Poor Things Alisdair Gray

Poor ThingsWeather reports show that 29th June 1882 was abnormally hot and sultry. At sunset most Glaswegians were disturbed by a noise whose cause was discussed in the local press through the following fortnight. Most folk assumed it has an industrial origin and came from very far away. At Saracen Cross in the north-west folk though that something had exploded at Parkhead Forge; around Parkhead to the south-east it was thought a disaster in the Saracen Head Ornamental, Hygienic and Sanitary Iron Works. In Govan to the south-west folk thought a new kind of steam whistle was being tested in the north-east locomotive works; in the north-east it was assumed that a boiler had burst in a ship on Clydeside. A scientific correspondent in The Glasgow Herald said the phenomenon had been “more like an electrical shock than a noise”, and perhaps had “a meteorological source in an abnormal weather condition combining with fumes in the atmosphere”. A humorous periodical called The Bailie pointed out that the West End Park and University were at the centre of the area over which the noise was heard, and suggested that Professor Thomson was experimenting with a new kind of telegraph which went through air instead of through wires. A final facetious letter in The Scotsman (an Edinburgh journal) suggested that a Glasgow tinker had been playing a new kind of bagpipe. In Episodes From The Early Life of a Scottish Public Health Officer, an autobiography found in a box of legal papers being destroyed by a Glasgow law firm and handed over to Alisdair Gray, the late Archibald McCandles testifies the following:

Then came the most terrifying experience of my life. The only part of Baxter which moved was his mouth. It slowly and silently opened into a round hole bigger than the original size of his head then grew larger still until his head vanished behind it. His body seemed to support a black, expanding, tooth-fringed cavity in the scarlet sunset behind him. When the scream came the whole sky seemed screaming. I had clapped my hands to my ears before this happened so did not faint as Bella did, but the single high-pitched note sounded everywhere and pierced the brain like a dental drill piercing a tooth without anaesthetic. I lost most of my senses during that scream. They returned so slowly that I never saw how Baxter came to be kneeling beside Bella’s body, beating the sides of his head with his fists and quivering with human-sounding sobs as he moaned in a husky baritone voice, “Forgive me Bella, forgive me for making you like this.”

She opened her eyes and said faintly, “What’s that supposed to mean? You aren’t our father which art in Heaven, God. What a silly fuss to make about nothing. Still, your voice has broken, there’s that to be grateful for. Help me up both of you.”

June 29th, 1882, was also the day Joseph Aloysius Hansom died. That is probably not related to any of the events described above.

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