I’ve spent the last few days thinking about Marc Palombo, my friend who died suddenly on Friday 5th June. I’ve tried to think of ways to sum him up, what he meant to me, the things I liked about him, the memories he was part of – kind of a hard thing to do for a bloke who was only in his forties.
Marc was one of those guys who came from between generations. Born in the sixties, he had the cheek and rudeness of a young man our age, but had the calming head a much older big brother might.
Marc was a huge part of my life while I was growing up, but I never really considered it until now. When I went to nursery school I met a young boy my age, one of the first friends I ever had, and his name was Carlo Palombo. We spent the best part of 25 years together as best friends, until some things happened and we drifted apart. Carlo had a big sister, Verna, and an older brother called Marc, and over the years Marc became as much of a friend to me as Carlo – in recent years, more so.
He had several nicknames, most of which I have no idea where they came from. His eternal nickname was ‘Blue’ – a jokey reference to the fact he supported the green and white of Celtic. He was also referred to as ‘Superlube’, an anagram of Blue but with Super stuck in front. Blue’s pal, Hogy, had a couple of belters for him, names which nobody but Hogy could get away with: ‘Fluffy’ was one of his favourites, as was ‘Buffalo Bill fae Maryhill’. You can see why only the bravest or daftest among us would dare. The other was ‘Marco P from the Crazy Y.B.’ Don’t ask me what the Y.B. was, it was funny and that was all that seemed to matter.
Blue was a funny guy with a unique sense of humour; “that’s out of the blue,” we would say when he came out with a cracker. He told jokes and didn’t care what people thought of him, and between the three of us went much prank playing and gags. I remember once locking him out of his own house when he got back from work, and another occasion when we hid the keys to his car. The sound of Blue screaming in anger was as over the top as it was funny – the desired reaction.
I think one of the funniest things Blue ever did was try do defrost a pizza. We came back to the house one night to find the food blender had been moved underneath a low hanging light, with a frozen slice of pizza resting on top. When we asked what he was doing it turned out he didn’t know how to use the oven and was trying to defrost it from the bulb’s heat.
It was Blue who introduced me to The Jam and The Who. He was a bit of a mod back in the late 70s and early 80s, and I still remember a massive Union Flag with The Who emblazoned on the front spread over the wall of his bedroom. Ironic, when you consider his football allegiance lay with Glasgow Celtic.
He was also a big fan of Madness and The Specials, and one of my favourite but most annoying stories, was when he lost the drumstick he had caught at a Specials gig, thrown to the crowd by the drummer, John Bradbury.
But as well as listening to punk music, Blue loved Motown. As he cruised along in his Gold painted car, it didn’t seem to fit his look or image as the sound of The Supremes or Stevie Wonder blasted from his open window. But Blue never much cared what folk thought of him.
It’s common for obituaries to glorify people falsely, and I can’t deny Blue made some horrendous mistakes in his life. One of my earliest memories of him was when he got caught vandalising a phone box during his mod days, and a few years ago he made a poor error of judgement when the local paper snapped him selling less than ethical items out of his ice cream van. But the guy was human, and I can publicly vouch for how sorry he was afterwards.
Ice cream vans played a huge role in Blue’s early life. He had never been much of an academic – he left school at 16 – but he moved into employment working as a van driver for his family-owned ice cream company, Palombo Bros. They did a roaring trade through the 70s and 80s, and as a kid it was an awesome sight to see Blue cruising past in his van.
In those days money from the vans left his family very well off, but the business nose-dived towards the late 80s as the demands of economics changed. In response, the family set up a video rental store with Blue as the man in charge. It did very well until DVDs came along, and that was the end of that.
Blue was never a slim bloke. In fact, he was a very, very large guy, who I often witnessed being ridiculed for his size, but remarkably, never seemed to let it bother him. Another example of his patience, or just his dead pan poker face never allowing you to see his feelings, I was never sure.
His weight, despite the root of it lying with a bone condition in his hips, was never helped by his eating. Thursday nights after the video shop closed was fish supper night, and I often took the drive with him and his brother into Johnstone for a chippy out of Sandro’s.
Whenever I went to the football it was normally in Blue’s car. Every home game and some away, we drove to the match, always with the window down so Blue could smoke. I can’t remember how many people we used to fit in his car in those days; Celtic’s Championship winning game against Dundee during their Centenary year, April 1988, saw about twelve of us pack in with Celtic tops, scarves and cans of Tennent’s Lager.
Blue used to take me, Carlo and Hogy fishing at Newmills Trout Fishery near New Lanark. We hardly ever caught anything, but my lasting memory was when Blue sat down at the side of the lake and his deck chair gave way. He rolled back with his wee legs sticking up in the air, his rod flailing at his side – and us three rolling on the ground laughing uncontrollably.
Blue was a big snooker fan, but despite his patience in other areas, he was always first to lose it when he missed an easy red. It always made for a hilarious moment when his temper finally caved and he slammed his cue down and stomped out the room, taking the rest of the balls off the table as he went.
By 2000 Blue had lost an impressive amount of weight and was getting a lot of exercise and eating all the proper foods. It was paying huge dividends for him as he looked slimmer, healthier, fitter, and more mobile than I ever saw him in his entire life. With that kind of motivation, things were looking good for him.
But things must have slipped. Blue phoned me a couple of years ago to tell me of his Uncle’s passing, but when I looked for him at the funeral I couldn’t find him. I found out later he couldn’t attend because he was bed-bound, and I know how much not being able to attend would have broken his heart. It was a catch 22 for Blue; unable to move because of his worsening bone condition, and the weight piling back on as a result.
Blue had been ill and in pain for the last couple of years, but as his health deteriorated he still kept in touch with me by mobile phone. Often I would receive the odd text or unexpected phone call, and despite me having dropped contact with his younger brother, he still provided a link to some fond times in my life.
When I received the call last Friday that he had died, it came right out of the blue for everyone. It was a sudden and unexpected death and I was totally shocked by it. Blue was only in his forties, too young for anyone to go, but we all hoped he might be able to recover somehow.
It’s so very hard for me to believe that he has gone, and taken with him a huge part of the memories I had when growing up with him. He was a good guy, and I feel for his family, his brother Carlo, and his parents who have to bury him today, Eva and Benny.
What I can’t believe most of all is that I’ve just written Marc ‘Blue’ Palombo’s obituary. It should have been the other way round.