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Authors: Jimmy Barnes

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BOOK: Working Class Boy
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I think that the English people knew why Hadrian's Wall was built on those days when the two national football teams met in England. I'm sure they were sitting at home wishing it was about twenty feet higher and a lot longer and didn't have a train line running through it. They had songs about the barbarians from the north that were equally as bad as the Scots' songs. But no one ever listened to them where we came from.

The Scottish fans would hit London like a pack of berserk Vikings, ready to rape and pillage and on the odd occasion watch football. If they actually won a game, the partying went on for days. I hear the English girls seemed to look cuter when we won. But we never won too often. And there was no way any nice English girl would put up with a drunken Scottish soccer hooligan chasing after her in traditional dress, waving a Scotland scarf, shouting out obscenities and lifting up his kilt at passersby. So it mostly ended with packs of lonely, drunken Scotsmen crawling around the streets of London looking for unsuspecting victims to fight until they ran out of money for booze and got the train back to Scotland. If they felt really bad they could always start a fight with each other on the way home. This was the Scottish way. Always one more battle to be won before you got home and curled up with a good bottle.

In 1977, my uncle went to England by train to see Scotland beat England at Wembley Stadium. It was such a rare victory that the Scots celebrated by taking the whole pitch home with them. My uncle tells me that on the train ride home, a particularly drunken Scotsman gave him the penalty spot from the field. They took the goalposts, the nets and most of the grass back to
Bonnie Scotland and, for a short time, drank and sang together as friends. Next day it was back to the hate and fighting.

I know, like half of Glasgow, that a lot of my relatives' ancestors came from Ireland, probably during the potato famine when thousands of half-starved, angry Irish folk fled Ireland by boat and landed in Glasgow and Liverpool and anywhere else that would have them. They brought their hatred of the English with them so they fitted right in when they landed in Scotland. As I said before, we both hated the English. It was a hate that dated back more than seven hundred years but for some reason it is still so real to this day that they can taste it. They sing about it and fight about it and cry in their drinks about it, not necessarily in that order. But it is the cause of much pain where I come from. Everyone seems to have some sort of scars; if they aren't from fighting they are emotional.

Not all my scars are emotional. I have a scar on my right wrist but not from fighting. I didn't get any of those until much later. I got this one from go-carting. I can't remember whose cart it was – we probably stole it – but I somehow ended up driving it at very high speed down a hill. It was only a small hill in a back court between a bunch of tenements. The back court was about the size of a small tennis court but we didn't have tennis courts in Cowcaddens. This was just a place behind the buildings where families put their rubbish. The water drained off the roofs and flooded the back court. Whenever it rained it looked like a stormwater drain, so it was slippery and dangerous. Just how I managed to get up any speed in there is beyond me. Anyway, high speed for a four year old is not that fast. I wasn't the best driver; I'm still not the best driver come to think of it. And I suddenly realised that I was about to hit a wall. So I jumped off while the cart seemed to be going at breakneck
speed. This is another one of those patterns that keeps recurring in my life.

I didn't break my neck, but someone had thrown away a rather large mirror and there it was, right where I was about to crash. I landed straight on it. I broke my fall and I broke the mirror with my hand, so my seven years' bad luck started that day; in fact, maybe it was backdated a few years. I remember blood spurting like a fountain from my wrist as I ran home. By the time I reached my mum I had lost a lot of blood.

There was a hospital nearby so I was rushed to casualty for eight or ten stitches. It seemed that the hospitals in Glasgow were specialists at stitching up gaping wounds. Who would have thought, eh? As luck would have it the cut had just missed the main artery in my wrist by a whisper, otherwise I might have bled to death. But I didn't and I was tough, so everything was all right.


a real Glasgow hard man

don't recall spending much time with my grandparents except for my granny, my mum's mum. She lived a life that I could only speculate; it made my life look tame. The world tried to break her but failed, leaving an old woman with nothing but memories and a broken heart, but she was still standing. She lived alone until she was eighty-something. And she was as tough as nails. The women in Glasgow all seemed to be really hard.

She helped bring me into this world and for that I thank her. Life couldn't have been easy for her and even though she could sometimes get a little wild, she was always loving and funny. I have vague memories of her husband, my da, but they are not very clear. They didn't live in the same house and hadn't for as long as I was around. My granny and he were friends, but I don't remember seeing them together. Maybe they didn't talk at all, who knows. That probably worked out fine for them. Da lived alone, except for his best mate, Jackie the border collie. Dorothy, my big sister, was his favourite but I don't think he had a lot to do with us.

I have no recollection of my dad's mum. I think she died young from a drinking-related illness. My grandparents all lived
hard and except for my granny, they all died quite young. In Glasgow, if someone died, you didn't bury them immediately; you would go around to their house a few days later and beat their liver to death with a stick. They drank a lot. I had an uncle who drank a bottle of varnish . . . he had a horrible end but a lovely finish. Sorry, I had to share that. It's an old joke but a good one.

I know I met Pop, my dad's dad. I have vague memories of him being quiet and a bit scary. Apparently he was a real Glasgow hard man. Old-school hard. He was a bare-knuckle fighter, a champion during the Depression. He would fight for about thirty rounds in the alleys of Glasgow while everyone placed bets on him. Fighting in Glasgow is an art form and he must have been a master and a nightmare rolled into one. He made his money fighting. That was his job – being beaten or beating people to a pulp. My dad told us that during the Depression, when food was really scarce, if he won his fights he would buy the whole street bacon and eggs. When he wasn't fighting I don't know what they ate but it wasn't a lot.

I tried to track down more about him but no records of illegal bare-knuckle fighting were kept. The boxing officials in Scotland said it never happened after the turn of the century. They obviously didn't live anywhere near us.

I met an old guy when I went back to Scotland in 1980. I was in a pub with my uncle and I went to the bar to get a drink. We actually went to the pub at ten in the morning and sat in there all day just drinking slowly until it shut again at night. We seemed to be there every morning. After a while I asked my uncle jokingly if he was just doing this for me because it wasn't necessary; I could live without a drink at least until after lunch.

He very seriously said no, that's just what he did. It looked to me like this was sort of a job: clock in at ten, drink all day
and clock out at closing time. He was out of the house the same amount of time he would have been if he was working. We weren't alone doing it either, and after a few days I had a whole bunch of new friends. Old and young, male and female, standing around outside the pub, looking at their watches waiting for it to open. It didn't matter if it was pouring with rain, they were there the same time every day, with coats and hats on, waiting for the click of the lock and the doors to swing open. Then they would pour into the bar, excitedly rubbing their hands together, ready for the first of the day. They looked a little edgy and very thirsty and they were all a little snappy first thing in the morning until they had their first drink.

Now I like a drink as much as anybody but this was just a bar; nothing happened there, no entertainment, nothing except the odd sing-song. Then they would probably go home to their wives and eat dinner with nothing to say to each other.

‘What did you dae the day?'

‘Nothin', just drank.'

Anyway, I was at the bar, and I got served before this old guy and he turned on me. He was about eighty years old and five feet high and he wanted to take me outside for a fight. I was a bit shocked. Was he serious? Not knowing how to react, I laughed – not at him, but at the situation. He went nuts and I could see in his eyes that he was not kidding. Had it been a few years earlier, I'm sure I would have already been out for the count. He had the air of a man who, in his prime, no one would have fucked with.

Anyway, my uncle came to his rescue – or was it mine, I'm still not sure – and said to him, ‘Hey, Jimmy' (everybody in Glasgow is called Jimmy, by the way, even if you're not called Jimmy), ‘this is Pop Swan's grandson.'

The old guy's demeanour immediately changed and he even looked a little scared. He apologised to me and insisted on buying me a drink. Whether he was an old mate of Pop's or an old foe,
I'm not sure, but what I did learn from that meeting was if you accidentally caught the wrong guy at the wrong time in that town, it didn't matter if he was young or old, you could be up to your neck in it before you had a chance to back away.

Much later on, when I went back to Glasgow to do some shows, I was walking down the main street of Glasgow with Armando Hurley, a rather big black American who was singing in the band with me. Now Armando looked mean; he was built like a tank and had a mohawk haircut. Really he was a gentle soul, but you wouldn't know from looking at him. He liked to bung it on a bit and keep people away from me. Anyway, we were crossing the road and this old guy with a cane was coming towards us.

‘Get the fuck oot ma way,' he snarled.

‘Sorry, mate,' we both said. We were being extremely polite as he was an old guy. But the streets were crowded and for some reason he thought we were getting in his way on purpose. He turned and scowled at me, ready to fight.

Now this guy could hardly walk; he was about ninety. He glanced at Armando and turned back to me and then back to Armando quickly and said, ‘Ye wouldnae be so tough if you didn't have Mister T wi' ye.'

Then he grunted and swore under his breath and kept on shuffling down the street, saying something about Armando's mother as he left. I called Armando Mister T from then on. That's the mentality of old Glaswegians. They can make me laugh or they can make me afraid very easily.

Before we moved to Australia we lived at 22 Abercorn Street, Cowcaddens, close to the city. The old tenement buildings we lived in have now been turned into trendy inner-city dwellings but back then it was scary. Each building had a common entrance,
or close, and a toilet outside in the back court. The back court wasn't the nicest place. There would often be drunks asleep or up to no good in the back courts. People would be making out in them or being killed in them. They were dark and you couldn't see into them from the street. So any time we went down to the back court was a traumatic experience. Unless, of course, we were with a bunch of mates or our brothers and sisters. Then we'd be the ones up to no good.

I heard something about one of my sisters being dragged into a back court by a stranger. I don't know exactly what happened. No one spoke about it. But the story I heard was that the police caught him and locked him up in a cell with my dad for fifteen minutes before they charged him. Old-fashioned Scottish justice. Violence with violence.

I used to wonder how I got like I am but after writing this stuff down I think I'm lucky that I joined a band and didn't end up in jail or dead. The Scots we knew only had one way of solving problems and that was with their fists or a lump of wood. For years I thought that was the only way to deal with stuff and sometimes under pressure I still want to revert to that way of dealing with shit. I know it doesn't work – but for a moment, in the back of my head, I think using my fists will help. Thank God I don't behave like that anymore. I'm a pacifist now. Well, sometimes I am.

In 1980, my Glasgow cousins took me to a wedding with some of their friends. It took place in a little hall not far from where we lived. Halfway through the night there was a bit of a commotion at the next table. I looked over just in time to see a man hit a girl in the face with a glass. I was shocked and outraged by this,
but my cousins told me not to say anything or get involved, as it could get dangerous for all of us. I had to stop myself from reacting. I wanted to belt him but that would have been dealing with things his way I guess.

Later on in the night, as I was walking out of the toilet, a guy walked in and proceeded to pull a baseball bat out of his trousers and break it over the head of a guy who was standing at the urinals. I shook my head and kept walking. I went back to the table and thought about the whole evening. This was a wedding, a celebration of love. What the fuck was going on? So I said to my cousin, ‘I want to get out of here, this is just way too violent, even for me.'

We had a few drinks in another bar, not talking much at all. I think that even they were in shock. This couldn't have been normal, could it? I finally said to them, ‘Do you guys know any peaceful people in this town – some fucking hippies who smoke pot, because after tonight I need a joint.'

I'm not a pothead but I needed something to calm me down. They said yes and took me to one of their friends' houses, a guy who'd also been at the wedding. Anyway, we get to the house of the only pothead they knew in Glasgow. He seemed like a nice enough guy and we hit it off straight away. He was a big AC/DC fan and he had heard I knew the boys, so I became his best friend for life, immediately.

After a ridiculous amount of pot, I was sitting listening to
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
for the twenty-fifth time that night, when he turned to me and said, ‘It's nearly daylight and I've got somethin' tae do.'

I wondered what it could be at that time of the morning. Maybe he had to go to his job or something? I thought I'd better get out and let the poor guy get ready for work.

Then he told me something that made me sit bolt upright in my chair.

‘I was at that wedding last night and some bastard hit a friend of mine in the face wi' a glass. She's a lovely lassie and he cut her bad, so I went oot tae ma car and got the baseball bat that I carry fur emergencies. Naebody plays baseball in Glasgow.' He laughed. ‘I went back in and smashed it over his heid in the toilet. I didnae want tae do it in public and ruin the celebration,' he said thoughtfully.

By this point I was starting to straighten up so fast that I was getting whiplash. Anyway, he went on to tell me that in Glasgow, if you beat someone up when they're pissed, the right thing to do is to go around when they are sober and do it again. Besides, he said, it would be fun.

‘I'm goin' roon tae his hoose first thing and I'm gonnae knock on the door. When it opens, I'm gonnae burst in and beat everythin' that's breathin' tae a pulp wi' a lump o' wood.'

He asked, ‘D'ye want tae come and watch? Or, if ye feel like it, ye could help me oot.'

I calmly said, ‘No, you're obviously very capable and you don't need me getting under your feet, especially if you have to kick someone's head in.' I then excused myself, saying, ‘I best get some sleep as I've got to get up early too and beat someone up myself.'

We both laughed but I'm not sure he didn't think I was serious. Then I went home and booked my ticket out of Scotland as quickly as I could. Scottish justice was a twisted and cruel thing and I'd had enough.

Much earlier my mum, like me, had had enough of Scotland.

There were posters saying ‘Come to sunny South Australia' in the office where my parents applied for immigration. Considering the amount of rain and snow that fell in Scotland, and remembering that it was so cold that it cut right to the bone,
I'm not surprised so many people signed up to be ten-pound tourists. That's what they called us: ten-pound tourists. I wore the name as a badge of honour but a lot of people, my mum included, were ashamed of it. It cost ten pounds for the whole family to move to South Australia and start a new life in the land of opportunity. But it was a big move. My mum and dad must have been scared about picking up and going around the world to live in this last, wild frontier. They expected to see kangaroos hopping down the main street and bushrangers riding horses past the house at night. I personally think that the idea of staying in Glasgow was scarier.

I know why we were told we were leaving Scotland. In the fifties there was so much pollution in Glasgow from industry and from coal fires in the homes that you could hardly see your glass in front of your face. Consequently, there was a lot of tuberculosis and bronchitis. My sister Dorothy had bad lungs and Mum spent many freezing cold nights with Dorothy bent over a pot of hot water with a towel over her wee head, trying to help her breathe. So Mum and Dad thought it would be better for her health if we moved to a warmer climate. But, as I say, I don't think that Dorothy's or our health was the only reason. Maybe it was for my dad's health, because I often heard my mum say she was going to kill him if we stayed in Glasgow.

BOOK: Working Class Boy
2.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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