I was looking for ways to enhance my pocket money. As an 8-year-old, my income didn't seem equal to my "needs." Easy, I thought. I'll sell some surplus plants at the gate.
But the enterprise proved to be an uphill struggle.
My "stall" was outside our market garden gate opening onto Park Road. Park Hill would have been a better name. It climbed relentlessly toward moors and sky. By the time it passed the gate where I was offering my clamoring clientele bedding plants at knockdown prices, the town it climbed from was away down in the valley. Only the most intrepid pedestrians reached this point - or had any reason to.
As the morning of my new career ticked uneventfully by, the disillusioning fact started to dawn upon me that my clientele was not, perhaps, of the clamoring sort. Actually, it wasn't of any sort. My market share was less than minimal.
And then came the big truck. It slowed with an exhalatory hiss and a judder. I had a moment of great expectation. Was the burly Yorkshireman up there at the wheel going to buy a plant? Or half a dozen? Or all my stock at one fell swoop?
I should explain that to most vehicles, Park Road presented a rigorous challenge. One of my brothers remembers how Dad, driving home from work, held a competition with himself: How far up Park Road could he drive in top gear? The extent to which he managed a clear run at it, without interference from jaywalkers or slow drivers, determined his success.
So this truck, loaded to the gunwales, had already severely tested the powers of the internal combustion engine by the time it reached my sign advertising "Bedding Plants for Sale." And now he was faced with a choice.
He could turn left and follow what promised to be a comparatively level road. Or he could make an assault on Everest and continue up Park Road. In a few hundred yards it made a bend approaching cliff-face verticality. It called for rocket launch rather than Henry Ford's more conventional methods of forward propulsion.
He leaned out of his cab. "Na then, son, is it straight oop for Eldwick then?"
Gone were my hopes of a sale.
"Yes," I replied helpfully.
"Oh, aye," he said, gritting his teeth. "So going left won't 'elp?"
"No," I replied. Now I was not sure if this was true. But for some reason I heard myself say "no" anyway.
"Better grin and bear it, then," he said grimly. " 'Ere we go! Ta ta!"
I shall never know if he managed to get up that hill or not.
As I watched him revving up ferociously and hardly gaining speed at all, a voice behind me said: "What did 'e want?" It was one of the gardeners.
"He wanted to know if he had to go straight up Park Road to get to Eldwick," I said.
"What did you tell 'im?"
"I told him he had to."
"You didn't!" he exclaimed. "Nay, lad! 'E'll never mek it round that corner. Nivver! Not wi' that load, 'e won't. You shoulda telt 'im to take t' other road, like. It ends oop at Eldwick, too, but goes there gradual, like." And he roared a broad, loud Yorkshire guffaw. I wished the ground would absorb me suddenly.
The enormity of my ineptitude descended upon me. I made a quick decision that there were probably going to be no further sales that morning so I might as well go in to lunch. Thus ended my career as a businessman.
I can only imagine what the truck driver told his wife that night about the stupid lad who sent him on the wrong road. Years later I still feel embarrassed. It has made me very wary, to this day, of giving directions.
Here in our inner Glasgow suburb, I often find myself being asked the way by car drivers. They are lost because we inhabit a kind of maze. You'd think I'd know, by now, every possible permutation of every complicated street. But I find myself scratching my head in perplexity sometimes wondering what itinerary to give drivers who want to go from A to B, but can only get to B by going through most of the rest of the alphabet first.
Then yesterday morning, on the way back from the dog run, the driver of a truck delivering gravel asked me what was the "safest" way for him to find the highway again.
The word "safest" threw me. He probably meant he didn't want to find himself having to back out of a dead end with such a crusher of a truck. After long cogitation (during which he eyed me with tolerant puzzlement because, as I lived around here, I must know the streets like the back of my hand), I came up with a circuitous but basic route that would lead him to a conjunction of several highways. He seemed happy with it. And as I left, he waved a cheery thank you.
It was only this morning that I started to wonder if the particular highway he wanted did, in fact, have an entrance at the place I had directed him to. And the more I think about it now, the less sure I am becoming.
Is he still wandering around Glasgow?
However, I'd taken the wise precaution, after telling him which way to go, of adding: "That should work. If it doesn't, what'll you do? Come back and get me?"
He promised laughingly that he would.
But if he does, he won't find me. I learned that lesson at the age of 8. If you give someone directions - run for it.