Shore Street, Gourock in 1956

Chapter 3 – The Wool Shop Cludgie

My mother had a wool shop in those days whilst my father earned our keep in the Betting Office and the Old Wherry Tavern, both of which were conveniently located next door to my mother ́s shop.

A black exterior framed the huge (everything was so much bigger then) shop window displaying balls of wool and all of the many garments that my mother hand knitted. Inside were shelves from floor to ceiling displaying wool of every tone and colour that could be imagined, from bright reds to greens, purple, yellow and indeed every colour of the rainbow and more besides. To reach the top shelf there was the marvellous sliding ladder, very much the same as they still have in older libraries, which she would climb up to get to the top shelves. I am not unconvinced that male customers did not intentionally request the top shelf colours in order to get a flash of stocking top, but in those heady days I was not aware of such things.

There were still remnants of bombed out buildings from the war lying around the area. Yes, the Germans bombed Gourock. They were probably lost or just dumping bombs to make sure they had enough fuel to get back, but they made a terrible mess of the row of houses next to the Eastern school. I even recall one old man who continued living there even though half of the roof was missing as well as a chunk of wall. “Willie the Binnie” He was a dustman and a bit strange so we all kept our distance.

We had a close as well. Not our own really but “doon ra close” was a communal toilet, which was used not only by the shop owners, but also the tenants in the building. Somebody always kept it well stocked with neatly torn newspaper threaded onto a string, which would, unbeknown to the novice user, give them a black bum – depending upon the photograph. As a seasoned user I would search for those sections which had less newsprint than others to avoid the problem, but I have a suspicion that others may have had the same idea. Unlike modern sanitary systems, the occupant could be kept amused for hours reading the different sections, especially if there was a good story and you had to find the second half. Unfortunately, the down side was that you were invariably looking for the end of “Oor Willie” when somebody would start banging on the door and threatening you for having been in for over an hour.

On one occasion, when there was not so much to read, I decided to treat the community to various renditions of all of the animal sounds that I knew. So after practising them all for a period, I waited until someone came up the close. “Beh he he , beh he he” I wailed, and of course the impending visitor would naturally assume that a sheep was in the toilet and take fright. Silence and then a rattle on the door handle.

“Are you aright in there?”

“Beh he he, beh he he” I responded, and chuckling to myself that I had fooled them.

“Son, if you don ́t get oot in there in two minutes a ́ll get ma wellies and then ye ́ll learn to be a sheep proper.” Came a gruff reply.

It was the tone of the voice rather than comprehension of the words that made me decide that perhaps being a sheep was not such a good idea.

“Mmoo, mmooo” I tried, perhaps the sound of a larger animal would scare him off.

“F..k me, will you get yer arse out there or am aff tae see yer Ma.”

Discretion was much the better of valour on this occasion and I determined to polish up my animal sounds on another occasion.

“Aright mister, hawd on a ́ll be oot in a minute.”

“Right, an don ́t forget to pull the flush this time, or a ́ll hae a word wae yer Ma.”

As I skulked out the door, the Barber next door gave me a friendly, but not so soft clip on the head.

“Ah hear ye have a good singin voice, why not try that next time instead.” He said with a large grin. “At least then a ́ll know that yer na sick”.