|Photo - Louie Pastore : Dark Side o' Inverclyde|
Today, a wee excerpt from a longer work in progress...
We would go to pick elderberries and brambles most weekends in the autumn, then help squash them up to make wines. This year though, winter was mild, and so we had been able to pick berries much later than usual. I remember it was only just getting light as we left the house.
The best bushes were towards the east end of town, or in the wild fields between the bombsite gaps round the old mills and sugar refineries. Today though, my dad had another idea, the old railway track that ran along the back of the town, you had to walk up and under an old archway that didn’t have a building attached to it anymore.
‘Is this really an old track? I won’t get electrocuted like on the advert?’
‘I wouldn’t have brought you here if you could get electrocuted would I? Look,’ my dad threw his jacket down onto the railway line, ‘See? Safe.’
He climbed down into the sidings, and lifted me down after him, I was shoulder deep on the line, and now I could see the bushes the whole way over. Dad smiled and started wandering along, picking at the brambles.
It was a strange sort of silence there, not quiet like proper countryside. More just empty of the noise that I felt should have been there, on the railway line, behind the factories. I stared up at the empty windows of the refinery, rows and rows of cracked glass, distorting the shadows that swayed behind them, until I felt sure I saw hands pushing against broken window panes. Hoping my eyes were playing tricks on me and suddenly frightened that my dad was no longer nearby, I turned to look for him, starting to panic. As I turned, I caught sight of his jacket on the line, just where he had left it, only now, it was torn and shredded. I shouted out for him, and immediately he appeared around the bend in the siding.
‘What’s wrong? Are you okay?’
‘Your jacket,’ I said, pointing, but as we both looked, I could see that it lay just where it had been. Intact and undisturbed.
‘What about it? Are you okay?’
‘I’m fine,’ I said, ‘just…don’t go far away.’
He nodded and patted my shoulder, ‘There’s some elderberry trees up here,’ he said, ‘I’ll be right there.’
He clambered up off the track and towards the trees. I stared at the jacket a little longer, just to be sure, then I returned to the brambles. Even though I knew my dad was nearby, I still felt uneasy, there was a…vibration? Like when there is a television or something left on in the house and you can feel it rather than hear it. I stopped picking again and peered up to where my dad was, making sure I didn’t stare back at the factory windows. He was still there, yellow plastic bucket in hand, whistling away. As I looked though, everything sort of flickered and greyed out, all the colour leaked away, and there was a whisper, right by my ear, ‘Train’s coming.’ I could feel the cold breath of the whisperer on my neck, but as I jumped, and turned to face them, no one was there.
The jacket lay on the track. Not knowing why, I pulled it towards me and stood in at the siding with my eyes closed. And the train came.
It seemed to go on forever, the old track squeaking and shrieking as the wheels battered over the top. It must only have been seconds until my dad grabbed me from above, holding me tight, crushing me in against the siding until it had passed by properly. The jagged bramble bushes were digging into me the whole time. Then it was gone. My dad lifted me up from the side of the track, he looked so strange, smiling, but, sort of crumpled. I know that look much better now, I’ve made it myself. It’s scariest that first time though, when you first realise that grownups aren’t always in control either.
My gran lived nearby, nearer than our own house, so we walked straight there, leaving the upturned bucket and all the spilled berries behind us. I drank sugary tea and listened to my gran shouting at my dad for taking us up there. He didn’t even try to argue, he just kept saying ‘I didn’t know they still used it.’
‘There’s been too many accidents up there,’ she said, ‘far too many. You’re lucky you’re not both under a train right now.’
I thought about my dad’s ripped jacket on the tracks and the cold whisper, but I just drank my tea. That was the last year he made wine.
True story. Though, rather than being a historically accurate depiction of early 80s Greenock, the reality of where we were on the old track and what I saw is muddled up in my head. But we did often pick around Lyndeoch Street and further up. It was a properly strange experience, which I remember in different ways. But to this day, I can't drink wine.
Actually, that's not true.
The Berry Yards were very nearby to the source of another childhood scary story, The Catman.