Wednesday, 11 April 2012

John Jackson : Granda, scaffy, home maker, smoker and philosopher

John Jackson, my Granda was a great man. He loved everyone and in particular he loved Nellie, my Grannie Jackson. As long as he lived, he'd do anything for her. Mind you she was to become very much in charge of things in their household.

Though poverty still exists in parts of the city, in the 1920s, 30s and even into the 40s there was widespread poverty in Dundee.   Jobs were hard to come by. A great number were unemployed. Many  emigrated to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA for what they hoped would be a new and prosperous life. Dundee was a significant port in those days and so another route into paid work for many of the city's young men was to join the merchant navy. This was a path all three of his  sons were eventually to take but my Granda Jackson didn't.

Following the first world war Granda Jackson got a job as a scaffy and after a while the wages he earned from sweeping the city's streets encouraged him to pluck up the courage to ask Grannie to marry him. A few years later he lost his job because the City Corporation discovered he had a club foot which in his desperation to find work was something he had hidden from the authorities. For the rest of his working life he was either unemployed or doing any temporary odd job he could pick up. In another sense though he wasn't unemployed. Nellie, that is my Grannie Jackson, gained full time work at Cox's Jute Mill in Lochee.  In those days in Dundee it was less difficult for women to find a job than it was for men. The jute mills were keen to employ fast working and less expensive female labour. Still, low wages or not, in many households the women were the breadwinners. Dundee became known as a "women's town." So it was Granda Jackson who was the home maker, who kept the tenement flat they lived in ship-shape and it was he who washed, fed, dressed and sent the weans to school on time. He was the one who made sure there was a dinner ready on the table when Grannie had finished her shift at the mill.

Granda was a great support and source of encouragement to his wife and family.  He was very proud of them too.  He was full of admiration for Chrissie - his eldest daughter and who was, in due course, to become my Mum - when she became a nurse. He was proud too when decades later I became the first member of his family to go to college and train to become a teacher. When he heard that I had qualified he said, "Eh dinnae care whit any o' ye say, Eh'll bla' aboot this tae a' body, and then Eh'll  bla' aboot it again." More than any diploma or degree Granda's pride in me remains the most precious accolade I've ever received.

Granda could be a philosopher. My remembrance of a conversation I had with him when I was about 6 or 7 years old brings this to mind.  Granda was a cigarette smoker.  "Woodbine" I think was his brand. I can't remember clearly because unlike other grown ups during my childhood, he never asked me to go to fetch cigarettes for him from the local shop. Occasionally he would smoke a pipe and I noticed that he did not spit while he was smoking a pipe as my Grandad Sharpe did. Grandad Sharpe was someone who always smoked a pipe. One day I asked Granda why he didn't spit into the fireplace when he was smoking a pipe like Grandad Sharpe did. "Weel, Charlie," he said, "There are twa kinds o' smokers. There are dreh anes and wet anes. Ye're ither granda is a wet smoker."

"But Granda," I persisted, "Why then are there dry smokers and why are there wet smokers ?"

"Ach, Charlie," Granda replied, "afore lang ye learn there're questions there's nae answer tae." 
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