retold by Steve Harwood
With thanks to the Enchineer for his fascinating stories and recollections of the Forth & Clyde Canal
The following is based on a true account………
“ HELP! HELP! Mister - Ma’ pal has fallen aff a log, he’s under it, we cannae get him oot….He’s droonin’ Mister. HELP!!!
The Man tore off his jacket, kicked off his boots,and without hesitation plunged into the cold, murky water, divingunder the logs, dozens of them, side by side kept in rows by the sheer volume of weight and numbers. His head was continually bumped and bruised by them, how long he could hold out for air hadn’t entered his mind.
He groped around, blindly reaching out with outstretched arms, hands desperately trying to grip an object which might resemble the form of a child amongst the slippery, ever moving logs….no thought for his own safety or even for an escape route. his mind was focused on one thing only, to try and rescue the boy, a boy he’d never met, who meant nothing to him except that it was a fellow human being who deserved a life like everyone else…….
Then suddenly, against all the odds his hands grasped what felt like a sodden mass of rags, a dead weight, and by sheer instinct he propelled the mass to the surface, forcing the logs to part enough to thrust the bundle of rags into the outstretched hands of the crowd who had suddenly gathered to witness this dramatic scene.
Adrenalin alone kept the man going to find the strength to drag himself onto the embankment and administer mouth to mouth resuscitation to the lifeless body. Then by some miracle the boy spluttered, gasped for air and gagged out the putrid water from his stomach, thankfully his lungs were clear enough to start breathing again – his young life was saved!
A cheer went up from the crowd as they pressed in onthe bedraggled man. Cries were heard
- “Well done Son!! Look at ye yer soaked through and through , Tam gie the man a dram from yerhaufbottle afore he freezes to death !!!”
Then another voice was heard, a voice of Authority as the burly policeman stepped through the crowd... “Now then stand aside, I’m taking charge here……..”. He produced a black notebook, licked his pencil and addressed the man, standing before him, who by now was trembling with the cold and excitement of the event.
“Now then Sir, I’ll need your name, address and an account of what happened here….I’m going to have to report this incident to the Authorities, your family and your employer and once the local Newspapers hear about this, by this time tomorrow you’ll be a Hero “ Local man saves boy from drowning!!”
At the mention of the word “Employer” a chill ran down the man’s spine, and fear and panic gripped his heart – all other discomfort was forgotten as the horror of the current situation began to dawn on him …….“Whit? Naw!Naw! ah don’t want ony o’ that publicity nonsense” ………..It had just dawned on him that earlier that afternoon he had decided that being a Friday, he was entitled to finish early but had neglected to let his Boss know about this unwritten ‘benefit’ .
The reason he was there in the first place was that he was heading for his favourite hostelry across the canal, for a wee ‘hauf and a hauf’’before surrendering his pay packet to “She who must be obeyed”.
He continued his protest “If news of this reaches ma Gaffer that I ‘Loused’ early, he’ll dock me 2 hours pay!!”
Such was the character of the average Glasgow Grafter in those days, in a bygone era long before Health and Safety ‘reared’ it’s head, when boys became men well before reaching teenage years, if indeed they survived the daring, dirt and danger of the age, an age when men and boys lived by their wits and humour.
How many other stories along the Forth and Clyde remain unrecorded and hidden in the mists of time we will never know, but like the story telling traditions of the indigenous peoples of North America and the Antipodes, around camp fires passed from Father to Son, or in the workplace or in the ‘watering holes’ of life…..that era is sadly long gone…..but thanks to the Peccadillo and the concept therein there are still rare characters out there such as the Enchineer who keep these old traditions alive. Long may they flourish and continue!