A Parcel of Rogues
James Sleigh

Publication November 2021!

 

 
Binding

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ISBN 978-1-60489-297-0, Trade Paper, $19.95

ISBN 978-1-60489-298-7, Hard Cover, $29.95

Also available in Kindle and e-book!

Synopsis:

A Parcel of Rogues is a quirky, barbed comedy. Opportunistic and crafty, the main characters, Gourlay and McMinn, along with the herculean Big Red, become bumbling founding member of 'army' cells that they hope will bring about independence.

 
   

Excerpt from Book:

CHAPTER 1

 

 

 

Gourlay and his old crony, McMinn, sat on the kerb sharing a Woodbine and taking in the yellowish early morning sun. Despite a mildish hangover, McMinn was in one of his rare expansive moods. “Best perr Ah ever had.” He pulled up his trousers’ leg and extended his foot to show the pair of elastic—sided boots. “See, these are made for cripples... That’s whit the elastic’s for... Tae make it souple... Look at thae soles... Hardly ever wore. A cripple disnae get aboot as much as ither folk, an’ if he does, it’s mebbe in a wheelchair, so they nivver wear them oot...”

He sucked on the last of his cigarette and blew the smoke skywards. “Ah wis especially lucky; these yins were made for a valgus foot... Ye ken whit a valgus foot is?” Gourlay shook his head. “Weel, it’s a kinda club foot,” continued McMinn warming to his subject, “except that it turns inward... Like this...” He got to his feet and hirpled round to demonstrate. “See how the foot is turned in like? An’ so they’re only wore a wee bittie on the inside o’ the sole... Like new an’ only three bob!”

Gourlay smiled and the admiration in his voice was not feigned. “You’re a fund of useless knowledge McMinn. How is it ye ken what a valgus foot is?” Pleased, McMinn flicked the stub of the cigarette onto the cobblestones, tugged at his ear and smiled widely. “It a’ startet when Ah went doon tae the library tae return some books for an auld biddy. It wis wan o’ thon bluidy cauld days — fair freezin — an’ here if the library wisna a’ warm an’ cosy. There’s nuttin’ tae dae there but read, an’Ah’ve been reading ever since... Even startet teachin’ masel French, Spanish and German.”

“Izzat a fact?” said Gourlay, impressed. “Let’s hear ye speak some German.”

McMinn rubbed his stubbly chin with the back of his hand and pondered deeply for a moment, cleared his throat noisily, then enunciated in his gravelly voice, “Er, Gooten Tag. Wie geht es Ihnen...?”

“Jings! That’s great, so it is!” exclaimed his pal slapping his knee. McMinn lowered his eyes modestly. There was a pause. “Er, McMinn...” began Gourlay in his most beguiling manner, “whit’s the chance o’ a sub tae tide me ower?” To his surprise, McMinn was solvent. Obligingly, he produced a handful of change, and, selecting three half crowns, handed them to Gourlay. “You should open a bank accoont Gourlay. Wance ye get an accoont, ye can aye get a loan frae the bank... It’s easy. Ye jist...” He tailed off as he caught sight of a thin, scruffy—looking little man in a boiler suit and checked cap hurrying along on the other side of the street.

Gourlay vaguely recognized him as an acquaintance of McMinn’s who, rumour had it, had been turfed out of some order of monks or other; it seemed that he was in the habit of talking in his sleep, and one night had recounted some particularly salacious tale which had set his fellow monks all aquiver; the upshot was that he had received his marching orders.

Suddenly, McMinn called out, “Hey, Hector! Wait!” And without a farewell, he dashed off, leaving Gourlay to mull over this latest proposal for raising capital.

Later in the day, Gourlay found himself in a stately but somewhat run-down Victorian crescent. An emaciated woman in hair curlers was trying to drag a pram up the steps of one of the houses. It was heavily laden with a huge pile of newly—washed clothes wrapped in a striped sheet. He took hold of the front end of the pram to lend a hand, and immediately the harassed lady began heaping abuse upon him.

“Get yer filthy hauns aff or Ah’ll cry the polis! Molestin’ a puir wumman! Ye bastert ye!”

He made off with alacrity, yelling, “Fat tart!” at her over his shoulder — his favourite epithet for women of any shape, size or persuasion who upset him.

He wandered around somewhat aimlessly for a few hours, from time to time wishing he’d had the foresight to ask McMinn for a couple of fags aimlessly, but very much on the qui vive for anything of worth which might perchance his way.

A pawnbroker’s window caught his eye, and he marvelled at the great variety of dust—covered articles heaped untidily one upon the other: dozens of watches, some without hands, jewellery of all kinds, and, clenched tightly by a pair of false teeth, a well— worn wedding ring, parts of a motorcycle, a very dented tuba, several guitars most of them sans strings a budgie cage, a sporran, a pair of plimsolls... He looked up. Below the three balls were the words, H EN SH PIRO. MON Y LOANED ON AR CLES OF ALUE. He toyed with the idea of pawning his coat, but it was still very chilly in the evenings and doubtless the pawnbroker would be a tough nut to conclude a deal with. “A loan...! Goad! The bank! ...”

The bank was closing when he arrived. The teller at the

wicket nearest the door looked up from his books at the breathless customer. “Yes?”

“Er, I’d like to open an accoont.”

“If you’d just go over to the teller by the pillar sir — I’ve closed my books for the day... The bank closes in five minutes,” he added in a tone which implied that sir had at least a sporting chance of completing a transaction. The second teller was a pretty miss with heavily lacquered hair and blood—red nails. As he approached she glanced at the clock on the wall behind her and gave a hint of a frown. “We close in less than five minutes.”

“Yes... I’d like to open an accoont.”

A pained expression clouded her face. “Certainly sir. What kind of account did sir have in mind?”

“Oh, a savin’s accoont,” said Gourlay, who liked the sound of it. “Aye, a savin’s accoont.”

After a while, having entered all manner of details into an oversized ledger, she produced a pretty green passbook with the bank’s crest on the cover. “Now sir, how much would you like to deposit?” Her pen was poised.

“Two shullins.”

A look of mild disbelief flitted over her heavily made up features. “Two shillings?”

“Well, make it hauf a croon.”    With some reluctance, he handed over the coin and received the pristine passbook appropriately annotated. “Now, who do I see about a loan?”

“A loan? That would be Mr. Harrison. Along the corridor there... First door on the right.”

The door was marked E. HARRISON: MANAGER. Gourlay peered through the frosted glass panel, but could see nothing. He adjusted his tie, gave each boot a quick polish on the backs of his trousers’ legs, and knocked. No response. He knocked again, louder this time. Still no answer. He dropped to one knee and placed his eye to the keyhole, but all he could discern was part of the top of a huge desk.

“Can I be of assistance?” The refined voice behind him startled him, and as he straightened he grazed his nose on the door handle. Mr. Harrison was a dapper, bespectacled, grey—looking man in a grey suit.

Gourlay tried to forget his smarting nose. “Er, I’ve been sent, sent to see the manager.”

“I’m Harrison, the manager. Do step inside.” Courteously, he held open the door and Gourlay went in.

The office was well—appointed to a point just short of opulence. A modest coal fire burned in a businesslike way. Mr. Harrison indicated a plush chair, and seating himself behind his great desk, extended a cigarette box, then before Gourlay could take one, withdrew it and snapped it shut. He ran his eyes over the scruffy little man before him. “And how can I be of assistance my good man?”

Gourlay smiled wanly. He had long since learned to ignore the thinly—veiled condescension implicit, to his mind at least, in the phrase, ‘my good man.’ He took a deep breath. “Ah’ve come for to secure a loan.”

The bank manager raised his eyebrows a degree or two, slowly removed his spectacles, and placed them on the desk with a distinct click. “Indeed?”

“So far, so good,” thought Gourlay. “At least he hasna said no yet.”

“Indeed?” repeated Mr. Harrison, as if he liked the sound of the word. “And what sum, pray, did you have in mind?”

“Oh, a paltry hundred or so to tide me over,” said Gourlay crossing his legs, leaning back and attempting to adopt the bank manager’s off—handed, slightly bemused tone.

“I see...” Mr. Harrison placed his hands together and made a little steeple with his finger tips. “What are your assets?”

Gourlay assumed a blank look.

“You do have an account with us Mr. er...?” “Baines, H. Gourlay Baines.”

“Do you have your account number to hand Mr. er, Baines?” Gourlay produced his passbook and handed it over.

“Fine. Now, if you will excuse me for a moment, I will be right back,” said Mr. Harrison and left the room.

As was his wont, Gourlay began to study his surroundings. His eyes lit on the cigarette box and it was but a moment’s work to transfer half a dozen cigarettes to his pocket. Then he noticed a bowl of chrysanthemums on the desk. He wondered if they were real. He leaned forward to sniff them and was immediately overcome by a violent fit of coughing. He thumped his chest with clenched fist and looked around for somewhere to spit, but the room, despite all its paraphernalia, contained nothing suitable. Never one to be caught short in an emergency, he raised the ornate inkwell from the desk and neatly dropped a gobful into it. He replaced it and sat down and was still gasping for air when the manager returned. His face was not happy.

“How much did you say you had in mind to borrow again Mr. Baines?”

Gourlay was about to say, “two hundred” when, noting the gravity of the bank manager’s expression, altered the figure accordingly. “Let’s say fifty quid.”

“I don’t quite know what your game is Mr. Baines, but I see that you opened an account with us only this afternoon. Isn’t that so?” Gourlay nodded and wished that he were elsewhere.

“Mr. Baines, we do not hand out unsecured loans. Do you have any assets at all?”

Gourlay shook his head slowly. Mr. Harrison leaned forward and said heavily, “We, Mr. Baines, are a bank, not a philanthropic institution. I bid you good day.”

Night fell over Glasgow like a cloak. The yellow light from the street lamps spilled over the streets and pavements, giving the passers—by jaundice. Gourlay jingled the two half crowns in his pocket and found the sound mightily reassuring; it was grand to be solvent. In the park by the Kelvin River he found a vacant bench and sat down to luxuriate in the last of Mr. Harrison’s cigarettes. The nearby University clock boomed out seven times. A small mongrel dog approached him cautiously. Its reddish brown coat was matted and it had a dirty bandage made from an old handkerchief round the end of its tail. It sniffed his boots with discreet fascination. Gourlay was no dog lover; it seemed to him that on the slimmest of pretexts most dogs did their best to maim, or dismember him. Over the years, he’d tactfully adopted a strict policy of laissez—faire regarding canines. He exempted no dog, because he’d found to his cost that there seemed to be an inverse law which said that the more innocuous it looked, the more lethal it turned out to be. The dog crept under the bench, lay down, and continued to examine the heels of his boots with an air of intense concentration. From time to time, it made a whiffling sound.

“Get oot o’ therr!”

The animal looked up at him nose twitching. There was no malevolence in its eyes, and Gourlay immediately softened.

“Ach, it’s you an’ me against them, eh no’ dug?” he said quietly and gingerly patted the dog on the head. The dog wagged its tail.

Gourlay stretched out his legs and put his hands in his pockets. The half crowns were still there. He felt rich and began to muse. “A good meal... Could aye give Andra the three bob I owe him... Naw, it can wait... A dram! That’s it! Havena had a dram in ages... Whit’s the name o’ that wee howff up Garscube Road...?

“That’s it pal,” he said to the dog which lay sprawled between his feet, “I’m gonna hae a wee dram tae masel!” The dog thumped its tail on the grass. Gourlay rose, stretched extravagantly, breathed in the night air — the damp night air permeated with the soul of the City — and strode off purposefully in his loping gait.

As he turned along St. George’s Road to Cowcaddens, he paused to study the posters outside the cinema by the Underground: Dance of the Maidens and The Curse of Drango were playing. He shook his head. When he was a lad, he’d been inside when it was still a theatre and seen Aladdin for sixpence. He headed up Garscube Road, past several pubs till he recognized the one he was looking for. He went in. The ceiling was low and the whole place reeked of stale wine, beer, and cigarette smoke. The customers were all male, all small, and all very poor. He glanced around to see if he knew anybody. Each table in the seating area was sectioned off from its neighbours by a waist—high partition. The place was crowded, but he managed to squeeze into a vacant seat opposite two men. He’d scarcely seated himself when the barman brought over two tumblers, one containing cider, the other red wine. He fished out one of his half crowns and got one and six change. He downed the red wine. It was so wersh it drew his cheeks together, but he consoled himself with the thought that for five bob he could get roaring fou.

He studied his companions as he sipped his cider. The man directly opposite leaned out from the table at a precarious angle. He wore a filthy, collarless shirt and a grey bunnet. His friend had attained an advanced state of inebriation and was in a boisterous and receptive mood. “C’moan, Jammy,” he cried in a loud rasping voice and nudged the leaning one with his elbow. “Drink up! Ye’re fa’in ahint!” He indicated Jammy’s untouched drinks and turned to Gourlay. “Ach, he’s a wee bit aff colour the nicht is Jammy... C’moan Jammy, gie the man a wee bit song.” By way of an answer, Jammy farted loudly, and quick as a flash his pal said in mock serious tone, “Ye’ve goat the right choon, but the wrang words therr... C’moan!”

Gourlay sipped his cider which was as sweet as the wine was

sour. The diminutive man extended a grubby hand. “Ma name’s John... Ma freens cry me Polka.”

“Ah’m Gourlay,” replied Gourlay affably.

“Pleased tae meet ye Gourlay. Whit’ll it be? Same?” “Naw, that’s alright...”

“C’moan Gourlay... There’s never a bird can fly on ae wing...”

Polka turned to face the bar and held up three fingers and the barman brought over three glasses of cider and three of wine.

“C’moan Jammy! Drink up therr!” persisted Polka loudly, then in a conspiratorial whisper which sounded like a growl, “Here’s lookin’ at ye Gourlay.”

“Cheers,” said Gourlay without enthusiasm and raised his glass. They drank in silence and Jammy farted again.

“D’ye come here often?” queried Polka bent on forcing a conversation.

“Time tae time,” responded Gourlay easily.

Then for no reason apparent to Gourlay, the noise level, which had been quite considerable up till then, dropped suddenly. Gourlay’s first thought was that the drinks had affected his hearing, and he shook his head violently and jabbed his fingers into each ear in turn. Polka, who was facing the door, tried to slip under the table his eyes wide with a mixture of fear and horror. Gourlay turned.

Filling the doorway, arms akimbo, stood a huge figure of a man who glared around with calculated belligerence. Conversation had now died away completely.

“Christ, it’s Big Red!” husked Polka from under the table.

Even through the fug of smoke, Gourlay could see why the newcomer was so named; he must have been close to seven feet tall and his red hair, eyebrows and beard were so red that his massive head seemed to be on fire.

“Glasgow scum!” intoned the giant, and ran baleful eyes round the room. Pin—dropping silence ensued.

“Losh! He must be seven feet,” mused Gourlay. “Nae man an inch under that could say that in a Glesca pub an’ live.”

“Bloody cowards,” rumbled Big Red. “Hah! Do I smell the blood of an Englishman?”

As he strode into the room, Gourlay noticed with awe that his hair brushed the ceiling.

“Right, dwarfs,” the voice boomed. “Light bulb. Ten bob.”

Puzzled, Gourlay watched a variety of the bar’s clientele stagger, march, hirple, or run up to him and press silver coins into the outstretched shovel of a hand.

“Enough!” said the big man imperiously and pocketed the coins. He deftly removed a light bulb from a ceiling fixture, popped it in his mouth, crunched it, and promptly swallowed it. A great shout went up and men stomped, huzzahed, whistled and clattered glasses on the table tops. Big Red bowed deeply, wiped his bloody mouth, smiled broadly at the assembly, turned on his heel, and vanished into the night. There was a collective sigh of relief, then excited conversation broke out.

“In the name o’ fuck, whit wis a’ that aboot?” croaked Gourlay. Polka eased himself from under the table and back into his seat. His face was ashen. “That wis Big Red,” he said simply.

“An’ is he an Englishman or what?”

Remarkably, it was Jammy who answered. Big Red’s visit had miraculously restored his powers of speech and a slight degree of sobriety. His voice was slurred and spasmodic. “Naw. He’s a Scot... Offered tae crush Polka’s heid like a grape, eh no’ Polka? Ye mind o’ that?”

“Aye. He had a dram taken ae nicht an’ Ah must hae said something tae upset him... Bugger howket me up oot o’ ma seat wan bluidy finger mind — under ma jaiket collar, an’ dunted ma heid against the ceiling...”

“Ye stupit bastert ye! Ye cried him a big poof!” said Jammy with a mirthless, wheezy laugh. “Lucky we wisna a’ killt... Goad, Ah mind the time Big Red...”

But he never got to finish his tale. A glass in each hand, a diminutive, glum—looking man approached the table and indicated the seat next to Gourlay. “Is that seat took?”

Gourlay examined the chair with exaggerated care for a moment then cracked, “Naw, it’s still here!” The stranger was not at all amused. Gourlay moved into the corner seat and the man sat down. Silence reigned over the table. The man stared morosely into the middle distance and downed his wine in one big gulp. He belched, smacked his lips on his coat sleeve, downed his cider, and belched again. He removed his hat, laid it on the table, and catching the barman’s eye, held up his index finger.

“Your fair knocking them back the nicht Alec,” said the barman.

“Aye,” replied Alec flatly selecting a shilling from a handful of coins. The barman returned to the bar. Alec placed the coins on the table and began producing more from various pockets. Gourlay stared as he methodically began to arrange the coins into piles on the tabletop according to their denominations. Suddenly, he stopped and looked directly at Gourlay. “Whit are you starin’ at?” he demanded. Gourlay busied himself with his wine. The table was silent but for the steady clinking of coins. He glanced across at Jammy, but he’d reverted to his semi—comatose state and looked so uncannily like a corpse that he shuddered. By way of attempting to enliven the proceedings, Polka nudged his partner in the ribs. “C’moan, Jammy, gie’s a wee sang!” But Jammy was so far gone that he couldn’t even raise a decent fart. “Aw, he’s a rerr wee singer Gourlay... You should hear him so ye should... He can mak’ folk greet wi’ his singin’...”

“Folk aye greet when Ah sing,” said Gourlay with a poker

face.

“Izzat so?” said Polka credulously. Weel, c’moan then... Let’s

hear you... Mebbe ye’ll get Jammy here startet... C’moan! Aw, C’moan Gourlay!”

Alec lifted his heavily—lidded eyes from his coins and rasped malevolently, “Aye, c’moan Gourlay! You that’s sae damn smart, c’moan, mak’ us greet!”

Gourlay sensed the situation was rapidly turning dangerous and was alarmed.

“Aw. Ah’m no up tae it the nicht,” he said, and coughed a little cough and tapped his chest meaningfully. Alec thumped the table so hard that some of the coins fell from their piles. His face had a tautness about it and Gourlay thought he could discern something distinctly homicidal about the eyes. “C’moan, Gourlay, you that’s sae clever — C’moan, mak’ us greet...”

“Er, Ah need the toilet,” said Gourlay rising. Alec pulled him down. “Naw, naw, naw, Gourlay. You’ve tae gie us a song first. Isn’t that right Polka?”

Happy that Alec was picking on someone else, Polka nodded vigorously. Gourlay felt trapped. He stalled for time. He hummed a few notes and assumed a puzzled expression as if he were searching for the right key. He noticed that Alec’s eyes were slitted and the expression on his face almost demonic. Then something brushed Gourlay’s leg. It was the dog. Hoping to divert Alec’s attention, he began showering lavish extravagant attention on the animal. “Hello wee dug! My, my! Ye must followed me a’ the way from the park!”

But Alec was a very single—minded man. “Never mind the dug... Sing up!” he hissed and thumped the table again. The dog growled a low warning. “C’moan, sing!” insisted Alec. The dog growled again, louder this time. “Get oot o’ therr!” said Alec, and gave the dog a swift tap in the ribs with his foot. The dog snarled, clamped its jaws on Alec’s trousers’ leg, and began worrying it with a muffled, “Aaargh! Aaargh!” gargling sound. Alec’s eyes opened a fraction. He turned on Gourlay, and grabbing him by the lapels of his coat, pushed him against the wall. “Get yer damn dug aff ma leg!” he spat. Polka leaned forward, and to Gourlay’s surprise, instead of coming to his aid, attempted to rain blows on his head.

Gourlay had had enough. In one swift movement he swept

the hatful of coins off the table. Alex released him, and with the dog still hanging on grimly, tried to gather up his money, which had rolled all over the bar floor. The tinkling coins caused an immediate scramble among the more alert of the bar’s clientele. The barman called for order, but in vain. Gourlay picked up a glass of wine, threw the contents into Polka’s face, and departed the table with such alacrity that Jammy fell off his seat with a terrible thud and lay where he fell, quite still, his eyes glazed and staring.

Although intent on quitting the pub as if his life depended on it, Gourlay took time to scoop up some coins from the tabletop and pour a glass of cider on the neck of the nearly distraught Alec who was crawling about on the floor trying to retrieve some of his money. Gourlay headed for the door and set off down the street at the double with the little mongrel at his heels.

Putting a good distance between himself and the bar, he slipped up a close mouth, and under the soft greenish light of the gas lamp at the foot of the stairs, sat down to get his breath back. He counted the coins he’d picked up — thirteen shillings and seven pence.

“No’ bad... No’ bad... A rerr night oot for a shullin,” he reflected as he pocketed the money and turned to the dog. “Here, wee dug... C’mere...” He patted its head. “You saved ma bacon son... Are you hungry?” The dog tilted its head to one side. “C’moan then. Let’s see if we can get ye a bite.”

He rose and went to the nearest door and examined it closely. The brass letterbox flap was shiny, and above it was a little tartan plastic plate bearing the name Gowalski. “We’re in luck son,” he said to the dog.

Through long experience, he had discovered that people who kept the brassware on their doors well-polished were more approachable than those whose brass was tarnished. He’d also found that people with foreign—sounding names were generally benevolent souls. He’d never been able to explain why this was so, but, to Gourlay, it was a fact, and as he well knew, ‘facts are chiels that winna ding.’ He rattled the letterbox flap.

After a long moment, a light came on in the hallway, and the door, held by a stout chain from opening more than a couple of inches, was unbolted and eased open. A woman’s voice said, “Yes?”

Gourlay closed one eye and opened the other as wide as he could. “Er, could ye dae a blind man a favour? It’s no’ for me like, but for ma dug here... He’s fair starvin’... Ah wis wondering if you could spare a few scraps...?” He could only see a part of the woman’s face through the space at the door, but from what he could see, she looked as if she were a kindly body.

“For yer dug ye say?” “Aye.”

“Well, just a wee minute...” The door was closed and he heard the key turn in the lock; blind man or not, Mrs. Gowalski was taking no chances. Soon, she returned with a pokeful of scraps, which she passed through the gap in the door. “Good luck tae ye son.”

“Aw, thanks very much Mrs. Gowalski.”

The door began to close then was suddenly jerked open to the full extent of the chain. “Hey, if you’re blind, how did ye ken ma name wis Gowalski?”

“Oh, ah, er... Well, they dugs they gie us are awffy clever... They can dae a’ kind o’ tricks... Ah wis especially lucky because this wan can read an a’...”

Mrs. Gowalski looked slightly nonplussed. “Oh aye. Well, goodnight son…”

McMinn’s attic room on St. Vincent Street was deserted, and there was no sign of the landlady. He let himself in with the key his crony kept planked on the sill above the door. Once inside, he shared out the scraps with the dog, eating the tastier morsels himself. Mrs. Gowalski had done them proud.

Before he left next morning, Gourlay left a note on the floor by the door.

Dropped in. But no sign of you. Sorry you were out. See you later. G.

P.S. No sign of landlady either did you finally droon her in the Clyde?

He gave the dog some water, pocketed some stale biscuits he found in a tin on the mantelpiece, then they left quietly.

It was a glorious morning. Rain had fallen during the night, and the City smelled fresh and clean. Gourlay treated himself to a packet of five Woodbines and a morning paper. Seeing a tram rumble past gave him the urge to take a ride. The dog close at his heels, he strolled along until he came to a stop, and within a few minutes a green and orange Cunarder tram appeared grinding along on the crown of the road closely followed by half a dozen cars and a coalman’s horse and cart. The procession ground to a halt. The conductor, hat pushed well back on his head, ticket machine slung low on one hip in the manner of an Old West gunslinger, eyed them coldly.

“Whaur ye gaun?” queried Gourlay. “Ballieston.”

“It says Broomhouse on the screen.”

“Mebbe it does,” retorted the conductor sourly. It says India Rubber oan the tyres, an’ we’re no gaun there either.”

“Tyres, my arse,” mused Gourlay as he mounted the stairs. “Silly bastert’s livin’ in a fantasy world thinks he’s a bluidy bus conductor.”

Late afternoon found the pair at the Gallowgate. The streets were thronged with shoppers making last-minute purchases, and trams and buses were all packed to the doors. At one stop he watched with intense interest as a stout woman in orange coat and plimsolls concentrated on getting a huge roll of linoleum onto the tram. He saw the conductor’s smirk vanish and his jaw fall slack as she succeeded in doing the impossible; with superhuman effort, she rammed the roll up the stairs effectively isolating the top deck passengers from the rest of the world.