Saturday, 2 April 2016

Light At The End Of A Glasgow Day



His nostrils filled with the November smoke from a thousand chimneys as he turned down into Byres Road.

This being the second Wednesday in the month meant it was his turn to open up and get the heating on; it wasn’t too much to ask, but it still annoyed him. Here he was, a student at the university, the first in the family as far back as anyone could remember, but still he was expected to muck in with the ‘business’ as his father called it, or a ‘run down Glasgow cinema’ as Sandy described it to his fellow students.

The building had started off as a glorified hut in the early 1900s holding no more than about sixteen people, although Sandy’s grandfather tended to squeeze in, with a shove, another ten on a Saturday night. At a couple of pennies a head to show some old silent fare, it was a nice way of making money. A very nice way as it turned out, and his grandfather tried to find ways to make it even nicer.

When he heard that Roy Rogers and Trigger were in town he marched down to the Central Station with a bribe, if Roy and his horse would attend a showing of their movie at his cinema then he’d feed then fish and chips for a week. His grandfather pestered Roy’s people so much that they threw him out of the railway station without Roy ever knowing of the offer. The same thing happened with Laurel and Hardy and despite everything, the cinema still made money; tons of it.

It was because of the Majestic cinema – a cinema by the way which was tidy, comfortable and well maintained, that the family had found the money to allow Sandy to go to university to read English in the first place. It had also bought the families plush villas in the west of the city. So to call it ‘run down’ said more about Sandy than a plain truth about the building.

Sandy was twenty-three and a bit older than the rest of the student body in the English department. The others tended to come from families of bankers, shipbuilding and industry. Yet, despite this lucky start to their lives, not one of them could hold a candle to Sandy’s genius; a word he used as frequently as ‘run down’.

Sandy’s hands were freezing as he struggled to find the keys in his long overcoat. Once inside the cinema he was always hit in the face by the redness of the paint. No matter how many second Wednesdays he opened that door, the harshness of the decor always came as a surprise. As he told his classmates that very morning, the whole building was like a Turkish bordello and smelt worse. This had brought a pleasing chuckle from his student friends. 

Mary was the Majestic’s ‘girl Friday’ and she loved the job. It involved selling tickets, orange juice and tubs of ice cream in the foyer and the ability to walk backwards down the aisles. The family was a pleasure to work for and after all they paid her extremely well.

Three things kept her there however, the first was that she really loved the movies, so in between her duties she could slide into a seat and get lost in the latest releases; American or British she didn’t care as long as there was a chance to laugh and moment to shed a tear.

The other two things  were the twins, Sandy and Donald. She had been in love with both of them for a very long time. Despite their similar looks they were very different people except in one respect, they both manipulated people to get what they wanted.

Sandy was the clever one; the one that everyone knew was going to go places. Donald was the physical son; the one who fought Sandy’s battles and would walk a thousand miles to protect his brother. Some people feared National Service but Donald graciously consumed everything the army threw at him.

There was a time when Mary couldn’t wait for the second Wednesday in the month as it meant she and Sandy could be alone, but  he had changed. Ever since he had started at the university, he had become someone else. He was still a kind person but now he liked to inform you of that fact.

Sandy’s kindness grated with Mary, to be done a good deed by someone and then to be told how kind it was  - well, it somehow destroyed the act. People who told you they were kindness itself were unaware that they were the most selfish of individuals. If you didn’t accept their gifts, advice, charity then you automatically caused them hurt – there was the blackmail, there was the aggression, this was Sandy.

Donald, on the other hand enjoyed life and living and although he was in the army, he would still refer to himself as a loner but Mary considered this just another way to manipulate people. Loners controlled situations by not being there, by removing themselves from the activity - they demanded to be noticed by their absence.

Yet, despite everything, they were all the best of friends and she did enjoy their company. Donald was on leave from Germany and was due to arrive that evening.As she walked out from the cold night and through the doors into the ticket booth, the place was beginning to warm up. It meant Sandy was down in the cellar stacking coal for the boiler.

The cinema was open six days a week and everyone rested on the Sabbath. This was a day for a meal with Sandy and his family which Mary was always invited to, as she no longer had anyone living.

Every second Wednesday in the month, Nessie and Ian McLeod, the boys’ parents would take the day off for a trip away. Sometimes it was Loch Lomond, or Edinburgh for the shops, or sometimes they would just sit in the back garden and read. Those were the days when Sandy and Mary ran the cinema and as a Wednesday was half-price day for the pensioners, it tended to be busy with those who just came in for some company or to keep out of the cold.

Today they were showing a couple of British gangster movies. Some of the older ones loved them, especially the women pensioners who seemed to like their baddies, really bad -  even if it meant they had to hide behind the popcorn from time to time. It was the coming attractions that also excited Mary, and one of those that was arriving any day now was Love Me Tender with Elvis Presley and Mary couldn’t wait.

She could hear Sandy singing in the basement, in the last few months it was always the same song, one she had bought him earlier in the year – ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’. At least Ian, Sandy’s dad, allowed that one to be played on the family gramophone, unlike ‘Rock Around the Clock’ by Bill Haley.

“What a load of rubbish. Whatever next? Rock around the clock indeed.” was Mister McLeod’s take on it.

She took two bottles of cola from the foyer fridge and went down to the basement. There he was, the English student, shovelling coal into the furnace and as she stood staring at him for a moment, he finished off his song. It was at times like these she was sure it was Sandy she loved.
Mary was just about to interrupt Sandy when there was a call from upstairs.
“Are you two down there?”

It was Donald and he was early. With his usual enthusiasm, he bounded down the stairs two at a time.
“What’s all this then, you two up to no good?”

Sandy dropped his shovel and embraced his brother who had spent three more minutes in the world than him.
"Let me give you a hand little brother, that way the three of us can get a drink sooner.”

The final movie was ‘The Good Die Young’ with Laurence Harvey and then the old and the wrinkled were ushered out quickly. There was a young couple kissing in one of the corners but when they looked up and saw Mary, Sandy and Donald all staring back at them, it killed off their ardour and they exited into the cold night with their lips still stuck together.

Once the theatre was checked for stragglers - as there had been folks locked in over night before - Sandy switched off the heating and shut the door.
“Where to, guys and lassie?” asked the ever energetic Donald.

Sandy wasn’t happy, “I’ll see you at the weekend brother and anyway I’ve got studies. I was going to walk Mary home, you see I’m kind that way”
“I’m only here for the night, I’m going on to a pal's wedding in the morning” said a disappointed Donald.
"What about a quick drink at the Locarno?” asked Mary.
“Great idea” said Donald, “come on brother, what is it Granddad calls the movies?”
“Light at the end of the day” answered Sandy. Mary liked that expression.
“And that’s what we need now. Some light. One swift one in the Locarno then you can get back to your nonsense.”

The brothers didn’t say much as they sauntered up towards Charing Cross. The doorman at the Locarno wasn’t really up for letting them in until he spotted Donald and then the three of them were waved on.

The Locarno was half empty, or half full depending on your idea of a Wednesday night out. It was mainly full of  Italians who had closed their businesses for a half day, meaning they could stay open all day Saturday.

The Joe Loss Orchestra was the band for the evening but was clearly failing to excite the rich merchants of Glasgow.

Over in one corner sat a small man with greasy black hair. When anyone passed his table, there were calls of ‘Good evening Giuseppe’, ‘How are you Giuseppe’ or something in Italian that Donald didn’t understand but it annoyed him anyway. This Giuseppe character seemed to be staring at Mary but she had failed to notice the man since she was so caught up in a joke with Sandy.  

It didn’t seem to matter what Donald did, he felt that he was never good enough for Mary. Oh he
loved her alright, loved her big time, but he just couldn’t get her to notice. Since he couldn’t compete with his twin, he would take himself off somewhere alone, hoping that just once Mary would follow but she never did. Maybe Mary thought he was trouble.

Giuseppe was a short man, and with short men come big grievances. The little Italian managed to bump his way all across the dance floor, and given the sparseness of the crowd it was actually very good going. He bumped into Donald which was one bump too many. It would be wonderful in this life if we knew we were about to bump once too often, but that’s a luxury we never receive.

All six feet of Donald followed the little man into the toilet.
“Why are you staring at my friend?” asked Donald.
“Who is your-a friend?”
“The good looking girl with my brother.”
“Then maybe it’s-a your-a brother you should be having this argument with.”

As Donald pushed Giuseppe, he knew he was probably right in what he had said but he kept pushing none the less. The little Italian backed away until there was nowhere else to go.
“Look-a I don’t want-a trouble.” Said in a thick Glasgow-Italian accent.
“So you don’t want-a trouble?” mimicked Donald.
“Please, leave me alone-a. I begga you."

All he meant to do was give him one more shove, but the floor beneath Giuseppe was wet and the little man hit his head on the edge of the sink on the way down.

Donald felt like running but instead he stayed and told the police everything - except that he let them think that Giuseppe Aldo had started the argument. Giuseppe Aldo, husband and father to six daughters,died in hospital three days later.

One little push, that was all, one little push that changed everything. This was 1955 and manslaughter was only admissible if it was in self-defence. The judge felt that there was reasonable doubt with regard to Donald’s story and the jury thought so too. As he had entered the toilet several witnesses reported seeing Donald in an angry mood and visibly drunk.

The Aldo mob cheered just as strongly as the McLeod clan wept when the death sentence was passed.

Donald was hanged on July 20th, 1955, exactly a week after Ruth Ellis, the last woman in Britain to be hanged.The Majestic was sold off to some big time corporation and Donald’s parents both died of reportedly broken hearts within a few weeks of one another.

Mary was the last person to talk to Donald before he was hanged. It had been at his own request.
“Stop crying Mary, please.” Then he whispered something into her ear before kissing her goodbye.
That something is what went through her head as she stepped on to a train at Glasgow Central and left her city forever.

“There will be light at the end of the day my darling, there will be light at the end of the day."


bobby stevenson 2016

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