There was no way I was going to get to Glasgow’s West end in order to get home. I had given up on the idea after having to abandon the car outside Bearsden and walk for an hour in the morning in order to get to work.
The crowds of strikers had closed off all of the roads into the city – none of the Bearsden or Newton Mearns classes were going to get anywhere near their classrooms or hospitals or offices today. Those who weren’t in the professional classes were threatening us as we dodged our be-suited way towards our protected salaries.
“Fucking scab scum!” Saliva sprayed my face. “You fuckin’ leeches are stealin’ our pensions!”
I turned to the man, who was wearing a luminous yellow donkey jacket.
“I’m a teacher.”
His face softened. “Ah, ok pal. I know youse cannae take off. Bastard weak unions.” He turned to face the stony faced mob manning the overturned bus barricade and shouted, “Let him through, he’s sound!”
I smiled, hiding the fact that I hated him. I hated these rough, loudmouthed arseholes who thought the world owed them something. I didn’t really understand, from my two foreign holidays a year, preserved wooden floored, expressoed lifestyle point of view that these people were fighting for their lives. I know that now.
I shivered as I walked through the staring mob. Some held placards, ‘Glasgow Needs Workers!’ ‘All Hail the Workers Republic!’ ‘Smash the System!’ ‘Ned Rule!’ ‘My kids need a meal a day, not seven a fortnight!’
“Fuck your kids,” I thought. “You look as if you should never been allowed to have them.” I am ashamed to say as a teacher, this was my view. I look back and cringe at my presumptuousness, though I might add, the middle classes educated the masses and this presumptuousness was common in staffrooms at the time.
I arrived at school. We had been told to turn up, “Just in case.” Some of the strikers had left their children off at the school for us to look after while they intimidated teachers on the streets. Out of thirty-one children in my class, I had only six today. We played with Lego, plasticine and sang. In the afternoon we watched a 3d movie on the interactive whiteboard (3D technology in homes and classrooms was very new, and still quite primitive).
When the 3.00 bell rang, I sent the children to “Afterschool” and I walked straight out. No way was I going to stay beyond that in these conditions.
When I walked out of the front doors I realised how much this “Bring Scotland to a Standstill” day had degenerated. The acrid smell of burning filled the air. The sound of screaming, shattering glass and sirens told me that Glasgow was being violently dismantled. I walked down the leafy lane towards Crow Road. My car was on the other side of Bearsden and I would have to go through now what was obvious, a blooded hunt.
Crow Road at this time of day, only a couple of years before, would have been choc-a-bloc with traffic. Since the council introduced Free Public Transport, this had changed, but there would have been at least buses and some company vans. Today, the dual carriageway toward the Clyde Tunnel was littered with burning lorries, buses, broken flagstones and bricks.
I turned left towards Anniesland. I knew Anniesland would be a difficult place – the strikers representatives had been on the TV news the night before saying they would be targeting rush-hour “hubs”. Anniesland was a place where the middle classes from Bearsden and Knightswood and beyond had to pass through in order to keep the capitalist wheels turning.
Even though it was just after 3.15pm, Glasgow in winter seems perpetually lit by dull streetlights. None of the streetlighting was on. Power workers had only supplied to “essentials” like schools, hospitals and fire services. Nothing else was lit. Police stations apparently were running on generators supplied by the army.
Great palls of smoke rose from the skyline. Walking towards Anniesland was like walking towards and through a sports arena entryway. The noise of the crowd rose as I walked closer.
When I reached the huge intersection of Crow road, Great Western Road and the Bearsden Switchback Road, the sight and sounds that greeted me were something from archive film of Derry in the early 1970’s. Mobs of people were being pushed back by lines of police; the ground was strewn with the detritus of the previous battles that had obviously happened earlier. Ambulances were either being guided in to the crowds or out. People were being tended for wounds; some were lying, lifeless and others sitting looking stunned.
I needed to get across the barricades to the Switchback. The Police looked like a robot legion, pushing down the road… the crowds of strikers and self styled “neds” were being pummelled with bricks, water cannon and the new “stinger” electric cannons. These threw out wires as thin as fishing line and delivered a paralysing shock to the unfortunate victims who came in contact with it.
The battle was by no means one sided. The strikers had utilised the low and high rise flats on either side of the intersection and from there, the flaming petrol bombs supplied by the requisitioned petrol station beside the huge government owned supermarket were being hurled, along with anything else the mob could find.
Anniesland was being ripped apart. The shops and houses lining the street were either in flames or were shells. I could see no way through.
At first, the only people I noticed were the angry, snarling men, shouting, spitting, throwing. The angry, emotional scene of the rioters was contrasted by the robotic marching of the advancing logical line of police. The mobs seemed to be everywhere; moving into spaces as it became available or as it became the only space left. They were water. They were animal.
Then I noticed something else. Women. ; young people; middle aged people; old people – joining or helping – no. Part of the rioters. This close, and unedited by TV, I could see these people were from all walks of life. Real people. I saw desperation in their faces. I saw fear; I saw need; but still, in my 21st century middle class cocoon, I didn’t want to believe these people were in anyway justified. The police kept order. The army kept us safe. The government knew best- they were after all elected by us every four years or so.
Before this I had believed all of this. I wanted to believe it. I had to justify my good fortune and social position and to do this I had to believe these people were ungrateful rabble. I had earned my place in the meritocracy.
“Oi, YOU! You’d better get outta here quick!” The man I had met earlier shouted from across the road. He looked different from this morning. He was bloodied, dirty and he looked scared.
“This is madness…” I shouted.
“Yep, it is son. Total madness. The fuckers have…” he didn’t finish his sentence. His head seemed to explode. The crack of the gun seemed to come after. I just stared. It was like something on one of the nightly BBC post apocalyptic TV series. I just stared as his legs buckled and his body flopped and fell back.
All around me was silence. I was not aware of anything only the tunnel between he and I. He hit the ground and blood seemed to explode all around him. People started to run. Blood exploded from another’s back and she looked as if she had been pushed into the air by an invisible hand and then she flopped to the ground…
“For fuck sake, mate, get down!” A woman’s voice, from the plants in the roadside decorative coffin.
I couldn’t move. The back of my legs stung as gravel spat up and hit them, then another crack.
“Over here!” You’re gonnae get shot!” I couldn’t take my eyes off the scene across the road. Another runner’s head exploding and crumpling to the floor… gone, just like that.
“Mister! Get down!” The ground beside me spat and then another crack.
All at once, sensation returned to me. The woman’s words seemed to echo and then the meaning hit me. They were trying to kill me!
I looked to my side. There behind leafless winter rose bushes, a woman and a child were looking at me. Gazing. Pleading. Expecting. I leaped towards them.
“FUCK!” The noise was animal and involuntary. Over the bushes and into the mud beside them.
I covered my head with my hands.
Crack! Crack! Crack!
Then silence. The world seemed to stop. What was this madness?
I didn’t watch the news much. Things just ‘happened’, but more importantly, happened somewhere else and to other people. Looking backwards, I suppose I did notice that society was reaching tipping point. From car thieves through to organised armed gangs systematically raiding private housing estates. From locking your car door, to screwing wire mesh to stop someone halting your car with bricks through your windscreen. From council housing, to families sheltering under bridges. From immigration policies to shooting people who did not have the proper paperwork (and according to the TV, the police never made a mistake, but even I had heard stories…). From new borders to threats from afar…
The world around me was disintegrating. People needed reasons – answers. Religious fundamentalism, new religions, stricter laws, armed police, registering for ID cards, DNA on databanks, arresting people who were not “eligible”, neighbours becoming pariahs, countries condemned as terrorist states. It had all happened so imperceptibly and methodically. From Hollywood to the BBC. From the Daily Mail to the sectioning off of the internet. People were made ready and then they accepted what they wouldn’t have only weeks before. And then people had no choice. To live, they had to fight. I can see that now. I see all of those people on those days as heroes. A vanguard. People who tried to tell us what was happening and we wouldn’t listen until it happened to us, and because the masses had been defeated, we were led like sheep to a slaughter.
“Mister, are you ok?”
I looked up. The woman had her arm around her young boy. Their chins were on the ground and they both looked frightened.
“Someone tried to kill me!” I could hardly get the words out between gasps.
“The shooting’s from the school.” The woman looked over the intersection to towards the private High School of Glasgow. “They have said they won’t let it fall into the hands of the commies!”
“Commies?” I hadn’t heard that term in years. “What commies?”
The woman looked at me quizzically.
“It’s what they are calling the strikers and the people who want to work!”
The dirt flew up in front of us. We pressed our faces into the mud.
I whispered, “We’re gonna have to get outta here!”
I looked around. Behind us, a road ran parallel with Crow Road. Burned out and smouldering shells of cars sat parked along it. A graveyard of mundanity. They were about 15 feet away. It may as well have been miles.
I looked at the cowering couple. “We’re gonna have to run.”
The woman looked at me and then her son. He began to cry. The woman smiled at him. “Don’t worry, Luke, we’ll be ok.”
I looked at him. “C’mon, we’ll get away from this, I promise!”
“GO!” I jumped up and turned for the cars. I could hear the boy crying, but they were beside me.
The four or five steps seemed to take an eternity. I jumped around the front of the nearest smouldering skeleton and crouched.
Crack! Crack! Crack!
I turned to my left. The woman and her boy were behind the next car wreck. I lied a reassuring smile. The boy was crying, the woman looking strained, had wrapped her arms around his head and was whispering reassurance in his ear.
My guess was that whoever this psycho was who was shooting at us was not wanting to hit the boy and woman. The target was me.
I shouted over to them, “When I run, make for the church!” I pointed to the alleyway leading to the church.
I wanted to talk to her, and this spurred me on. I had to get out of here and for some odd reason I had decided to draw fire from the other two. The corner of the red sandstone building that led to Anniesland Cross was behind me and about 50 yards to my right. The entrance to the alleyway that led to the church was about ten yards from them. I knew they could make it if I sprinted. I hoped I could.
I looked towards the school - Crow Road had been completely cleared by this lunatic. I looked right, up towards the Switchback Road and could see that people were crouching behind bins, flowerbeds, traffic lights, in fact most inanimate objects higher than knee height had one or more people crouching or lying as low as they could get. The police lines had disappeared, presumably into one of the sidestreets. This guy was doing their job for them… the place had gone quiet, except for a few people shouting instructions to friends to lie low.
It was now or never… I pushed myself up into a sprint position and focussed on the corner of the building.
A scream. Someone had obviously had the idea to move…
I looked over to the woman who had taken the boy by the hand. I pushed myself up and bolted. “GO!!!!”
Crack! Dust flew up in front of me. I zig zagged, hoping this John Wayne technique would work. I fixed my eyes on the corner, pushing myself forward with every step, pushing harder than I had ever done. Dust hit my eye, the crack coming after the hole erupted in the wall. I instinctively moved out from the wall, I now know, in retrospect, this is what probably saved my life as the gunman (and I found out nearly 350 years later that it was indeed a man) was trying to use the wall as an aid to target me. My heart was thumping, all around me was silence, my thoughts only on the destination. Pushing my legs, pulling myself along the footpath, making every muscle stretch and retraction count, propelling me towards the sanctuary of the corner. More puffs of dust as bullets hit the ground in front of me. As I reached the corner, I could see a policeman lying on the ground, pointing a gun towards where the shots were coming from, I would have to run out wide and make my back a bigger target. Instead, I pushed myself forward, and dived over the prone officer and hit the ground. I felt the skin on my hands and knees burn as I slid on the concrete.
“You were a lucky cunt,” I heard the policeman mutter.
I rolled on my back to look towards my toes. I had cleared the corner. The gunman could not see me.
“You ok mate?” I looked round. An obvious agitator was crouching in a Chinese Restaurant doorway.
“Aye, no thanks to you lot,” I said under my breath.
“Eh?” He looked at me quizzically, unsure if what I had said was an insult.
“Aye, thanks mate!” I said louder. For some unknown reason the fact he was standing in a Chinese doorway made me think, ‘Those Chinese know what they are about not letting the West dictate how to run their country.’ It makes me smile to think about that now, knowing now what was going to happen was going to change the world, never mind western civilisation. Caligula had wished that the Roman people had one neck so he could cut it. At that moment in time, I am ashamed to think now, I wished the same for all of those people, who I now know, were fighting for their survival not against one gunman, but against a whole sick system being designed to enslave them.