top of page

Amelia Pasch

The Wounded Soldier,

The Crowded Train

and Papa Dolce

The backdrop is post-war Glasgow, Scotland, the characters out of place in a city that lives up to its reputation of being no mean city. I arrived in the city, as well as in my family, in the merry month of May, one year and three days before VE Day.

            Three years before my birth, Nazi bombs had cleaved a destructive path through Glasgow to Clydebank. At the time, my parents were living in a small village in Buckinghamshire. Quite why they thought that a move to Glasgow was a good idea eludes me, but, only a year after the Clydebank bombings, move they did, so I was born a Glaswegian.

            My experience is that assimilation seldom accompanies relocation; culture shock inhibits cultural exchange, not to mention national reactionary tendencies. For the twenty-one years he worked in Glasgow before he retired, my dad continued to wear a bowler hat, carry a rolled umbrella, as though his place of work was still in London. He even spent his spare time dressed in sandals and flannels watching matches at the only cricket ground in Glasgow thus satisfying his life long love of the game.

            My mum belonged to an ethnic minority with a reputation for wandering. This allowed her to somewhat circumvent rationing. Kosher margarine was fine for baking. Both parents were teetotal in a city where drunks frequently lay comatose on pavements and in parks. Our family was atypical in their adopted environment and so was my upbringing but it was not without its moments of innocent childhood joy.

            How exciting! It was dark, after my bedtime, and the new electric street- lights spun magic in my familiar daytime streets, turning any uncovered flesh a peculiar shade of yellow. I could see my breath, like grown-ups who smoked, and I was wearing my best coat although it wasn’t even Saturday or Sunday. Frost on the pavements glittered brighter than the lights on our Christmas tree. A few neon signs vaporised their message through the damp air. The Kelvin Halls, offering an excitingly different world, were a short walk away. Occasional previous visits allowed me to half know what delights to expect.

            Christmas day had been chicken for dinner and roast chestnuts on the dining room fire in the evening. The day after Christmas brought family friends to visit with parcels for me that I sat and opened while the grown-ups talked and played card games.  I knew that today would be the best day of all because this was the day we went to the circus and rode on the roundabouts.  Daddy might even buy me some candy floss.

            As we crossed University Avenue, I could hear jolly music in the distance. The ground was slippery and my black patent shoes weren’t quite up to the job so Daddy held my hand ‘just in case’. ‘I hope there’s straw down for the horses,’ he said.

            My ears pricked, ‘Will there be horses?’

            ‘Why certainly!  Who ever heard of a circus without horses?’ I could feel my heart thumping through my tartan dress and cherry red coat. If it hadn’t been so slippery I would have skipped.

            As the lights of the Kelvin Halls came into view I found I was stepping a little faster; my grip on Sauchiehall Street was a little firmer.  We passed the Black and White Café.  The odd little man who owned it had painted it in those colours. He dressed in the black and white like his café. It sold Knickerbocker Glories.

We seemed to fly across the front of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and there was our destination, lights sparkling, music playing and the smell of candy floss and hot dog rolls filling the air. We didn’t have to queue for tickets because Daddy produced some from his coat pocket and showed them to a uniformed man, who stood at the entrance. 

          The man only had one arm. I felt sorry for him but he laughed and joked with us, seeming quite happy. Leaning over a turnstile, he ushered us through, tickling me under the chin and laughing again. ‘You’re a pretty little thing. How would you fancy being our mascot?’

            ‘What’s a mascot?’

            ‘A sort of good luck charm.’

            ‘OK, then.’ It seemed like a nice idea.

            Walking into the first and biggest of the halls I clapped my hands against my ears because of the noise but I could still hear all the songs that my big sister, who was thirteen, liked to listen to. They were all playing at once. I stopped at a roundabout that had all sorts of animals to ride on - including horses. Daddy fetched change from his pocket so that I rode on a brightly painted pony dreaming of the real thing.

           I was delighted that our seats for the circus performance were so near the ring, close to the smell of sawdust and leather harness.  There were all sorts of acts, many with animals, including ponies, to all of which I thrilled. Then right at the end of the show, I had the best surprise of all.  Monty, the piebald drum horse of the King’s Household Cavalry entered the ring leading the regimental band. I had seen him in photographs but not in real life. My eyes opened wide at the sight; but there was more excitement to come. The one armed man, accompanied by a clown, arrived beside me taking my hand. Mummy nodded and he led me to where Monty stood.

            The drum major, with his white and gold uniform, smiled down at me. The Master of Ceremonies made an announcement. ‘Allow me to introduce the Regimental Mascot for the evening. Give her a round of applause, ladies and gentlemen!’ The clown lifted me to sit in front of the splendidly dressed rider. Cameras flashed and the band played a march as I rode round the ring on Monty’s back. My five-year-old heart filled with so much excitement I thought it might burst.

            Our family’s fortunes rested on inheritance, necessitating frequent trips to London. As a small child, I thought these were holidays. Then, I knew nothing of solicitors or wills, trusts, and executries. We travelled by train, as did a large number of His Majesties armed forces since the countries armies had remained on high alert, even after the end of hostilities in Europe.

           Our journey always began with the arrival of a hire car and chauffeur, not a taxi. Pre-booked sleeping compartments for the family awaited us on the night train to Euston, which began its journey at Glasgow’s Central Station; that, at any rate, was the theory. On one particular occasion, that theory came unstuck. A troop of soldiers occupied the entire carriage where our pre-booked sleeping cars should have been. The place was awash with khaki. My Dad called the train guard.

            I was wearing a tiny kilt of the Gordon tartan. In one compartment, its occupants began singing ‘A Gordon for me’ which frightened me. The guard blew his whistle in an effort to silence them; the train driver mistook this for the signal to start up the engine, so he blew the train’s horn: I screamed and hid behind my mother’s skirt. The train juddered, began moving, and we had nowhere to sleep.

            The soldiers’ commanding officer came to the rescue. Hoisting me on his shoulders, he led us to his compartment where he saw us settled with a bar of chocolate for me, and profound apologies for my mum and dad.

            I can remember once watching someone fry an egg on a hot London pavement. Post-war Glasgow was a dour prospect for most of the year, all grey buildings and rationing. The sun seldom shone through the rain, the long paths in Kelvingrove Park seemed to a small child to stretch forever. As my mother often remarked, people work so hard that they seldom had time for leisure activities.

           For a few weeks in summer all that changed. On summer Sunday afternoons, the park filled with ladies in colourful cotton frocks, men in their shirtsleeves, and gambolling children. Fountains flowed, and the ducks on their pond gobbled the stale bread we’d saved all week to feed them, as they dabbled up-tails all.

           Glasgow has three rivers of which I’m aware, the Clyde, of course, the subterranean Molendinar, and the River Kelvin from which the park takes its name. This is the Kelvingrove that Robert Burns immortalised in one of his poems. From our home in Sauchiehall Street’s Sandyford Place a walk to University Avenue involved crossing that river.

           But I’m racing ahead. Before I tell of our summer Sundays, I should explain about how atypical as a Glaswegian family we were. Both parents having grown up south of Watford, Sunday lunch was a quite splendid affair all year round, even more so on summer Sundays when open windows wafted the aroma of our roasting meat to disapproving neighbours’ houses. They weren’t to know that my mother saved our family’s meat ration all week by feeding us vegetarian food thus allowing for a Sunday roast. Our family was of mixed religions so my mother remained at home cooking while we attended the church at which my father worshipped, I at Sunday school, my older siblings at the service in what to me was the ‘big church’.

            After lunch, like everyone else, we took to the park. From the gate closest to our house, a nasturtium- bordered path ran to the park’s central area. Mother often picked the nasturtium leaves whose sharp taste livened summer salads. At the next landmark, a stone fountain played, and brave souls dipped their feet in its waters. A short walk further and we off-loaded the breadcrumb contents of brown-paper bags we carried at the duck pond before we made our way to the bandstand to listen to whatever was on offer. On the way, Father carefully folded the bags, handing them to Mother who tucked them into her handbag for future use. Usually a military band entertained the audience but sometimes it was a would-be Caruso or pretend Dame Nellie Melba. With hands crossed on lap, I twiddled my feet in their brown Clarks sandals (I don’t think they came in any other colour), anticipating what delight I knew would come when the concert ended.

            We stood for ‘The Queen’ then exited the bandstand by its top gate to walk across the bridge over the River Kelvin just above a weir where the water plunged to foaming white that gathered at its banks. Its chemical smell always made me wrinkle my nose. Turning right into University Avenue, that magnificent Victorian building that houses the university stood proud on its hilltop site at the opposite side of the road. Charles Rennie Mackintosh was by no means the first Scottish architect to emulate Scotland’s craggy landscape in his designs.

            There was Gibson Street to cross, where a basement flat fascinated me because a terrible fire had ravaged it, killing its occupants, giving it had a peculiar smell for years afterwards. Even before we reached our destination, my digestive juices began to flow, but I was no ghoul.

            Turning into a little Stella Dairy, the man behind the counter said, ‘…and how is my little Neapolitan today?’ as he handed me the coolest, creamiest ice cream to be had. It contained real cream of which my father approved. My tongue tingled with ecstasy as it curled around the cool creamy topping, pushing it deep into the crisp caramel-coloured cone that supported its weight. This culinary treat silenced me during the walk home as I savoured each sweet mouthful right down to the last crumb of the cone, like a tiny upside down pyramid, which I popped into my mouth with huge relish and a sigh of satisfaction.

             The ice-cream vendor told me to call him Papa Dolce, which I did. I have his name engraved on my heart – the taste of his ice cream on my memory. Both will be there to delight me until my dying day.

            My father was born during Queen Victoria’s reign. My mother was only ten when the Great War ended. Neither thought they way they raised me in fifties Glasgow was in any way extraordinary. I could have told them then that it was. Now I am polite enough to say that it was merely untypical. 


Amelia Pasch is the pen name of E Amelia Johnson, wife of the artist Stewart Bowman Johnson. Amelia was born and raised in Glasgow of a Jewish mother and a non-conformist father: the couple married in 1963. As a mature student, Amelia achieved a degree in law and worked in the legal profession for twenty years. Frequent house moves finally brought them to Cyprus in 2004 where their creative careers have run in tandem. Endeavour Press published Amelia’s debut novel, Murder in Mind, in 2013. She is now working on a second novel, either a sequel or the second in a short series. 

Amazon: Murder in Mind.

bottom of page