From NCR754 to New Lairdsland Rd via 754/NCR754.
Average speed 19 miles-per-hour. Distance 38.3 miles.
Bod, my wee brother, was still in lockdown mode, hoarding Digestive biscuits and t-bags, but he lived in Grangemouth and they’re used to that kind of things. I chapped his door. He peeked through the letterbox, his knuckles showing (this was getting ridiculous, one eye up, the other down).
I explained to his knuckles and squinty eyes about the Tour de Falkirk. How Andy Rat, LB and me had cycled through from Clydebank. Red nosed as alkies chasing the dream of unlimited opening hours. Not really to see him, but since he lived locally and it was handy, we’d appreciate a quick cuppa tea and perhaps a Digestive biscuit.
‘That’s fifty miles,’ he said.
Sweat poured from me. The wee woman, next door, came out with a mop to clean the third-floor landing without need for a bucket. Falkirk quines were canny that way.
Bod growled, ‘Who do yeh, think yous are – Dominic Cummings?’ Fuck off back to Dalmuir, where you came from.’ His letterbox snapped shut.
We watched the wee woman washing the floor.
LB’s putty coloured legs had slowed earlier on the cycle path to under nineteen-miles-an hour on the cycle path to a pensioner trickle.
I’d shouted ahead and around the bend of overgrown grass and low-hanging branches of trees, ‘Whit’s the problem?’
‘Have you run over another unaccompanied immigrant child trying to swim the knolly and get entry into Clydebank?’
Andy hammered it, drawing up beside my freewheeling bike. His handlebars had become loose after an unexplained bump on the gritty canal path earlier.
‘Nah,’ LB turned his glistening dome to look back at me. ‘Check that out.’
He’d been entranced by a fat bottomed girl on a pink bike.
‘She’s creating a bottleneck,’ Andy remarked.
‘Wow,’ LB almost swallowed his tongue. ‘I know whit I’d dae with that.’
The woman mopping the floor had no pink bike, but a similar rhythm to a pole-dancer.
‘Very professional,’ said Andy.
‘You comin the cunt,’ she snapped.
I translated for Andy since he’d never been to Falkirk, never mind Grangemouth. ‘You coming the cunt?’
Bod’s knuckles reappeared. ‘Fuck off hame.’
I said to the wee quine, ‘Whit is it wae the streets of Grangemouth, up past the swimming baths and the pavements lined with fat, ugly, balding men, clapping us, as if we were NHS workers—and not just boy racers.’
Her yellow acrylic goonie showing speed bumps, she sidled in beside me brandishing her mop. ‘You gonnae sweat any mair? She licked lipstick off the lower part of her falsers.
Bod poked his fingers through the letterbox and gave us the Winston Churchill victory sign. ‘Fuck off.’
The wee wifie leaned against me to adjust her breasts. She wasn’t very tall, but she made up for it by being very broad. Her tits were the Falkirk equivalent of builders’ bum, inflatables, something to grab onto when the ship went under. She had to work her feet hard to keep them in line.
‘You’re in there.’ LB gave one of his trademark, stuttering, laughs.
‘You ken,’ she said, ‘It’s the 30th May.’
‘I thought it was the 29th, said Andy.
We stared at him, and he took off his specs and cleaned the lenses.
‘No, you ken, it’s the 30th and you ken whit that means?’
LB wondered away to check the lock on his bike. Andy stroked his chin, where he used to cultivate a beard.
‘Is it UFO day?’ I hazarded a guess.
A day when the good people of Grangemouth came out to claim wee flying balls of light left in lock-up garages, disc-shaped objects, unsmoked—aliens had left behind. Other people, outsiders, and unmasked conspiracy doubters said didn’t exist.
‘No, yah, loon,’ she said, grabbing my hand. ‘It’s fallen women day.’
‘Whit does that mean?’ said Andy, who hadn’t read the same biblical texts as me.
She explained it better and blinked a lot as if she’d oversized eyelashes stuck in her hazel eyes. ‘This whole street is full of fallen women. The council moved us here after wee-bit, bitter, complaints from tarts that couldn’t keep their men happy—they were just jealous.’
I turned and looked at his front door. ‘How come my wee brother lives here then?’
He waved at me through the letterbox, ‘Because I asked to get a house, here. Are you mad? No just fuck off hame. No more will be said.’
I was catching on quick and even LB, who’d come back, was smiling.
‘So it’s a bit like Notting Hill, without the mandatory cut-out photograph of a smiling black policeman – without any kind of law and order at all?’
‘You must have kenned about it,’ she snorted. ‘Outraged letters to the Falkirk Herald, calling it a waste of taxpayers’ money.’ She laughed. ‘We don’t pay any tax, so put that in your crack pipe and smoke it.’
Andy pointed his finger in the general direction of her tits. ‘So are you, one of them fallen woman?’
‘I’m on the third floor, getting on a bit. If you want the real fallen women you need to go to the ground-floor flats. Those girls have a bit of a reputation to upkeep—but I dae my best, yeh ken?’
‘I’ve no brought any money wae me,’ I said.
Andy shrugged. He never brought any money, because it would slow him down.
LB swigged down a drink.
‘I’ll do anything for a Lucozade Isotonic,’ she said.
‘We’re in,’ said Andy.
‘Need to watch your time,’ LB rubbed at his forehead and checked his two watches, synchronising them.
‘Any Digestive biscuits?’ I asked her.
‘Yeh ken, I can snap a Digestive biscuit into four with my fanny?’
I looked around. ‘But there’s only three of us.’
Bod flung open his double-locked door and stood clutching a packet of Jaffa Cakes.
‘You know I can always accommodate you and your Jaffa Cakes, Bod.’
But she pulled my arm, instead of his, guiding me towards her door and the high-volume, face-the-music behind it. ‘And the girls from the first-floor can put on a bit of a show for you and your friends.’
‘Wait, until I nip in and get my Tetley,’ said Bod.
‘Any cocaine?’ LB rubbed his hands and laughed. ‘I’m aff the fags and cocaine kills the craving, but as long as Carla doesn’t find out, she willnae mind…’
‘Och, she’ll never find out,’ I said. ‘Member that time we said we were going to the pub for an Old Firm game and ended up on a Zeebrugger to Amesterdam. Stayed for a week, shitfaced—and she never found out about that—did she?’
‘Nah,’ he admitted. ‘She just thought I was a bit peaky. But that was before we had the dog.’ He pushed out his chest, not as far as his belly, but a pregnant, manful, attempt. ‘I’ve got responsibilities noo.’
‘That was a great weekend,’ said Andy. ‘What was the score?’
‘I think we won about 5—0, I wasn’t really paying much attention to the game.’
‘That’s right,’ he said, ‘Dembele, or even Johnny fuckin Hayes. Who cares?’
‘Well,’ I said to LB, ‘I never thought a fat fuck like yourself would be able to cycle the length of yerself.’
‘Fuck it,’ LB brushed past me, more like his old self. ‘My legs are all wobbly. Where’s the marching powder?’
Bod handed me the Jaffa Cakes. ‘I’ll no be needing these…can I join yer bike gang?’
‘Nah,’ I shook my head.