Stories from the old Stevenstonians

When I were a lad I used to look forward to coming home from the church youth club to buy a bag of chips. It cost me the equivalent of 2p. You could probably have splashed out on a black pudding supper for less than 10p.

On other occasions you could go into a bakers in downtown Stevenston and ask for "a penny's worth of broken biscuits."

My fellow old Stevenstonian, Peter Grant, reminds me of the time when we were looking for said biscuits, only to be told by the woman, behind the counter, that they didn't have any. Cue a thud from the direction of her counter assistant, Nelly, who cheerily chirped up, "...there is now." Such joy as Peter and I made our way up to our homes in 'the scheme' tucking into bits of Bourbon and jagged digestives, possibly washed down by a bottle of Dandelion and Burdock....or was it Cream Soda?

Some folk, especially at Westminster, are Old Etonians with 'bools' in their mooths, as my mammy used to say. Peter and I are definitely old Stevenstonians whose school sat underneath the Catholic chapel, run by Canon Maxwell, on the road to the shore. Many's a time we made a half-hour walk in the freezing cold and morning darkness (lamp-post lights seemed dimmer back then) to carry out our duties as altar boys.

Incidentally, I put my love of vino tinto down to my apprenticeship on the altar, looking after the priests' chalices of wine (which as all good Catholics know is actually the blood of Christ).

Empty bottle of wine

I could tell you about a priest in Stevenston who was stopped for speeding but the police officer saw an empty bottle of wine under his seat. He asked Father if he had been drinking and he replied, "only water". When the officer pointed to the bottle asking what it was Father blurted out, "Good Lord, another miracle."

When Peter and I meet for our Still Game session on Thursday mornings in Cafe Renard we exchange a few jokes. This week's theme took us on to our Catholic upbringing. We reckoned that the earliest joke we heard was...'why did the sponge go to church? Because it was holy. Ouch.

Having been taught by the Little Sisters of the Poor (something like that) at St Michael's Academy I came up with the following: "What do you call a sleepwalking nun? A roamin' Catholic. Boom, boom.

Anyway, it was boyhood memories that had us retelling tales (some of them not repeatable here). As teenagers there was no sitting about texting, fleece-booking, webbing or playing video games. It hadn't been invented. We would be in our bedrooms...practising to be The Beatles but Gallagher and Lyle got there first.

We think we were far more industrious as boys of the 60s. I actually held down two jobs in the summer, delivering the Evening Times and Citizen around the scheme and then, with Peter, becoming tattie howkers during the day.

Tattie Howkers? Sorry, if you are an old Etonian or a product of a posh household but you won't know that I am speaking of pulling up potatoes from the fields. Not randomly, you understand but under the guidance of a feisty farmer or farmer's wife. Oh, heady days, we must have been paid at least 50p a day.

We reckon it was character forming, not to mention back breaking, but my abiding memory is of the vat of steaming tea which was as sweet as the most sugary tablet. No bottles of water back then, so you drank the tea and it put me off sugar in my char for life.

Empty lemonade bottles

However, while reminiscing we got on to the subject of scouring Stevenston shore for empty lemonade bottles. There were always plenty, and I don't know whether this was because litter bins hadn't been invented either.

We regularly augmented our pocket money by taking the bottles back to the shops and we don't see why it shouldn't be reintroduced in the burgeoning recycling mindset of today's society.

In fact, if we offered money back for both bottles and cans it could further the philosophy of a clean, green land in the same way that the 5p charge on plastic bags has reduced the sight of plastic, swinging on the breeze,on trees, fences and fields.Apparently, there are now 650 million bags taken out of circulation. It is done in many parts of the world such as Australia where the Scouts can make millions of dollars a year from systematic recycling of bottles and cans.

So, there you have it....a constructive suggestion from Peter and Drew's coffee morning deliberations. I am sure the politicians and civil servants can devise a system.