Pat Powell 1936—2014
Pat Powell 1936—2014
My da was over ten years older than Old Pat, but I asked my da if he knew him, and he gave a shake of his head and glowered. He made the kind of wheesht sound that meant don’t ask – he turned back to the book he was reading. Old Pat was the same age as William McIlvanney, the novelist, but Old Pat thought himself more a ladies’ man and could tell better whoppers. When Old Pat was born there was a kerfuffle, a constitutional crisis with the abdication of King Edward VIII after marrying Mrs Wallis Simpson, Old Pat would have claimed to have been sniffing about and shagged her first. But the area in which old Pat and my da lived, the Bisley—marked by The Bisley Bar—and which took in most of Whitecrook and Linnvale and the tenement buildings along Dumbarton Road was Irish Catholic and anti-royalist to its Republican core. Attempts to trace Lady Elizabeth Bowen-Lyon, and her line of descent to Robert the Bruce and the Duchess of York as Queen Elizabeth with Scottish roots would be met with a collective fuck off. Only in the Orange Hall built facing John Brown’s shipyard gates, with the purpose of making sure only the most menial jobs were given to Catholics, whose presumed low intelligence precluded them working machinery, was this of significance. Old Pat, and my da, and every other Irishman in the Bisley, carried themselves as if they were directly descended from the last King of Ireland, especially if they had a drink in them, and Celtic was the carrying card of their religion. My da was a boozer, a hothead and fighter and not just of Protestants on the day of the Orange Walk. Old Pat had the right and wrong kind of drunken swaggerer and always got the last word in. They drank in the same pubs. They knew each other, through good or bad.
It wasn’t often I sided with my da. When I first met old Pat on a train he’d a massive carry-out and he was going to Butlin’s, in Ayr. He was a wee guy with a bad leg and was fifty-years-old—younger than I am now—but his bald head looked like a King Edward potato had landed on his shoulders knocking him skelly. And he talked out of the side of his mouth as if his tongue was searching for his teeth. I sparked a can and listened to his drunken patter. There was another old guy with Old Pat that talked a semblance of sense. But when the Glasgow Central train had got to Partick—six train stops—I got off, changed platforms, and got the train back to Dalmuir.
My young brother Bod, later asked me, ‘Whit did you dae that for?’
‘I couldnae stick that auld cunt.’
But old Pat on that trip changed history. It was the classic Butlin’s set-up. Old Pat and his pal were going to the holiday camp for a week. They were the paid guests. Young Pat, his son, and his best mate, my brother Bod were the non-paying guests. They’d get a day pass and bunk down in old Pat’s room for the week.
Young Pat was a floater between houses. Old Pat had married Agnes Asple Donald in 1964, (which sounds like a Proddie name) and had in quick succession three sons and a daughter. I knew the older boys, Martin and Pat because we all played for our local team. Bod and me often argued who was the better football player, I argued it was Martin, who was outstanding. Bod argued for his mate Pat. Bod was the youngest in our family and our da gave him more leeway than the rest of us, ‘Where’s the playboy?’ he’d ask, with almost grudging affection.
He’d the same type of hair-do as his best mate. Young Pat’s swept back and up and over, a Flock of Seagulls and Kajagoogoo arch, in black and white, added a foot to his height when he slept in the space between my bed and Bod’s. He couldn’t stay with his mum—who’d separated from his da—or old Pat. And Pat couldn’t drunkenly pish the bed, because he was on the floor.
But young Pat retained, however drunk he seemed, the extraordinary ability to hang in the air when playing football, and to knock back drink as if he’d the thrapple of a horse and didn’t need to come up for breath.
I once challenged him to a drinking competition in Butlin’s, for a tenner. Pat was drunk, but he wasn’t stupid. He tried to mumble his way out of it, because he felt sorry for me and knew he’d win.
A crowd of Bod’s mates where watching us. And when Bod shouted ‘Go,’ Pat picked up his glass and started swallowing lager
I flung my pint over my shoulder and banged my glass down on the table. Young Pat couldn’t understand how I’d won. We were both working in Butlin’s at that time. I worked on the shows and chairlifts and young Pat, Martin, Bod, and a whole gang of other lads from Clydebank, worked in the kitchens.
Weekends were for the campers. Staff got paid on a Tuesday and skint by Thursday. But accommodating and food was free. We worked for beer tokens. Old Pat’s initial trip had been a sliding-doors movement; he indirectly seeded the births of over twenty-five children. Bod met his partner Annie working in the kitchens and they had five kids. Pat met a girl in Butlin’s and they had two children, boy and girl. Martin had three or four. The McLaren brothers all hooked up with girls from Liverpool and another ten or eleven children can be added to the running total.
I fancied the picture-perfect, dark-haired woman who took photos of campers, partying, on their nights out, and later developed them and sold them back for profit. It was hit and miss affair. I fancied her but she fancied someone else, but her pal fancied me, while at the same time, was seeing someone else. We’d all went to Murrayfield to see U2 on their Joshua Tree tour. On the way back to Butlin’s, I met up with my pal, and we stayed in mum’s house in the East End of Glasgow. We couldn’t all get beds. The photographer sidled up and asked me,
‘Where will I sleep?’
I pointed to my pal’s room, and told her, ‘You take the bottom bunk, and don’t worry about undressing because poor John was born blind, just give a little cough, to let him know you’re there’.
That was the kind of thing, Old Pat would have done. He was like gravel rash, I got used to him. ‘Voddy, for the body, Jack,’ he used to shout when he trailed into our pub with his gammy leg. He’d borrowed money from the Dalmuir Credit Union and he was out on the bevvy.
‘Gie me a loan of twenty quid, and I’ll gie you it back?’ he’d ask, because sitting down, when he started he didn’t want to stop.
Old Pat cleared all his debts. And in later years when his hands didn’t work and he couldn’t roll his fags, he was mostly blind and a bit deaf, he’d a houseful of people helping him, because he’d tap money to the likes of Stevie Mitchell, Ian Murray, or even Fiona the Hun—who threw her husband out the window and got charged with murder—because he’d been there before chocking for a drink, chocking for a fag. My brother Bod liked the company too. He’d stay with Old Pat before he’d stay with me. There was always a plateful of soup on the ring for him, enough to share, and enough to care. Old Pat always had the latest gossip, but the story was no longer about him.
Old Pat had one of those send offs like an old-fashioned King of Ireland. Punters wept into their beer. He’d have been sorry he missed it. RIP.