THE TAVERN

There was a pub at the left-hand corner of Paisley Road West and Blackburn Street in the Plantation district of Glasgow in the mid-fifties. It had two entrances: one wide entrance on the main thoroughfare and another, narrower, door was round the corner in Blackburn Street. An experienced publican from across the river had recently bought the inn. Judging by the procession of men who came out of the main entrance, business seemed to be good. Jackie Connor and nine other members of the ‘single end’ gang, with me trailing at the rear, notebook clutched to my chest, observed this activity as we headed along the block between MacLean Street and Blackburn Street. At times I wanted to be part of this almost military phalanx. Criminals strongly attracted me. Vicariously, I wanted to live out my own fantasies of ‘badness.’ At other times, when I found myself hanging back I recollected the mutual aid practised in Benbecula – communal tasks like peat cutting, the gathering and clipping of sheep and the distribution of the day’s fishing catch – Connor’s lust to exercise power over the lives and fortunes of others held little attraction. Wherever this mission was leading, I knew it would end in humiliation for a victim. My stomach slid. I felt a beating in my chest like a bird’s wing.

As we came abreast of the main door of the Plantation Tavern on Paisley Road West Jackie Connor raised his right hand and our entire posse came to an abrupt halt.

“Right,” Connor barked, looking straight ahead. “Danny, you and Joe, get in there and bring that bamstick o’ a gaffer oot here tae me oan the pavement.”Big Danny, the man who had driven me down to the single end the previous evening and Joe, a compact, wiry man in his mid thirties with a narrow face set off by a broken nose and tormented, darting eyes that made him look as if he was about to go off on an out of control temper tantrum, detached themselves from our stationary trio and in a swift, almost choreographed, move, grasped the twin door handles and yanked both doors open allowing them to boom against the entrance porch.

In two minutes’ time they emerged gripping a fat middle aged man by the elbows. The red-faced man was wearing a long white apron over a black and white striped shirt and navy blue woolen tie.

“Bring him o’er tae ma side,” Connor commanded, still looking straight ahead. The captive barman was manhandled in stop and start shuffles until he was positioned just behind Connor’s right shoulder. Jackie turned and stared at the trembling man for a full ten seconds before he seized the navy blue tie in his right hand. Still gripping the tie in his fist Connor turned to face the front again, so extending the bartender’s neck to its limit. Without warning our leader began to march forward along the Paisley Road West until he reached the intersection with Blackburn Street. We turned left round the corner, the choking barman supported at the elbows by Big Dan and Joe to prevent him falling face first onto the pavement.

“Who’s yer daddy now?” Connor asked sweetly.

There was a little mob of around twenty people spreading themselves across the southern end of Blackburn Street from pavement to pavement. “Hurry up,” somebody shouted. “Show starts at six o’ clock.” Trestle tables and kitchen chairs were being set out in the middle of the street about fifty feet away and an accordionist, seated on an upturned tea chest, was practising block chords. Some middle aged women in flowery aprons were bustling round the tables filling plates with sausage rolls, baked potatoes and bowls of crisps. Some of the tables had McEwan’s Pale Ale screw top bottles on them, not a drinking glass in sight, and on one particular table there were a dozen or so unlabelled wine bottles, uncorked already, placed at intervals of six feet.

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