30 September 2016

The Doctor


Tired yet baleful concrete tenements glowered down on deserted streets during the daytime and the place seemed as if it were long ago abandoned by man. It was only during the night that the scheme came to life; when troops of cocaine fuelled primates filled the air with tribal war cries and furtive indigent lepers went about their business on the sly.

“Get away from my door son. You’ve had enough for one night.”

“C’mon Doc – jist a fiver bag. I’ve goat the cash, see?”

“You’ll be needing a hit in the morning – come back then. I’ll no be held responsible if you have any more the night.”

“In the mornin’ then?”

“Aye, first thing – the usual time.”

Doc closed the door and let out a sigh. Greed was a symptom of the disease – no junkie could ever get enough and he was no exception. Still, it didn’t pay to have customers overdose on you and sometimes accidents brought policemen to your door. He didn’t often turn customers away, but when he did he had good reasons. Just this afternoon he had refused young Jimmy Lyons who was on a course of methadone and hadn’t had a hit for over a month. There was no way Doc was going to help him scupper his chances by turning him on again – there were plenty of other dealers he could turn to; he wanted no part of it. It was the ones like Jimmy with families he felt the most pity for – the kids suffered for the weaknesses of their parents.

Doc retired to the comfort of his armchair, he rarely went to bed, preferring instead to gouch in his chair until the sun came up. He prepared his final injection of the day and sighed once more as the precious medicine oozed through his body and he sloughed off the weight of countless decades. Tomorrow was a big day for him – pension day. He’d venture out to get some grub in and maybe take a wee trip to the library for a book or two. That would be a pleasant adventure – a wee recce around the Athens of the north to return victorious with the gift of literature in his hand.


When I heard that The Doctor was dead I naturally assumed that he had over done, but it transpired that Finney and his razor boys did for him. He was an evil wee bastard that Finney, as was his father before him. He had been exercising a vicious form of alchemy in an attempt to synthesise his old man, but had never borne comparison to that wicked auld cunt. In the eyes of most people he was still auld Finn’s laddie and a pale imitation of the original.

“They stuck him like a pig right outside the post office Johnny. Young Finney was screamin’ like a banshee and auld Doc was begging fur mercy like.”

Psycho Peter filled me in with all the gory details and they painted a sorry scene. Doc, the oldest junkie in the town, had gone to the post office to collect his pension where he was ambushed by Finney and his boys. They stabbed the poor old bastard multiple times before eventually cutting his throat and letting him bleed out halal style. Finney then proclaimed that this was the fate that awaited any junk dealers caught on his patch.

There was a hierarchy of drug usage out there in the schemes which placed cocaine at the top and heroin at the bottom. Everyone looked down on junkies – even the alkies looked down on junkies and no-one cared much what happened to them. Hell, even I looked down on junkies and they made me a comfortable living. The schemes were awash with smack and coke and I had my fingers in both pies; cannabis was everywhere – it was a staple – not a luxury, but there was no money in cannabis.

It was open season on junkies out there and they were being beaten in regular attacks which went largely unreported, not even the cops cared about junkies. This though was murder in broad daylight and would be sure to attract the full attentions of the local plod.

“What about the polis?”

“The usual – naebody saw nuthin’”

“Let’s keep it that way.”

“Everybody’s too scared of Finney tae grass, besides there’s a lot would pin a medal oan him fur what he done, folk say they are sick o finding needles everywhere and seeing junkies dossin oan the street.”

“Is it really that bad?”

“Naw, and I’ve been telt that Finney’s boys collect the needles fae shootin’ galleries an’ redistributes them in public places – like schools and parks – so as tae wind up the locals.”

“So that he can play the vigilante with the blessings of the plebeians no doubt.”

Peter cast me a funny look, but said nothing. It was obvious that Finney was out to consolidate his grip over his own neighbourhood at the expense of the hapless junkies, but he was miscalculating the impact he might have on the businesses of other interested parties.

“Have a word with Finney would you Peter?”

“Do you think he needs discouraging?”

“I think he needs enlightening. Killings are bad for business and will not be tolerated. Roughing up junkies is one thing, but hassling the wrong dealers will only bring him into conflict with the wrong people. He can play at gangsters ‘till his heart is content, but if it costs one penny from my pocket I’ll see he suffers, so he’d better make sure he only hassles the right dealers.”

We could use Finney’s predilections to our benefit – he could help rid us of the competition at grass roots level. We only had fifty percent saturation in some of the schemes – we could, ironically enough, use the hatred of junkies to sell more product. If we played our cards right by duplicating Finney’s efforts across the schemes we could corner the market for ourselves. I was saddened by the death of old Doc, but reflected that his untimely demise might not have been in vain. I made a note to send a wreath, just to pay my respects. He wasn’t such a bad auld cunt – for a junkie.


20 September 2016



We ran and ran until our legs would carry us no more – our pursuers had stopped chasing us a mile back – but we were running for the joy of it. We were gasping and panting for breath as we laughed uncontrollably. I thought I might asphyxiate from laughter. I tried to speak to Belle, but could only muster some wheezy vowel sounds. He was on the ground now in paroxysms of mirth.

“I think the whole pub was chasing us!” I exclaimed - once I’d caught my breath.

“It might have been something that I said,” replied Belle.

We went into convulsions of laughter once more; he laughed the way I imagine coyotes laugh with sniggers and whimpers and howls. It was typical of Belle that after a few drinks his impulse control completely deserted him. We were on a pub crawl down Leith Walk and went into the Central on a dare. It was the roughest pub on the Walk in those days. I would never have gone in there normally, but Belle urged me on. The place was mobbed, but Belle managed to grab a tiny space on a bench next to this middle aged bird, to tell the truth she was quite tasty. She and Belle were soon wrapped in conversation, her husband who was sat next to her kept a leery eye on proceedings. Then it happened – I knew it would. Belle had to push things too far.

“You make a handsome couple” he said.

“Thank you” she replied flush of face.

“Any chance of a wee kiss?” he enquired lecherously.

“Oh, no” she answered shyly.

“Just a wee peck maybe?” he insisted gently.

“Oh, alright then” she puckered her lips.

“Oh, no you hen – I mean yer man” the company went quiet and her man glowered at Belle. We split laughing and I broke into a run with Belle trailing behind. Sure enough a crowd of tough looking radges followed us from the pub.

“Do you all want a kiss?” taunted Belle as I dragged him away.

“You have to stop antagonising the heterosexual community Belle – before you get your head kicked in” I warned him.

“You know the difference between straight and queer Angel?” he asked.

“Enlighten me Belle.”

“Six pints of lager.”

“I only drink special.”  I quipped.

“Maybe you never gave lager a chance.”

That last comment hung in the air between us and we let it die there. We were headed back to my place and a fridge full of beer when Belle suggested we make a detour.

“Let’s go wind up Buddha. I could use a line of speed.”

“Okay, but go easy on him. He’s a good mate of mine.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” replied Belle; “I’m a perfect gentleman around your friends.”

I rolled my eyes, but said nothing. Belle seemed contemptuous of anything straight and his behaviour around my hetro friends was often a bone of contention between us. We arrived at Buddha’s place and made our way up the three flights to his flat. Buddha seemed glad to see me, but was a little more reserved toward Belle.

“Come in lads and take a pew. Anyone fancy a cup o’ chai?”

Once the tea ceremonial was dispensed with Buddha set about sorting out three generous lines. He assured us that this gear was the bee’s knees and that we’d be flying in no time at all.

“Ye’ll be rabbitin’ awe night wi this stuff – guaranteed.”

“You only serve the best Buddha,” replied Belle; “That’s why you’re my favourite pusher.”

Belle had that glint in his eyes. He was out to provoke Buddha who bristled at the word ‘pusher’.

“I’m nae pusher – get that straight. I never pushed anything on anybody in my life. My clientele don’t need pushin’ they jump o’ their own accord. I’m a dealer and a bloody good wan. I deal in entertainment of the highest quality and have never had any complaints. My deals are spot on and my gear is clean, never trod on. People are never pushed in my direction – in fact I never heard of anyone being pushed into takin’ drugs – it’s always been on a strictly voluntary basis. Take yer average junkie – naebody forces them into it. Yer junkie gets up every morning and decides that today he’ll be a junkie an’ he’ll be a fuckin’ junkie til he changes his mind. That’s what separates the casual user from the addict – greed and will power. Naebody makes them junkies – they jump o’ their own accord.”

I agreed wholeheartedly with what Buddha said; though I thought there was a certain irony in his saying it. Buddha had been doing speed for ten years or more and as far as I knew he did it every day. We snorted our lines and snorted some more; sure enough we were talking and philosophising into the small hours and beyond the dawn.

“You like it then?” asked Buddha.

“Aye we like it alright – its rocket fuel.” I replied.

“I could do you a lay on” he offered.

“I don’t know...”

“Take a couple of ounces – pay me next week – ye can flog it at a tidy profit and still have a bit for yersels.”

And so I left Buddha’s with two ounces of pure amphetamine sulphate and an ounce of sticky black hash in my pocket. Had I been pushed into it? No, I think I jumped, with a little persuasion.

“Well, where are we goin’ now?” enquired Belle.

“Back to my place,” I replied, “I just want to put my feet up and relax.”

“Let’s go for a drink,” suggested Belle.

“It’s six in the morning Belle.”

“I know a place that opens at six”

“I suppose I could use a couple of bloody Marys to settle my stomach.”

“Fuck that – I’m buying you six pints of lager!”


16 September 2016

Tough Love



I was five or six when my father decided that it was time I learned to swim. So one Saturday morning we set out together for the lido in the park. It was located close to where the new swimming baths are, but was a wholly Victorian affair that smelled like piss and chlorine. We went to separate cubicles to change before he took me by the hand and lead me to the deep end of the pool where he threw me in.

I sank like a stone. The shock made me inhale the water which burned as it invaded my nose, throat and lungs. I thrashed around trying instinctively to propel myself to the surface, but my efforts were futile and I sank ever deeper. Suddenly, strong arms scooped me up and hauled me to the surface. The lifeguard had dived in to rescue me before I drowned. He laid me on the floor as I spluttered and coughed up the stinging chlorinated water. He made sure I was alright and then rounded on my dad.

“That was a bloody stupid thing to do – it only takes a minute to drown you know!”

My father went beetroot. I could see the anger and embarrassment in his face, but he said nothing. He just glowered at the lifeguard as if it was he who was doing something wrong. Without a word he hauled me to my feet and marched me to the changing cubicles. He maintained his silence as he dressed me roughly before dragging me homeward. It was some time before he spoke.

“Don’t you ever humiliate me like that again.”

Then, after a moment’s consideration he added;

“Don’t you tell yer mother about this.”

I grew up with a phobia of water; just being close to a body of water filled me with fear. It was my girlfriend Linda who taught me how to swim and she did it with great patience and consideration. I never did enjoy swimming, but at least I knew I wasn’t going to drown and the terror of being near the water gradually abated.

My father was a great believer in ‘tough love’ and he never spared the rod. All his lessons contained the threat of violence, if not physical then mental. All he taught me was to fear him which was partly his objective. He seemed to confuse fear with respect and the more respect he demanded the more fearful I became. Yes, tough love is no love at all; real love engenders forbearance and it’s forbearance which fosters respect.


14 September 2016



we cling to the great curve

with our suicide pants

bunched around our ankles

and our arses hanging in the wind

we long ago abandoned

any pretence of modesty

and our protestations of innocence

sound ironic given our circumstances

the generation of conspicuous consumption

have full bellies and empty aspirations

all we seek in the theatre of distraction

is the instant gratification of minor vices

and the reassurance that we are good people

despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary


12 September 2016

The Big House


It was in the days following decimalisation when our pockets bulged with useless pennies. We’d take our coins down to the railway yard and place them on the tracks where great Type Two locomotives would squash them flat for us. I used to thrill at the passage of these hulking leviathans and marvel at the way the earth buckled under their weight. We were chased away from the yards many times and once or twice we were picked up by the railway police who admonished us and warned us of the dangers of playing there. Of course the stockyards were dangerous – that was part of the allure. There was century’s worth of crap in there – rotten wood, rusty iron and warped steel; heavy junk just made for boys to play with.

My ninth summer was the hottest on record; the Tarmac melted and children baked under the merciless rays of the relentless sun. We had spent the day in the yards chasing newts in the stagnant ponds and staging robberies in abandoned railway carriages. Now the setting sun was painting the world gold and it was time Jesse James and his gang hurried home to their mums. We were about to leave the yard when we noticed that Gordon was missing.

“Where’s Gordy?”

“Wiz he no wi you?”

“Naw – wiz eh no wi you?”

“Maybe he went hame”

“He wid huv said”

“Let’s split up – you go back tae the ponds an we’ll check the rails”

As the oldest boy I took charge of the search party which scoured the railway sidings. We climbed through derelict railway carriages and abandoned trucks calling Gordy’s name, but there was no reply. We were about to give up and call it a day when we found him. He was a crumpled heap left dumped on the ground beside the rails. It seemed to me that his frail little body had been folded in an unnatural manner by some unspeakable and callous hand. Thick brown blood oozed from his head and pooled on the ground around him. I had never seen blood that colour; I was sure no living thing bled that colour. Gordy gazed blankly into the evening sky; flies danced in the air around him and settled on his eyes in grim mockery of the living.

Wee Stu and Barry Evans were crying, but I did not cry – I think I was in shock. A dread fear had seized my heart – a fear which had no name but was recognized of old; my first taste of death was familiar and primal and I never forgot it. We gathered the boys from the ponds and ran to Gordy’s house to raise the alarm, but it was too late for alarms. It was too late for anything but tears.

In the coming days a strange silence had descended on my heart. I stayed close to home and played little, but thought much. One day I asked my mother what happens when you die, she did her best – God bless her – to comfort me.

“When you die you go to live in a big house where everyone you have ever known lives and everybody is happy forever and ever.”

My father had a different perspective entirely;

“When yer deed yer deed – there’s nothing – nae God, nae heaven, jist nothing. End of story. So stay away from that fuckin railway or I’ll fuckin kill ye myself.”

That first taste of death lingers a lifetime; years later when I over did they said I died three times on the way to hospital. I don’t remember much about it, but I know there was no big house, no friends and family awaiting me. What I do remember is the resurfacing of a long buried memory. I lay in that hospital bed with the image of Gordy’s face and that pool of thick brown blood swimming before my eyes and I wept like a child. I don’t know if I wept for me or for poor wee Gordy – perhaps I cried for us both – for the fragility of life and its impermanent nature.