A Christmas (without) Carole
So, here’s the thing. Here’s how it all started…
It’s the year punk rock was born, Concorde entered commercial service and a wee Romanian gymnast changed her sport forever. Archie Blunt is a man with big ideas. A bizarre brush with the entertainment business – he ‘saves’ the life of the UK’s top showbiz star Hank ‘Heady’ Hendricks - has left him with dreams of hitting the big-time as a Popular Music Impresario. Seizing the initiative, he creates a new singing group from five unruly working-class kids from Glasgow’s East End.
Fast forward almost 40 years and a man sits in a parked car staring out at the calm water of the Firth of Clyde. A home-made CD of songs is playing on repeat, an essay written about the actress Julie Christie 30 years earlier is in his hand, and the body of a controversial Glaswegian politician – who’s been missing for two weeks - is in the boot.
Back to the mid-70s; Shettleston – a district in the East End of Glasgow – had no private detectives. Despite high and increasing levels of local criminality, adultery and missing persons, no-one had considered this a viable occupation for middle-aged weegie bampots armed only with a camera and a degree from the University of Life. No-one, that is, until … Robert McAdam Souness.
A week. A confession. A generation. All three strands are connected; by people, by accidents of time but most of all by the city. The city of wee men and big windaes.
This is … GLASWEGIAN RHAPSODY
Act Three: part one
Prologue: A Christmas (without) Carole
Christmas Eve, 1987.
Early evening. Boaby Souness was home. Alone. In a big fuck-off house in Mount Vernon which the oil money had bought. A façade of respectability; a Thatcherite metaphor for style-over-substance happiness. Jim had just fixed it for a buck-toothed brat from Hull to meet Freddie Mercury. He looked thin, did Mercury. Boaby had given up hating him, but he was still a massive arsehole around these parts. Boaby got up. He flicked the switch; telly off, radio on. Better for drownin' the sorrows ... and there were many sorrows. He poured a Chivas, and a Vat 69. Auld habits an' aw that ...
Boaby Souness was drunk and depressed. Nae change there then. Some faceless, gormless English DJ prick was harping on about the new order or something and then this:
“Wow, what a fantastic record. Here’s another one, just right for the season … ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ by Black…”
Music drifted in and out through the smoky maze of Boaby Souness's fevered brain..........
"Gazin’ at yer navel through the bottom of a glass wi’ yer heid up yer arse is quite a scatalogical feat, Souness." Boaby registered the voice; a high-pitched one. It sounded familiar. He picked up the radio and shook it.
‘Wireless must be pickin’ up the taxis again,’ he muttered to himself. Gaudy tinsel shivered as he aimed a wayward kick at the shiny black veneered hi-fi stack. "Naw, ya clown, behind ye." That high-pitched squeak. "Nice gaff, by the way. Shame the bank's got an eye oan it, eh?" Chib Charnley's squint smile rested easily on the sofa. "Aye, ah'm deid … but you’re still a cunt.” Boaby stared at his glass; rubbed his eyes.
“Who picked that wallpaper?"
‘Th'missus, fae Laura Ash … why the fuck does that matter?" Boaby watched himself pass Chib the Chivas bottle.
"Y'mean yer soon-tae-be-ex-missus?" Chib gestured away a dram. "Ah'd go easy oan that, son. Ah'm no yer only hoose guest th'night." Boaby scanned the room.
"Ye fucked it up, Souness, jist like yer boy. Nearly feel sorry fur ye. Couldnae let the history lie could ye? Nae point stertin’ greetin’ noo ..." Chib leaned against the large marble fireplace. He was in front of the mirror, but the mirror wasn’t doing its job. "That wreath ye sent tae ma funeral, nice touch by the way. A screwdriver. Gie’d me a chuckle, so it did. But ah'm jist the warm-up act, Boaby son …” Boaby put his head in his hands.
"...don't beat yersel up ... there's a queue waitin tae dae it for ye." And with a lopsided gumsy grin - like the Carntyne Cat he was - Chib was gone.
Sweat rolled down Boaby's neck. He stared at the wall. He was alone. Only him there ... and Bruce Springsteen ...
“…the lights go out and it’s just the three of us You, me and all that stuff we’re so scared of…”
What did Chib mean about house guests? Boaby was uneasy; he could smell Chanel No 5. Some transparent lass in a Mary Quant dress appeared and smiled.
From the radio … The Wedding Present, 'My Favourite Dress'.
‘Betty, izzat you?’
"Oh aye darlin’, an’ wir goin’ dancin’." She took his hand and whirled. When they stopped, they were in the Barrowland Ballroom.
It was Christmas Eve 1960, and Wullie ‘Wigwam’ Dunn was on the bell. Boaby saw his young self and Betty dancing. She wasn’t Betty Rowntree back then.
‘Can we stay here awhile?’ he asked.
“Naw!” said Betty.
Boaby turned to see Betty. She had changed. She was plumper, with a red halter neck and a ra-ra skirt; hair in a Princess Di wedge.
"We’re no done wi’ your Christmases past, pal"
Grasping Boaby's sweaty hand, Betty revisited scene after scene of Boaby breaking up with various women; each ending with his emergent catchphrase; ‘See hen, ah’m a fighter, no’ a lover.’
Boaby Souness was distressed and teary.
‘STOP! Betty, whit is aw this aboot?’ Betty adjusted her Primark leopard-skin blouse over her jeggings. Christ Almighty, this woman could change quickly!
"Ah'll no’ tell ye but naeb’dy said ye wir a lover, an’ ye coudnae fight yer way oot a wet paper bag. Ma times runnin’ short, Boaby.” Boaby wept.
‘Jeez, Betty gie’s a fuckin’ clue.’
“Christmas is aboot the weans, Boaby. Think ae the weans. THINK AE THE WEAN!"
The radio was now playing ... ’Our Children’ by Microdisney. What kinda fucked-up practical joke playlist wis this? It was like a concrete boot to Boaby’s aching balls. He flicked the switch. Back to the telly. Val Doonican rocking back and forth … back and forth. Back and forth. Boaby alone again. Just him and the drink. The drink and him. And this fuckin’ Doonican joker murderin’ a song. All canines and cardigan, soft light and sincerity. Killing him softly. Val’s rendition. Irony, without the Bru. Reena's favourite song. A lover, not a fighter. But he fought her. Day in. Day out. And he killed her. Softly. TV off.
Some glaikit fucker fae some glaikit radio station spoke over the intro. Roberta Flack again. A coincidence? She was strumming his pain; and it wasn’t soft. What Boaby wouldn’t do for just half an hour with Reena? He'd tell her whole life with this one song. But she - like his future - was gone. Long gone.
"Boaby." He could almost hear her speak his name. "Boaby." His eyes opened. There she was, wearing Doonican's cardie. "Boaby.”
"Jist tell me one thing," she said.
"Why? Why did ye huv tae kill me?" Words lost on Boaby, he staggered for sense.
"Ah didnae ... ah loved ye!"
"Remember that Christmas?" Boaby knew immediately. 1969. Beautiful. Perfect. The TV mysteriously back on. Val Doonican’s special guest, Brenda Lee singing ‘Sweet Nothings’.
"That's all we'll ever huv, Boaby, sweet nothings.”
‘But Reen, ah always loved you. Always.’
"Mibbes aye, mibbes naw. Sweet Nothings."
Boaby stood up. The Vat 69 took a fall. Not the fall. That was all his and his alone. Reena was gone, forever. It was still only half past ten. “Haw! Souness! O’er here! Yer no’ seein’ things. An’ ah’m no’ deid. But you need telt an’ that’s why ah’m here.” Boaby swayed. He wanted it all to stop. ‘Giddy-up?' “Aye, that’s right. Ah’m the guy that got ye ootta yon mess ten year ago, not that pig Dodd. Sid anaw. No’ sorry he ended up in the Bar-L, though. Better fur him.” Boaby was sure he'd put the radio off. He gazed at its plug lying detached from the wall socket. But still it burst into life again. This time it was The Pixies, ‘Nimrod's Son’, playing at the wrong speed. “Here ye are. Alone. In yer big fancy hoose. An’ shitin’ yersel’ aboot yer boy gettin’ oot. What did ye dae when he went down? Hang around? Go an’ see him like ye said ye wid? Naw! You did what you’re best at. Lookin’ oot fur yersel’ an’ gettin’ the fuck oot. Argentina? Ya fuckin’ moron. Then Aberdeen an’ when ye dae come back here, its Boaby Big Baws again, swannin’ roon’ toon, fixin’ this, sortin’ that.” Boaby sobbed loudly. “Sid’s done well inside, made pals wi’ yon nutter Boyle, got intae art an’ stuff. He disnae need you aroon’ fucking things up fur him.” Boaby was now inconsolable. “When Sid gets oot in a coupla days, ah’ll pick him up, you stay away. Oh, aye, an’ Carole’s wi’ me noo.” Boaby shudders, and screams NAAAWW!! The radio. That fucking radio! Boaby heaved it, Geoff Capes-style. It smashed against the fireplace. But still, it played on; the auteur of all his pain. ”… it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine …” Boaby spewed. What the fuck was happening to him? Mental breakdown? Only An Excuse. He looked at the clock. Ten to midnight. Maybe there was still time. Boaby was in shock. He couldn’t live without Carole. With the cruelest timing, the DJ stuck the knife in: “… and now, especially for the lovers out there, we have U2 ...’With Or Without You …” ‘Ya fuckin’ basturt, ye.’ “Mr Souness?” A voice. A child’s voice. Boaby spun around and saw the waif; thin and pale and grubby. An Oscar Mazzoroli subject made real with eyes like dark pools, staring him out. "We never met, Mr Souness. But you promised my mammy you'd find me. And you promised her you'd get the man that took me. And you did." Boaby was empty. All cried out. “You never gave up on me. My mammy had nothing, her hope was gone, but you found me and you got me home to her. God bless you Mr Souness.” Boaby remembered. Only too well. 1959, Carntyne Station. Wee Jenny Aitken, going to her gran’s in Coatbridge. Gone. Weeks of searching. Found, but too late. Boaby got the bastard. He’d suspected the cunt right from the off. The police had virtually given up. It took him a year but he eventually got him. And the first person he went to was Jenny’s mammy. Agnes Aitken, Betty Rowntree’s pal from school, and Boaby’s next door neighbour. She was broken, but her dignity was still intact despite having to live with the knowledge that her choice of partner had led to her only daughter’s brutal death. “Never give up on your family Mr Souness. My mammy never gave up on me an’ you never gave up on her. That meant everything to her. And me.” Boaby woke abruptly, shaken, and with his half-empty glass perched precariously on the armrest. Half-empty? Or half-full? He pondered. Carole, Sid, the business, the future … Boaby's decanter arm was shaking and his mind was racing, but with a developing clarity of purpose he thought long gone. He had some answers now. “…Ah just gotta tell them how ah’m feelin’, gotta make them understand…” The radio was there, switched off but intact. Some wee ginger-haired kid with a voice as improbably deep as Nat King Cole was singing. He’d slept through midnight. No matter, it was Christmas Day. Almost a new year. Good fuckin’ riddance to the auld yin. Boaby Souness smiled wryly, as the master-plan unfolded in his head. He turned the music up, and headed upstairs to prepare for what was ahead. “…Ah know the game, and ah’m gonna play it…” Act Three: part two Intermission INTERNAL MEMO FROM: Stevie Snodgrass, Crime Reporter TO: Eddie Jackson, Editor SUBJECT: Robert “Boaby” Souness DATE: 31st December 1987 Ed, As discussed, here is a summary of my findings to date on the subject. I definitely think we have a story here, boss. If you give me the go-ahead this could keep us in front pages for weeks… The background to this guy is already well documented, most notably his alleged ‘involvement’ in the Meat Factory Murders of 1975, and his part in bringing down the Barlow clan in 1977. My notes below cover the period from then: ——————————————————————————————————- The new relationship between Boaby Souness and his long-lost son Sid was pretty much over before it started. Sid Aitken was convicted of the manslaughter of Kenneth Keaveney and sentenced to 15 years in Barlinnie Prison. Souness’s contact with Strathclyde Police, Davy Dodd, had negotiated a reduced tariff on the basis of Aitken’s assistance in the police case against Boola Barlow. After six months, Sid was moved to Peterhead for his own protection. With Sid gone, Boaby Souness made plans to get out of Glasgow again, this time ending up getting a job with the security detail travelling with the Scotland World Cup Squad to Argentina ‘78. He drove the team bus around Hampden saying goodbye to the crowd the same day as Boola Barlow was sent down for life. After escorting a number of the squad on a curfew-breaking night out in Cordoba, Souness made the acquaintance of Tex-Mex industrialist & oil baron Geno Garcia, head of Genoil. He was eventually offered the job as Head of Security for his Aberdeen operation. Rumours of a picture-crammed dossier relating to that Cordoban night-out residing in a Glasgow bank vault persist to this day. Boaby made the most of this new start, getting himself immersed in the business community, making new contacts including Struan Fraser of the Scottish Office, who wasn’t averse to a little extra-curricular deal-making. Boaby was able to link Fraser and Garcia. They engaged in some creative planning around allocation of new offshore drilling rights, resulting in Genoil becoming a major player in the North Sea, with Boaby benefitting from 5% of the back-end, making him a wealthy man. Around this time Boaby met Carole Cleary, an exotic dancer from Bridgeton who had been lured north by the booming local economy and the influx of Americans keen to see the comforts of home in their new surroundings. Boaby and Carole fell in love. Boaby’s business dealings with Fraser now extended beyond oil, with his Government contacts giving him the heads-up on emerging plans to privatise major national companies. He also became aware of the likelihood of major swathes of hitherto-derelict Govan real estate being ‘acquired’ for the planned Glasgow Garden Festival. Boaby used his oil money to get in early on both counts and made an absolute killing. With the bottom falling out of the oil prices in the North Sea in ‘86. Boaby decided to head back to Glasgow and set up properly. I suspect this is to build an empire that he can bring Sid into upon his likely release in ‘88. Meanwhile, Sid returned to Glasgow from Peterhead prison and has now reinvented himself within the confines of the Barlinnie Special Unit; the troubled teenager now being a much-lauded conceptual artist and writer. He has expressed little desire to re-establish contact with his dad with his plans upon release very much linked to following his artistic calling. Boaby Souness has returned to a Glasgow ripped apart by ongoing gang wars between associates of the McLartys and ‘Gallus’ Gary Giddy-Up, who had moved to carve the East End after Boola Barlow’s imprisonment. Souness has engineered an uneasy truce with both parties, trying to avoid confrontation with either. However both eye his wealth & businesses greedily and are thought to be making plans to move on him, according to my sources in their organisations. Boaby Souness can’t seem to enjoy the happiness wealth has brought him in his later years. Lifelong friend, George McCartney spoke to me and told me his realationship with Carole was on the rocks. She left him a week before Christmas, amid arguments about Boaby’s drinking and his searching for his son with Reena, his first wife. SS 31/12/87. Act Three: part three Epilogue: The Atonement The clarity of purpose that had followed the weirdest night of his previous forty-nine years – it had some stiff competition but still, the ghost of Chib Charnley amongst others? – had evaporated gradually over the subsequent days. Boaby Souness spent Christmas Day alone. It hadn’t been the first time, but it had been the worst time. About to enter his 50th year, a new start seemed an unattainable dream. He was financially secure; his life wasn’t in any immediate danger that he could conceive of but the pervading context of loneliness in which his life was now being conducted was more painful than anything he had previously encountered. Carole had left a few days – maybe weeks, he now couldn’t be certain - before the apparitions had visited. It was mainly the drink, but also the irrationality. She couldn’t grasp the depth of his guilt. Guilt over wee Tommy, over Sid being in jail, over vanishing to the other side of the world while Geordie McCartney nearly died in an arson attack on Boaby’s old flat. Guilt that his oldest friend was now confined to a wheelchair having jumped from a window to escape the blaze. Guilt that he had abandoned Aggie Aitken just when she most needed emotional stability. His bottomless pit of guilt even extended to Reena, having persuaded himself that he had somehow pushed her towards Shug Greenstreet in the first place. He was in a cyclical holding pattern where the bottle temporarily assuaged such remorse before the brutal hangovers brought it all back, and more viscerally with every passing day. Carole had had enough. The story about Boaby shagging some daft wee lassie at a party had been the last straw. She had left him, possibly back to Aberdeen. Boaby didn’t know. He didn’t know where to look for her, and what was worse, he wasn’t even sure he should. She didn’t really understand what he was going through. She had originally given him the solace of confession, but Boaby Souness considered himself to be a fundamentally decent man. But the bad things he’d either been responsible for - or had been party to - always returned to haunt him eventually. In more lucid moments, he was grateful that his conscience forced him to remember them. Rank evil bastards like Shug Greenstreet or Boola Barlow or even Davy Dodd had no such control valves. If any consolation was to be had now, it was that he had never veered down the road that they had ultimately chosen. He sat in the Horseshoe staring at his glass, as the Bells tolled. It was 1988. There was exaggerated happiness in the air. For Auld Lang Syne, my friend. It would most likely dissipate into aggression once the bampots that frequented the city centre’s cobbled lanes and sheltered doorways got to work. A&E would see vistor numbers soar to levels only normally experienced in the aftermath of an Old Firm match. Revellers, prostitutes and innocent bystanders were the typical post-Hogmanay casualties. Boaby Souness was determined not to be one of them. He had felt like he had been under house arrest during this last week and had been glad of the temporary freedom of a day release into the city. Now though, with the sounds of Big Ben still ringing, it had only reminded him of how lonely he was without Carole to kiss and make daft, irrational resolutions for the year ahead with. He would be lonely until she returned – if she returned – but he wasn’t going to be alone for much longer. Sid was being released early on New Year’s Day. And Boaby had agreed to give him an address until he sorted himself out. ‘Can ah buy ye a drink, pal?’ Boaby heard the voice but didn’t turn round; naturally assuming it was addressing someone else. ‘Happy New Year, by the way.’ A hand with extremely hairy fingers reached around from behind Boaby. He turned to face the person it was attached to. ‘Eh … aye, Happy New Year tae you tae, son.’ Boaby shook the young man’s hand. He looked familiar, but Boaby couldn’t place him. ‘Ah’m Stevie, can ah buy ye a drink?’ Boaby was bemused. He’d almost forgotten that palpable anxiety felt when approached in a pub by a stranger who appeared to know him. ‘Eh … aye, aw’right. Whisky, son.’ Boaby watched Stevie order. He quickly scanned the heaving bar. The Horseshoe had the longest bar of any pub in Europe and on Hogmanay, there was barely room to stand let alone sit down. Stevie appeared – like Boaby – to be on his own, and he only bought two drinks; one for each of them. Boaby lit two Benson & Hedges. He instinctively handed one to his new drinking buddy. ‘Ah, cheers but ah don’t smoke, man. They things’ll kill ye.’ It was an attempt at humour but Boaby didn’t laugh. ‘Fuck ye, then,’ said Boaby, as if he had just sacrificed his last ever cigarette. They clinked glasses. ‘Cheers,’ offered Boaby. ‘Aye, yer good health, fella,’ said Stevie. They finished their drinks in silence but mainly because the singing had started in their corner of the pub, making conversation virtually impossible. Boaby ushered the young man outside. ‘Listen son, ah appreciate the drink an’ that, but ah’m ah supposed tae know you?’ ‘Sorry, Mr Souness …’ Boaby was immediately on guard. ‘Look, ah’m no’ Graeme Souness … or his fuckin’ dad.’ It wasn’t a common surname in Glasgow but since the former Scotland captain had taken over team management at Rangers, every cunt seemed to want Boaby to get them free tickets for games at Ibrox. It was getting on his wick. ‘Naw, ah know … ah’m Stevie Snodgrass. Ye’ve had an interestin’ life an’ wi’ the Garden Festival comin’ up this year, we were interested in dain’ a story aboot ye.’ ‘Ah, so yer a fuckin’ journalist then. Ah mighta fuckin’ known. Beat it, ya cunt.’ ‘Naw, naw … sorry, ye don’t understand. It’s no’ for the papers, it’s for a telly programme. Ah’m feelance. Ah’m representin’ STV.’ Boaby thought that this might be worse. The newspaper coverage of Wembley ten years earlier had been both catalyst to the principal source of the guilt he now carried, but also to the route of his eventual escape. ‘Ah’ve been researchin’ the background tae the Festival an’ your name kept comin’ up as an investor. Ah also know aboot yer boy an’ how he’s turned his life round while he’s been inside. It’s a good news story, Mr Souness. A positive, upliftin’ tale of local men made good, despite personal pain and heartbreak.’ It was a rehearsed pitch, and Stevie Snodgrass now regretted it. He sounded like a prick. ‘… an’ obviously, ye’ll get paid for it.’ Boaby didn’t need the money now, but the old Boaby Souness – the one raised in the rat-infested tenements of Shettleston – cocked an ear.
‘Aye? How much?’
‘It depends on the access.’
‘Access tae whit?’
‘You, Mr Souness. And yer back story.’