The play switches between the present and flashbacks to when Alec was younger. In the present, he is an older teenager of about 17 or 18, having just sat his exams, and is looking forward to university in Glasgow. At the start of the play, in the first flashback, he is 11 and is informed by his father of his mother’s death.
He is presented as naive and childlike as he struggles to cope with this traumatic experience,
I was standing there, crying – real big deep sobs. The audience sympathises with him as the whole experience is surreal to him,
I was me and I was not-me, almost as though it is happening to someone else .
The older Alec reflects on this and realises he was unsure of what to expect.
Everything was the same. It was very ordinary … I don't know what I had expected. A sign. Jesus to come walking across the back and tell me everything was alright.
Both his religious faith and intelligence are demonstrated here, although he is mature enough to understand that faith does not always provide a solution. However, as the clouds separate, he imagines the patch of blue sky to be a sign from the heavens that his mother is safe and this comforts him. He tries to explain this later to Ian, but his less sensitive cousin does not understand and thinks
As a child, Alec is proud of his father’s trade as a sailmaker and boasts about this to Ian. His cousin, however, is much more pragmatic and realistic.
Your da sells stuff on the never and collects the money round the doors. He’s a tick man. Alec is not yet ready to face this reality, and prefers to show pride in his father’s skills and believe his version of events.
The upbringing of Alec and Ian is contrasted when it is clear that Alec is taught to study and work hard to secure a job which will provide an escape from poverty and his social class. Ian believes that
Ye need a trade. Alec’s intelligence is emphasised in his imaginative games when the boys are playing pirate and cowboy games, and in his interest in the new comics his cousin Jacky sends him from America.
We see him continue to defend his father when he hints that he is not being well looked after as,
He’s no very good at cookin, before going on to proudly show Ian his father’s sail making tools, some of which they use in their pirate games. Ian's words have made some impact on Alec, however, as he asks his father
How come ye chucked yer trade? Alec then learns that traditional industries such as sail making are no longer required and the factory closed.
The relationship between father and son remains close, although cracks are beginning to emerge as Alec's intelligence and desire to succeed contrast with his father’s lethargy. Even the fact that Alec finds the illegal bookie creepy suggests a sense of disapproval of his father’s drinking and gambling.
Alec has been influenced by his father and uncle to support Rangers and follow the Protestant way of life and this is seen in his choice of paint colour for the yacht. However, his interest in the Catholic badge earlier on reflects his open mind, influenced by his father. Alec's enthusiasm for ‘Protestant’ colours is less keenly expressed than his cousin and uncle's and he lacks their sectarian influence.
By the end of Act I, there is a sense that Alec is intelligent, able to think for himself and has coped with the loss of his mother better than his father. He recognises they will struggle financially when Davie is sacked, and Alec's symbolic act of putting away the yacht into the glory hole suggests he realises he will have to mature further to cope with their situation. This act also symbolises his growing disillusionment with his father and the empty promises he makes.