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  • Writer's pictureWill

billy don't be a hero

Updated: Sep 23, 2022

Photo: The view from the balcony, a gentle rural environment.

The #1 rule for survival in Zombieland is … cardio.

To escape a pursuing zombie you will need to outrun it, and this

means being in good shape.

It was 1975, and I lived in Easterhouse[1], an ugly deprived drug infested violent shithole to the east of Glasgow. Easterhouse was split into gang territories with historical reputational motifs “The Aggro”, “Young Team”, "The Drummy" I lived in “Bal-Toi”. Outside of school, I never went anywhere alone, life was geographically confined. This was as normal and ordinary as a Friday night fish supper[2].

Keeping in mind the geographical restrictions on free movement, where do two testosterone-fuelled fifteen-year-old boys go to meet girls? My friend Billy (both our names were Billy) and I, came up with a plan, a cunning plan. The swimming pool. The strategy was simple, swim, meet girls, invite girls to a cup of tea in the café, go from there. One freezing cold winters night, after another spectacular failure, we buttoned up our full-length black trench coats (with fake fur collars) before exiting the muggy café. We set off up the hill back to our streets, just two hundred meters away.

In Easterhouse, if you don’t have a “sixth sense”, get one. It wasn’t the footsteps that were suspicious, it was the tempo, it was out of sync. No one walks at that speed unless they have a purpose. We stopped talking so we could concentrate, and yes, this was trouble. We turned round to have a better look; it was bad news, very bad news.

Photo: Easterhouse, a delightful place to raise children, before they go to jail.

Just 30 meters away were four big lads, Billy whispered “Aldo”, a well known proper psycho with a reputation for violence and more violent violence. While walking backwards, Billy undid his coat and pulled it open.

“Look weer naw carryin” (Look, we are not carrying any weapons).

A slight change in posture indicated they were not interested in a parley about the sociological impacts of poverty on youth opportunities.

We considered our predicament and came to the rapid conclusion we were in the shit. It was us two wee boys’ versus four zombies, probably carrying an array of chopping, slicing, and stabbing accoutrements. Fight or flight? Fight or flight? We deliberated the pros and cons of this challenging existential question, and came to the conclusion that flight was the better option. So we flighted, bloody fast.

My sure-fire 100% guess was these NEDS[3] had been smoking, drinking, and sniffing glue since the age of eight. There was also a good chance they had eaten a bag of chips a day since they were three. We didn’t have to outpace the zombies, we just had to stay ahead of them until their lungs turned to crisp packets, legs to jelly, and hopefully, they would die from heart failure.

My tactic was simplicity itself. Hit a fast jog, stay on the street and don’t fall over, which might prove tricky in my 2” platform shoes (thank you Elton John). I had no idea why Billy shaved off to the left and headed for a small dark alley, called “a close”[4].

I shouted “not that way” I knew these streets; these closes and backs[5]. I knew Billy had chosen a gated close, a dead end. I on the other hand felt so confident I was turning round and running backwards with my arms out in the “come and get me” style. And as predicted , my two zombies started to seize up, arms and legs stopped working in synch and they went all jerky, just like the films. They wheezed to a stop, bent double gagging for air, and I was happy to see they were in a goodly amount of distress.

I could hear shouts and screams, Billy was having a less entertaining time.

The zombies coalesced and lit up, it's a proven fact that smoking cigarettes helps to get the breath back. I waited. They wandered off, I waited a bit longer in case it was a trick.

It was a trick. These violent dimwitted knuckle draggers genuinely must have thought I would be taken in with their Neanderthal strategy. I waved at them, they swore, and like steam trains, they puffed their way up the street.

Billy had also disappeared.

I caught up with Billy at school the following Monday. He was a bit discoloured round the face but otherwise ok. I asked him why he had turned off the street, the well-lit, obstacle-free, totally safe street.

I had forgotten, Billy smoked, never did any exercise and had eaten a bag of chips every day since he was three.

Cardio Billy, Cardio. The #1 rule for surviving Zombieland or Easterhouse, is cardio.

#easterhouse #glasgow #scotland

[1] Easterhouse: in short a modern slum, one of the worst in Europe, noted for its gang violence and endemic drug culture.

[2] A fish supper, the Glasgow term for the traditional fish and chips, is usually slavered in salt and vinegar.

[3] A backronym for Non-Educated Delinquent

[4] A “close” is a small alley, used to enter a tenement block, the standard housing in poorer parts of Glasgow.

[5] The blocks were built in large squares, leaving the inside as a theoretical “back garden” (about the size of two football pitches), where the communal bins (middens) were kept and tenants could hang out their washing. Some closes were gated off to stop NEDs running through, and most backs were fenced, splitting the back into equal quadrants.

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