Hamish Murdoch 1964-2007
‘Hi-yah Hamish,’ the kids at the back lane used to shout at me as I wandered down off the canal path to buy a paper from the shop on Dumbarton Road.
‘I’m no fuckin Hamish,’ I muttered under my breath.
Hamish was always up for a laugh. He was stocky, about six-foot, with those deep-set Murdoch eyes and noses that wandered all over their face. He’d dyed his hair purple or green or whatever colour was at hand, before his light, almost gingery hair, retreated up over his forehead to a monk’s crown. He embraced the music and energy of punk rock with long coats and doc martens with yellow football laces. A favourite jumper was banded with bright colours, and he was always a busy bee. Gigs and protest marches were much the same thing; when Hamish attended they were parties.
A distant report of Hamish going down to London and standing outside Buckingham Palace with the old-fashioned spool tape recorders blasting out the Sex Pistols Pretty Vacant and God Save the Queen, and a tourist asking him to turn it down because she couldn’t see.
Everybody from Fastlane to Derry had a Hamish story, even the kids in the back lanes. Hamish standing at the bar in my local, The Drop Inn, with a dark court suit on and a briefcase with a bottle of Buckfast inside.
When Hamish spotted me, he’d make others budge up the seat, including my girlfriend, so he could talk to me. He’d joined a Gaelic football team and wanted me to join too.
‘You’d be good at it,’ he said.
‘Not interested,’ I told him I already played for the pub team.
I didn’t have to be interested. Hamish was interested enough for both of us. His playfulness and sparking eyes opened up pockets and softened even the hardest hearts. I saw the same thing with Mary’s son, Robert. Folk with faces like a shut window would open up and chat away happily to him. Children remembered Hamish’s name, because he was one of them, gleeful. People would give him things, because he might need it, but Hamish was just as likely to give as to take.
Hamish, for example, ripped the County Derry, Gaelic-football top off his back and handed it to someone he’d just met. Charlie Sherry made the mistake of remarking, ‘That’s a nice top’. The temperature below freezing, but they were near the Radnor Hotel. He strolled in, topless, and ordered a pint of Guinness to heat him up.
Hamish was one of the street priest of our society who didn’t look down on anyone and treated everyone the same. Punk in the fifties and sixties was a verbal form of abuse, in the mid-seventies it was a way of life Hamish embraced. If he got work it was casual. Gigs such as security or in the hotels like the Radnor for cash-in-hand and partying. Life was for living.
A woman I’d just met as we danced around who we knew smiled and softened, when I mentioned Hamish. She told me Hamish introduced her to the guy she married. They’ve a couple of kids now. Stevie, one of my pals, been told to stand outside the Hamish’s door, a tenement flat near the Horse and Barge, while Hamish decided whether he could come in, or not, because he’d fancied her first. But Hamish wasn’t one to bear a grudge—he let Stevie stew for about ten minutes, before letting him in.
Hamish grew up the road from me in Byron Street. He’d three older brothers, Kenny was the quite one. Johnnie and Gordy weren’t so quiet. They both fell out a tenement window dead drunk, a few streets apart in Dalmur. Their mother Frances got to visit them in different wards of The Western Hospital, but Johnnie was paralysed from the waist down. Gordy was only immobilised for about nine months. He walked away. Hamish also had a younger sister, but at that time, Hamish wasn’t Hamish. He was Christened Graham McMillan Murdoch.
Graham Murdoch went to Dalmuir School and Clydebank High School, before he decided to change his name by deed-poll to Hamish and join the Provos. But he already had superpowers by then. The rest of us were stand-offish and shy when girls our age congregated around us. Hamish breenged in and flung his arm around the one nearest,
‘Alright girls,’ he’d shout and laugh.
When he did hook up with a partner, it was another patient he met in the old Gothic wings of Gartnavel Hospital. His mind had caught fire. The Cinderella service of the NHS trying to put out the flames in the smoke filled and dim wards of shared rooms and canteen food with anti-psychotics and tranquilizers developed decades ago.
Hamish was a man on a mission when he took his daughters up Dalmuir Park to play. They’d flutter about their dad like long-haired moths in print dresses, laughing, always laughing. He was a fun-filled dad.
Hamish was on a different mission when he was living by himself, in the ground floor flat in Stewart Street. Before Bill Clinton and the peace-dividend in Ireland, Hamish hitchhiked across the country to join the Provos and the armed struggle against Britain. His qualification for this was he knew all the Pogue’s songs and had a hoarse voice like a tractor. He’d also met Shane McGowan on a train, and tried to convince the Irish Londoner to let him, the urban Irish Bannkie, stay with him.
Hamish was quick with the story of him ending up in Derry, staying in digs, and being taken in the dead of night to join the Provos. I’d stayed in similar shitty hotels in London. Before they swore him in, the Northern Irish lads made him sign a bit of paper, several times, so they could be sure it was him. The lads stole his Giro cheque the next morning, and copied his signature to cash it at the Post Office. Hamish wasn’t shipped back in a body bag, he was transferred back to Gartnavel Royal from a hospital ward in Northern Ireland.
When Hamish was born the Queen snipped a ribbon to open the Forth Road Bridge. Seven years later, when Bannkies wanted to go paddling on the shore of the Clyde at Erskine, they no longer needed to get a ferry. But you had to pay a toll fee to cross the Erskine Bridge in 1971. But there was a much larger statistic. The Erskine Bridge was associated with the highest suicide toll in Scotland.
Hamish, aged 42, emptied his pockets, and on the morning of 28th May 2007 gave everything away. He walked down by the canal just before 2pm, and up onto the bridge at the leafy underpass at Old Kilpatrick. People assume that jumpers drown. The Clyde always moving has many currents and undertows and different bodies of water. But at the height of around 150 feet a body hits the water like it would concrete. A few days later, Mark ‘Dinger’ Bell, aged 31, jumped from the bridge on the 1st June. It took a bit longer for Dinger’s body to be recovered. Hamish knew him. Hamish knew everybody.
Kids no longer shout, ‘Hi-ya Hamish’ at me. I no longer have to tell them to fuck off. Bridge deaths are still counted, but no longer widely reported as a form of deterrent. A couple from Old Kilpatrick, who became friends with Hamish’s, partner Anne, published a tribute song for those that died on the bridge, ‘Can’t Catch the Butterfly’. Hamish would have liked that. RIP.