Each night when Granddad arrived home from work he would smile warmly at me and thrust his hand into his pocket and - like magic - he would produce a dirty old sweet.
"What have we got here, then," he would say.
Gobstoppers, Black Jacks, Fruit Salads, Flying Saucers, Liquorice Sticks, Refreshers, Aniseed Balls, all found their way into the dark folds of his deep overcoat pockets.
"Anything broken?" he would ask Grandma.
"Not today," she would reply, casting a relieved glance at her treasured collection of glass animals.
They used the same words, the same rhythm of speech each night. It was something they did without even realising.
Mum and Granddad both worked at the Odeon Cinema on Dickson Road, and while they were at work I was left under the watchful eye of my Grandma, who I wore to a frazzle with my boisterous behaviour.
By the time I was five my boisterousness had been replaced with extended bouts of nervous energy and so, in an attempt to calm me down, Grandma allowed me to hold one of her glass animals, but when she did she was always at my shoulder, hopping nervously from one foot to the other.
Her extensive collection of glass animals was kept in a tall, glass-fronted cabinet that stood on the back wall of the lounge. It was the focal point of the room, her pride and joy, and ordinarily I was not allowed within a mile of it.
As well as the manufactured animals encased in their glass shrine, my grandparents had three real ones – Shane, George and That Bloody Bird.
Shane, named after Grandma’s favourite film, was an old dog, a cross (somehow) between a corgi and a German Shepherd. He had a problem with his bowels and seemed to spend most of the time releasing foul smelling odours into the room that he himself didn’t seem able to smell.
Granddad often used Shane as an excuse for when he did the same.
"Has that dog farted again?" he would say, wafting his hand across his face.
Grandma, being uncannily sensitive in the olfactory department could easily distinguish between Shane’s emissions and those of her husband. "Monkeys smell their own shit first," she would reply mysteriously.
Granddad always acted surprised when she displayed this amazing ability but he knew full well the reason why she was so perceptive – his farts didn’t smell anywhere near as bad as Shane’s.
George was named after Grandma’s brother and was a huge white rabbit that spent most of his time sprawled out in front of the fire, nibbling at the corners of an old green rug. When he wasn’t asleep he wandered about the house looking for anything green to eat. George only had one rule – Green is edible. He’d nibbled at the bottom of the green curtains in the lounge and had eaten whole chunks out of Mum's green dress when she was foolish enough to leave it lying on the floor. When one of Granddad’s workmate’s came home with him for tea he left the house later that evening completely unaware that one of the legs of his green trousers was marginally shorter than the other.
At night George slept outside in a hutch next to a wire pen where That Bloody Bird lived. That Bloody Bird wasn’t given a name because Granddad had brought it home earlier in the year to fatten it up and eat it for Easter. But, when Easter came around the thing had grown into a monster, so large and fierce that no one, least of all Granddad, had the courage to step into its pen, let alone kill it. As the months went by That Bloody Bird became more and more aggressive, strutting around its domain like a mad king and attacking anyone who went near it.
|Don't mess with this turkey|
"When are you going to kill that bloody bird, Bill?" Grandma asked him.
"Christmas," was his nervous reply.
Grandma was not the kind of person who tolerated idle promises and she nagged and nagged at Granddad to kill That Bloody Bird in time for the Christmas celebrations. Amazingly, he kept his word, although he did get one of his less squeamish friends to do the dirty deed, and That Bloody Bird did indeed find its way onto the Christmas table.
In life, That Bloody Bird had been the toughest turkey on the block, the toughest turkey in the history of tough turkeys. In death, it was even tougher. It was the stringiest, grisliest, foulest tasting turkey that ever walked the face of the earth. Rather than standing resplendent on the Christmas table surrounded by roast potatoes and brussell sprouts, it ended up being cast into the dustbin, providing a veritable feast for all the cats in the neighbourhood who were far less choosy.
Each year at Christmas Mum bought two tins of Quality Street - one for the family and the other for herself. She placed the family tin on top of the glass-fronted cabinet in the lounge and I was allowed to have one a night, just before I went to bed.
"Can I have another one?" I always asked, to which Mum always replied,
"Be reasonable, will you, they have to last us all Christmas."
I was five – being reasonable was not a phrase that featured in my limited vocabulary and on Christmas Night, after gorging myself on sweets and chocolates all day I went to bed. Greed got the better of me, and after fighting to stay awake, I waited until everyone had gone to bed before executing a cunning plan I’d been pondering over since the beginning of the festive season. I crept downstairs under cover of darkness like a highly trained commando. I sneaked into the lounge, lighter on my feet than the world’s greatest cat burglar and climbed to the top of the glass-fronted cabinet with more tenacity than Edmund Hilary.
At this point it would be safe to assume that Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation was an unfamiliar and abstract concept to me. And, by understanding this inalienable truth, it would be quite correct to surmise that, as I reached that Holy Grail of tins, the top of the glass-fronted cabinet was now considerably heavier than the bottom.
My knuckles started to turn white as I watched the top of the cabinet start to move away from the wall. I didn’t know what was happening at first, but, as I turned my head to look around, the full horror of my predicament (as well as the floor) hit me.
The noise created by a glass-fronted cabinet containing several hundred tiny glass animals crashing on top of a five-year-old boy is ear shattering, but, once the cabinet and its dismembered contents had settled, the silence that followed was even more deafening.
The next sound I heard was the thundering of bare feet rushing down the stairs, followed by the metallic click of the light switch. As bright light filled the room my eyes begin to flicker and, just before I passed out, I felt the weight of the cabinet being lifted from my body.
When I regained consciousness, Mum and my grandparents were crouched over me in the wreckage that was once Grandma’s pride and joy.
"The little bugger was after the Quality Street," said Mum, her voice loaded with annoyance.
"Just be thankful he’s alright," said Granddad softly. "It could have been a lot worse."
"How could it be worse?" sobbed Grandma. "Look at all my animals."
The floor around me looked like a glass abattoir. The dismembered bodies of Grandma’s treasured collection were everywhere. At first it seemed nothing has escaped, but on closer inspection it appeared that one animal had survived. It stood proudly in the middle of its shattered, fallen comrades, fiercely defiant, and in total contradiction of Newton’s law of universal gravitation.
It was a turkey.
Grandma took one look at it and, with a face that could have stopped clocks, crushed it under the merciless heel of her slipper.
|A small glass turkey similar to the one my Grandma crushed under the heel of her slipper|
"A fine Christmas this has turned out to be," she grumbled, before stomping off up the stairs.
Granddad carried me to bed and as he covered me with a blanket he winked at me and from out of his dressing gown pocket he produced a dirty old sweet.
"Don’t tell your mum," he whispered.
“Is it a secret?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he said. “Now go back to sleep, there’s a good lad.”
Then he kissed me and left the room, closing the door softly behind him.