In my favourite place,
we were locked in
I'm not heartbroken that my favourite place no longer exists. It was a relief, at times, to escape its nicotine walls. Eventually razed to the ground in another careless accelerant incident.
At one time, it was under curfew. The Davenport in Maryhill; officially closed to the public after 7.30pm – which is why we ensured we were locked in by 6.30pm. We were its public. 'A private charity do,' the owner would lie to inquisitive detectives noting faces, 'raising money fir homeless ex-cons'. Everyone there was an ex-con, like water finding its own level.
A bleak, redbrick construction deemed suitable to be tagged as a threat to the community. Police cruised by the sightless windows to make sure it hadn't wandered off to corrupt the chatterati of the West End. Internally it burned fierce and bright in contradiction, or because of, an era – Thatchertime. Big hair, shoulder pads and riots. Scotland punished and ignored for anti-establishment cheek. A place destined to go up in different kinds of smoke.
Some chaps, with a bit of previous in sociology and the like, peopled 'The Dahvee'. Radical utilitarians (if you'll allow) bending the world to our will. Not in a dialectical way – more an 'Everybody on the floor!' kinda way. Years ahead of Fred the Shred yet overlooked in any honours list. We never ruined the country by 'debauching the currency' on a scale ridiculous enough to warrant a gong.
The self I knew then no longer exists – betrayed by a hollow man and the accelerant of false consciousness. Outright betrayal took hold in that era – in that place – and similar places in every part of the grey economy. A resource that ordinary people used to survive, thrive and understand emerging uncertainties in their own shifting place.
According to legend, someone gave a suspected informer a rock star line of coke, cut with just enough rat poison to make sure he understood the origins of his nausea. Dragged outside by the feet, his head never missed one of the nine steps. Or so I heard, second hand, not being there at the time. He's in self-imposed hiding – on Rothesay. Not far from an award winning chippy. Playing pool in a bar five minutes' walk from the ferry, an indication of the limited horizons of an unwanted man. He owns a distinctive name which I won't broadcast – being a small fish marooned on an island is sad enough.
'What kind of a place is this?', asked my good lady on her first and only visit. Three drinkers at the bar dropped their trousers and continued to converse with the unaware, uninitiated barmaid. Big Ped arrived and immediately dropped his to the ankles. All good clean fun, apart from the rear of Ped's Y-fronts. The bar owner, with an affection for all things Columbian, neglected to tell us he'd 'been up all night varnishing the woodwork behind the wall-seating,' and only mentioned it when he noticed part of my good lady's perm stuck like an afro-limpet.
All dear friends, many are gone; some naturally, some murdered, some imprisoned, some fortunate enough to retire and many more lost to
reality on their drug of choice.
Around 5pm every Saturday the 'Reservoir Shoplifters' phoned John the barman. 'That's them on their way.' At the metal shutter he peeked through the low, side-drilled hole as a precaution against a developing trend in shooting people through the standard spy-hole. He slid it open enough to allow three people including suitcases to duck under and slam it locked. Pool balls are cleared, suitcases laid open on the tables. 'Right!' said a hard woman pointing talons to each case in turn, 'Suits and trousers in there – dresses and blouses an' shirts in that wan – Tommy got nipped in Frasers so thirs nae perfume but Chanel – that's a score – everything’s a third o' marked price – right!' Squaring a vicious circle, she bent her head to snort heart-threatening tramlines of speed. A face so sunken, the insides of her cheeks must've been constantly in touch. A dynasty of thieves – notorious throughout Glasgow and beyond.
Weekend-long pool tournaments and card games, oblivious of time and daylight, sustained on straight Smirnoff and rails of cocaine from the tooters' buffet. Smokey Robinson on the juke box. A lone couple dance in a small space between tables. We stop gambling to watch – transfixed by something natural. All dear friends, many are gone; some naturally, some murdered, some imprisoned, some fortunate enough to retire and many more lost to reality on their drug of choice.
'This is the life,' we fooled ourselves, popping another cork, 'nae nine tae five fir us'. Tighter than a cat's anus and just as full of shit – that was my favourite place. Somewhere where nothing, and everything, could happen simultaneously.
'Remember that mad drunk woman wi' the gun?' – what larks indeed. And Chazzer, playing pool wearing an American fireman’s helmet – blue light twirling while his pacifist pitbull, Dylan, cowered in shame. Knife throwing contests al la James Coburn into the dart board.
Then heroin became the opiate of the masses and the Davenport morphed into a temporary but (for the owner) lucrative dumping ground for Glasgow's homeless and rootless. We moved our headquarters to the East End. The owner eventually moved to one of the Costas and died after a head-on collision with a palm tree.
The accelerant of a passport has led me, by accident or design, to 'Davenports' far and near. Whether it's Lisbon, Paris, Barcelona or down amongst the English, once you inhale that heavy mix of hope and tainted euphoria, you meet the looks of strangers and acknowledge, with a nod, the familiarities of their favourite place.
George Chalmers is a writer and community worker