The Blue Caravan

Derek McLuckie is an actor, writer, comedian, and performer based in Glasgow.

He was away with his Gran and Gramp at the caravan. The caravan was pale blue, the same kind of pale blue as Jesus’ robe in the picture in his big children’s bible. He didn’t bring his children’s bible this time, he brought his ventriloquist dummy, Charlie. Charlie was his favourite thing ever, in the whole world even. He had prayed to God for months on end to get a Charlie for Christmas – please God can a get a Charlie Parlanchin ventriloquist dummy for Christmas, please God can a get a Charlie Parlanchin ventriloquist dummy for Christmas, night after night after night. And it worked: he got Charlie Parlanchin for Christmas.

And Charlie sat beside him on the three diffirent buses to the caravan site, all the way from Paisley to Ardrossan. Lots of people noticed Charlie and said things like, Oh my God, a thoat that was another wee boy sittin there! A drunk man said, Gottle o gear, gottle o gear, then a nice lady said, What’s his name son? Charlie. And what’s your name? Stephen, he said, and blushed and looked hard at the floor of the bus, but he smiled a bit too, because the lady was nice.

The fire was lit and his Gran was getting the caravan all cosy because this was the first day of the season. The caravan hadn’t been used all winter, so it was a bit cold and damp. While his Gran bustled about getting the tea and things ready, his Gramp was making songs up for Timmy in his funny American voice.

‘Oh Timmmothy, Timothy tiddledetee – You’ll never never know how I love thee!’

Timmy was a Yorkshire terrier. He was lying, half asleep on his cushion near the fire, but was wagging his tail sometimes at Gramp’s song. Gran scowled a wee bit as she rattled dishes in the wee caravan kitchen. She did that a lot when his Gramp sung his songs. Gramp sung a bit more as he leaned over to tickle Timmy.

‘Oh Timothy, Timothy ta hee hee, here is tickly tummy for thee!’

Timmy waggled his tail some more, but Stephen heard Gran bang something in the kitchen. ‘Put the radio on, Stuart!’ she said. Gramp huffed a bit and rolled his eyes, but he got up and fiddled with the radio on the wee caravan mantelpiece. Gran and Gramp had a big black and white plastic radio. It was so powerful, his Gramp told him, it could even get programmes from Russia. His Gran and Gramp had been to Russia for their holidays, or maybe it was their honeymoon and his Gran told him that the Winter Palace in Leningrad was the most beautiful building she had ever seen. His Gramp fiddled with the knobs on the the radio, it bleeped and whistled and made some funny whines, then a posh English lady was telling a story about another lady who was a writer, she had a funny name, not like any name Stephen had ever heard before: Ouida. ‘Oh, Ouida!’ said his Gramp, in his funny American voice, ‘Yes now, you know, she was a friend of Oscar Wilde’s and you know Stephen, Oscar Wilde wrote the most wonderful stories for children, you must read the, what is it, the Happy…’

‘Stuart,’ said his Gran. ‘Help me get this table set.’

Stephen loved the sound of the posh lady’s voice on the radio. He felt a bit sleepy as he watched the flames curl themselves around the coal. He loved the smell of the fire, the crackles and sparks and flickers. He watched the flames licking up the coal, he thought it all looked like cities that were burning and disintegrating right in front of his eyes.

‘Don’t you get too comfortable’, said Gran, ‘You’ll have to go the shop and get a couple o messages.’

Stephen got up with Charlie in his arms.

‘Aw you’re not taking that doll?’

‘He’s not a doll, he’s a ventriloquist dummy!’

‘Well just leave him, the rains comin on, you’ll get um wet.’

Stephen put Charlie down and put his anorak on.

‘A pan loaf and a pinta milk, and don’t go to the swings mind, yer tea’s on.’

‘Can a get a sweet?’

‘Ye cannot – you’ll ruin yer tea!’

Timmy got up and paced about because he wanted to go with Stephen but his Gramp made up a rain song.

‘Timmy ta tee, it’s too rainy for ye, so jist stay in the house with yer mummee and me.’

Stephen saw his Gran scowl behind Gramp’s back, heard her say, ‘We’re at the caravan!’ as he shut the door behind him. It was because his Gramp had, what was it? A haemo- sumthin… a haemorrhage, that was it. A bit of his brain had burst inside his head, that was how he was a bit funny and made up daft songs for Timmy and things. Stephen’s mum had told him how clever his Gramp had been before the haemorrhage thing happened in his brain. He had lived in America, he had been a hobo, and an Opera singer, he had won a fortune in a poker game, thousands and thousands of dollars, then he gave it all away when he became a communist and got put in prison for giving communist speeches on the streets and handing out pamphlets. The prison was the same one, Alcatraz, that Al Capone had been in, then he got deported back to Britain in the hold of a ship. He met Stephen’s gran and they got married. Stephen thought America must be a terrible place if it could put his Gramp in a prison then send him away in the hold of a giant prison ship, just for giving speeches and pamphlets.

There was one shop in the caravan park. It was in a part of the lady’s house who owned the caravan park. Stephen’s gran didn’t like that lady. Gran said she was a gossip and told Stephen not to tell her anything. She was at the counter, serving some children when Stephen came in. She looked at him with her funny wee eyes.

‘Oh, down with yer Gran and Gramp for the start of the season are ye?’

Stephen nodded. The kids at the counter turned and looked at him; there were three of them, two girls about Stephen's age and a younger boy. The girls whispered something to each other and nudged the wee boy. Stephen blushed. The caravan lady smiled, like she knew what they meant. She gave them their sweets, and they passed Stephen but they didn’t leave the shop. They stood behind him, waiting. Stephen could feel them waiting, he could feel them peering into his back, like they were daring him to look round; one of them sniggered, sounded like that wee boy. He felt his face burning, he was even starting to tremble a wee bit as well.

‘What can I get for you son?’

She put a big fake smile on when she said ‘son’.

‘Eh, a, eh, a pa…’

She looked at him and Stephen saw her give the kids behind him a funny look too.

‘Eh, a pan loaf and a pint of milk please?’

‘Son,’ said one of the girls behind his back, ‘A thoat that was a lassie!’

They all giggled and shrieked their way out the shop. The caravan woman looked like she was enjoying herself. She put the loaf and the milk in a bag and gave it to Stephen with a cruel smile.

‘Tell your Gran am askin.’

They were waiting outside. ‘Whit’s your name?’ He didn’t answer, he just walked towards the crazy path that led to the blue caravan. He heard the wee boy say, ‘Did you see it? Did you see it?’ Stephen kept walking, but he hated them and the caravan lady as well, he wanted to run, but he just walked faster along the crazy path. In the caravan, the posh English lady was still talking about Ouida and how she lived in fabulous posh hotels in Paris. The rain came on heavier and Stephen watched the drips race each other down the windows. Gramp took Timmy out for a pee: ‘Timothy tee tee, it’s time you had a pee pee’. ‘Stuart!’ Rain dripped through a hole in the kitchen roof. ‘Bloody rain Timmy tee, bloody pain!’ ‘Stuart!’ Gran said again but louder, and slammed a pan on the kitchen floor to catch the plopping rain drops. His Gran made sausages and mashed potatoes and peas, and Stephen made it taste great with brown sauce. They ate at the foldaway table in the part of the caravan that you lay the wooden doors over to make into a bedroom when Stephen’s Mum and Dad came. Stephen was thinking about the girls and the wee boy saying, ‘Did you see it, did you see it?’ and he knew that they meant, they meant he was like a girl. A am not like a girl, a am not. He cuddled Charlie and combed his spiky red hair. A don’t speak like a girl, a don’t. He remembered the caravan woman lady smiling and looking funny when she said ‘son’. He wished he could grow tall as a giant, he would pick her up and throw her from the caravan hill in Ardrossan, right to the sea in Saltcoats. And if a see them all tomorrow, a’ll jist ignore them and play with Charlie, if they ask for a shot a won't even give them one – he put his hand in the hole in Charlie's back, pressed the lever that moved his mouth and Charlie said, ‘No, no, no.'

His Gran was knitting Charlie a scarf because it was still not summer. His Gramp was sitting on the couch with Timmy on his lap. Gran and Gramp were both smoking. His Gramp smoked funny wee fags that he rolled himself with brown papers; Stephen liked licking the papers because they tasted of liquorice. His Gran smoked embassy tips. The rain plopped in the pan in the kitchen. The smoke from Gran and Gramps danced in big slow circles round the caravan. His Gramp was nodding off on the couch. Stephen looked at his old wrinkled neck and his old pink wrinkled fingers and he felt sorry for his Gramp. He remembered that time with his Mum, when they had seen his Gramp away across a roundabout and they could see him, but he didn’t see them and his Gramp looked really small and faraway and old in his wee grey raincoat. Stephen’s Mum said to herself, but to Stephen as well, ‘Aw Stuart, you’re getting old’.

‘We’ll get the bed down, eh’, said Gran. She got up and took hold of a brass handle on the wooden caravan walls and pulled it, and down came the double-bed. Stephen always loved to see the bed come out of the wall, but he didn’t like the mattress. It looked dirty, with black and white stripes that made Stephen think of the blankets that the Germans gave their concentration camp prisoners in a programme he’d seen telly. His Gran was getting the bedding out of the cupboard.

‘You just sleep in beside us, it’s too cold for ye in there.’


‘Nae uchin, it’s too cold in there, it’s only the start of the season.’

Stephen tutted. He didn’t want to be next to Gran and Gramp on that horrible stripey mattress. Gran turned the gas lamps down. The fire glowed. They were all in the pulldown bed together, Gran and Gramp and Stephen and Charlie, and Timmy was curled in at Gramp’s feet. The sheets and blankets were smelly because they had been in the cupboard for months. It was hot. It was cold. Stephen couldn’t get room, he twisted and turned. Gramp grunted and squashed into him, uch. Stephen pushed back a bit trying to get room. Gran made whistling sounds, uch, Stephen twisted round.

Gran said, ‘For God’s sake, put that doll out the bed!’

‘It’s not a doll, it’s a ventriloquist dummy!’

‘Put him out!’

Stephen dropped Charlie onto the floor. Gramp spluttered. Gran coughed. Stephen twisted round.

‘Will ye stay at peace!’

‘There’s no room!’

‘Get to bloody sleep will ye!’

Gramp made a groaning sound and squashed against Stephen. Stephen wriggled round on his back and watched shadow flames fight each other on the roof. Gran started snoring, so did Gramp, uch, see them. He wriggled back round the other way and pushed his bum hard against his Gramp to get room. His Gramp pinched him hard on the bum with his big broad fingernails. Stephen wriggled. Gramp panted. It got louder. Stephen scrambled round on his back again. The panting went on and on, uch, Stephen put his hands over his ears. Gran woke up. ‘Ye better get up Stuart.’ Gramp grunted something. ‘Ye better get up Stuart’, only she said it louder this time. Gramp panted some more. I bet that old bastard’s gonnae die. Stephen knew he was bad for thinking it and for that bad word as well.

‘Up Stuart, and get your pill!’

Gramp grunted. He threw one heavy arm right across Stephen’s chest. Gran got up and Stephen heard her fiddling in the dark. He lay still as she fumbled with the bottles of his Gramp’s pills.

‘Stuart!’ she said, ‘Stuart!’

Gramp just panted and grunted.

‘Oh God!’

She struck a match and lit the gas lamp. Stephen lay still under the covers, scrunching his eyes up and trying to cover his ears. Timmy got up and whimpered at Gran’s feet. ‘Stephen, get up’. Stephen slid out from under his Gramps arm. His gran gave him a jumper to put over his pyjamas. He sat and shivered on a chair by the fire.

‘I’ll have tae go and get the doctor, yer Gramp’s not well.’

She put her coat over her nightdress and she still had on her slippers.

‘Watch the dog for me’.

His Gramp was making a terrible, terrible noise. Gran closed the door behind her and he sat there, looking at Gramp. Stephen pulled Timmy up onto his lap and hugged him. Charlie was on the floor, smiling, but Gramp was staring up at the ceiling, his mouth was gaping open and his eyes were bulging out their sockets. Stephen could see the bloody veins in his Gramp’s eyeballs, he saw his tongue throb out of his mouth, as he made these horrible gasping, rasping sounds. Timmy whimpered and Stephen said, ‘There, there.’ Gramp rasped away and it got louder and louder as though the whole caravan was shaking with it. His Gramp’s tongue was hanging right out now, covered in a thick yellowish film. Stephen did not want to look, so he looked at the floor, but Charlie was lying there, grinning back at him. Gramps face was yellow like his tongue, but it was starting to turn blue too. Stephen didn’t know what to do, so he just held Timmy hard in his arms. It sounded like there were demons fighting each other in his Gramp’s throat, howling like wolves. Stephen stopped clapping Timmy and put his hands over his ears. The fire was going out. The rain plop-plopped in the pan in the kitchen. Gramp lay gaping at the ceiling, rasping and panting and gasping. It went on and on and on.

His Gran came back, all wet from the rain and with only one slipper. ‘That bloody wummin, a couldn’t get ur up, a had tae walk tae the phonebox at the bus stop’. Stephen knew the phonebox was about a mile and a half away. ‘That bloody wummin’. Gramp had stopped making the terrible noise by the time the police and the Doctor came. The Doctor was young, with big black glasses and messy hair, he had his jumper and trousers on over his pyjamas. ‘Av heard o the absent minded professor, but this is ridiculous’, Gran said to the police, because the Doctor had forgot his stethoscope. The police just smiled. Stephen and his Gran went in the back of the police car to the station in Saltcoats, because his Gran had to sign papers and things. A big happy policeman made them lots of cups of tea. Stephen took Timmy out to the beach for a pee.

The beach was just round the corner from the police station; it was dirty and bare and there was nobody there because it was so awful early in the morning. The sun was covered in grey clouds and as Timmy sniffed about the stones and seaweed, Stephen shivered and watched the grey seas stretch away forever and ever. The sun burst out the clouds and made a Jesus path, all holy and glowing and gold on top of the water. Timmy did a pee and two jobbies and chased a big grey gull that went gyakgyakgyak. Then the gull chased Timmy gyak gyak gyak, so Timmy went gyak gyak gyakgyak and chased the gull back gyakgyackgyak. He ran across the sand with his arms wide as wings and Timmy barked and bobbed and birled all round him and it was great, it was great, because there was nobody there and it was so awful early in the morning. ●

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