Shakespeare’s Caesar: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…
I briefly thought about Keemo when lockdown began. Needing, in effect, new lungs, he was the highest-risk category. Then I forgot about him. Life gets in the way. Now I’ve found out he’s dead. I’ll remember him for his kindness.
After Robert’s death he brought Mary flowers. He attended the funeral with his wife and we had a laugh talking about the old times in Trafalgar Street. I asked how he was getting on. Alright, is the usual reply. But he’d tubes in his nose, and told me about waiting for a transplant.
Keemo was waiting for someone else to die so he could get their lungs. Somebody younger. That’s the reality of a tissue match. As an old soldier, he knew the odds were dwindling.
Then we’d Covid-19. Triage takes place in the NHS. All those waiting for treatment of one kind or another are put on hold and in a very long queue. His odds were shortening even more.
Your lungs don’t just make sure you breathe it also works the blood. Try running a car without oil. Red blood cells don’t behave in the ways they should. Pain, pain and more pain. Old soldiers never complain.
He’d a wife and three kids to worry about. The psychological effect of holding out the chance of treatment and then taking it away is comparable with first-world war troops in trenches. They were told they were going over the top—then told to stand down. Old soldiers grow bone weary, the hope in their eyes gradually extinguished.
We’ve had the best weather since that summer of 1974 when Keemo was born, but it was a winter of discontent, and a miners’ strike that toppled the government. We’d already tried the three-day week. Everybody backed Red Rum in the Grand National and even the Scottish Grand National. Bookies complained they’d go bust. Celtic made it nine-in-a-row. Scotland beat England at rugby. The Waltons and Porridge were on the telly. The New Seekers, ‘who’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony,’ split up. A good year to be born for a future army boy.
The 1980s was a time of mass unemployment (the current depression and mass unemployment will be much worse) but the army, as always, were recruiting. He ticked all the boxes. Ginger. Red-faced. Loved the Rangers. Sign on the dotted line for a twenty-year stint with the First and Third Battalion, Argyle and Southern Highlanders.
I met Keemo in the Drop Inn, obviously. He got hooked in to playing a few games for our pub team. He was one of the lads.
After Barry Brennan’s funeral, as we waited outside to clap the wrong hearse, Lainey mentioned that it was also Terry Ross’s anniversary. Twenty-odd years since his death. It got me thinking I could maybe write something, a book of those that I knew that had died. A memorial to remember people like us, with 50% profits to the Golden Friendship and Jim McLaren. I joked about including Wullie Dalziel, but never gave Keemo a thought.
Obviously, it was easy to start with Robert Russell. Then Terry Ross and Pieman and Benny Hagen from school. All died young. Then my own brother, Stephen. Stevie Mitchell (and his daughter, Stacey). Hamish, Ikey, Matt Collins, Tam Mc Swiggan, Jim Largactil. Old Archie Smith (Charisma) with a voice like a grand piano, bickering with his brother John, while sitting on a plastic bag to stop him getting his good suit wet and peeing on the covered seats in the lounge bar. Callum Ballantyne and Harry his da, the man with the shell suit and sponge. Rab Pickering, the only man ever to be evicted from Drumchapel by Glasgow housing. And Rab junior, leukaemia, and serial shagger of the bar staff. Joe Reddick, who whistled down women, like a dog catcher. Ian Betty, Sweaty Betty with the one eye. Maggie Fyfe, who once wandered into my house and wandered back out again, after I pointed her in the direction of the door, but she couldn’t find the canal bridge and returned confused. I’d like to tell you there was a happy ending here, but she too died, waving not drowning. Lainey’s mum was called Bagwash for some reason. Keemo would know why. Barra McGaghey, Jim Carlisle and Maurice (whose second name I forget, but who lived beside Alan) who threatened to kill himself – and did. Billy Wilson, captain of the pool team, but only because I let him. Benny McCann, ‘hallo son’, he’d say because he’d forgotten your name. Gordon Abrahams who’d tell you a joke and forget the punchline, but he’d laugh so much it was funny. Davy, Tibb’s dad. The old guy with the ambulance he’d done up to tour Scotland, ‘the wagon’ he called it, but never had a license. Typical punter. Sandy McQuillan, Benny’s pal, who’d talk out of the side of his mouth as if everything was a secret- which it was. George Norwood and the nine o’clock gang who shuffled off to the Park Bar, and then beyond that. Davy McCallum, the boy that went missing, never to be found. Keemo knew them all, and knew him better than anyone, just as he knew Robert.
Keemo’s not missing, but is missed. His family torn apart. He fought the good fight. The one we all lose. Too early. Too soon. An army boy does not reason why. It was his turn to go over the top. The rest of us make our own mind up and think we’ve got a choice. Forever young. He was a kind soul. We are diminished. RIP.