The World of the Black Sanny
The actress Molly Weir turned to writing in her sixties and produced a series of books starting with ‘Shoes were for Sunday’. Her writing depicted a strange and cloyingly wistful semi-mythical world of ‘poor but happy’ tenement living; a kind of Springburn Brig’ o’ Doon: the kind of existence often fondly depicted by professional writers in Scottish magazine like “The Peoples Friend’ and the “Weekly News” in the forties and fifties.
The writer Jack McLean described this peculiarly Scottish writing genre as ‘the world of the black ‘sannny’’ or simply ‘Black Sannyism’ – a ‘sanny’, incidentally, being a derivative of the word ‘sandshoe’ (plimsolls), a cheap and popular type of footwear for youngster in the fifties.
Jack told me he once read a short story by Weir where one of the lovable scamps who populated these stories was playing hopscotch in the street, which, it seems, we all did in those wonderful carefree days, when she was unexpectedly knocked down and killed by a speeding lorry. Her distraught mother came rushing down the stairs and on to the street only to find that all that remained of her precious daughter was
“…her wee black sanny spinning in the middle of the street.”
I’m sure Jack made it up, but the trouble is it sounded horribly plausible.
Now, when I hear or talk to anyone in Scottish Labour, “black sannyism” comes right into my mind. It appears, that all Labour supporters, regardless of age, seem to share the same pining for some mythical time in the past. It’s has become an imagined shared cultured experience. It’s a time when working people in tenements lived up a close where you could leave your door on the latch; and everyone voted Labour. A time when your Da’ worked hard in the shipyard or the mine and handed over his wages to your ‘Maw’ and enjoyed a pint and maybe a ‘wee half’ on a Friday night. Your ‘Maw’ was always eking out a half pound mince at the weekend and making ‘fantastic’ soup that lasted the rest of the week – made from a solitary ham bone, a couple of vegetable and a handful of barley.
“Soup,’ they’ll say, “that you could stand a spoon in.”
… And their ‘Da’ would go to the game on a Saturday and enjoy the ‘banter’ and regale the son/daughter with tales of Sammy Cox, Charlie Tulley or some other player from the distant past.
…And as kids, like Molly Weir, they would play in the streets until tea-time without a care in the world, and, if things got out of hand there was always the local ‘Polisman’, who was always a big ‘heilander’, to give the miscreant a ‘clip round the ear’
…And on Sunday after dinner they would gather round the fire and read “The Sunday Post” and laugh at the antics of “The Broons” and “Oor Wullie”
…And listen to Jimmy Shand on the radio
I’m beginning to think I know why a surprising amount of them are becoming embittered and I should know: I’m an ex-member. The referendum is unnerving them and they wish it wasn’t happening. I remember Brian Wilson during the referendum of ’79 hoping that Nationalism in Scotland would disappear and politics would ‘get back to like it was’ i.e. in his opinion Tories v Labour was the natural order of things. It’s as if their fabled and largely imagined past is now crumbling around them. It’s almost like listening to Native Americans talk nostalgically of herds of buffalo that swept across the plains before the white men came – only in the case of Native Americans, it was true.
The referendum is making them think of the future… and they’re strangely wedded to the past.
I’m not sure that they are too comfortable with that.