I was sixteen when I stole my brother, SEV’s, identity. I’d nipped into the lounge of the Glen Lusset and ordered a pint of lager. I was tall enough in my black double-breasted jacket and black open-necked shirt to pass for eighteen. My plan was to neck a couple of pints and then head along to the Napier Hall beside the Telestar for the disco and brag to my mates that I’d been served, no bother. The dumpy, but smiling barmaid, who came in from the bar, didn’t even ask to see any ID, which was good, because I didn’t have any. I was flush with cash, gave her 30 pence, and even said she could keep the change.
It was a large open-plan pub arranged like the inside of an egg box. With a potted green shrub beside the pillar that separated the walkways to the toilets and bar with the cushioned seats and tables nearer the bar. I picked up my pint and through the fag smoke eyed some of the glamourous older women with their hair piled big enough to catch the weather and Dallas-type shoulder pads on their jackets, ducking my eyes away from their boyfriends. Mull of Kintyre droned on forever on the jukebox, but Scottish fans were no longer marching with Ally’s army. It wasn’t that long ago we’d been ripping up Wembley. They had, with our blessing, stoned the team bus with rocks with images of Scotty dogs on them. And as a reminder that during Glasgow Fair fortnight, when they returned home they better bring at least one World Cup with them, but they’d betrayed us, let our dreams of winning the world cup evaporate, like the froth on my pint, with a draw against Iran.
I sat on the edge of a seat against the back wall and fiddled with the Tennent’s lager beermats placed on the table beside the two empty ashtrays. I kept my head down when two cops wandered in, and I saw them glancing around the pub. I still had half a pint left and raised it my lips and took a sip, my Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. I made the mistake of looking up and then looking away again. A cop came and pulled up a wooden chair and sat facing me.
He was polite, ‘Whit’s your name?’
He wrote it down in his notebook ‘And whit age are you, Stephen?’
‘Twenty-one,’ I took another sip of my pint. A sign on the wall of the lounge proclaimed: over-21s-only. I wasn’t going to fall into the trap of saying I was eighteen,
‘Whit’s your date of birth?’
I’d been preparing for that and done the mental arithmetic before I came into the pub by adding five years to my date of birth, but keeping the months and days the same as my own.
‘Where’d you live?’
I hadn’t thought of that and so instead of stumbling I gave my own home address as Dickens Avenue.
He finished jotting in his notebook and smiled. ‘You mind if I take a sample?’
I shrugged and when he dipped a small container into my pint, brought it out and sealed it in a small bottle, I joked with him, ‘You’ll need to get me another pint at this rate.’
‘If you can just sit here for a short while, until we get it tested.’
He smiled, heard it all, before and moved across to another table and sat down beside a young couple.
Kate Bush hit all the high notes with Wuthering Heights when I made my dash for it. I left my pint unfinished and headed towards the men’s toilets, communal with the bar next door. But I didn’t stop, put my head down, breezed out through the double doors, and into the car park. I ran the short stretch along the road and turned into the park, underneath Erskine Bridge, imagining footfall and sirens at my back.
SEV pulled on his leather jacket and took me for what he termed ‘a couple of pints’ in the Club Bar when I had a bit of money. I’d already sneaked in a few times with my pals before the St Stephen’s Guild disco, where the barmaids routinely emptied all the glasses of slops into one glass and charged us full price as soon as we came through the double doors. But I was no longer a fool; I was with my big brother.
I matched him, pint for pint, although, admittedly, he did sneak ahead with a few halves of vodka. Some of the Irish contingent, Spratt’s workmen were holding court in one corner, growling at each other, pacing and smoking Woodbine, and clothing the room in a hoary grey haze. The floor was sticky underfoot when I picked up my pint, folded my denim jacket over my arm, and followed SEV into the room beside the men’s toilet to play pool. SEV chalked his name up on the board and put my name below his. If he won, and beat the player holding the table, he’d be playing me.
It was much the same set-up as when I put a coin down on the pool table in Dalmuir Café, when dogging school, or at weekends. Win or bust. And if we’d an extra ten pence, hitting the big buttons hard and fast as the Space Invaders, came down to annihilate the player to a scary background hum in tonal duet of ded, ded, ded...
I wasn’t a complete novice at pool, although I wasn’t a shark, like some of the other players. American pools balls were shaded the same, half-coloured balls playing full balls, but they were smaller than in the café, but the pockets were also smaller.
We had another pint while we waited our turn and watched a heavy guy with a huffy red face play his mate. SEV went on and beat him, with a fluked black ball in the bottom bag. I was glad they shook hands, because I didn’t want any trouble.
‘You want another one?’ he held up his empty glass.
I shook my head, I still had most of a pint of lager left and it was his round. I left it sitting on nicotine stained ledge that ran midway up the high ceiling. Then forgot where I’d put it. I stuck my ten pence in the balls crashed out and into the pannier. SEV racked them for me, and I broke the balls. His lit a Regal fag, and left it on the overhang of the metallic edge of the pocket over the tiled floor, but safely away from the baize on the table. He potted a few balls, and then missed an easy shot in the middle bag. I cackled with laughter, picked up a cue and, unsteady on my feet, lined up a full ball over the bottom bag. A confetti spray of lager and half-chewed food turds followed the click of the cue ball.
‘C’mon,’ my brother slapped a hand on my shoulder. An admission he was willing to settle for a draw. ‘We better be getting you up the road’.
He checked he’d picked up his packet of fags and finished his half and handed me my jacket.