And now for something completely different – All of what follows actually happened. Some of it was inside my head!!!
The cargo was time itself. Not just any old time, it was ‘My Time’, and I was the man at the wheel of the white van about to deliver it….strangely enough …..to me!
It sat in its box; a box made of warps and weaves, energy and chaos, vacuum and gravity; desperate to break free it forced the container to bulge, creak, strain and stretch. I looked at it pulsating in the hold of my sleek, slim, silver, shiny, speeding, reality-busting transporter. I was at the controls; where I chose to go, it would take me; when I chose to get there it would arrive; and when I chose to leave it would depart.
My choice, my decision, my existence! An existence that couldn’t be more straightforward!
Or so I thought not realising what lay in store. Things like Mick the Celtic daft stuffed penguin, ghirls, beer, inside toilets and my ultimate destiny – Celtic.
After all while I didn’t really understand how the wee bits of oose, custard cream crumbs and a never ending conveyor belt of chicken Balti worked in such magnificent harmony, I did know that it existed; after all I existed; otherwise the word ‘existence’ wouldn’t really mean much. But simple as it seemed, all good things come to an end or more optimistically come to a new beginning; I felt a strange tingle that said it was time for my assault on the next stage of my existence.
I decided to treat it the way that I had treated everything else in the timeless vortex within which I ‘is’! (It was timeless and therefore ‘was’, ‘will’ and tenses in general didn’t really apply). Straight and forward was the recipe. No bends, no swerves; deflector shields up and with the attenuators of innocence, confidence and indestructibility of nascent infancy set at full strength, it would be just a gung-ho battering into oblivion of any stray cloud of puny anti-existence meteors. The journey was what mattered. I set my coordinates and willed myself and vessel with its priceless cargo towards the edge of ‘discovery precipice’. It was there as I launched myself into the unknown I knew that no questions encountered would remain unanswered, no problems unsolved, no barrier standing but most of all no mystery, even the greatest of them all, unexplained.
Otherwise what was I doing at the controls of this sleek, slim, silver, shiny, speeding cocoon? Surely it wasn’t just for pulling burds -whatever they were? Surely it wasn’t just a flight of fancy?
Was that the first of the questions that needed an answer?
And where had these words like ‘was’ and ‘would’ and ‘wasn’t’ suddenly coming from….come from, came from?
I was so clever, so self-sufficient, so in control that the smile of satisfaction sometimes appeared to lesser mortals as ‘smug’. I didn’t let it bother me. After all most people knew their place and recognised that it was a privilege to meet with all the answers. They accepted that humility was the least they could show as a mark of their gratitude.
Mind you unrivalled insight into cause, effect and consequences could be seen as a burden or even dangerous; but being special right from the beginning I saw it as more of a privilege, an opportunity and even a right. I realised that gifts are usually bestowed on those who can utilise their powers with equanimity and wisdom. It was clear that I owed it to the future to treat this legacy of my pre-natal existence with respect.
“When that midwife slapped you across the bare arse, she turned an ignition key; primed you for action. Like she had kick-started a Harley” my dad always said. “You didn’t scream or even whimper; naw you were scary…..Know what you done?….You opened your eyes! Normal weans don’t do that for weeks. But you did and sort of looked at us all with sense of disgust. She handed you to me, like she was handing over a freshly removed diseased liver. It was clear that at least for now, her job was complete. From then on everything was down to me. All I ever did was point you towards a world that apparently had affronted you and gave you the throttle. Vrooooom!!!!….Ever since you’ve roared in its face!”
Aye, I was a dangerous wean.
No one, unless bearing sugary presents, dared lean over the weaponised bullet-proof limousine that masqueraded as a pram. Only total eejits pulled back the veil and chucked me under the chin with some sort of pathetic ‘coochy coo’. The few that did…..ha ha ha! Well ……..tales of fingers ripped from their sockets spread more rapidly than the bloodstain from their tattered arteries. My mammy put up a warning sign on the barbed-wire rimmed hood.
“If you really want to keep yer teeth,
Beware the monster underneath!”
To my mind of course, and what a magnificent example of a mind it was, swaddled in my pram world life was indeed gloriously straightforward.
From cradle (bottom drawer of the sideboard), to crawl, to staggering first steps, walking, running, jumping and kicking a ball, my five senses were primed like ever twitching antennae to pick up on lessons, examples, advice and most of all how to bend the football with the outside of either foot while sending the goalkeeper the ‘wrang way’!
I was a superhero, a god, invincible. I had the sweetest left foot in the world. I was going to be Celtic’s greatest ever discovery. It didn’t matter if they didn’t have scouts out to find me, as soon as I could keep the ball up for more than 365, zig zagging up left foot, right foot, left knee, right knee and head, then zig zagging back down head, right knee, left knee, right foot and left foot, they would find me. I would be their Grail.
There I would be outside the main entrance to Celtic Park; from dawn to dusk if need be until Jimmy McGrory came out, chewing his unlit pipe, just to see what the racket was and why a crowd of a thousand or more had gathered.
It would be my stage, my audition……..365, 366……… and the gathered congregation would go into raptures. How could they do anything else; they were in the presence of Genius. In fact it wasn’t just Genius with a capital G! It was G…E….N….I….U…S!!
Surely no-one had ever been here before. Without doubt I was the first to climb this mountain; to stare at the panorama below. A vista filled with football pitch after football pitch; opposition teams waiting, limbering, like challengers for my crown. Red blaze, black ash, GRASS, mighty stadia stretching as far as the eye could see, to the edge of the known reality where the green undulating horizon caressed the brilliant blue sky, and beyond into the black soulless void (or Airdrie as it was better known).
I was going there; it was simple; I was in control.
“In Control” I repeated to myself and then the full amazing truth hit home and I was pinned back in my Recarro space sea bucket seat as my mind went into force 10 G overdrive. “I wasn’t just IN CONTROL, I wasn’t just part of a plan or even THE plan. ‘I’ was the plan. ‘I’ was why God had waved his hand and said let there be light; ‘I’ was why Adam and Eve had been sent to make their way in this new creation. The whole world was built around me.”
It took a few minutes for me to accept that at the age of eight and a half I was at the helm of the whole universe and master of the future. I could feel the approach of a sobering humility but as the reality of my power struck home, I made my first decision. I would get someone to feel humble for me, after all if that jug eared galoot in Buck house could have a ‘man’ to put his toothpaste out, I surely could have a delegate to do humility. I put it at the top of my list of things to do. After all I had to practice my keepy-uppy!
Yes, life would be straightforward; I would be indomitable; I was THE unstoppable force that laughed with contempt in the faces of charlatans who strutted around as ‘immovable objects’!
But how had I got here, how had I become the greatest supporter, legend, player and role model for the Celtic universe! What had happened to me? Sitting there in my silver spaceship, taking on the monsters of thin dimension that separates night and day? I strained to remember. Every day became more of a dirge to recall, every hour passed seemed to erase another brush stroke, fade a tint or dull a voice of my journey from that netherworld. And yet I knew I had to remember…I had to recall….otherwise, what was existence all about? I grasped at the fleeting echoes of before ageing.
I wrote it down, pinned it to the wall, door, everywhere. It was important to remember it. One day it would save my sanity…..of that I was sure.
“At first it was just the tiniest of dots in the almost infinite distance; a mere silver pinprick in the universe’s black shroud. It could have been a star, but it was brighter, moving faster and heading in my direction. I watched it expectantly, waveringly as at the speed of light it grew into a sunburst, a galactic lightening storm, tumbling, rumbling and cascading towards me and my spaceship. I could have swerved, I could have turned and ran, I could have cowered in abject terror. But with the resolution of will, certainty of destiny and fist clenching abandon of a super hero I kept the tiller steady, put the accelerator to the floor and headed straight, headed forward. No this was no star…..this was life hurtling towards me…..my life, my birth and my date with the inevitable. Using my tongue I worked a piece of ante-natal chicken Balti out of the gap in my two upper front teeth (the sure sign of a great singing voice) and smiled at the prospect looming ever larger through the tinted, lead lined front window………. The Apocalypse approached, battle beckoned…….As I felt the sudden sting of the midwife’s hand across my bare arse, I opened my eyes, gave the assembled mass one of my looks and if they had any sense at all they would surely understand that in these circumstances (after all how many weans arrive with their eyes open, their teeth shining and a dod of chicken Balti on there tongue?)……….There would and could be only one winner.”
Even at the earliest of ages I realised that routine, patterns and recurring cycles, if not ruled, at least semi-regulated the lives of those who enjoyed orbiting around the glow from my own life’s luminescence. Like planets around their sun they crowded round my cot (carefully), touched my balti and bloodstained christening shawl (reverentially) and ceremoniously removed my soiled nappies away, not for washing (I suspected) but just to absorb the power of the contents. Folklore has it that due to the magical healing powers of the deposits a regular supply was surreptitiously sneaked out of the wash-house door and sold in the barras alongside genuine remnants from the Turin Shroud.
From dawn to dusk and then through to dawn again, the cycle of devotion, food, bathing and sleep repeated itself. A simple whimper, moan, scream or bawl would have the whole female household running in confusion and panic; gripe water, stewed apples, dry nappy? And in return all I had to do in return was a rift, a pebbly jobby, a gurgle or – crème de la crème – a wee vomit down the back of our next door neighbour, Mrs McCormack. Applause would ensue. If I was in a really good mood I would give them an encore, much to the delight of Mrs McCormack who probably viewed herself in the role of a latter day Mary Magdalene.
I was omnipotent! The thing was I knew it, and they didn’t!
Mind you I didn’t at this stage know absolutely everything. How could I? Coatbridge was a strange new world inhabited by strange new people who spoke in song. I would need a mentor to get me singing the same to the same tune, off the same hymn book! The powers that had deemed my presence in this place had ensured that I would have the best of pedagogues, of role-models, of sensei -my uncles! If ever perfection could be enhanced, these giants of every world they had explored or even read about were surely fashioned for the task. Essence of Gael, Celt, Pict and Caledoniae inspired by liberal infusions of Glenlivet and Jamiesons, Glenmorangie and Bushmills became the foundation of my future. No more powerful conjunction in the heavens, no greater nebula, no greater rip in the continuum of reality ever occurred than when the magi of Stewarts and Murphys met in conclave.
Their visits were less like the regular orbits of the Venusian woman of the family and more like unique and outré invasions of stray asteroids containing unheard of precious metals and bearing the scars of adventures in far flung and deepest darkness of space and time’s outer limits – ‘The Big Tree’ they called it in hushed tones.
Right from their first visit to my shrine of adoration I knew they were different. They didn’t come to pay homage; they didn’t come in fear; they came (in addition to their weekly dose of solids from ma Mammy’s Chicken soup and a livener from ma Dad’s secret stash beneath his Celtic memorabilia collection) – to impart knowledge, not timidly but TIMidly!!!
They ignored my power to rip their eyes out with one poke from a dummy of mass destruction as they leaned over the cot and screamed ‘Goal!!!!!, C’mon the HOOPS!!!’.
As they spoke of magic, of Paradise, of gods clad in shining emerald and brilliant white hoops, of deeds of heroism of happiness beyond the ‘slough of despond’, their tales sprinkled wit beer and guttural laughter inspired a yearning in me to break through the bars of the damnable wooden contraption or cot. But I held back as my nascent business mind also recognised the potential benefits of the occasional gold, frankincense and a two bob bit they would place under my pillow.
I suppose to the outsider I was perfect, but of course I had secrets that in keeping them to myself I was able to make my life more comfortable, have adults dancing to my tune in the name of duty and most importantly ensure that I had the time, the peace and contemplative space to consider the world and how I would use it to both my own benefit It was a self-evident truth that if I was happy, then so would be the world.
I therefore kept secret that by the age of two months I was a proficient reader and had a reasonable grasp on Aristotelian philosophy, Socratic values and Pythagorean theories on the seamless connection between morality, trigonometry and the probability that Bobby Collins would leave Celtic for Everton.
Keeping the reading secret was probably the most important.
Instead I contemplated the memories of where I had come; I took in the cosmos and the moon, stars and sun in the firmament, as our own wee squinty globe spun and shot through space and time at 65,000 miles an hour and realised that thanks to God’s foresight and his conjuring up of the Higgs Boson our atmosphere did the same, stuck by gravitational attraction, affording us the luxuries of breathing, heartbeats, and ultimately life.
Fortunately the gift of evolution enabled us to adapt and in some cases to actually influence evolution itself by harnessing the laws of the universe and innovating such marvellous advances as mutually assured destruction, man-made famines and genocidal wars; of course absolving ourselves of all responsibility by blaming God…. “It’s God’s will”.
Somehow I think that there might be a better way but since this is going to be a wee light-hearted trip down memory lane I’ll leave that until I return to the evils of drink and the tales of the Black Crows. But evolution even in wee light-hearted reminiscences always looms large. After all we require some form of order, routine and links to natural cycles and down through the millennia these cycles changed.
At first the earliest universal harnesses were probably day and night (I exclude huns from they tended to be regulated by high and low tide). Then the monthly cycles of the moon became important and as we became gatherer hunters and more sedentary, the perils and opportunities of the four seasons became the community clock that dictated survival and demise.
But then came a massive leap as the common patterns divided into gender specific ones.
Man/Male/useless lumps of wood designed, implemented and became slaves to the football season, and if your street was anything like mine the women/female/soft touchy unpredictable tantrum prone incomprehensible beings became devoted followers of the ‘three months off nine months’ on pregnancy cycle.
At first it was sort of random and up and down the street women were found in various stages of inflation or undergoing inner tube repairs, but gradually there was a convergence of hormone production a la women living in the same house. This was evidenced by the Co-op stocking up with womeny things (the Co-op still works to a lunar or some say lunatic cycle) and gradually the three month no –pregnant period also coinciding with the close season. This seemed to please the menfolk somewhat, who could celebrate that another baby was on the way in conjunction with the first friendly of the new season.
For us of course, the weans and products of this cycle, life was also simple.
By the age of six or seven ( and taking into account that I never mentally aged beyond eight and a half) we were well into being fully fledged members of the first part of the seasonal adjustment….the football season.
By nine years of age we were programmed.
Up in the morning, grab the paper off yer dad as he came in off the nightshift, check out what was being said about Celtic, eat yer porridge and meet yer pals to go to school and talk about what the papers said about Celtic, in the yard play football and pretend to be playing for Celtic, in English write about Celtic, in Maths…..can’t remember what I done in Maths but it probably had something to do with Celtic- oh aye I drew yon big squeegee letters on my jotters that said Celtic, Paradise, Jinky, Fleagle (I also had a deviant passing child’s fancy for the Banana Splits – I’ve never revealed this before and now feel a massive burden lifted from my psyche); in art draw pictures about Celtic, and in RK I would argue the existential value of Celtic and its position vis a vis the Blue Shirts, Dun Laoghoire, the Albigensian Heresy, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Quince Brigada and how it might impact the scoreline against Third Lanark on Saturday.
Eventually the ‘bell would toll its parting knell’ and as I and those I had shared the educational Valhalla of St James’s primary school streamed towards Mullen’s chip shop and a thruppenny single, the conversation would turn to Celtic. Regularly my stomach reminded me that it was time to go home. This usually coincided with the arrival of the McGuinnesses – who guarded one end of Croy Road (Old Monkland’s precurser to Elm Street and its accompanying nightmare; the other end was guarded by Cerberus) when I would take on the guise of the Olympic hundred yards sprint champion as they decided that I was a hare and would look really tasty on the end of their canines and incisors. They ate nine year olds according to Lynchy. And so I would reach my front door of our all mods con house with inside toilet and seperate rooms for the boys and girls.
The routine was always the same. Hyperventilating to remove the smell of stale Capstan medium strength, get home just as ma dad was getting up from the couch to go on the nightshift, grab the Times aff him to see if anything seismic had happened in the world of Celtic, rush down ma dinner, shoehorn (actually it was the breadknife) on the gutties (tying and untying laces was a girly thing), grab the team ball and batter round the doors to get everyone out to pretend to be Celtic players.
The lamppost was used as the goals. The aim was to hit it so the goalkeeper was always big Chic who was fat, unbruisable and the size of modern day chip shop owner.
For those old enough to remember, the moment you found out that John F Kennedy had been shot is indelible. Mine was when I was interrupted in mid-shot by wee Rab running from his house to announce, grabbing MY ball and stopping the ‘Celtic versus Celtic floodlight team’ match in mid stream to tell us that the president of the US of A had taken a dull one.
“Kennedy’s been shot dead”.
It was odd how we all knew exactly who he was talking about!
We were all stunned, especially me as I had blood ties to the first family of the USA according to My Uncle Peter, through his great Auntie Nellie Kennedy who worked in Mullholland’s rag store over at School Street. I realised that they would probably close for a day out of respect. I organised there and then that we would all go over on Saturday, gather some dried grass and feed the horse while they all shot off to America for the funeral.
Anyway, the game resumed and I scored. Celtic had just scraped a 2-1 win against the plucky reserves, the president of the USA had been shot, My Auntie Nelly was in mourning, wee toasty had brought out his sister’s tranny (that’s a radio for the younger readers) wae Caroline on it and we all listened to see if the DJ would say anything about Celtic.
Eventually it was time for bed and with the satisfaction of having made it through another day of adventure, danger, sport, philosophy, history and world-shattering international events I would put my head on my pillow, check that Mick my Celtic bedecked Penguin was safely tucked in beside me and drift on the wafting narcotic breeze of exhaustion into a dream about Celtic, a dramatic injury with only two minutes to go and me – the only forward thinker in the jungle who had brought his boots with him…………………(The fact that subs hadn’t been invented was immaterial….It was my dream and I was innovative, revolutionary and before my time.)
Answering the desperate call of the tannoy I would belt onto the park, 0-1 down, due to a typically blind decision by RA Davidson, a stunning performance and two goals later would see all the pretendy wee Celtic stuff fade away to be replaced by a signing ceremony and the reality of huge Celtic future.
In the morning I would wake and tell Mick, my Celtic mad stuffed penguin all about it. He was never bored with my exploits, and then it was down the stairs, grab the paper off ma dad and life’s natural cycle would start over again.
I thought it would go on forever.
But it didn’t. It stopped; not all of a sudden; not even noticeably, but in a sort of stealthy sneaky way like plooks, squeaky throats, hair appearing in strange places and refusing to change in front of my sisters.
I didn’t realise it at the time but basically it was down to the all pervasive influence of firstly ghirls, then drink and finally the lethal combination of both ghirls and drink.
Evolution had taken hold of my genes and slowly twisted my biorhythms into the tension of a mainspring. It started during the day…..I noticed I started reading the news in the paper….and the horoscopes. I started combing my hair and stopped wiping my nose on my cuff. Conversations with my pals on the way to school still happened but we occasionally talked to ghirls, looked at ghirls, walked into lampposts and got embarrassed about our parents.
In the evening more and more time was spent doing strange things, reading stranger things and thinking really odd things, all of which contributed to bitten lips, cross eyes and ma dad constantly knocking at the bathroom door, shouting…”I hope you’re not smoking in there”.
“Of course I’m not smoking” I would answer truthfully. (I always kept the fag for afterwards, like Marianne Faithfull and Alain Delon did in Girl on a Motorcycle!)
The changes were bound to hit my bedroom of course. The Celtic pictures never moved but I took ever less time talking to my erstwhile and future team mates and even less talking to Mick. Ghirls seemed to be everywhere…albeit they were wearing Celtic tops.
One day Mick decided he’d had enough and mu my Celtic bedecked penguin migrated to a hidey hole down the side of my bed.
No it wasn’t straightforward any more. All of a sudden it had got complicated. Questions went unanswered, problems unsolved. No longer did I look down and outward to the horizon that lay so far away, now I looked upwards….and there they lurked, at first it was just one, a ghirl, then it was a thousand of them, then it was drink, and then it was a ghirls and drink; then it was a party and more questions and then sod the questions follow the urges.
But worst of all it was the nights. Oh the nights, the dreams, the ……..but that’s for later because it wasn’t straightforward anymore.
Puberty had arrived…..
TO BE CONTINUED