I’m not a true, geographical Beestonian. Its a confession I need not be ashamed of , as Beestoniaism is a state of mind, as many of my readers who live in other parts of the world, or other parts of Britain will testify. To quote Monkey-Faced airline-fiend Ian Brown, ‘Its not where you’re from, its where you’re at’, and I know that from Texas to Thailand, there are Beestonians as pure as the most long-toothed Rylands-Dweller.
So in mid-december 1973, in the type of blizzard that would make the whole of London stay inside for a week my mother went shopping with my visiting gran in Helensborough, a town in West Scotland on the banks of the Clyde. I wasn’t due for at least another fortnight, so when my gran made my mum laugh so hard she fell over (by pointing out a man with an uncanny resemblance to a vole), I was woken and decided for the first and only time of my life to get up and out early. A blast of Pethadine, a few strenuous pushes and POP, out comes the Future King of Beestonia, so ugly the midwife slapped my mother instead of me.
Years go by, and I am invited by my parents to revisit my roots, as they are going back there as part of the on-going nostalgia tour they embarked on once all my siblings abandoned the nest. I agree to join them, out of curiosity and the fact its quite a pretty place, but for a greater reason. For here, I think I have my first memory.
Its not hazy, but over-garish. Its legs, its movement, its me sitting down being pushed, its the sudden plunge into darkness, its the adjustment and re-focus, its the terror, its the Dragons. Dragons across the water, nodding on long necks as they stooped down to eat, yes of fire, massive, blazingly bright in their reflection in the water.
The Dragons are what really fooled me, what really made me sure thew whole memory was fake, distorted, and calling into question the idea that I had any memories of Scotland whatsoever. I could easily account for the rest, the legs due to the fact I was being perambulated in a pushchair and that would have been my view, the garish colours due to the fact it was the early seventies, but the Dragons?
We hit Helensburgh, and its a beautiful,waterfront town with a classy promenade and an understated pier. A day or two are spent enjoying the May mildness, ferrying round Loch Lomond, driving through the hills, with myself all the time looking for something, anything, that would associate me with the terrain and Proustian rush me back to the days of my immediate youth.
But nothing. Not one spark, not one suggestion, just this over-riding sense that how could one live here for two years, and not recognize its beauty, its majesty? Here are the mountains, the lochs, the sweeping vistas…but where are the Dragons?
The over-riding sense is: the Dragons weren’t there. The Dragons were never there. The Dragons, this one tenuous yet important link to my life before Beestonia didn’t exist. Pack away the kilt Matt, unstuff that Haggis.
Disgruntled myself and my then-girlfriend stroll into town, my mission as disappointed as those who seek Atlantis and ElDorado, my mission over. Dragons dont exist, dragons are fantasy. I suggest to my partner a drink. She agrees. The promenade, laden with pubs, is visited.
I dont care anymore, i tell myself, I don’t care. I recite, internally the mantra of Ian Brown again and again. I still was born in a beautiful place, I still can support Scotland tacitly in sporting competitions and anything nationalistically inclined. Its over.
A great night is had. I get drawn into a restaurant through its fried garlicy-wonderfulness, then pubs, many pubs, concertinaing up and down the promenade with gleeful randomness. I tell various strangers in similar states of intoxication of my predicament, they express their sympathy in insincere back slaps and consolations, and it shrinks to nothingness. These are great people, this is a great time. An earlier trip to West Glasgow reinforced the cliche that the best people to get hammered with are the Scots, just ahead of Geordies and the Irish.
Terrible karaoke is sung, numbers never to be rang are exchanged, and we all stumble onto the street. Staggering down the promenade, arm in arm with my then-girlfriend, I shout farewells to my temporary best friends, and head down, head home.
It catches the peripheral vision first, and is such a shock I spin round with intent to see what I thought I see, and im right. There be Dragons.
Over the broad expanse of the Clyde, in the docks of Greenock, was a huge crane, indistinct in the day, but by night illuminated and massive , a steel neck shining brightly in the blue-ink dark, a head of metal glowing out over the horizon…a Dragon, and the Dragon i’d seen three decades prior. I saw it then, and it all came Proustian- rushing back, an avalanche of memory and feeling, an emotional link to the very young me that bypassed the decades past…
There Were Dragons.