About the Author:
Irvine Welsh is the author of the best-selling Trainspotting, as well as The Acid House, Marabou Stork Nightmares, Ecstasy, and Filth. He lives in London.
|File size:||857 KB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Round About 1970: The Man of the House
The sun rose up from behind the concrete of the block of flats opposite, beaming straight into their faces. Davie Galloway was so surprised by its sneaky dazzle, he nearly dropped the table he was struggling to carry. It was hot enough already in the new flat and Davie felt like a strange exotic plant wilting in an overheated greenhouse. It was they windaes, they were huge, and they sucked in the sun, he thought, as he put the table down and looked out at the scheme below him.
Davie felt like a newly crowned emperor surveying his fiefdom. The new buildings were impressive all right: they fairly gleamed when the light hit those sparkling wee stanes embedded in the cladding. Bright, clean, airy and warm, that was what was needed. He remembered the chilly, dark tenement in Gorgie; covered with soot and grime for generations when the city had earned its 'Auld Reekie' nickname. Outside, their dull, narrow streets nipping with people pinched and shuffling from the marrow-biting winter cold, and that rank smell of hops from the brewery wafting in when you opened the window, always causing him to retch if he'd overdone it in the pub the previous night. All that had gone, and about time too. This was the way to live!
For Davie Galloway, it was the big windows that exemplified all that was good about these new slum-clearance places. He turned to his wife, who was polishing the skirtings. Why did she have to polish the skirtings in a new hoose? But Susan was on her knees, clad in overalls, her large black beehive bobbing up and down, testifying to her frenzied activity. - That's the best thing aboot these places, Susan, Davie ventured, - the big windaes. Let the sun in, he added, before glancing. over at the marvel of that wee box stuck on the wall above her head. - Central heating for the winter n aw, cannae be beaten. The flick ay a switch.
Susan rose slowly, respectful of the cramp which had been settling into her legs. She was sweating as she stamped one numbed, tingling foot, in order to get the circulation back into it. Beads of moisture gathered on her forehead. - It's too hot, she complained.
Davie briskly shook his head. - Naw, take it while ye can get it. This is Scotland, mind, it's no gaunny last. Taking in a deep breath, Davie picked up the table, recommencing his arduous struggle towards the kitchen. It was a tricky bugger: a smart new Formica-topped job which seemed to constantly shift its weight and spill all over the place. Like wrestling wi a fuckin crocodile, he thought, and sure enough, the beast snapped at his fingers forcing him to withdraw them quickly and suck on them as the table clattered to the floor.
- Sh . . . sugar, Davie cursed. He never swore in front of women. Certain talk was awright for the pub, but no in front of a woman. He tiptoed over to the cot in the corner. The baby still slept soundly.
- Ah telt ye ah'd gie ye a hand wi that Davie, yir gaunny huv nae fingers and a broken table the wey things are gaun, Susan warned him. She shook her head slowly, looking over to the crib. - Surprised yedinnae wake her.
Picking up her discomfort, Davie said, - Ye dinnae really like that table, dae ye?
Susan Galloway shook her head again. She looked past the new kitchen table, and saw the new three-piece suite, the new coffee table and new carpets which had mysteriously arrived the previous day when she'd been out at her work in the whisky bonds.
- What is it? Davie asked, waving his sore hand in the air. He felt her stare, open and baleful. Those big eyes of hers.
- Where did ye get this stuff, Davie?
He hated when she asked him things like that. It spoiled everything, drove a wedge between them. It was for all of them he did what he did; Susan, the baby, the wee fellay. - Ask no questions, ah'll tell ye no lies, he smiled, but he couldn't look at her, as unsatisfied himself with this retort as he knew she would be. Instead, he bent down and kissed his baby daughter on the cheek.
Looking up, he wondered aloud, - Where's Andrew? He glanced at Susan briefly.
Susan turned away sourly. He was hiding again, hiding behind the bairns.
Davie moved into the hall with the stealthy caution of a trench soldier fearful of snipers. - Andrew, he shouted. His son thundered down the stairs, a wiry, charged life-force, sporting the same dark brown hair as Susan's, but shorn to a minimalist crop, following Davie through to the living room. - Here eh is, he cheerfully announced for Susan's benefit. Noting that she was studiously ignoring him, he turned to the boy and asked, - Ye still like it up in yir new room?
Andrew looked up at him and then at Susan. - Ah found a book ah never had before, he told them earnestly.
- That's good, Susan said, moving over and picking a thread from the boy's striped T-shirt.
Looking up at his father, Andrew asked, - Whencan ah geta bike, Dad?
- Soon, son, Davie smiled.
- You said when ah went tae school, Andrew said with great sincerity, his large dark eyes fixing on his father's in a milder form of accusation than Susan's.
- Ah did, pal, Davie conceded, - and it's no long now.
A bike? Where was the money coming from for a bloody bike?
Susan Galloway thought, shivering to herself as the blazing, sweltering summer sun beat in relentlessly, through the huge windows.
The First Day at School
Wee Terry and Yvonne Lawson sat with juice and crisps at a wooden table of the Dell Inn, in the concrete enclosure they called the beer garden. They were looking over the fence at the bottom of the yard, down the steep bank, contemplating the ducks in the Water of Leith. Within a few seconds awe turned to boredom; you could only look at ducks for so long, and Terry had other things on his mind. It had been his first day at school and he hadn't enjoyed it. Yvonne would go next year. Terry said to her that it wasn't very good and he'd been frightened but now he was with their Ma, and their Dad was there as well, so it was okay.
Their Ma and Dad were talking and they knew their Ma was angry.
- Well, they heard her ask him, - what is it yuv got tae say?
Terry looked up at his Dad who smiled and winked at him before turning back to address the boy's mother.- No in front ay the bairns, he said coolly.
- Dinnae pretend tae care aboot thaim, Alice Lawson scoffed, her voice rising steadily, implacably, like a jet engine taking off, -yir quick enough tae walk oot oan thaim! Dinnae pretend that!
Henry Lawson shuffled around to check who'd heard. Met one nosy gape with a hard stare until it averted. Two old fuckers, a couple. Interfering auld bastards. Speaking through his teeth, in a strained whisper, he said to her, - Ah've telt ye, they'll be looked eftir. Ah've fuckin well telt ye that. Ma ain fuckin bairns, he snapped at her, the tendons in his neck taut.
Henry knew that Alice was always driven to believe the best in people. He fancied that he could summon enough controlled outrage, enough injured innocence into his tone of voice to suggest that her audacity in believing that he (for all his faults, of which he'd be the first to admit) could leave his own children unprovided for, was overstep-ping the mark, even accounting for emotions running high in the break-up of their relationship. Indeed, it was just those sort of allegations that had practically driven him into the arms of Paula McKay, a spinster of the Parish of Leith.
The fine Paula, a young woman of great virtue and goodness which had repeatedly been called into question by the embittered Alice. Was not Paula the sole carer for her father George, who owned the Port Sunshine Tavern in Leith and who was stricken with cancer? It would not be long now and Paula would need all the help she could to get through this difficult time. Henry would be a tower of strength.
And his own name had been continually sullied, but Henry was graciously prepared to accept that people tended to say things they didn't mean in emotionally fraught times. Did he not also know the pain of the breakdown of their relationship? Was it not harder for him, he being the one who had to leave his children? Looking down and across at them Henry let his eyes glisten and a lump constrict his throat. He hoped Alice caught that gesture and that it would be enough.
It seemed as if it was. He heard burbling noises, like the stream below them, he fancied, and he was moved to put his arm round her shaking shoulders.
- Please stay, Henry, she shuddered, pressing her head into his chest, filling her nostrils with the scent of Old Spice still fragrant on his cheese-grater chin. Henry was not so much a five-o'clock-shadow man, as a lunchtime-shadow man, having to shave at least twice a day.
- There, there, Henry cooed. - Dinnae you be worryin. We've got the bairns, yours n mine, he smiled, reaching over and tousling young Terry's mop of curls, considering that Alice really should take the boy to the barber's mair often. He was like Shirley Temple. It could cause the laddie to grow up funny.
- Ye never even asked how he got oan at school. Alice sat up straight, fused with a new bitterness as she focused again on what was happening.
- You never gave me the chance, Henry retorted in tetchy impatience. Paula was waiting. Waiting for his kisses, for that comforting arm that was now round Alice. Crying, puffy, sagging Alice. What a contrast with Paula's youthful body; tight, lithe, unmarked by childbirth. There really could be no contest.
Thinking, beyond his words, smells and strong arm, about what was actually happening and letting the pain pulse hard and unremit-tingly in her chest, Alice managed to snap, - He cried and cried and cried. He gret his eyes oot.
This angered Henry. Terry was older than the rest of his class, missing a year's schooling due to his meningitis. He should have been the last one to cry. It was Alice's fault, she spoiled him, still treated him like a baby because of his sickness. There was nothing wrong with the boy now. Henry was about to mention Terry's hair, about how she had him looking like a wee lassie, so what else could she expect from him? But Alice was now staring at him, her eyes blazing in accusation. Henry looked away. She stared at his jawline, his heavy growth, and then found herself looking at Terry.
The laddie had been so ill just eighteen months ago. He'd barely survived. And Henry was walking out on all of them, walking out for her: dirty, flighty wee hoor.
She let the savage realisation just throb in her chest and didn't try to cower and brace herself for it.
Still upright and proud, Alice was feeling his arm limp, across her shoulders. Surely the next pulse of racking sickness wouldn't be as bad as that one
When would it get better, when would the horror abate, when would she, they, be somewhere else
He was leaving them for her.
And then the anchor of his arm was gone and Alice was drowning in the void of the space around her. In her peripheral vision she could see him, swinging Yvonne in the air, then gathering up the children and huddling them together; whispering important but encouraging instructions, like a school football coach giving his players a half-time pep talk.
- Your daddy's got a new job so he'll be working away a lot. See how upset Mum is? Henry didn't see Alice first sit up rigid, then slump in defeat at his words; it was as if she'd been kicked in the stomach. - That means you two have tae help her out. Terry, ah don't want tae hear any mair nonsense aboot you greetin at the school. That's for daft wee lassies, he told his son, making a fist and pressing it under the boy's chin.
Henry then fished in his trouser pockets, producing a couple of two-bob bits. Crushing one into Yvonne's hand, he watched her expression stay neutral while Terry's eyes went wide and wild in anticipation.
- Mind what ah sais, Henry smiled at his son, before giving him the same treatment.
- Will ye still see us sometimes, Dad? Terry asked, eyes on the silver in his hand.
- Of course, son! We'll go tae the fitba. See the Jam Tarts!
This made Terry's spirits rise. He smiled at his dad, then looked again at the two-bob bit.
Alice was behaving so strangely, Henry considered, checking that his tie was straight as he planned his exit. She was just sitting there, all buckled up. Well, he'd said his piece, given her every reassurance. He'd be round to check on the kids, take them out, a shake at the Milk Bar. They liked that. Or chips at Brattisanni's. But there was little to be gained in talking further to Alice. It would only antagonise her and be bad for the kids. Best just slip off quietly.
Henry nipped past the tables. He gave the old cunts the eye again.
They looked back at him in contempt. He stole up to their table. Tapping his nose, Henry told them with a cheery coldness, - Keep that oot ay other people's business, or yi'll git it fuckin broke, right?
The old couple were speechless at his audacity. Holding his stare for a second, Henry gave a beaming smile, then headed through the back door to the pub, without stopping to look at Alice or the kids.
Best not cause a scene.
- Bloody nerve, Davie Girvan shouted and stood up, making to follow Henry before being restrained by his wife Nessie. - Sit doon, Davie, dinnae git involved wi rubbish. That's just trash, that.
Davie reluctantly took his seat. He didn't fear the man, but he didn't want to make a scene in front of Nessie.
In the bar, on his way out the front of the pub, Henry exchanged a few nods and 'how's-it-gaun's. Old Doyle was there, with one of his laddies, Duke he thought, and some other nutter. What a clan of gangsters; the old boy, bald, fat and twisted like a psychotic Buddha, Duke Doyle with his wispy, thinning hair still teased up, Teddy-boy style, his blackened teeth and the big rings on his finger. Giving Henry a slow, shark-like nod as he passed. Aye, Henry considered, the best place for that crowd was out here; the scheme's loss was the toon's gain. The reverence the other drinkers had for the men at that table hung heavily in the air, with more money changing hands for a casual game of dominoes than most of them made at the local building sites and factories in a month. This had been the pub Henry had used since they'd moved out here. Not the nearest, but his preference. You got a decent pint of Tartan Special. But this would be his last visit for a long time. He'd never really liked it out here, he thought, as he headed out the door; stuck in the midle of nowhere, but no, he wouldn't be coming back.
Back outside, Nessie Girvan was recalling the images of Biafran famine on the telly last night. They wee souls, it would break your heart. And there was that rubbish, and there were loads like him. She couldn't understand why some people had kids. - That bloody animal, she said to her Davie.
Davie was wishing he'd reacted quicker, had followed the bastard into the pub. The man had been a real rogue mind you; olive-skinned, with hard, shifty eyes. Davie had taken on a lot harder before, but it was all some time ago. - If our Phil or Alfie had been there, he wouldnae have been so bloody smart, Davie said. - When ah see rubbish like that ah wish ah wis younger maself. For five minutes, that's aw it wid take... christ ...
Davie Girvan stopped in his tracks, unable to believe his eyes. The wee kids had got through a hole in the wire fence and were scrambling down the bank towards the river. It was shallow at this stretch, but it had a sloping gradient and the odd treacherous pocket of depth.
- MISSUS! he shouted at the woman on the seat, pointing frantically at the space in the wire meshing, - MIND YIR BAIRNS, BI CHRIST!
In blind terror Alice looked at the space to her side, saw the gap in the fence and ran towards it. She saw them standing halfway down the. steep bank. - Yvonne! C'mere, she pleaded with as much composure as she could.
Yvonne looked up and giggled. - Nup! she shouted.
Terry had a stick. He was lashing at the long grass on the bank, chopping it down.
Alice implored, - You're missin aw the sweeties n juice. Thir's ice cream here!
A light of recognition filled the children's eyes. They scrambled eagerly up the bank and through the fence towards her. Alice wanted to batter them, she wanted to thrash them
she wanted to thrash him
Alice Lawson exploded in a sob and hugged her children in a crushing grip, anxiously kneading at their clothes and hair.
- Whaire's the ice-cream but, Ma, Terry asked.
- Wir jist gaunny git it, son, Alice gasped, - wir jist gaunny git it. Davie and Nessie Girvan watched the broken woman stagger away with her children, each one gripped firmly by the hand, as jerky and full of life as she was soundly crushed.
The particles of filed metal hung in the air, as thick as dust. Duncan Ewart could feel them in his lungs and nostrils. You got used to the smell though; it was only when it had competition that you became aware of it. Now it was duelling with the more welcome scent of sponge and custard which wafted through the machine shop from the canteen. Every time the swing doors of the kitchen flew open Duncan was reminded that lunch was closer and that the weekend was approaching.
He worked the lathe deftly, cheating a bit by lifting the guard slightly, to get a better edge on the metal he was turning. It was perverse, he thought, but in his role as shop steward he'd bawl out anybody who tried to cut corners by flouting the safety regulations in this way. Risk losing some fingers for a bonus for a bunch of rich shareholders living in Surrey or somewhere? Fuck that, he was mad. But it was the job, the process of actually doing it. It was your own world and you lived almost exclusively in it from nine till five-thirty. You strived to make it better, in every way.
A blur pulled into focus from the edge of his sight-line as Tony Radden walked past, goggles and gloves off. Duncan glanced at his new space-age watch. ...... What the fuck was that? Nearly ten-to. Almost lunch hour. Duncan considered again the dilemma he faced, it was one he'd encountered many Friday mornings.
The new single from Elvis, The Wonder of You, was out today. It had been constantly previewed this week on Radio One. Aye, the King was back bigtime. In the Ghetto and Suspicious Minds were better, but they'd both peaked at number two. This one was more commercial, a sing-a-long ballad, and Duncan fancied it to go to the top spot. In his head he could hear people drunkenly singing along with it, see them slow-. dancing to it. If you could make the people sing and dance, you were on a winner. Dinner hour was sixty poxy minutes, and the Number One bus to Leith and Ards record shop took fifteen minutes there and the same back. Sufficient time to buy the record and get a filled roll and a cup of tea from the Canasta. It had been a straight choice between purchase of the single or the leisurely enjoyment of a pie and pint up at Speirs's Bar, the nearest pub to the factory. But now the teasing canteen smells announced that it was Friday, and the big nosh was coming into the picture. They always made a special effort on a Friday, because you were more inclined to go to the pub at dinner time then, which made high productivity and the final afternoon of the week uneasy bedfellows.
Duncan clicked the machine off. Elvis Aaron Presley. The King. No contest. The record it would be. Looking at his watch again, he elected to head straight out in his overalls, impatiently punching the clock and sprinting to catch the bus outside the factory gates. Duncan had negotiated with the management to provide lockers, so that workers could travel in 'civvies' and change into their working gear. In practice, few, including himself, bothered, except if they were heading straight out into town on Friday after work. Settling down upstairs at the back and recovering his puff, Duncan lit up a Regal, thinking that if he got a copy of The Wonder of You he'd play it tonight up the Tartan Club with Maria. The purr from the engine of the vehicle seemed to echo his own contentment as he basked in the warm fug.
Aye, it was shaping up to be a good weekend. Killie were over at Dunfermline the morn and Tommy McLean was fit again. The Wee Man would provide the crosses that Eddie Morrison and this new boy Mathie thrived on. Mathie and that other young guy, McSherry they called him, they both looked promising players, Duncan had always liked going to Dunfermline, considering them a sort of east-coast version of Kilmarnock; both teams from small towns in mining areas who'd achieved real glory in the last ten years and had battled with some of Europe's finest.
- These bloody buses are useless, an old guy in a bunnet, puffing on a Capstan shouted over at him, breaking his thoughts, - Twenty-five minutes ah've waited. They should never huv taken oaf the trams. - Aye, right enough, Duncan smiled, easing slowly back into his anticipation of the weekend.
- Nivir huv taken oaf the trams, the old guy repeated to himself. Since his Edinburgh exile, Duncan generally divided his Saturday afternoon time between Easter Road and Tynecastle. He'd always preferred the latter, not for convenience but because it always brought back memories of that great day back in ....when, on the last game of the season, Hearts only had to draw with Killie at home to win the championship. They could even afford to lose one-nil. Kilmarnock needed to win by two goals to lift the flag for the first time in their history. Nobody outside Ayrshire gave them much of a chance but when Bobby Ferguson made that great save from Alan Gordon, Duncan knew it was going to be their day. And when he stayed out drinking for three days after they won, Maria didn't complain.
They'd just got engaged, so it was out of order, but she took it well. And that was the marvel of her, she understood that, knew what it meant to him without him having to say, knew that he wasn't a liberty-taker.
The Wonder of You. Duncan thought of Maria, how touched by magic he was, how blessed he was to have found her. How he'd play the song to her tonight, her and the wee man. Alighting at Junction Street, Duncan considered how music had always been the fulcrum of his life, how he always throbbed with a child-like excitement when it came to buying a record. It was Christmas morning every week. That sense of anticipation; you didn't know if what you wanted would be in, or sold out or whatever. He might even have to go up to Bandparts on Saturday morning to secure it. As he headed towards Ards shop, his throat began to constrict and his heart pounded. Pulling on the door handle, he got inside and made for the counter. Big Liz was there, thick make-up and helmet of stiff, lacquered hair, her face lighting up in recognition. She held up a copy of The Wonder of You. - Thought ye might be lookin for this, Duncan, she said, then whispered, - Ah kept it back for ye.
- Aw brilliant, Liz, yir a genius, he smiled, eagerly parting with his ten-bob note.
- That's a drink you owe me, she said, raising her eyebrows, a serious underlay to her flirty banter.
Duncan forced a non-committal smile. - If it gets tae number one, he replied, trying not to sound as disconcerted as he felt. They said you always got the come-on more when you were married, and it was true, he reflected. Or maybe you just noticed more.
Liz laughed far too enthusiastically at his throwaway line, making Duncan all the more keen to leave the shop. As he went out the door he heard her say, - Ah'll remind ye aboot that drink!.
Duncan felt a bit uncomfortable for another couple of minutes. He thought about Liz, but even here, just in the street outside the record shop, he couldn't remember what she looked like. Now he could only see Maria.
But he'd got the record. It was a good omen. Killie would surely win, although with these power cuts you didn't know for how long football would be on as the nights would start to draw in soon. It was a small price to pay though, for getting rid of that bastard Heath and the Tories. It was brilliant that those wankers couldn't take the piss out of the working man any longer.
His parents had made sacrifices, determined that he wouldn't follow his father down the pit. They insisted that he was apprenticed, that he got a trade behind him. So Duncan had been sent to live with an aunt in Glasgow while he served his time in a machine shop in Kinning Park.
Glasgow was big, brash, vibrant and violent to his small-town sensibilities, but he was easy-going and popular in the factory. His best pal at work was a guy called Matt Muir, from Govan, who was a fanatical Rangers supporter and a card-carrying communist. Every-body at his factory supported Rangers, and as a socialist he knew and was shamed by the fact that he, like his workmates, had obtained his apprenticeship through his family's Masonic connections. His own father saw no contradiction between freemasonry and socialism, and many of the Ibrox regulars from the factory floor were active socialists, even in some cases, like Matt, card-carrying communists. - The first bastards that would get it would be those cunts in the Vatican, he'd enthusiastically explain, - right up against the wa' wi they fuckers.
Matt kept Duncan right about the things that mattered, how to dress, what dance halls to go to, who the razor-boys were, and importantly, who their girlfriends were and who, therefore, to avoid dancing with. Then there was a trip to Edinburgh, on a night out with some mates, when they went to that Tollcross dancehall and he saw the girl in the blue dress. Every time he looked at her, it seemed that his breath was being crushed out of him.
Even though Edinburgh appeared more relaxed than Glasgow, Matt claiming that razors and knives were a rarity, there had been a brawl. One burly guy had punched another man, and wanted to follow up. Duncan and Matt intervened and managed to help calm things down. Fortunately, one of the grateful benefactors of their intervention was a guy in the same company as the girl Duncan had been hypnotised by all night, but had been too shy to ask to dance. He could see Maria then, the cut of her cheekbones and her habit of lowering her eyes giving an appearance of arrogance which conversation with her quickly dispelled.
It was even better, the guy he befriended was called Lenny, and he was Maria's brother.
Maria was nominally a Catholic, though her father had an unexplained bitterness towards priests and had stopped going to church. Eventually his wife and their children followed suit. None the less, Duncan worried about his own family's reaction to the marriage, and was moved to go down to Ayrshire to discuss it with them.
Duncan's father was a quiet and thoughtful man. Often his shyness was confused with gruffness, an impression accentuated by his size (he was well over six foot tall), which Duncan had inherited along with his straw-blonde hair. His father listened in silence to his deposition, giving the occasional nod in support. When he did speak, his tone was that of a man who felt he had been grossly misrepresented. - Ah don't hate Catholics, son, his father insisted, - Ah've nothing against anybody's religion. It's those swines in the Vatican, who keep people doon, keep them in ignorance so that they can keep filling thir coffers, that's the scum ah hate.
Reassured on this point, Duncan decided to keep his freemasonry from Maria's father, who seemed to detest masons as much as he did priests. They married in the Register Office in Edinburgh's Victoria Buildings and had a reception in the upstairs rooms of a Cowgate pub. Duncan was worried about an Orange, or even a Red speech from Matt Muir, so he asked his best pal from school back in Ayrshire, Ronnie Lambie, to do the honours. Unfortunately, Ronnie had got pretty drunk, and made an anti-Edinburgh speech, which upset some guests and later on, as the drink flowed, precipitated a fist-fight. Duncan and Maria took that as their cue to head off to the room they had booked at a Portobello guest house.
Back at the factory and back at the machine, Duncan was singing The Wonder of You, the tune spinning in a loop in his head, as metal yielded to the cutting edge of the lathe. Then the light from the huge windows above turned to shadow. Somebody was standing next to him. He clicked off the machine and looked up.
Duncan didn't really know the man. He had seen him in the canteen, and on the bus, obviously a non-smoker, always sitting downstairs. Duncan had an idea that they lived in the same scheme, the man getting off at the stop before him. The guy was about five-ten, with short brown hair and busy eyes. As Duncan recalled, he usually had a cheery, earthy demeanour, at odds with his looks: conventionally handsome enough to be accompanied by narcissism. Now, though, the man stood before him in an extreme state of agitation. Upset and anxious, he blurted - Duncan Ewart? Shop Steward?
They both acknowledged the daftness of the rhyme and smiled at each other.
- I art Ewart shop steward. And you art? Duncan continued the joke. He knew this routine backwards.
But the man wasn't laughing any longer. He gasped out breathlessly - Wullie Birrell. Ma wife . . . Sandra . . . gone intae labour . . . Abercrombie . . . eh'll no lit ays go up tae the hoaspital . . . men oaf sick . . . the Crofton order . . . says that if ah walk oaf the joab ah walk oot for good . . .
In a couple of beats, indignation managed to settle in Duncan's chest like a bronchial tickle. He ground his teeth for a second, then spoke with quiet authority. - You git tae that hoaspital right now, Wullie. Thir's only one man that'll be walkin oaf this joab fir good n that's Abercrombie. Rest assured, you'll git a full apology fir this! - Should ah clock oaf or no? Wullie Birrell asked, a shiver in his eye making his face twitch.
- Dinnae worry aboot that, Wullie, jist go. Get a taxi and ask the boy for the receipt and ah'll pit it through the union.
Wullie Birrell nodded gratefully and exited in haste. He was already out the factory as Duncan put down his tools and walked slowly to the payphone in the canteen, calling the Convenor first, and then the Branch Secretary, the clanking sounds of washing pots and cutlery in his ear. Then he went directly to the Works Manager, Mr Catter, and filed a formal grievance.
Catter listened calmly, but in mounting perturbation at Duncan Ewart's complaint. The Crofton order had to go out, that was essential. And Ewart, well, he could get every man on the shop floor to walk off the job in support of this Birrell fellow. What in the name of God was that clown Abercrombie thinking about? Certainly, Catter had told him to make sure that order went out by any means necessary, and yes, he had actually used those terms, but the idiot had obviously lost all sense, all perspective.
Catter studied the tall, open-faced man opposite him. Catter had encountered hard men with an agenda in the shop steward's role many times. They hated him, detested the firm and everything it stood for. Ewart wasn't one of them. There was a warm glow in his eyes, a sort of calm righteousness which, when you engaged it for a while, seemed to be more about mischief and humour than anger. - There seems to have been a misunderstanding, Mr Ewart, Catter said slowly, offering a smile which he hoped was contagious. - I'll explain the position to Mr Abercrombie.
- Good, Duncan nodded, then added, - Much appreciated.
For his part, Duncan had quite a bit of time for Catter, who had always come across as a man of a basically fair and just disposition. When he did impose the more bizarre dictates from above, you could tell that he didn't doit with much relish. And it couldn't be too much fun trying to keep bampots like Abercrombie in line.
Abercrombie. What a nutter.
On his way back to the machine shop, Duncan Ewart couldn't resist poking his head into the pen, boxed off from the factory floor, which Abercrombie called his office. - Thanks, Tam!
Abercrombie looked up at him from the grease-paper worksheets sprawled across the desk. - What for? he asked, trying to feign surprise, but his face reddened. He'd been harassed, under pressure, and hadn't been thinking straight about Birrell. And he'd played right into that Bolshie cunt Ewart's hands.
Duncan Ewart smiled gravely. - For trying to keep Wullie Birrell on the job on a Friday afternoon with the boys all itching tae down tools. A great piece of management. I've put it right for ye, I've just told him to go, he added smugly.
A pellet of hate exploded in Abercrombie's chest, spreading to the extremities of his fingers and toes. He began to flush and shake. He couldn't help it. That bastard Ewart: who the fuck did he think he was? - Ahrun this fuckin shop floor! You bloody well mind that! Duncan grinned in the face of Abercrombie's outburst. - Sorry, Tam, the cavalry's on its way.
Abercrombie wilted at that moment, not at Duncan's words but at the sight of a stony faced Catter appearing behind him, as if on cue. Worse still, he came into the small box with Convenor Bobby Affleck. Affleck was a squat bull of a man who had a bearing of intimidating ferocity when even mildly irritated. But now, Abercrombie could instantly tell, the Convenor was in a state of incandescent rage.
Duncan smiled at Abercrombie and winked at Affleck before leaving and closing the door behind them. The thin plywood door proved little barrier to the sound of Affleck's fury.
Miraculously, every lathe and drill machine on the shop floor was switched off, one by one, replaced by the sound of laughter, which spilled like a rush of spring colouring across the painted grey concrete factory floor.
Two Royal Pests
Duncan Ewart had his young son, Carl, dancing on top of the sideboard to a Count Basie record. Elvis had been pretty much worn out that weekend and Duncan had a good drink in him, having just got back from Fife where Killie and Dunfermline had shared the points. He and his son were now the same height, and the boy was mimicking him dancing. Maria came into the front room and joined them. She picked the lively kid off the sideboard and whisked him across the floor while singing, - Real royal blood comes in real small amounts, I got two royal pests, I got Carl, I got Duncan . .
The boy had the Ewart straw-blonde hair. Duncan wondered whether or not Carl would get stuck with his own factory nickname, 'The Milky Bar Kid', when he started school. Duncan hoped, as Maria lowered the boy to the floor, that neither of them would need glasses. Feeling Maria's arms sliding round his waist, Duncan turned and they shared an embrace and a long kiss. Carl didn't know what to do, and feeling left out, he grabbed at their legs.
The doorbell went and Maria headed out to answer it as Duncan took the opportunity to put on Elvis once more, this time In the Ghetto.
Maria saw a slightly startled-looking, square-jawed man on the step. He was a stranger to her and he was clutching a bottle of whisky and a picture, which seemed to be drawn by a child. He was obviously a bit drunk and elated, though a little self-conscious. - Eh excuse me Mrs, eh, Ewart, eh, is your man in? he asked.
- Aye . . . hold on the now, Maria said, calling Duncan who quickly ushered Wullie Birrell in, introducing him to Maria as a friend from work.
Wullie Birrell was gratified but a bit embarrassed at Duncan's familiarity. - Mr Ewart, eh, Johnny Dawson gied me your address . . . jist popped roond tae say thanks for everything the other day, Wullie coughed nervously. - Ah heard Abercrombie was a laughing stock.
Duncan smiled, though in truth, he'd been feeling a bit guilty at his part in Abercrombie's humiliation. The man deserved to be taken down a peg, and aye, Duncan had wanted to gloat. Then he saw the pain on Abercrombie's face as he walked across the car park at finishing time. Tam Abercrombie was normally last to leave but that tea-time he couldn't get out the door quick enough. One thing Duncan's father had told him was to try not to be too quick in passing judgment on others, even your enemies. You never knew what kind of shite they had going on in their own lives. There was something about Abercrombie, something crushed, and by something a lot bigger than that day's events.
But fuck him, Wullie Birrell's wife was having a baby. Who the fuck was Abercrombie to say he couldn't be with the woman? - Nae mair than he deserves, Wullie, Duncan grinned waspishly, - and it's Duncan, for christsake. Aye, the queer felly wisnae too pleased, but let's no mention his name in this hoose. But how's the missus? Any news? he asked, looking Wullie up and down and knowing the answer.
- A wee boy. Seven and a half pounds. It's our second wee laddie. Came oot kickin and screamin, and eh's never stoaped since, Wullie explained with a nervous grin. - No like the first yin. He's quiet. Ages wi this yin here, he remarked, smiling at Carl, who was examining this stranger, though staying close to his mother. - Ye got any mair?
Duncan laughed loudly and Maria rolled her eyes. - This one's mair than enough, Duncan told him, then dropped his voice. - We were gaunny pack it aw in before he came along, get two tickets tae America, hire a car and drive across it. See New York, New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Vegas, the lot. Then we had our wee accident here, he rubbed Carl's milky-white head of hair.
- Stop callin um that Duncan, he'll grow up feeling unwanted, Maria whispered.
Duncan regarded his son. - Naw, we couldnae take back wur mad wee March Hare, could we, pal?
- Piton Elvis, Dad, Carl urged.
Duncan basked in the boy's promptings.- Great idea son, but ah'll just get a few beers and some glesses and we'll wet the bairn's heid. Export okay, Wullie?.
- Aye, fine, Duncan, and get some wee yins for the whisky here n aw.
- Sounds fine tae me, Duncan nodded, heading for the kitchen, winking at Maria as Carl followed him.
Wullie half-apologetically passed Maria the picture he was holding. It was a child's balloon and matchstick painting of a family. Maria held it up to the light and studied the accompanying words.
It was a story
a new baby by William Birrell age five saughton primary school told to Wendy hines aged eleven and written out by Bobby Sharp aged eight.
my name is William but i git cald Billy my dads Billy two an we will hav a new baby. i like football an Hibs ar the best tim dad take me to see them but no the new baby cos of it been in a kot still play sin johnsin mum has a fire an her nom is Sandra Birrell fat cos of baby.
i live in a big hoos witha windo i hav a gurlfrendc all Sally she is age sivin in a big clas mister colins next dor is old
- It's great, Maria said to him.
- Thir brilliant at that school. They git aw the different ages tae help the teachers help the wee yins, Wullie explained.
- That's good, cause oor yin's gaun at the end ay the summer, Maria told him. - Your eldest, eh must be a bright kid, she cooed
. Pride and drink conspired to lend Wullie's face a healthy flush. - Eh hud it done for me comin back fae the hoaspital. Aye, ah think Billy's gaunny be the brainy one, and this new yin, Robert wir callin him, he'll be the fighter. Aye, eh came oot kickin n screamin, tore the wife bad . . . Wullie said, then blushed in Maria's presence,- eh sorry ... ahmean...
Maria just laughed heartily, waving him away as Duncan returned with the drinks on a Youngers tray he'd taken one drunken night from the Tartan Club.
Billy Birrell had started the school last year. Wullie was proud of his son, though he had to constantly watch him with matches. The laddie seemed obsessed with fire, lighting them in the garden, on the wasteground, anywhere he could, and he'd almost set the house ablaze one night.
- It's good that he likes fire though Wullie, Duncan said, the drink taking effect, topping up what he'd already had, - Apollo, the god o' fire is also the god o' light.
- Good, cause thir'd've been light awright if they curtains had gone up...
- It's that revolutionary impulse though, Wullie, sometimes you've goat tae destroy it aw, just burn the bloody lot doon, before ye can start again, Duncan laughed as he poured more whisky.
- Nonsense, Maria scoffed, looking grimly at the large measure Duncan had poured, splashing lemonade into the glass to dilute the spirit.
Duncan passed another tumbler over to Wullie. - Ah'm jist sayin ... the sun's aboot fire, but it's aboot light and healing as well.
Maria was having none of it. - Wullie'd need healin awright if eh woke up wi third-degree burns, she told him.
Wullie was feeling guilty that he was being unintentionally a bit hard on his son, in front of people he hardly knew. - Eh's a good wee felly but, ah mean ye try tae teach thum right fae wrong . . . he slurred, himself now feeling the drink and the tiredness.
- It's a difficult world now, no like the yin we grew up in, Duncan said. Ye never know what tae teach them. Ah mean, there's the basic stuff like back up yir mates, never cross a picket line . . .
- Nivir hit a lassie, Wullie nodded.
- Definitely, Duncan agreed sternly, as Maria looked at him with a you-just-try-it-pal expression, - Nivir shop anybody tae the polis . . . - . . . neither friend nor foe, Wullie added.
- That's what ah think ah'll dae, replace the ten commandments wi ma ain ten commandments. They'd be better for kids thin that Spock, or any ay thaim. Buy a record every week, that'd be one o' mine . . . ye cannae go a week withoot a good tune tae look forward tae ...
- If you want tae give yir sons some kind ay code tae live by, what about try not tae line the pockets of the brewers and the bookies too much, Maria laughed.
- Some things are a lot harder than others, Duncan ventured to Wullie, who nodded sagely.
They sat up most of the night drinking, reminiscing about where they'd come from before the slum-clearance flats. They all agreed that they were the best thing that had happened to the working classes. Maria was a Tollcross girl, while Wullie and his wife came from Leith via the West Granton prefabs. They'd been offered Muirhouse but they went for this cause it was nearer Sandra's mother who had been ill and who lived in Chesser.
- We're across in the aulder part ay the scheme but, Wullie said semi-apologetically, it isnae as smart as this.
Duncan tried not to feel superior, but that was the consensus in the area: the newer flats were the best deal. The Ewarts, like other families in the area, enjoyed their airy flat. All their neighbours commented on the underfloor heating, where you could heat up the whole flat with just a click of the switch. Maria's dad had recently died of TB from Tollcross's damp tenements; now all that was a thing of the past. Duncan loved those big warm tiles under the carpet. You put your feet under that fireside rug and it was sheer luxury.
Then as winter set in and the first bills came through the post, the central-heating systems in the scheme clicked off; synchronised to such a degree it was almost like they were operated by one master switch.
The Man of the House
It wis when it wis one ay the best times whin ah'm kneelin oan the flair n ah hud the Beano oan one ay the big chairs soas that naebody could bother me n ah've got a chocolate biscuit n a glass ay milk oan the wee stool n muh Dad's sittin in the other chair, readin ehs paper n muh Ma's making the tea n muh Ma, she's the best cook in the world cos she can make the best chips n muh Dad's the best dad in the world cos he could batter anybody n he was once gaunny batter Paul McCartney cause muh Ma likes him and he was gaunny marry Ma but Dad mairried her first n if eh hudnae ah'd've been in the Beatles.
Sheena's in her cot...makin a noise, her face awrid. Cry cry cry ...that's her n she's sometimes always greetin, jist like Christmas, ma Dad sais, no like me cause ah'm big, ah'm at the school now!
Ah wis in the war.
Terry gret at the school oan the first day ah nivir gret but Terry did, gre-tin-fae-haced Teh-ray . . . sittin oan the platform whaire Miss Munro hus her desk and eh gret n gret.
Miss Munro hud him oan her knee and that was lucky for Terry.
Ah'm gaunny marry Miss Munro because she smells nice and is kind n ah pit ma airm roond Terry cause eh's ma paln ah telt um tae try n be a big boy n Terry wis feart that ehs ma widnae come back but ah kent mines would cause she said we'd go for a cone at Mr Whippy's.
Auntie May-ray had a canary . . .
Paul McCartney's gittin battered! Eh's gittin battered right up by me n ma Dad! Bang! Phow!
Miss Munro said that it's awright Terry, yuv goat Andrew here. Ah wis bein big.
Up the leg ay her drawers . . . Batter ehs heid in. If ah goat ma temper up ah could batter aw the Beatles.
Dennis the Menace ma Dad calls me cos ah want a dug like his one bit my Ma sais no till Sheena gits bigger cause some dugs eat babies. That must be why their breath is very bad, because babies smell of pee and sick. Dugs should eat vegetables and chips and good beefburgers, not the cheap ones.
It widnae come doon till the month ay June . . .
Ah ate ma biscuit, ate it aw cos it was one of the good ones that taste of wheat with the chocolate nice and thick. The cheap ones never taste so good. Thir wis a knock at the door. Ma Dad went n goat it. Then when eh came back in, two men came with him cos they were policemen n one looked bad, the other one wis nice cos eh smiled at me, patted ma heid. Ma Dad's sayin that eh had tae go, eh had tae go n help the policemen, but eh'd be back soon.
Paul McCartney and ma can't make a baby because there's Sheena now and she's in her cot.
She sat on the gas and burnt her arse . . .
Muh Ma's greetin, but Dad says it's awright. Eh says tae me, -
Ah've got tae go n help these policemen. You look after yir Ma now n dae as yir telt. Mind, you're the man ay the hoose.
and that wis the end ay her drawers . . .
When eh went away, ma Ma sat ays oan her knee and held me n ah could hear her greetin, but ah didnae greet cos ah wis a big boy and ah nivir gret! Ah wis a bit sad at first cause ah hud ma comic and it was meant tae be the best time, jist after school, before tea bit ah didnae greet cause ah knew that muh Dad would be comin back soon, once he'd helped the policemen put the bad men away n eh'd help them batter the bad men n ah'd help him cos ah'd batter Paul McCartney if he tried to be my Ma's boyfriend n even if muh Dad wis away a long time, it didnae bother me, because it meant that ah wid be the man ay the hoose.
Table of Contents
|1||Round About 1970: the Man of the House|
|The First Day at School|
|Two Royal Pests|
|The Man of the House|
|2||1980ish: the Last (Fish) Supper|
|Sally and Sid James|
|Sex as a Football Substitute|
|The Referee's a Bastard|
|The Sporting Life|
|A (Virgin) Soldier's Song|
|The Rockford Files v. The Professionals|
|No Man of the House|
|Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)|
|Jews and Gentiles|
|Drinking to Forget|
|3||It Must have been 1990: Hitler's Local|
|Memories of Italia|
|Nightmare on Elm Row|
|Home on the Grange|
|The Persistence of Shagging Problems|
|Freedom of Choice|
|Ich Bin Ein Edinburgher|
|Now That's What I Call Chorin|
|The Munich Beer Festival|
|Fight for the Right to Party|
|4||Approximately 2000: a Festival Atmosphere|
|A Fringe Club|
|Somewhere Near the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia||301|
|Post Mother, Post Alec|
|Cocks Oot fir the Lassies|
|I Know You're Using Me|
|Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia||320|
|The Replica Shirt Problem|
|Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia||335|
|Memories of Pipers DiSCOTec|
|Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia||340|
|An Urban Myth|
|Pished, Drugged, Laid|
|A Welcome Alternative to Filth and Violence|
|An American in Leith|
|Sydney Airport, NSW, Australia||367|
|The Bitterest Pill is Mine to Take|
|Stars and Cigarettes|
|Our Bona Fide Guests|
|Bangkok Airport, Thailand||399|
|Heathrow Airport, London, England||413|
|The Business Bar|
|Islands in the Stream|
|Git Her Shoes Oaf! Git Her Slacks Oaf!|
|Fucked and Hassled|
|Reprise: 2002: the Golden Era||465|