I had the privilege the other day, to be at the funeral of an old neighbor of mine from Castlemilk. I had last seen her at a funeral 2 weeks before hand, The Linn Cremm was packed for the lovely lady, and a funny story was told, how when once on holiday she had lost her false teeth during her meal. When the manager of the Hotel, was informed about this he presented a big box to the lady, preceded to open it and say take your pick. It was full of false teeth or wallies as we say in Glasgow.
Afterwards in the pub, slurping a coffee (no mellow birds about!) I noticed the usual raw emotion and passion shown at such an event, the only time I think I have witnessed such passion is when there is a European night at Celtic Park.
It reminded me of a night which most of you will have been at, but I can assure you I was somewhere more raw and passionate. The date was the 27th September 1989, I was 3 days into being 17, getting my bags ready to depart for Merchant Navy College. Sadly a Great Aunt had passed away and her funeral was on the day of the classic game and historic night when Celtic took on Partizan Belgrade. Plans for us to go to the game had gone with the sad event, so it looked as if it would be the BBC and I had been teased by the sounds and lights of Paradise just a few miles down the road.
As I’ve said before my Da was a purist, we didn’t have the internet then so we had to go by his oracle knowledge of whom he called a player, the Celtic ones need no further mention. He did worship guys like John White the ghost of Spurs fame, Garrincha the little bird, and as a collective the Yugoslavian nation in a whole. So he held judgement on Celtic’s chances of going through in the tournament.
After the funeral it was back to My Great Aunts house for a pot of tea and stuff, I took the brothers back to our flat in Castlemilk and got ready for a quiet night watching the game. This changed at about 6.00pm with my parents bringing back family members for the wake after-show at our tiny flat.
My Da saved up his New year drinks all year round so by September there was a fair stash in the house, so family members were placed in the living room bevvys handed out and we awaited the game to begin. Everyone knows the rollercoaster that was that night, so as you can imagine passions were high enough without a funeral party and booze thrown in. The game began and goals started flying in, as the oldest I was in charge of running the bar, it wasn’t too bad a gig to be honest. It was proper Glasgow, room temp beers, none of this bottled chilled in the fridge rubbish. A slab of Heavy which had been lying covered in dust was just thrown in for the men to devour. A quick blow to get rid of the dust then they guzzled it. The ladies my Ma included just sat drinking large vodkas, for a mixer in it they could get about 10 drinks from one 750ml of Irn Bru or Lemonade. Just enough to stain the vodka and no drowning it!!!! I felt like Bart Simpson when he was the barman for the Mafia. The only ice to be had in the house was novelty Pink elephant frozen plastic shapes, that at my discretion were placed into strangers drinks and the looks of disbelief and terror, were more than enough payment for running about like a green-arsed fly.
The see-saw events of the goals that night and the large and plentiful drinks fueled the room even more, every time Celtic sneaked in front the family said it was a parting gift from our Aunt who was heading to the Pearly Gates that we were doing well. Alas Belgrade scored the goal that knocked us out, the feeling of deflation was gone as soon as the tv was turned off, a very strong electric atmosphere was in the room. With the diversion of Celtic now out of the way, the drinks kicking in, family members realising that my Aunt was gone. Stories were told of her having holidays visiting family, getting the cattle boat from the Broomelaw to Ireland. The closest I had ever got to the Emerald Isle at this stage of my life was watching the Quiet Man on video.
It is at this point an amazing thing happened, my Great Aunts life had been celebrated in church with her favourite hymns being sung, but with a few drinks, and the passions of the funeral and the Celtic game not long finished. My Da stood up with a tear in his eye and sang my Aunts favourite Irish song. “The ballad of James Connolly”, other family members joined in, a few just sat with their eyes closed.
That to me is when a song of that type is at its most powerful, more potent than when sung in a bar/stage by a bunch of men being paid to sing it, when it was being sung by a family member to remember a departed loved one, that is when the magic happens.The voice goes and eyes well up as during the singing of the song, memories of the person and why it meant so much to them come flooding back, the singer so self aware of the task they have undertaken.
I wasn’t to realise that within 8 years both my parents would be gone, and similar songs would be sung by me and my brothers and friends remembering and celebrating their lives in how our culture and song meant so much to their makeup as a person.
People might wonder about how I remember such events in such great scale. When you sit on a boat and all you can see is water and you sit in your room after a shift, your mind thinks back as you listen to your iPod, to a song and memories flood back of nights like the 27th sept 1989.
I of course regret I wasn’t at the game, but the atmosphere at the family home that night was just as electric. If my send off is half as good as my old Great Aunty’s was I’ll be doing well.
Hail Hail the Parrot (twitter @Machrie72)