Our hero encounters a spaceship disguised as a shop.
To a seven-year-old boy, the world was an exciting place. In his world, he was a super hero, afraid of nothing. Francis pored over his Superman and Batman comics (bought for 9 old pennies from a shop in Orr Street), his young mind soaking in all the fantastic stories that helped feed his wild imagination.
One day, the wee boy’s granny sent him off to Paterson’s Dairy for a packet of Red Label Brooke Bond tea. Paterson’s was just across the road from the his granny’s close - that shop being on one end of the tenement on the right and Dick’s Dairy being on the other, to the left. Depending on the granny’s state of ‘tick’ (credit), she rotated between the two.
While still at his front door, he spun round quickly, shouting, “den den DEN!”, transforming himself into - Fearless Francis! His woollen jumper and short trousers changing into an imaginary blue costume and cape. These colours he changed frequently, depending on what comics he had read.
So Fearless Francis, his super acute hearing switched on and x-ray vision already scanning for wrongdoing, continued on his mission, but first he had to fight off twenty Martians who lay in wait for our intrepid hero at the close mouth (tenement entrance). Battling his way onto the street he dispensed with them one by one. Having saved the world yet again, he crossed the road. It was quite safe for a child then, not many cars went down Cubie Street in those days. But what was this? A new shop had just opened right in the middle of the tenement opposite. Was this the spaceship of his arch enemy Zantor, heavily disguised as a shop? Had Zantor moved his base from Mars to Glasgow to do his evil deeds? Obviously, this had to be investigated.
It was a second-hand furniture shop. Grotty old smelly settees filled the place, chairs stacked up on the corner, tables dispersed among the settees and wardrobes lining the back wall. It looked as if the shop was not open for business yet. There was no sign above the shop, but the door was open. This could be a trap, thought Fearless Francis, using his super power brain.
He crept quietly into the shop, turning his head from left to right, scanning the shop with his x-ray vision, ready for any eventuality. Unfortunately his x-ray vision failed to spot the big man standing right in front of him as he turned his head back to the front.
“Whit the hell ur ye dae’n in ma shoap, ya nosey wee shite!”, the man bellowed at the boy, grabbing the unfortunate urchin by the collar. Francis reacted swiftly - he wet himself.
Not so much ‘pzzzzz’, more like, ‘SKOOSH!’ and in copious amounts. Far too much for short trousers to hold, the excess liquid pouring onto the furniture shop floor. The shop owner was so angry at this and threw Francis out of the shop. By this time Francis’s super alter ego had completely left him to fend for himself.
Having being reduced to being a mere mortal and also being reduced to tears, he still had to go to Paterson’s for the tea. He stood in the queue with the smell of urine very strong. No one said a word to him, he bought the Red Label Brooke Bond tea and had to make the dreaded journey back to his granny’s. This terrified him more than the man in the shop. He had given his granny a showing up and she would not forgive him.
Luckily, his granny was a kind woman, although stern with the wee boy for his own good, when she saw the state he was in, she was more concerned than angry, recognising that he was still shaking with fear and shock. She put her arms around him and Francis told his story between sobs and floods of tears.
In the comfort of his granny’s arms, he was safe and secure with the one who loved him. As his granny caressed him gently, he felt a lot better and soon the fear was gone. His granny hugged him and rocked him to and fro, her arms enclosing him like a warm safe blanket of love.
Grandmothers are just as protective of their grandchildren as the children’s own mothers, even more so. In fact a granny feels she has nothing to lose by getting ‘tore in’ to anyone who “hurts a wean” - so woe betide anyone who is foolish enough to invoke a visit from an irate granny. The furniture shop man was about to find this out.
The day after Francis’s traumatic experience at the hands of the man, granny paid the shop a visit.
The man was busy extolling the virtues of an old settee when he noticed the rotund figure of an old woman standing just inside the door of the shop. Thinking nothing more of it, he returned to his customers, a middle-aged couple who had more money than sense and who were almost ready to buy the settee, which had probably been retrieved from a dump.
“Haw - You!!!”, granny’s voice boomed into the shop, “Ah waant a wurd!”
“Aye, later ya auld bag, Ah’m busy.”, replied the man, irritably.
“Whit did he say?”, asked granny to the woman behind her.
Turning back into the street, granny asked again, for her hearing was not good. Milling round the shop door were some neighbours from the close and Francis. The granny had lost no time in telling the neighbours about what happened to her ‘poor wee lamb’.
Rolling up her cardigan sleeves and pulling off her scarf, she marched straight into the shop, right up to the man and jabbed her finger into his chest.
“So ye think you’re a big man threatenin' a wee wean dae ye?”, the finger prodding him some more.
The pain of the prodding finger made the man step back. He was just about to give the owner of the finger some verbal abuse when he noticed that his shop was filling up with some very angry-looking women. Recognising the boy, it all fell into place - experience had taught the man that he was ‘for it’ and that there was nothing else to do but to take what was coming.
Francis was getting scared; the women were swarming all over the place, pushing him against a wardrobe. There wasn’t much room in that small shop. The couple asked to leave and they headed for the door, squeezing past the angry women. By this time the granny had built up a full head of steam. She prodded him again.
“You’re lucky Ah’ve no tolt ma man - He’d shake the shite oot o' ye!”, prodding him some more.
If truth be known, grandad was never known as a fighting man and usually left it to ‘hur’ to sort any trouble out with the grandchildren or the neighbours.
By this time the crowd of women were getting excited and were mocking the defenceless man. The granny’s prodding was getting more intense, but the last prod became a fist and she hit him hard on the chest, knocking him backwards over the edge of a settee, making him fall across the seats. This was unintentional on granny’s part, but lucky for him. “Aw hen, Ah’m really sorry, Ah’ll no dae it again, Ah promise - gonnae no hit me!!”, the man pleaded, raising his arms up in defence, expecting more blows.
At that, the women’s anger turned to laughter, and one woman cried out, “Look at yon big feartie, scared o' a wee auld wumman!”
The granny gave a chilling warning to the frightened man.
“If Ah ever hear o' you touching any wean in this street, you’ll answer tae their faithers, and by Christ it’ll no be a punch you’ll get next time!”
With honour satisfied, the granny swaggered towards the door, the women respectfully clearing the way, Francis proudly following her. The man sensibly stayed on the couch until everyone had gone.
A few days later, Fearless Francis was back on duty. He had learned that his arch enemy Zantor had moved his spaceship to Orr Street and had plans to steal all the comics out of the bookshop.
With his imaginary costume now changed to red, he embarked on his mission, but first he had to check out the furniture shop across the road. With steely determination he approached the locked door and shook the handle to make sure. He gave the shop the once-over with his x-ray vision - all clear.
The furniture shop had closed. The man had broken into the empty shop a few days ago, fitted new locks and was using the shop illegally. The factor had been tipped off, but the man was long gone by the time the factor’s men arrived to claim the property back.
Knowing that the world was safe in this street, Fearless Francis set off on his deadly mission a few galaxies away - round the corner in Orr Street. He did not know how many light years he’d be away.
But granny was making stovies - so he had to be home by six.
© Wishart Frankfield
- A video showing Glasgow tenements
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