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The Bells

Author: Ann Craig

'Please mammy ye said ah could when I wiz eight, an am eight noo?'

'Aye ah suppose so, bit ye hiv tae work hard noo yer aw grown up.'

Ah wiz so excited ah geid ma mammy a big cuddle.

----- That was a long time ago, in a different time and a different world, but it’s still a vivid memory, so real I can almost taste and smell it. The whole house filling with the smell of clootie dumpling and lavender polish. Me being sent down by my mum into the street three times to see if the new curtains were sitting properly and if the Christmas tree was at the best angle to show the lights, with the new wee fairy on top. My dad in the kitchen putting the finishing touches to the biggest pot of soup humanly possible to make on a stove, cutting up his freshly made shortbread and black-bun.

The house gleaming, but my mum still rubbing imagined smears off the piano that was her pride and joy; a German over strung, which she polished more often than she played, but she played well by ear, and might play tonight if she drank enough wee sherries.

The sideboard, lovely, shining, dressed in the best, red plush runner. Sitting pride of place, my dad’s beautiful, perfect clootie dumpling, filling the room with its rich, spicy, mouth watering smell. Beside it, a full bottle of Harvey’s Bristol cream sherry and a full bottle of Bells whisky, surrounded by our best glasses, all washed and ready. Next to them my daddy’s home made ginger cordial and blackcurrant wine, then a plate groaning with sandwiches of potted head, pressed tongue and ham.

The stair head windows sparkling, cleaned by me earlier, the stairs washed down, the edges pristine white with Blanco. Our whole close smelling of bleach, each door handle polished till it shone. My mum had made me do upstairs as well, because the old woman up there wasn't well and her neighbour never washed the stairs at any time. In those days it was bad luck to bring in the New Year with last year’s dirt so I did their stairs and windows, polished the walls and silently polished their doorknobs as well.

Then as the evening progressed my mum would be twirling, showing me her new outfit, looking lovely with her red hair freshly washed, her curls bouncing around her shoulders. My dad smart in a clean shirt sitting quietly approving. I'm all ready too, wearing my new Christmas frock, my hair tied back with a blue ribbon.

My mum telling me to open the window to listen for the bells, at the same time instructing my daddy to roar up the fire, it felt like a military operation. Then the wait in silence. It seemed the whole world was holding its breath. Then from the church at the top of the road we hear them, the bells, their rich sound counting out the old year, welcoming in the new one.

As they fell silent, my world erupts into family hugs and toasts, doors being chapped, first footers pouring in, glasses being filled and clootie dumpling being shared. Ginger wine for the young ones, all excited at finding silver sixpences hidden in the dumplings' rich depths.

I have travelled to many places and celebrated so many New Years since then.

I've drunk champagne, stood on mountains, seen fireworks light up skies in distant lands, worn many a sparkly frock and eaten caviar while sailing foreign seas.

Yet, it is that first New Year in my childhood home that I remember best, and that smell of cold air rushing in with the laughter.