17 March, 2017

Night song of the last tram: a Glasgow childhood by Robert Douglas

It takes a village to raise a child, they sometimes say. Here is a perfect example. 

Growing up in a one room ‘single end’ flat in a Glasgow tenement, Robert Douglas describes his life. A loving mother and abusive, philandering and thankfully, often absent father, are the blessing and the blight of his life respectively.

The tight-knit community of Maryhill is where Douglas grows up and hangs out with his friends. The adults keep a casually watchful eye and look out for each other. The local cinema affords him many blissful hours, there is a favourite Italian café and it is a nostalgic time of tram cars, lamplighters, pawnbrokers and the joy of simple pleasures like joining the local library and being able to read for free! 

Set during and immediately after the Second World War, Douglas takes us through his childhood and teenage years until the age of 16 when his beloved mother tragically dies of cancer.  

Although the story of their life together is in some ways very sad – there is poverty, wife beating and drunkenness and a marked inequality pervades the society of the times; it is also filled with happy and fun-filled moments. 

Characteristic Scottish humour and strength of spirit shine through the honest and unpretentious writing.  And if, like me, you enjoy the sounds of Scottish English, you will love hearing them in the words. 

There is a sequel to this memoir called Somewhere to lay my head, which begins when Douglas is forced to join the RAF after his mother’s death. I haven’t read it yet but it seems that once again, the author uses his remarkable memory for people and places and talent for telling stories to utterly charm the reader.

Title: Night song of the last tram
Author: Robert Douglas

Reviewed by Suneeta N, Highland Park Library

Suneeta N particularly enjoys biographies, travel stories and reading authors from around the world. She loves a good discussion and believes that everybody has a story worth telling.

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