Funerals are more modern now. A Celebration of the Life of Henry Ballantyne. I always knew him as Harry. I’d have never have guessed he was a Henry. Instead of some dirge of a hymn, Neil Diamond for the Entrance Music and America as the first track, and for the Retiral Music (that’s when they shut the curtains in the crematorium and usher you outside) Crackling Rosie (Cracklin’ Rosie) also by Neil Diamond. When we were standing outside the crematorium the joke was the first hymn would be the Sash and the last hymn would be the Sash. I recognised many familiar faces. All getting older. All nearer being the next one measured for the sliding box and hiding behind the curtains. A game nobody wants to win.
In the middle we had a Christian service and the hymn Abide With Me. That’s the boring bit. You wait for the vicar to tell you something new. That Harry was really Henry and all those years of supporting Rangers was a ploy to hide his deep love for Celtic. He did tell me a few things I didn’t know. A good story always starts at the beginning. Jesus and the wise men following the star and saying to them don’t go there, that’s where Harry lives in Trafalgar Street. Harry managed the Park Bar. Don’t go there. I never knew that. He was born in Townhead in November 1942, when the German Luftwaffe were blitzkrieging Clydebank. Harry would have told you they were after him. He might have been right. Harry worked in John Brown’s shipyard as a sheet-metal worker. Odds on that’s where he got asbestosis. Asbestos was cheaper than worker’s wages, fire resistant and easily cut into any pattern. Great for boats, not good for lungs or hearts. I didn’t know Harry then. I only knew young Harry his son and Callum (deceased).
Abide with me. Harry (senior) would be around the age, mid-fifties, when I met him. He favoured the purple shell suit and tartan bunnet. I think he dragged it into fashion. Over the years that look didn’t change much or grow old. You probably remember films such as the Mean Machine, with Burt Reynolds, when the grizzled old coach comes up to Burt and, out of the side of his mouth, says something like: ‘we’re putting a team together that’s going to beat the prison guards.’ Then came the big question. ‘You in or out?’ You’d ask a daft question like is Tam Scanlon in the team? And when you found out not only was he in the team, but was assistant manager, there could only be one answer and that was ‘Naw, Harry, are you fuckin’ mad?’
Daft question. For the record, the prison guards won almost every game. Our pub team specialised in glorious defeat. Harry would shake his head and smile and blame the ref, even if he was the ref. He’d blame the park. Too big. Too small. They’ve played on grass before. And who could forget Harry and the magic sponge. One bucket. One sponge and a spray of Ralgex to cure everything from gravel rash, broken leg to baldness. When Harry ran on with his bucket, anybody with a brain, and let’s face it, there weren’t many of us that way inclined, would roll off the park and start running. The best thing about playing for Dalmuir, apart from Harry, was our fans. They were legendary and a lot better than the team. Who can forgot the cup final or semi-final where everybody played at being wrecked, probably Terry Ross was the worst (RIP) and nobody been fit enough to drive the coach home and nobody could remember the score. Harry would, because Harry remembered everything. All he had to do was tweek his tactics. We’d get it right next week. We had a pint and relived those days often. Rest in peace Harry, we had a blast.