In the mid-sixties, I managed a furniture store in Motherwell, Scotland. Motherwell, in those days, was a steel town of about 37,000 people and when business was good, the Ravenscraig Steel Works employed approximately a third of the workforce. It was a grim, tough town with a grey exterior. And, as in most small Scottish towns at that time, unemployment was high and crime was ever present. My customers were largely working class.
Mr. and Mrs. McTavish.
Every Saturday afternoon the McTavishes would come in to pay their hire purchase (credit) bill. They were salt of the earth people—clean, well dressed, and respectable. Their Saturday ritual consisted of paying their bill, walking about town, and ending up at the movies irrespective of what was playing. Their son, Hamish, was always in tow. Like his folks, he was well mannered and polite. He rarely spoke and always deferred to his parents. As the years progressed, he finally reached the age of 15 and his father, a shop steward in Ravenscraig, got him a job in the steel mill. It was quite common in those days to leave school at 15 and go into the world.
His proud father told me of his son’s first job and I went over to Hamish to congratulate him.
“How do you like working?” I asked.
“It’s fine thank you,” he replied.
“Have you had your first paycheck?”
“Yes thank you.”
“What are you going to do with all that money?”
“One pound goes to my parents and one pound to me.”
“What will you do with the rest?”
“I’m saving it for my retirement.”
I spotted him as he entered with his mother. His eyes were big as he looked around in awe. Furniture stores are magnets for small kids. All they see are bunk beds to climb and mattresses to jump on. He was around six or seven with dirty nails, scruffy shoes, and unkempt hair. Mothers often left their children to their own devices while shopping. This made it doubly difficult for me, as I had to do police duty while trying to sell.
My standard opening line to boys like this was,
“Be careful. You may hurt yourself.”
This was, of course ignored, and the monster would begin reeking havoc on the store. At some point the little bastard would do something that really pissed me off, forcing me to intervene. I would excuse myself, go over to the child, pick him up, and deposit him alongside his mother. What the mother never knew was that in carrying the child over I would squeeze his sides really hard with my fingers. It usually took a few moments for the pain to start and the kid to wail. By this time, he was beside his mother and in typical fashion she would say something like,
“What are you crying for?”
And then she would give him a belt on his bum.
The child would glare at me, hollering.
My standard answer was, “I told you you’d get hurt.”
One of my many jobs was delivering furniture. I learned how to securely and efficiently load a van and how to safely carry furniture. This kept me fit as some of the items we sold (sleep sofas, armoires, etc.) could weigh hundreds of pounds. One of the hazards of driving a furniture van was the profusion of street kids who loved to chase the van and try to hitch a ride. I tried speeding up but often some kid would leap on the back, forcing me to stop and get the kid off the van. All this did was encourage others to give it a try.
One day as I was driving away I saw three kids running behind me. I waited until they almost caught me and slammed on my brakes. The “thunk, thunk, thunk” sounds were most gratifying. Somehow word got around and, after that episode, the kids left me alone.
She was amazingly beautiful with dark hair, flashing eyes, and she flirted outrageously. I was 19 and she was about 10 years older. Moira and her husband had purchased furniture from me previously, so she popped in regularly to pay the bill.
The chemistry between us was so strong that I asked her to go out with me, even though her husband was twice my size. She immediately agreed and we made a date.
I took her for a meal, and then we went dancing. The electricity between us was magical and before taking her home, I parked in a quiet cul-de-sac in the Lanarkshire hills. We started to make out and then suddenly she stiffened and said,
“You wont hurt me will you?”
I was speechless as all I had done was kiss her.
“I’ll do anything. Anything! As long as you promise not to hurt me.”
My naïve 19-year-old self had never even heard of or even considered hurting a woman, and it profoundly shocked me.
I put my arm around her and held her until she stopped trembling.
When she had calmed down, I started the car and drove her home.
Mrs. Wordsworth (I’ll always remember that name) came into the store one day contemplating buying a 3-piece suite (a sofa and two chairs). I showed her around the store and she settled on a modern set with grey upholstery. She was thrilled, but when I told her the price, her face fell. I looked at her amazed and she told me that she had expected to pay much more and that it was too cheap. As she was leaving the store, I had a brainwave. I took her upstairs, showed her the identical sofa, and told her it came from the same factory but was made of sturdier wood and better upholstery. I doubled the price and she immediately put her hand in her bra, took out a wad of £20 notes, and paid me on the spot. The following week she returned and I braced for the worst. She smiled and told me that she loved the suite and now she wanted to buy more furniture. She became one of my best customers and even sent me referrals.
To this day I am troubled about what I did. But in the end, she was happy.
I immediately knew he was a farmer. Perhaps it was his long woolen coat, or his baggy dungarees, or most likely his Wellie boots covered in cow dung that tipped me off. He had a thick Lanarkshire brogue (accent) and was in town to buy a fitted carpet for his living room. Motherwell was surrounded by Mooreland, which consists of low growing vegetation on acidic soil. With the exception of the fruit farms in the River Clyde valley, not much grew there, but there were quite a few farms with sheep and cows. Business was quiet that day, so after we looked at some carpet samples I suggested that I drive him home so I could measure the room and give him an estimate. This usually meant a sale, as it’s harder to refuse when the salesman is in the house. He was amenable to this and we took off. We drove for quite a while through Wishaw, Bogside, and Carluke, past Carstairs, then north towards Braehead. The further we went, the more desolate the countryside became, and the few farms we passed seemed distant from each other. He didn’t talk much and his silence added to the gloom.
As we were finally driving up the rutted lane towards his farmhouse, I asked what he did for entertainment in this god-forsaken land.
He looked at me and smiled.
“We screw each other’s wives!”