Tam

TAM

Seemed like everyone in Edinburgh had a Sean Connery story. Seemed like everyone knew him before. Before he was Commander Bond. Before he parted Ursula Andress from that bikini. Before he was shaken and not stirred. Before Gert Fröbe expected him to die. When he was just one of us. When he still went by ‘Tam’.

Saturdays were washdays for my neighbour, Bella, from the top flat in the stair, and her chum, Senga. Bella’s granddaughter normally came round to help her carry the basket of sheets and towels down to the launderette on the High Street, happy to earn the extra pound her grannie slipped her every week, but she was having a sleepover at her pal’s, so when I bumped into Bella struggling with the big basket I offered to help, and then stayed, just for the crack.

After the two old women had sorted the whites from the coloureds and loaded the machines they got to gassing.

‘See that new James Bond’s oan up the toun, Bella. Ye gaun?’

‘Och, naw. Naw me. It wis niver the same aifter Sean Connery gied it up.’

‘Aye, that’s right enough. Ah used tae ken him. Afore, like. When he wis still Tam.’

‘Aye, afore.’

‘He used tae take oor Mary tae the dancin. He wis a rare dancer, so he wis.’

‘Aye, he wis that, Senga. Ah kent him anaw. Used tae dae the milk roond up oor close.’

‘Aye, ah mind’t. Course, it wis ma Jimmy whit got him startit, ken. They show folk were lookin fer extras fer yon South Pacific an Jimmy tells Tam he should go in fer it—cos we aw cried him Tam in they days, ken. ‘Tam,’ he says, ‘ye’d be the dug’s tot. An think o aw the lassies.’ So Tam goes alang fer the try-oots an that wis him.’

‘Aye, ah mind’t. Course, if it hudnae been fer ma Billy that widdae been it. They asked Tam tae go doon tae yon London. Wi the show, like. But Tam wisnae fer it. He hud his milk roond tae think aboot, but ma Billy says ‘Naw, gie it a go, Tam. Ah’ll dae yer milk roond fer ye.’ So aff mosies oor Tam doon tae London, an that wis him.’

‘Aye, ah mind’t, Bella. But see if it wisnae fer me gaun doon tae yon London an daein fer him? That widdae been it. He wis that homesick, ken? Wrote a letter tae his mammy—mind Effie?—an she telt us. “Tam needs daein fer, Senga, an ah cannae go wi ma lumbago the way it is. Ye widnae mind, wid ye?” So ah packed ma bags an went doon tae yon London an did aw his washin an ironin an a wee bit o hooverin an that wis him.’

‘Aye, ah mind’t, Senga. Ye were aye awfy guid that way. But see if ah hudnae gaun doon tae dae aw his cookin fer him? That widdae been it. It wisnae lang aifter ye were away. Effie telt us she wis that worrit aboot Tam nae keeping his strength up, cos she wis aye a guid cook, wis Effie. So ah says “Dinnae ye worry yersel, Effie. If Tam needs feedin up, ah’m just the yin tae dae it.” So ah went doon tae yon London an cooked aw his meals fer him. Whit an appetite he hud. He needit tae keep his strength up, mind, if ye get ma meanin?’

‘Aye, Bella, ah dae get yer meanin. See aw they chorus girls? He wis aye at it, so he wis. Mornin, noon, an night. Ah’d nae sooner shown yin o them the door than ah wis showin the next yin in.’

‘Aye, me anaw, Senga. An he wis aye wantin me in wi them, so he wis. Fer yin o they threesomes. Ah says “Pit it away, Tam, ah’m makin yer tea. Fried egg an chips.” He loved a bit o fried egg an chips, so he did. An he says, “Ah dinnae care. Get yer bahookey in here.” Aw fancy, like.’

‘Aye, ah mind’t, Bella. He wis quite a laddie, wis Tam.’

‘Aye, he wis that, Senga.’

Bella called me over. ‘Come an’ gie us a hand wi’ foldin’ this, son.’

I took the corners of the sheet and did as I was directed.

‘Awfy nice laddie, that yin,’ said Senga. ‘Guid manners. Ye dinnae see that noo’adays. Dis he no remind ye o’ Tam, Bella?’

‘Aye, Senga, he dis. Afore, like.’

First published in A Tale of Four Cities: Poems and Stories from Four UNESCO Cities of Literature (Mattes Verlag Heidelberg 2016)