In the old days, to find the Europa Café in Kinning Park you had to walk along the Paisley Road West towards the city centre. On your right hand side, Just past Portman Street, and just before Stanley Street, a sit-in greasy spoon with the blue and white exterior tiled exterior occupied about eighteen feet of frontage. On a sunny June afternoon in 1953, Jackie (The Hat) Connor and I were about to partake of a local delicacy. Seated on wooden benches opposite one another at a marble-topped table at the rear of the shop our order had yet to be completed. A young, dark-haired girls, wearing white high-heeled shoes and a black cotton dress with a scoop neckline, reached over my right shoulder to place a glass of fizzy dark Kola on a mat by my right hand. Deftly, using her left hand, she put a saucer of steaming mushy green peas on a cork place mat in front of me. It was obvious she weighed a little bit more than she had when she had bought the dress and the slightly-overloaded bra beneath it. Jackie Connor, already served, was busy liberally dousing his portion with vinegar. “Grazie, Francesca,” he said. The girl smiled, placed two forks on the table and smartly turned away from us.
“Ah’m gonnae tell ye a wee story,” Connor said. It’s aboot the time me and ‘Cully’ took aff a squad o’ scrap metal dealers. ‘Scrappies’ wiz whit we ca’ed them.
I recognized that I was becoming strangely addicted to hearing the man’s tales of violence. I swallowed them like syrup on hot pancakes. ”Go ahead,” I said.
“Okay,” Connor said, grasping his fork upright in his fist. “Scrap Metal Merchants aye hiv a stack o’ lowey in their ‘sky rockets’ . . . their pockets, ye know, furr obvious reasons. Guys that urr gonnae be sellin’ them lead stolen aff tenement roofs willnae accept cheques, will they? Anyway, ‘Cully’ goat the wire fae some guy he was in Barlinnie wi’ that there wiz tae be a big meetin’ o’ scrappies in a yard o’er in Cambuslang oan a certain day. They wurr comin’ tae this particular scrap yard fae a’ o’er Britain – Birmingham, Yorkshire, Newcastle and the industrial belt here in Scotland.” He swallowed a forkful of mushy peas. “And,” he said, “McCulloch decided that him and me wurr gonnae rob them.”
I took a sip from my glass.
“These folk,” Connor said, “wurrnae the kind o’ people that worked in a bank or somethin’, they expect maybe some day some guys urr gonnae come in and rob them. Naw, ‘scrappies’ wurr different.”
How?” I said.
“Some o’ them thought they were pretty big shots,” he explained. “Ye come in there wi’ jist knives and coshes, they’ll make trouble furr ye. Lot o’ Romany blood in thae folk. Tough guys.”
The voluptuous Francesca had returned to our table and was standing in the aisle, pen and notebook at the ready. Jackie Connor ignored her for ten seconds or so and continues to talk in a loud voice. “That’s why we brought guns in wi’ us,” he said. We hid a big Luger 9mm pistol and a sawed-aff shotgun.”
“Nient’ altro, Signor Jackie?” the girl interjected.
“Aye,” Connor replied. “Whit aboot some fritters, hen?”
“Subito,” the girl said, and she wheeled away from our table.
“Sure,” Connor said. “It wiz armed robbery. He seemed to remember something and shouted what sounded to me like fluent Italian at Francesca’s retreating back. “Mi scusi, Signorina. Posso avere . . . como si chiama in italiano? – ‘broon sauce?’ The girl acknowledged his request with a nod of her head and made her way round the counter to the deep fat fryer that stood to the right of the entrance.
“Where did you learn Italian, Mister Connor?” I asked
“Oxford,” he replied.