by: Barron, Charles
fooshion: mental or spiritual force or energy; strength of character
The Concise Scots Dictionary (A.U.P.)
copyright Charles Barron
This play is copyright and may not be copied or performed without the
written permission of the author. This may be obtained by writing to
Charles A Barron, Newtyle Paddock, Newburgh, Aberdeenshire AB41 0AT
or by e-mailing DoricDrama@british library.net
We are in the backyard/drying green of an old granite tenement in Aberdeen. Centre back there is the backdoor of the house, permanently propped open, leading into a black hole which is the common back lobby.
On either side of the door are the rear windows of the two ground-floor flats.
At best, we may see the whole back of the stage as the granite back wall of the house with the door and windows as practical inserts. At its simplest, the set could consist merely of the open doorway, centre stage, but it should be possible for the actors to disappear as soon as they exit through it. There is no other exit. If feasible, the stage may be dressed with some appropriate props - rubbish bins, bicycles, prams, clothes poles ("stretchers"), abandoned items of domestic equipment. The area may be untidy but not sordid.
The lighting throughout Act One suggests heat and brilliant sunshine. Act Two is still warm and sunny, but the lighting colour should be less warm for atmospheric effect.
The period is the present.
Bessie Livingstone (née Wilson), aged 84
Gladys Smith (née Wilson), her sister, aged 79
Peggy Livingstone (Bessie's daughter), aged 59
Loretta Jack, a neighbour, aged 48
Neil Connon, a neighbour, aged 20
Bessie and Gladys speak broad Aberdeen, employing the accent and vocabulary of their youth. They are sufficiently aware of it to make an effort to speak differently to other people, especially Neil. Loretta and Peggy have a strong accent but none of the old vocabulary. Neil has still less of an accent and his vocabulary owes more to North America than to the Doric.
(Outside the back door of a tenement in Aberdeen. The back door is upstage centre, permanently propped open. Beyond it there is just a black nothingness. On either side of the door are the rear windows of the two ground-floor flats. One of these is inhabited by Bessie and the other by Neil. Between us and the house there presumably lies the backyard or drying-green - an unseen stretch of mud. Various articles are dotted about the stage - bicycles and prams ready for use, perhaps; rubbish bins; abandoned domestic equipment. Not too much of it and not too unpleasant.
It is bright, sunny and hot - the hottest day anyone in Aberdeen can remember. A young man enters, through the backdoor as everyone does throughout the play. He is wearing shorts and a shirt open all the way down the front. He carries a can of beer, a chair and a magazine. He takes his time to place these suitably, enjoying the heat. He stretches himself on the chair, picks up the can and leaves the magazine on the ground. Head back; eyes closed. He sighs luxuriously. After a moment, Loretta enters. She is from the flat above Bessie's. She is 48 and she too has dressed for the sun - though with more restraint than Neil.)
LORETTA What a heat! (She loosens the neck of her blouse and blows down it.) We're jist nae used tae this.
NEIL (Grunts.) Mmmm.
LORETTA I canna min' it ever bein' sae hot. Weel, nae in Aiberdeen. It's just like Spain. (Pause.) Ever been tae Spain?
NEIL (Not opening his eyes.) No.
LORETTA It's like 'is every day. Ooooh, I love it. (Pause.) You look comfy. Enjoyin' it, are you? Mak' the best o't, eh? Ye never ken foo lang it's gan tae laist. (Pause.) I said, you never know how long it's going to last.
LORETTA I wish I'd the time tae sit there like that. (Pause. She stretches up towards the sun.) Weel, maybe I could just tak' a minute. He'll be a wee whilie, yet. (Pause.) It's just sick a trauchle gettin' a cheer a' the wye fae up the stair.
NEIL (Recognising his duty.) Take one from my flat.
LORETTA Could I? Oh, it would save my legs. It's nae sae much bringin' it doon, though that's bad enough. It's takin't a' the wye up again efter. Ken fit I mean? An' I'd ha'e tae dee it. I couldna coont on him tae. Eh, far'll I find een, then? In the kitchen?
NEIL (Sighing.) I'll get it. (Wearily, he forces himself out of the chair and exits. Loretta immediately slips into his chair and settles herself comfortably. He returns almost at once, carrying another - non-matching - chair and another can of beer.)
LORETTA (Seeing the can.) Oh, no, thanks. I canna tak beer. Gives me affa wind - and Frank maks a fuss.
NEIL (He has heard this often before.) I know. This is for me.
LORETTA (Not listening.) A tango would be nice, though. Or a Coke, if that's a' ye hae. (Neil gives her a look which she doesn't notice and goes off again.)
PEGGY (Off.) Hello, Neil.
NEIL (Off.) Hello, Peggy. (Enter Peggy. Her clothes hardly acknowledge the weather. Perhaps a cardigan instead of a coat. She is 59 and looks every day of it.)
PEGGY I thought she might be oot here?
LORETTA I hinna seen her.
PEGGY She doesna like too much heat.
LORETTA I love it. Canna get enough o' it. I should have been born a native. (Apologetically.) I'm just takin' a minute, tae enjoy it, afore he gets in. (Conspiratorially.) Neil's gettin' me a tango. (She makes a face that means "What do you think of that?")
PEGGY (Surprised.) Is he?
LORETTA And he brocht me oot a cheer.
PEGGY Did he? He's improving, then?
LORETTA Weel, if he is, it's nae thanks tae that lassie. Thochtless as they come.
PEGGY Weel, she's learnin' tae be a woman. Ach, she's a' richt. They baith are. (Sadly.) Just young.
LORETTA Aye, I suppose so. Nae that that would have been ony excuse in my day.
PEGGY (Drily. But Loretta never notices irony.) I'm afraid they'll grow up very different fae you, Loretta.
LORETTA (Acknowledging the awful truth of this.) I ken. I'm just gled my mither's nae alive tae see fit young folk the day get up tae.
PEGGY She mightna be ower pleased to see you sittin' oot here like Lady Muck, waited on hand an' foot, wi' your man's tea nae on.
LORETTA (Complacently.) He's gettin' a packet o' biled ham. It's a' ready.
PEGGY (Teasing her.) Nae tatties?
LORETTA Oven chips. Twa minutes in the micro. (Enter Neil, carrying a can of coke.) Thank you. This is the life, eh? Fit mair could ye want? Except the pedallos. Bring on the pedallos! (She pedals her legs in the air.) Could ye nae dig a hole in the green there and fill it wi' watter, Neil? We could sweem an' hae pedallo races an' athing. Fancy that, Peg?
PEGGY A lot of trouble for one day a year.
LORETTA Na, this is settled in for a whilie. Grampian said a week at least. Maybe mair.
PEGGY (Sarcastically.) Must be true, then, if Grampian said it. I suppose the BBC said it would rain?
LORETTA I dinna ken. I never watch it. (Neil has resumed his seat and got stuck into his beer.) Are ye nae sittin' doon?
PEGGY I'll just see if she's needin' onything. Has Gladys been ower?
LORETTA Nae that I've seen.
PEGGY Oh, you'd have seen her. Or raither, you'd have heard her. (Pause.) She's eighty in a fortnight.
LORETTA Aye. So she was saying. Ye wouldna think so, would ye? She's aye rinnin' on.
PEGGY (Without enthusiasm.) She's been rinnin' for 80 years. Guid kens fit she's on. (Pause.) I was thinkin' I should arrange something for her.
LORETTA A party?
PEGGY Just something. Mair o' a tea, I suppose. But we did it for Ma, an' Gladys will sulk for a month o' Sundays if she doesna get it ana'.
LORETTA Would ye hae it here, like?
PEGGY No, Loretta. We'll fly abody tae Acapulco. It would hae tae be here. Ma couldna ging onywye else.
LORETTA I'll dae some sausage rolls. Thon rare wee bite-size eens. Fae Tesco, they're best. Neil an' Kate'll bring the wine. (Pause.) Won't you, Neil?
NEIL (Starting out of a doze.) What?
LORETTA We're haein' a party for Gladys's eightieth birthday. You'll bring the wine, eh?
NEIL Oh. Yes, all right. When is it?
PEGGY Her birthday's the 11th. A fortnight.
LORETTA Reed wine, though. I'm allergic tae white. (She hears someone out in the lobby.) Is that you, Frank? (She gets hurriedly to her feet.) I'm just coming.
GLADYS (Off. Shouting.) No, no. It's jist me. (Enter Gladys, a lively, bustling 80-year-old. She talks very loudly and very fast, seldom waiting for a reply. She is wearing a coat in spite of the heat. She carries two shopping bags.) She's nae oot here, is she? I didna think she would be. Nae in this. What a heat! Och, I canna be daein' wi' it.
LORETTA (Sitting down again.) You shouldna be wearin' your coat on a day like this.
GLADYS I ken. But ye never know. It micht change afore I get hame again. An' ye ken fit it's like waitin' on a bussie. Especially at the Junction. There's aye a cauld win' blawin' there. (She turns to go out again.) I'll better ging an' see foo she's deein'.
LORETTA We were just speakin' aboot ye. Sae ... ye'll seen be echty. It's a thocht, eh?
GLADYS (Delighted, she turns back.) Och, weesht, weesht. I dinna wint tae think aboot it.
LORETTA Fit wye no? Ye're daein' fine.
GLADYS It's a fecht, some days, though.
LORETTA Has your back been troublin' ye again?
GLADYS Noo an' again. Aye. Specially at nicht. Ken 'is, I can hardly get up oot o' my bed files, tae ging tae the toilet.
LORETTA Aw. 'At's a shame, 'at. Have ye seen the doctor?
GLADYS Ach, no. I canna be daein' wi' rinnin' back an fore tae him. (Comfortably.) They never dae onythin for ye, onywye. Ye just hae tae pit up wi't.
NEIL You don't have to. If you're in pain, you're entitled to something.
GLADYS (Bridling. What has it got to do with him?) Ach, there's naething they can dae. It's just auld age.
NEIL You could get painkillers.
GLADYS I dinna like takin' peels.
NEIL But if it helps you. It's silly to put up with pain when you can do something about it easily enough.
GLADYS Weel, he's never offered me onything. Just says tae rest it.
NEIL Have you ever asked for them?
GLADYS (Shocked.) No.
NEIL (Getting aggressive.) Well, you should. Just tell him. If you can't get up in the middle of the night for pain, he should be prescribing something to help you.
GLADYS (Not keen on the way this conversation is going.) Maybe.
NEIL You'll have to do it. You need to stand up for yourself.
GLADYS Oh, I can dae that. I've a good tongue in my heid.
NEIL Well, use it. Tell him you need a good painkiller to see you through the night.
GLADYS I canna tell the doctor fit tae dae.
NEIL Of course you can. He's there tae give you what you need.
GLADYS (Not meaning it.) Aye.
NEIL (Refusing to let go.) Well, will you do it?
GLADYS We'll see.
NEIL Don't put it off. Just make your mind up to go and see him and tell him.
NEIL (Exasperated.) Maybe! I don't understand you people. You'd rather put up with pain than do something simple about it. It doesn't make sense.
GLADYS (With a touch of real anger.) Maybe no'. But it's my back an' I'll decide fit tae dae aboot it.
PEGGY (Taking the heat out of the situation.) Have you seen Ma yet?
GLADYS (Still unsettled by the encounter.) Hoo could I? I've just got here.
PEGGY I'll mak her a cup of tea. She'll be feelin' the heat.
BESSIE (A voice from the darkness.) Abody's oot here, are ye?
(Enter Bessie, a rather frail 84-year-old. She has been the dominant figure in the street for 60 years but has lost most of her vigour - and besides the street no longer has the kind of community that needs a leader. She has a scarf over her head and another round her shoulders. She walks with a walking-stick in one hand. At the moment she is dragging a chair with the other, deeply piled with cushions.)
PEGGY (Taking the chair from her and placing it at some distance from the doorway in the sun.) Fit are ye deein'? Ye could have got one o' us tae bring ye oot a cheer.
BESSIE (Staying in the doorway, out of the sun.) I didna ken ye were here. I thocht surely naebody was comin' the day.
PEGGY I'm sorry. We've a' been enjoying the sun. Come and sit doon. I'm just gan tae mak a cup o' tea.
BESSIE I'm nae coming ower there. I dinna like the sun. I'll just bide here, in the shade.
PEGGY It would do you good.
BESSIE It brings me oot in a rash. It aye has. Ye ken that. D'ye min', Gladys? Afore the war, when we went on picnics, I aye had to keep my skin covered up.
GLADYS Afore the war? You aye took a good tan.
BESSIE No, no. I could never be in the sun. Brocht me oot in a rash.
GLADYS (Muttering, not quite daring another fight yet.) Ye were aye the broonest o' us a'. Like a gipsy Da aye said.
BESSIE (Choosing not to hear her.) I'm richt oot o' nescafé. Did ye min' tae get me some?
GLADYS (Reacting with irritation.) Aye, I min't.
BESSIE The richt kin', this time? Thon was affa stuff ye got last time. Half o't went oot in the bin.
GLADYS It was their ain brand. I just thocht I'd try it. It was 10p aff.
BESSIE I'm nae surprised. It was affa.
NEIL It was probably Nescafé all the same. Own-brand stuff is usually the best make but with the store's own label on it. They can afford to sell it cheaper because they buy huge quantities.
GLADYS Aye. So they sae. But it doesna taste the same.
NEIL (Still in argumentative nood.) It must taste the same if it's the same stuff.
GLADYS Aye, but it's nae the same.
NEIL (Exasperated by her again.) If it's nescafé, it's nescafé.
GLADYS (Doggedly.) Aye. But they dae something tae it. Watter it doon, or something.
NEIL (Sneering.) How would Nescafé allow them to do that?
GLADYS Well, it doesna taste the same. Nae tae me.
BESSIE Fit kin' did ye get?
BESSIE Oh. Pooder or granules?
GLADYS Is that a' richt?
BESSIE (Bravely.) It'll dee.
GLADYS Ye said that's fit you wanted.
BESSIE Nescafé, aye.
GLADYS But granules. You said last time ye liked tham best.
BESSIE 'At was Maxwell Hoose. I like the granules wi' Maxwell Hoose. But pooder wi' Nescafé.
GLADYS Weel, ye never said that.
BESSIE I did. But never min'. It'll dee. I've nae taste these days onywye.
GLADYS (Beaten.) I've got athing here. (Pointing at the more bulging of the bags.)
PEGGY There's a war on, I see. I'll put it in for you. (She takes the chair back into the shade for Bessie to sit on.) Are you sure you want to sit here? It'll be chilly oot o' the sun.
BESSIE I'll be fine. (She pushes the seat a little further back into the lobby and sits, letting her stick drop to the ground - at some distance from her chair. From here she will keep a silent watch, just re-establishing her command from time to time by asking for something or by interrupting with an abrupt change of subject.)
PEGGY I'll put the kettle on. Tea, Ma? Or coffee? (She gets the shopping bag and prepares to exit.)
BESSIE No, no. Naething for me.
PEGGY Are you sure? Tea, Loretta? Gladys?
LORETTA Just a quick cup. I canna be ower lang.
GLADYS Oh, tea. Aye, that would be very nice. (She starts to take her coat off.) Are we bidin' oot here?
PEGGY I think so. Enjoy it while we can. We'll need another couple o' chairs. Neil, would ye mind? (He struggles up again, slowly. They start to go off together.) Would you like some tea?
NEIL No, thanks. It's too hot for tea. (They have gone. Gladys sits in Neil's chair.)
GLADYS I micht as weel tak' the weight aff my feet.
LORETTA The toon busy?
GLADYS Nae bad. A richt steer in Marks; ye couldna move. But I think folk were jist keepin' oot o' the sun.
LORETTA I ken.
GLADYS Hoo's your man? (Neil re-enters with two chairs. There are now five dotted about the stage. He goes off again.)
GLADYS (Sympathetically.) Oh. Is he aye at Peterheid?
LORETTA Naething else for't, is there?
GLADYS It's a peety he gave up the ile really. (Realising this isn't tactful.) In some wyes, like.
LORETTA I tell him that every pey day. But it wisna richt for him. He was miserable the whale time.
GLADYS It wisna fine for you, either, really, was it? Wi' him awa' sae muckle.
LORETTA Oh, I didna mind that. It was haein' him under my feet a' day when he was at hame. I couldna abide that. By the end o' the three weeks I was ready to strangle him.
LORETTA I was. Weel, it was an affa strain. I couldna get oot o' the bit. I've got my ain wye o' daein' things. Ye're the same yersel'. An' ye get on fine, just workin' awa' in your ain wye. But he'd be there, askin' fit wye I did the dusting afore I did the hooverin', an' wantin' tae show me better wyes o' daein' athing.
I said till 'im, mony a day. "I've kept this hoose spotless oor whale merrit life. Ye've never complained. Sae dinna interfere noo." But he couldna help himsel'. It wisna that he thocht he could dee better. He just didna ken fit tae dee wi' himself, at hame a' day. I used tae say, "Awa' an' put a bet on. Or ging an' feed the ducks in the Duthie Park. Onything - just get oot o' my wye." But of coorse he never did. Jist hung aboot me, wastin' my time, gettin' in my road. Ye ken fit men are.
GLADYS Michty, aye.
LORETTA He was happy fan he was at the fish. He should never have left it but abody was makin' sae much money at the ile he couldna help himsel'. An' look far it got him. Naewye.
GLADYS The money must have come in handy, though.
LORETTA Certainly. I can hardly move, up the stairs, for a' my labour-saving devices. But I could dee fine withoot them. They're an affa lot o' work. (Sigh.) So it wis a' ma ain fault, really. I was gled fan he said he wanted to leave the rigs but I never suspected he widna get onything else in Aberdeen.
GLADYS They say there's nae unemployment here, but I dinna ken.
LORETTA It depends fit ye want. He wanted back to the fish - and the fish had a' moved awa'. Pushed oot by the ile.
GLADYS Still, he's fixed up noo.
LORETTA Followed the fish tae Peterheid. It's an affa travel though, every day.
BESSIE Fit div I owe ye?
BESSIE For the messages. I must owe you a lot. I only gave you £10.
GLADYS Aye, it was mair than that. But nae a lot. The bill's in the bag wi' the stuff.
BESSIE (Trying to rise.) I'll get it. She took it inside. I'll ging an' get it.
GLADYS Sit doon. There's nae hurry. I'll get it afore I ging awa'.
LORETTA (Rising.) Is at the front door?
GLADYS I didna hear onything. But then I widna. I'm gettin' that deef. I was saying tae Norma jist the ither day, I can hardly hear the tv unless it's turned richt up.
LORETTA It's him. Hame for his tea. (Enter Peggy with three mugs.) Was that Frank coming in? I'll need to get up tae him.
PEGGY The front door? No, it was Neil gan oot. I sent him ower to the shop for milk. Ye're oot o' milk, Ma.
PEGGY Ye've nae milk.
BESSIE Did Gladys nae get ony?
GLADYS (Defensively.) I never gets ye milk. It's ower heavy tae cairry. Did yours nae come the day?
BESSIE I made custard for my lunch.
PEGGY Neil's awa' for. It's a' richt. (She dishes out mugs to Loretta and Gladys, keeping the third herself.)
GLADYS That's handy. He must be a help tae ye, Bessie, haein' him jist across the lobby.
BESSIE (Sourly.) I never see him. They keep themselves tae themselves.
GLADYS Nae word o' them gettin' married yet?
PEGGY (Laughing.) Fit wye should they spile a perfect arrangement? Gladys, you're a romantic. I dinna think it's like that at a'. They just share a flat.
GLADYS (Darkly.) There's mair tae it than that, I think.
LORETTA Na, na. It's perfectly respectable.
GLADYS (Outraged.) Respectable! A young lassie sharing a flat wi' a man? I dinna ken fit her mither can be thinkin' o'. Can you imagine it in oor day, Bessie?
GLADYS Young Neil and Kate. They'd never have been allowed tae bide thegether in oor day.
BESSIE He widna've been allowed tae sit aboot at hame a' day withoot turnin' his hand tae a job o' work either.
PEGGY He's practising for his career: he's gan tae be a plumber. Na, he's studying to ging tae college.
GLADYS I thocht he'd been at college?
BESSIE Twice. So he tells me. Started studying to be an accountant, or something. But he didna like it, so he left. Then he got the notion in his heid that he'd like to be a librarian. So he started a course for that. But he gave that up ana'. Or he failed it, maybe, I dinna ken. He doesna seem tae care, onywye.
GLADYS They just seem to drift in an' oot o' things these days.
PEGGY (Bitterly.) Well, it's better to find a hole ye're comfortable in, raither than be stuck in the wrong een for the rest o' your life.
GLADYS I dinna think ony o' the young folk ken fit they wint.
PEGGY Nae like us aul' folk, you mean. Ach, Neil's a' richt. He'll settle doon tae something eventually.
GLADYS I hope so.
BESSIE Ye've a' got your tea, have ye?
PEGGY Yes, Ma.
BESSIE Nane left for me, was there?
PEGGY You said you didna want ony.
BESSIE Never min'. I'll be a richt.
PEGGY (Patiently.) Do you want tea?
BESSIE I'm a bittie dry kin'.
PEGGY I'll get ye a cup.
BESSIE Dinna fash yoursel'. I'm a' richt. (But Peggy goes out to get a cup.) Was that Mary Farquhar's death I saw in the paper?
BESSIE Mary Farquhar. She used ti bide in the Grove.
GLADYS Wi' the twa wee quinies? She's nae deid, is she?
BESSIE I think it was yesterday's paper. I meant tae say to you.
GLADYS She couldna've been affa aul'. Nae mair than 50, I would think.
BESSIE Och, she must have been mair than that. She'd an' aulder sister in Peggy's class at the school. An' there widna be mair than two or three years atween them.
GLADYS She'd an aulder sister? I didna min' that.
BESSIE Aye. She worked in the co-opie for a while. Till she got mairried. Fit was her mairried name again?
GLADYS Farquhar was her mairried name, wasn't it?
BESSIE Na, that was her ain name. I min' cause her faither used tae ging oot wi' Chrissie.
GLADYS Oor Chrissie?
BESSIE Aye. She didna like him but she went oot wi' him to annoy Alec.
GLADYS I thocht Mary mairried Andy Farquhar. Him that played golf wi' Alistair when he was a loon.
BESSIE When Alistair was a loon?
GLADYS Na, he used tae tak Andy Farquhar roon wi' him, when Andy was a loon.
BESSIE Oh, aye.
GLADYS An' he mairried Mary Farquhar. Was she nae a Duncan?
GLADYS Mary Farquhar.
BESSIE (Irritated.) I dinna ken fa you're speakin' aboot.
GLADYS Aye, ye div. Mary Farquhar. Ye've just tellt me she's deid.
BESSIE Her that was mairried tae Andy Farquhar?
BESSIE She's deid?
BESSIE I never kent that. She canna be affa auld, either.
GLADYS You just tellt me she was deid.
GLADYS (Furious.) Mary Farquhar.
BESSIE I never tellt you that. Hoo could I? I never kent aboot it till this minute.
GLADYS Listen, Bessie, you're gettin' real dottled. Ye've just been tellin' me aboot Mary dyin'.
BESSIE Aye, Mary Farquhar fae the Grove, wi' the twa lassies.
GLADYS Nae Andy Farquhar's wife?
BESSIE Na, na, na. Farquhar was her ain name. Fit was her mairried name again?
GLADYS (Annoyed.) I've nae idea. It's just impossible tae get sense oot o' you these days.
(Enter Peggy with another mug of tea. She gives it to Bessie who doesn't acknowledge it in any way. Nor does she drink it.)
LORETTA (Suddenly coming to life from her rather brooding silence and jumping up again.) Is that the door? (She heads for the exit, but is stopped by the entry of Neil, carrying the carton of milk and an evening paper.) Was that you?
LORETTA Did you see Frank?
PEGGY You're affa jumpy, Loretta. Is something wrong?
LORETTA I'm just on edge. It'll be the heat, maybe. (She sits again; Neil settles down with the paper.
BESSIE (Triumphantly.) Bannerman.
PEGGY What's that, Ma?
BESSIE Bannerman. Mary Bannerman. Her that's deid.
GLADYS Mary Farquhar?
BESSIE Aye. Bannerman was her mairried name. His folk had a fairm.
GLADYS I min' her. Is that fa' ye were speakin' aboot?
BESSIE (Impatiently.) Aye.
GLADYS An' she's deid?
BESSIE I tellt ye.
GLADYS I never realised you meant her. Aye, she had a sister. Wasn't she in your class, Peggy?
GLADYS I think so.
PEGGY Mary would be younger than me, then. (This worries her.)
BESSIE Oot by Rosehearty, I think it was.
GLADYS Fit wis?
BESSIE The Bannerman's fairm. We went there once, min' Gladys?
GLADYS I dinna think I was ever there.
BESSIE Ye were. Afore the war. Lang afore the war; we were just lassies. You were wearing that greeny frock - the een wi' the paisley pattern. (Sudden memory.) Aye, an' you had a reed ribbon in your hair. You'd an affa row wi' oor Ma aboot it because you wanted to wear it in bunches and she widna let you. She made you keep your pleat.
GLADYS It was a green ribbon.
BESSIE It was reed. I min' fine.
GLADYS (Getting irritable.) It was green. I widna wear a reed ribbon wi' a green frock.
BESSIE Ye aye wore a reed ribbon.
GLADYS (Snapping.) Only wi' a reed frock.
BESSIE You never had a reed frock.
GLADYS I did. It had a scalloped neck.
BESSIE (Shouting.) That wisna reed. It was crimson.
GLADYS It was reed.
BESSIE (Louder.) It was crimson - wi' bonnie green braid roon the hem.
GLADYS (Triumphantly.) And a green ribbon to match. And that's the ribbon I wore at Bannerman's fairm.
BESSIE (Smoothly. Her voice drops to a natural tone and she gives no sign of having been engaged in a row.) It was a rare day we had there. (She brightens and strengthens as she relives the moment.) We went in somebody's car. Uncle Jim's, I think. Just for the day. It was a day like this - really sunny. They were at the hairst. 'At's fit wye we were there: Uncle Jim was helping tak' it in. An' the loons as weel.
I min' the smell o' the hay. It was kin' o' ... musty but sweet at the same time. An' then when the blade cut into it ye got anither smell athegether, It was like ... (A huge smile breaks across her face as she remembers.) ... it min't me o' lemonade - sticky an' sweet an' soor.
Fit a day that was. Naebody was in a hurry in those days. Mr Bannerman showed us quines fit wye the binder worked and let us haud the feedbag for the horses. (Another delighted memory.) Aye, an' he put us up on the horse's back, d'ye min', Glad? Fit a size, it wis. Ye'd think there was room tae walk aboot on its back. (Sudden change of mood.) You were feart; ye widna ging up on its back. (Back to her happy mood.) An I got a shottie on the binder, ana'. A metal seat. Wi' holes in't. They dug into the backs o' my legs. It was richt sair, but I wisna gaun tae let on.
It was rare, sittin' up there, awa' up in the air, wi' the reins in my hands. An' they were richt heavy - I hadna expected that because they looked sae licht in the men's hands. An' that great big thing gaun roon' an' roon' beside ye, claitterin' an' sqeakin'. (She mimes the huge sweep of the binder wheel alongside her chair.) It was scary. Especially the blade, a' shiny an' sharp. Div kids i' day get a chance tae see things like that? Have you ever been on a fairm, Neil?
BESSIE It widna be the same onywye. They widna let you near onything in case ye got hurt. An' it would be a' tractors and engines onywye. Ye widna smell the hay for the stink o' petrol.
(With sudden realisation.) Ye felt ye belonged in the country in those days. Abody kent somebody that worked on a fairm. Ye wid get your eggs at Easter an' your hen at Christmas, fae somebody ye kent yersel', that had made them grow and then brocht them to ye wi' their ain hands. It made it a' seem mair real. I saw my feyther walking hame wi' a wee pig under his airm one day - an' a week later we were eatin' its pork chops. It maks ye think.
PEGGY It does. An' I'd raither nae think aboot it, thank you very much. My pork chops come oot o' a nice wee plastic packet in Norco - nae oot o' a dirty smelly animal.
NEIL I can't afford pork chops, wherever they come from.
GLADYS Ye'll need to get a job, then, Neil.
NEIL (Sourly.) Aye, well you find me one and I'll take it.
GLADYS There's plenty in the P. & J. every morning.
NEIL Only if you want to sell insurance. I want to make more of myself than that.
GLADYS (Nastily.) You've not been making much of yourself so far.
NEIL (Sulkily.) You don't know what I've done with myself. But I'm satisfied with what I've achieved so far.
GLADYS Have it your ain wye.
NEIL I will - if I'm left in peace to. (He goes back to the paper.)
BESSIE You spiled that whale day, Gladys.
BESSIE That day on the fairm. You spiled it a'. Ye widna dae onything - feart at the horses and feart at the binder. Ye widna even eat the sandwiches because they had mustard in them.
GLADYS I canna stand mustard.
BESSIE Ye didna hae tae mak' sick a fuss aboot it.
PEGGY (Moving in smoothly to prevent a row - as she has been doing all her adult life with these two.) What a memory you've got, Ma. It's a' as clear as day tae ye, isn't it?
LORETTA She's good, is she?
BESSIE Och, I can min' things like that, nae bother. (Short pause.) I canna min' fit vest I put on this mornin', though.
LORETTA Weel, you'll find oot at bed-time, so 'at doesna maitter.
BESSIE (Complacently. She is the centre of attention, as is her divine right.) I
can min' athing fae lang ago. Gladys gets muddled, but I can min' everything.
GLADYS (Miffed. An old grudge.) Oh, aye. I'm just dottled, by her wye o't.
BESSIE (Responding instantly.) Weel, you div forget things, Gladys. You have to
admit it. Jist last week you went a' the wye hame afore you min't you'd laid
your keys doon on my kitchen table.
GLADYS (To the others.) She kent fine. She watched me gan awa' withoot them and
never let on. (With mounting indignation.) I'd a' the wye back to come. In the
rush hoor. Wi' nae change for my bussie.
BESSIE Me? I didna ken far you'd put your keys. You're aul' enough to look efter
your ain keys, surely.
PEGGY (Intervening again.) Fit's your earliest memory, Ma?
BESSIE (Smugly.) I min' the sodgers gan aff tae the war. Marching doon Union
Street wi' their guns on their shoothers.
GLADYS (Falling into a trap. With huge scorn.) The War! We can a' min' the
BESSIE (Triumphantly.) I meant the First War, Gladys. You canna min' 'at. You
were only two when it broke oot.
GLADYS (Muttering.) I thocht you meant the real War.
PEGGY That's my earliest memory - the declaration of War in 1939.
LORETTA You couldna min' that. You were just - foo aul'?
PEGGY I was seven. It must have been a Sunday, because I was in my grannie's
bed. I aye went through to her an' had breakfast in bed wi' her on a Sunday
LORETTA Of course, she bade here an' a'.
BESSIE In 'ere, far Neil is noo. (She points.) I was born there and brocht up
there. We a' bade there till we got mairried. Then I moved in here. (She
PEGGY So there I was, in the bed in your hoose, Neil, when the Prime Minister
come on the radio and said "this country is now in a state of war with Germany".
I didna understand, of course, but I could see that abody was worried, an'
feart. It must have made a real impression on me, though, tae min' it fae that
BESSIE You'll min' the bombin', though, as weel.
PEGGY Oh, aye. The shelters! Yich. Pitch dark and smelly. Standin' in the dark
for hoors, wi' the teachers makin' us sing "Ten Green Bottles" ower an' ower
again. Nae winder my generation grew up sae stupid. But I suppose they were
trying to droon oot the noise o' the planes and the bombs.
LORETTA There wasna much bombin' in Aiberdeen, though, was there?
BESSIE Aye. Ye hear a' aboot London and Clydeside, an' ye never hear aboot us,
but we had it bad as weel. It was the shipyards, ye see. Nicht aifter nicht.
There was hundreds killed. But ye never hear aboot it.
GLADYS Number 18, up the road, was hit.
LORETTA In this street? I never kent that.
GLADYS Look at it. Number 18. The wa's a different colour o' steen, far it was
PEGGY That was unusually quick for the Toon; only 40 year to wait for a repair.
It was an affa nicht, thon, though. I min' it weel.
GLADYS D'ye min' your Ma? (To Loretta.) Folk aye came for her, you see, fan
there was trouble. Like oor mither afore her. An' the men were a' awa', of
course, in the war. Min', Bessie? (Bessie just nods quietly. Gladys can be
trusted to get on with this story while the heroine sits modestly by - ready to
intervene when Gladys gets it wrong.) They said efterwards he didna mean tae hit
hooses - he was just letting go o' his bombs because the Spitfires were chasin'
him. Onywye, they drapped a' aroon here. It was the middle o' the mornin',
wasn't it, Bessie?
BESSIE (With smug, quiet authority.) Ten past eleven.
GLADYS We were in the shelters, ower there. (She points out into the audience -
into the middle of the backyard.) And somebody come rinnin' in, shouting for
Bessie. There was this direct hit at number 18. The wa' had come doon, into the
street, and there was folk underneath it.
LORETTA Mercy. In this street! I'd nae idea.
GLADYS Bessie was oot like a flash, through the door here, an' awa' up the
street, shoutin' for us to follow her. The bombs were still fa'in' an' athing.
BESSIE (Unable to resist keeping Gladys on the right track.) It was on fire, an'
GLADYS (Furious that her story has been high-jacked - even if Bessie is its
heroine.) I was just comin' tae that, Bessie.
BESSIE (Delighted to have annoyed Gladys.) Sorry. Cairry on.
GLADYS A fire had broken oot. And there was this great big pile o' ... rubble
... in the street. There was ARP men there, but they were just standin' aboot,
nae kennin' fit tae dee. Weel, Bessie got the kids tae rin for pails and start
bringing water fae the wash-hooses. (She breaks off, suddenly.) Fit wye was
there kids there at eleven o'clock in the mornin'?
PEGGY Oh, we never liked to miss the entertainment. Besides, it was a Saturday.
GLADYS So it was. I'd forgotten that. They were good, though, the kids, were
they? Rinnin' wi' the watter for the fire. An' Bessie was into the pile o'
steens, shifting them wi' her bare hands. She was strong in those days. Like a
BESSIE You wouldna think it noo, though, would you? Tae look at me.
GLADYS She got three folk oot.
GLADYS Weel, aye ... but een was deid.
BESSIE A' the same. (A moment's silence. Peggy as usual steps in.)
PEGGY Aye. You saved three folk's lives.
BESSIE (To Loretta.) Mrs Chesterton was een. You've met her.
LORETTA Have I? Oh, aye. A little wee wifie.
BESSIE Aye, just a teeny wee cratur.
PEGGY She wisna, nae till the hoose fell on her. (Laughter relieves the emotions
of the story and the memories.)
LORETTA I can just see you, though, Bessie. Wirin' into the heap o' rubble.
PEGGY She's determined.
GLADYS Isn't she jist. (A little sour, now, having given her sister too much
glory.) Thrawn, some micht say.
PEGGY Weel, she's had to be. Haven't you, Ma? She's had a lot tae cope wi'.
BESSIE Me? I've never been thrawn. I dinna ken fit she means.
GLADYS Oh, Bessie! You are so. You aye have to get your ain wye.
BESSIE I dinna.
GLADYS Ye div.
BESSIE I dinna.
GLADYS Ye div.
PEGGY Noo, dinna start, you two.
BESSIE (Muttering.) Weel, I dinna.
GLADYS (To Loretta. Quietly.) She aye has tae ha'e the last word.
BESSIE (Shouting.) No, I dinna.
LORETTA (Hearing the front door and starting up.) That's him - an' me sittin'
here enjoying mysel'. (She heads for the door.) I'm oot here, Frank, in the sun.
Are you coming through? (Pause.) He's gone straight up the stair. I'll need to
LORETTA Frank's hame. I'll hae tae get his chips in.
NEIL Which firm does he work for?
LORETTA (Worried.) Kirton's.
NEIL That's what I thought.
LORETTA (Panic beginning.) There hasna been an accident?
NEIL Did you know they're closing it down?
LORETTA Closin' it? Oh, michty me. No.
NEIL That's what it says here.
LORETTA I knew there was something. I've felt it a' day. Oh, he'll be in a
state. (She rushes out.)
NEIL (Reading from the paper.) "Managing Director, Edward Kirton (53) told our
reporter, 'We have made every effort to keep our heads above water. The
directors have even taken savage cuts in their own remuneration. However, this
isn't a local problem. It is a European problem. The new regulations on tie-up
and the threat of decommissioning mean that the supply of fish is drying up. If
the fish isn't there, the jobs aren't there.'" (Pause.) That's all it says.
PEGGY Poor Loretta. Nothing seems to go right for them.
NEIL Kate says Frank is one of life's losers.
PEGGY Does she now? She's studied him at close quarters has she?
NEIL She's doing psychology.
PEGGY She'll have all the answers, then.
NEIL Well, look at him. He gave up the fish when it was it was a success. Went
into oil just in time for the slump. Then into fish again when there isn't any
PEGGY How nice to be young and see everything so clearly. (He sulks.) Just as
well they never took that hoose she wanted, though.
GLADYS Her hert was set on it, tae.
PEGGY Well, naturally: it had a price ticket on it. Ye never know what's going
to turn out for the best. (Hears the front door again.) Fa's that now?
BESSIE It'll be Mrs Lindsay.
PEGGY Your Home Help? At this time? (She goes to look out.) It is.
BESSIE She said she'd be late. She had the dentist. You'd think she could have
gone tae him efterwards. Onywye, she'll nae find onything tae dae. I was up at
echt, gettin' the place clean.
PEGGY Oh, Ma. Why? She's paid to do it for ye. You shouldna be exhausting
yourself for no need.
BESSIE (Stubbornly.) They report ye if your hoose isna clean.
PEGGY The Home Helps? Of course they dinna.
BESSIE They do. Then they say you're nae fit tae look after yoursel' an' you're
put awa' - into a home.
PEGGY Naebody can put you into a home if you dinna want to go.
BESSIE They can. I read aboot it.
PEGGY I dinna care fit ye read. It canna happen. And I don't want to hear o' you
daein' ony mair housework. All right? (Pause.) Are you listening?
BESSIE (Sulkily.) I canna hear ye when ye shout.
PEGGY I'm nae shouting. (Pause.) Will you promise me not to do any more
housework? You micht hae a fa' or something.
BESSIE I'm nae haein' her coming in and tellin' me my hoose is dirty.
PEGGY Your hoose couldna get dirty if it tried, wi' just you gan aboot in it. So
fit is there to worry aboot? (Pause.) Weel?
BESSIE It's my hoose an' I'll look efter it as lang as I'm able.
PEGGY Oh, you're sae stubborn.
BESSIE I've needed to be.
PEGGY Maybe so. But ye dinna need to be nooadays. Just ... relax. Ye've
naething tae worry aboot ony mair.
BESSIE (Changing the subject.) Get me my handbag. I've to settle up wi' Gladys
afore she leaves.
GLADYS That's me gettin' my marching orders is it?
BESSIE You dinna need to bide for my sake.
GLADYS (To Peggy.) She taks richt moods sometimes.
PEGGY I'll get your handbag. (Exit.)
GLADYS Isn't she 60 next month?
BESSIE Aye. Her birthday's two days after yours.
GLADYS Were ye thinkin' o' daein' onything for it?
BESSIE A meal? I couldna manage nooadays.
GLADYS Ye shouldna let it pass. Nae her 60th. I could bring some food in.
BESSIE We'll see.
GLADYS Think aboot it. Loretta would gi'e a han'. (Heavily.) It is her 60th.
That's an occasion for her. She widna like to think we'd forgotten an important
anniversary like that. (She looks to see if her hint is being recognised. It
BESSIE Maybe, I'll see.
GLADYS Neil will gi'e us a hand. Won't ye, Neil?
NEIL What? (He hasn't been listening.)
GLADYS We're having a wee party. You'll help? See it doesn't get too much for
NEIL Oh, that. Yeah, yeah. (He thinks she's speaking about the party he's
already discussed with Peggy, of course. Peggy returns with her mother's handbag
- and a long supermarket bill-slip.)
PEGGY I brought the bill, too. (Bessie takes the handbag and the bill. First she
has to get her glasses out of the bag and put them on. Then she has to struggle
to read the bill.)
BESSIE Fit does that say?
BESSIE Na, na, the first line.
PEGGY Ye're nae gan through the whale thing, are ye? Gladys got two separate
bills. This anes a' yours.
GLADYS The girls dinna like it, ye ken. They canna see fit wye I have to put
things through separately.
BESSIE (Reading.) Fruit? I didna ask for fruit. Fit wye did ye get me fruit?
GLADYS I never got you ony fruit.
BESSIE It says here.
PEGGY (Taking the bill) Fruit yoghurt, Ma.
BESSIE Oh. A' richt. (Sudden suspicion.) Fit flavour?
PEGGY (Wearily.) It doesna say.
BESSIE Nae raspberry?
GLADYS No, because the seeds get under your plate.
BESSIE The seeds get under my plate.
PEGGY So it's #13.78.
BESSIE I gave ye #10 already.
GLADYS Aye, I ken. That's #3.78 ye owe me.
BESSIE (In the depths of her bag.) That's a five. (She hands Peggy a #5 note
which she passes to Gladys.)
GLADYS (Getting into her bag.) What's that you want back?
BESSIE (Instantly.) #1.22.
GLADYS There's a pound. I dinna ken if I've got ony change, though. I'll need to
keep enough for my bussie.
BESSIE (Grandly.) Never min' the 22p. I'll get it again.
GLADYS Na, na. Ye've got tae get your change. Let's see fit I've got. There's a
ten. Isn't it, Peggy? Is that a ten?
PEGGY Aye. An' there's anither one, look. (She gets the #1.20 from Gladys and
conveys it to Bessie who stores it away.)
GLADYS I've got a 2p somewye. (She roots around in the bag.)
PEGGY It won't break Ma to let you off wi' 2p.
GLADYS I'd never hear the end o't. (Triumphantly.) That's it. I kent I had een.
(She hands over the final coin and Peggy passes it to her mother. Then she
struggles to her feet and into her coat. This takes some time.) I'll just miss
the rush if I get awa' noo.
BESSIE Are ye gan doon the toon the morn?
GLADYS Mercy me, no. Nae again this week. Were ye wantin' something?
BESSIE I'll manage.
GLADYS (Got at.) Fit is't?
PEGGY It's a' richt, Gladys. I'll get onything else she needs.
BESSIE I need tights.
PEGGY All right.
BESSIE Gladys kens the eens I like.
PEGGY Ye can tell me.
GLADYS (Knowing she's beaten.) I'll get them the morn.
BESSIE That's fine. I'm nae desperate.
GLADYS (Then, fighting back one point.) But I winna be able to bring them roon
till the next day.
BESSIE Oh, weel. I'll manage wi' this eens. They're a' ripped but they'll dee.
PEGGY (Firmly.) They'll dee fine, Ma. You'll jist ha'e tae miss the jiggin' the
BESSIE As lang's she min's them. (She has exercised her power over Gladys and is
well pleased with herself.)
GLADYS The day efter, min'. Nae the morn.
BESSIE (Magnanimous in victory.) That's a' richt.
GLADYS (A last tiny stroke.) An' nae till efterneen. I'm meetin' Norma for
coffee in the mornin' an' we micht hae wir lunch doon the toon.
BESSIE I'll see ye then. (Gladys goes, gathering her belongings about her. Peggy
goes out with her. Pause. Bessie and Neil both appear to be asleep. Peggy
PEGGY Your tights took you by surprise, did they? You were being affa hard on
BESSIE She likes to hae something to bear a grudge aboot. It's good for her.
PEGGY You'll push her too hard one day. She'll rebel.
BESSIE She's been rebelling against me for 75 years. She widna ken hoo tae
manage withoot it. (Pause.) She winna ken fit tae dee wi' hersel' fan I'm awa'.
PEGGY (Briskly.) We winna need to worry aboot that for a whilie.
BESSIE (Wrily.) I winna need tae worry aboot it ever.
PEGGY I was wondering if we ought to do something for her birthday?
BESSIE Fit wye?
PEGGY She will be eighty.
BESSIE That's nae unusual these days.
PEGGY We did it for you. She micht be disappointed if we dinna dee it for her.
BESSIE I dinna think she'd expect it.
PEGGY Maybe no'. A' the same. I've spoken tae Loretta and Neil.
BESSIE (Apparently hurt.) Oh, I see. It's a' arranged then?
PEGGY I thought we'd hae it in your flat but it winna be ony work for you.
BESSIE No. I'll just leave it a' tae you, then. Keep oot o' it a thegether.
PEGGY Noo, dinna sulk, Ma. We're gan tae dee it, so you'll just have to enjoy
BESSIE Are ye gan tae tell her aboot it?
PEGGY No. Keep it for a surprise, eh? For a whilie, onywey.
BESSIE (Wickedly.) A surprise? Oh, aye. (She grins.)
PEGGY Now what are you up to?
BESSIE Naething. I've just min't something.
BESSIE Never you mind.
PEGGY Ye're a wicked auld lady.
BESSIE (Delighted.) I ken. (They laugh. Enter Loretta, slowly, miserably.)
PEGGY Loretta. Fit's adee?
LORETTA He winna speak tae me.
PEGGY He's been paid aff, then? Neil was richt?
LORETTA I dinna ken. He hasna said a word since he cam' in. (She sinks down on a
chair.) I've nae experience o' this, Peggy. I just dinna ken fit tae dee.
PEGGY (Sitting down, too, near her.) It's maybe best tae leave him by himsel'
for a while?
LORETTA He's just sittin' there, staring at the tele. (She starts to cry. She
finds a tissue in a pocket or up her sleeve.) And it's nae even switched on.
(She blows her nose.) Look at me. I'm the een that never greets. (Blows again.
She is calmer.) I went in. Oh, I kent he'd be in a state but I thocht he'd be
shoutin' an' sweerin'. I couldna understand it - the quiet. (She gives another
little sob.) I was pleased ... relieved. I thocht it meant naething had
happened. He wisna among the eens tae be sacked. Or the paper was wrang.
Something. (She shakes her head. Wipes her eyes and nose again.) Then I saw his
face. (She shudders.) It's just nae him. (She looks at Peggy. She seems to feel
a need to justify herself.) I spoke tae him. I did. I asked him aboot it. But
PEGGY (Unable to bring herself to comfort Loretta physically. She makes a
half-hearted move to touch her but withdraws at once.) Would you like a cup o'
LORETTA No. No, thanks. Can I just sit wi' you for a minute?
PEGGY Of course. I'm nae makin' a charge this season. (Warmer.) Bide as lang as
BESSIE (Suddenly, urgently.) You're wrang. (They both look at her, surprised.)
Dinna leave him. Fitever ye dee, dinna leave him on his ain. (A fear begins to
show itself on Loretta's face. Peggy is just puzzled. Bessie's urgency
increases.) Ye mauna leave him. Nae like that. Ging back tae him, quine. Ging
back tae your man. (Her hands are shaking; her voice is strident.)
PEGGY Ma. Fit's wrang?
BESSIE I've seen it afore. Dinna let it happen, Peg. Send her back tae him.
(She has made herself breathless with the emotion. She is now breathing heavily,
noisily. Peggy is too concerned with her to pay much attention to Loretta who is
slowly coming to her feet, staring at Bessie in horror. Then she turns, with a
sob, her hand pressing her tissue to her mouth, and runs out.)
PEGGY Ma. Are ye a' richt?
BESSIE (Hardly able to breath.) Aye. Just gie me een o' my pills. (She
gestures to her bag. Peggy quickly gets out her pill bottle and tips out a pill.
Bessie takes it. Her breathing is quietening down. Peggy picks up her mother's
tea mug, from beside her chair.)
PEGGY Wash it doon wi' this. (Just before she hands over the mug, she notices
that it is still full.) Ma. You haena touched this tea. Efter a' that fuss.
BESSIE I never made a fuss. (She takes a tiny sip.)
PEGGY Nooo. You never do.. (She is worried about her mother's condition.) How
are ye feelin'?
BESSIE Caul'. (She hunches herself. Peggy takes off her own cardigan and puts
it over her shoulders.)
PEGGY I think I'd better get the doctor.
BESSIE Na, na. I'm a' richt. I'm breathin' better.
PEGGY But you're feelin' caul'. An' its sweltering oot here. I'd rether get
BESSIE Maybe in the morning if I'm nae better. (She is lethargic and
PEGGY (Decisively.) Better be sure. I'll ging an' phone. (She looks down at her
mother for a moment, expecting more resistance, but Bessie seems almost asleep.
This decides her once and for all.) I winna be a minute. If the kiosk's
working. (Turning to go, she realises that Neil is still in his chair, fast
asleep.) Neil. (He wakes.) Neil, I'm just going to phone the doctor for my
NEIL What happened?
PEGGY She's feeling a wee bittie funny. Will you keep an eye on her till I get
NEIL Eh, yes. Yes. What will I do?
PEGGY Nothing. Just stay with her.
NEIL (Anxious not to be left alone too long.) They have a phone, on the top
PEGGY There'll be nobody in just now, will there?
NEIL Oh, no. I forgot.
(She hurries out, after another anxious look at her mother. Neil gets up,
equally anxious, but more concerned about his ability to cope if anything
NEIL Mrs Livingstone? (Pause.) Are you all right? (She gives a little smile
and a murmur of some kind. He isn't re-assured. He returns to his chair but sits
on the very edge of it, tense and worried. There is a scream from off-stage. It
is Loretta, upstairs in her own flat. Bessie is instantly awake and bright. Neil
doesn't know what to do.)
BESSIE (Taking on all her old powers of decision and command. Struggling to her
feet. Her voice is strong and urgent.) That's Loretta. Something's happened tae
her man. (Furious at her body.) I canna move. Far's my stick? Get up the stairs,
loon, an' see fit's happened. (Neil bolts out of the door. Bessie tries to get
her stick but it is flat on the ground and she can't get hold of it. She is
dragging her chair towards it so that she can use it to lean on while she
reaches for her stick. By then, Neil is back in, green and gagging. He can't
speak. She takes it all in.) Fit is't? (He can only shake his head, bent over a
chair, shaking with horror. She speaks with urgent authority.) Rin tae the
phone, tell Peggy fit's happened. Get an ambulance. Pull yoursel' thegether an'
rin, loon, rin. I'm gan up the stairs tae help Loretta. (He goes. She forces
herself to hobble towards the door at a fair speed - without her stick which
lies where she couldn't reach it. Shortly after she disappears, there is a noise
off-stage of someone falling on the stairs and a feeble cry. Pause. Silence. The
curtains close or the lights fade to black-out, very slowly.)
END OF ACT ONE
(The stage looks much the same, except that there are only two chairs -
quite close together - and some of the objects lying about may have moved. The
magazine, paper and tea mugs have all gone. It is, in fact, a month later, but
the heatwave is back. Just as in Act One, Neil wanders in, with a magazine and a
drink. He settles down to read. Pause. Enter Loretta. She is wearing a black
cardigan on top of normal bright summery clothes. She carries a plastic carrier
bag of shopping. She is subdued and withdrawn. She sits, upright, not relaxing.
Neil looks at her, almost speaks, but changes his mind. A long silence. He
watches her instead of going back to his reading.)
LORETTA You wouldn't think it had been a whole month.
NEIL I know. (He doesn't really know what to say - but he is noticeably more
involved and keen to contribute, if only he knew how.)
LORETTA I haven't been out here since.
NEIL Nor have I. (Pause.) Of course, it hasn't been the weather for it. Till
LORETTA It's just the same, isn't it? Like that day. Not so warm, though. (She
draws her cardigan about her and shudders just a little.)
NEIL (Disagreeing.) I think it ... (He breaks off. The first signs of tact.
Pause.) It's still good for Aberdeen, though, eh?
LORETTA I suppose so. (She sighs.)
NEIL (Wanting to help.) Would you like something? A coke or something?
LORETTA (Far away.) What?
NEIL Can I get you anything?
LORETTA (Forcing herself to take notice.) A coffee would be fine.
NEIL (A little more trouble than he had bargained for, but making the effort.)
Oh, right. (Starts to go.) Milk?
LORETTA (Flat, uncaring.) Aye. And two sugars.
NEIL (Trying to lighten things.) Two? Trying to put on weight, eh? (She doesn't
even notice. He shrugs and goes. She sits still.)
PEGGY (Off.) Hello, Neil. Been enjoying the sun?
NEIL (Off.) I'm away to put the kettle on.
PEGGY (Off.) (Surprised.) Good loon. I'm just ready for something.
NEIL (Off.) I'm making coffee for Loretta. Will that do?
PEGGY (Off.) Loretta? Is she outside?
NEIL (Off.) Yes.
PEGGY (Off.) How is she?
NEIL (Off.) Just the same. Not saying a word.
PEGGY (Off.) I'll go oot. Have you seen Ma the day?
NEIL (Off.) I took in her milk.
PEGGY (Off.) Is she a' richt?
NEIL (Off.) Fine. Considering.
PEGGY Aye. (Pause.) Weel, get the kettle on. (Enter Peggy, a little anxious
about how she's going to find Loretta.) Hello, Loretta.
LORETTA (Not looking up.) Hello.
PEGGY The weather's improved. (She sits beside her.) It's the best it's been for
LORETTA Since that day.
PEGGY (Regretting her mistake.) Aye. (Pause.) Neil's makin' coffee. (Pause.)
That loon's improving.
LORETTA He's trying tae mak' up.
LORETTA (Looking up - and switching back into life.) He kens he made a mess o'
things that day. He feels he let me doon, let us a' doon.
PEGGY Ye canna blame him. He's young. It must have been an affa experience for
him. First Frank. Then Ma.
LORETTA Aye. (She relapses into grieving silence. Enter Neil with a chair.)
NEIL Kettle's on. Gladys will coming soon, will she?
NEIL Will we have it oot here?
NEIL The party. Make it a picnic?
PEGGY Might as weel. The stuff's a' in my bags. They're ootside Ma's door.
NEIL I've a lot as well, in my flat. Bessie and Gladys have been "organising" me
all week. (He goes.)
PEGGY (Raising her voice to call after him.) Gladys? She hasn't told her, has
she? It was supposed to be a surprise.
NEIL (Re-entering with a fourth chair.) Oh, it'll be a surprise all right. (He
grins at the double meaning, places the chair and looks critically at his
arrangements.) Four. That's all we need, then.
PEGGY Aye. (Pause.) Kate not coming?
NEIL (Embarrassed. Quickly.) She's got classes. (Pause. He feels he'd better
come clean.) She doesn't feel she'd fit in. You know. She doesn't really know
you all. She'd be a bit of a blight, she says.
PEGGY But you - fit in?
NEIL (Anxiously.) I see more of you. Being here all day. (He laughs nervously.)
PEGGY Weel, stop lazing aboot and get the coffee made.
NEIL Right. (Exit.)
LORETTA (Far away.) I never argued wi' him, ye ken. I aye did athing he wanted.
PEGGY I ken.
LORETTA Gave him his ain wye - even fan I kent he was wrang. (Pause. She is near
to tears.) And he usually wis. The auld feel. (The tears start to flow. She
searches in her pockets and sleeves for a handkerchief. Peggy hands her a
tissue. She dries her eyes and nose.) An' never as wrang as he was that day.
We'd have managed. (Pause.) I killed him, didn't I?
PEGGY (Firmly.) No.
LORETTA Sittin' doon here wi' youse. If I'd bade up there wi' him, he couldna've
PEGGY Dinna think that wye, Loretta. I mean ... once he'd made his mind up,
there was nothing you could have done to stop him.
LORETTA I suppose. (Pause.) Let him ha'e his ain wye.
PEGGY Jist that.
LORETTA Peer Frank. (Pause.) Peer Frank. (She blows her nose. Shakes her head
and breaks out of the mood. Life goes on.) Far's that coffee?
PEGGY Here it comes. (For Neil is entering with two coffee cups.) Thank you,
Neil. (He hands them their coffees.)
NEIL I'll start getting things ready - before Gladys arrives.
PEGGY 'At's the loon.
(Over the next dialogue, Neil is busy fetching a folding card table and
a couple of bags of party food. He spreads a paper cloth and then adds stuff
from the bags - packets of crisps, nuts &c - and fetches plates covered with
napkins from his flat. We may assume these to hold sandwiches, sausage rolls and
sliced meats &c. He also brings a box of wine, with its tap ready out, and some
paper cups or glasses. Peggy gives him a hand around the table but doesn't go
off to collect anything.)
LORETTA (Without enthusiasm.) Can I help?
BESSIE No, no. Jist you sit where you are. (Close to Loretta.) Loretta, I ken
it's a bit seen like for a pairty, but we have put it aff for a good whilie.
She'll be 81 afore we get roon' tae it itherwise. (Pause.) Maybe you'd raither
nae bide for it?
LORETTA (Making a brave effort.) Na, na. I canna miss the great pairty. Are you
sure there's naething I can dee?
PEGGY Weel, you could maybe fold some napkins. You can dee thon bonnie shapes,
PEGGY I'm a' thumbs at onything like that. They end up lookin' like used toilet
paper. (She hands her a small pile of paper napkins and Loretta busies herself
with them.) I'd better see if she's ready to come oot. (She goes. The other two
keep busy for a moment.)
GLADYS (Off.) Far's abody, then? Are you ootside? (Enter Gladys, also laden with
bags - and wearing her coat, of course. She is suffering from the heat and the
exertion.) Fit a heat! 'is is nae ees, 'is. Nae ees ava'. (She collapses on a
LORETTA (Mildly.) Take your coat aff.
GLADYS In a minutie. Just let me catch my breath. Whooo. It's jist the same, is
it? Same kin' a day as Frank died. (Quite oblivious to her tactlessness.) Foo
are ye feelin', onywye? Are you gettin' ower it? (Loretta, unable to speak,
nods.) I ken. Ye get used tae it, div ye? (Taking in the sight of the table.)
Oh, ye've started gettin' ready. I've mair stuff here. (She struggles up, still
with her coat fastened, and starts unpacking. She puts various parcels straight
on to the table without unwrapping them.) There's far too much here. I said to
Bessie we werena needin' a' this, but she widna listen. Ye ken fit she's like.
PEGGY (Off.) Neil! (He goes off. Then Peggy enters.) She winna let me dee it.
But she seems happy enough wi' Neil.
GLADYS Has the doctor been the day?
PEGGY Just for a minute, she says. He seems pleased enough wi' her. Ye canna
expect much at her age.
(Enter Neil, backwards, pulling a wheelchair. Once on-stage, he turns,
swinging it round carefully and we see that it holds Bessie - a hunched,
shrunken, aged-looking Bessie, pale and withdrawn. She is well-tucked in under a
blanket. Neil places her at the centre of the semi-circle of chairs he has
GLADYS (Loudly.) Fit like are ye, Bessie?
BESSIE I'm a' richt.
GLADYS You're nae looking great. Is your leg giein' ye pain?
BESSIE A bittie.
GLADYS Fit did the doctor say?
BESSIE Och, naething. He's nae really interested.
GLADYS Did he gi'e ye onything for the pain?
BESSIE Aye. I think so.
GLADYS You'll need tae tak' them this time.
BESSIE (Grumbling.) They mak' me sick.
NEIL (Solicitous and concerned.) How do you know? (Silence.) Have you tried any
BESSIE (Sulking.) I think they're the same I had before.
NEIL They're not. They're a different colour. Come on, try one. While we're all
here with you.
BESSIE No. My leg's nae sair jist noo.
NEIL We-e-ell. If it hurts, you'll tell me - and you'll let me give you a pill?
BESSIE Maybe. I'll see.
NEIL That's the girl. Now ... (Whispering to Bessie.) ... I'll get the cake.
BESSIE (Still grumbling.) Is athing deen? I havena lifted a hand tae help.
PEGGY That's a' richt, Ma. We can manage.
BESSIE I hate being stuck in this thing.
PEGGY It winna be for lang, maybe.
BESSIE It's been lang enough already. Four weeks. Fancy fa'in', at my age. I've
been up and doon that stairs a' my life.
PEGGY You shouldna've tried to manage withoot your stick.
BESSIE I forgot. An' Loretta was needin' me.
NEIL (Off.) Tarantara. Tarantara. (He pops back in for a second.) Sing,
everybody. (Off-stage again, he starts to sing "Happy Birthday". The others all
sing: Loretta joining in reluctantly at first; Bessie with enthusiasm but little
volume; Peggy and Gladys, each thinking the song is for the other one, belting
it out. Neil marches in, singing, and carrying a small iced cake with two
burning candles on it. He stands with it till the song is finished. Some sing
"Gladys" and some sing"Peggy". Then there are cheers.) Right. Blow out the
candles and wish a wish. (Nobody moves.)
PEGGY Go on, Gladys. Bla' oot the candles.
GLADYS Me? It's your cake.
PEGGY Mine? It's your birthday.
NEIL It's both your birthdays. (More cheers and laughter.)
PEGGY Happy 80th birthday, Gladys. Here. (She fishes a small packet out of a
pocket and hands it to Gladys.)
GLADYS Michty me. Fit's gan on? (She laughs delightedly.) Fa's been plannin' a'
PEGGY I didna ken half o't.
NEIL Only one person knew everything that was happening. (He does an elaborate
gesture that ends in pointing at Bessie.)
PEGGY Of course.
GLADYS Oooh, I'm forgetting. This is for you, Peggy. Noo, far have I putten it?
(She looks through her bag and brings out a very similar little packet which she
hands to Peggy.) Happy 60th birthday, Peggy.
PEGGY Michty. This is a real surprise.
NEIL The candles. You've got to blow out the candles - before they burn away.
GLADYS Two candles!
NEIL One each. (Gladys, with a great deal of huffing and "Oh, me" blows out hers
while Peggy deals efficiently with hers. Neil then puts the cake down on the
BESSIE (Re-taking control.) You'll just ha'e to look efter yoursels; I canna dae
onything in this. Tuck in. There's plenty.
PEGGY There's enough to feed the five thousand.
NEIL Some wine, Mrs Livingstone?
BESSIE Oh, no. Nae wine. I couldna.
PEGGY She's driving. (She points at the wheelchair.)
NEIL Come on. It's a double celebration. Not many families have a 60th and an
80th birthdays on the same day.
PEGGY Not the right day for either of us, but never mind.
NEIL So, come on. A wee drop.
BESSIE Weel ... just a spot. (Cheers. He pours. During the following dialogue,
everyone gets a drink and some of them have something to eat, too. Bessie and
Loretta are served by the others. Gradually, they all settle down on seats.
Meanwhile, the conversation is continuing ... ) We never had cake, ye ken, when
we were young. Just dumpling. D'ye min', Gladys?
GLADYS Oh, mercy, aye. Clootie dumpling.
NEIL (Amused.) What kind of dumpling?
BESSIE Have you never heard o' clootie dumpling? An' you an Aiberdeen loon, tae.
NEIL What is it?
BESSIE A dumpling, biled in a cloot.
NEIL Er ... what's a dumpling?
BESSIE (Flummoxed.) Just a dumpling.
PEGGY A christmas pudding.
NEIL For your birthday?
PEGGY Aye. Wi' condensed milk on it. Noo that's a genuine traditional Scottish
NEIL And a cloot's a cloth. So you boil a christmas pudding in a cloth.
PEGGY Because God gave the recipe tae Moses. And he gave it tae Ma.
BESSIE It's the only wye. Oh, we'd a lot o' things like that. Good things. But
young folk like you have never heard o' them.
GLADYS Words, tae, they dinna ken. I was in haein' my tea the ither efterneen
wi' my chummie, Norma, an' there was nae milk. Sae I said tae the lassie, an'
she was an Aiberdeen quine richt enough, like, quite broad-spoken, I said, "The
stoupie's empty" an' she'd nae idea fit I meant.
NEIL I'm not surprised.
PEGGY Weel, I understand that, but there is some words Ma uses that I dinna ken.
BESSIE Na. Surely no.
PEGGY Nae often, but it does happen. When you and Gladys are speakin' tae each
BESSIE Och, she doesna ken half the aul' wordies hersel'.
GLADYS I div.
BESSIE She's ower young.
PEGGY Jist a spring chicken: only 80 year aul'. (Some gentle laughter.)
NEIL You must have seen a lot of changes, though. Not just in the language.
GLADYS Oh, changes! Ye've nae idea. I can hardly find my wye aboot Aiberdeen
these days - half the streets we kent are awa' and the rest are full o'
queer-looking buildings. Bessie hasna been doon the toon for ten years. Weel, I
dinna think she'd ken the place.
BESSIE (On her mettle.) Och, it's nae as bad as that, surely. The main streets
maun aye be the same.
GLADYS (Determined to hold her one advantage - the fact that she goes out into
the real world.) No, they're nae, Bessie. I've tellt you. St Nicholas Street has
BESSIE Ach, that was lang ago. I've been in Marks and Spencers.
GLADYS But mair than that. There's nae road noo atween Schoolhill and the rest
o' George Street.
BESSIE There must be. They canna tak a road like that awa'.
GLADYS (Getting angry.) They have, I tell you. The Bonaccord Centre's there. A
great big building.
BESSIE Aye, at the side o' the street. On the pavement. But you must still ha'e
a road tae get tullt.
GLADYS There's nae. They built the Centre richt ower the street.
BESSIE Weel, far div the cars ging?
GLADYS Roon the back.
BESSIE There's nae wye roon the back o' Schoolhill.
GLADYS Weel, there is noo.
BESSIE That's feel 'at.
GLADYS Maybe, but it's fit they've deen.
BESSIE I min' fan you could take a tramcar a' the wey fae Union Street richt oot
George Street tae Woodside.
GLADYS (Still in a temper.) Weel, you canna dae it onymair, cause there's nae
tramcars. And if there was, ye still couldna, nae unless you went richt through
the St Nicholas Centre, across into the Bonaccord Centre, richt through that,
roon the fountains an' athing - and then ye'd end up in John Lewis's.
BESSIE (Snappy, irritable and therefore unreasonable.) A' this Centres you're
aye speakin' aboot. Fit are they onywey? I canna picture fit you mean.
PEGGY They're just like the Co-opie Arcade - but wi' video shops.
BESSIE (Attacking Gladys on another tack.) Ye've never brocht me that new Sean
Connery video. You promised weeks ago.
GLADYS It's nae in, yet. I've tellt ye. I'm aye speirin' for't. The lassies hide
fan they see me comin'.
BESSIE Mrs Lindsay had it weeks ago. She was tellin' me a' aboot it.
GLADYS (Wearily.) That's a different een.
BESSIE It's nae. She tellt me the name o't.
GLADYS She's jist newly got Part 1. You've seen that ages ago. It's Part 2 you
BESSIE (Swift change of subject as she realises that she may be losing an
argument here.) I liked the Co-opie Arcade. You could get athing you needed. And
you could stan' haein' a crack wi' folk, withoot gettin' soakin' weet.
GLADYS It was gey draughty, though.
BESSIE Och, you're aye feelin' the caul'. You must ha'e affa thin bleed.
GLADYS There's naething wrang wi' my bleed.
PEGGY You two. You're like bairns. Stop it.
GLADYS Ye canna ha'e a decent conversation wi' her. It's aye got to turn into an
PEGGY You're just as bad as she is, Auntie Glad.
BESSIE (Urgently.) Tak' me in. I'm needin' the lavy. (This creates, as it was
intended to, a useful diversion and switch of focus back to Bessie. Peggy takes
hold of the handles, Gladys jumps up and stands by. Neil hovers.) Na, na, Peggy.
You canna manage. Get Neil to push it. He kens the wye. (Peggy is annoyed, but
relinquishes control to Neil who takes her off, backwards, followed by a
twittering Gladys. Peggy sits down by Loretta who has spent the entire party
lost in her own thoughts.)
PEGGY Fit a pair. They're aye at each ither's throats.
LORETTA Aye. They need each ither, though.
PEGGY I ken. (Pause.) This hasna been much o' an occasion for you, Loretta.
LORETTA Oh, it's been fine. Just tae be wi' ither folk. Ye ken.
LORETTA (Quietly.) Just tryin' tae get used to the changes.
PEGGY It's a time o' changes for abody. (Pause.) I'm worried aboot Ma. I canna
see her ever gettin' oot o' that cheer. But she canna manage on her ain, in it.
Gladys has been ower a' day every day since she come oot o' hospital, but she
canna be expected tae keep daein' that.
LORETTA Would she maybe ging an' bide wi' Gladys?
PEGGY There'd be murder done.
LORETTA (Almost able to laugh.) Within a week, I bet.
PEGGY They maybe need each ither - but they could never live thegether.
LORETTA It's a problem.
PEGGY Ye're wonderin' why I dinna tak' her?
LORETTA It's nae my place tae wonder, is it?
PEGGY I've a lovely wee flat. It's a' I have got to show for a lifetime on this
earth.. But it's ower wee for the two o' us. (Almost a hint of tears.) I couldna
gi'e it up, Loretta. (Pause.) Is that affa selfish o' me?
LORETTA (Shakes her head, sympathetically.) Nuh.
PEGGY But fit's the alternative for her? An old-folks' home? Sheltered housing?
Can I dee that tae her? She's lived in this building for 84 years. Am I gan tae
be the een tae force her oot o't? (Smiles.) Hitler never managed it. Can I?
LORETTA I dinna ken.
PEGGY I'm sorry, Loretta. I shouldna burden you wi' it. I jist feelin' richt
fooshionless. I dinna ken fit tae dee for the best.
LORETTA You'll ha'e tae discuss it wi' her.
PEGGY I ken. I've been pittin' it aff for weeks.
LORETTA Dee it noo, here. The day.
PEGGY It wouldna be richt.
LORETTA A fine, bricht summer's day mak's a'thing seem better. She's got a' her
frien's aboot her. If she has to get used tae changes, it's maybe as good a time
PEGGY (Sighing.) I sometimes wonder ... Och, fit's it a' aboot, Loretta? Is it
a' just an affa waste?
LORETTA Life? You're askin' the wrang een in me. That's a question for Kate,
there. (She points over her shoulder with her thumb at Neil's flat.) She would
ha'e the answer for you withoot a meenute's hesitation.
PEGGY Lucky her. I hope she's got the answers for hersel' ana'. (Another heavy
sigh.) I'm sorry. You're gettin' the worser side o' me the day.
LORETTA You're just feelin' doon. Your Ma's troubles. And your ain. (Peggy looks
at her.) Changes for abody, eh?
PEGGY You've noticed? It's fit's been makin' me wonder. Here I am feelin' bad
for months because my body's decided I'm nae gan tae ha'e bairns. I never wanted
bairns, nae for one meenute. But for forty years I spent half my life feeling
ill because my body was determined to be ready for it. Noo, that's fit I ca' a
waste. I kent by the time I was twenty that I'd never mairry, never ha'e babies.
Sae I should have been able to opt oot o' a' that misery. Fit wye should we a'
suffer just because some o' us want to ha'e bairns? It's nae richt.
LORETTA It's nae Kate you want to argue wi'. It's God himsel'.
PEGGY (Wrily.) I've done that often enough. If he's on duty in the middle o' the
nicht, that is. (Pause.) Look at Ma and Gladys. Fit were they brocht up tae? Tae
look efter a man, that's a'; cook for him; keep his hoose clean for him; ha'e
his tea on the table fan he gets in. It's a' they kent - an' a' they wanted.
LORETTA (Gently, sadly.) Dinna knock it, Peg.
PEGGY I ken. They werena "feminists". They were perfectly happy wi' the
arrangement. But fit happened? A war that's fit happened. A war that was
naethin' tae dee wi' them an' naethin' tae dee wi' their men. But they a' paid
for it. Those two have been widows for nearly 50 years. They lost the whale
point o' their lives in their thirties. They've just been fillin' in time since.
For half a century. It's affa.
LORETTA (Still gently.) Are you trying to tell me something?
PEGGY I wisna. But it's true, Loretta. Dinna let it happen tae you.
LORETTA Have I ony choice?
PEGGY (Angrily.) You must ha'e. There must be some mair point tae life than
television and bingo.
LORETTA I dinna like ony o' the two o' them.
PEGGY Then you're really up against it, aren't you? (The mood is lightening a
bit.) You'll have to find something else, Loretta. I mean it.
LORETTA I will. Just gi'e me a wee whilie langer tae get ower it, tae get used
to daein' withoot Frank. I'm nae the same generation as your mither. I'm nae
quite sae thirled to hoosework. (She has to pluck up courage for this next bit.)
I'm nae even the same generation as you, Peg.
PEGGY (Wrily.) Ooch. Does 10 years mak' a' that difference?
LORETTA I think so.
PEGGY But fit aboot Kate and Neil? Their generation seem tae ha'e even less
purpose than mine.
LORETTA I'm nae sae sure. You're maybe nae in the best position tae judge them.
PEGGY I see him lying aboot in his bed half the day.
LORETTA Nae this past three days. Since your mother come hame fae hospital, he's
been in wi' her milk by echt o'clock in the morning, lang afore Gladys is here
to get her up. He gi'es her a cuppie an' a bowl o' flakes in her bed and it sets
her up for the day.
PEGGY She's never mentioned that. (Loretta gives her a knowing nod.) Weel, weel,
LORETTA So just watch fit you say when you bring up the subject o' her future.
You micht ha'e him to reckon wi'.
PEGGY You're never sure. (Enter the procession, back from the toilet. Neil
reverses in with the wheelchair. Gladys comes clucking along in the rear.) All
BESSIE I'm fine. Has abody had enough to eat? You've hardly touched it.
PEGGY There's nae hurry, Ma. We've got a' nicht. We'll move inside if it gets
(There is a scream from Gladys. She is rubbing in anguish at a spot on
GLADYS Oh, look fit I've deen. Oh, hoo did I manage that?
PEGGY Fit is it?
GLADYS Look at it. An' I've just had this cleaned tae!
PEGGY (Looking closely at the stain.) It's candle grease. You must have brushed
against it when you were bla'in' it oot.
GLADYS That's fit it is. Oh, me.
BESSIE That's a' richt. Iron it wi' broon paper. That shifts it. We aye did
GLADYS Oh, aye. I hinna deen that for ages.
LORETTA That's a new een on me.
BESSIE (To Loretta.) Just put the broon paper on the stain and iron ower the
top. It taks it oot.
NEIL Ah. The heat melts the wax and the paper soaks it up. That's clever. (To
Gladys.) Hey, use kitchen roll instead. Its more absorbent.
GLADYS Na, na. We aye used broon paper.
NEIL (Patiently.) That's because you didn't have kitchen roll in those days.
Brown paper was the most absorbent thing you could lay hands on. But nowadays
kitchen roll would be better.
GLADYS (Stubbornly.) It has to be broon paper.
NEIL Of course it doesn't. I've just explained. All you need is something
absorbent - blotting paper would be good.
GLADYS (Getting even more stubborn - and therefore stupid-sounding.) We never
NEIL But it would work better than brown paper.
GLADYS (Triumphantly.) Then fit wye did we nae use it?
NEIL How would I know why you didn't use it? Maybe you didn't have any.
GLADYS (Scornfully.) We'd plenty o' blotting-paper. We used that a' the time.
NEIL Well, you should have used it. It would have been better than brown paper.
GLADYS You have to use brown paper. Naething else'll work.
NEIL Try kitchen roll and see how you get on.
GLADYS (Exasperated.) Oh, in the Name. (To Loretta.)I've been using broon paper
for 80 years and this wee loonie's trying to tell me he kens better. (She is
furious and he is frustrated by her obduracy. They freeze for a moment, staring
into each other's eyes, ready to spring again. Into the silence, Bessie drops a
BESSIE 'At's richt. We used an affa lot o' blotting-paper. (Pause. She's not
speaking to anyone in particular. She is almost rambling - except that she is
clear-headed and sensible in what she says. Nevertheless, there is a dreamy
reminiscent quality about her voice which suggests she's hardly aware of what is
happening around her.) It wis a' real ink then, you see. An' if you werena very
careful, it would ging a smeary, so 'at ye couldna read it. So, you dried it
first wi' blotting-paper. Nae biros then. Oh, the nibs! Fit a trouble they were.
Some o' them would just dig into the paper and spray ink a' ower the place. Or
they would be crossed and leave great big blots in the middle o' a word.
We had to mak' little pads for cleaning wir nibs. Min', Gladys. Rare wee
things they were. You cut oot little squares o' cloth - or circles, you could
dae circles if you were neat - just 'at size ... (She makes a circle of her
finger and thumb.) ... maybe half-a-dozen squares on top o' each ither. Then you
put a stitch through the middle, tae haud them thegether an' you had a nice wee
pad o' pen wipers. 'At's fit we ca'ed them. Pen-wipers. They were really handy.
I'll need to mak' een. I hinna got een in the hoose. (Silence. Neil and Gladys
are still facing each other but Neil is now looking rather shame-faced.)
NEIL I'm sorry.
GLADYS (Genuinely friendly - now that she has won.) That's a' richt, loon. Nae
hard feelings. Just min' this: ye dinna aye ken best just because ye're young.
(A job well done and heaven back in place, she nods to him in a very friendly
way and goes back to her seat.)
PEGGY (Amused.) That's you tellt, my loon.
NEIL (Wondering what has hit him.) Yes. Yes, it is. Wow.
BESSIE (Continuing her own thoughts. But her voice is getting stronger and she
is sitting up taller and straighter in the chair.) I cut them oot for abody in
the family. I was good wi' scissors, you see. But you shouldna use scissors on
paper. It blunts them. I aye used a bread knife for paper. It gave you a good
neat cut. Nae the smooth kin' o' bread knife. The ... rough edged eens ... fit's
the word? (She comes out of her internal monologue to look for help.) Peggy.
Peggy! Fit's the word, when a knife has ... rough edges, like teeny wee teeth.
PEGGY Er ... Tooth-edged?
BESSIE (Impatiently.) Na, na. It begins wi' "s" ...
BESSIE 'At's it. I aye used a serrated knife for lavy paper.
PEGGY Oh, Ma.
NEIL Lavy paper?
BESSIE Aye. Newspaper, efter abody had finished wi' it. Some o' it you made into
firelighters. (Her hands do a lively mime of twisting sheets of paper into tight
plaits.) An' the rest, you cut into neat squares for the lavy. (Her mime shows
the knife cutting sideways through folds of paper.) I was best at baith o' that.
Gladys hadna the patience. She still hasna. Aye rinnin'. Ram-stammin' on withoot
thinkin' aboot fit she's daein'.
On washdays ye could hear her oot in the backie aboot four o'clock in
the morning, chappin' wood, rivin' at the ropes, shoutin' oot o' her. Folk were
GLADYS The work had to be deen.
BESSIE I did a good washin' mysel' but I didna waken folk up in the middle o'
the nicht bangin' aboot. (Back into reminiscent mood.) I loved washin'. I didna
like ironin', though, sae a' the time I was hingin' oot the washing I was
thinkin' o' the ironin' I was makin' for mysel'. Fit a life. (She chortles.)
A' the same ... (Pause.) ... it was a richt trachle, mind you. You had
to wear rubber boots an' a rubber apron. You dinna even see them nooadays. Then
first thing, you had to licht the wash-hoose fire. (She points into a corner of
the audience to where the wash-house would be, in a corner of the backyard.)
It's a good drawin' fire-y that. Then you had to fill the biler - twelve pails
o' watter, it took. That was the worst bit. Affa sair on your back.
But aince the watter was bilin' awa' an' the wash-hoose filled up wi'
steam, it was rare. Ye were a' by yoursel' sae ye were busy. You had to keep an
eye on the fire, and steer the claes in the biler, an' lift them across tae the
sinks. Fit a weight they were fan they were soakin' weet. An' the bilin' watter
would be rinnin' aff them a' ower your legs. Fit a cairry-on. Then ye'd be
ca'in' the wringer and rinnin' oot in-atween times tae peg the claes oot on the
An' maist important o' a' - ye'd be watching the sky the whale time in
case there was a sign o' rain comin'. (She lies back exhausted by the effort of
re-living it.) There wasna mony washing-days like this. It aye seemed tae rain.
LORETTA An' you enjoyed it?
BESSIE Aye. It was grand.
LORETTA To think I complain aboot my washer-drier.
BESSIE The backie was a' grass then.
GLADYS I dinna min' that. It's aye been earth. Like this.
BESSIE (Stubbornly.) It was grass then. We used to cut it wi' shears. (She mimes
again.) They hung on a nail in that cellar there. (She points off left.) The
nail's aye there, I think.
GLADYS You're startin' tae fancy things noo. We never had grass here.
BESSIE We did. I used to cut it on my hands an' knees. Wi' that shears there.
(She points again.)
GLADYS Weel, I never cut ony grass on my hands and knees.
BESSIE No. It was aye left tae me, 'at's why.
PEGGY Ma, you're tirin' yoursel' wi' a' this speakin' an' arguin'. Would you
like to ging in?
BESSIE I'm fine.
PEGGY Weel, while we're a' here, there's something I want to speak tae ye aboot.
BESSIE (Guessing what's coming.) Nae iv now, Peg.
PEGGY As weel noo as later. (Everyone is paying attention now. There is an air
of anxious anticipation. Pause.) We're just a' worried aboot hoo you're gan tae
manage on your ain. (She waits for Bessie to speak but her mouth is set and she
has withdrawn into herself. She hardly seems to be listening - except for the
stubborn look.) You canna expect Gladys to come ower every day tae look efter
BESSIE (Stung out of her silence.) I dinna need ony lookin' efter.
PEGGY You're managin' great, Ma. An' you'll get better still as you get
stronger. But you'll maybe never be as good on your legs again. You just canna
be left on your ain sae muckle as you've been used tae.
BESSIE I can manage fine.
PEGGY You canna even pick things up aff the fleer.
BESSIE Then they'll just ha'e tae lie there till Mrs Lindsay comes. She's every
day noo. That's a' the help I need.
GLADYS Fit if you fa', gettin' oot o' your bed?
BESSIE You're a fine een to spik. You're aye fa'in'. They're feart tae let you
into Tesco's in case ye fa' again an' brak anither shelf-fu' o' lemonade
GLADYS (Hotly.) That wisna my fault. The fleer was weet.
BESSIE Weel, just you concentrate on keepin' yoursel' upright an' leave me to
worry aboot me.
PEGGY We're a' worryin' aboot ye.
LORETTA It's true, Mrs Livingstone. Ye've got to think aboot the future.
BESSIE I'm nae movin'.
PEGGY We ken fit this hoose means to you. But ye micht ha'e tae face the need to
BESSIE I'm nae gan tae bide wi' her. (Pointing at Gladys.) She'd hae me wakened
at four in the morning wi' her hooverin'.
PEGGY Naebody's suggestin' that.
BESSIE An' I'm nae gan into a Home. I'm nae dottled yet. If onybody's ready for
a Home it's Gladys. She gets affa muddled sometimes.
PEGGY Homes are nae just for folk that's dottled.
BESSIE (Firmly.) I'm nae gan tae een onywey.
PEGGY Weel, fit aboot movin' tae a sheltered hoose? (Quickly moving on before
Bessie can interrupt.) Ye'd be in a wee flat o' your ain, just like here, but
there would be somebody keepin' an eye on ye - in case onything happened.
(Pause. The lack of a response encourages Peggy to think she's winning.) Noo,
fit aboot that? Mrs Graham loves hers. Ye ken that.
BESSIE It widna be "just like here". I've lived in this backie for 84 years.
(She achieves dignity in her outrage.) 84 years. Would you tear me awa' efter a'
that time? Hoo lang dae ye think I'd live in a sheltered hoose? (Pause.) Just
leave me in my ain place far I belong. For the wee while langer that's left to
PEGGY Ye've years ahead o' yet, Ma. An' you canna spend them on your ain ony
BESSIE Every day o' my childhood was spent in this buildin'. Every day an' nicht
o' my mairret life was spent in this buildin'. Athing I had wi' your faither I
had here. And I brocht you up here. My whale life is in this building. If you
tak me awa' fae't, you'll tak my life awa' ana'. (There is a long silence.
Bessie is crying very quietly and unobtrusively. Only when she sniffs do the
others realise. They react to it in their own ways. Gladys feels obscurely
angry. Peggy feels intensely concerned but theirs isn't the kind of relationship
that allows physical comforting.)
GLADYS (Roughly.) Dinna greet, noo, Bessie. You dinna want tae dae that. Stop
it, noo. Stop it.
PEGGY (She takes a step towards her mother, hands out to hug her. But she can't
do it, even now. She pulls away but speaks with immense tenderness.) Come on,
noo, Ma. Come on. (Loretta brings her a hankie and she gives a tiny wipe of her
nose and eyes.)
BESSIE That's the first time since your faither died. (Peggy breaks away and
sits down, in tears herself.)
LORETTA (Gently.) Dinna fight it. A good greet'll help you. (Silence.)
BESSIE (Tears gone. Her spirit back.) If you've a' had enough to eat I'll start
the redding up. (She tries to wheel herself towards the table but can hardly
move the chair. Neil is there instantly.)
NEIL I'll pile the stuff on your lap and we'll wheech it through. (He puts a few
of the things off the table on to her lap and wheels her off. Just before he
disappears he turns back to the others and gives them a grin.)
LORETTA Good for Neil. I'm a Neill, ye ken. Loretta Neill's my ain name. Wi' two
PEGGY It doesna solve onything.
LORETTA She's a fechter. She'll find her ain solution. Sae are you, Gladys. You
two have spirit. Noo, I hinna. I like an easy life. An' my Frank was never een
tae stand up tae onybody or onything. Even you, Peggy, though you michtna think
so, you'll look for the saft route.
The funny thing is - if you'd asked me last week I'd've said Neil was
the maist fushionless o' a', but noo I'm nae sae sure. He's young yet but he's
showin' the first signs o' bein' anither Bessie Livingstone.
PEGGY But fit's gan tae happen?
LORETTA She's gan tae bide on here. Fit ither choice have ye? Besides she'll be
better looked after than she would be in ony sheltered house. Neil's at hame a'
day. I'm at hame a' day. (Pause.) I've naethin else tae dae wi' my time noo,
PEGGY Oh, Loretta. That's nae a life for you.
LORETTA It'll occupy my mind. And - tae be honest - it canna be for lang, noo,
can it? (Briskly.) Then Gladys is ower maist days wi' the messages. You come by
regularly. The Home Help's in every day. Ach, the peer buddy'll be crying oot
for some peace an' quiet. She'll never be let alane.
NEIL (Entering, pushing Bessie in front of him at a high speed.) Toot, toot.
Toot, toot. (He places her centre stage.) Are we being left to do everything?
PEGGY We'll give you a hand in a minute. I think I'll have anither gless o' wine
NEIL Party, party. (They get drinks to everyone again. All settle down.)
LORETTA I'm going to mak a speech. (Cheers. The whole atmosphere has become
quite relaxed and happy.) First, I'd like to wish Peggy a very happy birthday -
a few weeks late. Peggy. (Some quiet mutterings of "Peggy" as they drink.)
Second, and even mair important, Gladys has made it a' the wye tae 80. That's
quite an achievement. So ... (Raising her glass.) ... Gladys. (They toast
again.) But I'm nae finished yet. Somebody else has to be congratulated. (All
look towards Bessie.) And that's Neil. He's done maist o' the work for this
pairty an' he's been a tower o' strength in this tenement this past few weeks
tae me and tae Bessie as weel, I ken. Sae here's tae Neil.
ALL Neil! (They drink to him. He is embarrassed.)
LORETTA And, finally ... (Cheers.) The wifie that we a' have to try to live up
tae - the toughest aul' boot in the street. Bessie.
GLADYS Oh, me. Aul' boot! 'At's good. 'at.
LORETTA (Firmly.) Tae Bessie. (They toast her.)
NEIL Speech. Speech.
LORETTA Aye, come on, Mrs Livingstone. Your turn.
BESSIE Na. na, na. You dinna want tae hear me.
NEIL Yes we do. More speeches and more toasts. (He tosses back his drink.)
BESSIE If that loon has ony mair tae drink he'll be deein' a Joey Morrison and
walking through that window. (She points in the direction of Neil's window.)
GLADYS (A little merry by this time.) Oh, Joey Morrison. He was a richt
LORETTA Fit's this aboot walkin' through a window?
GLADYS He did. That window there. Min', Bessie?
BESSIE (Who has intended telling this story as her party piece.) Ach, you dinna
wint tae hear aboot that - it's a lang story.
LORETTA Good. Let's hae it. (They settle to listen. Bessie assumes command of
BESSIE Weel, efter oor mither died, folk ca'ed Morrison moved into that hoose -
a big faimily for the size o' the hoose. There was him and her; twa loons and
NEIL In there? Six of them? There's hardly room for Kate and me.
BESSIE Him and her would ha'e the bed in the kitchen. The lassies were in the
bedroom and the loons had a settee in the front room. Nae bother. Noo, the
younger loon was the een we're speakin' aboot.
GLADYS He was a richt wee rogue.
BESSIE Joey was a' richt. He just got in wi' a bad crowd.
GLADYS He liked his drink, ana'.
BESSIE He took a bucket tae tell the truth. But onywye, this a' happened during
the war. Joey was hame on leave an' this nicht he'd been oot drinkin' wi' his
pals. Fan he got hame, he thocht there was naebody in an' this annoyed him.
Actually, his mither was in but she'd fa'en asleep in front o' the fire,
listening tae the wireless. His feyther was in the ARP so he was oot on duty and
his sisters were fire-watching. They did a lot o' that.
GLADYS (Lips pursed.) That's fit they tellt their ma. It's my belief they did
maist o' their firewatchin' on their backs.
BESSIE (Regaining control of her story.) Onywye ... (Gladys subsides under her
gaze.) Joey thocht he was locked oot. Nae that maist o' us ever locked wir
doors, of course, in those days but Mrs Morrison had a fear o' the Germans
arriving fan she was in hersel', so she lockht the door tae keep them oot. So
fit does the bold hero dee? He walks through the back window. Just up wi' his
great big army boot an' walks through the gless. (She is now in fine fluent
story-telling mode, enjoying the attention of her audience.)
Fit a fleg his peer mither got. Wakened oot o' her sleep by this mannie
in uniform burstin' in through her window. She let oot a scream that could be
heard in Fittie and took tae her heels. "Come on, feet, or I'm leavin' ye," she
says, and tears next door tae me.
GLADYS (Irrepressible.) Abody ran tae Bessie fan they were in trouble.
BESSIE (Riding effortlessly over the top of this interruption.) "The Germans is
comin' in through my kitchen windae. Fit'll I dee?" she says. "Foo mony o' them
is there?" I says. "Just the wan," says she. "That's a' richt, then," says I. "I
widna want tae face Hitler's whale army single-handed, but ae German sodger I
can deal wi'." (Gladys nods to the others to show her agreement with this
interpretation of Bessie's powers.) Sae I picked up the fireside shovel an' ran
next door. But instead o' gan in through the door, I was that concerned aboot
him climbin' in the window, that I went an' did the same. An' fit div I see?
(Her voice is hushed, dramatic. They are spellbound.) Nae licht on - just a reed
glow fae the last o' her fire. There was this huge mannie, standin' in the
middle o' the fleer, wi' his back to me. Sae I up an' gi'es him one great thump
on the back o' the heid wi' my shovel and it braks in two. I'm left wi' just the
han'le in my haun.
"Fit div I dee noo?" I says tae mysel'. Then he turns on me. I thocht my
last day had come. We'd been warned fit the Germans would dee tae young weemen
an' I didna fancy it. He grabs my shoothers and pulls my face close tae his.
"Fit the thump dae ye think ye're daein', Bessie Wilson? That was sair." (She
rubs the back of her head as he had done.) Weel, I recognised him then, of
course. "An' fit the thump dae you think ye're daein'? Smashin' your mither's
kitchen windae? Noo, jist you behave yersel' or I'll pit you across my knee like
I used tae fan you were a bairn."
Then I took him by the haun and led him back tae his mither. But I still
wisna thinkin' straicht because I made us baith climb back oot through the
windae, wi' a' the jaggedy bits o' gless stickin' oot the sides. (Pause.) And
that was the end o't.
LORETTA Nae for peer Mrs Morrison. A great big window like that smashed tae
smithereens. It must have cost a fortune tae pit in.
BESSIE Na, she was lucky there. As good fortune would hae it, there was an air
raid that nicht an' she claimed the window'd been broken by a stray bit o
shrapnel. So she got it replaced free next mornin' under the Regulations. (Well
pleased with her success, she leans back in her chair, tired.) Noo, I'm gan tae
ha'e a bittie o' a sleep afore my programme. Tak' me inside. (Neil moves to his
station at the handles of the wheelchair.)
PEGGY It's time we were a' movin' inside. The heat's gan oot o' the sun.
GLADYS It's been fine, though, has it? I dinna min' a day like this since we
PEGGY (Beginning to move things inside.) Of coorse, the summers were aye like
this then, Auntie Gladys?
GLADYS Aye, they were. (She picks up a chair and follows Peggy off. Loretta
picks up another and follows, too.)
NEIL (Beginning to pull Bessie towards the door.) Which programme's that, then?
BESSIE "The Bill". I never misses "The Bill".
NEIL That's not on tonight.
BESSIE Yes, it is. Every Tuesday and Thursday. I never misses it.
NEIL But this is Wednesday.
BESSIE It's nae. It's Tuesday.
NEIL It's Wednesday. I tell you... (He does an Auntie Gladys accent and voice.)
... you're gettin' richt dottled, Bessie.
BESSIE An' you're gettin' richt impudent.
NEIL I'd rather be impudent than dottled. At least I know what day of the week
(He has reached the door and is just about to pull her backwards out through
BESSIE Aye, but dae ye ken foo mony pennies mak' a shillin'? (And she's out of
sight. The tabs close or the lights fade to black out.)