John Farquhar McLay
John Farquhar McLay, 10 October 1934 – 24 March 2011
John Farquhar McLay, known as Farquhar to his friends, was born in the Gorbals district of Glasgow on the 10 October 1934. His parents John and Sarah had two children, the other being his sister Mary. Farquhar's dad was at one time a tram driver and then a carter. They lived in Eglinton Street Gorbals, Farquhar went to John Street school until he was about 10 years old. The family moved to Allander Street, Possilpark in the North side of Glasgow, where he lived until his 20's. Then around the mid 60's the family moved to Inverurie Street, Springburn, still in the north of the city.
Farquhar's first job was with a fishmonger. It was at this time his dad died, Farquhar was 16, and found himself the family's main bread winner. So it was obvious he had to find a job that paid more. He eventually got a job as a blacksmith at a foundry in Kinningpark. It was very arduous, dirty work and he went home exhausted and filthy.
After a few years of the foundry he decided to join the army, this was at the time of the Korean war. He signed up with The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders as an infantryman. However being ordered around and always being told what to do didn't go down too well with the young Farquhar. As a young boy in the Gorbals he had been on two occasions to his grandparents farm at Rann Na Feirste in County Donegal in Ireland. Having decided the army was not for him he deserted and went on the run, making his way to an uncle in Ireland and lived on the family farm at Rann Na Feirste.
After about six months in Ireland he decided to return home but on reaching his mum's house he was unwell. He was also informed that the Military Police had been up at the house advising that he should report to Maryhill Barracks. Farquhar surrendered himself to the authorities at Maryhill Barracks where the army Medical found he had tuberculosis. As he was still in the army they sent him for treatment at the Glen O'Dee, a Red Cross sanatorium for ex-servicemen, in the north east of Scotland. His treatment was a far cry from the Gorbals and his foundry, consisting of lots of time, good food, fresh air, there was of course the streptomycin and a bilateral thoracoplasty operation. The later is a rather drastic and outdated form of treatment from which many died. Others spent the rest of their life with severe disfigurement, stooped posture and shortness of breath. However you were expected to have the operation before you left. Farquhar refused the operation several times but was eventually persuaded, a decision he regretted all his life, he blamed later life medical problems on that decision. His final convincing that the operation was unnecessary was the fact that his friend Jimmy Daniel had refused the operation and recovered fully from the TB. This also led to a deep mistrust of the medical profession and probably hardened his already strong dislike of authority. His advice on the medical profession was; “Be sure you can muster strength to hurl abuse at them. Don't be the meat in the middle of the sandwich, better be an ingrate every time.”
At the Glen O'Dee sanatorium Farquhar met Harry Bryce and Jimmy Daniel, two TB patients, who were to become life-long friends. The sanatorium produced a hospital magazine, The Glen Echo, for patients who were interested in writing. This was Farquhar's introduction to writing, a love that stayed with him all his life. He with his new friends honed their writing skills by producing articles for the magazine. His medical experience influenced much of his writings.
Discharge and New Home
On the 12 March 1954 Farquhar was given an honourable discharge, having had tuberculosis he was classified as unfit for military service. Farquhar was by now active in the Glasgow anarchist movement and it was at one of the anarchist meetings in the 1960's that he met Catherine Hamilton, they were married on October 10, 1967. At first they went to stay with his mother at Inverurie Street and after about 4 years they had put together enough money for a deposit for a house in Deanston Drive. Catherine had a small antiques business and this allowed Farquhar to settle into his writing. Catherine's business often loaned articles as props to the Citizens Theatre and in return Catherine and Farquhar enjoyed free tickets for the various shows, this fitted in well with Farquhar's writing.
Family and Move
It was in 1970 that Catherine gave birth to twin boys, David and Donald, prompting the move to a larger house. The family moved to Balvicar Drive, not far from Queen's Park. Allowing the kids and their parents to enjoy the same park that Farquhar, as a child, had enjoyed with his mother. Farquhar helped out at Cathrine's antique stall at the Barras and also at the antique shop she opened in The Victorian Village, though it must be said, not with the greatest of enthusiasm. His love was his writing and occupied most of his time. He could often be found down at the “Writers Retreat” in the Scotia Bar at the bottom of Stockwell street, enjoying the chat and company of other writers, famous, infamous and unknown.
After the sudden and unexpected death of his son Donald in 2000 and then Cathrine's death four years later in 2004, Farquhar's health seemed to deteriorate quite markedly. He still had his complete mistrust of the medical profession so visiting the GP was not really on the cards. He was holding true to the advice he had given his son's some years earlier, “Never trust doctors. You can use them for simple things like a broken leg, but always be very cautious when dealing with medical authority." His son David struggled to get his dad to see a GP but always with the same refusal. However, due to his very weak condition and his unusual complete lethargy it eventually became obvious that there was no alternative. A week later, much to his disgust he was taken to the Victoria Infirmary, where he died on the 24 March 2011
Farquhar was an anarchist for most of his adult life, He involved himself with considerable energy in many of the working class struggles of his era. His effort and energy in the Workers City events will be remembered by all those who were involved, but he was also a novelist, editor, short story writer, poet, and playwright, he also wrote plays and talks for BBC radio in the 1950' and 60's. I think these words read by Tommy Kayes at Farquhar's funeral give us some idea of the man that was John Farquhar McLay:
“The story goes that as a young man in the Gorbals, Farquhar trained as a boxer.In later years he could handle himself in a writers circle as well as he had done previously in a boxing ring. As a printer, I deal all the time with writers who are indecisive and spend a great deal of time faffing about, but working with Farquhar I saw for the first time the true art of a writer: his carefully considered edits finely honed his work into something unique. His passionate, beautifully crafted writing has never been given the recognition it deserves, and remains for future generations to discover. In October 1987, the announcement was made that Glasgow had been made European City of Culture 1990. It's been said that on the day the news broke the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett dropped dead from the shock. The City Council went into overdrive promoting a revived Merchant City, and Glasgow as a Premier Shopping Experience. I approached Farquhar and asked if he would be interested in producing a book that opposed the Council's Corporate Scheme, and celebrated Glasgow as one of the World's great working class cities, on par with Barcelona or Chicago. With typical generosity, Farquhar proposed making the book an anthology and opened up the book to his fellow writers. The book, and the campaign it spawned, was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I remember being surprised at the time by the energy, enthusiasm and commitment of the many pensioners that were involved. I don't know why I was surprised: they believed in the idea that the richness of a City lay in its people, as opposed to the spin-doctors of the Council. That struggle still continues, as seen very recently with the eviction of Mrs Jaconelli, worn out and prematurely aged, from her flat in Dalmarnock, to make way for the latest Corporate beanfeast of the Commonwealth Games. Farquhar was part of a Glasgow generation, like his great friend Robert Lynn, and Matt McGinn, who lived through hard times, but who held onto an essential kindness, who had 'a new world in their hearts'. He believed, like Gustav Landauer: The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another… I believe that generosity of spirit is the mark of a true revolutionary. He was from a different generation, but I am sure that Farquhar would have approved of the young anarchists who occupied Fortnum and Mason, and protested at the Ritz in London during the Anti-Cuts demonstrations a week last Saturday. John Maclean almost a hundred years ago said: 'we are out for life and all that life can give us'. Farquhar, in the introduction to his book 'Voices of Dissent' wrote: "And don't think dissent is just saying No. At its deepest and most passionate it is a Yea saying: an affirmation, a shouting of YES to life and all that enhances life." Farquhar lived his life to the end, a true enemy of the principle of power and domination.”
Cry Anarchy, Autonomy Press 1984.
Published in: The Listener, Words, Variant, New Writings Scotland, The Glasgow Magazine, Chapman, Edinburgh Review.
Streets of Stone, Salamander Press 1985
Streets of Gold, Mainstream, 1989
Another Book to Burn Clydeside Press 1998
MacAllan Shorts, polygon 2000
Voices of Dissent, Poems, Clydeside Press 1986
Workers City, Clydeside Press, 1998
The Reckoning, Clydeside Press, 1990
Outspoken anthologies of Glasgow working-class writing.
His last work;
A novel, Easy Cases, Clydeside Press, 2002.
Posted by John Couzin
Material supplied by Tommy Kayes.