I was a butcher, but saw more knives on the streets

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John Young speaks to regular TFN blogger Dan Mushens about how life in Glasgow has changed

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12th February 2019 by TFN Guest 1 Comment

I’m approaching 70 years of age, but during my working years, I was a butcher and worked in shops and slaughterhouses around the Southside of Glasgow. Dealing with blood, guts and death was an everyday feature of my working day, but it’s also been all too common in my personal life too.

My name is John, I’ve struggled with alcoholism for many years and I now live with something called alcohol related brain damage (ARBD), a condition that mainly affects my memory and mobility but also causes some epileptic seizures now and again.

When I was a young lad I was in the Boy’s Brigade and we’d be taught things like how to gut a fish or skin a rabbit, I guess this was where my interest in butchery began. I was always hanging around in a wee gang when I was a kid, we never caused much trouble but I remember a few of the boys got stabbed from time to time. Having a wee scar on your face was like a badge of honour.

Looking back, I thought this was just the norm. Everyone ran the risk of getting slashed and it was more a question of when, not if it would happen to you. I was fortunate and managed to avoid getting cut up, but some childhood pals sadly had their lives ended in this manner.

This was Glasgow in the sixties and gang culture was rife. Most young men walked the streets drinking alcohol and carrying a knife. It must have been terrifying to most people but that’s what we did back then, I saw men behave like this when I was growing up so that's what I did as a young man.

Back in the sixties, all the men in my community worked in the shipyards, my dad was a caulker and every morning I remember seeing a river of men flowing along my street to start their shift. You couldn’t leave the house until they’d passed or you’d be swept away in the tide. 

No one in my family was an alcoholic, but when it took a hold of me, it wouldn’t let me go! I often wonder how I became addicted to booze, my parents and nine siblings never had a drink problem, but I was the exception.

John Young

John Young

I drank the same quantity as my pals, but for some reason I’m the one with brain damage. It seems I bucked the trend in the same way that I avoided working in the shipyards like most folk did. I was too scared to work there.

We’d normally drink in local pubs and clubs on evenings and weekends but after a binge, I’d sometimes end up drinking in ‘wine alley’, a colloquially named area in Govan where gangs, down and outs and addicts generally congregated...and I fitted right in.

You’d sometimes step over people in tenement closes not knowing if they were dead or alive. 

I was more interested in alcohol than knives and I got a taste of it from an early age. I didn’t really see it as that big of a problem because I was still going to my work and bringing a wage home. I was married in my twenties, bought a house and my wife and I went on to have five kids. Sadly, two of my sons have recently passed away due to their own addiction battles.

It’s only when I look back that I see the real impact of what alcohol has done to me. I had lots of epileptic seizures in the nineties and spent some time in hospital wards. I know my memory is pretty poor because when I walk down the street in my local community, family members walk past and say hello. I smile and nod, not having a clue who they are until they tell me.

I spent a few years in Penumbra’s supported accommodation service in the north of Glasgow and it gave me the opportunity to stay away from alcohol and to give my body a break. But it seems the damage was already done.

I’ve recently returned to live independently back in the place I spent my childhood, Govan. It’s all changed now though, the rows and rows of tenements I used to play in have nearly all gone and replaced with more modern buildings. It’s easy to get lost in a place I’ve always thought of as home, but I’m glad to say you don’t see that many gangs any more.

With my memory problems it can sometimes be a bit tricky to do things like open my post, cook a meal, or plan a bus or train journey into town. Thankfully, I get support from the Penumbra supported living service and they help me with these sort of things and more. 

Sadly, my wife also passed away last year and I’m at the stage in my life when I look back and reflect on my life. It’s sad to think about the damage that alcohol and knives have caused but as I say, that was normal back in those days.  

Due to the ARBD, I literally can’t remember the last time I had a drink but it must have been about a year ago. So as of today I’m abstinent and living independently with family around me. That’s good enough for me.

John Young was speaking to Penumbra recovery practitioner Dan Mushens. Penumbra is a Scottish mental health charity who believe that recovery from mental illness can and does happen.

12th February 2019 by HighlandNelson83

Some not so fond memories, stay strong John.