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DURING the Sixties, Colin MacFarlane was growing up in one of Scotland's most notorious areas. He and his friends roamed Glasgow's Gorbals getting into scrapes, enjoying "garden parties" with drunks and upsetting cops ... but all with a sense of humour. Colin and his pals formed a gang, the Incredible Gorbals Diehards. In the third volume of his memoirs, he reveals how the name came about, introduces us to the local undesirables and lifts the lid on the humour and sadness of the Gorbals

"GET oot ma lobby, ya dosser. Get oot or ah'll hit ye over the heid wi this. Ah'll beat ye tae a pulp if ah see ye here again."

I had walked down the tenement stairs to find Mrs McDougall, a large, stout woman, waving a frying pan at our favourite lobby dosser. She was shouting at Jimmy and he looked hungover and frightened.

"Awright, missus," Jimmy shouted back. "I wisnae daein' any harm. Ah wis jist havin' a kip, that's aw."

The scene struck me as more comical than sad. I met Jimmy at the close mouth, and the sun was still shining. "Lovely day," Jimmy said.

"Aye," I replied, "but no a good day tae have yir heid bashed in wi a fryin' pan."

He made off around the corner into Rutherglen Road. He looked like a man on a mission. Mind you, all alcoholics look like that when they're on the hunt for a drink.

I met up with the boys. Alex, Chris, Albert, Rab and we walked along Gorbals Street towards the Cross. Standing outside the bookie's was a man we called Peter the Punt.

Unlike most racehorse fanatics, he made half-decent amounts of money through betting, and sometimes gave us a bung from his winnings. Peter, an ex-con, loved the horses and hated the police in equal measure.

"How's it goin', Peter?" we called out. His eyes lit up when he saw us, but he just shrugged his shoulders and said: "Ye know how it is. Ah'm still waitin' fur the big win that'll change ma life. But ah cannae seem tae pick a good horse fur love or money jist noo. Ma luck will turn wan o' these days."

He looked us up and down and laughed. "You guys are no the size o' tuppence and a wee bird tells me ye had somethin' tae do wi the big copper gettin' a pellet through the mooth."

I wasn't surprised he knew. The Gorbals had a grapevine the police would never tap into, and Peter always knew what was going on.

Alex laughed. "Peter, ah'm sayin' nothin' until ah see ma lawyer."

There was more laughter and banter, and then Peter declared: "Ah've got a new name fur you young scallywags. The Gorbals Diehards."

"After shootin' that polis - it wis a phenomenal thing tae do - yir name should be the Incredible Gorbals Diehards."

Me and the boys liked our new nickname. In fact, we were elated.

We were now fated to be known locally as the Incredible Gorbals Diehards. We felt like comic-book superheroes. There was Superman, Spider-M an, the Hulk, and now the Incredible Gorbals Diehards.

No doubt about it, our new moniker sounded great. But what the hell did diehard mean? "There's only wan thing fur it," I told the boys. "We'll have tae go tae the library and find oot."

We climbed the steps to the Gorbals public library and entered to find a stern-looking librarian behind the counter. His face fell when he saw us bunch of scruffs coming in. He must have sensed trouble. I decided to speak first.

"Sorry tae bother ye, mister, but we want tae find oot whit the word diehard means."

He stroked his beard and gave an inquisitive look. A look of relief came over his face, then he grinned and fetched a large dictionary. He laid it on a table and flicked through the pages until he came to diehard.

"There it is there," he said, pointing his stubby finger at the place. "Diehard adj. (always before noun) supporting something in a very determined way and refusing change. Noun commonly used to describe any person who will not swayed from a belief."

"That's us tae a tee, boys," I said. "We stand up fur whit we think is and naebody's gonnae change that."

"Aye," Chris said. "We believe ourselves and nae hard man, polis drunk is gonnae stop us."

"Great, mister," I said. "It looks like the Diehards were the sort o' brave guys who never gave up."

"Who are you chaps and why you want to know about it?" the librarian asked with a look of curiosity on his face.

"Oh," I replied, "we're the Incredible Gorbals Diehards."

"Aye," Alex added, "and wan o' days, people might be readin' about our exploits in a book in this very library." The librarian looked dumbfounded as we left, but there was a sparkle in his eyes.

Voice in the wilderness

I WAS lying in bed feeling exhausted after another gruelling day as a Gorbals street boy.

But, strangely, I could not get to sleep. It must have been something to do with the weather. For a change, Glasgow had been warm, almost Mediterranean, and my Scottish body was not made for such sweltering weather.

The window of my bedroom in our tenement in Crown Street was wide open to let the air in, as I had been finding it hard to breathe.

I rose from my bed, walked towards the open window and looked out.

At the corner of Crown Street and Rutherglen Road, I saw the source of a beautiful voice. A small girl aged around 10 and wearing a cheap-looking, soiled, floral dress was standing there. She had blonde, curly hair and a pretty face.

She was wearing a pair of green wellington boots, although it was the height of summer. In the Gorbals, this was a sign of real poverty. Children whose families could not afford proper shoes wore wellingtons all year round.

As the little girl began to count the money in her hands, apparently oblivious to the fact that two rats were scurrying past her on their way to one of the filthy, rubbish-strewn back courts, a large, fat-faced man appeared at a window in the tenement above her. He bellowed: "Hey, get yir a**e up tae bed noo, otherwise ah'll gie ye a hidin'."

The girl looked up at her father in the window and replied: "But, Daddy, ah want tae stay oot a bit longer tae sing. Ah've made 10 shillins awready."

"Ah'll be doon noo," Fat Face shouted back.

The girl had just finished counting her coins when Fat Face appeared on the street. "Right, lassie, ah've told ye, up the stair noo and gie me that money."

"But, Daddy," the little girl replied, 'it's ma money. It's fur ma new shoes.

"No, Daddy, it's mine. Ah sang ma heart oot fur it."

"Heart," Fat Face shouted. "Heart. Ah'll show ye heart."

At this, he lifted his right hand and smashed the little girl across the face. She went flying, dropping the money on the pavement.

My first instinct when he'd hit her had been to shout from the window, but I realised there was nothing I could do to stop him. I stumbled back to bed in shock and mumbled to myself: "Ah'm gonnae get that fat b*****d even if it kills me." Then, at last, I fell soundly asleep.

At least with your eyes shut, you can block out reality.


To order your copy of Gorbals Diehards, by Colin MacFarlane, published by Mainstream, for the discounted price of pounds 8.99 (RRP pounds 9.99), send a cheque, made payable to The EFC Bookshop, to Gorbals Offer, PO Box 200 Falmouth TR11 4WJ or order online at or call 01872 562327. UK delivery is free.


BOXING CLEVER: Colin spars with his dad, the street where he lived, left, and the Incredible Gorbals Diehards with Colin's dad, far left PLAYTIME: Back court fun
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 9, 2010
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