Nicky was the only person in the family who really liked Uncle Alex. He was her mother’s brother, and even her mother barely tolerated him. ‘Too smart by half’ was her oft-repeated view as she lit another Silk Cut. Still, he had made quite a name for himself in the village, doing good works here and there and he had even considered running for the council. In truth he had a solitary life and that was why the warmth of his relationship with his niece mattered so much to him, that and her interest in judo.
For Alex had taken the village’s moribund Judo Club and really turned it into something. Way back in 60’s Scotland, judo was a fringe sport at best; it was a country more suited to boxing, and particularly to wrestling, the people’s sport. The wrestlers had dominated back then with their catchphrases and their television presence – ‘White Heat’, who came from Gourock, was a world champion. But for Alex it all seemed too vulgar and showy and fake plus, though he carried some weight – too many pies at the university canteen – he didn’t have the height to be a wrestler. But he was nippy on his feet and was an able student and by the time he came back to the village from university, he could flatten men much taller and stronger than him with a few sharp moves; the other thing he was good at was ballroom dancing, but he wasn’t popular with the ladies.
Nicky was quite short herself, but she was feisty. She had few real friends at school, but it didn’t bother her; she knew that lots of the other girls resented her cleverness and her deep desire to do well. Nicky was top of the class, with all the luggage that brought. She had a couple of acolytes, one a bright but rough boy called Deek, but his promising school career was cut short when he did something really stupid in the boys’ toilets. So Nicky too benefited from her relationship with Uncle Alex and when he got her into judo she did well, and quickly. With a lottery grant and a lot of goodwill, a simple wooden building was put up and streams of people, young and old, came along to try their hand at judo because this was a time when judo was taking off all over Scotland. When Alex got too old and unfit to compete himself – a bad fall did his back in – he took over her coaching and it wasn’t long until she was the Scottish champion in her age group; there was talk of the Commonwealth Games. She was almost a household name when everything went wrong.
No-one really knows what happened. Nicky’s mum and dad knew that there had been some phone calls between her and Uncle Alex, but they didn’t really know what they were about. Nicky was really upset, but she had a boyfriend by then, and they assumed she would confide in him. Eventually her mother went to see Alex herself, for Nicky had a competition in Edinburgh that weekend, and somebody needed to take her. But she didn’t get a word out before he, pale with anger, turned her away from his door, and she never heard from him again. And, after a time, nor did anyone else. He faded away in his little house in the village, and rarely, if ever emerged.
One thing did happen, though. The judo club, thriving, which had become such a focal point in the village, was burnt to the ground. The police found no evidence of wrong-doing and concluded that the fire had probably been caused by a careless teenager’s fag end. But it would be a long time till anyone in the village took up judo again and many of them thought that Uncle Alex had somehow been to blame. Well, it could have been a disaster for Nicky but she had a strong spirit; she seemed to quickly forget Alex and judo and took up competitive sugarcraft, where she was less successful, but very, very happy.