Monday, 23 September 2013

Friday nights started at Frankie Davie's


Friday nights started at Frankie Davie's Café just after school with an ice-cream soda in winter, or a bowl of strawberries and ice cream in summer : the compliments of my Grannie Jackson. I used to think this was my treat because I was very special. My younger sister never came with us and my youngest sister was still a toddler. My mother put me right about this some years later, letting me know I was a very exhausting laddie and she wanted me “out o’ the road” so that she could spend some time with my sisters.  My Daddy never approved of my jaunts with Grannie, frequently reminding my Mummy how “ Your mother is turning my son into a spoilt brat.”  Nonetheless from early 1955 until late 1957 this sweet 4 o’clock indulgence marked the start of an end of the week ritual for my Grannie and me.


At a quarter to five when I had cleared this 'paternally frowned upon' confection out of the way, Grannie and I left the café and took a tram from the terminus in front of Lochee West Church, at the back of Liff Road School. The tram swung and bumped us all the way down to the Nethergate where we got off and paid a visit to a sweetie shop where Grannie bought me a quarter pound of boilings which I sooked and crunched my way through for the next two hours. Grannie always tried to insist that I sook them but I couldn't resist the temptation of gambling even further with  my teeth's long-term health and so after an initial sook I crunched them anyway.  When she saw me do this Grannie feigned to skelp me and would say, “N’ dinnae tell yer Da Eh bocht ye’ them or he’ll murder us.”

Once in receipt of the sweeties we'd go to the Palace Theatre which was just by and behind the Queens Hotel near the place where Dundee Contemporary Arts now stands.

We were at the theatre to watch the six o'clock performance of the variety show, which took place there twice nightly from Monday to Saturday. In exercising my memory back those 50 years and more, I enter a 10 years old boy's mind for detail which demands me to inform you that as well as the nightly performances there was a matinee performance on Wednesday afternoons. Wednesday was half day closing for the stores in Dundee and the matinee allowed frustrated shoppers and those who served in the shops of Dundee an extra opportunity to see the show. I know this because I had asked Grannie what a matinee was.




When we got into the theatre we'd go to the box office where Grannie bought us the cheapest tickets which gave us seats up in the gallery. I've heard people call the gallery of a theatre "the Gods" and certainly being up there felt like being an all seeing god. Usually we were the only people in the gallery and from where we sat it felt to me as if we were unseen onlookers who were secretly spying on everything and everyone.  It was thrilling to be looking down on the stalls, the orchestra pit and the huge shiny dark red damask curtains that hid the stage. We were always early and I enjoyed watching as members of the audience  arrived in ones and twos to take their seats in the stalls.

A few minutes before the show was due to start the members of the orchestra would appear from what seemed the bowels of the earth and climb up into the orchestra pit which itself was at a lower level than the stall seats in the auditorium.  I use the word ‘orchestra’ in a loose sense since most weeks the orchestra's complement was a very old female violinist, an even older male piano player of considerable girth and a younger male drummer who had slicked back Silvikrinned or Brylcreemed black hair. For the shows headlined by the bigger stars such as Jimmie Logan, Johnny Victory or Lex McLean the orchestra appeared to grow with the addition of a trumpeter and sometimes a trombonist. 

Once they'd got to their places the musicians seemed to fidget around to settle into their playing positions before beginning to tune their instruments  in a desultory way until, without signal, but with a precise urgency, each player took up a poised attitude:  the trumpeter with his trumpet to his lips, the violinist sitting upright with her instrument under her chin and her bow suspended in the air ready to brush the strings, the pianist, both hands poised in the air staring intently at his keyboard  and the drummer leaning forward holding still his cymbal.  The chatter of the audience decrescendo’d to anticipatory silence.  The auditorium lights went down and momentarily plunged us into darkness. The cymbal smashed and the  orchestra struck up with "Happy Days Are Here Again" as the stage lights came up and the curtains rose and there in the spotlight was a troupe of dancers, the Moxon Ladies, kicking up one leg after another in unison. The magic had started and the show rollicked on for almost two hours through a series of performances by  jugglers, acrobats, a duo of balletic dancers, a middle of the bill comedian, a magician, a solo female singer, a male crooner  until finally the star of the show, usually a comedian like Johnny Victory would do his main turn. Often the show was interspersed by comic sketches acted out by the star and some of the other performers. For the grand finale the dancing troupe would return and each of the performers would in turn take their bow all to the tune of "There's No Business Like Show Business" and we in the audience would clap our hands in applause until the curtain came down. If there was a big audience the applause would continue for a while longer and the stage curtain would rise again and the entertainers would take another bow. We'd continue clapping until the curtain was lowered again but that was that. The orchestra fell silent and the artistes did not re-appear. Grannie told me they never did more than one curtain call for the early show because they needed a rest before the second performance went on at about 8.15 pm.

 Afterwards Grannie would take me to the Deep Sea Fish Restaurant nearby where she'd have a fish supper and I would have a dressed white pudding supper. Just to let you know, a plain white pudding was fried without batter on it but a dressed one was fried with batter. 

A Dundee institution : The Deep Sea Restaurant

After this feast Grannie would take her 'stuffed to the gunnels but well entertained' grandson home on the tram back to Lochee. From the terminus we'd walk up to Clement Park. She'd knock on the door and I went in and would go straight upstairs to bed. Grannie would never come in if my Daddy answered the door. If my Mummy answered the door she’d usher Grannie into the kitchen for a cup of tea and tell her to “hud yer wheesht, Ma, Chic’s in the living room.”  My Daddy would be listening to the radio or watching the television there.

After an ice-cream soda, strawberries and cream, a quarter pound of boiled sweets and a dressed white pudding supper I was, as my Daddy invariably predicted I would be, sometimes sick. When that happened he would say to my Mummy, “Never again,” but there was always an again even after the last tram left Lochee for the Nethergate in 1956. From then on Grannie and I went 'doon the toon’ on a number 20 bus until in December 1957 our Friday evenings came to their end when my last train left Dundee for England.

 The site of the tram terminus : photograph of Lochee West Church on the only day it rained in August 2013 .


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