have realised I am what they call ‘working class’. I heard the term on a posh television programme ma was watching as she patched a quilt up. I pretend not to notice as ma pins and tucks, sighing.
“Can you do anything right at all do you think? And what about that bloody awful hair? I do hope you are not turning in to one of those hippies. I heard all about them. Free love is that what it’s called? I call it dirty minds.”
My mind and body freeze at this latest attack. I can’t think of a quick thing to fire back at her so I sit very still. I thought she’d be pleased at my hair, she said she always wanted a boy anyway. I am bored as I sit and watch her patch. The big clock stroke radio come TV wooden thing dominates the room. It is ugly and I don’t like it, it frightens me for some reason. I don’t care how long the God Almightys had to save every week to buy it. I turn and flee from this stifling room with the tick tick tick and the click click click. I’m off to a night club down Leith Walk where I can get in if I’m wearing enough make up. My wee powder compact and mirror shows big black fraught deer eyes if you look close enough. Thing is, most people don’t see that well.
My knowledge of the darkness began when I was five or six I think. Don’t know exactly. I remember having a terrible repeating dream about a witch woman staring at me through the open letter box as I was sitting at the top of the stairs which led down to the bakery. I used to sit in the gloom at the top of the stairs playing with dolls and waiting for them to finish the shifts at the bakery. Every now and then a sweet waft of warm dough drifts up the stairs to the flat. Later, I chop the doll’s golden hair off as her too perfect face looks smug. I couldnae really tell anyone about the dream as the God Almightys were either too busy or tired or thought I was being silly. I learnt about witches and dark things from the book I borrowed from the school library.
Then I realise the dark things exist in the grown ups too and not just in the woods as I see the punches and the looks my ma gives my pa when she discovers he has been looking at those magazines full of naked women. She beats him black and blue but he carries on buying the magazines anyway — I saw them filed away in secret places. I switch off under the hand knitted patchwork blankets when I hear the thuds, the cries, the smashed plates and screams. At night, I see and try to confront the witch who wants to put me in an oven but the smell of warm golden pies always defers this horror………
Forever In Blue Jeans is a hit song by Neil Diamond and I really like listening to it on the car radio. I am driving my yellow Ford Cortina to my caravan which is parked in a site in Granton, near the sea. A lot of canny folk say Granton is ugly and there is a big gas works there but I like it because you can be sure nobody will want to go there. It has been a busy day; I must have driven around Edinburgh several times. I have got a really good young lass who takes the calls from the punters and radios them over to me and the other two drivers I have. It is only a small office near Gorgie Road, but it is all my own. In the hot summer of 1976 da ran off with a rich Australian woman, which drove ma to booze. The outback must have swallowed them up. But guess who has to attend to ma often in police cells and hospital wards. Sometimes, a person can be in a kind of private jail in the mind and yet be free to move around like other outsiders.
I just like blue jeans, that’s all there is to it. I wish I was a teenager again just driving around bonny Edinburgh again. I was carefree like then; listening to Neil Diamond’s greatest. I just like blue jeans, they are forever me. Like I say, most folk cannae see the hidden emotional violence that goes on. Must admit, I nicked that phrase from my doctor. The medication helps me forget parents and pasts and control my anger. I started on dope but migrated right enough.
Maybe just a pipe dreams this, but perhaps I’m just a throw back or dinosaur longing for my leathers, jeans and my cow boy boots. Those were the glory years, the 70s and 80s. Recession? What recession. I was having a right old laugh. If I see any more politicians on TV ranting on about jobs and taking personal responsibility I’ll crack again. But I will never mention the bloke I topped off. No. Nobody will ever know about that ultimate act of teenage rebellion. I was only fourteen and wearing my favourite denims as he drove me away from said nightclub down Leith Walk. My Audrey Hepburn doe eyes didn’t realise what a wolf he was until he started to fumble at my zip. I cut him with my nail file. Events and the God Almightys pushed me over some edge then. Some secrets we carry to the grave.