Petrol bomb pensioner shows old gang hatreds die hard

"THAT'S the oven finally cleaned out," Auntie Katie muttered as she wrapped up her yellow rubber gloves and made a pot of tea.

Katie is my mate Patsy's auntie, and is a typical wee Glasgow pensioner who loves helping others and baking scones for the community. Auntie Katie loves cleaning ovens and doing anything domestic.

"She is a dab hand at the oven-scouring; we should hire her out," I joked to Patsy.

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Auntie Katie giggled. She is always immaculately dressed in beige and white, her hair is always permed and neat and she wears a lovely scarf with a bright brooch. She doesn't drink or smoke and seems quite prim.

"You know Auntie Katie used to be a Norman Conk?" Patsy spoke. Auntie Katie nodded her head in agreement.

"What the hell is a Norman Conk?" I asked.

"Well," Patsy explained, "the Norman Conks were a street gang from Norman Street in the East End of Glasgow and they used to fight with the Bridgeton Billy Boys. Auntie Katie would throw petrol bombs at the Protestants when they came back from the Orange Walk. Don't you know your Glasgow gangland history?"

Auntie Katie added: "I once threw a hammer at one big bastard who battered a priest when I was about 15," and then she took a sip of her tea and broke a scone open to butter it.

I sat there aghast. This wee woman who dresses in anything mushroom-coloured, wears nice, flat shoes and goes around cleaning other people's ovens was a gang member. And to think people are worried about gangs recruiting young people today!

I realised that there must be hordes of Glasgow female pensioners all over the city who used to be girl gang members, sitting knitting and playing bingo, occasionally reminiscing about the good old days, when they went around slashing people and hitting folk with hammers.

"You married into the Calton, so you were one of the Tongs," Auntie Katie informed me as she rifled through her handbag for a clean hankie. "We never fought with the she-Tongs because they were mostly Catholic, but Billy Fullerton's Billy Boys were our arch enemies for years."

I started looking at the wee woman in a completely different light. She used to throw petrol bombs at people.

"What made you join the gang?" I asked.

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"Well," she explained. "I was born a Catholic in Norman Street in Bridgeton and that's where most of the Protestants were really active in the sectarian fighting. They thought they owned the place, but we showed them."

What struck me was that she was still vehemently angry and still so proud to have been a Norman Conk that at any time she could even now go for a Billy Boy if the notion took her. That deep-rooted religious fervour was instilled so profoundly into her soul that it still had a hold on her.

She told me how they had a big green shamrock painted on the wall at Poplin Street, which marked the entry to the Norman Conks' Catholic territory.

I, too, had first-hand experience of the gang warfare mentality when I lived in the Calton area of Glasgow back in the late 1970s and early 1980s and ran a bar there. We had two gangs from the Barrowfield area, which is just behind Celtic Park, come into our pub, and they were called the Torch and the Spur.

You were fully expected to recognise opposing gang members to help avoid fights in the bar. I was 18 years old and terrified as they were all just young guys and girls. How was I supposed to tell one from the other? Turned out it was easier than I thought: if you heard war cries go up and a bottle being smashed, that was a signal.

The Torch and the Spur were not religious; they were territorial. Barrowfield was divided up into seven separate streets and it merely depended on where the council housed you as to what gang you fell into. Young men were murdered on the streets in the bloody battle between the Torch and the Spur. The only thing that finally bonded them was sharing heroin when it hit the streets in the early 1980s.

Gangs have been the fabric of inner-city society for hundreds of years; they are not a new phenomenon. If pensioners today are still calling allegiance to their old street warriors, then we have a long way to go to solve the problem.

Show proves Westerns are far from Deadwood

DEADWOOD is a fabulous Western series which I only just caught up with over the holidays on Sky 3.

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I am totally in love with it. The language is wonderfully filthy: it sounds as rough as a drunken Saturday night in a pub doon the Barras.

Forget leather-chapped cowboys, women cooking round a campfire and evil, charging Indians. These are human stories.

Just watching Calamity Jane roaring drunk and swearing profusely without singing a chirpy ditty and breaking into a clippy-cloppy dance was so refreshing. And Ian McShane, with his grizzly face, paunchy stomach and wonderful presence, is compelling. The UK can export awesome actors to the US who steal scenes without being smooth, overly toned and plastically enhanced.

I am really into Westerns now. I recently watched a BAFTA preview of the forthcoming movie There Will Be Blood and was just stunned by Daniel Day-Lewis's performance as Daniel Plainview. It is surely worthy of an Oscar.

Am off to buy cowboy boots!

Steaming towards auld wumminhood

I have officially turned into a wee "Glesga wummin".

I was standing outside a caf opposite the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, having a quick ciggie. An elderly woman was washing down the tiles on the doorway to her close with a mop. She was so friendly.

"The council came to fix the tiles but left a mess," she gasped as the cold air made mist of her hot, disinfected mop. "I am Molly – what's your name?"

"Janey," I said. "I used to go the steamie round here in Parnie Street."

She stopped mopping and leaned on the wall: "I loved that steamie as well. Do you remember the big steamie in the Calton before it shut?"

"Aye, I do. They used to have great sinks to scrub in as well." Then I stopped talking as I realised I sounded like Oor Maggie McShaggie – Glesga's oldest wummin!


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