I turned up on the wrong day for John Wilkie’s funeral and had to come back to the crematorium. No harm done. I saw more of John Wilkie’s work van than I saw of John Wilkie. He worked for the biggest employer in Britain, the NHS, and delivered stuff to disabled folk. It was parked outside my sister’s house and took up two parking bays. Cars double-parked all the way up the horseshoe-shaped avenue. She doesn’t have a car or a driveway. In our day, nobody had a car apart from Summy’s da, who worked for the Shah of Iran, but that was later. A driveway was as foreign as chicken curry.
When I met John Wilkie a few weeks ago at the checkout in Lidl, he told me he’d being living up in Dickens Avenue the longest, something like 53 or 54 years. Perhaps he was telling me something. He’d moved there from Crown Avenue when he was only a few years old. He’d an elder sister, Margaret. It was the same prefab tinny Council houses as ours. Three bedrooms, windows that iced from the inside in the winter. Everyone crowding around the three-bar electric fire in the living room. Putting on two bars was a mortal sin. Three bars, unlawful extravagance, like going on a holiday to Cornwall. His house was upstairs, nearer to God. Three bedrooms, the same as the Henry’s, through the livingroom wall. Cammy and Jim were my mates. Summy (who was at the funeral) downstairs from the Henry’s, nearer the devil.
John Wilkie’s dad was a window chapper. He died when John was young, but I can still see him. He looked like his son. He’d be watching for you to kick the can, dare you to hide-and-seek, or bounce the ball at kirby into his garden. You couldn’t hurdle over his privet hedge, when you played the Grand National, always ending up at Douglas’s hedge, (later the Robb’s) which was high and wild. Becher’s Brooke. A hard drop. The slope of the dump rising to meet you. It had us tumbling down the hill, clutching grass and straw.
But John Wilkie (junior) was too cautious for that. He wouldn’t make the last hedge. Death had us by one hand, life the other, but we thought we’d live forever. The most potent spell is forgetting who we were and where we came from.
When he was born a Daily Record cost 4d and Kilmarnock were Scottish Champions. The Wee Free were picketing the boats and stopping the ferry crossing to Skye, because it was God’s day, Sunday. John Wilkie went to the same schools as Cammy and Jim and Summy, Dalmuir Primary and Clydebank High School. A humanist conducted John’s service. We should have gone to the same school because religion and its institutional divisions have had its day. Catholic and Protestant schools are nonsense, but not as much as taxpayers paying for private schools, which are christened public charities.
John Wilkie was under sixty, a baby boomer, with his wife Mags. No children, but a spoiled cat. Mainly those that are older than him and me opt for a religious service with a minister. John, who knew he was dying of pancreatic cancer, opted for the Committal Music of Mr Bojangles. That’s when the curtain closes, the party’s done.
He was a Bannkie’s fan and a regular at Holm Park, Yoker. Part of the Tartan Army. I attended one game at Hampden when Scotland was playing. It was against Russia. It was a freebie. I was a jinx, we got beaten. John went to most games. He even travelled abroad. The great thing about following Scotland is it doesn’t matter that much if you win or lose, as long as you get drunk. Trains used to go to Wembley, the fitba specials, that were so full of drunken fans the train swayed and couldn’t keep a straight line. John lost his false teeth, somewhere in Belgium, but it might have been Holland. He spewed them out, while travelling in a taxi. Too incoherent and not knowing the Walloon for ‘whit the fuck’. His teeth were a goner. But back in Dickens Avenue, he got the message. A Samaritan from the Tartan Army had picked them up, recognised the gnashers, and wiped them down. Ready to go. You probably know how this ends, having an auntie or uncle that spewed their falsers down the lavvy. Dived down after flushing, putting a jobby in their mouth and hoping nobody would notice. In John’s case, similar, but different. There weren’t his teeth and James McFadden didn’t score a glorious goal against the World Champions.
I never got past the first toggle, but John was a cub, then he was a Scout, then he was an Adventure Scout. Then he was a Scout leader with a responsibility for little leaders. The Scouts helped give us free access to roam. All these things that we thought we’d have forever being rolled back like our NHS by the Tory Party. Part of the not so local mountain rescue team. Informal networks that dot the country. One of the small boats that took soldiers from beaches at Dunkirk. National expertise that saved caver George Linnane from a cave system in the Brecon Beacons. The divers who saved the children of the Thai soccer team came from the same pool. When you call, they will come. John Wilkie will no longer be part of that team. He followed Clydebank and Scotland. He played his part. RIP.