sidebar

Wild Boys Of The Road

I feel a sense of terror when recalling how I flew, thick bundles of newspapers under my arms, across those busy streets, 'hoachin' with cars and buses.

Glasgow's Central Railway Station is known to generations of Scots with it's ornate canopy that has witnessed many emotional meetings and partings, both joyous and sad, light-hearted and heartbreaking, moments of high drama and humour; and it's gritty earthiness, there for all to see, a stage on which we can walk, in which we can all participate in this play of life.

The station first became familiar to me as a 15-year through the world of work. I had left school in 1967 and had moved through several brief, lowly paid, menial jobs, which were abundant at that time, before presenting myself for an interview as a prospective newspaper delivery van boy at the dispatch office of the Glasgow Evening Citizen in Albion Street, being duly scrubbed and togged out in my collar and tie and blue, thirty bob suit which my mother had purchased from the gent's department of the co-op shop in Thornliebank high street for the school dance the year before (the salesman who served us had clinched the deal with the line, 'Ah ask ye, missus, where else can ye look like a million dollars fur thirty boab?'

Anyway, the gaffer of the van boys was impressed enough to agree that I could start work on the following Monday at 8a.m. 'sharp!'. It was in the dying days of August with the first chill of autumn just around the corner and the nights were already becoming shorter as the year drew to it's close. It had been the so-called 'summer of love'-for some: but for us teenage boys the mysteries of sex were confined to the sanitised pages of the bland nudist journal 'Health and Efficiency' or the racy tabloid 'Reveille' (very tame by today's standards).

Our weekly wage packet contained £4/10 shillings which was a goodly sum for my tender years: but we were expected to work hard for it. On reflection, I feel a sense of terror when recalling how I flew, thick bundles of newspapers under my arms, across those busy streets, 'hoachin' with cars and buses. Youth always believes it is invulnerable and I was no exception.

The Citizen's liveried vans were to be spotted speeding all over the city and suburbs. Newspaper deliveries were labour intensive and I had more than thirty colleagues. We hung out in a virtually derelict row of cottages, long since demolished, opposite the newspaper offices. Hidden behind the old buildings was the 'pitch and toss' gambling school where piles of coppers changed hands daily. The area is now fast becoming a trendy Merchant City enclave of wine bars, eateries and 'nite-spots': but back then it was a dodgy place to move about in.

Lunchtimes were spent, if we had the money, in a local cafe known colloquially as 'Fat Tam's' which specialised in pie and chips, all day, every day. The plates were all cracked: but if anyone had the temerity to complain then Tam himself would irately point out that his was the only establishment in Glasgow where the punters got chips for nothing!

I can't remember ever seeing two plates that were matched and the portions were always smothered with thick, glutinous gravy, everything being washed down by chilled Coca Cola while the juke box blasted out hits like 'Bernadette' by the Four Tops or, if a certain elderly wizened newsvendor was in attendance, 'Nobody's Child', sang by the Alexander Brothers or some such similar tale of urban misery.

Fat Tam himself would then sing out, the eternal cigarette (a Woodbine- 'the best fag in the world, son!') dangling from his lips as he dished up the grub, 'No-o-obody's child, Ah'm no-obody's chi-eeld, Ah'm like a floooer, just growin' wild...' The steam would come hissing out of the boiler, accompanying him like the jet of noise from a ship's funnel and adding to the cacophony of crockery clashing and cutlery clicking and music blaring through the aroma of cooking fat, frying bacon, sizzling chips and, hanging overall, thick tobacco smoke.

One late afternoon, the van boys were arrested en-masse! The gaffer told us there was a strike on at the newspaper office and that we could run down to Fat Tam's for a bite to eat, it was approaching Christmas and it was snowing as we ran down Sauchiehall Street like excited kids let out of school early. We never made it!, the police had mistakenly assumed that we were a gang and we were arrested, several of us, taken into custody and incarcerated for the night in the Central Police Station. In the morning, after fingerprinting and a large plastic mug of stewed tea complemented by a door-stepper fried egg 'sandwich' we were taken in the back of a 'black maria', to the Sheriff Court and fined £12 each, over twice our weekly wage, for committing a breach of the peace. I will always remember my mother's stricken face looking at the dock from the public gallery. The Sheriff, an extremely fierce looking man, seemed determined to send us to Borstal, the corrective establishment for young delinquents but, thankfully, we were spared and fined over two weeks wages for running down Sauchiehall Street, as Fat Tam commented later, 'that's goat tae be a first!'.

Part of my beat was Central Station and I got to know the real characters and principal players there quickly. The newsvendors were wonderful characters, all of them with their individually distinctive chant constantly echoing through the concourse. 'Eeevening Citizennnnnn!' was usually plain enough: but 'honey pears!' had to be translated to the ignorant as 'morning papers!'

Then there was the legendary Jackie Green (who allegedly had a big house in Bearsden but who dressed like a tramp, but with an air of shabby gentility ). He had a voice as loud and piercing as Caruso's; his favourite ploy was to dash into a pub with his sheaf of papers, yelling 'terrible triple murderrr!' or 'ghastly city disaster!' so that his papers would be snapped up quickly. It was only after he was out the door and well down the street that the naive punters, on keenly scanning there newspapers, found no reference at all to anything he had been shouting about. But it was said that, although he perpetrated this scam on an almost daily basis (though often there really were sensational news stories to thunder out), he never returned to Albion Street with any unsold papers.

Being the Swinging Sixties, if any hirsute youths were passing the vendors, they would ad lib thus, 'Eeevening - get a haircut, son - Ciiitizennn!'

There were always 'buckshee' copies of the paper left and they were used by us boys as a form of currency, several copies being delivered to the local bus stance for the drivers and the much fancied, 'clippies'who were also devotees of Fat Tam's cuisine.

They were mostly good looking girls with beehive hairdoes and mini skirts and a sharp line in patter. So, several copies of the paper delivered free to Fat Tam's thus often ensured a free ride home, plus a steaming bag of chips to enjoy on the journey.

One of our number was a football fanatic with big ears who we nicknamed 'World Cup Willie'. He took weeks to pluck up the courage to ask out a certain voluptuous 'clippie' to ìradancinî. She slowly removed her Woodbine cigarette from rouged lips, looked him up and down and remarked with the incisiveness of a stiletto dagger, 'Away ye go, son, it's a man Ah want - no his breakfast!'. Poor Willie was never the same after that.

'See this jaickit, son, thir's only two like it in the whole world. Ah've goat wan; the ither wan belongs tae a guy called Francis Albert Sinatra!'

The Station Hotel was one of the grandest in Glasgow and we would get a cup of tea at the back door when we delivered the newspapers and have a smoke. Everyone smoked, it was almost a rite of passage. A few weeks before getting my van boy job I had almost burned our house down by smoking in bed.

My parents knew nothing about my new, filthy habit; so it was double shock to them when they awoke in the middle of the night to the smell of smoke and burning. My father threw me out of bed and carried my smoking mattress, which was reeking horribly, on his back and out through the front door onto the landing.

The neighbours in their night attire came out in force, Mrs Mac in curlers keeping up a running commentary. 'See that boy, he's far too clever fur his own good, so he is!'

My father decided to throw the mattress, which was beginning to kindle into a blaze, down the stairwell where it fell three storeys then hit the bottom with a thud, causing a shower of sparks to rise up. Mrs Mac remarked, 'My Goad, it's like living in a foundry!'. Central Station was also the haunt of winos, as they were colloquially known, they simply sought a little warmth from the hot air vents and shelter under the canopy of glass and steel. They were always pleasant to me and were grateful for any spare newspapers they could pack into their clothes as insulation for a Glasgow winter.

They all had their stories to tell, like the bag lady who had once dressed in finery but had not seen her daughter for years. She treasured a photograph of a mother and child standing together, smiling in bright long -ago sunshine.

Sammy, always wore a star-spangled jacket, was prone to bursting into song. 'See this jaicket, so, thir's only two like it in the whole world. Ah've goat wan; the ither wan belongs tae a guy called Francis Albert Sinatra!'.

Then he would stagger along with the pavement as his stage, in his mind top of the bill in the spotlight of the Las Vegas Stardust Club, 'Strangers in the nieeet, exchanging glance's, strangers in the nieeet, wonderin' what were the chianceees, we'd be sharing liooove afore the night wis throooooo...'

At the climax, following applause from his maudlin cronies, he would bow and admit, 'Ah wance goat thirty days fur that!'. The bag lady replied, 'Ye shoulda goat thirty years!'.

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