We scrambled out from the bench seats and made our way to the exit. As we passed Francesca who was standing behind the cash register she said: “Buona fortuna, Signor Connor. Jackie did not acknowledge the good wishes of our waitress. I took the opportunity to air the one Italian phrase with I was familiar. “Arrivederci, Francesca,” I said. I don’t think she heard me.
We stood over on the other side of the Paisley Road West. Connor scanned the busy junction left and right as he waited for a black cab to appear.
“I made an important decision after Cambuslang,” Connor said, reverting to Standard Lowland Scottish pronunciation. “I’d never touch anything that involved guns if it didn’t feel right to me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve body-swerved something that looked prime to other guys. Sometimes I’ve been wrong. I’ve missed out on money from bank jobs. That’s all right. My rule’s always been that if I walked away from three sure things, and everyone went in and made barrow loads of dough and I’d knocked the one opportunity back where it turned out that everyone who went in went to jail, I was smarter than all the guys went in on the other three.”
He flagged down a passing cab and got in. This gangster was one clever man, I thought, as I watched his departure. And I wasn’t referring to his fluency in spoken Italian.
As I gazed at the departing taxi, I spaced out for a short time on the contrast between Connor and me. This was a man who looked long and hard before he contemplated a leap.. Since an early age he had a life plan. I, at the age of sixteen, resembled a stirk lost in the mist. The employment menu for the sons of working class parents never changed: schooling, manual labouring, marriage, family, rented accommodation, a week’s holiday ‘doon the water’ every second summer, and perhaps optional good luck.
Job prospects for the likes of me were limited: apprenticeship in the shipyards, van boy, the army, or, the shiniest link in the employment chain, inheriting the ‘dockers’ badge’ from my father – a prospect which did not thrill. Secretly I aspired to a ‘collar and tie’ job in the public sector: a counter clerk in a sub-post office where I’d get to wear a cotton jacket in a hideous shade of air force blue and be free to cheer up customers with many a witty crack and ringing laugh. When asked what I did for a living could truthfully reply, ‘I’am a Civil Servant.’
Of course, all these options meant I’d have to enter the realm of voluntary poverty. The only careers in the public sector that offered a comfortable living wage were those of a doctor or a lawyer in local government, and these were as unrealistic to me as becoming a cowboy, say, in Wyoming, or an astronaut in Florida.
My mind reeled away from the prospect of becoming a professional footballer. I had seen local heroes, Willie Woodburn and Willie Waddell, marching in step down Kirkwood Street from club-subsidized lodgings to subsidized jobs in the shipyards. No, I couldn’t imagine a gilded future like theirs, though in a desultory way rosy images nibbled at my mind.
After a period of what was described as further education, I did enter the public sector. School teaching was the profession I drifted into. And it was the most rewarding happenstance that ever befell me. As I’ll reveal later on, I became a self-employed entertainer, and while I made a great deal of money in this pursuit, I blew most of it irresponsibly. Here’s the ‘car as a’ mhaide’, the twist in the stick: it’s the generous index linked pension I receive from my days as a school teacher that gives me the freedom to amuse myself with this blogging caper. For me it’s a good thing that I don’t have to fawn on cautious Scottish publishers. For readers it’s ‘Aye’ or ‘Naw.’ The final judgment is your shout.