Clutha – John McGarrigle

John McGarrigle

When Brendan McLaughlin the proprietor of ‘The Scotia Bar’ decided to have a writing competition around 1989/90 I was fortunate enough to be involved in the selection process. There were over five hundred entries and John’s entry was one of the few to be selected for publication for the book ‘A Spiel Amang Us’ (published in 1990)

Brendan later bought over the ‘Wee Man’s’ across the road and converted into the ‘Clutha Vaults’ as a successful partner pub to ‘The Scotia’.

The book is now well out of print but I discovered one in the attic and extracted John’s short story ‘A Day in the Beergarden’. It’s a short piece but somehow tragically haunting.beergarden

A Day in the Beergarden
short story by
JOHN McGARRIGLE


The four men had just opened their second litre-bottle of cheap white wine. The kind of wine that turns harmless quiet little men into senseless raging demons. Take Tam for instance. A pleasant, cheery little chap when he’s sober. Drunk, he’d take on a fully-armed Chieftain tank regiment with an empty wine bottle. He had a face that looked as if he’d already tried it and lost. A nose shaped like a hairpin bend and scars everywhere. Tam had once been quite a handsome young man, but the ravages of time and the years of hard living had taken their toll.
Adam was pouring out the wine into paper cups. He was Tam’s best friend, his bosom buddy. Tam’s wife called him his boozin buddy. Best friends since childhood, they had stormed through life together. John and Archie were deeply involved in a discussion concerning inflation, and how the price of drink had risen dramatically within the last few years. John didn’t know Archie that well, but thought he seemed like quite a pleasant sort of fellow. They sat there enjoying the warmth of the hot summer sun, and their beer, and their wine, but most of all enjoying each other’s company.
Archie and Adam had started an argument about the wine, mainly about its distribution. Archie had caught Adam pouring himself a wee extra cup. While John and Tam were discussing the anatomy of a close friend’s latest girlfriend.
‘Some boady oan it. Some perra tits man, nay kiddin, legs right up ti her arse, a cracker!’ said John.
Tam grinned, ‘Diz she day a turn dji know?’
John emptied the contents of a paper cup down his throat and then swallowed some beer from a can, belched, and burst out laughing.
‘How? Widji wahnti know fur? You gaunti the sniffin gemme again?’Tam denied this quite emphatically. ‘Naw, don’t be daft, ah widny day that, ah wiz only askin.’ The fact that he had been considering that very prospect was immaterial.
John opened another bottle of wine and proceeded to refill the paper cups.
‘Ah’ll pour the bevy this time, a don’t trust you ya wee cunt.’ He pointed at Adam, who accepted the comment with a good-natured grin. Archie stood up and turning his back on the company proceeded to urinate.
‘Fur fuck sake Archie, yiv spilt yir wine!’ John shouted, and gestured at a small puddle of the liquid seeping down into the grass. Archie turned to have a look and pissed over Adam’s left foot. Adam was not amused by this. His face turned a nasty shade of red.
‘Ya stupid cunt, yiv pished ower ma new sports soacks.’
Adam wasn’t really too worried about getting his sock wet, but he had a fiver hidden, tucked down inside it. He could feel it wet and clinging to his leg. Archie was much too drunk to take heed of the anger written plainly on Adam’s face. Laughing drunkenly he proceeded to aim the thick steady stream of liquid at Adam’s other foot.
Archie was still laughing, and still urinating, when Adam rose drunkenly to his feet and punched him in the mouth. Adam wasn’t a very big man, in fact he was only five-foot four-inches tall, but his father had once been a boxer, and from an early age Adam had been taught how to punch hard and properly. So when he hit Archie, he did so with the full weight and power of his formidable little body behind the blow. The straight right-handed punch split Archie’s top lip, broke one of his teeth, knocked him unconscious, and sent him tumbling backwards. He rolled downhill and came to rest against the trunk of a small tree that stood near the footpath that leads from Castlemilk to Fernhill. Adam turned and sat down to pour himself some wine.
‘Yi didny need ii day that,’ said Tam.
‘Uch the guy deserved it,’ sniggered John. ‘Ah suppose yi could say Adam there jist goat a bit pished aff.’
Meanwhile Archie lay there, mouth open, and eyes firmly shut. It was ten minutes or so before anyone took any further notice of him. They had gotten back onto the subject of their friend’s girlfriend. John suggested that they should attempt to get her drunk some night and try to get her pants off. All three agreed that this was an excellent idea and should be carried out at the earliest opportunity.
Tam glanced over at Archie, or rather at the spot where he lay. ‘Haud oan a minnit, izzit no’ the same place where they found auld Joe deid?’
‘Aye, so it iz,’ said Adam. ‘Fuck that, ah hope that cunt’s no deid, ah’m sick i gaunti funerals.’ John knocked back some beer from his can and stood up. ‘Ach well, there’s only wan wey ti find oot. We better go doon n find oot if the cunt’s awright.’
All three gathered round the inert Archie. Tam knelt down and leant over him, shaking him by the shoulder.
‘C’moan, wake up, get up ya fuckin half-wit.’
There was no reaction. Archie simply lay there doing a fine imitation of a corpse. Tam prised open one of his eyelids to reveal only a glimpse of bloodshot white. Adam knelt and probed at his neck with short stubby fingers trying to feel his pulse. John burst out laughing.
‘Here, check that cunt, eez tryin to choke im noo,’ then shut up for a second, seemingly lost in thought as he surveyed Archie’s battered features.
‘Fuck geein him the kissa life.’ Eventually they were rewarded, after much slapping of the man’s face, by a few incoherent mumblings from the recumbent Archie. Elated by their success they half-dragged, half-carried him back to where they had left their carry-out.
‘Whit happened?’ groaned Archie through a mist of pain, rubbing at his swollen lip.
‘Yi fuckin pished ower Adam’s feet, so yi goat gubbed,’ Tam informed him.
‘That wisny very nice,’ Archie grumbled.
‘How?’ asked Adam. ‘Dji wahnt mi ti day it again?’
‘Naw, naw,’ Archie protested, fear gripping at the bottom of his stomach. ‘Ah meant it wisny very nice me pishin oan yi.’ He offered his hand to Adam and apologised. Adam accepted his apology and they shook hands. Archie really felt like ripping Adam’s arm from its socket and battering him over the head with it, but instead, forced a smile on to his battered, ugly wee face, and asked John to pour him some wine.
Tam opened another bottle and poured the company a round. ‘Ach well, this is the last boatle.’ John searched through his trousers pockets and produced two pound notes and some silver, throwing them on to the grass.
‘There’s two n a half quid, wahnt ti chip in a kitty n scrape up enough money furrah nother boatle?’ The others rummaged through their pockets and threw whatever coins they could find into the kitty. Adam scooped it up and counted it.
‘Wiv goat enough furrah nother boatle n a couple cans.’ He looked around at his friends. ‘Who wahnts ti go ti the off-licence?’
‘Ah’ll go,’ said Tam.
‘Wullyi fuck!’ John said. ‘Ah don’t trust you ya wee cunt. You’d probably drink it aw oan yir wey back.’ An argument then ensued as to who would go for the carry-out. None of them trusting the others to return without drinking it all to themselves. Finally it was decided that John should go, leaving his watch to ensure his safe return.
John returned less than half an hour later bearing two bottles of wine and six cans of beer.
‘Wherdji get the money fur aw that?’ Tam asked him.
‘Uch ah met a wee pal n tapped im furrah fiver,’ he lied. He’d had a five-pound note hidden in his back pocket; it had been his intention to keep it until the next day, but had felt sorry for his friends on his way to the off-sales, and decided just to spend it. Little did he know that Adam had a fiver hidden down his sock, albeit a wet one; Tam had three pounds hidden in his shoe, and Archie had a couple of pounds hidden in his back pocket. John offered each of them a can of beer and poured out four cups of wine.
For a moment it seemed as if the four men had detached themselves from the rest of the world, and the angry roar of passing traffic only a few hundred yards away seemed silenced. The sun was beginning to lower in the west, and it hung like a huge golden ball of flame over the river Clyde, bathing the hills in a warm golden glow. From their vantage point on the hill they could see the large cranes of Glasgow’s dockland lying derelict and redundant in the distance.
‘Jist think,’ said Tam, ‘Ah wiz boarn ower there.’
‘Where?’ asked Archie, looking over at a row of houses only a few hundred yards away, and thinking that Tam was a liar, because the houses were only built thirty-odd years ago, and Tam was in his early forties.
‘Ower there ya daft bastard. Govan.’ Tam pointed in the general direction of the cranes. ‘Ma da worked inni docks. Ah heard thir nearly aw shut doon noo.’
John nodded. ‘It’s that dirty bastard Thatcher, shi wahnts is aw oan the broo.’ Adam took a drink from his can and gave John a friendly shove on the shoulder.
‘Ach shut up ya cunt, ah don’t know whit your worryin aboot, yiv never worked in yir life anywey.’
John grinned. ‘Aye, ah know, but that’s no the point is it? If ah did wahnt a fuckin joab ah widny be able ti get wan, n whit aboot the young boayz thit day whanti work n canny get a fuckin joab. No everybody’s like me yi know.’ He left Adam to ponder upon this piece of wisdom and proceeded once more to pour out another round of drinks.
Archie and Adam were sitting talking away, their previous disagreement now forgotten. Archie’s top lip had swollen to twice its normal size. Tam had passed out a few minutes earlier. John was standing up, leaning against a tree urinating, the same tree that auld Joe had laid his head against and closing his eyes for the final time had quietly passed away. Many people had walked past as he lay there dead, near the footpath. They most probably had thought that he was just another old drunk sleeping off the effects of the alcohol.
Adam remembered that day well. He had liked Joe, most people had, Joe had been a harmless wee man. He’d been complaining that day, saying that he didn’t feel too well. Said that he felt a bit tired. Adam had offered to help him go home, but he’d refused Adam’s offer and opted to lie beneath the shade of the small tree. Adam had left him there smiling, and everyone had wandered off thinking that Joe was only asleep. How wrong they were.
John was telling Adam about some guy that he’d been fighting with a few weeks earlier. Adam didn’t have a clue what he was talking about
he was only one step behind joining Tam in a deep drunken sleep. Archie had wandered off home, no one had noticed him leave, and no one would have bothered anyway. John slowly realised that he was talking to himself, and decided that it was time that he made his way home. He wandered off down the hill and on to the footpath, to stagger along in the general direction of Castlemilk, singing songs of a decidedly religious flavour.
Adam was left on his own with Tam who lay flat on his back, open-mouthed and snoring, oblivious to the world and all of its problems. Adam leaned over and grasped him by the shoulder.
‘C’moan you, get up, it’s time ti go hame.’ He shook him rather roughly. ‘Yi canny lie there aw night.’ He glanced over at the tree where he’d left auld Joe, and for a moment thought that he could just make out the form of someone lying there. He shook his head to clear his vision. ‘Imagination,’ he thought. ‘Right c’moan you Tam, every cunts away hame.’ He half-pulled, half-dragged Tam to his feet.
“Whit izzit? Ay, whit izzit? Fuck off.’ Tam was a bit reluctant to wake up. Adam slapped him on the face softly.
‘C’mon you ya wee cunt. It’s time we were hame, c’mon pal.’ He staggered down the hill with Tam draped over his shoulder.