A first collection of plays by James Kelman, whose novel A Disaffection won the 1989 James Tait Black Memorial Prize and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The plays provide evidence of Kelman’s linguistic craftsmanship, ironic humour and ear for dialogue.
Out of print
Year of Publication
This book can be purchased or ordered from your local independent bookshop or from Waterstones
This excerpt is taken from: pp124-9 Secker & Warburg paperback edition (1991)
From Act 1 Scene 4, when three ministers visit Andrew Hardie in his prison cell.
Mr Heugh (after a pause) How are ye for ink and writing materials?
Hardie (shrugs) Letters have been cancelled till further notice…
Mr Heugh Again! (Glances at his companions)
Mr Small (ironic) It would seem to be the case Mister Heugh, aye. (Then a glance at Hardie.) So the sentencing isni preying on your mind then?
Hardie I just wish it was ower and done wi.
Mr Small Mm.
Mr Heugh Is there anything else ye’re in need of?
Hardie (pause) There’s the candles right enough I mean if they burn out… I sometimes wonder about that. Cause I’m no sleeping at the usual hours and if I wisni able to get reading…
Mr Heugh Dont worry about it. The gaoler keeps his eye on that. We’ll remind him though if it makes ye easier.
Dr Wright (absently) The light shineth in darkness.
Hardie Aye Doctor Wright. (Then quickly but respectfully.) Be nae candles without God but, surely… All things were made by him.
Dr Wright (finishes quote while laying down the book) And without him was not anything made that was made.
Dr Wright (approvingly) You’re studying the scriptures.
Hardie It’s no a hardship Doctor Wright. I’ve aye been a reader anywey.
Mr Heugh (to Dr Wright) He used to attend the Mechanics Institute.
Dr Wright Is that right?
Mr Heugh (to Hardie) You were saying to me about the star-gazing…? (To Dr Wright.) Some of them were gonni be going out on hikes.
Hardie We were getting a loan of a telescope.
Dr Wright The loan of a telescope…
Hardie They can capture merr than a hunner times the amount of light your eye can. Which means ye can see a hunner times merr into the sky, deeper I mean.
Mr Small Where were ye getting the loan of a telescope?
Hardie (shrugs) The Institute I suppose.
Mr Small The Institute, aye, and who would be taking charge of it?
Hardie Taking charge of it…?
Dr Wright (patiently) Ken what Mister Small’s meaning there is how these telescopes are valuable instruments lad, it wouldni do to be treating them in a way that wasni serious.
Mr Small I was also beginning to worry about your web, if you’d ever fit in the time to do your work? (With a brief glance at Mr Heugh then he nods at Dr Wright)
Hardie stares at the floor
Mr Heugh (shakes his head. He turns suddenly to Hardie) And have ye heard the news from Greenock?
Mr Small Mister Heugh…! We’re no here to impart information to prisoners. (A look to Dr Wright.)
Mr Heugh (glances at Dr Wright) Ach ye know how this sort of news travels Doctor Wright, it’s as well coming frae us as Tam Simpson or auld Granny Duncan!
Mr Small That’s no an argument.
Dr Wright It isni Mister Heugh.
Mr Heugh But the word’s everywhere. (And to Hardie: ) There’s been an incident doon at Greenock, between the townsfolk and the military.
Hardie What kinda incident?
Mr Heugh Mind now these are early reports Andy but it seems to be fighting.
Dr Wright It’s a bad business: there’s nae good’ll come of it.
Mr Small A riot!
Mr Heugh No quite the words I heard Mister Small. (Then to Hardie: ) What they’re saying in the toon is how a crowd are supposed to’ve stoned a company of soldiers. Stoned them. They were trying to cart a half dozen weavers aff to gaol.
Mr Small (impatiently) A mob attacked the military, that’s what’s happened. They attacked the military while they were going aboot their lawful business. The way matters are in the country the now I would hardly’ve thought it the sort of news to be spreading about like this – you would think the affair delighted ye.
Mr Heugh (quickly) The affair doesni delight me minister, I just think Mister Hardie should be availed of the information.
Hardie The townsfolk fighting the soldiers – to set free the weavers?
Mr Heugh That’s what they’re saying, yes.
Hardie Excited laugh.
Mr Small (impatient sigh and a look to Dr Wright) Aye Mister Heugh, a mob attacks a company of soldiers – fine grounds for amusement.
Dr Wright (gravely) Mister Heugh.
Mr Heugh (to Dr Wright) The news is everywhere.
Hardie (has paced slowly to the far end of his cell and he stands there for some time, deep in thought. He returns to the cell door, continues pacing for a short while. The sound of a clock chiming somewhere, but vaguely. He rubs at his face, frustration, his chains rattle: and he turns to the Ministers) They’ll have had nae right to arrest them in the first place. It’s aye the way of it but, it’s how this government treat ordinary working men. (His fists clench.)
Mr Small There can never be any excuse for arms Mister Hardie. True justice, true liberty, true religion; never a one required weapons of destruction.
Mr Heugh Ho!
Mr Small Aye Mister Heugh!
Dr Wright (clears throat) Ken one side doesni hae the haud on truth Mister Heugh, let’s not forget that.
Mr Heugh I’m hardly likely to Doctor Wright.
Mr Small There are two sides to every story.
Mr Heugh (just barely controlling his annoyance) Thanks for reminding me. (Turns abruptly.) And there’s never any call to open up wi muskets on a crowd of unarmed men. It fair does me sick to hear o it.
Mr Small When?
Mr Heugh When! There can never be any justification for such action. And them responsible will answer for it – before God, if no in this world.
Dr Wright glances from one colleague to the other.
Mr Small Ye need not tell me about God, minister.
Mr Heugh stands staring at him.
Mr Small Ye need not tell me about God.
Mr Heugh now accepts by a nod of the head that he is in the wrong.
Mr Small We shall all come before Him.
Dr Wright Amen…
Mr Heugh is still emotional from the confrontation.
Mr Small The laws of the land are the laws of the land.
Mr Heugh (speaks in spite of himself) Bad laws!
Mr Small Laws.
Hardie Laws only count for them that’ve framed them, if you’ve no had any say in the framing of them then they’ve got nothing to do with ye.
© James Kelman