Witnesses to Glory: The man from the coast

Me an’ me marrers was fed up to th’back teeth with picketin’. Not that we’re fed up wi’ fightin’ back, it was a canny struggle while it lasted mind. But stannin’ there at the shipyard gates through the wind and snaw o’ another winter while the breakers was inside, knocking the yard doon and shipping it off to the scrapyairds, was no’ my idea of fun.

We had good crack at first, mind, after they announced the shut-down. We occupied and started a work-in, even had people travelling the world to get business to prove the yards was still economically viable, but we were aye pissin’ in the wind at the end, an’ we kent it fine.

But we were still holdin’ out, after near six months, when they sent the crack troops in to clear us out so the breakers could get to wark. There were aye some brokken heads that neet, I can tell thee, but we gave good account o’ worsel’s before they hauled the most of the lads off to the lock-up, to be hauled before the beak for unlawful trespass the next mornin’, most o’ them still looking very much the worse for wear an’ the bobbies looking reet pleased wi’ theirsel’s for being such brave men.

Any road, the sap was risin’ in the trees and our feet was feelin’ itchy, an’ though we kept up a token presence, wor hearts wasn’t in’t. The movement hadn’t given us the backin’ we’d a right to expect, and the lads was beginnin’ to wonder if it was worth the candle, carryin’ on like for ever and a day.

Then we heard aboot the gannin’s on along the big river, up in the moorlands below the border where there’s nobbut sheep and grouse and a few shepherds like. But this man, a real canny lad he was by all accounts, dreadlocks doon to his shoulders and good crack aboot the way things are carryin’ on in these times, seems he’s takken up residence in the moors, what we ca’ll the wilderness, and folks is gannin’ fro’ miles aroond t’hear him preach.

So we got wor branch banner oot o’ uncles and put wor climbin’ boots an’ woolly jumpers on an’ hitched wor way doon the old military road, tappy-lappy, in fine fettle though we had barely the price of a pint between us, singin’ the old songs o’ the challenge o’ change to keep wor spirits up, wi’ just the occasional nip o’ the good water o’ life to keep us gannin’.

Well, we weren’t the only ones wi’ the same idea, not by a long road, there was some o’ the lads fro’ the action committee wi’ their banners, an’ vicars and churchmen, some of them robed in purple an’ up fro’ the big city, like. Not to mention the bobbies and the special branch men in their riding macs, an’ even some of the special service troops as turfed us oot o’ the yard. I thought I saw one yin, he gave me such a scelp behind the lug wi’ the butt o’ his sub-machine gun that neet i’ the yard I swear me head’s ringing still, an’ I was aye thinking how I could pay him back, betimes, when there he is, large as life an’ twice as ugly, and the very weapon, that gun, slung over his back like a guitar.

The lads saw me lookin’ and ca’lled me t’ hadaway, but I marked him then and I swore I’ll mark him again, come what may, so help me.

This John lived up to the stories, any road. A big man he was, not tall but broad i’ the beam, an’ he didn’t mince words aboot the bad things happenin’ in the land. Not he. An’ me an’ the lads was a’ll ready t’jine him, follow him where e’er he led, to hell if need me. By! That was preachin’, o’ the old fire-and-brimstone variety, an’ no mistake.

Then he led us back doon the hill like the grand old Duke o’ York, an’ into the very river itsel’, nobbut a wee beck it was if the truth be tellt, to be baptised into repentance. We were aye ready to do that too, e’en though the watter was cold as springs that come from the high fell snaws, for there wasn’t a man amang us hadn’t got things on his conscience, if only it was the times he should ha’e been there alangside his marrers an’ comrades and the bed was too warm or the beer too cool for him to bestir himself for the fight.

It was good crack in the watter, despite the cold, wi’ the lads actin’ on and dookin’ worsel’s an’ each other while waitin’ wor turn, but when we cam’ up to him we a’ll felt more solemn like, an’ remembered that this was God’s work we were doin’, turnin’ wor backs on the defeats and failures o’ the past and towards some bright tomorrow, when the rotten wood we’d burn and take the axe to the very root of the corruption in the world, the greed of the moneymen who treat human beings like disposable parts o’ their big machines, to be thrown on the scrapheap when we’re no longer cost effective.

Everyone cam’ up wi’ shinin’ eyes, as if it was more than watter washed them clean, and we clung close to John so we could hear his every word, and swore to stay that way until the very end.

Then there was a wee bit of a rumpus on the edge o’ the crowd and this other chap, this Jesus, comes hornin’ in on the show and the lads was none too pleased at that. People say he’s kin to John, cousins or suchlike, I heard later, but at the time he just seemed to us like some posh southerner come up to lah-di-dah it over us a’ll, and we didn’t think it was too canny, that.

The people parted between him and John like the Red Sea before Moses, like, an’ t’wor amazement he gans doon on his knees i’ the watter and asks John t’baptise him too. At first John wasn’t having that, not he, because he said this was the man he’d been aye preachin’ aboot, whose shoelace he wasn’t fitten to untie, but Jesus just smiled, firm like, an’ insisted that he’d cam’ for baptism and that he’d have, or no one would gan hyem the neet.

Well, John does it, an’ ye coulda knocked wor lads doon wi’ feathers, ’cos there was a clap o’ thunder like judgement day, there bein’ not a cloud to be seen, and a big voice ca’llin’, I couldn’t see where it came from, but it marked Jesus as his son and I felt in me heart it was the voice o’ the big man himsel’, the Lord o’ Hosts, and most o’ the lads a’ll got doon on wor knees in the beck and bowed wor heads.

Me, I was still dumbstruck like, an’ lookin’ aroon’ to see were there loudspeakers to make the voice so big, an’ I saw somethin’ I don’t think many marked but me, an’ that was a canny white chuckie or some such bord, come fluttering doon and squatted on the head o’ this Jesus, reet comical it seemed to me at first, like some daft lassie’s hat all feathers. But then the voice spoke again and I kent this was no bird but the Holy Spirit of the Lord hisself, lightin’ on t’his only begotten, an’ I bowed me head wi’ the rest.

When John was ta’en and this Jesus ridin’ into the big city on a cuddie, occupyin’ the very temple of the stock exchange and tornin’ the moneychangers all oot o’ doors, I was aye there, not one of his closest, what they ca’lled the disciples, but yes I was there an’ at the very foot o’ the hangin’ tree e’en so, though there was some ran away afeart, an’ me wi’ ’em. But I crept back ashamed more than I was afeart, and glad I did too when he rose again and was carried up into glory before oor varry eyes.

But aye I minded that time in the moorland beck, a’ll the heads bowed and the chuckie comin’ doon to the saviour’s head, him they ca’lled later the anointed one, and me the only one that was gi’en the great privilege o’ seein’ it, and I forgot a’ll aboot the soldier who scelped me, and the way I was gann’ to mark him in return.


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