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Authors: Jess Smith

Tears for a Tinker

BOOK: Tears for a Tinker
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T
EARS FOR A
T
INKER

J
ESS
S
MITH

was raised in a large family of Scottish travellers. This is the third book in her bestselling autobiographical trilogy. Her story begins with
Jessie’s Journey:
Autobiography of a Traveller Girl
, followed by
Tales from the Tent: Jessie’s Journey Continues
and concludes with this book,
Tears for a Tinker.
She has also written a
novel,
Bruar’s Rest
, and
Sookin’ Berries
, a collection of stories for younger readers. As a traditional storyteller, she is in great demand for live performances
throughout Scotland.

First published in 2005 by Mercat Press Ltd
Reprinted in 2005
New edition published 2009 by
Birlinn Limited
West Newington House
10 Newington Road
Edinburgh
EH9 1QS
www.birlinn.co.uk

Reprinted 2012

Copyright © Jess Smith 2005, 2009

The moral right of Jess Smith to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.

ISBN-13: 978 1 84158 714 1
eBook ISBN: 978 0 85790 180 4

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Set in Bembo and Adobe Jenson at Birlinn

Printed and bound by Clays Ltd, St Ives PLC

C
ONTENTS

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

INTRODUCTION

1 MAMMY
,
WHAT NICE PICTURES IN THIS CAR

2 A LOOSE MOOSE

3 ON THE ROAD AGAIN

4 THE BIG HUNTER WITH HIS POACHER COAT ON

5 THE REAL LOCH NESS MONSTER

6 MACDUFF

7 THE CURSE OF A GOOD MAN

8 IS THERE ANYBODY THERE
?

9 CHAPBOOK TALES

10 FATTY

11 POT HARRY

12 LIFE ON THE OCEAN WAVE

13 MY POETS

14 ENEMY AT THE DOOR

15 THE MORNING VISITOR

16 EWE MOTHER

17 THE FOX
,
THE COW
,
THE DEAD MAN AND THE WEE LADDIE IN THE BARREL

18 UNDER THE BLACK WATCH COAT

19 CURSE OF THE MERCAT CROSS

20 BAGREL

21 THE DAY OF THE HAIRY LIP

22 MY BROTHER

S SHARE

23 GLENROTHES

24 BELLS AND GHOSTLY CHAINS

25 A STREET NAMED ADRIAN ROAD

26 IN DEFENCE OF THE PEARLS

27 A BRUSH WITH THE LAW

28 ON THE GALLOWS

HILL

29 MY SILENT FRIEND

30 STIRLING TALES

31 FAMILY LIFE

32 SPITTALY BANK

33 THE GIFT

34 MY TOP FLOOR HOME

35 YELLOW IN THE BROOM

36 JIP

GLOSSARY OF UNFAMILIAR WORDS

I
LLUSTRATIONS

Coronation of the Gypsy King, Charles Faa Blythe

Camp of Highland travellers at Pitlochry

Isabella Macdonald, tinsmith

Nineteenth-century travellers at the berry-picking

Strathdon tinkers

A camp high in the hills

Tinkers’ cave, Wick

Jess’s father during the Second World War

Jess’s mother and father in 1942

Jess’s children—Barbara, Stephen and Johnnie

Jess’s husband, Dave

Jess with Johnnie and Stephen in 1983

Jess today

A
CKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Once more, to the army of workers who shouted at me, prodded and hugged me, and phoned my ears into oblivion: thanks forever.

To my family—well, what can I say?

To Mamie, for allowing me to share her father Keith’s poem.

To Douglas Petrie from Pitlochry for his river poems.

To Martha Stewart for all her help, and her belief in Scotland’s travelling people.

To cousin Alan for the Glen Lyon tale.

To Bob Dawson, my radji gadji, who never sleeps.

To Robbie Shepherd and his team for giving me a louder voice.

To Caroline Boxer of the
Strathearn Herald
, a wee worker.

To Alan Smith and family from Foggy.

To John Gilbert for allowing me to use his grandfather’s poem.

To the late Violet Jacob.

Special thanks to Charlotte Munro (sister Shirley), for always being there regardless—‘Ye cannae sleep us away’.

To Jenny and George—gone, but never forgotten.

To Tom, Seán, Caroline, Vikki.

Finally, thanks to the travelling people; my tinkers of the roads; the roots wherein I cleave.

Come all you tramps and hawker lads,

Come listen one and a’,

An’ I’ll tell tae ye a roving tale o’ sichts that I hae seen,

Far up and to the snowy north and doon by Gretna Green.

—all gone now.

I dedicate this book to my wee Mammy, who dedicated her life to her eight daughters

I
NTRODUCTION

S
omething niggled in my mind after I finished
Tales from the Tent.
It nagged and bothered me. I put on the kettle, poured a cup of tea and
slumped down in that old tattered armchair of mine that refuses to die. Heidi, my cat of twenty or so years, curled into a ball of ginger and white fluff, licked her old, weak paw, yawned and
settled for sleep. Then, as if a veil had lifted from my eyes, I saw in my mind what it was that so annoyed me. Remembering how brittle Heidi’s frame was, I gathered her into my skirt and
darted back to the computer screen. Two tiny words leapt from the last page of my manuscript—‘The End’.

How could it be?! I hadn’t shared the stories of my parents’ childhood with you, nor some whoppers about Dave and my earlier wanderings. What about Glen Lyon, and Daisy thinking the
Germans during the last war would steal the washing off the dyke, so she kept it in? What did she know of Europe? To her Germany was somewhere north of Inverness! And those fearsome ghost stories?
How many times did I laugh at my father’s tall tales, I did so want to tell you about them. Och, nae way could we part, you and I, after all this time, without telling you of my nit-infested
wild man who drove Mammy mental whenever we saw him on the road. The story of the row of turnips I pretended to some towny bairns was a row of rabbits just had to be shared, and so many more happy
days. No, it certainly wasn’t ‘the end’.

Anyway how could I part from you? You’d become my good friends, fellow dog-walkers and tea-suppers.

So, gently uncurling the half-dead fluff ball from the threads of my skirt and laying her on a fleecy blanket beneath the radiator, I finished my now cold tea.

If you fancy another journey with me, settle back with your favoured beverage and let’s take once more to the road in:
Tears for a Tinker
.

The reason for the title is a story in itself.

My oldest son Johnny, then aged six, was not a happy chappie. You see, his wee pal Horace had died. This little pet, a goldfish his dad had spent loads of money trying to win at a fair, was our
lad’s nearest and dearest in the entire world. He shared all his sorrows with that fish for the best part of a year, when one morning his heart broke at finding it tail-fin up at the top of
its bowl. To take his mind off this tragedy we took the bus to Perth, the nearest town with toyshops. Christmas being round the corner, Perth was crowded and draped in sparkly lights. In the centre
outside Woolworth’s, Johnny saw a poor travelling woman with four bairns round her coat hem. All the wee ones were in tears. Poor gentle-hearted Johnny said to me, ‘Mammy, what is wrong
with them bairns?’

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