Friday, 20 July 2018

Joker



Joker

Jim ‘Joker’ McCann’s coffin stood a little forlornly at the front of the small church. It was covered by a white ceremonial sheet which in turn was topped with a cross and a bible. A fairly sombre collection of friends and relatives shuffled in and began filling the pews. His two sons sat in the front row, looking a little uncomfortable in their suits and ties, and were joined in turn by their uncles and aunts. Joker had five brothers and sisters and they in turn had a dozen children between them and already a new generation of little ones was springing forth. Joker’s younger son, Barry looked at his older brother and whispered, ‘A good turnout, he’d like that.’ Tam’s face didn’t change from its usual glum appearance as he replied, ‘Aye, he was popular enough. Just hope his Will doesn’t cause a war.’ Barry exhaled, if there was one aspect of his big brother’s personality he disliked it was his continual obsession with money. The Priest entered as a bell rang somewhere refocussing Barry’s mind on the real reason they were there; to celebrate Joker’s life.

As the service progressed the Priest spoke about their old man’s life and was surprisingly well informed. ‘James Joseph McCann was born in Duke Street Hospital in Glasgow on October the nineteenth, 1957. It is said that his father James Senior was otherwise engaged as young James took his first breath on that bright autumn day being as he was at the League Cup Final between Celtic and Rangers. I think it’s fair to say that Joseph Snr was pleased with the result both at Hampden and at the hospital!’ There was a quiet laughter in the church at this as everyone knew how Celtic daft the McCann’s were. ‘He went to St Mary’s Primary school and it caused eyebrows to be raised when his father took him out of school for a few days in the spring of 1967 for a trip to Lisbon in Portugal where 9 year old James and his father watched Celtic winning the European Cup. Family legend suggests his father was part of a group of Celtic fans who invaded the field at full time and virtually dragged Billy McNeill’s shirt from his back. It was cut into pieces and everyone got a part of it to cherish, even nine year old James.’ Barry whispered to his brother, ‘Wonder where that bit of family history got to?’ As the Priest continued his description of Joker’s life Barry found himself smiling. His old man earned his nickname well and his constant steam of jokes and wind ups featured largely in life story

The Priest looked up and smiled a little as he continued painting a picture of the dearly departed Joker McCann,’ His humour and his practical jokes were a feature of his life and I was reminded of the time he decided to put a fresh spin on the old whoopee cushion joke by filling it with gravy. It was intended for his late wife but alas my predecessor Father O’Hara arrived unexpectedly at the house and sat on the aforementioned whoopee cushion with predictable consequences.’ At this there was more laughter from the congregation. It struck Barry that he’d always remember his old man smiling or wise cracking at parties or in the pub. He could be a very funny man and Barry recalled going to a garden centre to buy a Christmas tree the year before. A spotty faced youth looked at Joker and asked, ‘Are you going to put it up yourself?’ Joker replied with a straight face, ‘No, I was thinking in the living room.’

It was a strangely joyous funeral and he figured his old fellah would have wanted it that way. He had lived a full and happy life and the great loves of his life; his family and Celtic Football Club had given him a lot of pride and pleasure.

The following Monday morning Barry sat with Tam in the office of their father’s Lawyer, the grandly named Cornelius McBride. The Lawyer looked at them over the top of his glasses, his receding and rather unkempt grey hair and overgrown white eyebrows making him look like large bird of prey. ‘Gentleman, if we are ready to proceed I shall read the last Will and Testament of Mr James McCann.’ A hush descended on the room as old Joker was said to be worth a few quid and the sale of his home and life insurance policies would accrue even more. Money was never that important to Barry but Tam unconsciously licked his lips and stared impatiently at the old lawyer. ‘As a preliminary, I have calculated that the entire estate of Mr McCann including savings, interest, life insurance payments and the likely proceeds from the sale of his former home will, following the settling of his various creditors accounts, amount to a sum in the region of £210,000.’ Tam’s eyes lit up as he heard this and he audibly sighed. 

The lawyer opened a manila envelope and removed Joker’s hand written Will. ‘If you could bear with me,’ he said in a somewhat bemused voice, ’the will is one of the more… unusual I’ve dealt with over the years.’ The two brothers looked at each other a little bemused as the old lawyer continued. ‘I’ll read exactly what your father has written….’

‘Hello Tam and Barry, if you’re listening to these words then I guess it means I’ve gone to join your mother. Don’t be sad as I’m beyond pain and suffering. You’ve been two of the best sons a father could wish for and I want you both to be happy in the years God gives you so always be there for each other.

As to my treasure, well I couldn’t decide what to do with it so I’ve decided to set you a wee test. If you can answer three questions to Mr McBride’s satisfaction, he’ll give you the key to the small safe in his office and all it contains is yours. If you can’t solve the questions – you don’t get the key. Here are the three questions…

       I.            Who is sitting on the words ‘Ignoti et quasi occulti in hoc mundo?
     II.            Where is AMDG written in squares?
  III.            Where do angels look over the three T’s?

You know I liked a joke, boys so I’ll keep it simple. The first one of you to solve these three riddles and provide Mr McBride with the necessary proof gets the key to the safe and my treasure.

See you in a better place, Your Dad, Joker.’

The old Lawyer stopped reading and looked at them. ‘As I’ve said, it’s the most unusual will I’ve ever had to deal with but I’m bound to carry out your father’s wishes. The first one who answers the 3 questions successfully gets they key to the safe and all it contains.’ With that he handed them both a copy of their father’s letter. Tam looked at his brother Barry with a look of disgust on his face, ‘What the fuck is he playing at? Riddles? Can he not just gie us the fuckin money?’ Barry shook his head, ‘we could work on this this together, Tam, share whatever is in the safe?’ Tam shook his head, ‘I’m figuring this oot, Barry and I don’t need your help.’ With that he stood and stormed out of the room. Barry shook hands with the old lawyer, ‘Sorry about that, Mr McBride. He’s a bit headstrong oor Tam.’ The layer stood and shook his hand, ‘Good luck solving those riddles.’ As Barry turned to leave the old man added, ‘You know I can’t help you on your quest, but I can say that I was educated at St Aloysius School. We used to write AMDG at the top of every new page in our jotters.’ Barry smiled, ‘thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.’

Barry sat at home and opened his laptop; it flickered to life with its screensaver of the new Celtic way leading to Celtic Park. He quickly googled ‘Ignoti et quasi occulti in hoc mundo’ and it took him seconds to learn that it was the motto of the Marist Brothers and as any Celtic fan knows, the founder of the club was a Marist. He mumbled to himself, ‘but who’s sitting on those words?’  Then it clicked and he grabbed his car keys and headed for Celtic Park.

He searched the base of the Brother Walfrid statue and there he found the words, ‘Ignoti et quasi occulti in hoc mundo’ on one of the panels. Barry smiled, ‘Walfrid’s sitting on those words!’ He took a few photographs and headed back down the Celtic Way.  The first problem had been solved.



That night as darkness fell over Glasgow he looked at the second problem. ‘Where is AMDG written in squares?’ He recalled the old lawyer said he used to write those letters at the top of each page when he was a pupil at St Aloysius. He soon found out via the internet that ‘AMDG’ was an acronym for ‘Ad Majoren de Gloriam’ the motto of the Jesuit order but where is it written in squares? He wracked his brain, ‘St Peter’s Square? George Square?’ No solution came to mind and he drifted to sleep that night thinking it over.

His phone jarred him out of his slumber as another dawn crept in between his curtains. He could hear Tam’s voice as he pressed it to his ear, ‘Aw right bro, you solved any of those riddles yet?’ Barry focussed and mumbled, ‘aye, one of them. You solved any?’  ‘Aye one, tell me yours first then I’ll tell you mine.’  Barry sat up in bed, ‘The one asking about sitting on the words, it’s Brother Walfrid. It’s on the plinth of his statue.’ Tam replied a little curtly, ‘Aye, that’s the wan I solved as well. Catch ye later.’ With that he hung up and Barry felt just a little conned. ‘Mental note to self,’ he mumbled, ‘Tell Tam fuck all!’

The following afternoon Barry headed into Glasgow City centre. As he wandered up Buchanan Street he was stopped by a couple of brightly dressed tourists, ‘Excuse me,’ the American woman said with a not unpleasant accent, ‘we’re on vacation and wanted to visit Glasgow City hall?’ Barry thought for a moment, ‘You mean the city chambers?’ She nodded, ‘Yeh, the one with all the marble and mosaics.’ Barry smiled, ‘Follow me it’s just up here in George Square.’ He led them to the square and pointed out the unmistakable form of the city Chambers. The American man shook his hand, ‘Thank you, y’all have a nice day now.’ Barry watched them negotiate the traffic and cross the road into George Square but something was niggling at his mind. What had she said? ‘The one with the marble and mosaics!’ That’s it, the clue, ‘Where is AMDG written in Squares?’ It must be written in mosaic squares! He crossed into George Square and sat on a bench. His old man’s riddles were all about Celtic so he searched on his phone ‘Glasgow Celtic Mosaic’ and in less than a second saw an image on his phone of a mosaic on the floor of St Mary’s church in Glasgow’s east end. He enlarged the picture and carefully read the words around the edge of the mosaic. It read, ‘To the greater glory of God and in honour of his blessed mother commemorating the foundation of the Celtic Football Club in this Parish of St Mary’s Calton.’ There it was- AMDG - ‘To the greater glory of God’ written in squares. He’d solved it! ‘Two down and one to go!’ he said to himself with a satisfied smile.



Over the next few days, Barry thought long and hard about the last riddle; where do angels look over the three T’s? What did it mean by the ‘three T’s?’ Neither the internet nor discussions with his Celtic supporting friends could help solve the problem. His old man would be laughing at his struggles. His brother had phoned a couple of times fishing but Barry stonewalled him and said he was still stuck on the last two riddles. Tam was not happy- he could smell money but had no way of getting at it without the answers. In truth, Barry found his brother’s greed a little nauseating.

The following week Barry was taking his twelve year old cousin Kevin on a tour of Celtic Park. Despite being a lifelong fan he had never gone on the tour so was fairly excited himself. He put all thoughts of his old man’s riddles out of his head as he and a group of chattering fans followed the guide up the ramp towards the front door of the stadium. As they neared the front door Barry glanced at the bronze plaque on the wall dedicated to the memory of the great Tommy Burns. As he passed it he heard the man behind him say, ‘God bless ye T. we all miss ye still.’ Barry stopped in his tracks and the man bumped into him. ‘Sorry pal,’ Barry said pushing past him. He stopped in front of the Tommy Burns plaque and looked at it. It showed three images of Tommy, one as a player in that classic prayerful pose he had struck after scoring a goal, one holding the Scottish Cup as Manager and one in what could have been a coaching top. Young Kevin stared at him, ‘Are we going inside Barry?’ Barry didn’t answer as he glanced at the top of the bronze plaque. There he could see two angels, identical to the ones above St Mary’s Church!  ‘Of course’ he laughed, ‘three T’s- three Tommys!’  Young Kevin looked at him bemused, ‘we’ll miss the tour!’ Barry grinned and took a picture of the plaque before leading young Kevin into Celtic Park. He’d solved the last riddle!

Barry picked Tam up in his car early the following Monday morning. They had made an appointment to see Mr McBride and he wanted to be there early. Tam was beside himself, ‘So ye solved them? I don’t have a clue. Yer sharing with me aren’t ye? I mean anything my da left is for us both?’ Jesus Tam,’ Barry said, ‘is money all you think about? Yer da died a couple of weeks back and all you’ve rabbited on about is bloody money!’ Tam snorted, ‘Are ye sharing wi me, aye or naw? Because if yer no, I’m getting oot this car right noo!’’ Barry exhaled, ‘Aye Tam. You’ll get half of what’s there, now shut up aboot it.’

Mr McBride listened carefully to Barry as he went through the questions one by one. ‘Brother Walfrid is sitting on the words; they’re on a panel on the plinth of his statue. AMDG is on the Celtic mosaic in St Mary’s church and the angels looking over the three T’s refers to the Tommy Burns plaque at Celtic Park.’ Barry showed the old lawyer pictures on his phone to corroborate his answers. The old man nodded, ‘You satisfy the conditions so as per your father’s instructions, the key is yours.’ He opened a drawer on his desk and took out a small wooden box which he opened and removed a key from. ‘This is the key to the safe, if you’ll allow me?’ Barry nodded, ‘Go ahead.’ The old man stood and turned the key in the lock of the safe and opened the heavy door. Tam could barely contain himself, ‘Yasss Barry boy! You did it, you solved the riddles.’ 

Barry watched as the lawyer removed two brown envelopes from the safe and placed them on the table. He opened the first envelope and removed an A4 sheet of paper. Barry watched with interest as he unfolded it and prepared to read it. Tam was virtually rocking on his seat with excitement. The old lawyer began to read, ‘It is my settled will that all my assets be given in equal shares to the following….’ Tam waited for his name, after all he was the oldest, it’d be his name first. As the lawyer began to read out a list of charities, Tam’s face fell. ‘Whit, he’s giving his money tae fuckin’ cats and dugs and folk in Africa he’s never met!’ Barry laughed as Tam pointed hopefully at the other envelope, ‘Whit dis that wan say?’ The lawyer showed them the two words written by their father on the front of the envelope. It read, ‘My Treasure.’ Tam’s eyes widened, perhaps he’d get something worth having after all. The old man opened the large envelope and removed a poly-pocket which contained a ragged strip of green and white cotton. ‘This I believe is a piece of the shirt worn by Billy McNeill when Celtic won the European cup.’ Tam was aghast, ‘A rag, a fuckin auld rag! That’s his treasure, is this a fuckin joke?’ Barry laughed out loud, his old man had indeed set up one final joke and by God it was a good one. The old lawyer looked on with some amusement on his face at the two brothers. Tam was incandescent with rage, ‘You keep the fuckin rag, Barry! But just you remember when yer skint, yer old man gave thousands away tae feed fuckin abandoned Rottweilers!’ Barry was rocking with laughter. Good old Joker, he thought, he had played his hand beautifully.

He picked up the piece of Billy McNeill’s shirt and looked at it. His old man had kept it all these years. ‘I’ll look after your treasure Da, don’t you worry about that.’ He left the lawyers office still laughing to himself.




       I.         







12 comments:

  1. Absolutely brilliant as always. I adore your insights.

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    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed it :-)

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    2. Tremendous. Loved it. The only clue I knew was the AMDG.

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  2. Fantastic story my bhoy, loved it.

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  3. Fantastic as always.great way to start a weekend.have you ever thought of compiling your stories into a book🍀

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    1. Yes Wully, I've published two already, number three might not be far away HH

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  4. Magic 👏👏👏

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  5. That was superb pal what a cracking story that is really enjoyed that brilliant HAIL HAIL

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  6. Great story as ever. Just one thing though - AMDG means ad maiorem Dei gloriam. I stopped writing it 32 years ago but it's still ingrained in me

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    1. Thank you Andrew, AMDG does indeed mean what you say, the mosaic in St Mary's contains an English Translation.

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