The Penny Dreadful, No. 3
Or, true tales of occurrences most vile from the vaults of The Stool Pigeon
Or, ‘Of When People Were Shorter and Lived Nearer The Water’
Five or six months ago there, we’d moved through the villages, up to Pittenweem, or P’eem, just another wee toon, a’ fu’ o’ holiday cottages and the like and those lucky auld souls like oorsells, who could afford to live in this wee slice of Eastern Splendour, with the sun’s rays, the fishing boats, the dog shite, the tourists, the heid-the-ba’s and the nae-tae-bads. A’ the gither, snug in the auld hooses, crammed the gither like biscuits in a tube, or a few feet apart in the new builds, names like Seagull’s Napper Hoose or Fife Ba’s Boulavogue. Mostly quiet here, aside from the drunks at the weekend, but they’re in every toon, thank Christ, or I’d stick oot like a wee sair thumb every show I did in provincial Engerland or furryboots I was singing ma sangs that weekend. Spain, mebbe. Hot drunks in the street, sweating away in their white white white shirts.
P’eem is an art toon though, ken, fu’ o’ the artist folk with their pictorial reminisces of the boats and such — the seagulls, sitting on rubbish looking cute, the seals, the puffins — real art, for real people. None of this abstract pishyness where ye cannae tell ye mannie fae yer grunnie an’ a; these were guid solid boats, mair boats, mair mither freakin’ boats. Sheesh.
But, we were there richt enough, stayin’ o’er whilst Scott the builder got it on wi’ rebuilding the auld fisherman’s loft in oor hoose, knocking it haff doon and building it back up, tae regulation standards, a’ the wee bits o’ paper needed, licences and a’ that. Folk popped round, ken, offered them tea, they had a wee looksee, charged us £72 and then gave us permission to plan. So, we planned a new wee room, suitable fer music or whitever.
So P’eem it was, a new auld hoose fer us a’, a wee twa flaired holiday hoose. Now, masel and ma misses were aye happy doon the stair, a kitchen, muckle marble floor, and a wee raised bit wi’ a big sofa and such — a TV of the size I’d only seen on the tele. Big black thing. I wiz worried if it fell o’er it’d crush ane o’ my we’ans, but it didnae, it wiz on ane o’ those wee plastic stand things, aye. We had a wee button to press and it sprung intae life like a fairy fae yon book, a’ the pictures fleein’ an’ leapin’ aboot but aye ye’ve all seen tele’s noo so no point gaen on aboot them any further, no.
And the we’ans slept up the stair, a wee room each, no’ big, wee, but fine enough and fair enough and room enough for them both. Had to watch the stairs the first few days, ken, in case they fell doon, no’ used to the shirp angles or the steep shoogly stair carpet. Fitted by a duncer, that was, a richt duff job, but ne’er you mind, we’re ootae it no’, I’d mebbe hae fixed it in the aulden days when I had energy passed the witching hoor, but now? Nah.
Anyhoos — first nicht — nae worries, a’ asleep. Tired through frae the move and the excitement o’ the tele and that, the wee book I’d read them, The Aye Happy Hen.
Good night dadda.
G’nicht to you too, ma wee wans.
And a’ tae bed.
A few nichts alang, though, and, weeell, things changed. We’ve got those wee porto radio things, ken? Like a wee walky-talk frae ane room to a nither, nae wires but, posh, and guid through wa’s. So, we can hear the we’ans at nicht? Easy. Works a treat, if ye mind tae plug them in, richt enough, but I aye mind that, no’ a difficult thing to remember, like a song or ought. Jist a plug tae be plugged. On. It is on. I have remembered. I woke up, middle o’ the nicht, needin’ a trip tae the cludgie, made my way there, in the derk, licht on, a’ done, licht aff, back tae bed, settle doon, when, an’ I swear this is true, as true as I am here the noo and so are you yersel, eating yer bun or picking yer bum or drinking yer tea or on yer bus or wherever ye are, but I heard ma wee boy ha’en a wee chat tae himself through the walky-talk. And ahm thinking, Jings whit a deft wee blighter he is, though he’s not, he’s a clever wee lad, but that’s whit ye think, isn’t it? It’s a sign of affection. But then, a’ o’ a sudden, it’s richt obvious that he’s talkin’ tae someone, no’ just himsell and ahm thinking, Wha the fecks up the stair? Is it a wee burglar boy? But nah, he’d o’ tripped on the shoogly carpet, he’d o’ burst his bassock fa’en doon the stair and screamed the hoose up. So, I listen in, intently likes, close and serious and richt enough I can just hear and nae mair, the soond o’ an auld wifey’s voice, chatting back tae him in some voice I cannae understand, some language awa beyond ma Fife schooling. An he’s talkin’ back, funny like, jist Ye an’ No and then he’d repeat whit she wiz sayin — or, the rythym o’ it, ken, as he cannae talk so well the yet, being jist 19 months auld. A wee lad. A bairn, still, just. So, ahm thinking, Help ma boab, and I shid go up the stair, but instead I wake ma wee wifie up and say, Hey, check this oot, hen, and she’s no so happy tae be awake, but soon enough she’s listening in and hearin’ whit ahm hearin’ and saying, What ever do you think it is, my handsome James, do you think the televison is on or the radiogramme perhaps? And ahm thinking, Nah lass, it’s a ghostie, a richt real deid ghostie, chatting away in the dark tae oor wee boy, talkin’ nonsensical nonsense aboot wha’ kens wha’. An’ we listen away a bitty until it all goes quiet and we eventually fall asleep, tae feart tae go up the stair and mak shure he’s a’ richt an’ no real need as he’s breathin awa fine, snoring, even, hearing him through the walky-talk speaker contraption I’d minded tae plug in jist doon beside the Ikea lampy.
Next morn and he’s up singing bricht ’n’ early, jist a rhyme, ‘Twinkly Twankly Ya Wee Star’, but he hasnae the wordage yet, or the tune, but ye aye ken richt enough that’s whit he’s attempting so ye gie him the benefit o’ the doubt as he’s just a we’an, no’ yet twa years tae him.
And am ootside, awa tae get some coos milk fae the missus tae hae on her porridge, her Scotts Porridge Oats, and a bump intae the old dear frae next door and richt awa she’s chattin’ like ahm her grandlad, which ahm nae at a’, I couldnae even mind her name, mebbe she’s Mrs Miggins, aye that’ll dae, Mrs Miggins fae the next hoose alang and she’s asking, Hoo’s the hoose? And a’ that and I think, richt quick, Aye, I’ll ask her a’ aboot the wee ghostie thing, so I do jist that, explaining whit wiz whit and whit wiznae and afore I ken it she’s aye spreffling aff some pish aboot the hoose being haunted by the wife o’ ane o’ the fisherman frae the aulden days, an auld dear left widdied by the sea, like so many were, she’s saying, an’ this ane had come a’ the way o’er fae Cork in Ireland, Cork city, she wiz fae, a lassie frae Ireland she was and a’ aboot how, one nicht, the boat had been oot in the stairm and ne’er came back, ne’er a sign o’ it, nae bod, nay flotsum an jetsum jist nothing at a’ and eftir thit day she rarely came oot the hoose, jist fir church an messages, and wiz always up the stair sayin her wee Papist prayer wi’ the Glory beads an’ that and thit wiz noo doot wit we’d heard the o’er nicht jist passed, it wiz the auld wifey, the auld widdied wifey, chattin away wi’ ma lad, ge’in him comfort in the nicht. God Bless her, I thought, he’d a been a’ feart in a new wee roomie an’ that and welcomed by her, no doubt.
We ne’er heard an’eer squeak, but. Couldnae record it, no. Waited up — nothing. A’ gone. And that is a’ a true true story, telt frae me tae you wi’ a’ ma love.
James Yorkston’s new album, I Was A Cat From A Book, is out now on Domino