I was still at school and watching Space 1999 on the telly, when SEV wafted into the living room stinking of booze and fag smoke. He slapped the back of my head, as if I’d been watching porn. Nodded, a sign, I should follow him. He squinted through the gap in the kitchen door to make sure mum wasn’t listening.
He filled me in on what was happening in the lobby. He’d been up Clydebank High School with Emily, it was just down the High Park and road from where she lived. Part Gothic, redbrick walls, high fences and crenelated towers like Colditz, but more windswept. Long huts grew on the grass edges of the playground, before the school grew beyond its boundaries. Four-storey in breeze block, beside the steep slope of gravel parks, were added. Plenty of damp, dark places where SEV and Emily could kiss and canoodle.
All old schools were haunted. My primary school, St Stephen’s, for example, had the statue of the Virgin Mary in her alcove of the mezzanine floor between staircases kept a beady blue eye on you, and her pink foot firmly on a snake without hurting it too much. The kind of fly boot, you’d give to Sandy, the Golden Labrador next door because it wanted you to endlessly pat it, and feed it worms. But it was gospel that the Immaculate Conception floated about. Girls had seen her gesturing and pointing, like a prefect, at her heart. And her eyes bled. We hadn’t read much more than Janet and John, who ran, or jumped, or even skipped, and weren’t much clued up on theology, and weren’t sure what she was getting at. The only option was to pray to Jesus that she’d leave you alone. Run away as fast as your wee legs would carry the fictional Janet and John—who never peed themselves—and not stare at her. But the Queen of Heaven and Star of the Sea stuck to your insides like a fag burn, and there was no escaping her heavenly gaze without turning your nose to the wall.
We also had the bog-standard ghosts in tweed and crinoline, dressed like soldiers in tartan trews, marching through corridors and buildings with a satisfying click of their heels and disappearing into walls where no doors existed. We’d also Galloway, as he nudged his back against the stage in the dinner hall. Old enough to qualify as a ghost, with his pitted bald head, gammy leg, shiny tight fitting suit on his round body and gruff voice, ‘Get the mats out’, his war cry.
We respected ghosts, perhaps even expected them to appear out of the corner of our eyes, when we stepped along narrow stone ledges and through a window, or unlocked fire door, and broke into schools, during the summer holidays when it was quieter, for a quick shifty about during a game of tig, or hide and seek.
As SEV explained to me, what he didn’t expect was two guys giving him snash, when he was drinking his half bottle of Eldorado and trying—and succeeding—on getting his hand on Emily’s firm wee tits. He wasn’t going to let them away with what they’d shouted after he got to the sticky bit, but there were two of them and only one of him. I was the equaliser. We’d go out and batter them and it would be two against two. I didn’t get a vote in it.
I went into our room, sat on my bed and pulled on a pair of black Weegins, with silver segs in the heels, good for added sparks and kicking without slipping. Still in my white Fred Perry t-shirt and flared denim. I followed him with my head bowed into the drizzling rain. No jacket, because that could be pulled over your head, or grabbed. But it wasn’t far along from the grass triangle we could see outside our window and down bit the phone box, beside the wooden garages with the dump behind it.
The guy I was to fight had greasy hair, down past his shoulders and silver John Lennon type specs. I wasn’t going to Give Peace a Chance, I ran at him. It was quite a straight-forward square-go. He made a grab for my bushy hair and I caught a hold of his. Hauled his head down and kicked him in the face, until I was sure he’d given in and wouldn’t get up and attack me, again.
John Lennon’s pal, another grease-monkey in denim, ran away up the hill, with my brother chasing behind him. I’d a pal, like that, Burnsie—always running away, leaving you to fight the consequences. I headed up the road more relieved than triumphant.
Back in the house, SEV lit a fag and told me he hadn’t been able to catch the other guy. He’d been a better runner than he was a fighter. But he’d laughed when I told him I’d battered the guy with John Lennon specs. He’d spotted him staggering, blooded up the road, and thought he’d given me a doing. He’d given him a good kicking again.
Kickings were always described as good, unless you were on the receiving end. SEV had took a good kicking from Wimpsy in the Club Bar. I’d been drowsy headed in the toilet, falling asleep with my back against the wall, and missed the fracas. Wimpsy was the local hardman, more beaked nose than face. His speciality was sticking the heid on folk and following through. He’d tested out this technique on most of the local bouncers in local pubs and clubs. The soon to open, Peppermint Park above the Co-op employed two new doorman every week so Wimpsy could pick a fight and refine his skills.
I’d followed Wimpsy outside the pub when it shut and along the back lanes and on to Mountblow Road. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, perhaps waiting for SEV to reappear. But Wimpsy turned his head and spotted me. He must have seen me with my brother earlier. He’d been jabbering away to guy with straw-coloured hair, a bit older than me Frankie McGowan, who lived down the hill in that part of Dalmuir.
When Wimpsy ran after me, I made a run for it. He made a grab for me and caught the back of my shoulder and I stumbled and fell into a garden in Cedar Avenue. Green privet hedges and rockery. He booted me a few times and I tried to protect my face. Then he picked up a large boulder from the stonework to crash down on my head.
Frankie was out of breath by the time he’d caught us up. ‘Wimpsy,’ he shouted, ‘Don’t! He’s only a boy.’
I got lucky that night.
SEV got lucky too. He’s swum across the canal to escape the police and Spratt’s men, working on the road, had given him a set of waterproofs and hard hat to disguise himself. He’d tried to rob a bank, but that turned into no more than a cartoon caper, and the police weren’t able to prove anything.
At eighteen, I was all man I was going to be in a store-bought suit. Best-man at SEV and wee Emily’s wedding, and read out the congratulatory telegrams. She was a birthday-cake and beautiful bride in white, aged twenty, waiting at the altar. My brother aged twenty-one, hands shook and so did his arms when he tried to stick his jacket on before the wedding. He needed a few gaspers of fags—and quick up-and-down halves—before he got to the altar rail in St Stephen’s chapel. Scotland had been a nation divided: 33% voting for independence, 31% against, but a rigged vote, with a two-thirds majority needed. We were stuck with England and wee Emily was stuck with SEV, to have and to hold, until death do them part.
But they were already set up for life. She’d a good job and he’d a job, and Emily’s da had helped them put down a deposit on a tenement flat in Apsley Street, Partick. It was under five grand, around the price of a new Renault car, £4100. With SEV at the wheel, they couldn’t go wrong.
The reception was in Clydebank Social Club, which looked onto the ground. Davie Cooper had played here and honed his skills at Singer’s Park, where we used to hang about watching Bill Munro put the players through their paces, and try and nick one of their many leather-bound Adidas balls. Another Fergie, Alex Fergusson had taken Aberdeen to the pinnacle of the Scottish game and Scottish champions. Before that he’d barked at the part-timers of East Stirling and brought the Buddies of Paisley, St Mirren, to the Bankie’s home ground for local derbies that decided who would win the old Second Division. I was never sure what happened to the other Fergie. I was a Celtic man, through and through.
When his team passed in an open-decked coach after winning the European Cup Winner’s Cup, I was on a bus going the other way and gave him the same two-fingered vicky I’d given to the Queen at the bottom of Mountblow hill.
Inside the club I’d an eye on my sister’s long-legged pals and we’d ABBA, The Winner Takes it All. For older folk like my da, Johnny Logan, What’s Another Year. But that wasn’t a question we could answer, because it wasn’t even a question. The kind of song, if drunk enough, you could put your arm around a woman’s waist, slow dance in a moony, with your head on her shoulder. I could only look on from the edge of the wooden dance floor.