A Kind of Immortal Memory

Posted by in November's Magazine

My mother hid under the bed on his return in 1945. A war baby, she couldn’t recall this sailor father – a towering figure with big hands, though one could hardly say he was all thumbs. He was a machinist from Maybole and the digit severed at work ended his chance of a trial with Preston North End, the club where Bill Shankly would make his name. Not so for this one thumbed wizard of the wing..

His father was Scotland mile champion in 1891 and ‘94, also winning the quarter mile two years running. Competing at Hampden Park in 1898, James Rodger set a 1,000 yards record that stood for near three score years, a span with the King of rock ‘n’ roll falling off the toilet at one end and a We-Are-Not-Amused Queen sitting on her throne at the other.



Unemployed during the 1930s, Wullie spent time at the beach. A strong swimmer, he could still complete a length of the local pool underwater into his 70s, despite my Granny always giving him what for when she found out. Did he have a good war? Common to his generation, he didn’t talk about it. I do know he wasn’t happy when my Mum suggested the futility of the Falklands War – a fight between two bald men over a comb, as Borges put it. The great in Great Britain was a given for those who had served, as it was for those who awaited their return or the dreaded telegram or the knock at the door. After the war, he was offered a job in South Africa. Had Granny not put her highland foot down, I would not be typing this. I would not be typing. I would not be.

After bath time he’d tell stories of Tarzan and Poseidon. I’d pitch him into the heart of the plot – jungle scrapes and sea battles. And that thumb was run over by a Tiger tank. I acted it out with my Action Man.
My Grampa was an Honest Man. Come Saturday he was in hoc to the Men in Black n White. Leaving Somerset Park with him one time, he tripped on a loose paving slab causing me to deduce that even superheroes have their off days. A person of quiet dignity, Wullie had his moments of irascibility. Another time in Ayr town centre, a chancer placed a fez-wearing patas monkey on my shoulder and asked if we wanted a photograph for a fiver. He and his monkey received the shortest shrift.

Grampa babysat for me once and once only, the reason being (apparently) that his efforts to bath me were met with threats of him being parted from his head and me chucking it out of the window. Ah, the terrible two-s.
Experiencing the heartache of burying their eldest daughter must have been the lowest low of a lifetime for Poppy and him. I wonder if he ever wanted to hide himself away in a dark and safe place, just as my seven-year self once found beneath his long coat after the social carry-ons of Maybole High Street became too much for a shy sensibility.

He read Jaws. It was Marvel Comics for me. He took the Daily Record and Sunday Post. I brandished a broadsheet. He swatted away my anti-tabloid protests with a rolled-up copy of The People’s Friend. On Top Of The Pops one night we watched Echo and the Bunnymen – Mac camping it up Liza Minnelli-style. “You have kissed a girl, right?” he queried. “Of course I have” I fibbed.

He didn’t go in for God much but I can see him mocking the sign of the cross at a cousin’s wedding, a west coast cultural tick. Funny that my uncle turned out a Hibee. And me a Tim. How I’d love to take him to see Celtic now, talk tactics, players’ wages and the Wembley Wizards – who he’d watched in 1928 – and introduce him to his great grandchildren. Kids always loved the thumb thing.

Jannie at Carrick Academy, known as Mr Rodger to several generations, keys a-jangle and that pipe tobacco whiff. One time I acted up and he left me in the school gym. Teary, I ran back to Granny to clype on him. When Poppy showed early signs of dementia, he would cover for her so nobody knew. Wullie fretted though. How would she cope when he was gone? She outlived him by seven years.

What I’d give to argue politics again, or have him mock my horticultural shortcomings. His garden was just so – fairy-tale colourful. He fished too, lopping off the silver heads at the kitchen table. My veggie-ness would have tickled him.

Weeks apart he and Jock Stein heard the final whistle – Stein at Ninian Park with a heart attack, full time for Grampa at hospital in Ayr. It’s 30 years since they passed away but to borrow Shankly’s salute to the Big Man in Lisbon on the evening of 25th May 1967: Wullie, you’re immortal.

Twitter: @RodgerEvans

2 responses to “A Kind of Immortal Memory”

  1. kevin says:

    A kind of memory such a very good topic and its give us good info thanks for sharing rewording tool .

  2. William Campbell says:

    That's a great story about my great uncle Wullie, brings back some fab old memories, specially about the thumb tricks. What I remember most is just how cheery he always was. Hope your well Rodger, all the best Willie ( Hugh's grandson)

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