Broadford, Spring 1979
MRS BAILEY was a saviour of sorts, though on first sight she hardly looked the part. Clearly retired, her tendency to overblink created an illusion of timorousness. Her enthusiasm as church organist was infectious, even if I found myself stiffening with every bum note. She must have been in Broadford months to a year before she gathered what local kids she could into a new choir, aptly named Bailey’s Comets.
Turned out she was cooler than she looked. Our groovy repertoire consisting it seemed almost entirely of Abba and Boney M anthems, with the odd Maori love song and a few traditional Scottish ones thrown in, we would perform at the Village Hall in our very own summer concert. Whatever shenanigans might have ensued were kept in check, if only because she was quite prepared to pull the plug if we misbehaved. She was no pushover.
For now at least, this was a safe haven. She got me out of the house.
HELEN was thinner, and more radical, than I remembered her. In the wake of my father’s funeral, I had felt an unexplained urge to reconnect. About half way through my visit and with conversation waning, I chose to be frank about a few things in my life.
“Yes, I know,” she said. Just like that.
Stunned, I replied “But, but how?”
“Oh, there were signs. Just things I noticed.” She used to see my dad bringing me to Sunday School.
“Really? Was it that obvious?”
“Oh yes,” she replied. “To me they were. I used to be a social worker in a previous life, you know.”
London, East End, 1960s, she said, followed by a story that would make your hair stand on end. As if I needed reminding never to judge a book by its cover.
The burning question, of course, was why she hadn’t said anything. I couldn’t bring myself to ask the question direct; she beat me to it.
“I agonised and agonised over it, then finally decided it was best to say nothing. Had I had evidence, it would have been a different matter, but in the circumstances, you were better where you were. You would have almost certainly been taken into care. And that would have meant you’d have ended up in Inverness. The best thing I could do for you at the time was to keep you where I could see you. That’s why I brought you in.”
So the lesser of two evils, then. I remained in a not unpleasant state of shock for days, thanking my lucky stars that the gawky church organist had acted as she did and not ripped my family further asunder.
What a difference one woman could make.
Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2021