A continuing tale of life in the boonies
A Pandemonic Noel
Director of a youth and community project in Glasgow's tough east end was not a job with universal appeal.
To survive, one required a deep fascination for the grotesque and to espouse transcendentalism.
But the events of December 1981, were shrapnel that pierced the stoutest philosophical armor. They were a Reason for Coming to Farmington.
Three extracts from my diary will provide a glimpse of the sub-culture that passed for normality in a Scottish housing project riddled with poverty, unemployment, violence, crime and dark humor. Not the Scotland of Loon Mountain Highland Games or Brigadoon, but an unexpurgated account of post-industrial Scotia.
Sunday, Dec. 13, 1981: There must be better ways to raise funds than run this cursed flea market. It lashed rain as usual, as I struggled up a ladder to string the plastic bunting between the lampposts outside. And then that 24-foot "Bargains Galore" banner I had suspended between the volleyball stands on top of the roof, took off in the gale. A pole got hauled over and smashed the windscreen of a truck. More expense.
Paddy Black, strabismic market manager, demanded an extra space for his Santa's Grotto. The only place left inside the building was the garbage cans area, which was under two inches of water due to leaky roof. Paddy pushed back the garbage cans, laid down boards, taped Christmas paper and tinsel on the walls, short-circuited the fairy-lights in a puddle and plunged the whole hall into darkness. Roars of complaint from other stall-holders.
The fuse eventually mended, Santa Claus in an outfit borrowed from St. Clare's Chapel, was prodded unwillingly into the Grotto, protesting vigorously about the smell from those garbage cans. Ho-ho-hos less than heartfelt. Chilling in fact. In addition, several small children put up a spirited fight before being forced into Grotto by parents. Paddy Black continually lurking to collect $1 per tiny tot, bawling or merely surly, same price for all.
Lady at shoe-stall wants rent-reduction due to clanging of Santa's bell giving her a migraine. Up ladder again, in torrential rain to repair bunting snapped by ragamuffins with a long tree branch. Santa goes on strike due to unbearable stench from garbage cans and water rising above boards. Shoe lady supportive. Urchin yells, "Hi mister, yer buntings broke again." Waaaaa!
Thursday, Dec. 17, 1981 I have finally and irrevocably abandoned our production of The Wizard of Oz. It would not have been ready in time for Christmas, next Easter, or the turn of the century with these abhorrent numbskulls. Only Frankie, the Lion Man, looked crestfallen at the news. All the other kids threw their tattered scripts in the air. What a catalogue of disaster this has been! At least three calamities per week since rehearsals began last August. There was that massive dog-fight in which a Munchkin got bitten, during the casting for Toto.
Then a Dorothy up and quit because a witch stole her boyfriend. Should have insisted on two stand-ins for that key role, because the remaining Dorothy went swimming and lost her front false teeth in the public baths. After this, she would only say her lines from behind a hand cupped over her face, and nobody knew when she had finished her speeches.
Next, we lost three more Munchkins, catholic Munchkins at that, to a detention center when they were caught stealing copper from the roofing of St. Clare's Chapel. Maybe they were going to donate it to repair the garbage can area roof. Hmm.
With 18 weeks of practice, the script condensed from 63 to nine pages and translated into broad Glaswegian, Smeal the Tin Man, was still clutching his lines like a shipwrecked sailor hanging for dear life to a broken spar. His finger would limp along the page as he bumbled and stammered. Occasionally he would break off to kick a jeering Munchkin. All I can say is that he was better than the Straw Man. The Straw Man was even too dumb to get taken along on the copper expedition.
Now I am stuck with a 10-foot rocket weighing half a ton, in which Dorothy and Toto were supposed to get fired back over the rainbow. I am tempted to pack the whole cast in, point it down to City Hall, and light the fuse. But that's unfair. The politicians are going to do me a favor by closing the Sunday market.
Friday, Dec. 25, 1981: The weather has turned bitterly cold of late, freezing all the pipes solid. The only way to flush the toilets and make the café’s soup is with water from the fire hose. There were roller-skating hordes at the dance tonight. The oil heater in the building continues to blow up and bowl over the smaller club members, although more with fright than blast. The accompanying flames are disconcerting, however, and the ensuing billow of dense, oily smoke is positively unhealthy.
Took Christmas tree, covered in thick sooty deposit, outside and stuck it in a hole I had pick-axed into the frozen earth. The tree looked beautiful as dusk fell and a biting east wind plucked the soot from its needles.
A short time later, haunted by the memory, I looked out to see the fir tree again. In the interval, someone, after a considerable struggle, judging by the footprints, had succeeded in wrenching the upper five feet of the tree away from the lower section. The icy gale now bowled it in miserable little arcs.
"Didnae think it would last five minutes," said a cheery voice at my back. It was young Frankie, the former Lion Man, who was amused as much by my naiveté as by the destruction.
I was sad. Not for the tree, which had no roots, anyway, but at the thought of there being a citizen out there in the dark with no sense of the aesthetic. Back in the dance, I could hear 200 small children on roller skates drowning out the words of the Tweety Bird song with an obscene parody.
With a little bit o’ this,
And a little bit o’ that,
And kiss my arse,
And fuck the Pope.
The heater blew up again, smothering them with black smoke, and I rejoiced.
"Merry Christmas, you bastards" I muttered under my breath.
Dec. 2, 1986
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