27 Nov Football boots for Christmas (Revised Version) – Part Ten
Bob stretched over the arm of the big chair, turned up the volume and then carried on brushing his brogues. Their auld wireless was crackling worse than ever. Probably off the station a wee bit. Couldn’t be bothered twiddling about with them silly wee spindles.
All he wanted was a time check, but got Stafford Cripps, back on again about his bloody groundnuts! Labour’s Brave New World! Politicians! Couldn’t run a manage. Glared at the wireless as though it was to blame. Put the damn thing off, then on again, but a wee bit lower. Did groundnuts grow on roots like tatties, or bushes like doghips.
Was nothing bit a pig-ignorant miner with big middle class ideas. Then again, Friday, and the biggest Friday of his year. Next year’s would be even more special. In fact,extra special. Could feel it in his water. The Scottish Cup would be sitting there on the top table in the Lea-Rig Hall, decked out in black and white ribbons. He nodded, then looked round the place at nothing in particular.
‘The Cup’ had become ever more important year on year, his passport to a place in the annals of the parish; Bob Findlay’s team; a legend in more than his own piece-time;
This suit of his was on its last legs. Sighed, and grimaced as he flicked a stray lump of polish off his lap. Braw shoes; got them to get married in. Stopped polishing to better admire them; no bad for all that wear. Where the heavy kind gamekeepers favoured. His granny always said cheap shoes were a waste of money. What was it Jimmy McPhee had been sayin about her along in the Tally Ho? Should mind his own blood business!
Must’ve been the best shifted miner in the place then, before the war. Just took it for granted. She wouldn’t even let him split the sticks for kindling, and they had beef every other day, or at least he had, even when the mine had been idle week about. She lived on porridge and lentil soup. Always made sure he had money in his pocket, but then, they neither smoked nor drunk. Be aghast to see him now.
Maybe Jimmy was right; making up to him for the wrong they had done him. Took another glance about the sparseness of this place and grued; still dreamt of being back there as a wean in thon big palace of a house. Might have owned Rosebank the day; him and his mother
Keeping them all shod took some doing. Had even tried cobbling; wasn’t as easy as it looked, but then what was. A bit reinforced conveyor belting he’d picked up at the mine made soles for Alan`s shoes. Not a bad job had thought at the time.
Wearily shook his heavy head as he remembered the poor wee bugger plodded about the doors like a deep-sea diver. Had told him they’d develop his leg muscles and so improve his shooting for the football. Now was prancing about the place like a ballerina in his mother’s auld green pumps.
They were about as keen on the football as himself, but Bobby didn’t have the verve nor the guile, and poor wee Alan just didn’t have the energy after that trouble he was born with. Could run like the wind the length of the park, but then was still gasping for breath minutes after. Yet looked healthy enough.
Had to be able to turn on a tanner, off either foot, and yet be as hard as nails, and brave. Put your head were some wouldn’t have put their feet, like Wullie Thornton did week in week out for The Albion before the war. Must be the best player Scotland ever produced.
Was some game, and wee Jimmy was showing the makings, even at four. Nodded his head again, pursed his lips and sighed. Might have that wee bit magic some were born with. That would be something else. Had been aware of a bit banging for a spell before it finally dawned; somebody at the front door.
Switched off the wireless and wondered who the stranger might be. Front doors in the Auld Raws were for filling in the space round about the letterbox. She was away down at her folks for two or three days with the laddies, so the place was in a wee bit of a mess. So what! Wouldn’t be coming in it.
Hauled himself out the chair with a bit of a struggle and went over and switched the lobby light on but nothing happened, then minded taking the bulb out two or three week back when the one in the scullery fused. Never could thole the dark, even in the house. Hoped it wasn’t the minister or some of his disciples. No a Friday night surely. By the time he’d found and unlocked the door, had almost made up his mind it would be Bruce George, the headmaster. Nob’dy else ever come to the front door. Something had turned up and he couldn’t make the Social. He was honorary President. Either him or ‘Glen Miller’ and some of his music makers with more moans. Maybe wanting a revolving stage!
Two soft hats and shapeless light gabardine coats were outlined in the gritty dull orange haze from the new street lamps. A most pathetic light source that would be mentioned again in next week’s column.
Maybe football scouts after some of his players. Couldn’t get it through their thick skulls he picked clubs for his laddies when it came time for them to move up the grades, no the other way about. “Mr. Findlay?”
“Ay, an whit can I do for ye?” Was in his stocking soles. A cauld wind that, and him running late.
“We’re from the Courier.” Mr. Findlay had stopped breathing, his mouth gapping. I’m George Smillie, chief reporter. We`ve spoken before,” said the smaller of the two. “ I believe, when you first started with us.” Bob spluttered and coughed in reply, then gave up.
“This is Mr. Simpson, managing-editor.” Bob felt a rush of blood to the head and a weakness about the knees. His heart was thumping like the big drums in an Orange Walk. At last, at long bloody last! Just had to be. Raised his trembling right hand just for something to do, waved it about a bit for a moment or two like his wrist was broken then used it to steady himself on the door standard. Took a deep breath, and then another one. His face was set in a daft grin that he had bother in adjusting. Smoothed it out flat with his left hand from forehead to thrapple.
Managing editors just didn’t make social calls on 5/- a week local correspondents, especially no on Friday nights. Some big story might have broken in the area that he hadn’t heard about. Maybe a train crash for instance, or maybe the Forth Brig had collapsed! No, no, this was it! Just had to be.
The many images in his fevered mind, of himself in an array of dramatic situations, notebook at the ready were all merging into each other. What would his faither and Uncle John think of him now? Make an announcement from the Lea-Rig stage this evening. Was no room to shake hands and anyway his were clammy. Took another deep breath, then another two shallow ones.
“Wid yaise…. Coughed and carefully cleared his throat. “Like to come in?” Without waiting for a reply led the way back through the dark tunnel, rubbing his hands on his trousers as he went. Money was bound to be reasonable.
This would show them; the whole bloody village. Ay, and Isa would be ower the moon. Down about Ayton only moles worked underground. Couldn’t have done it without her. Just about given up hope of ever getting out of that bloody mine. Might even be able to afford football boots for their Christmas.
Just had to be, a collar and tie job and making his own hours in the fresh air. The only right accredited full-time reporter this side of Edinburgh, out as far as Bathgate! Had to be, after all these years running about in ever decreasing circles.
What would his faither being doing, right at this minute. Imagined him in the big chair. In a couple of weeks would be a damn sight better paper. Uumpteen ways it could be improved, once he got into his stride. Back in the kitchen, that was the living room, he hurriedly scooped the clothes and papers off the couch and bundled them onto the table, already cluttered with ironing.
Beckoned his saviours to take a seat. Was in his semmit, but at least it was new on and he was just after shaving. Would just leave his dinner plate where it was on top of the wireless – thank God she`s no in! Auntie Mary would be the proudest woman in England, and what about his faither down there in Abercorn Place? Even his mother, lying on her death bed across in Broxburn; once she heard.
Maybe think back to how things were, beside thon big fire in thon big house in thon bright room with the big windows and bushes and flowers, when his Granny Cairns read him stories out of thon big green picture book.Where the Hell had that snapshot come from an why was it all taken away. Who had offended who? Would think about that later, all over again.
Maybe should give her ower in Broxburn the chance to explain why they had cut him off at the knees. Would have to get back to dealing with the present. How would they all take the news. Shivered with cold sweat at the terrible thought that he might be making something out of nothing. Maybe someb’dy had complained about something he had written, and lawyers had become involved and so the Courier high-heid-yins were down here running scared. No, no, surely no! Here to sack him?
“The wife`s away to her mother’s for a day or two,” he explained with a wry grimace, trying very hard to keep his excitement in check. “Got to the morn to get this mess redde up.” There was a hole in one of his socks. Had the rest of his days to redde up the mess that was his life.
Almost punched the air in joy – as was his habit when scoring goals in his playing days. Could feel the blood pounding through his temple. Behind the placid Findlay mask he was in turmoil. Emotions and memories, dreams and fears, all swirling about in his head as he struggled to focus on this brave new world that now lay before him. Had burst the net!
From that chaotic array of flashing perceptions, what he homed in on was the Albion and the pending fourth round tie against Castle Rovers. This pair were down here to gift him a job and life style, working class folk could only read about in books and dream on, and yet his first calm reaction now was to ponder the cost.
For over fifteen year had been running the Albion and this year were going to do it, going to win the Scottish. This new job would mean working every Saturday afternoon in the football season reporting on higher grade games across in Broxburn or up at Bathgate. If they were going to give him a job it would mainly be to do with football; opiate of the masses. That much was obvious. No a hope in Hell of them giving him Saturdays off until the end of the season; no chance.
Made an awfy mess of the grin he tried on, to reassure them, just in case they were mind-readers. They in turn were scanning the place like detectives for signs of a break-in, almost with contempt.
Bob felt the resentment welling up inside himself, and near overflowing. Viciously side-footed the biscuit tin of brushes and polish under the chair a bit harder than necessary. It clattered off the skirting as he turned round and faced them, as he backed into the chair. The Cherry Blossom tin had spilt its contents over the step into the scullery. That bathroom was in an even worse mess – could only hope they didn’t need.
Was hard lines his Granny Findlay had never lived to see this day. Pictured her sitting here reading out the bit from the Sunday paper about him winning the invitation sprint at Ibrox Sports and then cutting out his picture. Had even got a right frame for it, and when she left to byde with Auntie Mary down at Bradford; had taken it with her. Auntie Mary had it still, along with a wheen of his trophies.
The managing editor had flung himself back into the couch as if testing it for strength. His black trilby was in the one hand draped over the side of the couch and his other was extended along the back. The coat was still buttoned up to the thrapple and that soft putty face of his never looked lived in. No doubt high up in the Masons. Ay, and a J.P. most probably. Would be him that wrote that rubbish on bridge every second week.
Reminded Bob of the umpteen times he’d been the exotic stranger, sitting in a strange house, in to sign some promising football playing laddie, and then thought in particular on thon evening in the Thornton kitchen the time he’d signed Wullie, then on taking him in to Ibrox to sign for Rangers, up the marble staircase to speak to Wullie Struth, who he already knew through the running. Now it was Bob Findlay’s turn to be promoted into a higher league.
Smillie had perched himself on the edge of what was left of the couch, taking most of his weight on his knees, ready, it seemed, to jump on the word of command, twiddling his hat between his index fingers, and wanly smiling across at Bob.
This would be the one who wrote that Kirk Session guff every other week that kept better stuff out. Superintendent of the Sunday School and tea-total, no doubt. Goodness and a collie dog mentality were written all over him. Bob eased himself back and waited for what he knew must be coming. Was right in front of Smillie leaning heavily on the armrest between him and them. His head was cocked to the side, away from them, like an attentive budgie, stared across them in the direction of the lobby door, then slowly down to the back of his own hand, spread-eagled on his thigh – that was shale dust under his nails. Now he was going to get the chance to use his head for something other than guiding his carbide lamp to his shovel, then to the next empty hutch.
Smillie cleared his throat, glanced round at `Beaverbrock` and smiled thinly at Bob. “Mr. Simpson is here the night to offer you a full-time position. We need a reporter in the Broxburn office. Decided to give you first chance.”
This was it right enough! Still didn’t give them the right to barge in here without warning, trampling all over his life. Could have written him a letter inviting him up to their office in Bathgate. Was he supposed to jump up and down now, or just get down on his bended knee. Had earned every chance he ever got, including this one.
Why should that pasty-faced parcel of lard over there have as much influence over him. No doubt born into everything he had. Much the same as himself, he thought with bitter irony. Was being offered the chance he’d craved since he was a laddie and yet wasn’t a kick in the erse away from flinging them out the door.
“Going by the volume and quality of stuff you’ve been handing in as a part-time correspondent,” continued Smillie, “shouldn’t have any problems.”
Sounded like an anxious mother trying to get through to her daft laddie. Problems! What the Hell did they know about problems? Had been working twelve/fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, for years, in everything bar the bloody canal, just to impress the likes of them. All he craved was the chance to prove he was, he was….Well, that he was as good as his faither, or even his late Uncle George who still haunted his nightmares.
Them and their silly wee paper. Give him a week or two and he’d no doubt be filling the bloody thing on his own, just like it was a hutch.
“The wages will be four pounds, five shillings a week. And of course the hours will be irregular, that being the nature of the job, as no doubt you already appreciate.” Bob nodded. “We could fill the post very easily with an experienced journalist but Mr. Simpson has decided to offer it to you.” Smillie had paused at the ‘but’ and then finished with a bit of a flourish – almost deserved a drum roll or something.
Should have been spending more time with the laddies and giving Isa a hand. Always too busy away making a name for himself and now, after all his effort, was getting offered a drop in wages. Would more than make up for that in correspondence for the nationals no doubt, but still. Gritted his teeth. They had the ball at their feet, for now.
Mr. Smillie paused, and like so many over the years, sought in vain for some reaction in a Findlay face. This wasn’t turning out anything like the way he’d assumed glad tidings would. But then they’d never employed a miner before, certainly not as a member of staff. Didn’t relish the thought of chastising him at some future date.
Maybe Mr. Simpson was making a big mistake. This man Findlay could certainly produce copy on sport in particular and combative local politics and in a manner that was both informative and interesting. Just what the readers seemed to be looking for and the paper was planned to be much bigger in the near future, but was at a loss as to how anyone as dour, forbidding almost, could elicit information from others.
Much more likely to inhibit contacts, he’d have thought. Wasn’t even sure if Findlay was going to accept the post. Could turn out extremely embarrassing; the man hadn’t applied for the job. Surely the best thing that ever happened to him!
“What age are you Mr. Findlay. By the way, is it Robert or Bob?”
“Thirty eight, and Bob ‘ill dae fine.” Would be looking at his teeth next! Wee men in wee jobs, thinking they were big men in big jobs; had got themselves a guid set of illusions and were sticking to them. Was it any wonder that folk were never done criticising the paper if this is what run it?
“Bob Findlay Oh, you must be the runner. Of course, yes, Winchburgh!”
“You beat McDonald Bailey before the war didn’t you? Mid thirties? Rangers Sports.”
“Remember we did a piece. Was in all the nationals. Scottish sprint champion for a time weren’t you?”
“Long time ago, then I trained the local laddies, football players and the like. That and running the Albion.”
“Wullie Thornton of the Rangers comes from here doesn’t he?” Bob nodded.
“Didn’t train him, did you?”
“Took Wullie an Jim, that’s his brother, oot wi me. Like tae think I helped Wullie build up his stamina. Wis playin regular wi the Rangers frae he wis sixteen.”
“That’s right, was in the paper earlier in the year. Was at a Ranger’s supporters rally in Bathgate that we covered. Had just been named Scotland’s `Player of the Year. That’s right!” Bob nodded.
“Mentioned you, I remember now. Said you had taught him all he knew. Bob Findlay from Winchburgh! Quite an accolade’”
“A born fitba player an modest wi it. Jist encouraged him.”
“Anyway Bob, what’s your present wage. You’re a shale miner aren’t you?”
“Since I wis fourteen. On four pound fifteen.”Almost asked Smillie what he was on, but managed to bite his tongue. Wouldn’t be long before he would be finding that out for himself. Smillie couldn’t be far off the pension and ploutering about the Kirk grounds. Had to look to the future, now that he might have one. Would take the job; wouldn’t starve.
“Really! Four pounds fifteen,” exclaimed Mr. Smillie, glancing round at Mr. Simpson to see if he’d been listening and possibly thinking of matching it, then hurriedly back to Bob.
”Of course we’ll allow you to supplement your wages by doing correspondence for the nationals.”
“Should be worth at least two pounds a week extra, football and the like, maybe much more for someone with an appetite for work like you.”
Bob glanced across at his new boss who was staring at the wall above the fireplace; maybe in speechless admiration at the stippling done by Maggie Broon from across the row with a bit net curtain. Then again maybe the big fat blob of lard was bored out of his tiny mind.
At that moment the magnate awkwardly prized himself off the broken spring, leaned forward, stared menacingly at Bob and growled. ”But they’ll be no writing for that damn Gazette!”
So that’s it, mused Bob, that’s why they’re down here the night offering him a job he hadn’t even applied for. Almost laughed in their faces. This was going to be an even better job than he’d at first imagined. Thick gaffers was the best bonus a wily worker could ever hope for.
Two or three weeks back he’d been covering a retiral doo at the Lea-Rig and got on the chaff with Arthur Brown, editor and staff of the Lithga Gazette, mentioning in the passing that he hoped to go full-time, given a half a chance.
The Gazette weren’t in a position to take on staff, said Arthur, but then a minute or two after, added with a laugh, but the Courier didn’t know that. The Courier and the Gazette were great rivals throughout the shale field and as jealous of one another as sisters.
The idea, Arthur explained, was to con the Courier crowd up at Bathgate into believing that the Gazette were all set to move into the Broxburn area in a big way, with better sports coverage, with Bob Findlay as their full-time man.
Simple as that. Bob silently cursed himself. Should have had the gumption to work out such a ploy for himself. The dogs would be barking the story in the streets of Lithga before the week was out. As he grind his teeth he promised himself Arthur would have cause before long to regret not taking Bob Findlay on himself; was nobody’s plaything.
“Not doing as well in the Broxburn area as we should be”, confided Mr. Smillie. “What we need is more local interest stuff, especially sport and sharper political comment. Mr. Simpson believes you are just the man who could do it.”
At that Mr. Smillie glanced round at Mr. Simpson again before adding in hushed tones, “By the way, we have it on the very best authority, the Gazette are poised to concentrate their best efforts on Broxburn.”
Mr. Smillie waited with interest for Bob`s reply. Maybe even tell them he already had an offer from the Gazette, possible at a better salary. Would account for Findlay’s apparent lack of enthusiasm. Could indeed be extremely embarrassing. They hadn’t thought of that. Waited so long he started to wonder if he was going to get a reply.
Four pound, bloody five and now were telling him he could only do correspondence for the papers that suited them. That would be right! Just about had his fill of being taken for some kind of lackey. Must have thought there was a want about him.
Three bairns to feed and cleid, a pregnant wife going out to the tatties on Monday morning, bus fares to Broxburn and a council rent to find. Bloody Hell! Would have to give up his granny’s house. Maybe even get a house across in Broxburn.
If only it was that simple. That rent-book and this house were the only real proof he had of who he was. That damn birth certificate! Would have to stop this living in the past. What was it wee Smillie said there?
“Ay right enough.” Gave himself a bit of a shake to clear his head and concentrate on the business in hand.
Mr. Smillie sighed and glanced round at Mr. Simpson, back to studying working class interior decoration.
Maybe thinking of getting the office stippled, he mused. It certainly needed brightening up. Yes, head office was a dank miserable place that this dour creature Findlay would feel perfectly at ease in, if he ever made it to Bathgate.
Certainly wouldn’t add much to the telephone bill. The thought made Mr. Smillie smile. “See any problems in making new contacts in Broxburn, Bob?”
What’s that wee bugger Smillie sniggering about, thought Bob; bloody idiot that he is. Same as that other bugger lying over there like the Store dug. Could they no away back up to Bathgate out the road. Had a lot more to think about than answers to daft questions.
Contacts! The place was full of folk that knew everyb’dy else’s business and Broxburn wasn’t any different. Stand at any street corner for any length of time at all and there was always a wheen of punters queuing up bursting to tell you the score and the less interest you showed the more they told you. Had always been a good listener.
Had listened hard from the day and hour he’d come to Winchburgh; but they never felt the need to explain things and he still didn’t know the full story, but it had been good practice for later life. Reporter! Could have been a bloody detective in New Scotland Yard.
What he didn’t know he could imagine, just as well as the next man. Folk didn’t mind you putting words in their mouths, no as long as they were big ones. “Naw, I’ll manage fine.”
Was no distance to Broxburn. Could buy a bike and save on the bus fares; good idea and needed the exercise anyway. Ay, a bike would come in handy for getting about and he could pocket any expenses he was entitled to. Have to get himself a decent suit of clothes, and clips for his trousers. Ay, that would show them. Maybe even a wee car someday. That and a new soft hat.
“Well than Bob, what do you say,” said Mr. Smillie, “You want the job?”
“Ay, bit I’ll hae tae give the Company a week’s notice.” Would be giving the likes of the Lea-Rig Burns Club notice as well. No spare time to carry on as secretary now. Have to write himself a letter and the Chairman would have to read it out.
Maybe they’d make him an honorary Vice-Chairman. Yes, a definite possibility. Would pack in the Labour Party branch right away. His light-headedness had returned.
Even Mr. Simpson noted the reverence in his voice when he mentioned `Company`. That was good, very good, he thought. A quiet man Findlay and obviously one who knew his place. Accepted a cut in wages as well. Very good!
He stirred, looked round the kitchen again and wondered if they had a sitting room. Time to go. Smillie sprang up beside him.
“If you report to the Station Road office, nine sharp, Monday week,” said Mr. Smillie, “I’ll be there to see you started. Alright Bob?”
“Well then,” added Mr. Smillie, glancing round at Mr. Simpson, “must be getting back, Both got something on.” Shook hands with him, wished him all the best and made for the blackness that was the lobby.
Bob followed along behind, wondering if he should get a Raleigh bike or a Hercules, then his thoughts were back in the lobby. What the hell was that?
Simpson had breenged into the back room and gone his length over the dressing table. Muffled noises were coming from wee Smillie lost in a forest of coats, hanging on the lobby wall.
Some team right enough. If football was their game they would have been relegated out of existence. Patiently guided them to the front door and shut it behind them before they had made the second step.
Back in the kitchen he raked about for his clean white shirt and found it in the bundle of clothes on the table and put it on. His tie was draped on the mirror. Hung it round his neck.
He picked up the rent book from behind the clock and studied it, then raised his gaze to his own reflection. Tried to hypnotise himself into believing his new job would dramatically change things between him and his father, but idn’t succeed.
The tie against Castle Rovers would now be his last in charge. If he hadn’t been married with a family would have told them where to stick their job, or would he?
Why not go for both; would keep quiet about his new job until after the Airth game, then get wee Rab to take on the secretary’s responsibilities, with his help of course till the end of the season at least.
The players would know fine who was still in charge. This was going to be their year; could feel it in his bones, never mind his water.
Left on their own that committee of his couldn’t run a menage. Gave himself a shake and started to tie his tie. Would have to mind and tell Isa to get a bulb for that lobby or somebody was going to break their leg in there. Either that or put their foot through the spokes of his new 4-speed gear Hercules.