I live in Dalmuir, but my brother who lives in Falkirk phoned me to tell me that John Mitchell was dead. Then the house phone went and my partner’s niece, Caroline, phoned to let me know John Mitchell was dead. I dropped in on old John Brady, he’s in his eighties and the first thing he told me was John Mitchell was dead. I parked at Parkhall shops on the jaggy lines you’re not meant to park on, but it was OK, cause I was only going to be a second and I painted my van invisible to cops and traffic wardens, but then Rab McLaren parked (illegally) at the bus stop and hurried over to tell me John Mitchell was dead. Big Pat Facebooked me, to tell me John Mitchell was dead. I know what you’re thinking, that’s the kinda hoax John Mitchell would pull and you’d hear his slow laugh, and he’d spark another can.
John was the Dean Martin of Dalmuir. If that was as good as you were going to feel all day, then another drink would help you on the road, or up the road, or to find a wandering lift-button and watch it settle like a bingo number to the floor you stayed on. I used to laugh at John when I met him in the Horsie or sometimes Macs—his da, Old Joe settled in the bar and that was the last pub I saw him, about a year ago, my brother Bod was with me—and I’d test him, ‘how long you been on it now?’
He’d laugh and take a swig of lager and be able to tell me to day. And there’d be a lot of days. I think he was trying to break some kind of record. That was before—but there’s always different kinds of befores and different kind of afters —when he talked about getting back with his partner and their kids. That gap got longer too and before he moved into the flat at the bottom of Mountblow Road. The one where he phoned his da from to tell him he had chest pains.
That’s what I heard from the Dalmuir beehive. Old Joe told him to phone an ambulance. John had a massive heart attack.
Heart attacks are always described as massive. Especially ones that kill you. You never hear about the tickly heart attacks that give you the munchies.
John could surprise you, because although he could read big PC like a comic book, or tell you what Army Mick had in his rucksack without needed to check, the second eldest Mitchell, whisper it, liked real books. Some people would suggest that as a mark of intelligence, but with John you could never be sure. He’d just slag you. He knew about Tom Sawyer—tickled pink, tackling a garden fence and not allowing his good mates a shot at painting his aunt’s fence until they begged him. It was such good fun. Like a tickly heart attack you can laugh about later. Even though there’s no later.
Now there’s only his da, Old Joe and his elder brother, young Joe. His mum died. His brother Stevie, about fifteen years ago. And Stevie’s daughter Kerry. All the numbers. The years get mixed up like slow-melted slush. She died about two years ago. John helped put the ramp into Helen and his niece’s house, when she came to visit her mum. He’d worked with old Joe as a roughing joiner, which was a different kind of rough. Then, of course, Mikey, the youngest Mitchell died first, all those years ago, while working with Stevie, which meant to have knocked Stevie off the rails. I liked Stevie, but Stevie seemed to able to knock himself—and most other folk—off the rails without any help, especially if a pool table was involved. John was the mellow one.
When John was born in 1965 a Daily Record cost 4d. I’d have been watching Captain Pugwash on the telly, only we didn’t have a telly. They were too expensive. And we didn’t have a fridge, because we weren’t snobs. We kept the milk bottle on the window sill and margarine never melted. The Mitchell’s came with the same Irish heritage.
In 1965, Charlie Tully left Celtic. 14 were arrested in a ferry blockade in Skye about Sunday opening. The Wee Frees weren’t for it, not just pubs (obviously) but ferries too. John Mitchell was lying in his cot, chuckling. But the Wee Frees got their own back and all the pubs shut earlier and earlier now.
John paid attention and took the government’s advice and spent most of the hours of daylight outdoors were it was safe to talk pish. In fact, he encouraged it. His brother Joe, could play the guitar and sing. His brother Stevie had magical feet and was one of the best players I played with. John had the ability to look like a swarthy skinned Italian and his face became as weathered as his jacket. I once saw him, Clank, Brownie and Tam Collins (senior) going for a bracing walk up Duntocher Road and a circuit down Mountblow hill, without any of them having a can. That’s called the exception to the rule-rule.
The shop at the bottom of the hill served the discriminatory drinkers that were thinking of venturing inside the public park, or public golf course, or public canal path. John was very public minded. He’d put his empties in public bins. And he’d always have a laugh and tell you the truth, which was always a worry, but you’d think he was kidding.
John Mitchell’s dead. That’s a real shocker. He’d a massive heart attack. We know about that. But never think it’ll happen to us. Another Mitchell gone. Another funeral, I can’t attend. That’s the least of my worries. Spare a thought for his ex-partner and their kids. Spare a thought for old Joe and young Joe. And if you’re the praying kind don’t chain yourself to a fence to keep the pubs closed. The governments doing that for you. And you can’t afford to drink in pubs anyway. For John Mitchell that would be a kind of sacrilege. Live life as it should be lived. That’s the sacrifice. I just hope he’s not buried in that jacket he always wore. And say a wee prayer, for one of us. RIP John Mitchell.