Terry Ross R.I.P. (25th Anniversary of his death)

Because we couldn’t go to the crematorium, we congregated outside the Drop Inn to do that clappy-tribute thing before Barry Brennan’s funeral. Laney Halley, with a toxic shock of blonde hair, and skin so pale—as if her parents were ghosts and not alkies, like the rest of us—whispered it was also Terry Ross’s anniversary. He’d been dead for over 25 years.

When Terry Ross was born at the tail-end of 1962, quarter a million Glaswegians hung out of tenement windows and crowded the pavements, in torrential rain, to cheer the passing of a cavalcade of tram ‘caurs’. From London Road to Eglinton Toll, people placed half-pennies on the tracks and wept. And right on time, one of the trams broke down.   

Terry drank in my local, the Drop Inn. He told me, ‘I don’t go out any mair’.

‘Neither dae I,’ I picked up my pint of heavy from the table. In the low light, fag smoke soaked into our t-shirts and denims, although neither of us smoked. With a ringing sound, my pint knocked against the dregs of lager in his glass, almost knocking over the other empties.

We’d a bellyful of Bono whining on the jukebox, ‘All was quiet on New Year’s day…’ and he had to runaway, but U2 droned on, like the high-flying American spy plane counterpart on a mindless, forever, mission.  Fergus McCann had come in as the new broom to sweep out Parkhead and stop Rangers winning nine-in-a-row.

The curry-shop smell followed us as we fell into step in the lane behind the pub. He lived at the top end of the street with Laney and his daughter, Teri the terror tot, and baby Jack. Trafalgar Street tenements hadn’t yet been renovated. I’d walk up on to the canal path and across the bridge. We’d talk about the old days, now that we didn’t bother going out.

Terry’s older brother, Wullie, died when he was twelve-years-old, before I’d gone to secondary school. He’d fallen from inside a tenement loft in Dalmuir while trying to catch doos. The French feminised them, called them la pigeonnier and built cathedrals for them, but only the nobility were allowed to breed them. He was a talented footballer, Celtic wanted to sign him. Terry had that goal-scoring knack too, but didn’t seem interested in training, or anything too organised. 

Since he’d moved to Dalmuir, Terry’s wee sister, Denise, visited our pub. She’d the same shaggy, straw-coloured hair as him, and pushed her big square specs higher on her nose. A nervous trait. She sat upright like an old-fashioned puggy-machine jammed full of tenner bags in the wrong slot. She’d lost half her arm by injecting a dirty word into her veins, which made her a faceless nobody.

She snorted, ‘You used to be Jack O’Donnell, didn’t yeh?’

Darkness on Dumbarton Road made square mirrors of the pub’s latticed windows. But I was blind to my hair falling like pine needles from the top of the tree.  Bald men, of course, all looked the same, nothing like me: pink heads racked together like snooker balls until you whacked them with your cue, but you could only do that in the bar and we were in the lounge.

On our first day at secondary school, Terry asked my cousin, big Fudgie, for ‘a square go’ around the back of the P.E. block. Dade Simpson approached and claimed me. The Whitecrook team were trying to put us interlopers in our place.  Terry was their gang ringleader.

Our uniform was sweat-encrusted denim jacket and matching flared trousers, a small army of gold-buttoned Chairman Maos. Wrangler was king. Then Levi. Then Wrangler again. You could shape a plastic bag into a ship and sail it on your forehead to keep the rain from spoiling your feather-cut hairstyle, but hats were for old fossils on the telly.

Dee’s had a menswear shop across from Marathon, which had been John Brown’s shipyard. Dandruff spotted the fat guy’s pinstripe shoulders where he hung a tape measure. He peered through the door—daring you to venture inside. His jowls trembled when he balanced the machine on the counter that ate Provie cheques, ironed them, and spat them out in blue duplicate with a clunk. He had you. Your mum smiling beside you, a snapshot, guarantor of your trendiness.

My da, Dessy, knew how to deal with such grasping folk. He followed the honoured tradition of whacking the gaffer on a Friday. And picked up his books and started a new job on the Tuesday. Monday was for resting your knuckles. But when jobs weren’t plentiful, he couldn’t whack the gaffer on a Friday, or even a Thursday.  He turned down a job with the council, because he said he wanted to do a bit of work.

Terry’s da had it right. He was a bin man and followed the unwritten council rule of job-and-finish, and being in the pub for lunchtime. Curiously, he signed sick notes to our registration teacher, O’Leary, in handwriting remarkably similar to his son’s: ‘Terry Ross’s dad’.

The redbrick Beattie’s Biscuit factory faced our school gates. A tanker delivered chocolate and it was pumped into tanks, much like petrol was delivered to a petrol-station forecourt . Terry sneaked up, unhooked the pipe when the driver was inside, and filled plastic bags with chocolate, which he sold around the school for ten pence a bag.

‘Keep the edge,’ Terry muttered.   

We were supposed to be sketching a black ten-bob sannie left on the table of art class. My drawings resembled a mushy black banana, but without laces. It was an improvement on my sketches of the shipyard Titan crane, which we could see towering over the tenement roofs.

Our classmates gave up any pretence of shading with HB pencils to watch him. He tiptoed toward the wall and leaned so he could see behind it. He was away from a few minutes. I wondered if he’d already been caught. We were waiting for him to come sneaking back, or the Art teachers to crucify him in the supply cupboard, but not like Jesus, because we were a good Roman Catholic school. 

Most of us clocked the picture on the wall of a nudie woman. Her face a jellyfish paste. You couldn’t read the signature. But just as Salvador Dali could draw a bull with four or five lines, we could see the outline of her fanny, and that the ginger minger belonged to the token, woman, art teacher.

In the same way we imagined that P.E. teachers played endless games of fitba, or table-tennis, she set us the task of drawing the sannie without a mate, before wandering away to have sex with all the other art teachers in the cupboard.   

Below the desk, Terry flashed a tenner, before slipping it into his side pocket and perched on a stool.

Phone calls cost two pence, a dodgy dinner ticket cost ten pence, the price of a pint around fifteen pence. A tenner was an adult night out on the town, a visit to the chippy and a taxi home with a prostitute from Blythswood Square.

‘Where’d you get that?’ I whispered.

 ‘Out her purse.’

‘Jesus, whit if they search us?’

 ‘Nah, she’ll just think she’s lost it… And I left some change.’

During break time we often played headie-kicks outside the cloakrooms. The boys’ toilets were on one side. Girls’on the other. They sat with their backs against the windows, looking out to the playground, and we mirrored them on our side as preparation for the end-of-year school-dance.

Pieman, one of the Whitecrook team, was monkeying around the toilet stalls. He swung up and pushed the hatch on the roof aside, and sat, gallus, inside the darkness. It was an unexplored country. Terry led the expedition, and charted the land by crawling between roof beams. Poking holes in gyprock and plaster with a compass to provide natural light.  When he’d crawled far enough from the hatch, and pressed his eye against the hole in the ceiling, he could see girls’ heads and hear flushing toilets.

Instead of going outside to play headie kicks, there was a dose of the runs to get into the toilet stalls. Stories grew arms and legs.

 Big Kenny wheezed asthmatically, and said it was Shirley Collins in the stall. Jackie Reid and her were acknowledged as the most shaggable in our year, or any year.

Terry sneered, ‘How did you know it was her?’  

‘Because when she pulled her knickers down, her ginger fanny looked up and winked at me,’ he said.

That night after I’d left Terry, we’d been falling about laughing drunk. I never thought it would be his last. There’s a memorial stone for Terry beside his brother, William, in the graveyard at Dalnottar. I’m not sure where they put Denise’s stone. All those year ago. Laney reminded me about Terry’s death during lockdown. Aye, right, even Terry couldn’t have made that one up. None of us were going out any time soon.   

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