In Loving Memory: Robert Russell 30th April 1975 - 15th September 2019

Mary warned me, anybody that calls Robert ‘A Legend’ is going to be tied to a chair and beaten with condolence cards and smothered with lilies.

Most of us remember Robert, or wee Rab Russell, with a rucksack on his back. He’d have a drawing pad. A pair of socks. He was obsessed with clean socks. I was looking for a book I’d lost, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, Robert had flung it into his rucksack, he was reading it in the right way, very slowly.

Because reading is my religion I know the tricks writers use to show the backstory of before and what happens after. When Robert was born in 1975, a Daily Record cost 5p. A pint was about 15p. Mobile phones hadn’t been invented. And we all didn’t have our heads in the cloud.

The big-screen blockbuster of 1975 was Jaws. But in Dalmuir canal, in the knolly, an even bigger fish was lurking. Scarface ate traffic cones, dogs and small children.

Robert and Craig and Tony tried to catch Scarface, but, maybe, it was just a good-enough excuse to leave fishing rods in the water and drink beer. Over the years that fish grew bigger with the telling.

Nothing we can say now changes the fact that Robert is dead. Grief is far too small a word. A black hole we can fall into.  Mary nursed him, watched him crawl, and go to school – although, to be fair, not very often.

I think he developed an allergy to Clydebank High School around the age of thirteen. School was one of life’s inconveniences. I’m not really sure if Mary noticed when he started taking a skateboard to school - and it wasn’t to help him get there quicker.

There are some culprits here. Some silent assassins of long ago. Many of you here will remember that snooker club beside the Drop Inn, the old Lerags. Lots of the old guys, ahead of their time with the idea of recycling. They showed wee Rab, and Brian and Terrance Reilly how to fix the meter. No need for costly solar panels.  Fifty pence could turn a school-day into a school-night. The snooker-table light was always on a loop.  That’s where Robert learned the basics of how to be a man. How to screw the cue ball the length of the table, but never screw your mates and always buy your round when it’s your turn. How you never smoked over the table, because it was bad for the nap of the cloth. How to nip a lit cigarette with forefinger and thumb and save it in your packet for later.  Life’s lessons.

And don’t stay out too late, or your mum will have to come down to club and get you. And she did. But she never really got mad, not really.

Robert, when he was trying to be sensible, still played snooker. He’d once beaten Marcus by a few frames on the professional table, after Marcus had beaten the world champion, Stephen Hendry. You know what us Scots are like. We beat England in 1967 after they won the world cup.

Robert beat Marcus, who beat Stephen Henry. He was really world champion.

 Robert was, whisper it, a legend. But Alan could beat Robert at snooker, so he was a legend too. Funny that, having a family full of legends.

When Robert wasn’t annoying his mum or playing snooker, he did drawings. One of them I remember was a cartoon: a baldy looking guy wae steam coming out of his ears.

 ‘Who’s that meant to be?’ I asked him.

‘That’s you,' he said.

Obviously, he was far better at snooker than caricatures.

 Then there was Countdown, not to life, but Countdown on the telly. Robert loved Countdown. I’m meant to be good wae words, but Robert would get the conundrum quicker than me.

We all know about his habits. Bad habits like, ‘I’ll wash the dishes.’

 And he’d fill the basin with hot water, half-rinse two mugs, put them on the draining board and nip outside for a quick fag. ‘I’ll get the rest of the dishes later,’ he’d say.

But we were no mugs. His idea of later was, admittedly, pretty elastic.

There’s an old Glasgow saying, he knew everybody and their dog.  Robert did seem to know every single person in Dalmuir and their dog. If you tried walking through Dalmuir with him, you’d find that out pronto. That’s Roxy, he’d say, she’s a bitch.

Robert and me had a different philosophical view of the world. ‘He’s a great guy, or she’s really, really nice’ was Robert’s assessment of 99.9% of the people we met along the way.

‘Arsehole.’ was usually, my assessment.

Robert paid his dues in full, but, often, like the rest of us, wasn’t happy, in himself.

Like life’s great Countdown, the clock’s ticking for us all. He got to the connundrum before us.

Robert died sitting up straight in his own couch. A bottle of wine and a chippie bag on the table in front of him. Robert was a throwback to 1975. He lived in a council house, had no car, no phone, or mobile phone. He liked to watch Family Guy.

I like to think some part of Robert would also be aware of me, trying the keys in the front and back doors, circling his house and trying to spring open his bedroom window. He’d be alive to my frustration, anger and fear. How the logical part of my mind was weighing option and decided the best medicine is often to do nothing, hope for the best. Thinking Fast and Slow. Life would roll on, as if nothing had happened.

That was Robert’s great secret. He wanted more than anything else to be normal and please his mum and everybody else.

Most of us here will remember Max. Cross between a collie and mongrel. That dog loved Robert. It would have followed him to hell and back. And now as one of the wee lassies said, ‘Robert has his wings,’ logically, Max must have his wings too.

That explains a lot of things. When Robert was holed up in one of his drinking dens in the high flats, I don’t know how Max done it, but that dog enacted the kind of great escape that would have flummoxed Steve McQueen into trying to get two drunk guy to stop talking shite and take him for a pee. 

Our letterbox was too high for Max to reach. So when you opened the door in the morning, the dog would be sitting there smoking a roll up, waggy tail, waiting for you to let him in.

‘Is Robert on the drink?’ we’d ask Max  

I know that’s no normal, asking a dog questions and expecting an answer. But this was Max we’re talking about. He was a legend.

And we live in Dalmuir.

Now we’re in a crematorium talking about Robert and a long-dead dog. That’s normal. We bury our own and carry them in our heart. Amen to that.  Amen to Robert. And his mother Mary, she knew him too well. Then. Now. Always.  

 

Comments

This is a lovely tribute, but I'm so sorry to hear this horrible news Jack - I've emailed you. heart xx

 

So sorry, Jack. As insert says, a beautiful tribute.

thinks inset and airy, wrong-way round, but I guess a mothers, you both know that.