Saturday, May 05, 2007

Another gem from Ivor Cutler

This is probably my favourite episode from Ivor Cutler's faux childhood autobiography Life In A Scotch Sitting Room, Vol. 2, which I quoted from on here a month or two ago. It is one of the best evocations of a child's guilt I know, and, when I was a schoolteacher (a distant life that seems now) I found it very useful in prompting revelations of dark secrets from pupils in my creative writing classes.

After Ivor's death last year, Radio Clash put together this tribute podcast. I think much of his work benefits from his delivery of it in his charming Scots burr. Highly recommended.

One Monday I rose early and went through the three kitchen dresser draws. In the one below the wireless set I found Mother's old handbag. Blushing, for it was a sin, I unsnapped the clasp and peeped inside. The brown moire lining felt and smelt of a creature impossible to know. The purse held two pennies - a fortune!

I ran to the school bookshop. For one penny I bought a ruler. Sharply marked, it had fan-shaped scratches on the back with exotic numbers like sixty and seventy. They were degrees, but the only degrees I knew were MA, which teachers had, and FEIS, which Peter McDougall the headmaster had, and which we all knew meant Fattest Elephant In Scotland.

The other penny bought a white rubber which you could chew.

"Where were you?" asked Mother.

"I was in a hurry to get to school to play," I choked, each word the flavour of sick.

"Don't miss breakfast tomorrow," she murmured, preoccupied.

The following morning I made straight for the handbag. To my astonishment there were five pennies in the purse: Mother never used that bag any more. A hardened criminal - I was nine - I ran to the sweetie-shop and blew the lot. Honeycomb crunch which glued sweetness to the teeth, liquorice straps, nail rods, sherbert suckers with four biscuits, ogo pogo eyes, cough-no-more toffee, cheugh balls and a large caramel over which one could barely wrap the lips.

Money appeared daily. Breakfast was not mentioned. I lived like a king, accepting the weary hour in the playground all alone, picking paint off the railings, cheeks like balloons.

On Friday Mother caught me. She never said a word, and I never touched her purse again.

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