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Authors: Frederic Lindsay

My Life as a Man

BOOK: My Life as a Man
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My Life as a Man

 

First published in
Great Britain in 2006 by
Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn Ltd

This ebook edition published in 2012 by
Birlinn Limited
West Newington House
Newington Road
Edinburgh
EH9 1QS
www.birlinn.co.uk

Copyright © Frederic Lindsay, 2006

The moral rights of Frederic Lindsay to be identified as the author
of this work has been asserted by him in accordance
with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.

eBook ISBN: 978-0-85790-221-4
Print ISBN: 978-1-904598-72-5

Version 1.0

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

 

For Helen

 

CONTENTS

BOOK ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

CHAPTER THIRTY

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

CHAPTER FORTY

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

 

PROLOGUE

Endings

 

CHAPTER ONE

T
he day my wife died, 15 February 2003, turned out to be an exceptional day of winter sunshine. It was a day to enjoy the harmless pleasures of
self-congratulation: sit in the conservatory, admire the garden and decide we hadn’t done too badly with our lives. We’d been married a long time. That morning, though, Eileen had a
different idea.

‘I want you to go on the demonstration,’ she said.

I knew at once what she was talking about. The previous day’s papers had been full of them, demonstrations all over the world, and today Glasgow was having its very own.

‘What’s it got to do with us?’ I wondered. ‘Let them all get on with it.’

‘I’d go myself,’ she said, ‘if I was able.’

She was in bed, on her lap the breakfast tray I’d brought up to her. We’d spent the previous afternoon in the park at Rouken Glen. We’d walked hand in hand, though normally she
didn’t like holding hands in public. Maybe we’d walked too far, but the weather had been fine that day, too. Today she was tired.

‘It’s not the kind of thing we do,’ I said. ‘What do we care about politics?’

‘It’s time we cared. When you think there are boys now giving the Nazi salute – even in Russia! – it breaks my heart. Have they no memory?’ She stared at me.
‘What is there to smile at in that?’

‘Something just came into my head. Tony, my best friend at school, his wee brother ate a banana with its skin on. Just after the war. He’d never seen one before. The things you
remember, eh?’

‘You’re a silly man,’ she said.

‘But I made you smile. I don’t want you brooding on ancient history and stuff like that.’ Concentration camps again in Europe. Skeletons behind barbed wire again. Maybe even
butchers with tears in their eyes listening to Brahms. ‘Not on a day like this. We could walk round the garden with a glass of wine after lunch.’

‘Oh, the garden,’ she said sardonically.

I smiled at her. ‘We’re a nation of two.’

‘Like Switzerland?’

‘There are worse countries to be.’

Her hair was white and she had wrinkles on her face, but sometimes when I looked at her I didn’t just see her as a young woman, I saw the girl she must have been long before we met. She
had surprised me and I was moved and impressed. She was almost ninety, but her heart was younger than mine for she still cared about the world.

‘Do you ever think of August and Beate?’ she asked.

I was startled. In all these years, we had never spoken of them.

‘Hardly ever,’ I said.

It wasn’t a lie, though for a long time it would have been.

‘That night we ran away from them, I shouldn’t have stopped you from seeing,’ she said.

‘Whatever it was they were doing, God help them, we could probably watch worse now on television,’ I said. ‘Nothing’s censored now.’ I wanted to make her smile,
change the subject, anything but this talk of the past.

‘I know you’ve thought about it,’ she said.

‘Not for a long time.’

‘It would have been better to see what happened that night. Maybe if you had, that would have been the end of it. You’d have thought less about it if you’d seen.’

That she could make me feel guilty was ridiculous. I wasn’t a child caught masturbating, the pink balloon of an adult’s face above bedclothes thrown back.

Managing a smile, I asked, ‘Is that why I am to go and demonstrate?’

‘Please,’ she said quietly. She knew I was angry. I couldn’t hide anything from her.

‘If it means that much to you, I’ll go,’ I said. ‘Even if I have to go alone.’

‘I’ll be with you in spirit,’ she said.

The sunshine was bad luck for Tony Blair, the prime minister. By the time I got to Glasgow Green, where the peace march was scheduled to start, a great crowd was already
assembling. Some people like crowds. I’m not fond of them, not even on the pavements of Argyle Street or Sauchiehall Street in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, though I’d kept Eileen
company in the days when she enjoyed the bustle.

It was a good-natured crowd. Sunshine does that. It makes you feel good, brightening the colours of women’s coats, burnishing the stone of the old buildings, warm on your cheek or the back
of your neck. Feeling good about themselves, too, that makes people happy; all of them sure that they were doing the right thing, which as it happened I didn’t feel certain about at all.

‘Coming along was my wife’s idea,’ I told Tom and Margaret, a couple I’d just met. The three of us had exchanged names in a kind of holiday mood. ‘She feels
strongly that going to war is wrong.’

They both spoke at once.

He asked, ‘So how do you feel about it?’

She asked, ‘Your wife isn’t here? I hope she’s not ill?’

To her, I said, ‘Oh, no, no. She keeps good health, but the walk would be too much for her.’

She gave me a shrewd look. At a guess, she and her husband and I were all about the same age, somewhere in the late sixties. All presumably, as I’d claimed for my wife, in good health; all
able to walk the few miles from the rallying point to the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, outside which the demonstration would be held, while inside the Scottish Labour Party was
holding its spring conference.

Now the crowd was drifting steadily forward. We filled two paths and the police were letting people through to join the procession first from one path, then the other. When they let us through,
I looked at my watch and it was quarter past eleven. Walking along in the sunshine, I felt caught up in something bigger than myself. It was strange to feel safe in the middle of such a crowd. On
the way, Tom – for the three of us had stayed together – suggested that we should turn aside to buy something to eat. It was foolish but none of us had thought of what to do for our
lunch. Margaret spotted a café and we went in and bought filled rolls and I bought lemonade; they had brought a bottle of water with them, though they hadn’t any food.

By the time we got to the gates of the Centre, it was just before two o’clock. We found a place on a grass bank above the car park. The crowd had been gathered into two of the car parks in
front of the Centre; there were plenty of other parks for cars. I looked from the building ahead, its roofs folded one on top of the other like the scales on an armadillo, to the tower behind us
that led down into the walkway under the Clyde. We shared the last of the rolls – cheese and pickle, coronation chicken, ham and tomato – and sipped lemonade out of the bottle.

‘Look,’ Tom said, ‘they’ve got sound equipment after all.’

I said it was what I’d have expected, two big speakers, set up one on either side of the platform.

‘Thing is,’ Margaret said, ‘Labour refused to let them use a PA system.’

‘How could they do that? What has the Labour Party to do with the car parks?’

‘The council owns the SECC,’ Tom said.

He waited till the penny dropped, and then grinned. The Labour Party has run Glasgow for ever, it seems.

‘Well, they must have changed their mind,’ I said. ‘You can see the speakers.’

‘Or had it changed for them,’ Margaret said. ‘There was a demonstration a week ago, and they were told that not to have a PA system wouldn’t be safe.’

‘We got a leaflet about it,’ Tom said, ‘from CND a week ago.’

‘CND?’ I said.

‘Ageing hippies, that’s us,’ Tom said. ‘I know.’

Across the murmur of the crowd, the sound system carried the voice of a man who’d been introduced as a councillor. ‘I’ve just been told the police estimate there are
twenty-seven thousand people here. Well, all I can say is, the Glasgow police cannae count!’

‘Right enough,’ Tom said. ‘Comparing this with the big football crowds they used to get, I’d say there was three times that. Maybe more.’

After that we listened for a while to the voices booming from the little figures on the platform. John Swinney, leader of the SNP, talked about the need for a UN resolution; a man from the TUC
spoke, and then the leader of the Fire Brigades Union. Like the preacher and sin, all of them it seemed were against going to war in Iraq. After about an hour, the voices got fainter, as if the
address system was using batteries and they were running down. By the time it got to Tommy Sheridan, the Socialist leader, you couldn’t make out what he was saying, though even at a distance
you could tell he cared, which made me envy him. Nice to feel that anything mattered that much.

By this time, it was about three o’clock and Margaret said her back was sore with standing. There didn’t seem anything to stay for, though as we left people were still streaming into
the car parks. It was good to be strolling along on a fine afternoon, it still felt like being part of a crowd. Somewhere up ahead there was a guy with a trombone and every so often he gave us a
tune.

‘Pity about the Jericho Rumpus,’ Tom said.

‘Is that what he’s playing?’

‘What?’

‘The guy with the trombone.’

Tom smiled reluctantly. It was Margaret who realised I wasn’t trying to be funny. Truth is, I’m tone-deaf; I was willing to believe anything.

‘Everybody was supposed to bring something to make a noise,’ she said. ‘Pans, drums, whatever. The rumpus would start up about half past one and the idea was that Blair would
hear it inside the hall while he was speaking.’

‘Except that he changed the time. They got his speech before they’d digested their ham and eggs, and by eleven in the morning he was on his way back to London.’

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