When ah wis six ah joined the cubs. Aye, so whit ah cun hear ye’s saying. So whit is ah wis a girl. Aye, a girl. Six years auld an’ in the cub scouts. It wis 1969. An’ whitever ye’s hink, Dundee in 1969 wis not a hot bed o’ modernity.
So hoo did it happen? Aye, ye’s are mair interested in ma story the noo eh? Ah wis the only girl in the history o history (as far as I kenned) wha got intae the cubs. It cam aboot lik this. Ma ma took me n’ ma brither – he wis turned eight – tae join the cubs (fer him) an the Brownies (fer me) She wis keen on equality wis ma ma. If wan o’ us hud tae suffer we baith did. Or if wan o’ us wanted somehing, the ither hud tae get a fair shot an’ a, even if they didnae want it. The year afore, ah wis desperate tae be in The Sound o’ Music which wis being done locally. (Even though I hud tae play a girl). An’ ma ma made ma brither gang alang wi’ me an’ dae a song wi’ me at the audition. It wis Thumbelina. He hated it. Sae it wis payback time. He wis tae join the cubs n’ ah wis tae join the Brownies, wither ah wanted it or not. I didnae ken if ah did or no, cause ah didnae richtly ken whit it wis a’ aboot.
An it wis a’ whit ye’d ca’ hypothetical aeyways cause the Brownie’s flat down refused tae huv me. Tae young. Naehing near ma seventh birthday an’ Brown Owl she jist wisnae a bird wha wid bend a rule niver mind breakin’ wan. So ah wisnae fer the Brownies. But ma brither wis fer the Cubs. He wis of an age and there wis nae backin’ oot fer hum. An ah’m guessing it wis less tha ma ma wanted us tae be equal an’ mair as she wanted a bit o’ time tae hersel’ on a Wednesday evenin’ but somehoo she managed tae talk Akela (a better kinna hing as a daft Brown Owl eh no?) tae tak’ me an’ a’. She cam oot wi some sich as ah hud cried masel tae sleep cus the Brownie’s widnae huv me, an’ it wid only be till ah wis seven an she wis a guid persuasive wumman ma ma an’ the end result wis that ah jined the cubs. Ah wisnae allowed the uniform but, an’ it wis understood that if any ither parent complained ah’d be oot on ma ear. So I hud tae behave masel’ ma ma telt me. In nae uncertain terms.
Ah loved the cubs. I cannae mind whit we did maist o’ the time but it gi’ed me a chance tae play fitba’ wi’ the boys. An’ fitba’ wis ma passion from when ah first kicked a ba’ when ah wis fowr. Ma first boyfrien’s dad git me intae it cus ma dad didnae dae fitba’. Bit ah git freends wi’ a wee laddy wha wanted tae be ma boyfrien. Well, he wanted tae marry me, he says, him a’ o’ five year auld. Bit ah didn’t want tae. Not cus ah wis only fowr, but cus his surname wis Eccles. An’ ah didn’t want tae be Mrs Eccles, no way. Bit ah wis gey happy tae learn footie frae his dad an’ so ah wis roon there a’ the time. A’ the time ah wisnae singin’ the Sound o’ Music doon the road at the tap o’ ma wee lungs.
Ye micht rackon frae a’ this that ah wis a tomboy. Na. ah wisnae a tomboy. Ah jist wanted tae be a boy. An’ ah kent ah wid be. When ah grew up. Ah kent this cus this French exchange teacher whit cam’ tae stay wi’ us when ah wis five hud telt me. His argument wis compelling. He telt me that when he wis wee, he wis a girl and noo, look, he wis a man. That wis enough o’ a guid argument fer me. I believed hum. I wanted tae. An’ by the way, in case ye hink it wis weird me wantin’ tae be a boy an’ bein’ sae taken wi’ the Sound o’ Music, ah wanted tae be Christopher Plummer. Well, Captain Von Trapp ah guess. Ah wisnae bothered wi’ the nuns an’ that, but ah wanted tae wear a uniform and march aroon’ an’ get tae blaw a whistle an’ that.
Well, the cubs wis fine, but we learn early in life that a’ guid hings huv tae cam tae an end well afore we’re ready fer them, while bad hings jist tend tae stick there wi’ ye fer whit feels like yer whale life, no? An’ so it wis, that when ma siventh birthday cam roon, as cam roon it did, ah wis still a girl (the Frenchie hud been vague aboot exactly when wan changed frae bein’ a girl intae a boy, an’ ah held ontae the belief that ah wid change if no frae a girl tae a boy then tae a man, when ah wis auld enough tae be a man.) an’ there wis no way oot, ah hud tae join the Brownies. Noo, looking back ah micht reflect as the cubs spoiled me fer the Brownies, but ah dinnae hink ah wid huv liked them anyways, even if ah’d no been tae the Cubs. It jist wisnae the same hing. Ah cudnae be bothered wi’ the dancin’ roon a toadstool and the songs wisnae as guid as the cubs. Bit that’s whit ah wis stuck wi’. Confirmed tae me wance mair that it wis rubbish bein’ a girl and that bein’ a man wis whit ah wanted tae be when ah grew up.
Ah wis a Pixie, ah mind. That wis a bit lame, though there wis worst hings tae be. But ah really wanted tae be a Kelpie if ah hud tae be there at a’. Ah asked if ah cud change, but as ah telt ye a’ready, Mrs Brown Owl widnae have nane o’ somewan questioning the way she run hings. Sae I stayed a Pixie. Ah niver settled an ah guess it wis aye gonnae cam tae a sticky end, but hoo it ended ye’d niver guess. It wis ower chappin’ doors. An’ a tube of smarties. An’ threepenny bits. (Cus it wis still auld money in thae days)
It wis the meeting afore the holidays. An’ the Brown Owl she sat us a’ doon in a circle roon the toadstool an’ gied us a challenge. It wis a kinna lame Brownie version o’ ‘Bob a Job week.’ But wi’ incentives fer us. Well, ye cun ca’ it an incentive. Ah ca’ it a bribe. An worse than that. But ah’ll let ye judge fer yersel.
‘Now girls,’ Brown Owl said, in her nice polite voice.
‘Angela is handing you all out a tube of smarties. One each. I have bought these out of my own money,’ she continued.
‘Thank you Brown Owl,’ we all chorused.
‘But you have to do something for me,’ she said. ‘You don’t get anything for nothing in this world girls, remember that. And I’m going to tell you what you have to do.’
An’ whit we hud tae dae, wis, afore we ganged back there efter the summer, wis we hud tae fill the tube o’ smarties wi’ threepenny bits which we’d got frae daein’ jobs fer fowk. No just family. Ither fowk. Chappin’ doors.
Noo ah kent that very minute that ah wisnae gonnae be able tae dae this, an’ ah didnae ken whit tae dae. Ah wanted tae jist gie her the tube o’ Smarties back richt then, cus ah kent ah widnae be able tae dae it. Ah wis siven fer goodness sake. Ah cud work oot it wis gonnae tak aboot twenty threepeny bits at the least tae fill it up. An ah kent ah couldn’t gang chappin’ doors. Ma ma wid niver let me. No way. Not fer anyhing. No way. Ma brither an his pals hud be caught chappin’ doors (an running away fair enough) no long afore that an’ he got a real rocket fer it. An’ when he hud his Bob a Job week ma ma widnae let hum gang oot an’ earn money so he hud tae dae hings at hame instead but he niver earned mich an’ he wis fair scunnered when he went back tae Cubs cus he wis the wan wha’ed got the least an’ he wis in trouble there tae. They says he’d niver pit in the effort.
So the point is, ah kent that wan way or the ither there wis no way ah wis gonnae be able tae dae this. Bit ah couldnae summon up the courage tae gie the wumman her tube o’ Smarties back, no then, no in front o’ iverywan. So ah cam up wi’ a plan. Ah wid jist hold ontae the Smarties, no eat them a’ summer, an ah’d gie them back tae her at the beginning o’ the next term an’ ah cud tell her ah wis ill, or away a’ summer or somesuch. Anyhing. But ma plan depended on me no eatin’ the Smarties.
An’ ah wis siven years auld, min. An’ we didnae get Smarties every week. We’d niver got a regular poke o’ sweets or pocket money since ma dad done a runner the year afore. So ye cannae really blame me noo, can ye? Ah held oot fer a good long time. Even noo, ah’m prood o’ hoo lang ah held oot. But o’ course ye ken whit’s comin’next. Some time, roon aboot the beginnin’ o August, ah jist cracked an’ ah ate they Smarties. They fair near choked me an’ a’. An then ah hud tae look at the empty tube an’ wunner whit ah wis gonnae dae. Fer aboot a week ah sortie thocht that mebbe’s ah wid be able tae git ma hands on some threepenny bits an ah did manage tae get three in the end. Bit the rattlin’ o’ three threepeny bits jist made me feel sick ivery time ah did it. Ah wis in a jam. Big time. Ah cud see no way oot. Bit ah niver thocht tae tell anywan. Not even ma brither. Cus he’dae jist laughed onyawys.Sae, ah held this secret inside me, an ye ken, ah’ve held it inside me a’ this time, richt up till the noo, some forty years sine, cause the shame ah felt fae eatin’ the Smarties kennin’ fine well ah couldnae hold ma pairt of the bargain (even though it wis a bargain ah didn’t want tae mak) just burned me inside a’ the years o’ ma life frae then till noo.
Even when ah wis grown an’ ah kent is wis an unfair hing tae expect o’ a wee girl, ah couldnae bring ma’sel tae tell anywan, cus the shame ah felt then used tae come back fresh an’ gie’d me a beamer jist hinking aboot it masel’ niver mind gonnae talk aboot it tae anither body. It wis ma first test o’ character, an’ ah failed. Ah failed. Ah kenned that actions wid huv consequences an’ ah kenned the consequences an’ ah couldnae stop ma’sel.
That lesson taught me mair aboot hoo tae stop yersel frae daein the wrang hing than aeyhing in ma life hus ever done then or since. Bit ah dinnae hink it wis a guid lesson tae teach a child.
An’ whit wis the consequence? Ah wis seek, ah cried, ah telt ma ma ah hated the Brownie’s, ah couldnae gang back an’ ah made a fuss sae lang that in the end she jist niver made me gang back that August. Bit that wisnae the end o’ it. Cus even when ah wis nae longer a Pixie dancin’ roon a lame toadstool on a Wednesday afternoon, ah still felt the shame. Ah still kent that ah owed Mrs Brown Owl a Smarties tube full o’ threepenny bits. Ah couldnae resolve that in ma heid. Until, after a couple of mair weeks, ah cam up wi’ a plan b. Ah couldnae believe it hud taken me that lang tae work it oot. Ah wid save enough money frae ma pocket money (which ah niver got regular mind) an’ ah wid buy a new tube o Smarties an’ ah wid gie that tube tae Brown Owl n tell her as ah wis tae seek ower the holidays tae be able tae dae the chappin’ on doors an’ here wis her Smarties back.
But ah niver got the chance. Cus by the time ah’d worked this oot, an saved ma pocket money an’ bought the Smarties, ma ma telt me we wis movin frae Dundee tae Edinburgh. An that wis ma bacon saved on the one hand. An’ on the ither hand, that wis what stopped me frae iver bein’ able to sort hings oot. An’ in ma heid ah stayed a cheat an’ a thief tae Brown Owl for the rest o’ ma childhood. They’re richt when they say whit scars ye maist isnae the wan’s on the ootside. That wis ma scar. Ma big secret. Ma big failure in life.
An’ noo, when ah look back on it, ah cun see it wis naehing wrang wi’ me. That Mrs Brown Owl she shouldnae huve made us dae that. Ah hud nae choice in the matter an’ whit cud ah dae? But it still mak’s ma cheeks burn tae this day. An’ it wis the first time ma hairt burned wi’ a feelin’ that ah didnae ken then wis injustice bit ah ken noo. An, guess whit, ah niver did turn oot tae be a man. But ah didnae blame that French guy that much cause he wis jist tryin tae gie me some hope an though ah did spend quite a few years hopin that it wid cam true (like ither kids hope that Santa micht be true) ah recognize it noo as wan o’ these lies we huv tae cam tae terms wi’ as part of growin’ up. But ah dinnae hink that raisin’ money by chappin’ doors is a guid hing tae get a wee child tae dae. An’ fillin’ a tube o’ Smarties wi’ threepenny bits? That’s a terrible hing tae ask.
Ah cun tell ye, ah wis gey pleased when we went decimal. An’ ah cannae eat Smarties tae this day min, no withoo’t hinking that ah’m not entitled tae them.
Cally Phillips writes in Scots but more usually in English. She has 20 years experience in dramatic writing with many stage and screen credits. Her first novel The Threads of Time was published in 2003 and reissued as an ebook in 2012. Her second novel Another World is Possible (2007) which started off as an online serial blog novel, is now the backbone of a trilogy (in four parts) which will be published in 2013. Her third novel Brand Loyalty was published in 2010 and is now also available as an ebook. Her other ebook publications include A Week With No Labels is crossover drama/fiction, charting the journey of a fictional drama group; a collection of short ‘flexible plays’ on a Fairtrade theme ‘5 Fairplay dramas’, the stageplay Chasing Waves (2004) and two short story collections wrttien in Scots ‘Voices in ma Heid’ and ‘It Wisnae Me’ both available as ebooks.