My Uncle Ian

Posted on March 11, 2011

I wrote a blog recently that suggested that my first ever football match was Reading v Rotherham in 1979. This was wrong, as my first match was in fact Hearts v Dundee in 1978, courtesy of my Uncle Ian. Hearts won 3-2 in what I assume was a thriller, though my only clear memories of this event are some sporadic drunken fights before the game and my Uncle placing me on train back to Kirkcaldy with an unknown but friendly elderly lady so he could go out on the piss with his mates without the hindrance of a ten year old Nephew. Even clearer in my memory is the utter fury etched across my Auntie Helen’s face as she greeted me and the bemused pensioner on the platform. She was incandescent with rage despite my protests that my journey had been a safe one.

Helen was adamant that she was going tear him apart when he got home and as I tucked in to my spaghetti Bolognese I genuinely feared for his health and felt partly to blame for what was coming to him. My Auntie is a lovely person but not unlike my late Mother she had a furious temper that could strip the paint off the walls, whilst Ian was quite a docile chap really. He wasn’t stupid though, he decided not to come back at all until the next day when he turned up looking sheepish and rather ill, suffering what I now know as a stinking hangover. Fortunately for me, I was taken back to my Grandmothers so I missed the full inquest in to his actions though Granny did say to me that “It widnae be a nice hoose to be in the nict ma wee pet lamb.” Poor Uncle Ian, I thought, totally dismissing the fact that he had effectively disowned me after promising his wife not to worry about his ineptitude.

Despite this, Ian rapidly became my favourite relation because of two simple things that were far more important than that of a more conventional Uncle. Firstly, he loved football and he was also still easily young enough to kick about with in the back garden so we had mutual respect. He had two daughters and both my brothers and my other two male cousins were useless and uninterested sportsmen so to finally have a nephew with a common love of the game meant we always got on well. Secondly, Ian took practical incapability to stratospheric heights which made me look like an up and coming domestic genius. When you have been bought up by a Dad with a scientific brain which made him despair at my ineptitude to figure out logarithms or E=MC2, having an Uncle who couldn’t change a light bulb, drive a car, or make a bowl of cornflakes was like a breath of fresh air and it made him an unlikely hero.

As I became older I used to really look forward to seeing Ian because not only was he more useless than me in the practical department, he was also engaging company as his years of being a history teacher had taught him about rebellion and repression to such an extent that he had distanced himself from his Presbyterian routes and the snobbishness and the stony faced cursory middle class pomposity that went with it. However, going for a pint with Ian always involved sign language in attempt to disguise to Helen what was actually going on. He would put his finger up to his mouth and ssshhh before shaking an imaginary pint glass in his hand whilst winking and pointing his thumb over his shoulder in what he presumed was the direction of the pub, it was like he had spent his life drinking with deaf people. This would be all done in complete silence until you joined in with the spirit of things and agreed to his requests with a thumbs up or a wink. He would then say “Nel, Rab say he wants to go for a wee pint.” This act was carried out as if it was somehow going to convince her that he didn’t really want a drink but felt obliged to because I had asked. Some people call it passing the buck.

Uncle Ian’s Favourite Boozer

Back in Scotland, Ian’s local boozer was called the Novar Bar in Kirkcaldy. I first walked in to meet him there a week after Paul Gascoigne had broken Scottish hearts at Wembley during Euro 1996, which was probably not great timing. This place had a “Today’s Special” on the board featuring a fried egg sandwich at 50p and nothing else. As I sat there waiting for Ian, hardened Fife eyes burrowed in to this strange Englishman and started to fear for my safety. When Ian arrived the mood mellowed and by the time we left several hours later I was everyone’s best pal. That’s the effect he had on place when he was in the Guinness comfort zone away from the pressures of teaching.

I must go and see him again soon, if only it is to see if he has learnt to wire a plug yet!

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