Days like today
Tony pushed the button on the silver door entry panel and heard a tinny robotic voice, reminiscent of Steven Hawking, say ‘Welcome to the Stevenson Unit…’ Before the voice could continue more human tones cut in, ‘Morning, how can I help you?’ Tony replied, ‘Visitor for Tommy O’Neil.’ There was a buzzing sound before the solenoid locking system clicked allowing the door to open. Tommy entered the warm, bright hallway as a small nurse sporting a smile walked towards him. ‘Tommy’s in the day room Mr O’Neil, just along here.’ Tony followed as she walked briskly along the corridor past a row of small, self-contained rooms, each with a bed and TV. They reached a door which opened into a much bigger room in which sat around a dozen or so older men and women in comfortable armchairs. The first thing Tony noticed was how quiet it was. He scanned the room and saw his father sitting by the window staring out at the garden as the rain fell from a leaden Scottish sky. The nurse nodded towards him, ‘He’s had a difficult week, this thing with your mum again.’ Tony nodded and walked to his old man, ‘All right Da?’ he said sitting beside him in an empty chair. His father looked at him with a confused look on his face, ‘Tony, good taw see ye son.’ Tony took his hand, ‘You as well Da, how have you been?’ His father looked a little bemused, ‘Your Ma Tony, where’s your Ma? How’s she no visiting me?’ Tony been through this painful conversation so often with his father and said gently, ‘Da, where do we go on a Saturday morning?’ His old man looked at him, ‘St Conval’s.’ Tony nodded, ‘and what do we do there?’ His father thought for a moment, ‘We visit Jean’s…’ his voice trailed off as it hit him that he visited his wife’s grave each week. He sat in silence as Tony regarded him thinking that it was one of the crueller aspects of Alzheimer’s disease that the confusion and memory loss made such painful reminders necessary. There was no point lying to his old man, his mother had passed 3 years before but Tommy’s long term memory was much stronger than his recall of more recent events. No doubt they’d have the same conversation again.
He took his father’s hand again, ‘Da, I’ve got tickets for the match this week. I’ll be collecting you on Saturday.’ The old man looked at him, his face a little brighter, ‘How are the Celts playing these days? Big Jock knew how tae get them going.’ Tony often turned the conversation to football as it made his father smile for a while are they talked about the days when Tommy had taken Tony and his brother Joe all over Scotland following Celtic. His father seemed so strong and vigorous in those days. Tony recalled having to run to keep up with him as he marched through the streets towards Celtic Park. But that was more than 20 years ago and the death of him Ma seemed to profoundly affect his old man. The changes were slight at first, forgetfulness, not following conversations, wearing his big overcoat on hot days, not paying bills and on one occasion burning out the microwave after having it set for over 5 hours. This last year though things had got out of hand. He had wandered into the pub in his pyjamas one afternoon and Tony had to leave work to fetch him. There were also a group of low life’s who had taken to sitting with him and telling him that it was his round all the time and in his confusion he had shelled out his money on them. The Barman, a decent guy, had put Tony wise to this and he and Joe had told the users in the only language such types understood that it had better stop or the consequences would be serious. This last few months had been the worse and his old man had spent a night in the cells after banging on a neighbour’s door at 3am and shouting his wife’s name. His once tidy home had deteriorated badly and it was obvious he wasn’t managing. After a narrow escape when he had put on the chip pan and forgotten about it, the kitchen had been gutted by fire. It was then agreed by all concerned that he couldn’t stay at home any longer. Social work had helped and place had been found for him at the Stevenson Unit. It was secure and he was looked after even if Tony found the lack of stimulation there a little much to bear.
Tony spent an hour with his dad talking about games they had been at, incidents they had witnessed and great players who had entertained them. He could see the sparkle return to his eyes even if he had no idea who Ronny Deila was. ‘Gemmell had some shot,’ his old man smiled, ‘I recall he nearly ripped the net the night we beat Benfica.’ Tony nodded enjoying his old man’s tales but also the vitality which flooded into him when he talked about Celtic. When it was time to go he reminded his old man that he’d be taking him to the match in a couple of days. Of course, he was likely to forget but Tony told him anyway and pressed a small Celtic badge into his hands to remind him.
Match day dawned bright and breezy in Glasgow as Tony and Joe headed over to the Stevenson Unit to collect Tommy. When they were buzzed into the building they found him sitting in his room looking like a naughty boy in the Head Master’s office. ‘Aw right Da,’ grinned Joe, ‘Ye ready for the game?’ Tommy looked up, ‘Joseph! Good tae see ye son, what game would that be?’ Joe grinned, ‘Get yer coat on it’s Celtic against Rangers and maybe the last wan if that mob go bust!’ Tony fetched his father’s coat from the cupboard and they signed out at the desk in the foyer. ‘I’ll have him back in time for tea,’ Joe grinned at the staff nurse. The matronly woman seemed oblivious to his charms and snapped, ‘See that you do and no alcohol.’ As they headed for the door Tony whispered to his brother, ‘Ooft, Miss Ballbreaker must be a currant bun.’ They got into the car and headed for the motorway and Celtic Park as Joe played a few tunes on the CD player to get the adrenalin going. His old man grinned, ‘Just like old times, the O’Neil boys heading for Paradise.’
Celtic Park was a seething cauldron of noise and colour as Celtic and Rangers appeared from the tunnel. A wall of noise swept around the stadium and a huge banner was hanging in the Green Brigade section depicting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It said on the banner in huge letters ‘Your day is coming.’ Old Tommy O’Neil looked around him, ‘Jesus boys this is fantastic.’ As the ‘Grand Old Team’ faded and ‘You’ll never walk alone’ boomed out the two brothers linked their arms across their father’s back and all three of them along with 53,000 other Celtic fans sang for all they were worth. It was a magical rendition of the wonderful Celtic anthem and in those moments they were boys again, standing with their old man in the Jungle. When it was over they sat in the huge North Stand to watch battle commence amid a crescendo of chants and songs. The opening exchanges were ferocious as was normal in such games although Celtic looked the more composed side. In 19 minutes they won a corner and Kris Commons swept it deep to the back of the Rangers penalty box where Charlie Mulgrew was arriving and totally unmarked. He dived to meet the ball and his header flashed into the emerald turf before spinning up over the despairing fingers of McGregor and into the net. Celtic Park erupted like a pent up volcano and old Tommy hugged his boys as the home support went crazy. Tony saw the utter joy on his Father’s face, and felt the tears flow. Whatever the future held for his old man he was at least happy here where he had brought his boys on countless occasions in their childhoods. Other memories might be lost at least they had today and that was enough for now. As the crowd settled a little old Tommy looked at Tony, ‘God, I love the Celtic son, I always have ye know. Ye never get tired of days like today.’ Tony smiled back at him, ‘I know Da, I know.’