Heart of Glasgow by Desimond
The passing crowd of shoppers, workers and regular travellers were well used to the paper sellers loud hoarse cries.
“Citizen…Evennnnnnnnnning Citizen, get your Citizen here..” was the cry outside Central Station from 2pm through till 7at night. It was just after 3 in the afternoon however when the newspaper seller stopped mid shout because he had recognised the small man with the shiny back hair walking down towards him from inside of the station.
Even though it was May the man had his collar up. There was still a slight chill in the air and he clearly wasnt taking any chances. The vendor noticed that the man was taller than he had previously thought but he would recognise that gallus stride anywhere. The paper seller had seen some big names from his pitch next to the Central Hotel over the years but suddenly he felt quite nervous.
For over 15 years he had stood at his prime pitch, “Man and boy! Rain, Snow or Shine” he used to boast and never before had he ever felt himself star struck. His anxiety surprised him, he hadn’t felt like this when Sinatra and his entourage had posed right next to him for photographs, or even when Liz Taylor has given him THAT smile as she exited a taxi with Richard Burton.
‘Jesus Christ, was he blushing?’
The vendor muttered “Get a grip Joe!” and tried to compose himself as the man came within a few feet.
“Awrabest next week!” said the newspaper vendor.
“Whit?, oh aye cheers mate” replied the man who continued passed without breaking stride. The black haired man continued on, exited from under the station canopy and made his way out onto Gordon street, turned right and headed East.
‘There goes a man who obviously has a lot on his mind’ said the Vendor to no-one in particular and he returned to his papers.
‘A lot on his mind’ was certainly one way of putting it. The man with the slick black hair hadn’t slept in days. He had had to force himself to eat and even then keeping the food down had been a struggle. His stomach had been churning ever since it had been all been confirmed. No turning back now. “It was a definite” as his big pal Tommy would often say about a Saturday night out after work. He wished it was just a night out. He hadn’t ever felt this nervous.
He wasnt even nervous yon time he faced big Tiny Wharton, the notorious man in Black. The massive and tough Wharton stood 6 foot 4 in stocking feet so Glasgow sarcasm dictated he be called Tiny. Their exchange had quickly entered local folklore.
“If I call you an arsehole Mr Wharton will I be in trouble?”
“Yes” replied the misnomered giant. “You’d be in trouble.”
“What if I just thought you were an arsehole, what would happen?”
“If you just thought it nothing would happen” confirmed the tall man in black.
“Well Mr Wharton, I think you’re an arsehole”
Given the choice of his current task or Wharton, he would gladly go face to face, well okay, face to chest in reality, with a million Tiny Whartons right now. But no, he knew fine well, he didn’t have a choice.
There was no going back. No backing out. It was put up or shut up time. Time for him to put that legendary mouth of his where it mattered. He was well known for his self-confidence but even he had never contemplated carrying off something like this.
This was unbelievable. This was out of this world material.
He had been reading up about Astronauts over in America who were hoping to go to the moon. The Moon!…that sounded a dawdle compared to the task he and his mates were up against. He didn’t remember volunteering for something as terrifying as this. He didn’t remember asking to carry the hopes of everyone he knew; Everyone they knew; Everyone in their families, their streets, this city, every city, this country, every country!. Christ it felt like everyone in the world had the same expectations. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins?…they guys had it easy, plus they has years yet, what he would give for a few years yet.
A few years?…He had 2 weeks.
With each step he felt more discomfort but forced himself on. With every yard, the man felt a little more fragile. He continued heading East, turning up Buchanan Street and passing St Georges Place on his left. At the Junction he turned right towards the great Glasgow Square itself. He lowered his head and made his way through the commuters at Queen Street station and stopped at the traffic lights. He looked up across George Square at the grand City Chambers and suddenly the waves of anxiety came flooding over him.
Somehow his mouth felt so wet yet at the same time his throat felt so dry. Oh for a wee hauf to steady himself noo. Clasping at his coat lapels, He felt the biting cold on his face yet somehow his head felt like it was burning up. He didn’t know what to feel. Was that a migraine forming even though he was feeling the most euphoric he had ever felt in his life? The man feared that he could faint at any point. That would be all he would need. He took a few steps towards the centre of the famous George Square and took a seat on an empty bench.
The bench faced the principal column upon which the famous Scottish writer, Sir Walter Scott, stood perusing down at the Glaswegians below. The man lowered his head and tried to catch his breath.
“Some guy Scott eh?” said an unknown voice coming from the mans left.
The man considered ignoring the voice but even a few seconds with his head hanging low had made him feel even worse so he slowly raised his head and turned to face his new companion. An old man sat there. The man with the black hair took in the old mans soft warm face and a wide smile and felt his eyes drawn towards the older mans bright white hair. The old mans dress sense was as bright as his hair with bright red check trousers and a green and red check military style jacket.
The man with the black hair noticed that somehow he couldn’t quite decide on the older mans age. He found his inner voice guessing “60…no 50…no late 50s!”. He found it too difficult to tell. The old mans face seemed to change in texture and tone under the combination of the bright May Glasgow daylight and the dark shadow coming from the column dead ahead. The black haired man once again wished for a tot of whisky to help calm his nerves. First his stomach, now even his eyes were struggling!
“Some guy the Scott eh?” repeated the old man. The man in black noticed his accent was much softer than his own Maryhill brogue.
“Err, aye, I suppose” said the black haired man. “I don’t know that much about him really” he continued. An additional uttering that surprised even himself.
“Whit? Shame on you. Aye some guy ah tells you. He invented tartan you know?. Aye so he did! He invented it as much as you or I did son. Still he wrote some no bad stuff, so they say.’
“Aye I suppose” replied the black haired man. He noticed that his stomach had eased a little. His head also felt a little clearer and remembered he had somewhere important to be.
“Time to go” he thought. Gingerly he started to rise from the bench.
“Oh I widnae rush yirself now. I noticed you werenae quite looking on top of your game there. Am I right?” said the old man who had reached out and was softly supporting the younger man at the elbow.
The young man found himself failing to reply. Instead he found himself nodding and being gently lowered back into his seat. He noticed the old man still had a hand on his arm but didn’t feel any compulsion to move it away.
“Just take the weight off for a wee second or two mair, dae you the world of good” said the old man. The young man knew that he had to be elsewhere but something inside told him that for now it could wait. Taking a seat was certainly easing his ills. His nausea was gone, his migraine was no longer a threat and the mixture of chills and heat had abated..
“Glasgow were the first to give him a tribute you know” said the old man nodding towards the imposing column and statue which stood 20 yards ahead.
“Is that right” asked the black haired man who now looked towards the column. He raised his head to take in the statue on top. Somehow the steep view from the low bench to the high column and the placement of the sun behind the Square resulted in a strange bright corona shining overhead. To the black haired man it gave the impression the statue wasn’t even there.
“Oh aye, some claims to fame has dear old Mother Glasgow don’t you know” answered the old man.
The man with the black hair smiled and nodded approvingly. He noticed that he felt a little lighter in the shoulders, a little less tense. It was the first time he had felt relaxed in weeks, the first time since his bloody big date with destiny was confirmed.
The old man waved his hand across the Square and said “Seen a lot of things happen here you know. The Battle of George Square back in 1919 for one. Black Friday they cried it. Massive great Tanks facing up to brave Glasgow men and women. Thats the sort of thing would make many a big mans stomach churn I can tell you son, but it doesn’t matter the size of a tank, its never bigger than a Glasgow heart.”
The black haired man looked across the famous Square trying to envision the Machines of War facing up to the locals. The older man continued speaking. “‘Wounds sustained for the sake of conscience carry their own balsam with the blow’ and all that eh son? Just you mind you remember that noo. ‘Man dies but glory lives, Man dies but glory lives‘ said the old man and the younger man noticed the man eyes seemed to have glazed over. ‘Tears from memories of being there as a wean perhaps’ thought the man with black hair. “Those folk back then knew they had to be heard and they were heard all right. Just mind that son, When need be, you have to open your mouth, silence is never the answer to fear. Just you mind that son ” said the old man as his hand squeezed tightly and then let go of the younger mans arm,
“I will” said the black haired man and he took the chance to look down at his watch. The black haired man wondered where the time had went. He had been on the bench for over an hour and yet it had seemed just like minutes.
“I best be getting on, I’m running a wee bit late” he said, rising from the bench.
The old man nodded and said “Oh to be man wae time on his hands, just like Mandela eh? the blessings of freedom and what use to make of it”.
“Mandela, the bloke in South Africa?” asked the black haired man.
The old man looked towards the south side of the Square and said “That’s him, another guy who will be celebrated proudly in this Glasgow city son, but hey ignore me, that’s all tae come. You go now, mind what I says though, don’t you be slow in opening your mouth when the time comes. Man dies but glory lives and aw that”.
Even though he feared the old mans rambling were something of a worry, the black haired man nodded his acknowledgement and he said “Take care, was nice to speak to you” and walked away. The old man looked as the younger man headed to East and said “Take care son, mind that Glasgow heart of yours.”
The younger man reached the East end of the Square, and crossed over the road so that he was right in front of the City Chambers. He turned to wave goodbye but somehow the old man was gone. The younger man scanned across the Square but couldn’t see the old man in any direction. With a shrug, the younger man turned to go and noticed that due to a different angle and the sunlight now being a little duller he could finally make out the proud statue of Walter Scott standing atop the imposing central column. The black haired man pulled his collar up, turned and headed towards his fate.
2 weeks later
The call went up and the black haired man knew it was time. His time.
In the last few days he had watched a few of his mate turn from big brave Glasgow hard men to quivering wrecks. He had watched their usual bravado die away with each passing hour. Unlike them, and a few who were trying to hide it, he genuinely felt fine. He had felt the same since even before he had departed for this far off foreign land. He had felt this calm assurance ever this since that day in the Square.
While others tried to deny what lay ahead, he thought of nothing else and he couldn’t wait to get started. Any nerves had been replaced with an anxiety to just bloody get the job done. Any worry had been replaced with an ambition to vanquish all before him. Any doubt had been dismissed and replaced with a sense of self confidence he had never known before. He felt his Glasgow heart beat inside his chest and he knew everything would be fine.
He stepped out towards the impending conflict. He looked across towards where the enemy stood. Massive imposing brutes ready for the battle ahead. He knew all about them, he had heard of their reputation, he knew they were renowned for having no mercy. He should have been scared, that’s what their leader demanded, but he felt no fear at all.
He took his designated place.
He noticed his best mate Jimmy looking over and saw the worry on his small friends face. The black haired man remembered the old man in the Square and he reached out and put his hand gently on his friends arm and then patted it softly. He smiled a warm confident smile and said “Tanks Jimmy. Tanks, that’s all they are!” but his friend just stared back in confusion.
The black haired man scanned the line and saw more faces full of apprehension and fear. He felt his heart beat deep within his chest and he knew just what he needed to do. He took a deep breath, winked at his pal Jimmy, turned to face the enemy and then proudly sang out –
“Sure its a grand old team to play for…
Sure it’s a grand old team begad..”
10 minutes later, the referee blew to begin the game.
Meanwhile 1767 miles north, a seagull flew by an old statue and found itself asking “Has that stone man always had a smile on his face?”
“One hour of life, crowded to the full with glorious action, and filled with noble risks, is worth whole years of those mean observances of paltry decorum, in which men steal through existence, like sluggish waters through a marsh, without either honour or observation.”– Sir Walter Scott
If you fancy writing some Celtic based fiction then read more about it here