The Summer Holidays
9:10 a.m. on the last day before the summer holidays. A tap on my Form 5A classroom door. The Head Girl peeps in “Please Miss Maguire, Mr McLaughlin’s asking – Can you take Form 5B too?” I nod; Deirdre files in with her classmates.
Other girls may have fallen victim to the current fashion for messiness, but Flower Power has not taken root in Kelvin Academy; the girls’ faces shine, their hair is neat.
I’m proud of 5A and 5B, all set to burst into a classless society where a coal miner’s daughter can get her degree just as easily as a debutante; and as easily as any man. I hope they’ll enjoy their summer break as much as I’m going to enjoy mine.
First, though, there’s the Teaching Appointments Fair this afternoon. Some of my girls are interested in becoming educators. I’ve promised to take them along to Kelvin Hall, where the foreign schools are recruiting for top-drawer teaching appointments.
It will be nice for the girls to get an idea of the glamourous teaching jobs available abroad.
Glasgow-trained is still the first choice of all the best boarding schools, in spite of this stupid notion of “comprehensive” education. Not, of course, that a good school pays any attention to silly ideas like that. The one-size-fits-all education system is just another ’70s fashion, a fad. Like micro-mini skirts and pop art, it will come and go.
I met a charming man at the Teaching Fair, Yasin Yilmaz, extremely good-looking (Brian would have been jealous, I hope!) who turned out to be the Headmaster of the Nautical High School in Istanbul. A Boys School. They need a new head of department for English Studies. Pressing his card upon me, Professor Yilmaz insisted that I was perfect for the position.
Flattering, but not my cup of tea. I like Glasgow just fine. Bad enough that Brian is away so much. Brian’s a geologist. There’s not a lot of live-in-your-hometown jobs for geologists.
Eleven years ago, when we graduated, he got a job with Geophysical Services International. So he’s at sea most of the year, and his ship is usually near Singapore or Bali when they get shore leave. But he has 6 weeks home leave twice a year. We have a grand time then!
Luckily it’s a only short bus ride from Kelvin Hall to Merrylea, and pretty soon I’m strolling home from the bus stop. I can see Morag’s wee red Mini sitting at the kerb. Great, she’ll be baking already, if I know our Morag.
Katriona yields up her kitchen with a smile whenever Morag appears on our doorstep, for there’s no-one else can cook like Morag, who is convinced Kat doesn’t eat enough and Niall needs “feeding up”. There’s some mothers would bridle at that, but not our Kat.
It’s true enough that when her man was taken so suddenly in that awful minehead disaster Kat was beside herself with grief – glad of any helping hand, and tearfully grateful that I was there for her – but that was more than two years ago. Kat is eating fine now.
She’ll have our tea ready to put on the table when I get in, and she doesn’t need Morag to do the baking for her anymore. But only a nutter would say No to Morag’s brandy snaps.
And if the price of Morag’s cooking is that she fusses over her nephew more than any 10 year old much likes, not even Niall is daft enough to complain about that! He is very thin, but it’s because he takes after his dad. Iain was dark and quiet, tall and thin, an amazing contrast to Kat, who is small and plump (like all the Maguires) with fine milk-white skin and huge eyes.
It was something to see us in our teens, the four Maguire girls giving Exhibition Irish Dance in our plain green tunics that mum had so carefully matched to the exact shade of our eyes, our upper bodies stock still, our auburn curls jigging. I never did understand how our bodies (plump even then) could be so still and yet the curls dance as fast as our feet. But you could hear a pin drop when we began to dance, the four of us in a row.
Then Brenda emigrated to Canada, and after that Kat and Morag and me gave up the dancing. It just wasn’t the same.
Pretty soon after, Morag settled down with Shuggie, who’s been her sweetheart since the primary school playground, and then Kat married Iain after a lightning courtship, and I met Brian and he sailed off on a GSI ship.
I hope that Morag’s man won’t be with her today. Shuggie thinks all women should be happy to stay at home cooking, and I don’t need him bringing my mood down in these precious first hours of the summer holidays.
Heading straight into the kitchen I hug Morag “Yummy! I smell brandy snaps” just like I didn’t know about the treat waiting for me the second I saw her car.
“Màiri!” she scolds fondly “you’ll get flour from my apron all over your good school dress! You’re always so careless of your work clothes.”
“Well, I’ve plenty of other good clothes, and all summer to wash them.” I grin at her.
“Shuggie’s working late.” Morag is quick to excuse her man’s absence, never dreaming that he and I just don’t see eye to eye. “I told him I wanted him to come celebrate the start of the school holidays with us, but you know what men are.”
A great cook and a fond sister, our Morag, but tactful? Not so much.
The four of us sit down at the kitchen table to eat, and Niall is full of everything he’s been doing with his mates.
Saturday morning and the first day of the holidays, double reason for a lie-in. But sunshine is pouring through my bedroom window, and we so seldom see the sun that I can’t bring myself to waste the day.
Besides, I’ve promised to go shopping with my friend Lianna, who runs the bakery across the road from Kelvingrove Park, and has a rare Saturday off. A shame to waste a golden day like this in the Sauchiehall Street shops, but Lianna needs cheering up.
We’ll get some lunch in Dino’s café. Cappuccino and ’talie ice cream will be the very thing for her, if she hasn’t started dieting again.
Ever since she found out last winter that her soon-to-be-ex husband Donal was cheating on her, Lianna has been dieting whenever she isn’t bingeing on cream cakes and Barrs Irn Bru.
“I’m sooo fat” she moans. Lianna is not fat. She’s dark and intense, very good-looking in a way that screams ‘catch me if you can’, for all that she’s so prim and proper.
Sometimes she squeezes herself into Hot Pants, though, and hates how she looks in them. No-one over 18 can look good in Hot Pants. You wouldn’t catch me dead wearing them.
I’m glad that Lianna has decided to have a makeover. Although when I found out she’d booked in her makeover for the first day of the summer hols I could’ve killed her.
Never mind. Lianna and me have been pals since our first day at primary school together. Anything for a pal, right? I throw back the covers...
After a marathon shopping spree, me and Lianna are eating spaghetti together in one of the booths in Dino’s and she is telling me a long story about tax which frankly I can’t understand.
She’s being taxed as a business owner even although it’s been months since she bowed out of the camping gear business which she and Donal had been running together before she found out about him carrying on behind her back. (It’s because of her business skills that Lianna was able to go straight in as a manager at the bakery shop.)
I know from painful experience that Lianna isn’t going to be satisfied with me nodding and exclaiming “That’s awful!” every 5 minutes. She wants me to understand all the ins and outs of her tale of woe, and she’ll get really annoyed if I don’t. So I try.
“I thought you did all the accounts for the business, Lianna?” I begin.
“That’s right Màiri. I did all the accounts when I was there but I’m not there now, am I?”
I nod, hoping that will come across as sympathetic.
“In heaven’s name Màiri, at least try to understand, can’t you? My charmer of an ex-husband – well, he’ll be my ex soon, and it can’t be soon enough! That nitwit Donal messed up the accounting records after I’d left, and he took all the money I’d put into a savings account for the taxes and spent it on some stupid souped-up car.”
This interests me, I mean How can a car cost a whole year’s worth of a thriving business’s taxes? But I know better’n to ask, because Lianna would eat me alive.
“That’s awful!” Really I should have known better than to say that. I do know better, but I can’t be on my top game all the time, and especially not on the first day of the summer hols.
When she came back down from orbit, Lianna explained to me in kindergarten words what had happened. Donal told the income tax people that she, Lianna, had emptied the business bank account when she left him, and that he, Donal, couldn’t make any sense of the mess she’d left the accounts in. “And they believe him!”
I can help her with that. “Do you have a name for the Inspector who’s handling the case?”
“Yes, Charlie Stout.”
I’m confused again - why is Lianna, of all people, calling a tax inspector by an affectionate diminutive of his first name? “Why do you call him that?”
“That’s how he signs his letters.”
“Well, ok. What you do is, you make an appointment to see him, and you take your bank statements with you, and the last statements you have for the company’s bank accounts, and you explain what happened.”
“Do you really think that will work?” Lianna looks doubtful, but that’s a huge improvement on her looking furious.
“Of course it will!”
Well, how was I to know what would happen? If two of my girls were telling me different stories about who had cheated in an exam, I would listen carefully to each of them; then I’d examine the available evidence; maybe call in our Head, Aloysius McLaughlin, if necessary; and finally arrive at a fair and considered judgement...
To my amazement, the sunshine lasts for two whole weeks. I take Niall to the park, referee scratch football games, and come the first rainy day I’m sitting with Katriona in the teashop at the Art Gallery chatting about this and that while Niall tears around all over the museum.
“He’s got to let off steam” explains his fond mum, and I certainly don’t disagree. Besides, it’s the Chinese exhibits that he’s tearing around (we can see him through the glassed-in gallery or Kat would be down there with him; since Iain’s death she never lets him out of her sight if she can possibly help it) and Niall is a very smart wee laddie, so he’ll be learning something about China without even knowing that he’s doing it.
If Brian and I ever have a bairn, I hope the wee one will be as bright as Niall. I got a letter from him this morning, sent from Hong Kong. He’ll be home in another 10 days, and he wants to take me to dinner at Rogano’s his first night back!
I’m not getting any younger, and so I’m hoping this means that at last Brian is thinking of wedding bells.
Lianna took my advice. She went to see Charlie Stout at the Kilmarnock Tax Office. I did offer to go along with her, but she didn’t want me.
Telling me about their interview afterwards, she’s incandescent with rage. She says he had the nerve to try to flirt with her.
“Perhaps” I murmur soothingly “he was just trying to set you at ease. Perhaps he’s a little socially awkward.”
Lianna sniffs, pitying my naivety. “No, he was flirting, well, trying to, the scunner.”
I sigh. I hope that she was less scathing when she was in his office. Men can get very upset when Lianna rejects them… and he is her tax inspector.