I could never call Mr McLaughlin, Hugh. He was always Mr McLaughlin, a wee, square and blokeish, old man that lived across the road from us, back in the day when everybody that was adult was old, apart from your own mum and dad, who weren’t old because they were your mum and dad. Times have changed, now everybody’s old. I was trying to work out Mr McLaughlin’s age before the mass and came up with three separate answers, one of which would made Mr McLaughlin older than Methuselah, but his first name was Hugh, so I checked my arithmetic and I checked the photo on the front of the Requiem Mass leaflet. I wasn’t sure what they were trying to sell. Even dead people blog now. And there’s Hugh McLaughlin staring out at us, silver hair, square specs and a ruddy face, wearing a grey pullover and a checked blue shirt, staring out at us. Just the way I remembered him. Not wheezing or out of breath. And there’s another photo on the back. Mr McLaughlin as a younger man, suited up, white flower in the pinhole, Anne his wife on his arm, white wedding dress, standing on some church steps. They were quite small. So that would have saved the wedding photographer from ducking down.
I didn’t know Hugh, I only knew Mr McLaughlin. One of those men you always seen trailing up and down the hill with his wife stapled to his left arm. Mr McLaughlin got Alzheimer’s in later years. Maybe he thought every day was his wedding day and couldn’t let go. His daughter Catherine did the eulogy. She reminded us what a nice guy he was. How he’d left school at 14 and delivered laundry on a bike. That must have been difficult, keeping the sheets out of the front wheel. But not as difficult as avoiding the Clydebank Blitz. Yeh, young Hugh was there. He wasn’t even married to Ann at that time. Catherine said he’d met her around 1966 at the dancing, that den of wickedness and vice. That’s what I call a fast forward, but not as forward as Hugh. Her mum thought Hugh though himself a bit ‘gallus’. I’m not making this up. The old bloke was once considered ‘gallus’.
The newly married couple moved into Hugh’s mum’s house in Dickens Avenue. They were one of the first tenants in the street. Four-in-a-block, steel huts with a roof. Gerry-built, which was fair enough, as the Luftwaffe did a great demolition job. Young Hugh stayed with him mum, and originally an uncle who’d been in the First World War. I remember his mum because she was blind. Blind people then were like celebrities. You didn’t see any of them. And she slipped you sweets when you visited. But maybe she thought she was slipping the sweets to Hugh’s first-born, Michael, or Catherine that looked so much like her mum that people mistook her in later years for a doppelganger, or granny thought she was slipping sweets to the baby of the family, Mark. Hugh, we were told, went to work at six am and came home at six pm. Dowson and Downy was his fist proper job and he worked on the Titan crane in Clydebank when it was a workhorse and not a big ornament. Then he worked in Coulport. Fast Lane. He retired pronto at sixty, medically retired because of his lungs. He’d told me that they’d retired him, but it annoyed him when the doctors pronounced him fit for work, but not in the engineering field. Yeh, that happened, even then.
Catherine real show-stopper was when she told us Mr McLaughlin fancied himself as a bit of a Rabbie Burns. A wee courin timour beastie, making poems up in his breastie and comin home and letting the wains know that there da may be old, but there’s more to man’s life than you know. Amen, Mr McLaughlin, R.I.P.