ALEX CATHCART Nostalgically Speaking Imagination is Money

Nostalgically Speaking
Imagination is Money
AT HER WINDOW, high above the Merchant City of Glasgow, Charlotte looked out. She saw a silver moon set in a dark blue sky with twinkling stars. She could hear the steps of the tobacco barons in their buckled shoes, hear them as they talked of their ships due in from the colonies, and without listening too hard she could almost hear them sneeze as they sniffed up their snuff and clacked shut their little silver snuffboxes. Dark sky, silver moon, twinkling stars, and the old Glasgow and its people she could see in her mind’s eye – how she longed to write about that. There was a time it would have been possible. But Charlotte had traded her gift for the salary and the car and the prestige of being a Public Relations Officer with British Telecom. If there was guilt in her feelings on an evening like this, there was also a terrible sense of loss. And there was also anger.
Charlotte turned a little and looked back into the room. David still sat in his boucled leather armchair, the one he loved, the one he had rescued when his boss threatened to throw it out. He was poring over some client’s papers. How strange, thought Charlotte, that a person in such a dry-as-dust job as Investments Analyst could live with such a latent romantic as herself. Perhaps it was because they were opposite they co-habited so well. Charlotte had wanted to get married – David pointed out the tax advantages, Charlotte had wanted a cottage in the country – David had pointed to the desirability of future profit-taking based upon the rising house price potential in the Merchant City. Yet underneath it all, Charlotte was sure David was a romantic, somewhere.
In the full moon and the clear night, and far over, Charlotte could just make out the silhouette of the statue of John Knox set high on his plinth, overlooking the Merchants Graveyard. She had been in that graveyard once, years ago. One fine summer’s day she had climbed its hill, stood at John Knox’s monument, and looked over the whole of the City, but the view had been spoiled then by the smoke from the factories and the shipyards and the graveyard peace had been disturbed by men in brown overalls as they worked in the brewery below. The factories were away now, maybe another walk up might be worth a look. Might be able to see the Garden Festival from up there. Should be able to see the big Loop-the-Loop at least. Fantastic how they put whole train loads of people through these loops and hoops, so fast. So fast they could only yell and giggle as it happened to them.
Charlotte felt the moon and the stars work their wonders, drawing her up, until she was wrapped around by the blue blanket sky, suspended, as Lois Lane was suspended in the first Superman film. From up, amongst the sky, she could look down and see it all, see it all laid out in the model in the Real Estate Agent’s office, only more real, more alive. There, over there, there was the bridge where William Wallace had led his men into Glasgow; and there, there was where Bonnie Prince Charlie had stayed as he waited for his tribute. There was the Green where the weavers had rioted, and where Glasgow’s first Trade Union people had met. And there was the court-house the rent-strikers had put under siege in 1914. That siege which had threatened to overthrow a government, and had won a Bill to provide council housing for the people. Looking, it was easy to see the crowds surrounding the court-house, cheer the women who led while their men were at war, and cry as their leaders were set free by order of the English Parliament. Charlotte felt excited and knew she could write this into a good book about a man fighting at the front while his wife fought at home and he would be brave and she would be brave and he would win a medal and arrive home after being posted missing just in time to see her freed and they would kiss and all the people would get nice new homes in the country.
Further over she could see George Square where her father had told her there had once been machine-guns aimed against the people.
Charlotte stepped away from the window.
“David. David. Are you finished?”
David clicked his pen. “Almost darling. I’m just entering a free competition. I’m increasing my Banker’s Order to the Labour Party. Goes into a free draw, gives me the chance to win a free, signed photograph of Neil.”
Charlotte smiled. This was another reason why she had fallen for David – his quiet radicalism. David never spoke much about his membership of the Labour Party, or his politics at all, really. Only now and again, when he’d been mixing gin with his pints of lager, would she hear him mumble and mutter to some old University crony words like, ‘Gramsci’, or, ‘bloody London boroughs’. But he only teased her and laughed a little when she spoke up for David Owen. He was liberal enough in that way. Charlotte crossed over and kneeled beside the chair, touching his thigh. The pile of paper looked impressive. Charlotte thumbed through the corners of the pile. “That was a lot of work to bring home.” “Yes. It was. No alternative, really. Black Monday. Given us all a few headaches, Charlotte.” “Mmm.”
“Oh. Reminds me. Might not be any bonus this year, so we may just have to look at our projections for next year all over again.”
“No bonus? And you’re still bringing work home? David, you’re too, too…” The mot juste was escaping, “…too loyal.”
David kissed her on the forehead. “It’s not for the Company, darling. Not really. It’s for all those little people out there that invested in equities instead of trusts. They’re only ordinary folk like you and me. That’s what I bring work home for. I’m afraid they jumped in on a Bull market, and were a teensy bit over­exposed when it turned to the big bad Bear. But if I can help them, I will.”
“David. And here I am nagging you too. Tell you what, let’s go out tonight. Oh, come on. We’ll go downstairs to ‘The Wee Peever Bed’.”
David gave her another of those nice kisses on the forehead. “Now there’s an idea.”
Charlotte and David simply slung on their plain blousons, Charlotte tying a silk scarf around her neck, before casually shoving it up onto her right shoulder.
As Charlotte waited for David to lock the locks and put on the infra-red, she looked along the narrow corridor. Someone at the far end had put out a small table with a potted plant on top. “Oh, David, look at that. Maybe we could do that. Takes the bare look off the concrete.” “Mmm. Suppose so.”
They went downstairs, out through the security door, and crossed the narrow, newly cobbled street, and went into The Wee Peever Bed pub.
The customers at the bar were tightly bunched in groups at either end. No-one leaned on the centre portion of the brass rail that ran the length of the dark wooden counter. The rail gleamed like a tube of pure gold. David and Charlotte looked at each other and laughed. Tonight was Peever Night.
They took the only table available, set in the corner of the raised section. A waiter came to them. Across his arm hung a white towel with two red stripes down its middle between which were the words: Glasgow Corporation Baths. He handed over the menu-card. This week it was the one that looked like the lid of an old shoe-polish tin. The waiter was a new chap. He waited. The man was a bit on the small side. This made his grey flannel short trousers come a little lower than the usual mid-leg. His grey, tattered woollen jersey had its two buttons open at the top, and two long hairs peeked out from his throat. The black socks with the white rings were pulled down over his clumpy boots. One of the boots had its toecap torn free and it pointed upward. “Anything to drink?” the man asked. “Two Perrier water, please” answered David. Charlotte nodded as the man looked at her. The worn-out toecap flapped as the man walked away, brushing a hand through his hair, which was cut short as though with a bowl to guide the shearer.
David held up his menu-card and spoke to Charlotte without looking at her. “I know that lad.” “Who? Him? The waiter?”
“Yeh. Worked in Scott Lithgow’s shipyard with my older brother. Welder I think he was.” “Was he? Really? Must say he’s waiting as though he’s done it all his life.”
“Adaptability, Charlotte. Key to success nowadays. Got to invest your money
and talents in the coming things. Like this,” he waved a hand around,
“Nostalgia. Money in this game today, you know. Must agree though. The man looks the part. What you having?”
“Oh, I don’t know, Chucky Stane soup looks attractive.”
“That’s just kidney beans.”
“Oh know-all. As if I didn’t know. I’ll just have a main course: Lits de Peever a
Maitre.”
“Yeh. I’ve had that before, It’s good actually. O.K., well I’ll try the Hopscotch
Pie, and follow with some, eh, Caramel d’Un Franc.”
The waiter returned with their drinks and took the order. As the man wrote, David tried to converse. “You’re new aren’t you?”
The man nodded, but did not look up from his writing.
“What do they call you then?”
“Jimmy” “Oh.”
“That’s it?”
“That’ll do for now thanks.”
Charlotte leaned over. “Talkative, wasn’t he?” David shrugged.
The cutlery was set out by a girl dressed in a pink dress made in some kind of satin material. Charlotte thought that the mud-stains on the front were quite tastefully arranged. In the girl’s hair was loosely tied white ribbon, which had a longer trailing end which dangled over her forehead. David ordered Beaujolais.
The male waiter brought the meals, and from somewhere Glenn Miller music began. The place was pretty full for a week-night. Some couples came in, stood just inside the door, looked, and went out again.
As Dave and Charlotte finished their meal, the lights round the edge of the bar and restaurant areas dimmed, leaving only a rectangle of bright light shining down in front of the bar counter. People at the front of the bar lifted their drinks and moved. Some were asked to move by Jimmy. These tables and chairs were pulled back. On the floor, in the space under the light, was the Peever Bed, set out on the tiles. Three lines of three square boxes, white-edged, as if done by the traditional pipe clay, while the semi-circular boundary around the number 10 at the top was done in great whorls of pink. The waitress in the pink dress came forward, knelt in front of the centre-row of boxes. The numbers were painted yellow, 1, 2, 3. To claps and shouts the girl rubbed her peeverstane on the floor, backwards and forwards, then let it go. It slid easily into box 1. The girl hopped in after it and began hitting the stane into all the boxes, and hopping after it. In box 10 she leaned over from her hopping position, lifting her free leg up high behind her. The young bucks cheered. One or two or three knelt down behind her, shouting. The girl carried on. She reached fivesie. Each time she lifted her leg up, more cheers came. When she reached sixie, the man called Jimmy slid his peever into box 1, and began hopping around, taking care not to interfere with the girl, who carried on, timing her hops to miss his. But Jimmy fell. The customers cheered.
After fifteen minutes the employees stopped playing, and the customers took over, hopping and falling, and laughing as they lay. Some kicked their legs in the air as they lay.
“Why don’t you have a go, David?”
“Who me? Oh no. Not me. Anyway from what I can see the fun is to do it when you’re drunk.”
One man captured the attention of the crowd. Dressed in a white jacket and black tight trousers, he was hopping with style, standing erect on one leg, holding his arms up straight, high, while scowling at the peever bed. “Looks like a cross between John Travolta and a matador, don’t you think?” said Charlotte.
“Maybe. I think it’s the jacket though.”
The wine was finished. David inclined his head. Charlotte nodded. He signalled the waitress with some difficulty. Her attention was on John Jose Travolta. But at last she came over. David paid by Visa. He did not tip. Often he had stopped Charlotte from tipping, telling her that the only way to get Glasgow tourism going was to drag it away from the attitudes of servility rampant in the service sector, and epitomised by the eager acceptance of tips. Charlotte knew it was really just him and his politics again. She knew Socialists did not give tips. David was looking at his watch. “I think we should go, Charlotte. We’ve got work in the morning, remember.”
“O.K., but I know you’re just after my body.”
“Oh not tonight, darling. I’m pretty tired.”
“Oh we’ll see.”
“No seeing about it. I’m really tired.”
They left just as another customer fell flat on his back and guffawed, while the crowd cheered. The man called Jimmy did not return David’s nod. Outside, a wetness had settled over the tops of the cobbles. David fell. Charlotte laughed and hauled him up. “Maybe you should have tried the peever after all.” she said. David said nothing. At the security door Charlotte drew David’s attention to the names behind the little slits of light. “Did you see that one, David? That’s a new one.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, Charlotte. That name’s been there well over a month now.”
“Oh.”
Once upstairs and finally in, Charlotte made them both hot chocolate. When it was ready she found that David was already in bed, his bedside reading lamp pulled over to shine on the book he was balancing on his knees. Charlotte worried about the duvet cover as he took the chocolate clumsily. The design was taken from a nineteenth century document. A stain would really spoil it.
“Thanks” said David. He jabbed a finger on the book. “This De Lorean was
some man, you know. I mean even allowing everything. Quite a deicision-
maker.”
“Was he?” The tone made David look, but he did not pursue anything.
Charlotte undressed, putting her clothes neatly into their little shelf-boxes in the old plain wardrobe they had bought at an auction and had painted white. The long strips of tape had been David’s idea, and although one or two strips were turning up at the ends they did make it kind of Mackintoshy. Settling herself into bed, Charlotte leaned over, picking up her mug of chocolate, and cupped it in both hands. She sipped and stared in the far-off kind of way.
“David?”
“Mmm?”
“Do you think I could write a book about a Glasgow pirate captain that comes back to his home in the old quarter and finds his wife playing peever like that girl – only in a really rough tavern with lots of bad types about – and discovers she’s under the influence of the local gambler, or something?”
David pushed his lamp away, lay down, stretched out, turned it off, leaving Charlotte in her own light. “Charlotte, there is no doubt about it. You’re living in the best part of Glasgow for atmosphere. I must say it certainly seems to be stimulating your imagination. A story like that should make a bomb. Goodnight, Charlotte.”
Charlotte placed her chocolate on the bedside table, and turned her light off. Outside, through the bedroom window, she could see the silver moon, and the dark blue sky, and a few twinkling stars.

From:
Workers City “The Real Glasgow Stands Up”
Edited By Farquar McLay Clydeside Press

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