We’re delighted to bring you this terrific extract from ‘Hings’ by Chris McQueer, a collection of short stories that take place in locations from the streets of working-class Scotland to a little beyond our solar system ...

‘Tony, what’s on the cards for your dinner this evening?’ Owen asked. This was the usual 4:45pm chat in the office.

‘Well,’ Tony replied, he always liked showcasing his culinary skills to his colleagues, ‘this evening I’m making a tuna and avocado salad.’ He sat back and waited for the plaudits from Owen.

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‘Very nice,’ Owen nodded. ‘What are you going to have with it?’ ‘Cous cous, I think.’ ‘Hmmm, expected something a bit better from a man of your calibre, to be honest.’ Tony was struck with panic. He was usually top dog when it came to fancy food. Owen looking down on him for having cous cous hurt him. He tried to backtrack.

‘Eh, well, I’m not 100% settled on cous cous. I mean, I might go for something else like, um, ehhh,’ he racked his brains.

‘Quinoa?’ ‘Yeah, exactly! Quinoa. That’s what I meant. Not cous cous.

Definitely not cous cous.’ Tony had no idea what quinoa was.

He had a flashback of him and Owen laughing at the office junior for not knowing what kale was. He typed quinoa into his search engine as Owen’s eyes returned to his own screen.

Quinoa, is a so-called “super grain” offering a wide range of health benefits. Gluten-free and easy to digest, the facts suggest it is as close to a perfect ingredient as you can get!

‘Yeah,’ Tony said, ‘I’m trying to cut down on the old gluten so it’ll be quinoa for me this evening.’ 148 Tony wandered the aisles of Waitrose in a trance. They didn’t have any quinoa left. If they didn’t have any quinoa, then what the fuck was he supposed to have with his tuna and avocado salad? Cous cous? No thanks, I’m not some sort of bloody peasant, he thought. Tony didn’t know what he was going to do. This was worse than the time they ran out of fennel. His evening was ruined. Then he saw one of the elusive shelf-stackers.

‘Excuse me,’ he said to the girl putting boxes of organic cereal onto the shelf, ‘don’t suppose you have any quinoa in the back?’ ‘I’ll have a wee look for you,’ she replied, ‘back in two secs.’ She returned a moment later and there it was in her hands; the 500g bag of grainy goodness. His evening was saved.

‘There you go,’ she said with a smile, handing him the bag, ‘one bag of kwin-oh-ah.’ ‘What did you just call it?’ he sneered.

‘Um, kwin-oh-ah?’ ‘Ha, it’s actually pronounced keen-wah.’ ‘Aye awrite, whatever,’ the girl rolled her eyes and walked away from Tony.

He shook his head and made his way to the tills.

Awful customer service. I’d be well within my rights to make a complaint about that awful, uneducated girl.

Later that night, stuffed full of quinoa, Tony sat watching Question Time with his wife, Kate.

‘I mean,’ he ventured to Kate, ‘coming from a background like mine, I think Labour is the only party which seems to care about the working class. They are–’ Kate cut him off. She was giggling. ‘What would you know about the struggle of the working class, Tony?’ ‘What’s that supposed to mean? I am working class, aren’t I?’ he replied, shocked.

‘Aye, if you say so,’ Kate rolled her eyes.

Tony reflected on what she’d said for the rest of the night.

He couldn’t even sleep because of it.

149 I am working class. Just because I have a nice house, a nice car, a well-paying job and generally enjoy the finer things in life doesn’t mean I’m not working class, surely?

The next morning, Tony met up with his mate, Greg, down the park for their twice-weekly run. Tony loved showing off to Greg. The two men were locked in a perpetual cycle of outdoing each other.

‘Expecting my feet to be a wee bit sore after this morning, mate,’ Greg said, leaning against his Mercedes as he performed some basic stretches.

‘Oh yeah?’ Tony replied. ‘New shoes?’ Tony copied Greg’s stretches, leaning against his own car.

‘Even better. Custom made, orthotic insoles. Have to break them in before I get the benefit out of them. Seventy quid.’ Tony raised an eyebrow and nodded. Inside he was seething with jealousy. He was going to have to try and find insoles that cost a hundred quid now. The two of them set out on their jog.

‘Anyway,’ Greg said, changing the subject. ‘Last night’s Question Time. Thoughts?’ He made the shape of a gun with his hand and pretended to fire it at Tony.

‘Well,’ ventured Tony, ‘some interesting points were certainly raised about the class system.’ ‘Too right. After that, I can’t really see why anyone, especially people like us, would be inclined to vote for anyone other than the Tories.’ ‘Eh?’ Tony said. He’d rather die than vote Tory.

‘They’re the party that looks out for the interests of the people with this,’ Greg produced a wad of twenty pound notes from the pocket of his shorts. ‘For instance; me and you.’ ‘Maybe you’re right, actually.’ ‘Maybe I’m right? Of course I’m fucking right. What’s the alternative? Some left-wing, nutjob, Green Party hippy bastard? No thanks, mate.’ 150 Tony followed his da through the turnstile. Going to watch Partick Thistle had been their routine every other Saturday for years until Tony gave it up to spend his weekends golfing with Greg or visiting farmer’s markets with Kate, hunting for the best organic produce the west end of Glasgow had to offer.

After months, if not years, of pleading from his da, Tony had agreed to go to a game with him.

‘It’s good tae have ye back at the games wi me, son. It really is,’ Tony’s da patted him on the back as they sat down. ‘OCH MOVE YER ARSE OSMAN YA LAZY SHOWER AE SHITE!’ Tony recoiled in horror at the vehement outburst from his da.

‘You don’t have to behave like a hooligan, dad.’ Tony drew his eyes off his father.

Tony’s da, looked him up and down. He was about to have a go at his son for being a killjoy but decided against it. His son was with him at the fitbaw and that was all that mattered, he supposed.

After Partick scored to go one nil up, a couple of young guys a few seats in front let off a flare.

‘Oh for goodness sake,’ Tony said, he started letting out a series of pathetic coughs. ‘What a total disregard for other people. Hope they get kicked out.’ ‘Och, lighten up,’ Tony’s da said.

‘No I will not, dad. I have asthma and those wee pricks with their pyrotechnics are making it play up.’ ‘Asthma? Since when the fuck have you had asthma?’ ‘I’ve had it for a few years now. I told you.’ ‘Talk pish, ye cannae just – AW FUR FUCK SAKE DOOLAN AH COULD’VE SCORED THAT!’ The half-time whistle blew and Tony and his da made their way down into the bowels of the stadium for a pish.

‘I could murder a pie,’ Tony’s da said as he dried his hands.

‘You wanting anything?’ 151 ‘God no. You wouldn’t catch me eating the swill they sell here. I don’t even want to think about what they put in those pies,’ replied Tony.

Tony’s da had just about had enough of his shite. If Partick Thistle weren’t winning, he’d probably be ready to take his son a square go.

Back in their seats, Tony had begun to loosen up and enjoy himself. Thistle went three goals up and all was right in the world. He even leapt in the air to celebrate the third goal, much to the disapproval of the two men in suits behind him.

They tutted loudly to make sure Tony knew he had blocked their view.

‘Fucking middle-class toffs behind us, eh dad?’ Tony laughed.

Tony’s da turned round slowly to look at his son. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

‘Fuckin pot kettle, son,’ he said to Tony.

‘What?’ ‘Well you’re wan tae talk aboot folk being toffs.’ ‘Wit?’ Tony changed his accent. Reverting back to how he spoke before he left home to go to university in Edinburgh.

‘Naw ahm no. Ahm no a toff.’ ‘Ye fuckin are, pal. Ah hate tae be the wan tae break it tae ye,’ Tony’s da laughed.

Tony realised he was, in fact, a stuck-up, snobby bastard. The realisation hit him hard. The change had been so gradual, he hadn’t seen it coming. The referee blew the whistle, signalling the end of the match. Tony and his da made their way out through the crowd.

‘Sorry for being a bit hard oan ye, son,’ Tony’s da had noticed he had went deathly quiet since he laughed at him. ‘Ye fancy a pint before we head up the road?’ ‘Actually I was just gonna grab an Uber and–’ he saw his da was looking at him like a sad puppy. ‘Och, okay then.’ 152 ‘Pint ae Tennent’s please, son,’ said Tony’s da to the barman, ‘Eh, wit you wantin, Tony?’ ‘Ummmm,’ Tony scanned the cocktail menu, ‘I’ll have a mojito, please.’ ‘You’ll be voting Tory before ye know it if you carry on this way, son.’ Tony’s da and the barman shared a laugh at Tony’s expense.

‘Well, actually, if you took the time to actually look at their manifesto you would see that the Conservative party really are the best people to be in charge of the country.’ The music stopped suddenly. The quiet chatter of the punters died away. They were incredulous at what they’d just heard Tony say.

‘Tell me,’ said Tony’s da, lowering his voice to a growl, ‘that you didnae just say what ah think you just said?’ ‘I stand by it, dad,’ Tony puffed out his chest. ‘The Conservative party is the party for me.’ ‘You dirty, horrible, Tory bastard. You’re nae son ae mine!’ Tony’s da grabbed his son by the lapels of his tweed blazer and marched him out the door. He flung Tony down on to the pavement outside. Tony looked up at his da, tears glistening in his eyes.

His da spat in his face.

‘Posh c**t,’ he said, walking back into the pub to applause.

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Want more from Chris McQueer? Here's another short story of his ahead of the launch of his novel.

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‘Hings’ by Chris McQueer, published by 404 Ink, is a collection of short stories taking place in locations from the streets of working class Scotland to a little beyond our solar system. We’ve teamed up with 404 Ink to bring an exclusive deal to our readers today! If you head over to www.404ink.com to purchase a copy of Hings, enter ‘scotnational’ as a discount code to get £2 off your order! Hings will be published on the 27th of June at £8.99.