A soulful, island of a voice could be heard amongst the clatter of pots and pans, the chink of dishes, the scraping of cutlery on plates and bowls, the cacophony of raised voices from staff, and clientele wishing to be heard. Since he had left home and the constant torture of Elvis and Cliff Richard and Barry “ the nose” Manilow, Macca had developed more of an ear for other crooners, Franky baby, Dean Martin and Tom “sex bomb” Jones. Though they would still never hold that much of his attention. His mentor to be and other volunteers pushed through the hustle and bustle of the long queue for what was for most in the early evening their first meal of the day, no breakfast to set them up and off to face their days on the cold northern streets. The Methodist church soup kitchen and food bank was the most popular in the area, not just down to the songmeister, but also the hearty food and staff. Unlike the Johvos they did not shove sermons down your throat, just served up good cheer and noshings.
Babs and Betty were old hands, like a mixture between school dinner ladies and local pub landladies. Chatty, juggling orders and conversations, always bubbly and buxom, forever a smile on their faces and a kind word for discerning ears.
After getting a chirpy welcome from the dynamic duo, he did his turn at the soup ladle as it were. Brewing the tea, slicing the loaves, smearing the butter on the slices, scrambling the eggs and frying the bacon rashers and bangers. But in the back of his mind he was dying to make a beeline for the dapper gentlemen whose white whisks of hair were winking at him, and seemingly following him around the room.
Babs had regaled Macca with stories of this here gent playing the Guild Hall, all the major northern cities, old factory towns, working men’s clubs and as an in-between act at regional ballroom dancing and variety halls. Hadn’t he heard of him. Na, well he was a bit behind the 8 ball when it came to local goss and fame. After all he had only recently moved from his remote village to this boozers city at the other side of the country. There was one pub in his old haunting ground, and families really knew how to, even in chilly challenging climes, enjoy the beer garden. As a kid the beer gardenwas never ending, seemed to him to stretch beyond where your legs could take you, and he only really ever frequented it in the summer in a special day out for the whole family. Sometimes he would get up a real good sweat from racing against Danny from one end of it the other, and if they had sufficient a sugar rush tag the car park wall and run all the way back. As a whipper snapper tha was on their trikes, when older washst a good run.
To a 17-year-old lad like Macca this whole gig here in another neck of the woods was really brand new. The only singing he had heard live, outside of musicals, was the booming voices of the miners in the workingmen’s only snooker club he had honorary membership to as a teen. The only voluntary work he had done was on a tom-bowler store for a kid’s charity, and in the summer at an indoor disabled sports competition at school.
He found out later that year, even in Glasgie they had heard of Jerry doing the rounds of their dirty old towns lively céilidhs and pub music scene. Too soon his hour of serving the good grub was up, but now he was doing the floor, getting to know the clientele. All the volunteers did as it were a kitchen and floor shift, apart from Babs and Betty who ran the whole shebang. The excitement for Macca was building, as he was making his way around the room. At first there was no real spark or draw for him, just a pungent really get-trapped-up-your nose smell and the constant chatter that really got on his tits. Most of the ladies and gents mingled, or kept themselves to themselves, warmed themselves up on the radiators or read the week old newspapers and second hand books in the cozy corner. But Jerry, he was like a large celestial body, all the hungry homeless guys and gals nearby gravitating into his orbit. Macca was getting closer and closer as he did his floor circuit. His hands were slightly shaking as his turn arrived, like the morning after a heavy drinking sess or not being in full control because of a caffeine rush. It was a good job he had no damn coffee cup in his hand, else spillage and jiggering would most certainly occur.
He had started a game of draughts with Edna; the local seamstress who had offered to knit me him some gloves for the supposedly approaching brazing winter. And it was to be the harshest one in fifty years.
“Your ands always look so cold luv”, she noticed.
Engrossed in setting up the game for the next victim, his abrupt departure did not come across at all rude to her. These little triumphs were the highlight of her week, beating the boys at their own card and board games, which she had learnt in her Uncle’s parlour.
Jerry was sat, with his fraying suit jacket on his chair back, adjusting the slightly discoloured cuffs of his shirt and trying to get a shine to the tarnished cufflinks. Holding his hand out warmly Jerry inquired –
“You in fine feckle young fella?”
Macca looked flummoxed at this turn of phrase, but took it as some kind of entertainers’ quirk. Siting down, he could finally ask about Presley, Sinatra and the Guild Hall.
“I just wanted to …..”
“Hold your horses wee fella me lad” Jerry interrupted. “After my second set…”
Defying his age, and weathered and worn look, with one swift seamless movement Jerry swirled his jacket in the air in a flourish onto his shoulders. Waving Maccas now stalled inquiry away, Jerry stood up, made his way to the centre of the food hall, where everyone followed the herd or knew to make a space for him. He broke into song…
“…. I say, find me a memory
a drink and a song.
For as long as we were and are.
Go to the bar.”
I say, find me a memory
a drink and a song.
For as long as we were and are.
Go to the bar”.
©2015 – Stewart Tunnicliff image courtesy of Raymond Ramanos
Read on with No 5 Day beyond Days…