My last public appearance of 2012 was a bit ...interesting. It was a joint venture between a book shop and a coffee shop in a busy shopping mall just before Christmas. The audience were seated on the tables from the cafe, drinking latte, eating blueberry muffins. Christmas shoppers were strolling by and stopping to listen to our readings of murder and mayhem. It was a bitter cold night but it was warm and cosy inside. We were in the shadow of a huge Christmas tree bright with multi coloured tinsel and baubles. Silver and white reindeer pulled an organza sleigh above our heads. It was beautiful.
Shame that nobody had given any thought to the writers.
the wondrous Nolans!
The audience could not see us if we sat behind the table provided so we had to stand in front of it. We had one hand held mic between three, which is ideal for killing stone dead any spontaneous witty comments. We were like a dress rehearsal for a Nolan sisters' concert, but with hairier legs. Making a point of being cool and casual, my fellow writer Mickey tried to lean on the table which promptly skidded from underneath him so he ended up on his bum, legs in the air. We all caught a peek of his odd socks. I thought the coffee was great, served piping hot in long elegant glasses. Nobody told me until later that I did most of the event with a white frothy latte moustache. The other writer Frankie was feeling terrible. He was recovering from food poisoning, a sore throat and a severe lack of alcohol. He took a deep breath, I handed him the mic. He was three words into his reading when Marks and Spencer decided to close their heavy metal shutters with the noise of prepubescent screamers at a One Direction concert. He gave up. He turned round to sit down and realised there was no chair.
But we sold books. I think the audience thought we were some care in the community project.
The first event of 2013 was as different as could be. It was an after dinner speech at a very posh do to raise money for the Glasgow Hospice. This was apposite for me as a close friend had died there on Hogmanay, age only 51. The men in charge, The Three Musketeers, had requested to meet me beforehand for a ‘coffee’ (interrogation) to run through things (make sure that I passed muster, was decent and did not smell too badly.) It was a weird situation. They were Rotarians so I thought they would be hyper intelligent mega beings, all grown up and sensible. Three traits that I can only pull off if I really concentrate and even then twenty minutes is your whack.
The first one to arrive wore a Partick Thistle Football team scarf. (A real triumph of hope over experience if ever there was one) As Billy Connolly says lots of people think that the team is called Partick Thistle 0. This week it was Dumbarton 2, Partick Thistle 0. The Crime Writers Association second 11 with their knees tied together could beat Dumbarton. That’s how bad Partick Thistle are. He was a lovely man though misguided about football. We got on like a house on fire as soon as he spotted my fountain pen.... and we were talking left handed nibs, italic nibs, vintage nibs, Mont Blanc. We agreed that the world would be a better place if people used fountain pens. Instead of text speak. LOL.
The other two men then arrived. More serious types I thought as they looked like accountants. Until the chief sat down and started talking about the Dandy, Desperate Dan and Dan’s love of Cow Pie.
Captains of industry reading comics? Could this explain the economic climate? They hastily explained that it was the last hard copy of the Dandy. It has been in continious print since 1937 and now it was going to be on-line only. They pretended it was for posterity, for the grandchildren, as a collectors item but it was like watching men talk about Lego or Meccano. Or football (not that the Partick Thistle supporter would know anything about that!). We all know the nonsense men natter while women get on with the important stuff like running the universe and eating chocolate. J
The conversation then turned to the night itself. They said it was customary to send a car for the guest speaker. They gave me a choice.
I drive around in a twenty five year old dog-transporting heap of rust. The log book says that it is white but after years of living under trees it is more a peppermint green colour. It is a Toyota Corolla, the most reliable car ever built I believe.
I declined the offer of a limo or a roller. I have a bad back and got stuck in one once at an award ceremony. At a spot behind the Park Lane hotel in London I had to hitch my beautiful long dress up over my knees and crawl out the door on all fours into the gutter. Then casually stroll all the way round the block to the red carpet.
The three musketeers asked me what I was going to talk about, then they told me what they wanted me to talk about. It wasn’t that I was nervous talking in front of all those folk, it was becoming more of a comfort zone issue. I wasn’t talking about crime fiction. I was talking about the very poor part of Glasgow where I grew up, to the posh and wealthy who own businesses there but live in privileged comfort far on the other side of the river. I’m sure that all big cities have similar cultural reference. I had been reminiscing with patients all week about standing outside the Co op bakery for the wonky French fancies as kids. That was the only cake we got in the week. We weren’t nicking - it was a hand out. In the true sense of the word Govan was a ghetto of Scots, Irish, and Italians who all worked in the great ship yards of the Clyde. It was a warm and friendly place with a language and humour all of its own, tough but fair. It had its own kind of justice.
As kids we went from A to B never bothering with roads and pavements. We made our way through the back courts of the tenements through the middens (communal bins) by running along the top of the wall then on the roof of the wash house that housed the old mangles. From there to the top of the outside loos, on to the walls at the other side then through their close to the world beyond and freedom. We could travel miles like that and we never, ever got lost. It must have been the precursor to freerunning except if we fell and hurt ourselves all we could expect was a skelp as we shouldn’t have been doing it anyway.
This was the sort of thing I was to talk about at the exclusive Glasgow hotel that was hosting the event. There was about 250 people there. My other half is a drummer – as the old joke goes – a guy who hangs about with musicians...he had never had to wear a bow tie in his life. In fact he had never been allowed in the front door of that particular hotel in his life – the band always had to climb in the back door and drag the drum kit and the sound system through the kitchen. He had looked at the cost of hiring a black tie outfit and we had to have him resuscitated. He then went to the local supermarket and bought the whole outfit for a third of the cost of hiring it. Why was he not wearing his kilt I hear you ask....? I have seen his knees. Not pretty. Indeed drumming in a kilt would be:- a) Cold b) Dangerous c) Bordering on the illegal
It was a great night, lovely people. We were swimming with the big boys, the raffle tickets each were more than my weekly grocery bill. My other half accidently left his wallet in his coat in the cloakroom so I had to stump up for both raffle tickets. Leaving your wallet elsewhere is a common trick of the Scottish male. The diamonds around us were huge and real. The men were rather polished and shiny. But they all had a very real sense that life had been very good to them which was refreshing. They were open about that fact they were happy to give something back to a society that had given so much to them. It was an extremely pleasant and humorous evening. They were all polite, the wine was lovely, the food was small portions but tasty, nobody got drunk and the organiser had asked me to time my speech exactly so that they could be out by 11. Some of them are rather old, bladder issues he said quietly in my ear.
Nice to know there are some things that money can’t protect you from. It comes to us all they say.
We sneaked out into the white, frosty night and drove away in our little Volkswagen, passing all the limos that were parked on the front concourse with their engines running. We stopped on our way home for a poke of chips and a pickled egg to warm us up. A perfect ending to a perfect night.
PS, we raised a huge amount of money, £40 000 or more.