“Wan time when Ah wiz aboot eight years auld, Ah went wi’ him up tae the City Chambers,” Connor resumed his narrative. “He wisnae a baddie. It wiz a poors’ hoose kind o’ tribunal thing he hid tae appear at twice a year.”
I nodded slowly to suggest I was familiar with those kinds of convocations. I wasn’t.
“The City Chambers is a pretty posh gaff,” Connor said. He seemed agitated at the memory and fired up another Passing Cloud cigarette. “Windin’ staircases o’ the finest Carrera marble leadin’ tae endless tiled corridors lined wi’ mahogany benches a’ packed wi’ maistly silent men and women and weans. We hid tae walk a fair bit afore we f’un’ a bench wi’ room tae spare. Opposite every bench were heavy oak double doors decorated with highly polished door knobs. Middle aged men, dressed in black serge suits wi’ red piping roon the lapels and doon the outside o’ their pants stood in the ‘at ease’ position outside these doors. These were the idiot brothers-in-law and cousins who’d ‘won a watch’ the night their Rabi sponsors goat elected. These guys are gold-plated until they buy the Big Sleep.”
I noted: “Subjct bcmng rstlss.”
“Now and then,” Connor said, “a half door wid open jist a crack and a whispered message from inside the chamber wid be relayed tae the uniformed guardian.”
Connor took a swig of the beer and belched softly.
“This clown wid then raise both his hauns,” the narrator said with some vehemence, “palm tae the sides o’ his mooth, and bellow the name of some supplicant or defendant a’ the way doon the length o’ the tiled corridors. The summons tae appear in wan or other o’ the chambers wid be taken up by other uniformed functionaries until the entire building echoed to the sound of the name o’ the poor soul whose presence before the high heid yins wiz deafeningly requested.”
I knew what was coming and took a curative gulp of beer.
“I heard ma faither’s name,” he whispered, “faintly at first fae far doon the corridor.” His voice hardened and grew louder. ‘PAUPER CONNOR! PAUPER CONNOR! PAUPER CONNOR, TO CHAMBER SIX!’ “Me and ma faither rose,” he said, “and we hid tae endure the pitying looks fae the punters oan the other benches as we scurried tae Chamber Six. The uniformed bully at the doors tae the chamber pushed us inside and Ah heard the doors click shut behind us. Fifty feet away seven soberly dressed elderly men, either grey haired or balding, sat at a long bench and glowered at us.
“These haunting words, PAUPER CONNOR, will be with me until Ah’m in the box,” Connor said with bitterness. He was obviously frothing with anger as he enunciated flatly in an unadorned Clydeside accent, “I was left feeling humiliated and degraded.” He sipped his beer and leered at me. “I got my own back on one of these uniformed bams fairly recently,” he announced proudly.
“What did you do?” I asked.
“Ah gi’ed a guy wearin’ that black and red uniform,” he said, “a severe doin’ in a pub jist doon fae Rottenrow Hospital. The wey he spoke, Ah thought he wiz wan o’ your mob, ye know, a Hector?”
“I think I know that man,” I said. “There’s a man from Islay who works in the City Chambers. Big Robert’s the name I know him by. He was in one of the Gaelic choirs in the city, the Glasgow Gaelic, known as the GG, or the Govan Gaelic Choir, or the Glasgow Islay. I forget his name.”
“Big guy wi’ a boozer’s nose?” Connor prompted.
“Right,” I said with amazement in my voice. “Gosh, it’s a small world!”
“Aye,” said Connor promptly, “if ye don’t hiv tae run the vacuum cleaner o’er it every day.”
It was an old line from Merry Mac’s Fun Page in the Sunday Post and was familiar to both of us. We laughed.