Content warning: discriminatory language, death/dying, ageism
The cauld air slaps ma cleanly shaven face as ah step oot intae the front gairden. No in a bad way, ye unnerstaun. It’s good tae feel such a vibrant sensation in the mornin – well it’s good tae feel it anytime, ah suppose. Still here, Arthur, still livin the dream. Aye right. Still, it’s good to huv a sense ay humour.
Ah’m gaun tae collect ma pension fae the Post Office, ye see. Then ah’m meetin ma auld pal Tam O’Henry – wan ay the only wans left, as a matter ay fact.
The gairden is covered in a thick frost, which gies it that crisp, fresh, sparklin quality. It has tae be said, it looks better noo than it does in full summer bloom. At least the overgrown, frost-covered grass conceals the rapidly accumulatin collection ay rubbish the local bloody haufwits like to fling oer the hedge whenever the notion takes them. Bloody animals. Nae respect, the bloody swines. They widnae’ve dared years ago cos they’d huv goat a bloody good hidin fur that kinda kerry oan, ah’ll tell ye.
It’s the gairden, ye see, it’s no as well looked efter these days. No since ma Jeanie died.
Fur the first few years, it was awright. Ah’d be oot weedin and cuttin grass. Trimmin the bushes in the spring and prunin the roses under the windae. Ah actually enjoyed it, kept me busy. Truth be told, ah wished ah’d done mare ay it wae Jeanie – ye know, helped her oot in the gairden – when she wis here. That wis always her thing though. Jeanie loved aw things horticultural. We were overjoyed when the Cooncil offered us this hoose. A lower cottage flat they wid cry it noo. Four-in-a-block we cried it. Wan buildin, split into four dwellings. The upper wans each huv their ain gairden to the rear, wae the lower wans havin wan at the front.
That was it fur us. We had the hoose wae oor ain gairden and we were happy here. Ah suppose, thinkin aboot it noo, the very process ay keepin the gairden as close tae her exactin standards as ah could, made me feel somehow closer tae her.
Whit wis the point ay this again exactly? Aw aye, ah’m no as young as ah used to be. Ah’m no as able fur the gairdenin, ye see. Ah try and dae whit ah kin of course, but ah’m seventy-wan years of age. Ah’ll huv to get oan tae the Cooncil an tell them ah need help.
Naw ah won’t, in fact. There’s no chance ah’m phonin that shower ay bloody arseholes. They just want me oot ma ain hoose so’s they kin gie it away tae some bloody work-shy brood ay reprobates. Happenin aw oer, so it is. Ah’ve seen it!
When Jeanie died, it didnae take them long afore it wis, ‘Mr Coyle, you may want to consider the new Sheltered Housing complex on Edrom Street. It’s really a marvellous development. If you would just have a look at the brochure here, I’m sure you will find it to be most accommodating.’ Fat bloody chance! ‘Ah’m gaun naewhere!’ ah told them. Ma Jeanie and I staiyed here fur oer forty years. Waited another ten afore that oan the waitin list. ‘It’s no just somewhere tae staiy,’ ah told them. ‘It’s mare than that.’
‘This hoose hauds a lot ay memories fur me. Memories ay the times ma Jeanie and I had here. Yer no gettin me intae wan ay they homes. The only waiy ah’m leavin here is in a boax.’ That wis five years ago noo. Christ, is it really that long awready? Aye. It must be. The winter ay nineteen ninety-three it wis, when she passed, twelfth ay January. It’s March noo, ninety-eight.
Everythin in the hoose is as it wis when Jeanie passed. Ah like it that waiy. Another waiy that ah kin feel close tae her, ah imagine. Ah’ll no be here much longer anywaiy. Whit’s the point in rearrangin things noo? Mind you, ah mind sayin that tae masel five years ago an aw.
An easier objective tae achieve, ye might say. Change nothin inside. Keep it as it wis, thereby conservin her memory. Ah never liked hauf the ornaments an souvenirs she’d amassed oer the years if ah’m completely truthful. That wis the point though; they were her ornaments, her collection ay tea towels brought back fae anywhere we – or anyone deemed close enough tae us tae warrant askin – ever went. Ah wis the breadwinner, Jeanie wis the homemaker. That’s how it wis in oor day. By that definition, then, they had tae staiy.
By a gairden’s very definition, or at least that ay a livin plant, it had tae change; had tae grow, expand … encroach even. Only by human manipulation is it tamed; shackled back, neatly pruned an delicately cared fur. Cared fur like Jeanie cared fur this gairden. No this example ay overgrown suburban jungle that remains. Still though, it disnae look hauf as bad wae its mornin frost coverin.
The space in the hedgerow where the gate lies is ever diminishin, the hedge reachin oot through the air oan each side an graspin oot at its opposite number in an attempt tae become wan.
Frost faws aff ay the leaves an layers a dustin oan ma shoulders an sleeves as they catch and scrape against the fibre ay ma overcoat.
Ah begin tae tentatively head up the hill taewards the Co-operative oan Shettleston Road, tryin no tae go oan ma bloody arse. Chic McHendry fell oan this slope last year an broke his bloody hip. The aulder ye get, yer bones turn tae dust, ah’m tellin ye – aboot as rigid an robust as a bloody Weetabix.
We approach the Portland Arms, Tam an I. It’s just past hauf past wan. The facade ay the buildin husnae changed a bit since it was built in nineteen thirty-eight. Fae the pavement up tae the bottom ay the windae sills and surroundin the door, the waw is comprised ay black an grey granite. Above the doorway is the sign “Portland Arms” in stainless steel letterin, backlit by red neon light. The remainder ay the waw at the front ay the buildin is constructed wae red-facin brick wae stane copin.
Enterin the main door, we immediately arrive in a small vestibule where there ur two doors – wan tae the left and wan tae the right. These two doors were originally, ah would surmise, put in place for ease of access tae either end ay the circular bar held within.
Part ay Tindal’s vision, ye see? Naw well, ah don’t suppose ye dae. Jonathan Tindal wis the proprietor back when he built this incarnation ay the pub in nineteen thirty-eight. It wis tae replace the auld pub ay the same name that stood next door. Bit ay a visionary, ye see, auld Tindal. He decided that a pub should be expansive wae lots ay room fur patrons tae be seated rather than be crowded roon a bar, as wis the case in many ay the surroundin pubs ay the time. Accordingly, he promptly acquired the tenement block next door tae the auld pub, demolished it and built wan mare attuned to his philosophy.
Where wis ah then? Oh aye, the two doors. As ah said, there ur two doors as ye arrive, wan at either side. We take the wan tae the right. This takes us intae the Celtic end. The other door, as ye may or may no huv gathered, takes ye intae the Rangers end.
Hardly in keepin wae Tindal’s vision fur the modern publican then. He obviously never accounted fur the entrenched sectarian divisions ay this city at the time ay inception.
Ah personally, care not a jot fur such segregation. Ma ain faither wis spat oan in the street as he searched fur work when he came oer fae County Donegal in nineteen twinty-three. Ah’ve witnessed countless acts ay violence borne fae the ignorance ay bloody eejits oan baith sides ay the fence. They kin bloody keep it! It is, however, a segregation ay choice, ah should point oot. Ah mean, there’s nae doormen staunin there directin folk tae their delegated section an there’s nae real risk involved in crossin tae the other side, as it were. Rather, it’s an arrangement that has evolved naturally an organically. It should be applauded in a city wae countless pubs affiliated tae either ay the Auld Firm. Everyone is seemingly happy wae the continued modus vivendi, an there’s nae mare trouble in the Portland than any other pub. Still though, we’re creatures ay habit, Tam and I, and wae names like Coyle and O’Henry, there wis only wan door we were gaun tae use.
Through the door, the customary aroma ay tobacco smoke an insipid, stale beer greets us like an auld friend. A strangely comfortin sensation that comes wae familiarity. Horizontal layers ay grey smoke hang in the air like ghostly apparitions, hoverin seemingly indefinitely as each layer is renewed cyclically by the relentless puffin ay the patrons throughout the bar. Tam goes tae the bar tae order oor drinks. A hauf pint ay heavy an a hauf ay Glenfiddich wae watter fur me. Tam’s usual is a hauf pint ay Tennents lager an a measure ay varyin whiskies, dependin oan baith his mood an his finances.
Lookin aroon the surroundin tables, ah kin observe aw ay the usual faces. At this time ay the day, it’s largely pensioners an unemployed people in fur a couple ay drinks tae while away the hours an drudgery ay their day. The sad thing is, occasionally wan ay the faces disappear. People die, life goes oan. Some ay the more popular characters may even get a commemorative plaque, mounted in memoriam, at their favoured seat or stool at the bar. Ah acknowledge the friendly faces ah see: a nod ay the heid or a cursory wink. Maist offer some sort ay recognition; a raised gless or smile in response. Some however, just stare blankly, unwillin tae enter intae any type ay social interaction. Ah’ve largely gied up tryin tae talk tae the young yins that come in. Maist feign the slightest ay interest in any subject matter ye try tae ignite conversation wae afore buggerin aff as soon as possible. They’re no aw as polite as that though. Some ay the youngsters prefer tae blatantly ignore the opinions held by masel an other elderly people, preferrin insteid tae shun ye entirely. The erosion ay common courtesy an respect fur yer elders in this country, ah put it doon tae. It just didnae happen in ma day but there ye go, times change. Mibbe it’s me though; ah mean, who’d want tae listen tae an auld bugger like me rabbitin oan? It’s just hard tae accept, ah suppose. Ah mean, it wisnae always like this; ye just get aulder an it seems ye become less relevant tae people.
There’s wan shinin light though: ma young grandson. Twinty years auld, he is a strappin big lad. Ma only grandchild an the only real family ah’ve goat left. His faither – ma son – died, ye see. He goat in wae the wrang crowd an started messin aboot wae the drugs. Died because ay that bloody shite when the boay wis just eleven years auld. Daniel wulnae go doon that road though, ah’m certain ay it. He’s a bright lad, that yin an nae mistake; sais he might drap in an see me the day, in fact.
Wan ay the aforementioned ignorant wee bastarts is oan ma seat when ah get tae it. Tam an ah sit here when we’re in.
‘Dae ye mind shiftin son, yer oan ma seat,’ ah sais tae him.
‘Aye? Ah don’t see yer name oan it,’ he sais. ‘Ye might huv soon enough when ye croak it though, ya auld cunt,’ he sais, laughin wae his pal an pointin tae the plaque at the next table.
‘You’ll huv an embossed imprint ay ma boot oan the cheek ay yer arse if ye don’t sling yer hook, ya cheeky wee bastart!’ ah sais tae him – nae respect, these swines. He stauns up, lookin as if he’s goat somethin else tae say fur himsel afore pickin up his pint an noddin tae his mate afore the two ay them bugger off, movin alang a few tables. Bloody swines.
Ah’m bloody hoachin fur a drink noo efter that kerry oan. Where’s Tam went tae fur them, the Wellpark Brewery?
He’s staunin at the bar talkin tae some bloody big brute ay a fella, bletherin away. Ah’m ready fur gien him a shout but he starts makin his waiy taewards me, kerryin the drinks oan wan ay they wee circular trays ye get in pubs, stoappin tae blether tae mare people sittin at the tables he passes oan the waiy.
‘Will you stoap natterin tae every bugger in the bloody place an get oer here wae they drinks,’ ah sais tae him oer the hum ay the many voices in the room.
Efter whit seems like an inordinate amount ay time, he eventually gets here, puttin the tray oan the table an sittin doon.
‘Whit took ye?’ ah sais. ‘Ah’m bloody parched.’
‘Stoap yer moanin, Coyle! Ah’m entitled tae say hello tae a few people. That’s whit the pub’s fur – socialisin,’ he sais.
Ah take ma drinks an decide against pursuin it any further. He’s right, ah suppose. Cannae really argue wae that.
‘Who wis the big fella ye were talkin tae at the bar?’ ah sais.
‘Aw aye, him. Nice big fella. Never caught his name,’ he sais.