Goodbye Bellshill and The Shugs

In this Chapter from Bobby’s Boy, my main character, Tommy Kinsella, is taking a wee walk around the town, before leaving on tour with Rage Against the Machine. The scene is set around 1992.

The following excerpt is from Chapter 9 of Bobby’s Boy by Mark Wilson. Copyright Paddy’s Daddy Publishing and Mark Wilson 2012.

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Tom walked from Community Road, around past the corner shop with its pavement decorated with smashed Buckfast bottles in front of drawn steel shutters, to catch the number 14 bus to the Main Street. He walked along from Bellshill Cross, past The Crown bar, smiling to himself at memories that came to mind as he went. As he walked, Tom remembered finding a huge carrier bag full of unopened spirits and wines in the car park behind the Corrie bogs. He’d been fourteen at the time, had grabbed the bag, and sprinted through the alley to the Main Street, practically skipping with glee at his find.  Unfortunately, a police van had been passing just as he shot onto the street and they soon had him at the side of the road, pouring a litre bottle of vodka, a half-bottle of Bell’s whisky, a bottle of wine, and six cans of the purple tin (Tennent’s Super) slowly down the drain. He’d been furious at the time, but later consoled himself with the bottle of kiwi and lime Mad Dog 20/20 he’d secreted into his coat.

Tom continued along the Main Street, passing where Herbie Frog’s and subsequently Valenti’s used to sit. Both had been nightclubs which catered to the fanny-dancing, crotch-grinding, Benzini jean-wearing and terminally hormonal Bellshill teen scene. Between Herbie Frog’s and the YMCA disco further along the road, you didn’t have to work too hard for a lumber in the fourteen to sixteen demographic.

Across the road was The Royal Bank of Scotland and First in Town, a hardware store, just next door. Tom’d had a drunken encounter with Linda McGovern behind that bank one night after Herbie Frog’s came out. She’d led him around to the rear of the building, pinned him to the wall, and proceeded to search his teeth for leftover dinner with her probing tongue that tasted of cigarettes. Linda had paused only briefly in her molestation to ask, “Whit turns ye oan?”

In reply, Tommy had distracted her, jumped over the wall towards First in Town’s yard, and had run like fuck, never once looking back. Despite badly tearing a ligament in his foot upon landing, he considered it a lucky escape in hindsight. Linda had been furious, roaring after him, “Ya fuckin’ poofy-prick!”

She had even turned up at his school looking for some kind of sexually frustrated reckoning a few days later. Tom took no pride in his actions at the time, hiding in the bin shed for an hour while she stalked the school growing more furious and more determined to find him with every moment that he eluded her. He’d heard later that Pez had calmed her down, sweet talking her into a date later that night. In Tom’s mind Pez’s lion-taming brought to mind an interview he’d seen with a dog-handler on the regional news where the seasoned dog-whisperer had explained that to calm an aggressive bitch, you simply had to slide a finger into her anus. It worked a treat for dogs in his charge apparently. As good a wingman as Pez was, Tom doubted he’d go to those lengths to aid the escape of his cowering friend. The memory made Tom laugh out loud as he continued on his walk around town.

Tom had actually worked in First in Town at weekends for around three years, making close friends with the Pakistani family who owned the hardware shop. They liked Tom as he worked hard, asked endless questions about their homeland and devoured the home-made curries on such a scale that it made them wonder where he put all that food. The matriarch of the family, Betty, seemed to enjoy the challenge of trying to fatten the skinny white kid. He’d eaten so much curry and worked so many shifts for the family that customers who came in began charmingly referring to Tom as the “White Paki”. Tom loved Bellshill, but some folk would always have their prejudices, especially those folks that didn’t even realise that they had them, and genuinely would be mystified at any offence caused by their comments. In recent years, the store had been in decline, following a scandal involving the patriarch.

Tom also passed Bellshill Academy, a place of mixed memories for him. Some made him laugh, others wince, and none more so than remembering  Diller, who made everyone’s life a misery, pupil and teacher alike. In a school full to the rafters of vicious bastards, Diller took the prize for most evil of the lot. Tom suspected that someone must have fucked him right over within days of being born, maybe stole a sook of his mother’s tit or something, and Diller had decided to spend the remaining years he had on the planet in a state of part fury, part cold calculated malice, exacting revenge on the human species.

Tom made his way out of town and visited his dad’s grave in Birkenshaw a few miles up the road. He’d also been to see Mum, baby Jayne and Mel where they lay in their graves in Hamilton.

He was having a final look around Bellshill cross, when he spotted two familiar old faces sitting on the bench outside the church. The men were Eck Forsyth and Wullie McInally. They’d been in that spot, on that same bench, seemingly endlessly and certainly for as long as anyone in town could remember. Frequently they argued about religion.

Eck would habitually scour the immediate area searching for cigarette butts. He’d later strip the tobacco from the fag-ends in a baccy tin and use it for roll ups. “Nae point in buying fags,” he would say. “If there are cunts daft enough tae leave good tobacco lying about, then I’ll fucking have it.”

He was one of the first eco-warriors to exist in Lanarkshire. Although Eck didn’t know it, recycling was his life. Not for any lofty, planet-hugging agenda, but just because he was a tight old bastard. He reputedly lived in a lovely old house filled with fine furnishings, but sat daily on this bench asking for and getting fags from strangers and recycling their butt ends.

Wullie had his own “thing”. He was a committed insulter of the teenaged community of Bellshill, brandishing his index and middle fingers at them horizontally and shouting “Smell yer maw” at any and all passing teenagers. To be fair, Wullie was rumoured to be a former ladies man or “hoor-maister” many decades ago. If his reputation was deserved, there’s a fair chance in a town as small as Bellshill that he had indeed shagged their mothers, or even grandmothers. Or perhaps both.

Both men wore bunnets and smelled strongly of Tennent’s Super, the outdoors and ever so slightly of pish. Both had a purple tin in hand, and a rolled up paper in their coat pockets. Both were hilarious when you got them talking. Eck and Wullie were engaged in one of their usual arguments about religion as Tom approached. One man took the Protestant stance, the other the Catholic one. Tom, coming from what was referred to in Lanarkshire as a “mixed family”, had never given a damn about the religious opinions or divides.

Unfortunately, he was in a minority in his disinterest. These issues were all too important in many homes locally, fuelled by allegiance to the two Glasgow football teams. Both clubs seemed only too happy to work together and exploit the religious prejudices of the community. They supplied an outlet for the tension and hatred while keeping up a pretence of trying to stamp out the bigots, filling their coffers in the process. Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Glasgow had a long and divided history of religious bigotry, imported from Northern Ireland. Tom had never quite understood the history behind the Protestants’ and Catholics’ mutual distrust and hatred of each other, mainly because he didn’t care enough about what seemed to him to be petty rivalry, and an excuse to spit hatred at people on a Saturday, then go to work all pals again on a Monday.

Personally, he’d never seen any difference in the people of either affiliation, except that one group wore green and the other blue. One group also seemed to take comfort from departed loved ones, or God watching over them and emoting pride at times of triumph, whilst the other lot seemed to only sense disapproval or judgement when they had a wee secret fumble or something.  One group had a touch of The Armada about them, in their dark hair and skin and general good looks. Tom suspected that if the supporters woke up one day and both football clubs were gone, they’d simply paint snails in opposing colours and race them to find an outlet for their ‘beliefs’.

As Tom passed close to the bench, Eck through habit said “Gies a fag”, and Wullie went “Smell yer’…” but stopped as he saw Tom.

“Aw, it’s Bobby’s Boy.”

Both men knew him through some uncle, cousin or other, or perhaps had known his dad directly, and simply asked how he was and wished him a good day.

“I’m away to work abroad for a wee while,” he told them.

“Aye, well don’t forget you’re from Bellshill son, and Bellshill will aye be yer home,” Wullie barked at him.

“Aye, ok, thanks. Take care of yourselves, in the cold,” Tom replied.

“Aye we’re used to it son,” said Eck, followed immediately by “Right ya orange bastard, where were we?” to Wullie.

Tom walked slowly back home to Community Road, taking only a detour past the family’s old house in Harvey Way. The modest, white pebble-dashed little house had been a happy home to his departed family. It now housed a new family, which was nice, and reminded Tom to call his sister before he left for San Francisco later that day.

As he reached the other end of town and approached Liberty Road, Tom had a peek in the windows of Rob Hamilton’s old place. Nobody had lived there since the family had all but disappeared one night a few years back while Tom was still living in Blackwood. When Tom had first moved back to Bellshill to live with Alec, he’d looked forward to reforming his friendship with Rob. The boys had been best friends their whole lives, and Tom had been lost without him when he’d been uprooted to Blackwood with his mum and Mel. When Tom discovered that Rob’s family had moved on mysteriously, it came as a massive disappointment to him. No one in the area had figured out for sure what had happened to make the Hamiltons depart so suddenly, but rumours of child abandonment and subsequent social service involvement persisted.

Tom left Liberty Road and took the customary shortcut over the bing. The bing was an old coal mine deposit, basically a grass-covered hill/cross country run circuit/alcoholics stomping ground. It also served as a short cut to Lawmuir Primary School, as there was a gap in the fence at the rear of the school facing the bing. Crossing over the bing made a handy cut-through from Liberty Road to Community Road too, if you didn’t mind some verbal abuse and a potential shoe theft perpetrated by the resident zombie-like glue-sniffers.

Tom had heard recent rumours about a former classmate of his named Craig Queen. The rumours concerned an apparent unhealthy interest in dogs’ arseholes, which he’d allegedly been disturbed violating in a quiet area at the top of the bing. It wouldn’t surprise Tom if the rumour was true. Craig had always been a shifty bastard who got a weird, creepy look in his eyes when the girls trooped into the sports hall during PE class. Tom had smacked him once for cornering a terrified first year in school and pishing on said first year after knocking him to the ground, apparently for getting in his way. It seemed a reasonable leap of logic to Tom that if he was pishing on first years at school four years ago, he might well have diversified or graduated to shagging canines. Tom was across the bing sharp and down the other side, with the mental image of Queen’s face twisted with pleasure, accompanied by a puzzled howl.

As he turned into Community Road at last, Tom passed the Shugs’ house. Turning the corner stealthily as always, he tried to blend into a bush hoping to go unnoticed by the house’s occupants. He’d executed this manoeuvre many times, and had little difficulty slipping past. The Shugs were a family of socially deprived and under-educated delinquents, who suffered with a variety of disorders and conditions. So said social services. Everyone else knew and feared those fucking animals for what they were: psychotic, sadistic and violent beasts.

The Shugs were masters of physical and mental torture, stalking their victims ruthlessly and relentlessly through the streets of Bellshill. Tales of the Shugs’ exploits always reminded Tom of The Terminator, embodied by the line from the movie: “It can’t be bargained with. It doesn’t feel pity or remorse, or fear.”

That summed an individual Shug up perfectly. Collectively, they were a horrifying prospect that brought the nightmarish terror of the stalking, many-headed beast into stark ball-aching reality for many a generation of Bellshillians.

The whole family was male. Each man was well over six foot tall, heavily muscled, especially the back, chest, arms and neck. They were, to a man, widely regarded to be ultra-violent, and highly predatory. The Shugs seemed to possess the olfactory ability to raise a nose to the breeze, sniff out a weak animal and hunt it. All were named simply Shug. Their true names were never uttered or even known by most, though Tom suspected that the Shug moniker had been adopted intentionally to avoid police questions and confuse witness testimony. If a brave witness gave the name of the man he saw punch, maim or rob an individual, all he had to offer was “Shug”. It was futile for the police to try to determine which particular Shug and besides, they weren’t any keener than the civilian populace to visit the Shug homestead.

There were six of them that Tom knew about. There was Old Shug the dad. There were two Shugs in their thirties, Mad Shug and Shug wi’ the Dug. What it took to be called mad in that family was something truly exceptional, and Shug wi’ the Dug, well he had a dog. It was a huge baby-eating bastard of a beast that appeared to have been gestated by a wolf that’d been violated by a grizzly bear. Bundy, the dug, named for Ted Bundy, a hero of The Shugs, was only slightly less terrifying than its master. Both men, happily, spent most of their existence behind bars.

Young Shug was in his early twenties, and indulged himself in burglary, arson and cruelty to the elderly. He was the Shug with means, thanks to his chosen profession. He was what’s known in Bellshill as “a thieving cunt”. Young Shug was more often than not accompanied by Shug. Just Shug. No other description was required. Shug was a monster of a man-child, at eighteen tender years of age towering over and outweighing his massive older siblings. Shug was by far the most frightening of the clan in his calm, measured silence. He was rumoured to have blown his top completely once in HMV in Argyle Street. He was, by all accounts, observed during his rampage biting, stabbing and kicking the staff, as well as tearing down racks of CDs, screaming “Stick yer student discount up yer fuckin’ arse.”

Tom had never seen him do anything, except slide that chilling reptilian stare slowly over everyone he encountered, surveying and assessing every weakness, storing them away in that amygdala-driven pea-sized brain, for future attentions.

The last Shug was Big Shug. This Shug wasn’t the biggest; he was dwarfed by Shug, just like all his brethren. No, size wasn’t his virtue. This Shug inspired high hopes in the others of his kind. He was the future, a new model. Shug 2.0 if you like. He was the youngest, at only fifteen years, but this Shug was different from all the rest. He had all the brutality and predatory senses. He’d learned all the skills of his older siblings, but this Shug had something truly dangerous with which to augment his physicality. He had intelligence. This was one truly arse-clenchingly terrifying thing, this pinnacle of Shug evolution.

 

As Tom walked further down Community Road towards his place, he heard the Neanderthal roar of a Shug who’d clearly spotted some unfortunate wee bastard passing his house. “Haw wee baws. Get fuckin’ in here and gie me a fuckin’ fag.”

Poor wee cunt, thought Tom. He’d been there in that guy’s shoes many times in the past.

 

End of Excerpt

You can purchase Bobby’s Boy along with Mark’s other books at Amazon UK

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