Mark Arbuckle: Glasgow, November 2021
After the excitement of the grand opening and the hosting of Fiona Richmond we settled into our new store and were extremely busy over the summer of 79.
The shop’s basement had not been refurbished and left in a rundown state…. part sales-floor, part stock-room, part office, part staff-room.
It also had one of those old-fashioned wooden parquet floors that made a clip-clop sound when anyone walked on it.
Davy our manager’s family home was still in Arbroath so he was staying in digs in Glasgow during the week, getting the train home on a Saturday evening and taking the Monday off to spend time at home.
One Saturday Davy had left to catch his usual train. I was still working, collating the monthly figures when I heard the clip-clop of footsteps on the parquet floor outside the office. Davy walked in cursing that he’d missed his train before heading off 20 minutes later to catch the next one.
Ten minutes after Davy had gone I heard the clip-clop sound again and swung the door open ready to slag Davy for missing another train and….there
was nobody there!
I shouted ‘Hello’, ‘Hello’ before realising I was on my own…. or was I?
So I quickly packed up my stuff, set the alarm and got the hell out of there!
A week or so later, Rikki, Davy and I were leaving the basement when Rikki suddenly reared back in fright pushing Davy out of the way!
An ashen faced Rikki swore that he’d just seen a black dog crouching beneath a plastic chair in front of an old fitting room before it started to leap up at him!
He was very shaken and took quite a while to calm down!
Intrigued at the goings-on, I did a bit of research and discovered that our building had been built close to the site of an old chemical & pharmaceutical factory
W&R. Hatrick & Co. on Renfield Street.
The building had gone up in flames, exploded and then collapsed killing 4 firemen on the 7th January 1898.
There was to be another ‘ghostly’ incident a few months later but this time it was a bit more explainable.
Ross (he of the wiry ginger hair) was passing the shop late one evening when he stopped to look in the front door. He gasped when he saw all the jackets begin to swing about on their rail next to the cash desk…. he thought he was seeing things!
He saw the next rail of clothing start to swing about too before running off in a panic for his late-night bus!
The next day he related this incident to Davy and I.
I was sceptical but, having already ‘witnessed’ two other ghostly ‘sightings’ that month, I had an open mind.
Davy on the other hand said “Dinny be daft son, ye must’ve been pished!”
Later that evening when we went for a pint in Sloan’s, Davy told me why he’d been so dismissive!
“Am stayin’ in the shoap instead a the digs” he confessed! “But am still gettin’ ma digs paid by tha cumpany and no tellin’ em! Last night I’d set ma sleepin’ bag up at the back cash desk which can’t be seen from the front door. But I’d left ma watch at the front cash-till and had made my way behind the rails to get it and that’s what Ross saw! It wiz me pushing the jackets aside as I crawled back to ma sleepin’ bag!”
I nearly choked on my pint!
We had such a laugh about it! We never told Ross and he probably still tells the story about the ghostly jackets!!
A couple of weeks later Davy experienced another form of incursion, but this one was a tad more sinister!
He had just returned from the pub late one night and was making his way to his hidey-hole at the back of the shop when he saw a ladder and a pair of boots disappearing up through the polystyrene tiles into the roof space!
Above our roof was an empty building which burglars had gained entry to before entering via the shop’s unalarmed roof!
It was obviously a very well-planned break-in with three rough looking guys in the process of emptying the leather and suede department!
As handy as he was Davy didn’t fancy taking all three of them on so he slipped quietly back out to a phone box to call the police. He made up a story that he’d left important paperwork in the shop and was returning to get it when he witnessed the break-in in progress!
The burglars were never caught but poor Davie had to book into a B&B until the dust settled.
We had another police incident a few weeks later.
Next door to Top Man was a very busy HMV store.
Rikki and I got very friendly with the staff and in particular big Duncan the security guard who was about 6’4″ and 20 stone!
We gave them discount and they reciprocated.
However, despite big Duncan’s presence HMV had a major shoplifting problem which, considering it was all vinyl albums in those days, was quite a feat on the shoplifter’s part!
One day Rikki spotted two young guys crouched down dividing up their stolen haul of albums around the entrance to our front door. (Not very bright then!?!?)
While Rikki kept an eye on them, I slipped next door to inform big Duncan.
However, at the same time, unbeknown to us, two youngish looking plain clothes cops had also spotted the two thieves and were in the process of lifting them….. when big Duncan bounded up behind the cops, mistaking them for the shoplifters and smacked their heads together!!
It took a lot of fast talking and profuse apologies from myself and big Duncan to prevent him from being arrested for Police Assault!
The two thieves witnessing the event cowered in the corner terrified that they’d be next for a head cracking!
When everything was sorted out, they looked positively relieved when they were actually arrested and led away!
Leading up to Christmas the shop continued to be busy, and for a laugh Rikki wrote a pantomime featuring all the staff as characters.
It was near the knuckle stuff, but hilarious, with lots of in-jokes that had the staff in stitches.
Things worked out very well for Rikki in the long run as he became a professional comedy writer, working with Craig Ferguson, Rikki Fulton, Scotch & Wry, Only An Excuse, Chewin’ The Fat and Watson’s Windup amongst many other BBC Comedy Unit projects.
Rikki also had his own weekly comedy page in The Scottish Sun for 17 years!
As the weather in Glasgow began to bite you’d find the majority of Top Man’s staff queuing up outside City Bakeries most mornings for that rare Glasgow delicacy… A Hot Roll and Mince!
They were delicious and really warmed you up!
About a week before Christmas when the store was at its busiest Davy decided to complete the weekly paperwork.
I said ‘It’s ok Davy I’ll do it’ but he insisted.
He had all the daily sheets so all he had to do was transfer them onto a new document and cross check them to make sure they all tallied up. I left him to it.
An hour later I checked to see how he was doing.
There were a lot of crumpled scraps of paper lying on the desk and Davy’s face was getting redder by the second!
I offered to help again but that just seemed to make things worse
He was muttering away under his breath like Muttley from Wacky Races!
Exasperated, he suddenly leapt to his feet, threw his pen at the wall and shouted, ‘Ach F*ck The Pope!!’
Realising what he’d just said he looked at me and began to apologise profusely!
With a straight face I looked sternly at him and said, ‘Don’t worry about it Davy….I hope you have a F*cking Rotten Christmas too!‘
Then I turned around and (mock) stormed out the office!
I went back in 10 seconds later and the two of us burst out laughing!!
We met at a Fashion Industry Trade Show in London about 12 years later and Davy told this story in a crowded bar to everyone’s amusement!
Davy, Rikki and I would have many more laughs and experiences in and around the Rag Trade over the next two decades but unfortunately those stories belong in another blog….!!