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  • Writer's pictureWill

a glasgow smile

We were about to "do a flit", a colloquial expression for stealthily leaving one's abode, usually late at night so that debtors don't know you have gone.

It was a Friday afternoon, and Mum told me to go back to the almost empty school and hand in my textbooks. At some point over the weekend my uncle turned up with a van. It was a small van, so choices had to be made as to what to leave. Important things first, like my Dad's Jim Reeves LP's, then kitchen stuff, beds, and carpets. Some things got left behind, like my bike, cricket bat, stamp collection, friends. Not that I am bitter.

My parents couldn't afford to give my uncle money for the van and fuel, so they gave him some furniture, everything else was unloaded into my aunt's flat. My uncle came in, had a cup of tea, went to the loo and came out to find that all "his" furniture now belonged to the people who had pinched it, welcome to Easterhouse.

Four adults, five children, and two sets of furniture crammed into a small three-bedroom apartment in one of the worst housing estates in Europe. And to put the cherry on the icing on the cake, my brother and I had to register for school the next day.

It was 1974 and I had 1½ years before my end of school exams. To put things into context, back in my old life, in Harlow, I was failing school. I was the class clown and fool. I forgot homework, skipped classes and blamed it all on my “poor home life”.

Now, I was in Westwood Secondary School in the middle of a ghetto. The classes in my year were streamed A to G. I was put in class “F”. The top stream was A, B and C. Everything below C was a write-off, teachers didn’t teach, they managed behaviour. There were students in class "F" for “failed” or “f****d” who were illiterate.

You know when you first meet someone and you notice a feature, and you know you shouldn't stare but you can't help it. Well I was sat next to a boy and my eyes just moved of their own volition, I couldn't help it. His head was turned towards me but I wasn’t sure if he was looking at me or staring out the window, he had cross eyes.

But that wasn’t what I was trying not to see. He had two white lines on his cheeks. This is called a “Glasgow Smile”. It means he was in a fight and had a razor blade swiped down his cheek, from ear to corner of the mouth. The fact he had two, meant he was being held down for the artwork other side. The phrase "turning the other cheek" took on a whole new meaning.

All of my moving, all my new days at new schools, learning to blend in. Well, they were all for this moment, this school, right now. I was ready to become ... "Invisible Boy".

#easterhouse #glasgow #scotland

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