Old farts wander a bit in their dotage, and old writers recall past anecdotes; so, bear with me as I indulge myself with anecdotage.
My dad, a very quiet man, used to take me to Celtic Park every other Saturday and, almost invariably, we were accompanied by my cousin, another Tommy, who lived at the far end of our street in Cardonald. The ritual was unvarying: we would walk down Ladykirk Drive, and reach Tommy’s house; a brief nod from my dad and Tommy was out the door like a shot …
Nothing needed to be said; Tommy was included, his tram-fare (about two-pence) and his Boys’ Gate (about seven pence) and the return tram-fare would be taken care of. As always, we went in at the Rangers’ End and at half-time – probably to the chagrin of my dad – we would make our way through the Jungle to the Celtic End. I seem to remember there were three well-defined ‘trails’ through it that opened up at half-time. Remember that scene in ‘Jurassic Park’ (when the raptors raced, unseen by their victims, through the long grass towards them?) Well, that was what hundreds of wee boys did in the 1950s, as they burrowed their way through to the Celtic End.
But this other story, and I’ve been assured of its truth, took place some years later.
Tommy got married to Nan, and managed to find a flat in Govan, a second-floor flat on Harmony Row. Tommy was still a fanatical Celt but Nan was a bit more cautious about things, especially living in Govan and not too far from Ibrox Park. Their neighbours were friendly and a week or so after moving in, Nan got a chap on the door from Mrs Watters downstairs, and invited her in.
It was a pleasant enough visit, Mrs Watters a decent-enough Glasgow wifie, but eventually she got round to the point of the visit: “I hope you don’t think I’m nosey, but I notice you go to the chapel on Sundays. That’s fine with me, hen, but I have to tell you about my man, William…”
Nan nodded wearily, but wee Mrs Watters surprised her. “He’s a real fanatic about Rangers, and he he works at Fairfields yard. He’s no a bad wee man but I need to tell you about Friday nights. That’s when he gets paid, and he likes to have a couple of pints on the way home…”
Mrs Watters shook her head, and continued, “He’s never had a head for the drink, and he gets tipsy awful easy. When he gets in the close, and you know how there’s an echo there, he likes to sing. I think he fancies himself as another Mario Lanza sometimes…”
Another sigh from Mrs Watters, an apologetic shrug of the shoulders, and she went on, “He likes to sing his Rangers’ songs — ‘Follow, follow…’ and even ‘The Sash’. You can hear him for miles with the echo in the close.” Mrs Watters at last reached the point: “He’s no’ a bad wee man, he wouldnae harm a fly and he doesn’t mean any harm … and he doesn’t do this to offend you in any way. I let him sing his daft wee songs for a couple of minutes, then I open the door, pull him in, give him his tea, and shove him into bed. I assure you he’s not trying to offend you, or trying to make you feel unwelcome…”Listen to SPENCER VIGNES with A Celtic State of Mind here:
A couple of months later, in November when the dark came in early, Nan was busy getting Tommy’s tea ready but she was a bit uneasy. Several times she had had the feeling that she was being watched through the kitchen window by somebody in the back-court. At last she got a couple of glimpses of somebody lurking on the top of the air-raid shelters, somebody too big to be a wee boy.
Tommy eventually came in from work, and Nan told him about her suspicions (but without making a scene or looking out the window). Tommy was equally casual, at least on the surface: “A Peepin’ Tom, eh? Well, I’ll fix him.”
And, as casually as possible, without a glance at the window, he wandered towards the kitchen door, shutting it behind him. In those days, coal was delivered into the house and the coal-cellar was located in the lobby. Tommy rummaged in it for the axe, used to break up larger lumps of coal, found it, and started to race down the stairs…
It was a Friday night … and William Watters had reached the bottom of the stairs, just outside his door. He halted, adjusted himself and was preparing to start his weekly concert; Tommy and Nan both agree it was ‘The Sash’, but one line into his anthem Willie looked up to Tommy McGeachen (a Catholic who went to chapel in Govan, a Celtic supporter, a red-headed Irishman and probably a Fenian), racing down the stairs towards him, fire in his eyes and an axe in his hand…
Slowly he sank to his knees, took off his bunnet, bowed his head … and awaited his fate. Terror had loosened his tongue too: “Thomas, I’ve said it before – and I’ll say it again: I’ve never said a bad word about the Pope, a good man, and by all accounts a fine Italian gentleman…”
Tommy, however, raced past him, and out the back of the close. He was just too late; the Peeping Tom, alerted by the commotion, had scampered away … and so Tommy returned, a shade disappointed, to see a pathetic sight: wee William Watters still knelt there, bare-head bowed, eyes shut and mumbling largely to himself, Mrs Watters stood at the door of her flat, shaking her head, Nan at the top of the stairs, worrying about Tommy’s pursuit of the intruder, and a bit concerned about Mr Watters’ embarrassment…
The sequel? Well, there were no more Peeping Tom incidents, and wee William Watters retired from singing in his close on a Friday night. Peace reigned in Harmony Row.Watch A Celtic State of Mind at the Stevie Chalmers Auction here: