Stuart Christie – 1960 and Tam Broon

The following extract is from author Stuart Christie’s book “My Granny made me an Anarchist” and recalls his time in 1960 or so coming to Blantyre.The words are unedited, sent over by Stuart and printed here with his permission. His brilliant book can be bought here:

2014 Calder Street. Stuart lived at 108.

2014 Calder Street. Stuart lived at 108.

1959 – “Granny was forced to retire and move to Blantyre to live with Mum who was living at 108 Calder Street, an off-cream, pebble-dashed four-in-a-block council house, with ‘Tam Broon’ (Tom Brown), a miner, and my half-sister, Olivia. It was an upstairs flat consisting of a small living room, a kitchen-cum-scullery with a gas cooker, a press and adjoining coalbunker, a toilet and bathroom, two bedrooms and a back garden with a coal shed. Tam knew Gran despised him, although she was always diplomatic — she had to be as we were all now living under his roof — but the tension was always tangible. For this reason, Gran spent most of her time with her close Irish friends, Cissie and Paddy Long. A retired Irish-Scots miner, Wullie McNulty, his wife and a 20-year-old son, rented the ground floor flat. They were Catholics, but we got on well and I would run Mrs McNulty’s messages for her whenever she asked me.

Old Mr McNulty died a year or so after I arrived and I remember going down to pay my respects during the wake, the first and only wake I ever attended. It was slightly unnerving to see all these people at the ‘hooley’, drinking and singing in the midst of death. The open coffin was in the candle-lit back bedroom with the remains of a ham purvey on it, but what made the most impression on me was the fact that all the mirrors had been covered. I hadn’t heard of this practice before, but it was also common among the fishing families of the North East of Scotland as well — around Aberdeen and Kincardineshire. The belief is that if the spirit of the departed sees him or herself reflected in the mirror they remain trapped forever as ghosts in this world.

Tam had met my mother after she had separated from Dad. He was tall, broad-shouldered and good-looking, but according to Mum, it was the shape of the back of his neck that attracted her to him. His hair was thick and brown, slightly wavy, with brown eyes and a thin-lipped mouth. She claimed he was reputed to be the best-looking man in Blantyre at the time, but it didn’t take long for his dark side to emerge. He suffered from an inferiority complex, found it difficult to express himself other than with expletives and resented my mother, my Gran and myself. He blossomed in the company of his drinking cronies with whom he talked incessantly about politics. Tam proved a good role model for a young boy: a near perfect example of how not to behave. He described himself as a ‘socialist fellow traveller’, which effectively meant he was neither one thing nor another. But his political views, culled from the strongly CP-influenced Co-op, which owned the Reynold’s News (the Sunday version of the CP’s Daily Worker) resembled those of the shop steward Fred Kite played by Peter Sellers in the film I’m All Right, Jack! When the Soviet Union was mentioned Kite’s eyes lit up and he waxed lyrical about the nobility of Russian labour working in the cornfields through the day and off to the ballet in the evening.

On the question of nuclear disarmament, however, Tam would always quote Nye Bevan’s appeal to the 1957 Labour Party Conference for the continued production of British H-bombs and not sending Britain’s Foreign Secretary ‘naked to the Conference table’. Besides being good-looking, he was avuncular and pipe smoking like his hero Joe Stalin. He was fit, upright and square-shouldered when he walked, but his sallow, waxy complexion was due to the foul air he was forced to breathe for hours on end down the pit. To the outside world Tam was charming, personable, engaging and generous; it didn’t take long before I learned he was a posturing Vicar of Bray, and when he had a drink in him — which was every night — he was moody, violent, petty-minded, jealous, physically and mentally abusive and, worst of all, a bully.

One Sunday afternoon, when I was sixteen, Tam came back from the Miners’ Welfare drunk and aggressive and started having a go at my mother, my young sister and myself. Olivia was growing more and more distressed at his behaviour. He was clearly set on picking a fight with me over anything. Finally, after a bit of verbal banter between us he picked up my treasured Dansette portable record player, threw it on the floor then started kicking it. That was the last straw. I’d had enough of his bullying abuse so I picked up a poker, lunged at him, knocked him to the floor and then, sitting on top of him, started beating him with the poker. Although he was bigger and stronger than me, he was drunk, which gave me sufficient advantage. When he recovered what was left of his pride and dignity he kicked what remained of my Dansette down the stairs and ordered my mother and me out of the house. This was not altogether an unusual occurrence as we had been up and down the road between Gran’s new home and Calder Street more times than a bride’s nightie. Fortunately, around this time Gran had met and married an elderly ex-miners’ union representative, Robert Scott, a perfect gentleman, well-read, well-travelled and dignified, in short everything Tam was not. It was a happy end to an unhappy period in Gran’s and Mum’s lives.”

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  1. Liz Hartley (Weaver)

    “Fortunately, around this time Gran had met and married an elderly ex-miners’ union representative, Robert Scott, a perfect gentleman, well-read, well-travelled and dignified, in short everything Tam was not. It was a happy end to an unhappy period in Gran’s and Mum’s lives.” And as always, thanks to Stuart for the kind comments about our beloved Grandpa, Robert (Bob) Scott. I’m glad Agnes and Grandpa had a few good years together.

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