Queen Elizabeth the Second had her big day on Tuesday the 2nd of June 1953. I had mine four days earlier. Old Lizzie – there was some debate about her title: Scots claimed she was the First of Scotland, the English identified her as the Second Elizabeth after Queen Bess – was crowned monarch of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Union of South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon in Westminster Abbey, London. I, a fourth year pupil at Bellahouston Academy, a widow’s son, and facing a trial match at a famous football club, had greatness thrust upon me upon being hailed by at least twenty drifters and grafters in the Cecil Salon Billiards Hall in the no-man’s land between Ibrox and Plantation, Glasgow, as the ‘flukiest’ player of Five Pin Pool ever to grace the green felt covering. At the time, I was making a name for myself in school. Awarded the David Orr prize for creative English writing, top Latin scholar, fastest runner in my class, I spent a lot of time practising punching for optimal effect. In my Fourth Year, I wasn’t just riding high. I . . .was . . . in . . . orbit, Jimmy!.
I think of the events of that day as being inevitably predictable. I am vaguely aware I had very little choice. Bha e an dàn dhomh, It was fated to me to be attracted to a murky pass in my life. It was undeniable that I had always been drawn to individuals who gave off an aura of excitement and danger. Jackie (‘the Hat’) Connor, whom I got to know quite well, with his wide grin and seemingly devil-may-care attitude, was absolutely incandescent with a kind of low-rent glamour.
As I entered the low ceilinged salon, a crowd of about twenty afficionados of the game of Five Pin Pool were clustered round the Number One table where a contest was taking place between a young gangster and a grizzled old (fifty something) dock labourer. The younger man (early twenties), around five ten, twelve stone perhaps, was dressed in what was known in Glasgow at the time as Brigton Yank style. His shoes were light brown suede with thick crepe soles. His sharply cut light grey mohair suit, one button single-breasted with shawl collar, was topped by a narrow-brimmed blue Borsolino felt hat. An enormous blue and white Windsor knot secured his white cotton shirt with extremely long spear point collar tabs at the neck. His hamhock fist on the beige was huge, the knuckles over-sized and discoloured. This was a man who fought often, and the hardness in his narrowed eyes told everyone that when he did fight, he fought to win.
As I took my place nearest the window and fired up a cigarette, the flash young man was saying to another young spectator, “Whit, ya wee bampot? Does yer maw know ye’re oot?” The recipient of this insult said nothing and I quickly understood that this young man with the soft hat had taken over the entire room, strutting round the table and keeping up a continuous stream of insults and ironic taunts.
I shuffled behind a scrum of spectators, determined to maintain a low profile.