connections I was prime meat for the local criminal fraternity. After six months of fruitless interviews and rejections Michael Tolt stepped in with an offer that was hard to refuse.

He informed me, over a pint in The Lame Duck, that a friend of his was looking for a reliable lad to run some errands. This friend needed someone who could keep his mouth shut, do as he was told and, in return, would receive five pounds a week. The icing was that I could still sign on.

A week later I met Tony ‘the Nose’ Campbell.

Chapter 3

‘The Nose’ lived in one of the better houses in the West End of Glasgow: a home stuffed with antiques that meant nothing to me but were expensive as hell. My interview with him was short and sweet. I was told that the job was mine as long as my lips didn’t part and I took orders like an SS guard. I agreed and was dispatched to the east end of the city with a list of addresses scribbled on the back of a fag packet.

In each case I was expected to turn up at the door and inform the inhabitant that ‘the Nose’ had sent me. In return I was usually given an envelope, which I stuffed in my pocket.

The door openings were never pleasant. I was never welcome. I was never asked in. I was verbally and, occasionally, physically abused. But most people still handed over their envelope.

On the rare occasions I was given no envelope, I had instructions to circle their names with a red pen. When I handed the envelopes, and the list, back to ‘the Nose’, he would ask if anyone had ‘Red Ringed’ him today. If I said ‘yes’, a strange smile would cross his lips.

A ‘Red Ringed’ house always had an envelope waiting for me on my next visit — the reluctant giver with a face that looked like it had met with a train head on.

Occasionally a house would be struck off my list. Usually a multiple ‘Red Ringer’.

I once stumbled on a funeral leaving a ‘Red Ringer’ and I made the mistake of asking who had died. The woman spat in my face.

I was no fool. I knew what was going on. Within the first week of my new job I was more than aware I was collecting money for a loan shark. The abuse I received left me in no doubt. But ‘the Nose’ would simply tell me to grin and bear it and point out that I was really doing them a service, providing a source of cash when people were most in need. In his mind it was his way of serving the community. I adopted the same attitude and put my head down and worked hard.

Six months into my new life ‘the Nose’ asked if I would like to up my wages. Do cats lick their balls was my reply and so I was introduced to Sammy Dall.

Sammy was a small weedy man who never looked you in the eye. He was given the job of instructing me in the finer details of acquiring new clients — for which I would receive a percentage of the profits.

It was a reflection on the state of the economy that I earned ten pounds within two days of starting my new role. It was easy money. Sammy was a great teacher, and a past master at drawing in punters and fleecing them. After a couple of weeks I was given a pitch near some local shops and business boomed.

Did I feel remorse at what I did? Not really. Most of the people were only into ‘the Nose’ for small amounts and, although the interest rate was crippling, it was survivable.

By then I was no longer collecting door to door. People came to me to pay up and if they didn’t I simply added them to the ‘Red Ring’ list, and someone else sorted it out.

The down side was that it was a cold job in winter. There were days when I would have loved to use the local cafe as a meeting place but my clients didn’t want others to know their business. So I stood in the cold behind the City Bakeries, breathing in the smell of baking bread while my feet froze solid.

I had been three years with ‘the Nose’ when I was first lifted by the police. Things were motoring along nicely. I would never be rich but, having acquired a car and, better still a license — obtained with the help of a two hundred quid bribe to a bent driving examiner, I was now mobile and I was a lot better off than most on my street.

My incarceration was a direct result of my love for beer. The Lame Duck had opened my eyes to the wonders of McEwan’s Export and then to the joys of Grant’s whisky. After that there was no looking back. I took to them both like an alcoholic duck to a pond full of ethanol.

With my wallet never short of a five pound note, I could indulge my liking for alcohol in a manner that my mates could only achieve through the cheap stuff from the off license or the dreaded home made hooch that some of their fathers made.

It was a wet Tuesday evening when the police felt my collar. Life seemed full of wet Tuesday evenings. It’s a Glasgow thing. Rain and Tuesdays. I had been in the Lame Duck. Why not? It was far warmer than my mother’s flat? Central heating was still a wonder of the future to my family, and the pub came with the built in warmth of humanity.

I was six sheets to the wind and should have been in a good mood. But I was in a shit mood. I’m not a violent drunk but on that night I had been in a boilermaker of an argument with Michael who, smashed out of his face, had accused me of being gay. To cap it he had done so in front of the regular church going assembled congregation of the Lame Duck by calling me a poof. Political correctness, like central heating, was also a thing of the future.

To be fair to Michael the evidence was quite damning in his eyes. I’d had no girlfriend since school. And even then it had been little more than a peck on the cheek from Mandy McCulloch. I openly shunned the frequent stag nights if strippers were involved and a recent attempt to set me up with Michael’s youngest sister had been a disaster — I had ended the evening by calling her a frigid, ugly cow. To add cream to the cake I had done this in front of Michael.

Despite, in my opinion, my description of his sibling being perfectly accurate, Michael had challenged my sexuality, subjected me to a verbal battering in the extreme and I had stormed out of the pub looking for something to hit.

Unfortunately, on that particular cold wet Tuesday night, I chose to hit an off duty policeman, who, with great aplomb and very little effort, arm locked me and marched me to the local police station. Appearing at the sheriff court the next morning, I was fined twenty pounds and bound over to keep the peace.

I kept all this from my mum. She needed more grief like a hole in her skull. My father’s heart had given out on the Christmas Eve of 1972 and my mother was terminally ill with cancer.

I spent most nights back then either drunk as a skunk in the Lame Duck or up at the hospital. By the time I was arrested my mother’s life revolved around the diamorphine they were feeding into her drip. The money from the loan sharking had gone to providing the best care that could be bought back then. It still wasn’t much but it was better than nothing. At least she spent her last few days in the comfort of a private room.

My altercation with the local constabulary did not go down well with ‘the Nose’. Despite my best efforts, word of my arrest got back to him and he was pissed off. He liked his workers to keep a clean slate. The less interest we generated from the authorities the better. I was now tarnished and ‘the Nose’ was angry, but he wasn’t stupid. I was good at my job. As such I was kept on but my wages were cut and, when I tried to protest I lost a tooth and gained six stitches for my efforts.

Eleven eight and six seconds.

Chapter 4

On the day my mum died I was freezing my knackers off behind the City Bakeries. ‘the Nose’ found out at ten in the morning but didn’t send anyone to tell me until after three — hence ensuring that I had collected the day’s takings.

The funeral was small and depressing. I paid for the best of coffins and a do at the Partick Halls. There were twelve of us in a space built for hundreds. The following day I handed back the keys to the hovel that had been my home since birth and, with the help of ‘the Nose’, obtained a deposit on a small flat off Hyndland Rd in

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