JOHN MCLACHLAN (Kojak) 1962-2011
Tony Quinn opened the living-room window and shouted me into Kojak’s house on Lilac Avenue. It had one of those boxy silver wheelchair ramps taking up most of the front garden in the four-in-a-block. A calling card for any of the junkies from the high flats at the bottom of Mountblow Road, looking for easy pickings. They’d already done the woman’s house next door. I hadn’t seen Tony for years, but we had a bit of history.
The Quinn family moved from Whitecrook to a new-build council house facing Clydebank High School, up the road from us, close to the Sweeney’s. Tony moved to St Stephen’s Primary school in Primary Six, had his first playground fight within a week and was our goalie in the all-conquering school team in Primary Seven that proved to the best team in Dunbartonshire.
Luck of the draw, Tony wasn’t in any on my classes at St Andrew’s Secondary school. In primary school outings we went to Calderpark Zoo to let the animals look at us. We’d attended a religious Retreat together in the second year of Secondary School. No need to bring a sandwich to eat before the bus had left the carpark and spew up on the narrow country roads. Lunch was provided. The Retreat House could house a hundred and find room for a hundred more. Daffodils popped their heads up and beyond the stone walls was freedom.
We were shown into a room by a tonsured monk that squinted at us through heavy horn-rimmed specs. It was all mansion polished wood and nice views out of the window. ‘This is the tuck-shop,’ the monk said. He pulled open a door to show us all kinds of sweets. He chuckled about having an honesty box, and he wandered away with his hands tucked into the opposing sleeves of his soutane to give us some settling in time.
Tony had a Mars Bar in his gob, before the heavy door was quietly shut. He stuffed a Twix and Bounty Bar into his pockets. He held out a Mars Bar for me—but I must admit to having examined my conscience and found it to be sinful. Tony less so.
I’d last seen him in the Co-op with his older brother, Billy. Billy was part of the gang that ran about with my elder brother Sev and Jaz Sweeney. They weren’t learning how to play the piano, as my da used to say. Billy had that stink of death about him. Tony was living with him in the high flat beside Dalmuir Park, because he too was an alky. Every day was Giro day, and that was them getting the booze in.
Kojak was in a wheelchair in his living room. He’d the same smell as Billy, the same grey skin. But Billy could still be funny and string a sentence or two together. Kojak despite having about ten kids had Tony as his helper and translator. And it was him that explained what had happened. My stepson Robert had got twenty quid off Kojak to buy a carry-oot, but hadn’t come back with it. We were back at the honesty box—for alkies.
Ironically, I’d been looking for Tony a few months before. Robert was mentally ill and had the habit of sitting with a few cans on the bench facing Dumbarton Road. All hours of the day and night he’d sit there, even though he’d his own house, he craved company, any company. Tony had been stealing cans from him. And I asked about where I could find him. Went up to his house, the flats in the quadrangle facing Kimberly Street and the dual carriageway, to settle up with him. But he was already away in prison or hospital, it didn’t matter much.
‘Twenty quid?’ I said to Tony.
‘Aye,’ he nipped his lips into a thin smile, knowing I’d pay up.
I dipped into my back pocket and gave him the money. He’d get his cans and his cut. I slapped my hands on Kojak’s shoulder, and apologised on Robert’s behalf before I left. I’m not sure if he heard, and didn’t know me. I could have been his social worker.
Kojak got his name from the telly series starring the bald Telly Savalas as Lt. Theo Kojak. An American cop with the deep voice and lollipop, whose catchphrase was ‘Who loves you, baby?’
John McLachlan had a fine head of thick hair. Just like his dad, John. And his brother, who went by the stage name, Marti Pellow, the lead singer of Clydebank band, Wet, Wet, Wet.
Kojak used to skulk in his open-necked shirt near the pool table beside the stage in St Stephen’s hall, with his pal, Stavros, because he’d curly hair. They weren’t much into dancing. Mull of Kintyre had been number 1 for about a year, only to be bettered by Wet, Wet, Wet’s Love Is All Around Us, the Christmas Number one December 1994 and most of the year. Kojak’s party-trick was being able to drink a full bottle of Eldorado in one tilt.
He’d tried to steal a can of lager off one of my mates. We’d been up Dalmuir Park with a Friday night carry-oot, a case of beer for less than a tenner. Kojak was a big guy, about six three or four. His pal was about six foot. We were a bit younger, but there was me Dav, Jim, Bobby and Burnsie. Burnsie was my best mate, but he didn’t count. He was a runaway to fight another day, kinda guy. We crowded around a bench near the bandstand, with bags at our feet. We hadn’t yet planned what to do. Inevitably, we talked about meeting girls, without actually meeting any girls.
Kojak was half canned; he thought he could breeze in and take what he wanted. Most fights are like shaking hands with a ghost. I got him down and he said he’d stab me if I didn’t let him up. His pal never jumped in. Neither did mine. I let him up and we went our separate ways.
He’d been working as a roadie on the crew with Wet, Wet, Wet. Love was still around us, when he wandered into my local and stood beside me at the bar. His brother had gotten him a job, but every country was like the last, full of undrunk drinks. He’d been paid off, but wasn’t worried. He didn’t know who I was, or my name, or who I was, but we talked the same language. We were both drunkies, but he’d been drunk longer than me.
I knew Kojak just the same as I knew his da, John, as a nodding acquaintance. His da, a man who liked a few pints with his mates in the pubs in Dalmuir after his wife died. One of his sons an alky. The other a junkie. But one of them sold tens of millions of records. We’d lived through Saturday Night Fever, Grease, punk, Coldplay, X-Factor—and Wet, Wet, Wet. I guess for some that’s salvation stretched too far. But at least the crematorium at Dalnottar, with the Old Kilpatrick Hills behind it, was close to home.