Peter (Barra) McGachy died on Friday 13th December. I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere. Barra was a bit of a bard, one of life’s storytellers. He would be saying, ‘C’mon, Friday the 13th for fuck sake’. He’d one of those gritty voices that came from a mineshaft below his feet and echoed up through his body. His throaty laugh was a bit like that, an invitation to stop fucking about, get a drink and enjoy your life. And his moustache, most people remember his moustache. Even when he shaved it off, it was six months before I noticed. It was like the queen with her corgi dogs, you just expected it to be there. His moustache was a corgi dog, tail wagging, and a tale there somewhere.
But he wouldn’t thank you for mentioning him in the same breath as the queen. At his funeral I was surprised to hear he was a socialist. Look around for the cheapest, most dilapidated van outside Dunswin Court, burst tyres, beer mat for tax disc – that’s anarchy for you.
Barra worked in the yards, a welder. I didn’t know that. Didn’t know about his wife and family. Just a guy I knew from the buroo club and fitba, thirty years ago, when gravel parks were the AstroTurf of our day. Barra loved fitba. Loved Celtic. Used to slide into the booth beside me in Mountie and watch the games on the big screen. Play pool with him in the Drop Inn. Saw him in the snooker hall. He did the commentary on the glory years. We’re old enough to remember the other mob that bought nine titles on tic. And even the time before that the Lisbon Lions. Nine flags flying over Paradise.
I’m not going to start greeting or anything like that. We weren’t great pals. I knew where he came from Belmont Street in Whitecrook and the Bisley. Little Ireland. Men worked in the yards, the Proddies got all the best jobs and divvied up the other shite and allowed the Catholics to toil in the dirtiest, lowest paid work. No surrender comes in many forms. Good to hear Barra was a shop steward and employed his gift of the gab.
When Barra was born in 1956, Ferenc Puskás threatened to flee Hungary during a visit to Scotland by the national team, seek asylum, and play for Celtic. All along the Clyde the yards were shut down by strikes over guaranteed pay. We all know the story of shipyard owners who had made their millions claiming they would be forced out of business unless caulkers, burners and platers were reasonable. A familiar ring we here every day now.
Billy Connolly talks about the funny men in the yards. That’s Barra. I’m sure he’d have told the Parkhead hierarchy he could speak Hungarian in the same way he convinced me he could play in goals despite being legless. If he’d negotiated for the welders he’d have been reasonably unreasonable. A zip in his trousers at the back, as he explained, for emergency purposes only. Christmas lights on his hat so he could go to the gaffer and, honestly, tell him, he was feeling a bit light-headed. Barra had a sense of the absurd and we all need that to leaven our everyday work and worries.
I had to laugh at one of the family photos. That could have been my family, or most of the families I knew. Dad standing at the back as Irish looking as a potato. Mum in the middle of the couch, broad presence, centre of the family –I’m not even sure if it’s his family. There should be a wee sister there but it’s all young boys. Barra grinning at the front, smoothed down hair, big jug ears, tan coloured, V-neck school jumper, shirt and dark tie. Gallus, ready to leap up and get on with some mischief. He didn’t have a moustache then, but did have nudie books, he was only about ten. Photos cost money, but you see consumerism creeping into view. An Electrolux hoover and that looks like a record player. A family on the up and up.
How quickly we become frail and fall. Barra, father and grandfather, was buried by those who loved him. It was good to see such a turn-out at the crematorium. I’ve been up that way a few times already this year. And I’m sure if I hang about long enough it will be my turn too. I think I can hear Barra’s laughter.