A STORY OF THE GARDEN FESTIVAL IN GLASGOW, GREAT BRITAIN
It had been a glorious summer. Glasgow didn’t get many of them. Perhaps it was fate that the year of the Garden Festival was the warmest and driest summer that anyone could remember. The festival was meant to regenerate the wastelands that had been left when all the shipyards had closed down along the Clyde. An area the size a hundred football pitches stretching along the south side of the river from the Kingston Bridge out to Govan. There had been other Garden festivals around England. Everyone agreed this was the most successful, perhaps that said something about the people of Glasgow.
One day Mum announced, ‘Right. Your Dad has a day off work tomorrow and we’re all going to visit the Garden Festival.’
So here we were. Mum, Dad and me on a daytrip. It was another scorching day. Blue skies and not a gasp of breeze along the river. We left our house early in the morning. Dad joked that he got a longer lie in bed when he had to go to work. The queues to get in had already started to form and we joined one of them. The gates opened at nine. We had to wait ten minutes before the queue started moving forward slowly. There were a couple of other lines at the end that moved a lot quicker than our one did. They were for the season ticket holders, Mum said. They had earned the right to get in quicker because they paid more. It didn’t bother me. I was too excited. Mum paid for our tickets and we went in.
‘We get on the trams over here,’ I told them and headed off to join another queue. We didn’t have to wait long to get on a tram. I grabbed Dad’s hand and dragged him up the tight stairs to the top level and got the seat right at the front. Mum followed us and sat next to us. The bell rang and the tram lurched forward. When we were moving Dad took something out of his pocket. It was a small, black rectangle with lens on one side and a little glass square to look through on the other.
‘Look over here, Daniel,’ I turned to look at him. ‘Give me a big smile.’ I smiled and he pushed a button on the top of the camera. Then he wound a small disc in the side of it until it clicked again. He handed the camera to me.
‘There you go,’ he said. ‘You record the day for us. There’s only twenty-seven photos on the film mind so don’t waste them. Make sure you get good pictures.’
‘Frank, where did you get that?’ Mum asked.
‘Don’t worry. It was only a cheap one that I got off Gordon.’ Gordon was one of his friends from the pub. I had never met him but I knew of him as the supplier of a lot of the presents Dad would bring home for me at the end of his day at work. I put the camera up to my eye and looked through the viewfinder. I spun round looking for something to take a photograph of. I settled on Mum.
‘Smile, Mum.’ Mum’s face broke into a wide grin. I clicked the button and then wound the camera on to the next photograph.
There was a long queue to go up the viewing tower, a big platform that raised you up to look over the city below. While we were debating whether it was worth the wait – Mum and I were in favour, Dad was against – they announced it had broken and wouldn’t be fixed until the following day. That settled that. Disgruntled people walking away muttered about this happening all the time. I wasn’t sure why they were so upset, there was so much other stuff to see and do.
Mum’s only request was to go and look at a garden that had lots of different roses. I wasn’t too bothered about it but some of them looked nice with lots of different colours.
‘This is what our garden could be like if you didn’t kick your football into all the plants,’ Mum told me. I took a photo of Mum looking at the roses. I started to get bored and when Mum said she wanted to go and look at one more garden, Dad offered to take me for a juice and a snack while Mum did that.
We walked along until we found a white building called the Milk Bar. I ordered a strawberry milkshake and got to choose my own cake. They had the most delicious looking strawberry tarts with a giant strawberry buried in thick strawberry sauce. I took a photograph of the cake before biting into it. I had never enjoyed eating a piece of fruit so much. Mum found us sitting at a table outside and laughed at the strawberry syrup that covered my mouth and chin. We went to the beach and all made our own sandcastles. After a lunch of burger and chips in another café, we went inside a strangely shaped building made of glass panels that went at all angles. There was some sort of display inside about all the old shipyards on which the festival was built. They had old films, all grainy and black and white. Lots of men walked about in a funny way with big moustaches and all wearing funny hats. They were the ship workers, Mum told me, just like her Dad and Grandad had been.
‘Will they be in the films?’ I asked.
‘Might be,’ Mum said, ‘but they’ll be difficult to spot.’ I watched for five minutes hoping to see a familiar face before I gave up. They showed big ships crashing down runways and splashing into the water.
We made it back to the bandstand in the middle of the park for three o’clock. There was a show scheduled to be on then. We got there in time to see the big clock in the centre of the bandstand strike three. As the bell rang out the machine whirred to life. It started turning round and lots of different characters started dancing and moving to the chimed music. Then the show started. Other families and couples were sat on the steps around us. It was a man dressed as a clown who told jokes that I didn’t find funny but when he started folding balloons and throwing foam pies about he was much more entertaining. Dad threatened to get a pie and throw it at Mum and me but he didn’t in the end.
At five it was time to go home. The park stayed open later but Dad had to go somewhere that night. Mum said that we could stay while Dad went off if I wanted to. I really wanted Dad to stay with us. In the end Mum said I could go and get another strawberry tart if I wanted so I changed my mind. Just as Dad was saying good bye and about to get on a tram I shouted him back.
‘Wait. I have one photograph left,’ I shouted. He came back towards us.
‘Quickly then. What do you want a photograph of?’
‘I don’t have one of all of us.’ Dad smiled. He looked round and found a woman standing near us, clearly waiting on someone else to arrive.
‘Do you mind taking a photo of us?’ he asked the woman. She agreed. I handed her my camera.
‘It’s all ready,’ I instructed her, ‘you just have to look through there and press the button. And make sure you don’t put your finger in front of the lens.’ I was convinced I had already ruined at least two of my limited photographs by doing that.
‘Okay, son,’ the woman said and stood up. Dad put his arm round Mum and I stood in front of them. I felt Dad’s arm round my shoulder. ‘All say ‘cheese,’’ the woman said and clicked the button. She handed the camera back to me. Dad jumped onto the tram that was leaving to take him back to the entrance to the park. He turned back and leaned out, holding onto a pole and waved at us.
‘Come on,’ Mum said and I was happy to take her hand.
We got back to the white Milk Bar building. They had sold out of the strawberry tarts for the day. I got a chocolate milkshake instead but it wasn’t the same. I tried not to let Mum see that I was sad Dad wasn’t there with us anymore. I got the feeling she was trying to hide the same feeling from me.
Written as part of The A to Z Challenge 2018. Click HERE for more details of the challenge.
Each day in April we will visit a different town or city in the European Union, whose name will begin with the letter of the day – today it’s an overly long (apologies, dear reader) indulgent childhood memoir from my home city of Glasgow, Scotland in Great Britain – for a story based on a theme also corresponding to the same letter.
Over the course of the month and 26 stories, we will visit all 28 member countries to complete a farewell tour before Britain leaves the political union next year, touching on the history, politics, culture and people at the heart of Europe.
For a full list of stories and the places visited, visit here: THE A TO Z CHALLENGE 2018.