Iain Heggie’s Glasgow is one man’s view of day-to-day life in the city. Just like the city, sometimes his short observations are a bit rough around the edges.
THE newsagent employs a lady in her 50s. She is already annoyed with him when I arrive. Whatever caused it, just as I walk in, she says, ‘Ah’ll walk oot in a minute.’ The newsagent replies in an inaudible undertone. She’s pretty, but worn. She has a pony tail, glasses and, under the fluorescents, her make-up looks like powder swimming in grease.
While I am checking through the newspapers I see a rugged/cute boy-man in his early 20s, browsing. He is up to my nipples and wears a white T-shirt and baggy, grey tracksuit bottoms. He picks up three big litre bottles of sugary drinks, savouries and chocolate. He goes to the counter just ahead of me and asks the lady: ‘Whit kin ah get fer a nine year old?’
The lady is very aggressive: ‘Ah don’t know. Jist ennhin.’ This sends the boy-man spinning anxiously round the sweets section and you can see his hands trembling with the enormity of his responsibility. The lady raises her eyebrows in exasperation. Eventually, the boy-man comes back with his choices, puts them on the counter and says, ‘Bottla Glens.’
The lady goes to the drinks section and comes back with a small bottle of vodka. He says: ‘No a half bottle, a bottle.’
She says ‘Oh, a bottle,’ making it sound, for the benefit of the newsagent, that the boy had asked her wrongly in the first place. And she goes back to the drinks section and exchanges a half bottle for a bottle. And brings it back. Then the boy-man opens his wallet. There are two £20 notes in there. And then there was this PAUSE. The £40 was to be anointed with respect before it was touched. The boy-man takes his time and fingers the money cautiously, with reverence, like it’s magic money.
The rest of Friday night and his status – as provider/guest provider/substitute provider – is dependent on its purchasing power.
The woman says: ‘£14.96.’ The boy-man hands over the entire £40. The woman puts the £40 in the till and is about to start counting out the change. And the boy-man says: ‘And all the rest on Budweiser.’
This interruption is more than the woman can cope with. She freezes, irritated, for a second. She says: ‘How much Budweiser do you want?’
He says: ‘Just whatever ah can get with the change.’
She says: ‘Right. That’s £5.04.’
He says: ‘I gave you £40.’
She freezes, looks confused, but goes back in the till and brings out the other £20. She pauses with that for a few seconds and suddenly it’s like she gets it and she puts all the change back in the till. She says: ‘We’ve only got bottles of Budweiser.’
He says: ‘It’s bottles ah want.’
And she goes to the fridge and starts bringing out bottles and putting them into bags. The newsagent is watching this and says: ‘We don’t have enough bottles for this. Go to the off-license. They’ll give you it on offer.’ (He also owns the off-license.) And he and the lady start putting the bottles back in the fridge. Then the lady goes to the till, takes money out and counts £5.04 pence into the boy-man’s hand.
I can feel the tension rising in the boy-man and how difficult it is for him to make his challenge. ‘I gave you £40,’ he eventually says.
The woman stops in her tracks again, getting ready to kill. And then slowly and cautiously she takes the extra £20 out of the till. But she’s still not sure she gets it. ‘I gave you the extra £20 for the Budweiser,’ the boy-man explains again.
And the lady is still holding the £20 note and the rest of the change in her hand. She is still trying to compute it. The newsagent is looking on but has not been listening and sees all this money going to a customer and snatches it from the lady.
‘What’s this extra £20 note for?’ he says.
‘That was to pay for the Budweiser,’ the boy-man repeats yet again, not angry or even exasperated, but like a small boy used to injustice, frightened he is going to lose it. Warily and reluctantly the newsagent hands the money back to the woman, his night slightly poisoned with uncertainty. The woman hands it back to the boy-man telling him off: ‘What did you give it back to me for?’
The boy-man says: ‘To pay for the Budweiser.’
She says: ‘AYE, BUT WHAT DID YOU GIVE IT BACK TO ME FOR?’
The boy-man is now floored and can’t even find the obvious answer – that he didn’t take it back from her in the first place. He does not know that the woman is blustering to stop herself seeming wrong in the eyes of the newsagent. The woman gives it back to the boy-man resentfully, as if he has no right to it and he is depleting her substance by taking it. The boy-man leaves the shop at last. And 12 minutes from when I join the queue, I am able to buy my paper for 20p.
(It may sound like I was watching all this with observer’s patience. But one part of me wanted to scream and bang all their heads together. The other part was worried about the boy-man’s big night, the woman’s anxiety about being blamed and the newsagent’s anxiety about his profits. By the way, the back entrance to Tesco is three minutes away. The boy-man could have saved 30% of his precious money by taking a short walk.)
SQUAWKING seagull overhead, harassed by swarms of other birds and just hanging on to a giant dangling greaseburger. The greaseburger suddenly comes free and flies in front of me on to the road. The birds swoop en masse but are beaten by the wheel of a giant artic lorry. The burger is cartoon-flattened and spreads out so everyone gets a share. I love a happy ending.
IN a card shop the assistant is asking the women to buy a pen for breast cancer and the men for prostate cancer. I ask the male assistant if men say no to breasts. He says he only does what he is told, but that women say no to the prostate. He doesn’t detect my curiosity and amusement and thinks I am having a go at him in support of the eleventh commandment: ‘Thou shalt show parity of empathy to the body parts of both genders’.
More About Iain Heggie's Glasgow Life
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- Iain Heggie's Glasgow: routine banter
- Iain Heggie's Glasgow: Argyle Street
- Iain Heggie's Glasgow: small victories
- Iain Heggie's Glasgow: enforced intimacy
- Iain Heggie's Glasgow: a game of cat and mouse
- Iain Heggie's Glasgow: from posh voices to stiletto warfare