A return to my McRoots

The Jewish Chronicle Online, 31/10/2011

I spent last weekend in Glasgow. This came as a slight surprise to me as I was meant to be in the Highlands. I’d taken the midnight sleeper from Euston. But at the other end, after being driven down rain-washed, dark, granite-faced streets for five minutes, I said: “Wait a minute. Where’s the heather? The mountains? The lochs?”

“What you been drinking this early, man?” said the driver. “This is Sauchiehall Street”.

“Glasgow!” I said. “My father was born in the Gorbals in 1915.”

“Is he still alive?” he asked.

“Well he was last night,” I said. “Why?”

“He could be the oldest living Glasgwegian!” “Och anoo and a hey” I replied. I like to blend in.

My family had taken a wrong turning in 1897 when they’d booked their tickets to America. They’d bought the cheap tickets and got put off in Glasgow; the Captain told them they were in California.

Every morning for years, my grandfather got up and left his tenement with his swimming trunks and a towel. “Where are you going, Harry?” my grandmother would ask. “To the beach,” he’d reply.

It was 20 years before a neighbour tipped her off: “Where’s the tan?”

I’m not really a mountain man anyway, so I immediately checked into a tartan decorated B and B, whose walls were covered with paintings of the Highlands and stags’ heads. I went for a walk and saw a shop called Kilts 4U.

“Would you like to sell me a wee kilt?” I said to the salesman.

“What size are you?”

“I’ve no idea, it’s my first kilt.”

“What kind of kilt do you want?”

“Do you have anything with a Star of David on it?” I asked. “I’m from the Clan MacRosengard.”

In the afternoon, I went to the Barras flea market on Gallowgate. Not your usual market. The first stall I saw was selling granite-and-marble headstones, next to the sanitary fittings plumbing, T shirts, flowers, cuddly toys and records stall.

“Got anything good?” I asked a man who’d just bought an old 45 record.

“Obviously!” he said, “or I wouldn’t have bought it, would I?”

Another stall was selling only black balaclavas: full-face, half-face, no-face – the full black balaclava range. “Terror 4U”? THE must-go destination for your wannabe terrorist or bank robber.’

I was just taking a few photos when a woman asked: “Are you taking photos?”

“Yes” I agreed.” I am indeed.”

“You can’t do that!” she said.

“What do you mean I can’t take photos? I’m a tourist.”

“Delete them! Delete them!”, two tough looking young guys said from behind the counterfeit dvd stall.

“OK, be cool. Just relax!” I said, strolling off nonchalantly at great speed.

My Glaswegian friend, the comedian Arnold Brown was in a pub here once and a man came up to him and said: “Have you got an encyclopedia on you, Jimmy? ”

“Why do think I would?” Arnold asked him.