Three Halves to Union Street
By mark p
It was just before the in 1979, and a Holiday Monday, Easter Monday to be precise, a public holiday, a day off school to do nothing, to forget all the studying for a while.
Gary and his pals Andy and Ewan had decided to take a bus trip into town to Union Street, Aberdeen’s famous ‘Granite Mile’, the city’s main street, and have a look around, maybe smoke a few cigarettes on the upper deck of the bus and attempt to be cool, chat up some lassies on the bus, you never knew, did you?
They were hanging about outside the Hotel waiting for the Number 18 bus.
Gary wore his ex-army combat jacket bought from MacKay’s of Queen Street, which had been a real bargain at a fiver, it was cheap, but it looked surprisingly good, or so he thought.
He had pinned a Rush badge onto it, a big tin badge with a picture of the band’s guitarist Alex emblazoned on it. Gary thought it was cool, though he had not really heard much of their music, folk would assume he was a big fan.
They had stocked up on cigarettes from the shop on the corner of Avenue and Terrace, which was known as the ‘Purple Shop’, and it was a well-known fact that they sold single cigarettes to schoolkids who looked of an age to be smoking.
Andy was the big smoker, he had his lighter, lighter fuel, and several packs of Marlboros with him, one in each pocket of his Wrangler jacket, which he would tap out to us on the bus, once they were up and running.
His bleached Wrangler, done in the bath at home to his Mum’s horror, was now whiter than blue, but the multitude of heavy metal band patches more than compensated for that. They professed his fandom of Rush, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Boston and The Who, all of which he had crudely sewn on in large uneven stitches.
Ewan had on his shiny new biker leather, which he had taken a fair bit of flak for, the reason being his lack of a motorcycle, though he said he was saving for one, with the money from his job in the butcher’s shop in Road.
Ewan’s money tended to go on albums, and like Gary and Andy, he was a big heavy metal fan. AC/DC were his favourite band this week, he was always on about Bon Scott, their singer, who was originally from Scotland, Kirriemuir which was a wee bit south of Aberdeen. Ewan banged on about AC/DC, and liked their ‘early stuff’, it was always cool to like the ‘early stuff’ of any given band, as it apparently made folk think that you might possibly have been cool enough to have heard of this band before they were popular, and that had to stand for something or at least it did to them.
Gary for his part, liked their ‘’ album, and had heard it a lot at home when his brother Neil had played it to death on his Grundig cassette player.
The number 18 drew up to the bus stop with a squeal of the brakes and they all got on board, paid their fares, and legged it upstairs, they were the only folk there, and it was a public holiday, so there would be few folks bothering them.
Andy tore open the pack of Marlboros bought from the American , Marlboro’s were from the States, and you only got them at a few shops in Aberdeen, so Andy, ever the cool guy, in his eyes, was first to get and smoke them. He passed them around, they all lit up, or ‘sparked up’ as some folk said, Gary coughed a bit, as he was not used to it. He had seen his Gran smoking, and she had a racking cough all the time. He did not want to get a ‘smoker’s cough’, but maybe he would try it today, as the others were, it was a holiday Monday after all. You did not want to the odd one out, did you, it was probably better to follow the crowd, especially when they were your mates. Gary inhaled deeply once, and felt a bit dizzy for a moment, then it was fine, if you took it slow and steady, you would be ok, that was it, the trick was to keep breathing, like in Life itself.
Although Andy had no part time job, he seemed to have access to a seemingly endless supply of money. Folk at school said that he nicked from his folks, from his Ma’s purse, but that was never something that had been proved. He went out on a Saturday afternoon, on a spending spree, returning home with umpteen albums, a pair of cowboy boots, and a cigarette rolling machine, and several packs of cigarette papers. He smoked out his bedroom window, so his Ma would not find out he was a smoker, as if she did not know.
He had been seen smoking in the street by his Mum’s boss, and his Mum had not spoken to him about it but would soon. Maybe she would find out why she always seemed to be short of money. Andy did not care, he wanted to be left school once the were done, get a job working in a shop or something, stacking shelves in Fine Fare or something, if he could keep himself in heavy metal albums, and of course cigarettes.
Ewan, apart from banging on about his records, was always going on about doing his Highers in 5th year and applying to u and getting out of Aberdeen for once and for all.
Gary did not know what he wanted to do with his life, he had gone to a careers fair at the school hall, and there was nothing there that he fancied, he had wanted to be in a band, but that was never going to happen, maybe he would end up like his d and grandad before him, office clerks, drudging away with paperwork and time constraints until he finally retired, or expired. It was a depressing thought to have for someone whose life had barely started. He looked out the window of the bus, into the street below, seagulls flapped around outside St Nicholas Kirk, and the granite gleamed in the sun although it was only April. He decided at that point, that he would set his sights on becoming a writer, whatever you had to do to achieve that aim. He would write stories of local folk like people like Lewis Grassic Gibbon before him, ordinary folk from Aberdeen living their lives in this part of Scotland.
His reverie was brought to a halt by an abrupt shout ‘Oi, Shand, you not finished your fag yet’, said Ewan, they were about to get off the bus, outside the kirkyard. They clattered down the stairs of the bus, leaving the bus driver gazing on aghast as these three lads, clearly too young to smoke, exited his vehicle.