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Art, Weans, Friends and Family

Author: Ed Hunter

I was doing an art demonstration at an art club in Kilmarnock. At the interval, a teacher told me a story of a wee lass coming up to her desk and saying, 'Miss, my big sister has got burglars on top of her wardrobe.’ The teacher was taken aback and failed to respond. Next day the wee one came back to the desk, placed her elbows on it, cupped her chin in her hands, gave a big sigh and said, 'Gerbils!'

On the subject of weans and art there was a very good artist, Richard Forsyth, who opened a gallery in St. Andrews. Dick, as we knew him, and his wife, Dianne, used to foster young kids. They took in a wee lad, Tommy, who was born with AIDS and had a life expectancy of seven years. They finally adopted the wee soul. Anyway, my wife Rena and I were delivering work to Dick. When we got to the gallery, Dick was sitting at his desk doing a pastel drawing and Tommy was by his side working away with crayons on paper. At one point Rena said to Tommy, 'That looks good, Tommy. Can I see it? 'The wee lad turned it round and held it up. ‘That's really good, Tommy. Would you like to sell it?’ There was a long pause then the wee man nodded his head. 'How much would it be?’ There was an even longer pause, then, 'Seven thousand pounds.'

I have a pal, Jimmy the Snip, who had a barbers shop in Mosspark. In the 60's and early 70's some Rangers players living locally in council houses would come in for a haircut. Jimmy had memorabilia on the walls. It was a meeting place and some of the Celtic lads would pop in for a bit of banter. Jimmy was great with kids. He had one wee lad on the seat excitedly telling him he was going on an aeroplane to Spain for his holidays. Many weeks later the wee one was back in the seat telling Jimmy all about his trip. Jimmy waited till he was finished then said, 'Yi know ah saw your plane goin’ tae Spain an’ ah gave yi a wave an’ yi jist ignored me.’ ‘Wis that you?!’

Another wee boy when on the seat was telling Jimmy all about the Incredible Hulk. Jimmy took his time before saying, ‘Yi know, the Hulk wis in here last week, but ah hud tae get him tae leave as he wis gonnae burst an’ make a mess o’ the flerr.’ The wee man was totally shocked. 'He didnae want tae leave so ah hud tae take ma scissors an’ chase him oot, an’ yi know he ran tae the park an’ went right through the railins.’ The wee chap left the shop with a look of astonishment on his face. Next day the wee man's Dad came into the shop and said, 'You knew they railins wir bent, didn't yi Snip!'

Many years later Jimmy went into the Jeannie Armour pub in Shawlands. He saw the wee Hulk fan's mum sitting and went over to talk to her. At one point he asked her how her son was doing. She turned and pointed to the bar and there was this six foot high former Hulk fan pulling pints behind the bar. His mum shouted over, 'Dae ye remember him!’ pointing to Jimmy. The six footer looked up and said, 'Aye. That's the barber that chased the Incredible Hulk through the park railins.’

*

So how did I get to where I am and what motivates me? Well, both my Grandfathers were miners and it was essential that miners looked out for each other. This was a way of life outside the pits too. My maternal grandfather, Pappy Robertson, who had been invalided out the pits after an explosion, was my father figure as my dad, Jack, was still in the R.A.F. and my mum, May, was busy trying to make ends meet.

One of my earliest memories is me sitting in bed with a big standard lamp by my bed side and Pappy drawing a horse for me on a tattered pad. I was amazed. That started my journey in art. Pappy told me, among other stories, he'd seen Jack Johnson sparring and had been to Buffalo Bill's circus. He taught me card games, like cribbage, and would get down on his knees to join me in a game of jorries. It wasn't long before deterioration in his health had me taking his lines to the bookie's runner at the corner of Penman Avenue, Rutherglen. If his line came up, I got a bung.

Quite recently a pal, Sean Damer, writer and researcher, wrote a piece on my other Grandfather, Ed Hunter. I remember Grandad as a kindly quiet spoken man which belies his past. He left school at ten, was down the pits at twelve, got involved in trade unionism and socialist beliefs, emigrated to New Zealand, got married to my grandmother, Mary (a teacher from Orkney) became a central figure in strikes to improve the miners’ working conditions, got arrested and tried with sedition and, after getting a suspended sentence, was forbidden to make public speeches. Despite his lack of schooling he started writing poetry, stories and articles under the pen name Billy Banjo. Sean told me a banjo was what a miner called his shovel. I was amazed to find Billy Banjo on Wikipedia. When his wife, Mary, died suddenly he returned home with his four children and later became councillor for Cowcaddens for twenty two years.

I'm grateful for my heritage, my family, my friends and my career in art.