Growing up in the 1960s – a Scottish story
Hello, and welcome to my website. My name is PJ McDermott and I write authentic coming of age fiction and science fiction books for teens, middle school and high school students. This page is a Scottish story about growing up in the 1960s.
I grew up in the sixties and seventies and experienced life in 1960s Glasgow, Paisley, and surrounding towns, which hopefully gives me some credentials for writing about it. That’s my family in the picture. My mum is standing on the far right, and I’m the cute one in the raincoat and cap.
I have mixed feelings about my youth and these come out clearly in my novel, Small Fish Big Fish, a coming of age novel. But, what I want to do right now is give you a flavor for what it was like in the mid sixties in the town where I grew up. Then, I’d like to introduce you to one of the characters in my book, a 15-year old Chinese refugee, called Tianyi Chi.
So, what was it like growing up in Scotland ?
During the sixties, it was very different and a little scary!
While the rest of the world was preoccupied with Flower Power, the Vietnam war, and the Space Race, the people in my suburb worried about where their next meal was coming from.
I was born in 1948 in the town of Paisley, in the suburb of Ferguslie Park, just south of Glasgow.
At that time, the west coast of Scotland was a very provincial society. Yes, there was the odd boy or girl from an Italian background, but I can recall only one colored family who lived in our neighborhood, and I never saw any Chinese or other Asian kids playing in the streets or at our school.
Still, there were two or three restaurants and takeaways where we used to buy our chicken fried rice, so surely they must have been around?
Maybe they kept to themselves. Life as a teenager in many of the suburbs of Paisley wasn’t easy, even for those born to the place, but anyone from an ethnic background would have found it particularly challenging.
The great religious divide
In the 1960s, Irish Catholics, Protestant immigrants and those born and bred in Scotland made up the majority of the residents of the west of Scotland. Basically that was the schism, Catholic or Protestant. Most Irish immigrants came to Scotland in search of a better life because of the hardship suffered in their own country. Before they immigrated (many to the USA and Canada as well as Britain,) Irish people tended to suffer from two things, famine and the English. They were desperate when they reached Scottish shores, as the following extract highlights.
‘The lowly occupational status of the Irish Catholics and their willingness to work for less than minimum wage did not bode well for the Scottish working class. In addition, Catholicism became a factor which brought about discrimination from all sections of Scottish society and assaults and harassment of the Irish became a regular feature in newspapers, and were witnessed in pulpits and on the streets. The Irish were regarded as drunks, lazy, uncivilised, and damaging to the moral character of Scottish society. They were also perceived as carriers of diseases such as typhus, which was known as “Irish fever”. This was particularly due to unsanitary housing and the fact that many of the immigrants who fled the famine were weak and had low resistance to diseases.‘ (Excerpt from the John Gray Centre Library Museum Archive – a brief history of emigration & immigration in Scotland)
Religion or Sport?
When I was a boy, I didn’t know any of this history, of course, but the tension between the two groups, even in 1965, was palpable.
All the kids played soccer, or football as it is called over there. Yes, there was the opportunity to play golf or tennis, but not where I grew up.
The local culture dictated that if you followed a football team, the chances were it would be either Celtic or Rangers. This entirely depended on your religious persuasion. This is the Scottish story. I only ever knew one person who defied this custom (He was Catholic and supported Rangers just to be annoying,) and he immigrated to Australia!
Personally, I found the whole thing claustrophobic, as well as frightening, and decided to follow the local team, St. Mirren.
Life in Paisley during the Sixties
Located just south of Glasgow, the town of Paisley is the ideal location for a psychological thriller. During the nineteen sixties, it became notorious for the gangs that spread fear among many of its suburban population.
The rivalry between those hailing from Paisley, most notably the FERGS, and those from Glasgow (the Tongs and the Maryhill Fleet), and others from neighboring towns like the Bowery boys from Barrhead, was legendary.
I remember one occasion when I held my girlfriend close, pressed against a shop window at the bottom of St Mirren Brae as the rampaging FERGS, wielding knives and hatchets, chased the Bowery Boys out of town.
But Paisley also has a rich historical tradition and is famous for many things: its Abbey, the Paisley pattern, and for its two thread mills: the Anchor Mills and Ferguslie Mills.
A Scottish story to be proud of
Walter fitz Alan, the first High Steward of Scotland issued a charter for a priory to be set up on land owned by him in the 12th century.
In 1316, Marjorie Bruce, daughter of the famous hero King, Robert de Bruce, and wife of Walter Stewart, the sixth High Steward of Scotland, was out riding near the abbey.
The story goes that during the ride, Marjorie fell from her horse and, as she was heavily pregnant at the time, her courtiers took her to Paisley Abbey for medical care. There, King Robert II was born by caesarean section, in a time when anesthesia would not have been available. The princess was later buried at the abbey. A great romantic Scottish story.
On occasion, when I skipped school, I’d end up at the library. It was warm and cozy inside, and provided a haven for someone who only wanted to read science fiction and adventure books all day long.
Every now and then, I would visit the museum next door. It had three floors crammed with stuffed animals, old coins, ancient artifacts, model boats and ships of every description, and even more ancient paintings. One room featured the history of weaving in the town and displayed a number of musty old looms shown producing shawls and fabrics with faded Paisley Patterns.
I discovered on one of my visits to the museum that contrary to popular belief, the design known worldwide as the Paisley pattern was not created in Paisley, but was imported from India.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the British East India Company introduced Kashmir shawls from India to England and Scotland where they became fashionable and soon copied. Later, in the nineteen-sixties, the pattern became popular among the hippie culture.
Paisley – Europe’s top Producer
The first place in the western world to imitate the design was Paisley, at that time Europe’s top producer of textiles.
Because of technological innovation in textile manufacturing, the Scottish imitations of Kashmir shawls became competitive with the the original products, which allowed the Scottish copies to be exported all over the world.
It was still a popular design in the sixties, especially for ties and scarfs. When I was seventeen, I arranged to meet a friend in the town center and I can remember being blown away by his Paisley pattern bellbottoms!
For more on the Paisley Pattern, visit Paisley Power.
The Thread Mills
Paisley’s textile industry dates back to medieval times. By the 19th and 20th century, over 90% of the world’s cotton thread came out of the Anchor and Ferguslie mills. This is a statistic that still blows my mind.
In 1949 there were 10,500 millworkers in Paisley. Most were young adults, aged between fifteen and twenty-five, and many of them lived in the suburb of Ferguslie Park.
By 1991, after four roller-coaster decades of expansion, diversification, merger, closures and three-day-weeks, the Paisley mills employed just 340.
On Friday April 2 1993, the last mill-girl clocked off for the last time.
With that, an era passed.
For a complete history of the thread industry in Paisley, visit Paisley Thread Mill Museum.
Growing up in Ferguslie Park during the sixties
Small Fish Big Fish is an authentic Scottish story, set in the working class suburb of Ferguslie Park in Paisley.
In its heyday (during the 1960’s, the timeframe of the novel) there were around 13,500 people living in 3,500 units of housing – row after row of three and four story housing tenements crammed together to accommodate as many families as possible.
The suburb was originally built in the nineteen-thirties and forties to cater for people being cleared from Paisley’s slums.
Many of the families who lived there over the decades were unskilled, low paid manual workers in irregular employment. Some residents lived in extreme poverty, and the authorities commonly treated them as hopeless cases, dangerous, and requiring supervision and control.
This was of course an oversimplification of a complex social problem.
Many of those living in the scheme, though poor, were great neighbors. But Council policy at the time dictated that victims of increasing poverty and unemployment throughout the Paisley area should be re-located to Ferguslie Park.
This resulted in a disproportionate number of drunks, wife-beaters, child molesters, thieves, murderers and other ne’er-do-wells in the area. Police were rarely seen as gangs of youths ranging in age from 15 to 25 roamed the streets unimpeded.
The Scottish Government coined the term multiple deprivation to describe a measurement of employment, income, health, education, access to services, crime, and housing.
Ferguslie Park was twice named number one on the list of most deprived areas in Scotland.
By 1990, around half of Ferguslie Park was either unoccupied or demolished with the population reduced to 5600.
Major corporations developed plans to rebuild, with the demolition and rebuilding of most of the streets beginning in 1988.
They rebuilt the houses and new retail and social centers, but the problems remained. In 2006, Ferguslie Park was again found to be the most deprived area in Scotland. Much of the new-build housing has fallen into a state of disrepair like before.
For more information on the demise of Ferguslie Park, visit UK Wiki.
For more great images of old Ferguslie Park, see https://pin.it/5LsVAnK
From a Scottish story to an Australian writing career!
So, why did I choose a Chinese character for my book? Well, that’s down to my adopted country! My partner wanted a fresh start to life, so we emigrated to Australia in 1976. I found myself in an entirely different environment. Australia is rightly proud of its multicultural society. We accept emigrants from all over the world, and I got to know a lot of people with foreign backgrounds pretty well over the years – Greek, Italian, German, Indian, and a number of Chinese ex-pats.
Chong-Charn-Tay (a.k.a. Charnie) was the meanest table tennis player I’ve ever played against (I learned the Chinese paddle grip from him.) We had great times together. He took me to Melbourne’s Chinatown, and introduced me to authentic yum cha (oh, those chicken feet!)
Helina and Lily were professional young women I worked with for a few years and am pleased to call friends. I was also fortunate to work with many people from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland. They gave me great insights into the Chinese character, integrity, work ethic, friendship, and loyalty. I’m not ashamed to say I channeled parts of their personalities into Tianyi.
The juxtaposition of a Chinese girl who spoke little English with the background I’ve explained offered great opportunities to show the best and the worst of people. Tianyi, and anyone who showed friendship towards her, would have had a hard time in the 1960’s- especially in the suburb of Ferguslie Park, where Small Fish Big Fish is set. (If you want to read more about the novel, click here.)
The attitudes of society everywhere have changed in line with increased mobility and international communications. Scots, though, would still prefer to keep Scotland to themselves, guarding their culture and history fiercely.
The novel – Small Fish Big Fish
Small Fish Big Fish is a full length Scottish story but prior to writing this book, I was searching for coming of age short story ideas intended for middle school students and wrote the tale of a young girl and her family desperate to escape from mainland China before Mao’s cultural revolution forestalled them.
Tianyi’s story now plays a central role in the overall plot of the novel. Here is a preview:
Fifteen-year-old Tianyi Chi, hails from a small farming village in Jilin Province, China. She is orphaned after the fishing vessel carrying she and her family is caught in a typhoon in the South China Sea.
Eventually, Tianyi finds herself alone, knowing no-one (except for one uncle) living in Ferguslie Park, a suburb of Paisley.
Some things would have been familiar to her – the poverty, the cleaving to tradition, the sense of history in the country, the love of music, and the storytelling. But I feel sure this young girl would have had some difficulty finding her feet in this new world. Click here for part 1 of her story.
I will publish part two on the website in a few weeks, but if you want to see how it all works out before then (plus lots more) you’ll need to download a copy of my young adult thriller for teens, Small Fish Big Fish.
The Plot of Small Fish Big Fish:
When a ten-pound note falls at Jamie McCarthy’s feet, the teenager thinks his luck is in and heads to the fairground for a bit of fun. This is the beginning of a change in Jamie’s fortunes, but not in the way he hopes. Before long he finds himself on a dark path, trapped by fear, jealousy, and the scheming of bully, Archie Stewart.
Archie has been the victim of fate all his miserable life. He watched his younger neighbor, Jamie, seemingly enjoy everything Archie longed for handed to him on a plate: caring parents, close friends, and a rosy future. Envy eats at Archie Now, it’s time for payback.
A gripping coming of age story about growing up in Scotland, Small Fish Big Fish, tells of the relationship between a group of teenagers struggling towards maturity in a seedy suburb of Scotland during the nineteen sixties.
It is a true-to-life drama about growing up in Scotland, written through the eyes of unique individuals. If you enjoy stories with a compelling cast of characters, suspenseful mystery and a touch of young romance, then you’ll love PJ McDermott’s twist on the traditional coming of age story. Judge for yourself whether this is the best contemporary young adult thriller set in Scotland you’ve ever read!
To purchase Small Fish Big Fish, click on the book image below.
Want to know more about Jilin Province, Tianyi Chi’s ancestral home? The Encyclopedia Britannica has some interesting information.
You can read about the story of Tianyi Chi. Click here for part 1 .