“You can take it from this skinny preacher from the hills of Pennsylvania; The cross is mightier than the switchblade.” From “The Cross and the Switchblade” by David Wilkerson
In Cairnbrook, I told of my experience at the hands of the guys from Baldragon. That was the beginning of a journey with these guys. I want to write about another experience. It was a few weeks later. I had, very nervously, been up to score acid tabs in a close in the middle of the square since a week after Cairnbrook. I had got on well with them, after all, I was making them money. Some of the guys I got on really well with and continued as friends for years.
One guy, HF, lived above my then girlfriend MS. He had said many times I should pop up to his house. For obvious reasons I did not think that was a great idea.
It is important to remind you, dear reader, that I had spent a good part of the last few years fighting these guys. In all sorts of settings with all sorts of weapons. Let’s go back in time to set the context a bit better.
One instance, for example, was the Drummy Milkfloat. I know, it sounds ridiculous, and maybe it was a bit. Anyway, the milk float was an actual milk float (electric vehicle) that delivered actual milk to actual people in actual houses. It was operated by one of the older guys from the Drummy area, but he always had some of the young team helping him. Part of the round was down through Aggro, but since it was early in the morning, nothing much usually happened.
As we were returning from some adventures there may at times have been the acknowledgement of “Theres ra drummy milk float!” But early morning was never the time to pick a gang fight.
This time though, for some reason it was down through Aggro in the middle of the afternoon. It was the weekend. We returned to school only a few days later so it was August 1984. I can place this pretty accurately because of how events unfolded.
Anyway, that afternoon, it was travelling up Duntarvie Road, the heart of Aggro, and it was obvious they were up to no good. It always amazed me how quickly word spread in those days as in no time at all there was a large group of us all gathered ready for a fight. You see, driving through in the middle of the day was a provocation, a sort of act of war. That’s how it was. There must have been, within minutes, about fifty of us on our way up through the Quads to cut off the milk float at Easterhouse / Lochdochart Road. Have to give the guys in the float their due, though. When they saw us, they stopped right at the top of the Quad jumped out and then commenced one of the largest gang fights on the streets there had been for quite some time. It was bedlam. Bricks. Sticks. Clashing metal. Exploding glass. Punches. Kicks. It was so chaotic that we were even getting right to the float and grabbing crates of empty milk bottles off to use as weapons.
Remember, this was right on the doorstep of houses. There were kids in gardens and parents screaming at us. It was chaotic and mad and everything was going on. Twelve-year-olds right through to men in their twenties were battling like crazy. Swords and knives had been pulled and were flashing around. I was running with a milk bottle in my, as yet undamaged left hand, and a stick in my right hand. This is it, boys, this is war.
“Stuart, get oot a there ya eejit! You hiv to go tae school wi them oan Monday.”
The voice did not fit with the setting, and momentarily I was confused. Before I had time to think, I felt the hand on my shoulder dragging at me. My mum had waded right into the middle of a chaotic gang fight to pull me out. She ignored everything that was going on around her, thinking only of getting me out of there.
She was right, of course. At that time I still attended Lochend Secondary School. I had already had a few skirmishes in there, and there had been times I genuinely thought I was going to get killed. However, that Monday I was due to start the fourth year in a Secondary School (that is what they were called then).
I allowed myself to be dragged away out of the battlefield. It seemed that hell was ignorant of the nature of my humiliating departure, as it carried on raging against the heats and minds of the boys and men.
It was a miracle that day that no one was seriously hurt. There were a few flesh wounds. I recall being banged on the back of the head myself, but not to any great hurt.
My mum was disgusted, with me and with the mayhem. She had watched her 14-year-old intelligent son actually racing to be involved in a fight that could end, so easily, in death.
So why is this relevant to the lion’s den, you ask?
Most of the “passengers” on the float were later to be the same dealers that I would be scoring from in the Drag. There had been real animosity and hatred, not because of who we were, but because of where we lived. Fate had conspired to provide natural boundaries in Easterhouse that resulted in two generations of young men being divided. I was part of EYA, they were part of the Drummy. I hung about the Quad. They hung about the Drag. That was all it took.
I will talk about that first (and last) day back at Lochend another time.
So back to the current present that is actually the past but it is what I am writing about kinda present.
One night I decided I was going to do it. I never really feared things, more of a practical outlook. When I decided I was going to do something though, I went ahead and did it. So I did. I put my jacket on
So, with my mind set, my jacket on, I edged out the door and down the close stairs. I stopped at the shops to talk to some of the guys, but not for long. Making my way down Duntarvie Road, I heard a shout. It was my wee cousin Paul Davidson. What was he doing here? Paul’s mum and dad, my aunt June and uncle John, were my second home throughout most of my childhood. They stayed in, what we considered, the posh west end. In Whiteinch to be exact. Right next to the Clyde Tunnel entrance, that was so cool. Anyway, I knew if I acknowledge Paul that I would be presented with two options – go with Paul, or bring him with me. The latter was not an option, no way could I bring my wee cousin up to the Drag anything could happen.
So I kept walking, faster. Down Duntarvie and up Duntarvie Place. Up through Dubton Path, along Lochend Road then around Baldragon, corner close, top flat.
I knocked on the door and it was not long before I heard Harry asking, “Who’s there?”
“Paddy” I replied, quietly, almost convinced that if I said it out loud the whole of the Drummy would be there before I knew it.
“Paddy? Paddy who? Aw Padday fae Aggro” as he began the process of unlocking the door.
HF opened his door. Even shorter than I was with dirty fair hair and a few years older, he looked a wee bit stoned – but a big bit shocked.
“You said tae come up sometime, so here a um.”
“Come in, come in,” HF said. Grab a seat.
There was a small lamp on in the sitting room, just enough to let us see what was what. It was tidy and there was some drug paraphernalia on the table.
“Ah’m just expecting the boys up the noo” he said, and at the same time, I felt as someone grabbed my throat. I could hardly breathe, never mind speak. Here I was in a house deep in enemy territory and the enemy was due any second. HF himself was a genuinely nice guy, it was the reason I was here. It wasn’t long though before there was a knock at the door and a shout for HF to open. I knew the voice, it was RM.
“Wait a minute Paddy” he said as he went to let them in. Nothing I could do, but breathe and wait.
“Awright Paddy” said PT, the leader of the small group, “Got ye where we want ye noo, eh,” he said with a big grin on his face.
“Whit ye daein up here ya maddy?” said PG. “Were ye lookin fur aes?”
“Naw, HF had said tae come up anytime I wanted, so here I am” as I said it, there was a part of me that wished I had turned around and went with my cousin, Paul when he called. However, I hadn’t. Here I was, like it or not.
My mum wasn’t coming in here and dragging me out.
Within seconds one of them was at the table rolling a joint. It was normal procedure, more normal than cigarette smoking. When the joint was being passed around, it was my turn, something inside me wanted to keep my head straight (in a flat with guys I had spent years fighting against, I wonder what that could have been). I refused the joint the first time. They were all like, “are you mad? you don’t want a puff” so I took it, but barely inhaled.
There was some chit-chat, and to be honest the guys made me feel like we had been mates for years. The reality is that from that moment on, they pretty much were as much my mates as the guys from my own gang. In fact, there had been times when I was in Drummy that they had stepped in and stopped me from being seriously beaten up by other, quite hard guys from the area. I mean genuinely heavily beaten up.
In the Bible, there is the story of the young man Daniel. He was a captive in Babylon, but because he worshipped and feared God, he grew in favour and it wasn’t long before he was used by King Darius. This made the local leaders jealous and they conspired to have Daniel punished. He was thrown into a den of lions. The next morning, King Darius came, hoping against hope, that Daniel would be alive. Daniel was. He said an angel had come and closed the mouth of the lions because he had done no wrong. Now I am not saying that I was righteous or honourable or anything like it in those days, but there are similarities. My reasons for being there were, in a screwy sort of way, honourable. I did not want to be caught up in fighting these guys anymore. Even although that was so I could score from them, I saw that they were just normal guys. I suppose, as I made my way up Baldragon that night, I was putting my trust, and, my reasons into the Hands of a God I did not yet know. So up I went.
The next morning I was still alive. Ridiculed a bit for not smoking the joint, but alive. More than that, I had learned a valuable lesson. If I fought these guys, just because of where they lived, I could not get what I needed from them – however, if I got on with them and I could score, then I could benefit from it. Now I am not saying that was right, I benefitted from getting drugs for others, it definitely is not right, but I did make some great friends and it did let me see that freedom was important. Especially freedom of movement in a place like Easterhouse. I ended up making friends all over the scheme, long before it was fashionable to do it, long before heroin made it necessary to do it. Many of these friendships formed in those days still last – to this day.
The Lions’ den team – well as we carried on doing what we did, we did drift apart a bit. As heroin took over most of our lives, some of them I was more friendly with than others. As I grew through my twenties and on into my Teen Challenge days – those guys were never far from my mind. Many a prayer has gone up.
The last proper interaction though, was not long after I was back in Scotland living. Pete Gordon, one of those guys, and genuinely one of the nicest guys you could ever meet, had passed away.
I made my way, sombrely to his funeral service in St Clare’s in Easterhouse. I can not remember much of the funeral mass, other than noticing how much we had all aged in the years that had passed. It was obvious that some bore the scars of time and battle a lot worse than me. At that moment I was thankful that God had spared me in the lions’ den – but even more than that, I was thankful that for a time God had made these guys a big part of my life. Many looked on the outside and saw the hardness and the drugs and all that stuff, but I got a glimpse inside and saw that not every lion is a cold-blooded killer. I knew even more at that moment than I did when I wrote “ROLE” that I wanted these guys to meet Jesus the way I had. How I long to go back into the lion’s den now, with the same intimate knowledge of God’s love that Daniel had.
Pete Gordon was a good friend, as were most of the others, but Pete’s funeral was one of the saddest (outside the family) that I have personally felt since coming to know Jesus. He was young, like so many from those days, too young. As I sat after the funeral in the car of another friend from back in the day, AM, and spoke to him about faith and those days, it was heartbreakingly sad. AM had also decided to follow Jesus. Both of us shared a desire to see more rescued before it was too late. So often I feel completely ineffectual in that. As I attend funeral after funeral these days of those I grew up with, laughed with, cried with and got high with, I ask God to help me reach them with the ultimate Most High. As David Wilkerson, the founder of Teen Challenge, says, “Drugs, what a devil-inspired poison! It’s death on the instalment plan.”
I pray that we see many more sons and daughters being led to glory. Finding freedom in Christ and being used to spread hope.
This blog is part of a wider collection to show the journey that would eventually lead me to the cross of Jesus Christ, my personal redemption, and my journey of faith afterwards. If you would like to know more of my story, please click on my “About” page and take it from there.
Alternatively, you can visit the Media Links page and see a short visit done by BBC Radio Scotland for an interview I did there.
If you or someone you love, needs help with the Christian response to addiction, or if you would just like to know more or need hope, please click on one of the following:
Teen Challenge Strathclyde
Teen Challenge UK
Teen Challenge Global
Bethany Christian Trust
Cornerstone Assemblies of God, Maryland
Broken Chains Ayr
Easterhouse Community Church