Friday, 12 June 2015

The Brothers

The Brothers
'Paul’ whispered 15 year old Tony Delaney to his younger brother in the dark gloom of the dormitory, ‘You awake?’ Paul rolled over in his bed which stood beside his brother’s and opened his eyes slowly before saying in an irritated tone, ’Whit is it Tony? It’s wan in the morning. Ye better be quiet or wan of the Brothers will scud ye.’ Tony leaned forward in his bed, his head a couple of feet from his younger brother, ‘Celtic beat Morton 4-1, they’re in the final against the huns.’ His young brother exhaled, ‘No much use tae us stuck oot here is it? The Brothers won’t be letting us go hame for the final will they?’ Tony thought for a moment about the situation before he muttered his reply into the darkness, ‘I’m getting sick of this place Paul, if they won’t let us go I think we should just fuck off tae Glesga.’Whit?’ his brother exclaimed, ‘run away? You know these bastards wid slap ye good looking if ye ran away.’ Paul was about to reply when a light clicked on in the corridor outside the dormitory and the tell-tale click of shoes on the wooden floors was heard. The two boys instantly closed their eyes as the dorm door swung open. ‘Whoever is speaking in here will be extremely sorry if they don’t shut up now,’ a familiar, angry voice said. The dormitory was silent and still.

At 7am a bell rang and jolted the dozen or so boys sleeping in Dorm 4 out of their slumbers. The room door burst open and harsh lighting illuminated the room. Brother Andrew entered, ‘Up boys, breakfast in 30 minutes and we need to be washed and scrubbed before then.’ The routine was always the same, the boys made their beds in the prescribed manner before heading for the communal shower. Six boys showered while six brushed their teeth. Brother Andrew was one of the more humane of the staff at the List D School and they were thankful he was their house leader. Other boys whispered tales of the petty cruelties of one or two of the other Brothers and Paul and Tony did their best to avoid the worst of them.  After dressing they marched to the dining hall where a further 40 or so boys were already seated. Standing either side of the door were several of the ‘pissers’ as bed wetters were commonly called in the school.   They stood, shame faced, holding their wet bed sheets under their arms as the boys trooped in for breakfast. Their ritual humiliation was complete as the odd boy smirked at them on the way in or passed some remark designed to hurt them. A sallow skinned boy from Perth stood by the door every morning. Everyone knew he didn’t wet the bed but a bigger boy took his dry sheets each morning with threats of violence and gave him his wet ones in return. Tony smiled encouragingly at him as he passed thinking he was lucky to have his brother Paul with him as well as a few friends he knew from Glasgow. The lad from Perth knew no one and was isolated and open to bullying. No one would help or get involved unless it affected them.

As the Brothers who ran the school entered, the hall fell silent and the boys stood by their tables. Tony looked at the dozen or so Brothers in their long flowing cassocks. Half of them were decent enough men who did what they could to help the troubled teenagers sent to them from the rough schemes of Scotland’s major cities. The other half were as his brother Paul liked to say, ‘dangerous bastards.’ The oldest of them was a grey haired man known as Brother Albert. He was also known as Brother Superior and was de facto the boss of the school. He seemed to enjoy inflicting his petty tyranny on any youngster who crossed his path and each day led them in their morning prayer. ‘Directly we beseech thee oh Lord to bless our work this day and make us grow in faith, hope and love.’  As he droned on about Christian love and charity, someone at Tony’s table whispered, ‘fuckin auld hypocrite.’ It was hard to disagree as the ‘belt in one hand, bible in the other’ seemed to be the dominant philosophy in the school.

Tony and Paul Delaney had been in the former industrial school for the past six months. Their mother had difficulty controlling them and truant from school had led on to shoplifting and other teenage misdemeanours. They had also been on the fringes of the gang which dominated their area of Glasgow. Both boys were in their early teens and experiments with alcohol had led to further trouble and eventually Police involvement in their lives. Their Mother, on her own with three other children, just couldn’t cope with it all and their old man was off the scene having disappeared to England a few years earlier. Eventually the children’s panel had suggested they be sent to the East of Scotland and a List D School with a reputation for taming the wilder spirits sent their way. It was a culture shock to boys well used to the corporal punishment meted out in their Glasgow school. In the List D School there was no respite, you were there 24 hours a day and any perceived misdemeanours were often punished severely. One boy who had run away and headed back to his home in Edinburgh was returned by the Police a few days later. The whole school had gathered in the hall and he was taken onto the small stage, bent over a chair and a stout leather belt applied to him. Paul and Tony had winced at each swish of the belt the dull ‘thwack’ as it struck its target.  They boy’s cries had drifted over the silent hall as he and the other boys present were taught a lesson on the application of power in this setting. There was no mercy. Late that night the two brothers had discussed these events. It bemused them that so called religious people behaved that way. It was all a million miles away from the tales of the saints they heard in their religious classes.

As breakfast began the boys siting at the table talked quietly, ‘Jammy Celtic intae the cup final I see,’ said Derek McCann a likable big Hearts fan from Portobello, ‘Wee Johnstone is no playing coz he wiz booked in the semi. I think Rangers will win the final.’ Tony smiled, ‘No way Derek, Celik will hammer that mob just you wait and see.’ Derek smiled, ‘You asking Brother Albert if ye can go tae Hampden?’ Tony thought for a moment, ‘That auld screwball widnae let anybody enjoy themselves. No way he’d let us go.’ At that moment Brother Andrew appeared behind them, ‘which old Screwball are we discussing this morning Anthony?’ Tony, always quick witted said plausibly, ‘Taking aboot John Grieg, Brother Andrew, Derek thinks Rangers will win the cup final this year.’  Brother Andrew, a kindly man smiled, ‘I think Celtic always have a chance with Stein in charge although they’ll miss Johnstone.’ Brother Andrew noticed old Brother Albert peering at him disapprovingly over his spectacles and his expression changed. ‘Anyway, eat up boys, classes start in ten minutes.’ With that he walked off towards the staff table. Tony said quietly to his brother, ‘No a bad guy Brother Andrew, just wish he had the baws stand up tae that old fart sometimes.’ At that point there was the unmistakable sound of a cup smashing on the hard wooden floor and the room fell silent. Brother Dominic, a stout, red faced man with a large bald head stood with a sour look on his plump face, ‘Would the boy who broke the cup stand up now!’ A quiet, pale boy stood nervously, looking as if he’d like the floor to open and swallow him. His eyes were trained on his shoes as Brother Dominic approached him, ‘Wait behind after breakfast,’ he growled at the boy who was visibly shaking at the thought of the punishment which lay ahead. Tony and Paul looked on in sympathy as Brother Dominic resumed his seat a smug, self-satisfied look on his face. Tony whispered to his brother, ‘I’d love tae punch that fat bullying bastard right in the chops.’  Paul nodded, ‘Oh Aye, he’s overdue a slap that yin.’ 

The week of the 1969 Scottish Cup Final was fast approaching and for the two brothers’ excitement was reaching fever pitch. Celtic meant so much to them and it was hard to think of an Old Firm cup final and a possible treble for Celtic happening with them stuck 50 miles away in East Lothian. Their choices were stark; ask for a rarely granted weekend pass or run away and somehow get back to Glasgow. On the Monday before the game Tony had his brainwave, ‘Who’s the best writer in here?’ Paul looked at him, ‘Whit?’  Tony repeated himself, ‘Who’s got the best handwriting here?’ Paul thought for a moment. ‘Yon Perth boy, the wan that that big tube fae Dundee bullies, his writing’s better than any I’ve seen in here, real neat, joined up anaw.’  Tony nodded, his plan forming in his mind.

Later in the quiet of the library room they approached the Perth boy and put their plan to him. ‘You write the letter for us and we’ll help you out. Whit dae ye say?’  The nervous boy, who was called Peter, looked at them. ‘Let me get this right, you want me tae write a letter tae Brother Albert kiddin’ on yer Da died and ye need weekend leave tae go tae his funeral?’  Paul nodded, ‘Dae it and we’ll sort out that bam fae Dundee for ye. You can hing aboot wi us anaw. Whit aboot it?’  Peter pursed his lips, ‘Even if we can slip it in the post, it will be post marked fae Edinburgh not Glasgow?’ Paul sighed, ‘That’s the chance we need tae take, hope the auld bam disnae notice.’ Peter nodded, ’Deal, sort oot the bed sheet situation and I’ll dae the letter.’ They outlined the details Peter would need for the letter before wandering off to find the lad from Dundee who was making life a misery for Peter.

They found him sitting in the games room flicking through some football annuals. Paul left the talking to Tony who was a year older and feared no foe. ‘Here you ya dick,’ Tony began, slapping the football book from the shocked teenager’s hands. ‘You touch the wee Perth guy or his sheets again and I’ll be rattling your baws, ye got me?’ Like most bullies, this one folded when seriously challenged, ‘Aye, OK. It wis just a laugh ye know?’ Tony stared him down, ‘Aye? Well I’m no laughing pal, just get aff his case Ok?’ The boy nodded sheepishly as Tony and Paul wandered off looking a lot more confident than they were feeling inside. Neither brother liked acting like a ned but sometimes it was required.

That same night the letter was finished and they all agreed that it looked slick and adult in its layout. It was carefully folded into an envelope and a stamp applied. They addressed it to Brother Albert and Peter slipped it into the outgoing mail box hoping no one would notice the address.

On the Thursday before the Scottish Cup Final the two boys were called into Brother Albert’s office. Brother Andrew, stern faced and silent accompanied them and stood behind them as they entered the room. The old man sat behind a large oak desk seemingly unaware that they were there. After a pause he looked up, ‘Sit,’ he hissed at them. They boys sat trying hard to control their nerves. Both knew if their plan was rumbled it’d be hard on them. The old man regarded them in the manner a hawk observes mice, in his right hand he held the letter Peter had faked for them. ‘I have received a letter from your Mother requesting that you are allowed home to attend a family funeral.’ Tony switching into his acting mode looked at him, ‘Funeral, Brother? It’s not my granny is it?’  The old man’s blue eyes regarded them, ‘It appears your father has died.’ At this point Tony excelled himself, ‘My Da? Aw naw.’ Even Paul was surprised to see actual tears roll down his brother’s face as he sobbed disconsolately. The old man looked on dispassionately, ‘It is not usual for a funeral to take place on a Saturday but it seems your Father was not of our faith.You may have two days leave. Brother Andrew will drop you at the bus station in Edinburgh on Friday morning and you will be back here by lunchtime on Sunday. Do I make myself clear?’ The two boys stood, Tony still wiping his fake tears with his sleeve and sniffing convincingly, ‘Yes Brother, thank you Brother.’

Brother Andrew led them from the room and as they headed for their dormitory said quietly, ‘You might want to explain this.’ He handed Tony the envelope which they had used for the letter. ‘Unless your mother sent this letter from Edinburgh and has writing very similar to a boy I teach in English, I’d say you two have just fooled the old Fella.’ The two boys looked at Brother Andrew in silence, awaiting the inevitable punishment. To their surprise and delight, he broke into a broad smile and handed them the envelope, ‘Don’t worry; your secret is safe. Enjoy the cup final boys and give the Celts a cheer for me.’ Tony and Paul smiled as they headed back to their dorm and quickly tore the envelope into a hundred pieces before locking into a warm embrace. ‘We did it bro, we fuckin did it! Yaasss Hampden here we come!’

As the boys trooped into breakfast on a bright Friday morning they couldn’t help notice the erstwhile bully from Dundee was standing outside holding his wet bed sheets. The Delaney brothers passed without comment and entered the hall. They sat beside Peter and were soon lost in animated conversation. The quiet Perth lad was opening up a bit and was proving to be a witty and funny new friend. After breakfast Tony and Paul picked up their coats and followed Brother Andrew out to the small car the school owned. They set off for the bus station in Edinburgh and then it would be home to Glasgow for the Cup Final.

Hampden Park, 26th April  1969

The two brothers topped the stairs at the top of the huge Celtic end of Hampden Park and saw a scene breath-taking in its scale. 132,000 fans packed the old stadium and roared as the game was about to begin. Celtic seemed to glow in their pristine green and white hooped shirts and went on the attack immediately. As Paul and Tony fought their way nearer the front of the packed terrace, Celtic won a corner kick. They stopped on the stairway to watch as Betrie Auld clipped the ball into the box. The Rangers defence seemed to hesitate as Billy McNeil rose to loop a header goal ward. Paul, Tony and 65,000 other Celtic fans roared as one in utter delight as it eluded the keeper and nestled in the back of the Rangers net. They hugged each other and any other nearby Celt as they celebrated that goal. God how they’d missed seeing the Celts. They may have challenges ahead in their young lives but they had each other and they had Celtic. They just knew today was going to be a good day.

And so it was.

No comments:

Post a Comment