Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Right Thing

The Right Thing

John Paul could feel the water seeping into his busted old trainers as he headed for the main entrance of the Forge shopping centre. The chilly December wind cut through his thin track suit and the lazy Glasgow drizzle seemed to seep into every pore of his body. In all his 13 years he hadn’t felt so cold. He scanned the foyer of the centre hoping the security man locals called ‘Robocop’ wasn’t around. He was a mean spirited man who loved nothing better than blocking those he considered ‘scum’ from the centre. John Paul entered with a crowd of women shoppers hoping to blend in. He wasn’t here to spend, rather just to heat his shivering body. He had got as far as the indoor Market when Robocop appeared, ‘Right wee man, turn around, out you go!’ A woman looked at John Paul, ‘Whit’s the lad done? Why are you throwing him oot?’ Robocop looked at her disdainfully, ‘These people aren’t here to spend, they’ve no money. They steal and hang around driving decent customers away.’ The woman looked sympathetically at John Paul, ‘But he’s just a wee lad, he’s shivering.’ Robocop was having none of it and ushered John Paul out the doors and into cold, damp Duke Street, ‘and don’t come back ya fuckin wee tramp’ He muttered under his breath once he was sure no other customers could hear him. John Paul looked blankly at him bemused at his mean attitude. What was wrong with some people?

John Paul, wet hair plastered to his head, headed up past Parkhead Cross and then turned right along the Gallowgate as the relentless Glasgow rain became heavier. Going home wasn’t an option as his Step-Da was drunk again and seemed to pick on him incessantly when the alcohol fuelled rage was on him. He had become more violent in recent years and John Paul’s body bore the bruises from his father’s last episode. What angered him more was though his inability to defend his mother. He had lain awake one night listening to him ranting at her, calling her foul names and then the violence and crying had started. John Paul had covered his ears and begged God to make it all stop. Later, when all was quiet apart from the gentle sobbing of his mother he slipped out of bed and headed for the living room. His step-Da was asleep on the couch as John Paul approached his mother and simply hugged her, saying nothing. In his mind he promised himself that when he grew to manhood that bastard would pay for it all.

He crossed the road rather aimlessly and looked through the large gateway into Janefield Street cemetery. Despite being a Parkhead boy all his life, it occurred to him that he had never been in the old cemetery before. He wandered among the forgotten graves of people from a bye-gone age. A huge stone Celtic cross loomed over him, a curious black crow perched on top, watching him. He reached the cemetery wall and clambered up onto the top of it and sat down, his legs dangling above Janefield Street. Below him he could see hard hatted workmen were busy tearing down the last of the old Celtic Park enclosure known as the Jungle. The last of the steelwork was gone and they were using jack-hammers to break up the concrete terraces. The old stadium looked like a war zone. Rubble was strewn everywhere and the noise of power tools and cement trucks filled the air. John Paul had gone to many games at the old stadium, initially to escape his home but he had come to love the rough comradeship of the terraces. It was his escape, his sanctuary, the place where he dreamed of better things.  He seldom paid in as he was still small enough to get a lift or agile enough to scale the walls on occasion. On one occasion he had cut his hand badly as the club, clearly annoyed at lost gate receipts, bedded broken glass on top of the outer walls in cement. That annoyed him, the club founded for the poor was keeping the poor out with broken glass.

John Paul watched as the noise of demolition abated and the workmen downed tools and headed for the porta-cabins which served as their bothies. At least they could eat their lunch out of the rain.  He dropped down from the cemetery wall and crossed Janefield Street. Glancing through the temporary metal mesh fence which stood, slotted into black rubber feet, he looked at the remains of Celtic Park. He could see the old main stand, alone and forlorn in the rain looking out of place on its own. It was hard to believe that the pile of twisted metal and broken concrete before him was all that remained of the Jungle. He prised two sections of the fencing apart and squeezed through into the building site that was one day to be the new Celtic Park. The place was quiet and the only workmen around were far away eating their sandwiches. He wandered over the twisted rubble of the old Jungle thinking of the times he had stood there cheering on his heroes. He had been shoe horned in here when Celtic won the title in their Centenary year. What a crowd there was that day. Now, all that was left was rubble and the ghosts of the past to lament the destruction of the old stadium. As John Paul picked his way over the broken concrete a small section of it gave way and he fell forward. His leg had slipped into a hole beneath the rubble and he only just managed to stop himself having a heavy fall. Something jagged and scratched his shin and he let out a small cry. As he extricated his leg carefully from the hole he was disappointed to see his track suit bottoms torn and dirty but worse than that his trainer was no longer on his foot. He looked for a moment at his damp, dirty sock through which poked his big toe. He then glanced into the void where his leg had slipped and saw his trainer about 3 feet down the hole. He lay on the uneven concrete and reached into the hole, his cold fingers feeling for his trainer. The tips of his fingers touched something metallic and he withdrew his hand worrying it was a gas pipe or something electrical. He rolled onto his side and peered into the hole. His trainer was jammed between damp clay and what appeared to be a rectangular metal box. John Paul looked around him and saw what he required; a piece of metal reinforcing rod from the concrete lay on the damp ground. He poked it into the hole and dislodged his trainer. Straining, he reached into the hole and retrieved it and pulled it onto his foot. He then turned his attention to the metal box. He forced the rod down the side of it and levered it left and right until it was loose. He reached into the hole with both hands and prised the box free from the cloying mud. He placed the box in front of him and regarded it. It was about the size of a shoe box and beneath the clay and rust, he could make out rusty hinges. What was this doing buried under the old Jungle at Celtic Park? He glanced around him, a little startled, as two workmen laughed at across at the main stand. John Paul lifted the box and slipped quietly out of the Stadium. He made his way along Janefield Street, scanning the ground until he found a plastic carrier bag blowing along the damp, deserted street. He placed the metal box into the bag and headed for home.

The house was quiet when he arrived home. His step-da had probably gone to the bookies or pub and his mother was working as a cleaner in the nearby Templeton centre. He had the house to himself and after locking the front door, he headed for his bedroom. He placed some old newspapers on his bed and then removed the box from the carrier bag and placed it on them. He used a scrubbing brush to clean most of the clay from the box, his mind racing at the thought of what it might contain. He then tried the lid which didn’t seem to be held closed by a padlock or other such mechanism but it was closed fast and wouldn’t budge. John Paul fetched his Step-Da’s hammer and a sturdy cold chisel from under the kitchen sink. He placed the point of the chisel at the spot he thought was the edge of the lid. He tapped gently at first but soon lost patience and hit the chisel hard. The lid loosened a little and he squeezed the edge of the chisel into the thin gap and levered the lid until finally it gave and he was able to open the box fully. He looked inside, eyes wide in expectation.

Inside the box, John Paul found a sort of parcel wrapped in what he thought was linen and tied with brown, aged string.  He snapped the string and carefully unfolded the water stained linen. In it he found two envelopes, browned with age and water marked. There was also a faded photograph of a Celtic team dressed in a strip of vertical stripes. There was also a set of what appeared to be dusty old rosary beads. He glanced in the box to make sure it was empty and found several old coins, each showing Queen Victoria’s distinctive head. He laid the items carefully on the bed and looked at them. He carefully opened each of the two envelopes and separated the sheets of paper. The first one he attempted to read seemed to be a poem and with some difficulty he eventually deciphered the hand writing and read…

Children of the future age

Reading this indignant page

Know that once there was a time

When being poor was thought a crime

But seeing no help close at hand

We turn to God in a heartless land

Beseech his manna from the skies

To still our hungry children’s cries

 And in that year of eighty-seven

When so many young took leave for heaven

We took our faith and fate in hand

And formed our bold and gallant band

 Celtic was the name we chose

The shamrock mighty as thistle or rose

From far and wide they came to see

The men who stilled the hungry plea

                                                                           J Glass Esq. May 1892

John Paul placed the letter on the bed and ran to fetch his history of Celtic book. It didn’t take him long to find out that ‘J Glass’ was in fact John Glass and said to be Brother Walfrid’s right hand man  and one of the chief motivating forces in Celtic’s foundation. 1892 was the date the club moved from the original Celtic Park to the current site. John Paul looked at the photograph of the bearded man staring out of the page at him, speaking to him from a century or more ago. Was the box some sort of time capsule placed under the old terracing as the stadium was being laid out? He took out the second letter and read the short paragraph it contained. The writing was neat and rather dated but he read it with widening eyes as he realised who had written it…

‘May the Lord bless this ground we consecrated this day and may he always watch over the Celtic football club and all who are involved with this fine venture. For as long these relics lie in this hallowed soil the Celtic will prosper. May the Lord smile on you and bless you all this day.’

Brother Walfrid…FMS

John Paul’s head was spinning. He held in his hand a letter, a blessing written by Brother Walfrid himself!  What would this be worth to a collector? He looked at the two letters and then at the dusty rosary beads. He could sure use some money and so could his family but something was troubling him. ‘As long as these relics remain in this hallowed soil the Celtic would prosper.’ That’s what the letter said and he had removed them.

That evening John Paul headed for his friend Paddy’s house and explained all that had occurred that day. Paddy, of course thought it was a wind up until John Paul showed him the proof. ‘Jesus, these will be worth plenty JP, you selling them?’ John Paul was undecided, ‘I’m no sure mate, something is telling me it’s no right?’ Paddy looked at him, ‘Mate, Celtic wiz set up tae help the poor, you’ll get a wad for these tae help you and trust me, you’re poor JP!’ John Paul returned home later that evening and spent a restless night in his bed. When the first pale fingers of light were creeping in his window, he knew what he had to do.

For three months John Paul visited Janefield Street, gazing in at the building work going on in the Stadium area. It was a bright March day when his moment arrived.  A huge concrete mixing truck arrived to pour more concrete onto the foundations of the new North stand. As the driver reversed the truck towards the spot the pour was to take place John Paul slipped quietly into the building site. From his jacket he produced the metal box. Everything was back inside as it was before he had found it. He clambered over pieces of steel stacked neatly on the ground and threw the box quickly into the great hole in the ground the concrete was to be poured into. A voice called to him, ‘Here you, wee man- get yersel tae fuck, it’s deadly playing in building sites!’ John Paul raised a conciliatory hand to him and squeezed back through the fence back into Janefield Street. He smiled as the trough on the concrete truck was guided over the hole and tons of wet concrete splashed over the box, sealing it into the very fabric of Celtic Park forever. ‘There ye go Walfrid,’ he smiled, ‘back where it should be.’ He headed for home satisfied that he’d done the right thing.

John Paul stood in the great North stand with 26,000 other Celtic fans as Celtic went on the attack against St Johnstone in that bright May day in 1998. It was win or bust for Celtic as Rangers were threatening to beat Jock Stein’s nine in a row record. It had been three years or so since he had returned the box to Celtic Park and his seat in the North Stand was almost directly above the spot where he had returned it. As Larsson cut towards the St Johnstone box in those opening minutes the entire stand stood to see what he would do. The brilliant Swede curled an unstoppable shot past the goalkeeper and Celtic were on their way to their first Championship in a decade. The good days were returning to Celtic Park. As John Paul and his friend Paddy roared and hugged each other, words written a long time ago came into his mind… As long as these relics remain in this hallowed soil the Celtic would prosper.’

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