OCTOBER 10, 2013

We’re in the car park at the care home, ready to go. But before driving off I get out Mabel’s little diary for 1964 and ask Dad to pick a day at random.

“June the first.”

“Are you listening, Mum? This is what you wrote about the first of June, 1964.
‘Tuppa evening at Mrs Scott’s.’ Actually, I think that’s what you wrote in advance of the day, as a memo. About the day itself, you wrote: ‘Cold, cold what a welcome for June. Bought quite a lot of Tupperware ready for my fridge when it comes.’”

OK that gives us enough to be going on with. So I start the car and drive away.

“The Scotts lived at the top of Townhill Road,” Ian reminds me.

“We still have some Tupperware around the house,” I remind him (and Mum) “Turn up the odd beaker in the garage and you can still see the Tupperware trademark etched into the coloured plastic. What about the fridge though? I see, Mum, that you wrote the word with an apostrophe in front of the f to indicate that you were shortening the word ‘refrigerator’. Nobody would do that these days!”

Mabel’s eyes are wide open, but, if she’s listening, the effect of the words is not surfacing. Of course, I am not expecting her to take part in the conversation. Nevertheless, I do see her as being part of it.

“Fridges were new then,” says Ian. “That would have been our first fridge, wouldn’t it Mabel?”

Dad sees this conversation as I do. A way of including Mum whether she is capable of being included or not.

We pull up off the road where we have a view of a field festooned with bundles of straw. I pour the tea and leave Mabel’s to cool while Ian and I drink ours hot. By 1964, Ian had been promoted at British Gypsum and was product manager for Scotland, which meant a move from Edinburgh to Glasgow for him, and a move to a new house in Hamilton for us all. Let me just dip back into Mabel’s diary for summer 1964. And let me read aloud:

“5 June, 1964.
‘Nobody has come to see our carpet yet, if they don’t send someone this week they can take it back and give us our £65.’”

“Ah, yes,” says Ian. “We had bought a carpet from Cyril Lord, the company that set itself up as providing affordable wall-to-wall carpeting for the mass market. Their slogan was ‘luxury you can afford’. Unfortunately, there was a problem with colour matching between rolls . Also, our next door neighbor, Rod Clark, was a carpet designer, and he had told us there was something wrong with the weave. Which we hadn’t noticed, but once it was pointed out, Mabel wasn’t happy about that either.”

OK back to the diary: “8 June 1964.
‘The P.R.O. man came from Cyril Lord to see our carpet and he said right away he would replace it. But when? He said he’d get it on as soon as possible.’ OK Dad, what’s does P.R.O. stand for?”

“Public Relations Officer,” answers Dad, immediately. Mabel is not necessarily enjoying this stroll through memory lane, but Ian is. Let me give Mum’s diary a proper airing before joining her in the back seat when I won’t have a hand free for it:

9 June 1964
‘Hoped the ‘fridge would have arrived but no dice.’

15 June 1964
‘Well! Well! Both the ‘fridge arrived and the load of stone arrived today. First thing to do was make ice-lollies, yum, yum. Now roll on the carpet.’

11 July 1964
‘The ready-mix cement came today so I was barrowing cement most of the morning. Jim Scott came and gave us a hand so Ian got his garage base down in quick time.’

13 July 1964
‘Helped to unload 400 bricks which are being used for the front of the garage.’

14 July 1964
‘Got the telephone in at last but it won’t be connected for a few days.’

21 July 1964
‘Well our replacement carpet actually arrived so we laid it and it feels great to have something under the feet again.’

OK that’s what I was waiting for, the arrival of the carpet in the summer of ’64. Now we can all relax. As I’m feeding Mum an éclair, a cake she’s always enjoyed, I try and summon up a perspective. Tupperware, fridge, stones, bricks, cement, carpet, telephone: put them all together and what have you got? 8 Townhill Road, Hamilton. Built to last that place was. It’ll always be with me, my brother, Ian and - I’m sure, deep inside her - Mabel.


Dad tries to remember the names of the people on the street. “From top to bottom of our side of the road: the Scotts, the Myles, the Clarks, the McLarens and the Beveridges.”

My turn. “Top to bottom of the other side of the road. The Cherrymans, Ray and Bobbie (I’ve forgotten their surname), the Cooks, the McNultys, the Campbells, the Youngs.”

I’m glad these names are being said aloud. I make sure that all the names are spoken at least twice, forename and surname. Why? Because the words lead right back to the centre of Mabel’s adult life. Billy and Louise Beveridge, for example. Those names were said with affection at the time. Now they come with an irresistible wave of nostalgia which surely washes over Mabel.

Back at the home, while settling Mum in the front room, each of the residents seems to want something from me. I’m turning from one to another so quickly, trying to satisfy them, that the past and the present suddenly coalesce.

It might be an elderly Peter Campbell who is asking me the time. I

t seems like Joan Scott, fifty years on from the 40-year-old I knew on the street, who is asking me why her family has not been along to see her.

Marion Myles calls me over. (No, it can’t be Marion, she died decades ago.) The elderly woman points into the middle distance and speaks. She might as well be saying that the cement has arrived and the Tupperware beakers have all been filled but there aren’t enough bricks to make a garage, and anyway the carpet - her gorgeous new Cyril Lord carpet - has been soiled and spoiled.

Back in the car, I ask Ian what he was driving in 1964.

“A red Ford Zephyr,” he tells me. “When I drove the back road from Hamilton to East Kilbride in the morning, I used to try not to spill the water that had collected overnight in the middle of the bonnet.”

A very smooth drive down memory lane, then. Nothing soiled or spoiled about it. Luxury you
can afford.