An argument on the stairwell. As told by a Glaswegian…
“To understand the dynamics of the sterheid rammy, I must take you back some 50 years before Glasgow Corporation raised the auld tenements tae the grun, there was a peculiarly democratic code that existed in the mair or less dingy closes of the tenements.
What you need to understand is that a close would comprise maybe three levels, each called a storey, and each, except the ground floor having a half-landing, which would house a stinking latrine called a lavvy.
Each level may have a mixture of say three, sometimes four, flats containing families of up te half-a-dozen or more individuals. There was invariably a ‘singalend’, or more elusively called ‘butt-and-ben’, a ‘through-and-through’, and a ‘twin’ flat where the kitchenette lay side by side with the room, adjoined by a ‘loabby’. The loabby was where bikes were kept – accessed using a pulley, and a stout wooden bunker was sited against the wall to house the domestic coal reserves.
It is worth saying here, in case you were wondering, that the lavvy had to serve about 25 people. Naturally, people (of other families, so I’m told), thought nothing of pissing in the sink if the lavvy was loacked. However I digress.
Picturing then, this three dimensional geography, the scene is set for the playing-oot of the sterheid rammy. Only one further ingredient was necessary. Flagrant contravention of ‘the code’ of the ‘tinnamint close’.
One day, I remember it well, I was sitting in the half-landing lavvy, reading a sheet of the newspaper that was subsequently tae be used tae wipe ma erse, when I heard Mrs McIlwraith mouthing off, tae ma horror, some really unutterable oaths, quietly but gettin louder.
ya dirty bastard
From behind the door, which I was holding shut, on account of the lock being broken for fifty years or so, I could hear her shuffling up and down the stair with a low swearing. All of a sudden, she erupted, “Ca yersell a hoosewife ya dirty bastard Henderson“, and then she disappeared intae the hoose and shut the door wi a slam.
Next, I could hear auld Mrs Henderson‘s door open. It had its ain peculiar kind of creak. Sitting, as I was, mair and mair puzzled, I could hear auld Lizzie scuffling aboot on the half-landing. “A’ll housewife ye, ya jumped up wee tart. Away an bugger yersel“. And once again all fell silent, as I heard Lizzie’s door creak shut.
aloon on the sterheid
Noo, I was only about seven or eight, and this was a first. Unbeknowns tae me, there were clouds forgetherin, the like ae which I had never seen before. Suddenly Mary McIlwraith‘s door opened and a tireade of abuse about Lizzies lazy domestic talents was unleashed. It was clear, however that Mary was all aloon on the sterheid. “Ye huvnae done they effin stairs fur three effin weeks” The effins went on for a minute or so and she shut the door again, with a slam.
I was shitting myself, oh aye.
ya wee shite
Next, it was Lizzie’s creaking door, and then she was all alone on the landing. “A’ll effin stairs ye, ya wee shite. It was your turn onywey.” Then her door shut again… with a slam. It was a ritual.
I managed to get out of the lavvy during this lapse in the hostilities and sat doon at the front of the close tae play wi some tar that was always aboot. Though it was only minutes later that Mary started to bang on Lizzie’s door in a highly threatening way. I could hear it all the way up the close.
Even I knew. This was it…
oot o’ a Coal Heaver’s mooth
Lizzie, a tall skinny woman came fleein oot her door an landed a cracker right on Mary’s ‘coupon’. There were real screams. This was a full-fledged sterheid rammy, no holds barred. There were raised female voices, and mair Effin an’ Blindin than ever came oot o’ a Coal Heaver’s mooth.
It went on for a long time and doors were banged, reopened, banged shut and plates were being broken. Shouts of ‘holymarymotherogoad‘ coud be heard as well as ‘orangebastard’, whatever that was.
Jist at that, Alec Harrison who lived on the tap fler, made his way up, acknowledged the wimmin, and just walked up tae his hoose through the battle. This was another wee ritual. Now this was part of the code. Naebody else got involved.
The rammy just went on-and-on-and-on, until such time as it was time tae make the dinner for the menfolk, who were hiding inside. Well, you are no doubt wondering how such a standoff could be put right. This is where the menfolk came in, using their time honoured social skills.
When Jimmy McIlwraith contrived to meet Rab Henderson on the stair, an hour later, there was yet another code. “Aye, Rab, that’s they wimmin fightin again, so it is“.
“Ach, a know, Lizzie’s goat an awful temper when she gets sterted. A’m glad its goat nuthin tae dae wi us” says Jimmy.
“Yer right there Rab, see ye at McNivens pub, eight o’cloack. By-the way Rab, d’ye see Big Tommy’s goat a new greyhound. It wid eat yer haun oaff”
Written by Glenallen
Footnote: A peculiarly Scottish code is to exchange embarrassed pleasantries whilst pretending something closely related to yourself doesn’t really exist. Whether folk were brought up in tenements or fisherman’s hooses or cottar hooses the effect was the same. People lived so closely together and were so interdependent that when any one of a hundred minor calamities occurred they had to get on.