Excerpt from The Observations by Jane Harris, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Observations

by Jane Harris

The Observations
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2006, 416 pages
    Jul 2007, 416 pages

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My missus she often said to me, 'Now then Bessy, don't be calling me missus.' She said this especially when the minister was coming for his tea.

My missus wanted me to call her 'marm' but I always forgot. At first I forgot by accident and then I forgot on purpose just to see the look on her face.

My missus was always after me for to write things down in a little book. She give me the book and pen and ink the day I arrived. 'Now then Bessy,' says she, 'I want you to write down your daily doings in this little book and I'll take a look at it from time to time.' This was after she found out I could read and write. When she found that out her face lit up like she'd lost a penny and found sixpence. 'Oh!' says she, 'and who taught you?' And I told her it was my poor dead mother, which was a lie for my mother was alive and most likely blind drunk down the Gallowgate as usual and even if she was sober she could barely have wrote her own name on a magistrates summons. But my mother never was sober if she was awake. And when she was asleep, she was unconscious.

But wait on. I am getting ahead of myself. Let me begin nearer the beginning.

I Find A New Place

I had reason to leave Glasgow, this would have been about three four years ago, and I had been on the Great Road about five hours when I seen a track to the left and a sign that said 'Castle Haivers'. Now there's a coincidence I thought to myself, because here was I on my way across Scratchland to have a look at the Edinburgh castle and perhaps get a job there and who knows marry a young nobleman or prince. I was only 15 with a head full of sugar and I had a notion to work in a grand establishment.

Not only that but this lad from the Highlands had fell into step with me the past hour, he would have been about my age and he had been to get a tooth pulled. He kept dragging his lip down to show me the hole. I was sick of this boy and his grin and his questions, fair are you going? fair do you live? fwot is your name? fwould you like to lie down with me? - all this. I had told him a whole clatter of lies hoping he would go away but he was stuck to me like horse dung on a road sweepers shoe. If I slowed down he slowed down, if I sped up he sped up, if I stopped to fix my shawl or shift my bundle, what did he do but stand with his hands in his pockets to watch.

Once or twice he got a jack on him would have put your eye out, you could see it poking behind the trousers, and the feet on him were filthy.

I have to admit there was one added factor in my desire to leave the Great Road and that was the pair of polis that was coming towards us on horseback.

Big buckers by the look of them. I had spotted them in the distance five minutes back, their top hats and big buttons, and ever since I had been looking for a way off the road, one that didn't involve me running across a field and getting mucked up to the oxters.

So I stopped walking and turned to the Jocky. 'This is where I go off,' I says, pointing at the sign to the castle.

'I fwhill be coming with you,' he says. 'Hand you can be making me dinner.

Hand hafterwards fwhee can be making a baby.'

'What a good idea,' says I and when he stepped forward as if to kiss me I grabbed his danglers and give them a twist. 'Make your own babies,' I says.

'Now away and flip yourself.'

Off I went up the lane and when he followed me I gave him a shove and a few more flip offs and stamped on his bare foot and that was the last I seen of him, for a while anyway.

I thought I would have a quick skelly at the castle then find somewhere to sleep before it got dark. I had only 6 Parma violets and two shillings to my name and Gob only knew when I would get more, so I could ill afford a room.

But I was hoping for a barn or a bothy where I could lay my head a few hours then press on to Edinburgh once it got light.

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Copyright Jane Harris 2006.  Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Viking Press.  All rights reserved.

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