Golden Friendship, Jim McLaren and ‘Grab a Granny’.

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I know that all sounds a bit of a mouthful, but I’ll try and explain it to you. Golden Friendship is a club run in the 543 Club. What type of club? Jim McLaren explained it to me a long while ago. And I’m not really sure he knew himself. Like most folk, I said, ‘Aye, Jim,’ while waiting for it to fall on its arse.

His mum said much the same thing today. That first day of the Golden Friendship club, Jim, his mum, Molly Kelly and a handful of folk, some in wheelchairs, in two big, unheated, draughty halls. But Jim stuck at it, the social glue that brought so many diverse groups together and filled those halls. He fills them with hundreds of people. None as daft as him. And I’m still not really sure how he does it, but it is working and his mum said she’s proud of him and who can blame her?

The Lord Provost was there and someone joked that Jim would soon be wearing his gold chain of office. Well, I think they were joking.

Jim seems to do the impossible. When centres and clubs are closing down and doors are shutting Jim is opening them. And it costs nothing.

You got to Jim’s Club and he doesn’t ask you for a £2 or a £1 or ten pence. It’s free. That’s one of the big secrets of his success. Jim recognises lots of folk, just don’t have cash. But they can just walk in the door and be welcomed.

What Jim’s good at is asking those that have cash to give him some. Davie Hamilton of Clydebank Private Hire, for example, joked when he saw Jim he opened his wallet. And Tom Sheridan of Clydebank Estate and Letting Agency said much the same thing. It’s good to be associated with success. And Jim has proven, time and again, he can pull the punters in.

The ‘Grab a Granny’ initiative has a buzzword and it is loneliness. Jim wants more punters to come through the door of the 543, but they don’t need to be grannies, they just need to be lonely and want a bit of company. He’ll do the rest. And they are going to leaflet the fifteen to twenty thousand households in Clydebank to provide those interested with a phone number.

Jim again, of course, has bitten off more that he can chew. What he also wants to happen is for other towns to do the same thing that he is doing. To set up a place in Dumbarton or Drumchapel where people that are stuck inside their own house with nothing to do but watch telly can go out and meet others, play bingo, dance, sing Karaoke, go to a play, or even abroad to Blackpool and ride on a donkey. Have a catered Christmas meal, with three or four courses served at your table and all for hee-haw.

Nah, Jim, I don’t think there’s many like you, pal. But then again, I can remember going to a meeting in the side room of the church hall about thirty-five years ago; Ruth Dorman was talking about something called Dalmuir Credit Union. I wonder what happened to that? Jim, if you run for Provost of Clydebank you’ll get my vote. If you run for MP you’ll get my vote, but nae singing for your supper.



Geez A Break Productions of Cinderella, at 543 Club for The Golden Friendship Club.

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My old mate Jim McLaren invited me to the Christmas show for pensioners, even though I’m the same age as him and I’m not doddery, yet, although I can’t remember the last time I was at Panto and I hate Christmas. And I especially detest people who put their Christmas decorations up after Halloween and then wait until near Easter to put wee bunnies and eggs wrapped in red ribbons up on their walls. And you know what I think of people who buy Christmas presents in the January sales for next year. And when I come to think of it, I’ve never been to Panto before.  Boo-hiss. I think Jim was trying to tell me something, I might even enjoy myself without being drunk. Boo-hiss. (I sneaked in a half bottle of Eldorado and drank in a oner in the toilet, but sshhhh, don’t tell anybody).

But the first thing I noticed was somebody sleeping soundly, with a jacket over his head, in the seats at the corner table, near the fire exit. Perhaps he knew something I didn’t.  Right enough, his great-granny was there and when he woke up she gave him a dummy, but that was no excuse for him not greeting.

Well, the baby McLaren missed a great show. I hadn’t heard of Geez A Break Productions. I guess that’s us even, as they won’t have heard of me.

As a writer I’m interested in the use of language and storytelling. If you don’t know the story of Cinderella then your heid needs looking at. The Fairy Godmother speaks and sings in rhyme. Cinders, Buttons and the Ugly Sisters actors use Glasgow dialect. There are risqué jokes that aren’t much of a risk and singing and dancing. Over the years the wooden floor in the 543 has, no doubt, been barracked by stacks of people up dancing to The Sash and The Slosh, but I guess that’s the first time it’s been done with glittery magic shoes for the latter, and as a backdrop to being lost in the forest. And there was gies a Brecht in the best pantomime way as the performers addressed the audience directly. Oh, yes they did…Oh, no they didn’t. Oh, yes they did…

Costumes were terrific and the stage set perfect in its simplicity. My only gripe would be the use of microphones. I guess with quick costume changes and microphones attached to the collars might not be do-able on a small budget. But when The Fairy Godmother used her wand to magical effect so that Cinders could go to the ball was a show-stopping moment. With one shake of her hips Cinders had been converted from blonde, bright and beautiful with a great singing voice to blonde bright and beautiful with a great singing voice, but with a snazzy new blue dress on. A conjurer’s trick that was a delight to the eyes.

But sometimes the unscripted makes things better. Susan, who got a bit caught up in the performance and thought Lavvy, one of the ugly sisters, was a bit of a bully. She responded to requests from Buttons that anyone wanted to try on the glittery slipper that we know is a match for only one foot by wandering on to the stage. Magically, it fitted her. And as we know Cinderella always finishes with the lived happily ever after anthem and married Prince Charming. The last time I was at the 543 it was dark, miserable and less than charming, there was a punch up outside. But that’s a Grimm’s story for other times, not guilty, your honour.