The business kept growing and my territory kept expanding. I was traveling as far as Edinburgh now. In those days, believe me, that was a huge day out! The distance between Glasgow and Edinburgh is about 40 miles. By train it takes 40 minutes, by car, in the 1970’s, it took about the same, depending on the traffic trying to get in and out of each city. When I was younger, around 8 or 9 years old, my grandfather used to live in Edinburgh, and I used to hate being dragged by my mum and dad on the weekends to visit, accompanied by my sisters. My grandfather was great fun though. He loved horse racing, and he loved the betting office. He used to take me and Ruth, the older of my two younger sisters, to Portobello, the port area of Edinburgh, leave us at the slot machines in the amusement arcade and bugger off for an hour into the betting office, where, he would always claim, quite boldly, he made his living! I didn’t realize how true this was until I grew older and was able to see him in action every day. He rarely bet more than one pound on any race, but he always seemed to win. He was a true pro. He used to go to Ayr, a town on the west coast of Scotland, with his second wife and her sister, (what a threesome that was, more on them later), for a week every summer, always when the Ayr races were in full swing. He never had much, but he understood how to back the ‘gigi’s’ as we used to call them. Anyway, that drive through to Edinburgh when we were kids, seemed to take forever, broken up only by the occasional quip from my father, who used to stop outside these great chocolate shops, windows laden with massive Cadbury Easter eggs and surrounded by jars of the best sweeties on the planet, and loudly proclaim, ‘if it wasn’t Passover, I’d buy you all anything you wanted from that store!’ Bastard!!
On the Gorgie Rd, situated to the west side of Edinburgh, there were two stops I used to make. One was when Rangers, played Hearts at football, (Tynecastle, the Heart of Midlothian stadium was situated right there), and the other was to a company called Butchers Supply. Butchers Supply Company did exactly what it’s title suggested. It supplied butchers all over the country with their incidentals, like plastic bags, packing tape, knives etc. The lady who owned the company ,Mrs. Guthrie, just adored me. From the very first time I walked in her door, she treated me like her son. She’d just lost her husband, who’d died of cancer at the ripe old age of 45, which seemed ancient to me back then, and she loved to talk about her life and the good times they’d had together. It was from her that I learnt one of life’s greatest lessons. We were sitting around talking one morning, and she’d given me all the orders I was going to get that particular day, when suddenly she said something to me that resonated through my bones and has stayed with me every day since that meeting. She looked at me in the eyes and reminded me that life was very short, and that nothing is forever. She said that everyone believes they will live forever, but no one ever did. For some reason, again, right place and right time, these words were heartfelt and sincere, and made an instant impression on a boy, me of course, who was on a race to prove to everyone that life would never be that unkind to him. Well just hold on! I walked out of that meeting, walked back to Haymarket train station, which was about 3 miles away, and sat down for an hour with the realization that I was not going to be around for all eternity, well, at least not in the flesh, but perhaps in spirit? Well, I could only hope! This had a profound effect on my psyche, and on my outlook, both at the time, and into the future, and very much dictated the way I lived and would choose to live.
Back in Glasgow, that very same night, I was asked by Mr. Amin at the Shalimar, to attend another meeting in his restaurant, to meet more of his friends and to discuss the possibility of expanding into the Chinese market. The Chinese were a very different deal to the Indians in Glasgow. Most of the Chinese were insular and unwilling to mingle with native Scots. They had their own ideal, their own outlook and their very own culture, and one they wanted no interference with. I respected that view and was always very respectful towards their shy and sensitive nature. I had never eaten Chinese food before my girlfriend at the time, June, had taken me to this dump above the Jewish deli on Burnfield Rd in Giffnock, just round the corner from my home. My first dish, sweet and sour chicken with rice, went down nicely, and so a once a month visit to that very same place became a custom. This night however, I was in for a real treat. I was introduced to Mr. Wong, by Mr. Amin, and told that Mr. Wong had much influence amongst the Chinese community in Scotland. I was again intrigued at how I’d been marshaled into the right place at the right time in order to expand my network and eventually, net worth!
Mr Wong spoke with the broadest Glaswegian accent I had ever heard, outside of the Gorbals (one of Glasgow’s more famous and interesting areas), and he greeted me with ‘Harro there (pronounced ther rather than their), hoo’s it goin?”
“Fine thank you Mr. Wong, I hear you are interested in plastic bags”
“Och noo sut doon sonny, and lets no get intae tha bizzo just yit”
I sat, and again, I was intimidated by this man, a man who was about 5’ 4 inches tall, skinnier than a rake, with no front teeth and two cigarettes on his person, one in his mouth, one in his right hand, both lit up! His suit, a beige masterpiece, had urine stains on the crotch of the trousers, his jacket, creased as his face, and his shoes, black, instead of brown to match, were covered in what looked like bird shit, but was probably cooking starch. MSG was popular in those days, and Mr. Wong seemed to be addicted. He continued.
“I know yer daddy, the wan wi the stereos”
“You do?” I inquired
“Aye, he’s alright, so you must be ra sem”
“Thanks!” I added
“Noo lusten up sonny” Mr. Amin by this time had vanished, and I was left at a table with this ugly, dirty, smelly man, who, by all accounts, was the ‘Big Boss’ of all the Chinese in Scotland, and possibly farther. I had yet to find that out, and I was purely guessing at this point, but his personality and his demeanor suggested power.
“Am goonae gee you a chonce, a bug wan, ya ken?”
It was so weird listening to this Glasgow slang accent and watching an asian face. A bit like watching a movie when the sound isn’t in sync with the film.
“Yer gonnae gee me 5 thoosand of yer wee baggies, and am gonnae mek ye ruch”
“You would like 5 thousand bags and I am going to get rich? Are you going to pay for these bags?”
“Naw son, I want them fer nuthin” and he laughed, “Ah dinnae pey for nuthin, ya ken?”
Hesitating, I replied, “OK” which came out rather slowly and deliberately. “You won’t pay for them, but then, how do I make money?”
“Mek money? Ye’ll get mare moaney then ya can handle sonny”
“Sorry Mr. Wong, but you’ll need to expand on that one”
“Lusten up boy” he was becoming agressive, “Mr. Amin, hum o’er ther, sez yer a brullient wee salesman, so be brullient noo, and trust me”
“Right you are then Mr. Wong. When do you need the bags for and where do I send them? Also, do you want them printed or plain?”
“Geez a call ramarro at thus number, and I’ll gee yez ora deetails” He handed me a napkin with a phone number, took a puff of one of his cigarettes, and then got up and left the building. Poof! Gone.
Mr. Amin came back and asked me how it had gone? I told him word for word what Mr. Wong had said and asked him what he thought? His exact words,
“I think it will be OK Alan, but to be frank, I don’t understand what half of Mr. Wong says!”
Fuck, what had just happened? I was now on a promise to a Glaswegian Chinaman, who spoke only in the purest Glasgow slang, owned a restaurant of some kind, I think, and had told me he’s make me rich? I doubted all of this nonsense, but I had said to Mr. Wong I would deliver, and so deliver I would. MY only issue? Would he fulfill his end of the bargain? And if I didn’t deliver, not only would I have the Lesbian society of Scotland on my tail (April and Vi were already becoming intolerable), I’d have the whole Chinese population of Scotland chasing me!
More to come next week.