Janet’s scissors were snipping away at an old man’s silver hair when I walked in.
‘…divint kna’ they’re born these days.’
His accent was richer than Geordie; more rural.
‘Aye that’s right, Jimmy.’ Janet winked at me.
I got ready for the tirade of ill feeling towards young people though I’m getting to that age when I sometimes take a similar view.
‘Time’s used to be very hard, roon here.’
I buried my nose in the magazine I’d lifted and listened to the interjections of the hairdresser as she clipped at the little hair he had left.
‘They get everything these days…’
‘So they do.’
‘An’ they appreciate nothin’.’
‘Just put your head a bit forward for me there, Jimmy?’
‘They ha’ mobile phones and computers ye kna.’
‘Just straighten your head again…’
‘When A was a lad, my mother didn’t ha’ ony fancy washin’ machine or cooker. We had just the range an’ the tin bath an’ me father used tae wash in that efter a shift doon the pit.’ Jimmy laughed and his laughter was like bubbles rising out of the dark. ‘He’d be that black, ye cudna see ‘im al winter lang unless it snawed!’
Janet laughed at that and so did I.
‘We hoyed the dirty watter intae the back lane.’
‘Where did you live, Jimmy?’
‘First Row, the colliery hooses, just round the corner here. An’ I went tae the juniors too. Mind you the school was nearly new then. That was a lang time noo.’
‘What age are you anyway?’
‘You don’t look it. He doesn’t look eighty nine, does he?’
He did look every minute of eighty nine, but such are social mores that I agreed.
Jimmy gave a hefty sigh. ‘There wisn’t many got tae my age. A was just a wee lad. We went back tae school after the summer an’ there was that few o’ us left so the teacher telt us tae double up classes. In fact ye cud ha’ taught the whole school at once.’
I put down my magazine.
‘We used tae play footy doon the lonin at the back o’ the hooses an’ there was an open drain doon the middle. Al the watter we used for anythin’, used to gan doon that gully. It was like an open sewer, you understand. Weel, it was hot weather an’ first Freedie Fenwick an’ then Eddy Cuthbertson went doon wi’ it – cramps and a nosebleed. Freedie didna last lang, like. Twenty four hours and he was gone an’ my father told me himself. Explained it was the cholera. Before I knew it there was naybody tae play with. Aye…’
Jimmy shook his head and rubbed the back of a wrinkled hand. I could feel the loss of his pals ooze out of him.
‘Aye,’ he said, ‘that was a terrible year.’
(Disasters at local and at national level are common throughout human history. Let us live at peace and with compassion for all.)
Published with permission
Cuts was first published in The Pygmy Giant, 2010