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Authors: Margaret Thomson Davis

The New Breadmakers

BOOK: The New Breadmakers
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CONTENTS

Title Page

Acknowledgements

  
1

  
2

  
3

  
4

  
5

  
6

  
7

  
8

  
9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

34

35

36

37

38

39

40

41

42

By the Same Author

Copyright

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Many people were kind enough to help with my research. For instance, Eddie McGarrell MBE whose 50 years of experience working for the Red Cross at various events, including football matches, was of invaluable assistance.

I’m also grateful for other help with the football parts of the story given by Tommy Malcolm from the Football Museum, Mae and John Pitcairn, and Adrienne and Tom Whitehill.

Ex-policeman Norman Richardson also gave generous help and advice.

Bill Findlay shared his knowledge of local history.

Special mention must be made of Jeny Faulkner, Registering Officer of The Society of Friends (Quakers), who gave me details of a Quaker marriage.

Thanks also to Molly and Joe Fisher who helped me so entertainingly with their memories of the library service.

My thanks to all of the above and apologies to anyone I may have omitted to mention.

1

Catriona could hardly look at her husband Melvin’s gaunt, moustachioed face without feeling hatred. Then she’d feel guilty. After all, he was quite a few years older than her and he’d had a bad time during the war. He’d been a prisoner for most of the time although, to hear him talk, it was the high point of his life. His time of glory. She’d lost count of the number of times he’d told her about his daring attempts to escape. His eyes glowed with a fierce intensity every time he recounted the well-worn stories of secret tunnel-digging, wire-cutting, forged papers and stolen German uniforms. Sometimes she wondered if any of it was true, if it was all just made up. After all, she could hardly imagine anyone less heroic or selfless than Melvin.

She’d long since detected in his manner an admiration for the Germans. She even believed that, if he’d been a German himself during the war, he would have been a member of the SS or the Gestapo. He was a bully and he admired bullies. He’d bullied her since they met when she was just sixteen. He’d bully anyone if he could get away with it. She’d once heard it said that some people have to stand beside a dwarf to feel big and if they can’t find a dwarf, they’ll make one. That’s what he’d been trying to do to her for years – belittle her, humiliate her, make her feel small.

Well, not any more.

He’d treated her like a slave, nearly killed her. He’d been the death of his first wife, Betty, and had nearly managed it with Catriona too. Fool that she was, she had kept trying to please him and be as perfect as he kept making out Betty to have been. At the beginning, he’d insisted on keeping pictures of her on the mantelpiece. He’d made Catriona read the poor woman’s love letters. Every week, without fail, he’d taken her to pay homage at Betty’s grave.

After the war, when they’d moved to the West End, at least all that had stopped. He was now too intent on making an impression on the present. While he’d been away at the war, they had been bombed out of their tenement building, losing not only their home but also the family bakehouse that had been their livelihood. She had been forced to move, with their son Andrew and Catriona’s eight-year-old step-son Fergus, to her mother’s. Her mother hated Melvin and had done everything she could to stop Catriona marrying him. After the wedding, she had never stopped trying to persuade her to leave him. Now she concentrated on making Catriona feel guilty about baby Robert’s death in the air raids.

‘Long ago, I warned you that God would punish you by taking away someone you loved. I told you you should have the children stay at my place. I warned you. I told you that building in Dessie Street was far too close to the shipyards.’

Melvin must have been devastated when he’d received the letter in the camp telling him the awful news about losing his home and business, and the even worse news of Robert’s death. She’d put off writing that letter as long as she could. Eventually she dared not put it off any longer. It would have been even more of a shock to him if he had turned up and been faced with the pile of rubble that had once been the home he’d been so proud of. It had only been one of the flats in the tenement building owned by his father, the master baker (all his father’s employees and their families lived above the bakery), but no one had been as ridiculously house-proud as Melvin. ‘This house is like a palace,’ he often said.

The boastful words and the arrogant manner in which they were delivered echoed in her mind now and with this bitter memory came the equally hateful vision of the flat in Dessie Street. She had suffered, as Betty had suffered. No doubt before Betty had become ill and helpless Melvin had forced her to make a god of his stupid little house, just as he had forced Catriona to. Not a thing had ever been allowed to change. It had remained exactly as it was when his first wife had died there. Catriona could still smell the pungent odour of wax polish that always hung in the air. She’d had to polish everything. The doors, like the dark-brown linoleum, gleamed and shone, daring anyone to deface them. Like stepping stones, rugs were dotted here and there in the lobby, the living room, the kitchen and the bedroom. Everything in every room had been sparkling and immaculate. Oh, how she wished now that she’d allowed the children more freedom to play and run about, and mess the place up. But she had been too much like a child herself. Dominated by her mother, at sixteen she had thought she’d escaped into marriage and a home of her own, only to discover that the pattern was repeated, as she was dominated by her husband as well. To make things worse, her mother and Melvin had continuously fought over her like two mad dogs with a bone. Melvin’s main weapon was the threat to throw her out on the street. ‘You came to me without even a change of knickers to your name and that’s how you’ll leave if you’re not careful.’

She knew he’d take the children away from her, that’s what terrified her. On one desperate occasion, she’d left him and gone back to her mother’s house in Farmbank with the children, but it was even worse than living with Melvin. Her mother had taken over the children completely. In despair, she’d eventually gone back to the jungle of grey tenements and Dessie Street.

Her mother never let her forget that, as a result, she had caused the death of her dearly loved youngest baby, Robert. Robert would have been a schoolboy now with his cap and blazer and his schoolbag on his back, like Andrew. All she had left of Robert was the agonising memory of his round, baby eyes gazing up at her with adoration and trust.

‘God will punish you,’ her mother used to threaten. And, oh, He had.

She hated Melvin for insisting, eight years after they married and not long after his return from the war, on buying the big terraced house in Botanic Crescent, where they now lived. Admittedly, it was a nice, quiet crescent, looking out onto a bank of greenery and, beyond it, to the trees of the Botanic Gardens. But the place was enormous. It was too much for her. Even when his father had been alive and staying with them, it had been far too big and impossible for her to look after, especially in the way Melvin expected her to. She had just about killed herself in the attempt. She’d been worn down trying to nurse Melvin’s elderly father, as well as everything else. He wasn’t so bad during the day but he’d get up in the night, only to cause havoc doing frightening things like nearly setting the house on fire or wandering out of the house in the dark wearing only his pyjamas.

She hardly slept a wink for worrying about him getting up and setting the place on fire or going out and falling and injuring himself. Melvin was always in the bakehouse, of course, and never had to deal with his father’s distressing symptoms, refusing to face the fact that the old man was ill.

‘He just takes a wee dram too many at times, that’s all.’

He’d brush aside her desperate pleas to have his father put under professional care, such as in a nursing home.

‘You’re not going to put my father out on the street, so just shut up. You’re getting a right nag.’

That last dreadful night, she’d found the old man dead and had rushed out to the bakehouse to tell Melvin. The next thing she remembered, she had woken up in hospital. She’d suffered heavy bleeding for a long time. Now she was given a hysterectomy. Even her ovaries and appendix had been taken away.

‘You were in a right mess,’ the surgeon had told her.

For a long time after that, she was so weak that even Melvin realised she couldn’t cope on her own with such a huge house, along with all the work she had done for the business by doing the books and helping out in the shop from time to time. Anyway, whether he understood it or not, she simply refused to be his stupid slave any more.

‘I’ll have to get some domestic help,’ she told him. The best he could come up with was a woman for two mornings a week. It was better than nothing but still not enough. The house was on three storeys, with ten high-ceilinged rooms, counting the attics, plus cellars that she no longer ventured into. Nor did buxom Bella, the cleaning woman.

‘Ye’re rattlin’ aroon’ in the place like peas in a drum,’ Bella said. ‘Ye could have half-a-dozen families livin’ here. Did ye never think o’ takin’ in any lodgers?’

Catriona laughed derisively. ‘That’s all I need, a crowd of lodgers to look after.’

‘Naw, naw. I mean tae dae for themsels. This kitchen’s aboot as big as Hampden Park. There’s plenty room for them aw tae see tae themsels. An’ it would bring in a bob or two.’

Catriona was glad Melvin hadn’t been there at the time. The temptation to make more money might have overcome him.

‘It’s a thought,’ she said. A nightmare thought. Crowded chaos in the kitchen. It was more than enough to try to keep the place clean and tidy in between Bella’s visits. There were all the meals to see to as well. Melvin demanded to be fed at all sorts of odd times, and Fergus was often out very late at the dancing or some music club or other. He’d sleep late next morning as a result and then eat at different times from everyone else. But since he’d got the place at Aberdeen College of Music and Drama they only saw him for the occasional weekend.

She was thankful to at least be rid of the back-breaking routine of the old washboard, which had been replaced with one of the new twin-tub washing machines. For that she’d had to put up with, and was still putting up with, Melvin boasting about his generosity. She even had an electric iron instead of the old flat iron that had to be heated on the fire. And thank God for the Hoover! At one time, she’d had to take the rugs out, put them over the clothes line and beat them.

‘Think yourself lucky,’ was one of Melvin’s favourite phrases. ‘Not many women are as lucky as you.’

What a laugh! Sometimes he’d make a completely trivial remark and she’d snap back with some bitter sarcastic retort out of all proportion to his original comment. Her outburst would be the accumulation of days, weeks or months of silently simmering resentment about other more serious things he’d said or done. But Andrew and Fergus could not know this. She had always struggled to give them a peaceful, loving, secure home life – something that she’d never had herself. And, not knowing how she struggled to protect them from the truth about her marriage, fourteen-year-old Andrew would turn towards her after one of these outbursts and say, ‘Mum!’ in shocked reproof. He got on well with his dad and after school, at weekends and during the summer holidays, he often helped out in the bakehouse or the shop. She fought to control her bitterness and to keep quiet.

BOOK: The New Breadmakers
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