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The Goings on at Galbraiths

'Hiya kid, pleased tae 'meat' ye - whatever ye day, Dinna fa' in love!'

I left school at the age of fifteen, early in 1967, with nothing in the way of paper qualifications, long hair, a pair of blue jeans and absolutely no idea of what exactly I was going to do. The local Labour Exchange, colloquially known as, 'The Burroo', duly pointed me in the direction of a prospective employer and I made my way to Galbraith's store near Eastwood Toll for my interview.

The manager was an avuncular looking man with a shock of white hair and with stub of a well-chewed pencil stuck behind his right ear. He ushered me into his tiny office, packed with boxes of toilet tissue, invoices and receipts hanging from bulldog clips with dozens of used till rolls festooned around shelves.

My mother had seen me off that sunny late Spring morning in 1967 at the door of our tiny tenement flat in Campsie Terrace, just off Thornliebank High Street. The rows of identical red-brick dwellings were collectively locally known as 'Coronation Street' since they were just like their fictional television counterparts.

As I stood self consciously at the front door, she had fussed over my hair. 'Too long, Goldilocks, ye should've gotta haircut just like ah telt ye!' She straightened my tie with practiced fingers and gave me a piece of advice which would hopefully help me gain the job of 'Assistant Grocery Trainee', as the legend had appeared on the brown file card at .'The Burroo', 'son, when ye're sitting' in the manager's office an' he starts askin' questions, Ah' know it's a lot tae ask but will ye at least Try tae look intelligent!'.

I must have done my best because I was started on the following Monday. The mysterious world of work was beckoning as I walked up the road past Rouken Glen Park, still dark with the trees a solid mass of foliage behind the green painted railings.

A solitary milk float meandered past on it's way back to the dairy with the sound of the empty milk bottles rattling in the metal crates. One of the milk boys, an impertinent looking urchin, hanging of the back of the float, cheekily shouted to me as it went past, 'Hey Jimmy, ye can take yir mask aff - Halloween's finished!'. I feigned indifference, after all, I was a working man and they were still at school.

Soon the float was joined by buses, cars and vans. It was getting busier now and the city was stirring itself, about to begin a another working day staffed by us working folk.

When I arrived, promptly, I was introduced to the other members of staff in the shop. There was the boss, Mr.McGubbin with his favourite phrase repeated to every female customer, 'Service and satisfaction, Madame, that's what brings you back!'. Then there was, 'Tam the Spam', a lanky skinny youth afflicted with serious acne. He had recently been elevated to the prestigious position of bacon and cold meat slicer. He gave me a cocky, cheekie-chappie thumbs up and winked theatrically, still chewing, as the honed wheel of the bacon- slicer whished and whirred smoothly, effortlessly cutting the cold meat, the perfectly formed slices falling neatly onto a sheet of greaseproof paper.

He turned out to be pleasant enough, though prone to bragging, a plooky James Dean who, despite his affliction , had, according to himself, a highly active romantic life. I fact, his first words to me, moodily drawled through a curled-up lip as he opened a tin of Fray Bentos corned beef, were, 'Hiya kid, pleased tae 'Meat' ye - whatever ye dae,dinna fa' in love!'.

Mr. McGubbin had simply given him an old fashioned look as we moved on to the Tea and Coffee counter run expertly by the redoubtable and efficient Miss. Minnick, a no - nonsense, well upholstered lady of a 'certain age' who wore her hair tied in a bun and sported horn - rimmed spectacles perched on the end of her nose as if they were about to take flight.

She scooped the beverages from the boxes and bags, weighing them on the ancient scales and taping the tops of the packets with practiced ease. She reminded me of the formidable ladies who had run the dental surgery at the Primary School Clinic when I was a child. They had the unenviable task of tending the rotten teeth of the lower working classes and they did not attempt to disguise their acute distaste.

But Miss Minnick was basically a decent sort. She had once been engaged long ago to a young man, one of the many who had patriotically and cheerfully gone to their deaths in the slaughterhouse of the Western Front in 1916. Their were a lot of lonely spinsters like Miss Minnick in Glasgow and indeed throughout Scotland at that time.

Last, but certainly not least, there was the lovely Lucy, a beautiful girl way beyond my orbit who was, 'on the counter', a vision of female sensuality with pneumatic breasts under her white cotton overall, barely 17 years old, with a mane of raven hair shimmering as it caught the light.

'Aye, it's you Ah want, you wi the face like a joiner's nailbag!'

The ancient delivery bike was the prime reason I had taken the job since I had always been refused such a machine by my parents due to my natural recklessness. I omitted to tell my mother of my exciting new mobility, not wanting to have her worrying about me being under the wheels of a bus.

One of the customers was known as 'The Dreadnought', real name Georgina, a large woman, and she was married to an anorexic looking man called Arthur.

The gossip was that when he brought his weekly wage home from the Corporation swimming baths where he worked as an odd - job man, Georgina would serve up his favourite meal of Spam, chips and beans and then pack him off to bed with a two penny bar of McCowan's Highland Cream Toffee and his required bed-time reading matter - the comics, The Dandy and The Beano.

She would then traipse of to the Bingo with her cronies and after that on to the local 'Snug' bar for a 'hoohah'. That was what they said. No one dared ask if it were true but it probably was. I once overheard her growled reply to Arthur, when he had the temerity to enquire what sort of cheese he was getting for his lunchtime 'peece', 'Grated!'.

One afternoon Georgina steamed into the shop and sailed to the head of the queue, as Miss Minnick commented later, ìlike the Ark Royal entering harbour!'. She had her hapless spouse in tow. He had been in earlier and alone that day to purchase Spam and items from the ' penny tray', a collection of odd sweets and fusty chocolates from damaged bags. Georgina glowered at everyone, Mr.McGubbin suddenly found a till-roll very interesting. Georgina's hair was wrapped in a colourful scarf illustrated with scenes of Tahiti, her plastic curlers clearly visible through the exotic material.

Her beady eye settled on Tam the Spam, 'Aye, it's you Ah want, you wi' the face like a joiner's nailbag. Ma man might no' be the full shillin' but if thir's mickey - takin' tae be done at his expense then it'll be me that'll dae it!'.

Georgina took out the greaseproof paper wrapped around the Spam purchased earlier, unwrapped it and standing back theatrically, exclaimed, 'See that - two scrag-ends, dod's o' Spam cut aff the end o' the big dod, a biddy dog's dinner, look at it, aye, jist cause he's no' the brightest spoon in the box ye think ye can palm him aff with any auld rubbish!'

Arthur at her side dutifully nodded in agreement, mouthing her words, standing like a glaikit urchin accidentally left behind at the tattie- howkin'. Georgina quickly admonished him by hissing, ' Shut yir face, You!'

The matter was swiftly and diplomatically solved by Mr.McGubbin who placated Georgina with a free quarter pound of Spam, a comic and a packet of toffees for Arthur and, as a final gesture, half a pound of Dairy Box chocolates, for his spouse. Satisfied that she had won the day, Georgina stormed out glaring at 'Tam the Spam', followed my Mr.McGubbin's reassuring words, 'Service and satisfaction, Madame, that's what brings ye back!'.

My last delivery of the week was always to a fancy hotel in the leafy suburbs where the 20 - stone chef who sported a red - boozer's nose, was known as Wully, not to be confused with the waiter, a skinny character with a foxy face and a reedy laugh, known as Wally.

According to the latter, Wully came from a long line of large men and his father, also vastly overweight, had been a notorious pickpocket whose favoured haunts were funfairs and carnivals, thus earning him the nickname, 'The Big Dipper!'. On one occasion a chauffeur -driven limousine pulled up at the hotel while I was there and expensivelly bejewelled and befurred elderly lady, who looked like a duchess, alighted to dine in what was known as, 'The Grand Room'. She was so pleased with her repast that she requested that she be allowed to thank the chef personally, and to proffer a tip.

Wally skipped through the swing kitchen doors to tell Wully the good news. However, enjoying a quiet spell, the chef was puffing away on his customary Capstan full-strength ciggy, sitting in his gravy-stained, .whites', and reading a tabloid newspaper and he was not amused to be informed that he was wanted, 'front of house'. Indicating his soiled attire and protesting on a point of etiquette, he declared, 'But ah'm aw' mawkit an' that!'

He quickly relented, though, when Wally hinted that a tip might be on offer. Bashfully presenting himself at the table, Wully blushed as the, 'Duchess', effusively thanked him for an ìabsolutely wonderful meal' and pressed two crisp pound notes into his sweating palm, the notes were swiftly gripped with his sausage-like fingers.

It was an odd scene, the aristocratic lady, seated in mink, the black uniformed chauffeur, lugubrious and dour, standing like Bela Lugosi in an old black and white film, eying distastefully the obese , dishevelled, uncomfortable chef with his scarlet, bulbous nose pockmarked like a pomegranate. And Wally, gleefully enjoying the proceedings, peering through the porthole of the swing doors, asa Wully later bitterly remarked, 'Like Captain Nemo!'.

The grand lady inquired politely, ì I assume that you will be having a meal yourself, now, Chef?'. To which Wully blushingly replied as politely as he could, in with his best, 'telephone voice', 'Oh no, Madame, I had a peece afore I left the hoose!'.

Previously published by Scottish Memories Magazine, Warners Group Publications plc.