The Mendacity Society…I meant it all

Denise Mina. Picture: Robert Perry
Denise Mina. Picture: Robert Perry
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Welcome to the latest of The Scotsman’s new regular feature showcasing the talents of Scotland’s best writers. Today, we have a short story by Denise Mina.

THE Mendacity Society got me a month. Fourteen hours a day on the treadmill and no Sabbath either.

My knees still burn at night. They tingle under my kneecaps when I’m tired or trying to sleep. If I’m due a fever the first sign is always in my knees. They’re warning me: bad times coming.

Since the Mendacity Society started, they’ve ruined the game. It’s not like the olden days, our golden days, the days of the Cadgers’ Club.

After my month, when I got out, the Club had been disbanded. I didn’t even get a lump. After all my contributions, all those payouts I’d chipped in for. I got nothing.

The Cadger’s Club met every Wednesday evening, in the Coachmakers’ Arms in Rose Street. We had a secretary and a treasurer and an under-secretary.

The way it worked: if you did time we all chipped in so you were coming out to something. And we paid sick money into a fund. You got a pay out if you were a member and fell ill. At the height we were up to 45 members, so a pay out was a good lump.

We were very strict, a proper club with rules. You had to attend and behave and there was no bad language. We got fined for swearing. Penny for the first offence, two for the second offence, third time and they put you out of the room. There were hardly any fines, we were so well behaved.

And you could get fined for other things, silly things: if you didn’t sing a song when the committee asked you to, you’d fine you. That was another rule. And that rule applied to visitors as well.

A lot of visitors came, toffs, nosey parkers, heard about it and wanted a sneeky peek. I don’t know why they were there. They weren’t getting secrets out of us. We never talked about the actual work. But we made them chip in, if they were there.

We each put in a tiny amount, tiny, but it added up. Every 13 weeks we’d split the pot among us, which was great. You could take that week off, have a break, a holiday, sort of. Savings. If you missed five meetings you’d be disbarred. Not many got disbarred.

Disbanded now. Obvious. Landlord of The Coachmakers’ stole the pot of money. He wouldn’t let us back in. Embarrassing. We’re scammers, cadgers, not heavies. What could we do?

I’ve done the Spanish scam: go about in the uniform and say we’d just been in Spain under General Evans. That was a good living for a while, for a long while, until suddenly the whole of London was full of men wearing half uniforms claiming they’d been in Spain. Every second beggar had been in Spain. I was about so much I even met some who had actually been in Spain.

And the limp, the cripple, I’ve done them. And the shivering scam: go out in the cold and look freezing. Done the ballad-singing, the shipwrecked survivor, the street artist, chalking on walls, head of Christ, and then sit in front of it with your hat on the ground.

I’ve done the reduced tradesman – “if only my family and I can get back to Nottingham”. You have to hire the kids, that’s complicated, they can give you away if they get annoyed – “he’s not my dad, lady!’

I’ve done every dodge: even the ones I was crap at, I made money doing them. Because you don’t have to be good, you just have to mean it. And I meant it.

The Mendacity Society? They’ve got a cheek. I meant it. I meant it all.