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May 2022

The Annexe

The Annexe

The Annexe
The complete (all fourteen chapters) story in the 'Lower Methil Annexe' series!
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The Odd Poem Mair Odd Poems Even Odder Poems
Further Odd Poems Other Odd Poems Still Odd Poems

Odd Poems

A world in verse.
            Voices from Methil.

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Spare a Minute

This story already features in tachras, but I thought that it should be brought to the front, again.

At last, we come to it.
Weeks of waiting. Dark nights and long grey days. Somehow, they have passed and this is the day.
Whatever happens, I feel that the day’s pronouncements – no matter how grim – cannot be worse than the past few weeks. At least, I will be certain.
After waiting so long to see a doctor, I now have two appointments. Another letter has arrived. It seems that I have another appointment today. To see another doctor.
Long forgotten, a trivial matter in comparison. Same day, but in the morning. It will help to fill in the empty hours.
Like buses! No doctor for weeks, then two come at once. I seem to have acquired a darker sense of humour. Why am I not laughing?
I will not speak much of the first appointment.
Abrupt. Rude. Someone who talked at me – not to me. I tried to speak, but I was only the patient. They were the doctor. I should have felt anger but there was no fire in me.
I travelled to the afternoon appointment, feeling worse than I could have believed possible. Would this be another trial? Or just a long wait in a dusty corridor, shuffling to my fate. Was I just a number? I handed my letter to the receptionist. Sat down. Waited.
There were only a few people in the waiting area. Solitary islands in an ocean of misery. We all knew why we were here, but there was no communication.

Coming next …
Cara’s Story

Dispatch from the Front

I know that it has been a bit quiet here, for the past little while.
We have been fighting the war on more than one front …
The Bathroom Front:
After many visits from builders, plumbers, electrician, carpenters, and supervisors, we now have a bathroom with a wobbly floor, sink in the wrong place, a fan that sucks, and a door that looks like a course on ‘How Not to Fit a Door’. The loose and twisted w.c. is now fixed to the spot, and only slightly squint.
The PIP Front:
The Personal Independence Payment. Replacement for Disability Living Allowance. Personally offensive (their call centre staff – now referred to as ‘The Agents of PIP’ – are the worst set of bureaucratic, ignorant, rude and stupid ‘support’ staff that I have ever encountered!). They have lost a payment, refuse to pay it till it is found, and try to blame us for giving wrong information. There are so many unemployed, this Christmas. Why can’t they be given the jobs after the entire staff of the PIP are rightfully made redundant. The replacements would know very little about the job, but hey! what’s the difference? They would know a damn sight more about compassion, and consideration for others.
We have appealed against their award. So this battle continues on two fronts.
The Sky Front:
Got SKY television. Wow! Freeview has dozens of useless channels. Sky has hundreds of useless channels. If you want anything worth watching, sit out in the garden and watch the birds. Much more interesting. And free!

Isn’t life wonderful

Been a while, has it not? The wife has successfully come through her heart surgery. Doing fine. OK! It still hurts a lot, but the op did what it was supposed to do, so happy to settle for that. At least, she can get out and about, and drive her car (doc says she can).
Of course, when one thing goes up, another falls down. I was laid low – literally – with a severe bout of vertigo. Possible ear infection. I spent the last 24 hours with my head nailed – not literally – to the pillow. Couldn’t get up. Couldn’t stand. Took 30 miserable minutes to travel 30 feet to the toilet. Felt really ill, and only just made it in time. Take it from me; this is an ailment you really do NOT want to have. After several calls to the 111 Service, you wonder what is worse – feeling really sick, or answering the many, middle-of-the-night phone calls. “Name, date of birth, first line of addree etc …” After going through this ticklist repeat again and again again … “I’m sitting on the toilet, naked, trying not to throw up …” “Yes sir, please answer the question ‘Does your stool look black?'” I know why they ask the questions, but it still makes you want to strangle them!
One good thing. It waited till the wife could cope with her recovery. If it had happened concurrently, it would have been a disaster.

Apart from that, isn’t life wonderful?

The Innerleven Boolin Club – 8


On the Bing

Ronnie had their coats collected, and Jeanette out of the Club, before Senga had the bill for breakages tucked into her unresisting hand.
“Hoo dae ye reckon tae a wee stroll along the Wellesley bing?”“Do you fancy a stroll along the Wellesley Colliery waste tip?”
I can only assume that Jeannette thought the ‘bing’ had something to do with that Crosby fellow. The one that did the films with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.
“Is the ‘Bing’ abaht heyah, Ronnie?”“Is the ‘Bing’ nearby, Ronnie?”
“Naw. Ah’ll get us a taxi.”“No. I will call for a taxi”

Now, for some reason, since the day that Jeannette had arrived in Methil, no taxi had been seen within a mile of the place. Probably a coincidence.
Just then, a wee Standard 10 came up the road. With two young men in it. Two Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Ronnie jumped out in front of the car.
Two nervous Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ve never seen a car stop so quickly!
“We’re gaun tae the Wellesley!”“We are going to the Wellesley Colliery.”
“But …”
“Get in, Jeannette”
“But …”
The Chicken Hat got into the car, followed by Jeannette”
Two very nervous Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Ronnie hauled himself into the seat beside Jeannette.
In the front, the two Witnesses were starting to truly believe that Jehovah had drawn their names out of the hat for the testing.
“Where did you say you desired to go?”
The driver’s adam’s apple was working a double shift.
“The Wellesley!”

The two Witnesses jumped to it.
With the front passenger changing gear so that the driver could concentrate on the steering, they were away. Gears crunching, tyres squealing, Witnesses praying, that wee car took the Swan Brae like an express train. Denbeath went by like a vision of Purgatory.
And they were at the Wellesley pit entrance before you could say ‘Watchtower’

As the engine expired from nervous exhaustion, and the two in the front tried to slide down and blend with the seats, Ronnie and Jeannette got out.
Jeannette was all for Ronnie paying the two men, but Ronnie refused on the grounds that a taxi driver should use the clutch when changing gear.
And apart from that, he didn’t have any money on him.
For Ronnie, the women usually paid!

“Jist folley me, hen …”“Just follow me, my dear …”
Just for a fraction, you’d have sworn that the two Witness’s eyes had flicked up.
“… an ah’ll show ye the secret wey tae the bing.”“… and I will show you the secret way to the waste tip.”
(Known only to several thousand pit workers over the past 60 years!)

Jeannette followed Ronnie down the winding dirt path to the pit yard. Those L.L. Bean industrial-grade nylons did their job, and the jaggy nettles and thistles were forced to admit defeat.
“We’ll jist cut roond b’ the electric shop, an along the pit road tae the bing.”“We will go past the Electrical Maintenance Workshop, then along the colliery access road, heading for the waste tip.”
Even at that time of night, the electric shop was humming with activity.
“Ayuh, Ronnie? Who works abaht heyah in the middle of the night?”“I say, Ronnie. Who, around these parts, works in the middle of the night?”
“That’ll be the bell men.”
“Bell men?”
“Aye. They’re the boys that’re no fully skilled, so they’re no allowed near the dangerous stuff. So they jist work on the signallin. Phones. Bells. That sort o thing. Mind you, half the sparkies here shouldnae be allowed near a licht bulb, if ye catch mah meaning. Faur too dangerous fur the rest o us!”“Bell men are semi-skilled workers, not qualified to work on the dangerous equipment. Phones, bells, that sort of thing. Mind you, half of the ‘qualified’ electricians should never be allowed near a light bulb, if you catch my meaning. Far too dangerous for everyone else!”
“And these heyah ‘bell men’ work on their bells at night? Like church bell ringers?”“And these ‘bell men’ work on their bells at night? Like church bell ringers?*”
Jeanette was obviously getting a bit lost here, so Ronnie – always helpful to a woman – filled in the details.
“Naw! Nae bells on the back shift. They’re cuttin up the scrap cable. Chappin it doon, so’s it’ll fit in a piece-box. That wey, they can sneak it oot the pit, an mak some money sellin it tae the scrap men. Guid money in copper cable, so there is.”“No! No bells on the evening shift. They are cutting up scrap cable, into pieces that would fit in a lunch box. That way, they can smuggle it out from the colliery, and make some money, selling it to scrap merchants. Copper cable is valuable.”
“And is theyah much scrap cable?”“Is there much scrap cable?”
“Oh, aye! Some o they bell men c’n turn a twa hunnert yaird drum o cable, new in the day, intae scrap on a quiet back shift.”“Oh, yes! Some bell men can turn a 100 yard long drum of cable, newly arrived that day, into scrap, during a single, quiet evening shift.”

In the moments of silence as Jeannette thought her way through all this, the faint sound of praying drifted down from Wellesley Road.
“That’s stealing!”
“Only if ye’re caught, doll. Only if ye’re caught. This is the Coal Board we’re talkin aboot. There’s nae end tae the lives that the coal an the politicians h’ve ta’en. Thae men’ll work hard aw nicht, tae steal a fiver’s worth. Guid luck tae them!”“Only if they are caught. This is the National Coal Board that we are talking about. There is no end to the lives lost by by coal and politicians. Those men will work hard all night, to steal £5 of scrap. Good luck to them!”
Soon, Ronnie and Jeannette were past the (rapidly diminishing) cable store, and out on to the pit bing.

If you’ve never been out on a bing, and especially at night, I’ll have to try and describe it for you. Standing high above the bing were hundred-foot towers. Big steel pylons with powerful lamps on them. Some were yellow with sodium light, and some were blue-green with mercury vapour lamps.
The street lights up on Wellesley Road showed the world of man, but that world was a distant past, and had no part of here and now.
The ground was flat and bare. Nothing grew there. Here was dumped all the stone and dirt brought up from the depth of the pit, and never trodden on in the entire history of man, ape or monkey.
Grey and monotonous during the day, it became a land of gold and silver at night. Shadows of deepest dark, with suggestions of form that the eye could never comprehend. No landscape that man could find himself fitting into, but memories from the depths of evolution chittered in the back of your mind.
And yet, it was beautiful. Like an eternally frozen landscape. Silvered plains and gilded crests. And like a dream, it would all be lost in the morning.

Ronnie was a master.
Jeanette was under the fairies’ spell. Many a lass had fallen under the enchantment of the Wellesley bing. There could only ever be one outcome …
Up on Wellesley Road, the two Witnesses prayed.

On this night, of all nights, Ronnie didn’t have the bing entirely to himself.
Right in the middle of the bing was the explosives magazine. All pits do a lot of shotfiring, and need to keep plenty of explosives on site.
Of course, nobody in their right mind wants half a ton of ICI and Nobel’s finest anywhere near, if they can help it. So they dig out a hole in the middle of the bing. Put big, strong walls around it. Then build an explosives magazine with a roof so thin that you could blow holes through it with a pea-shooter. The idea being, that if one dodgy stick of Unigel or Polar Ajax goes ‘whoops!’, the other half ton will join in with a flash and a bang.
With the strong walls and the flimsy roof, all the blast goes straight up. No harm to anybody, unless you happen to be a seagull on its way back from a late bingo session, and taking a shortcut across the bing.
Not a place, then, for the sane and sensible.

But, then, that wouldn’t include Jeek Walkinshaw!
Jeek was a gun fancier. Most men settled for greyhounds or pigeons. Easy to feed, and not likely to attract the attention of the police. Jeek liked guns. Shotguns, he could get a licence for, but pistols were definitely out of the question. Lugers from the war, and those big, heavy Webley revolvers that the army dished out to officers. Guns so heavy and clumsy, that officers – not being daft – would leave them behind rather than lug them around. They spoiled the cut of a nice, tailored battledress.
And what an officer left behind, the Jeeks of this world would sell on for a carton of Player’s Navy Cut. Grubby hand to grubby hand. Down hill all the way.
Ending up with Jeek Walkinshaw.

Now Jeek had figured out that the last place on earth, anybody would want to come, would be an explosives magazine. And if Jeek wanted to shoot off a few bullets, then the magazine was the safest place to be.

That night, Jeek had the Webley, a box of cartridges, and a shopping bag full of bottles. Not Barr’s Irn Bru or anything like that. You got thruppence back on them. But the ones that would go in to the bin anyway.

Jeek was partial to HP sauce, and he liked to read out the ingredients on the side of the bottle. In French. This was the only French that most Scots learned as children.
As Ronnie guided a bedazzled Jeannette to his favourite spot, Jeek was at the magazine, setting up the bottles.
“There’s a nice wee cumfy bit across here, hen, if ye want tae set a spell.”“There is a nice, comfortable spot across here, if you want to sit for a moment.”
Ronnie was heading for a particularly advantageous three-piece suite that somebody had dragged out on to the bing, and dumped.

Revolver in holster, ready for his Wyatt Earp quick draw, Jeek started in on the French …
“Cette sauce d’haute qualite, est une melange …”“This high-quality sauce is a mixture …”
“Do you hear something, Ronnie?”
Eager to keep the magic going, Ronnie shushed Jeannette.
“Jist you sit yersel here. There’s nuthin oot there!”“Just sit yourself down. There is nothing out there!”
“d’epices et de fruits orientaux …”“… spices and oriental fruits …”
“Sounds like French, Ronnie. Real bad French. But French …”
“Dinnae be daft! Whaur oot here w’d ye get a bluidy Frenchman?”“Don’t be silly. Where would we find a Frenchman, around here?”
“… Est Egalement excellente pour enrichir le saveur …”“… It is also excellent, for enriching the flavour …”
The magic was fizzling like a damp squib.
“Ayuh rathuh thank it’s time we were a-goin home, Ronnie!”“I think that it is time we were going home, Ronnie!”
“… aux soupes, hachis et ragouts.”“… soups, hashes and stews.”
“Whit the bluidy hell’s gaun on, here?”“What on earth is going on, around here?”

Jeek spun round. Out came the Webley, and as the sauce bottle wobbled into his sights, Jeek pulled the trigger.
The bullet went past the sauce bottle without so much as a by-your-leave. Nowhere near it!
Whizzing across the bing, it hit the only target that a self respecting bullet could possibly go for.
The Chicken Hat!
Feathers, pins and bits of felt flew everywhere. This tribute to bad fashion sense was gone in an instant. And the fashion industry on two continents breathed more easily.
Jeanette, on the other hand, dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
Ronnie stood in a cloud of feathers. Stunned. Like the child in a pillow fight who suddenly realises that his mum will be looking for an explanation. And Ronnie was looking for an explanation.
So when the eider settled down, he found one!
Jeek Walkinshaw.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Ronnie was not happy. When Jeek saw Ronnie heading for him, neither was Jeek.
Now it was time for the Wrath of Ronnie! The very air took on an Old Testament feel, and quotes from the Scriptures seemed easy to come by.
Jeek dropped the gun, and ran!
Up the pit road, accelerating like a tourist who had, unknowingly, eaten Calamari for the first time.
(“Whit’s this stuff ah’m eatin, then?” Octopus! Oohhh …”“What is this food that I am eating. Octopus! Oh, I think that I am feeling unwell!”
His one-time secret, safe place was now the last place he ever wanted to be.
Ronnie picked up the gun. It was starting to look as if the bing would be Jeek’s last place. Ever!

“Come back here, ya miserable wee bauchle!”“Come back here, you miserable excuse for a man!”
Jeek ran even faster.
The bullet gouged the heel from Jeek’s left boot, and Jeek started veering around in circles.
“Mmmm?” said Ronnie “Ah winder …?”“I wonder …”
The next bullet removed the other heel, and Jeek rocketed off at a tangent. The Wrath of Ronnie was guided from above. It seemed that the very air was crystallising, and the powder of prayer was falling on the ground.
Standing in a swirl of gold and silver smoke, Ronnie looked ready to part the seas.
As it happened, only Jeek’s hair got parted.
There was no way that a man could move that fast …
… but that night, Jeek could have girdled the world in 80 minutes.

As Ronnie lined up the last bullet, between the ‘O’ and ‘A’ of Jeek’s National Coal Board donkey jacket, a quiet voice came from the direction of the 3 piece suite.
“Leave him Ronnie. He ain’t no-way worth it.”“Leave him, Ronnie. He is not worth the trouble!”
The quiet contempt of a woman will stop a man, no matter how far gone he is in his anger. With a wee shrug of the shoulders, Ronnie turned away from Jeek.

Kerrack! The sauce bottle disintegrated!

“Ayuh Ronnie. I think I wouldn’t mind a wee cuddle …”“Oh, Ronnie. I think that I need comforting …”
And Ronnie, being Ronnie, obliged.

Up on Wellesley Road, the two Witnesses were still praying. They’d been at it for half an hour, and the car windows of their Standard 10 were completely steamed up. In a different age, things might have been said, but this was then, and things were different.
There is no doubt that Jehovah always listened to his Witnesses, but even they accepted that it wasn’t right to demand answers. Or actions.
That night however …

Suddenly there was a terrified face pressed up against the steamy window. Hands were banging on the door, and Jeek was shouting!
“Save me! Save me! Fur the love o Goad! Let me in!”“Save Me! Save me! For the love of God! Let me in!”
Now you show me the Jehovah’s Witness who would turn down that request!

That, of course, was years ago.

Jeanette went back to America. Got married soon after, and had a wee lassie. She called her Ronnetta. The two Witnesses emigrated to Kenya, set up house together. And spent the rest of their days, happy in a native hut with no doors. That way, no-one could slam a door in their face.
Jeek moved to Bellahouston, and can still be seen in George Square; lecturing on the evils of firearms and irregular bowl movements.

Ronnie was always Ronnie.

That 3 piece suite on the Wellesley bing might be updated from time to time, but nothing really changed. Ronnie was so successful with the women that he gained one more nickname …

The Pirnie Perambulator.

There were so many women who had to move out of the area, and find another place to push their prams. (Wee note for Americans – that’s a baby carriage)
Folk were a wee bit stuffy then, and the only way to be a respectable single mother was to be a ‘war widow’. Thanks to Ronnie, later genealogical researchers were exceedingly puzzled by a mysterious regiment from the Methil area; one that seemed to have sustained one hundred percent casualties in the early 60s in one of those undeclared bush wars that Britain was perpetually mixed up in.

Nobody could trace the fathers, or the regiment. But those in the know, would look at the father’s address, and if it was anywhere near Innerleven, well …
… just pencil in Ronnie McLauchlan.
The clincher being Brylcreem stains on the original certificate.

Just the other day, I received a letter from wee Ronnie. You know the one I mean – Nettie Simpson’s great-grandaughter from America, Ronnetta’s son.
He’s really in to that genealogy business, and thinks that his family has some connection with the 1st Regiment, Levenmouth Fusiliers.
Heaven knows what he’s been told!
I’ll have to think very carefully before I answer his questions …

The Innerleven Boolin Club – 7


Folk might well be thinking that the Innerleven Bowling Club was dominated by women, and that the men would accept anything for a quiet life! Big women and wee men. Jane Austen with just a hint of King (or more rightly, Queen) Kong.
I suppose that there is no denying it.
Except in one area of living …
… Romance!

The Chicken Hat

Strutting, and puffing out the feathers was a man’s job. Every male child learned this at an early age. There’s not much time between getting out from under your mother’s apron, to find a job, then getting married and having your own apron. Only a few years of being a real man, and chasing the girls, pursuing romance and sweeping women off their feet.
Then you were handed a brush and told to sweep the floor – and don’t forget the corners!

Some managed to enjoy that freedom for longer than others. Some got married quickly, because they had to. Some got married later, because the wedding do had to wait for a Provident loan. And some never got married for all sorts of reasons – the brakes on their pushbike needed adjustment, and they had gone over the handlebars, or the Army (or prison) got them first.

There was one, though, who looked likely never to get caught in the net …
The Cauldcoits Casanova.
The Dubbieside Dandy.
Ronnie McLauchlan – The Midnight Pitboy.

Ronnie maybe didn’t have great looks, but his patter was pure magic. While the other men were shelling out for brandy and Babychams, in the hope that the alcohol would give them more of a chance than nature ever had, Ronnie spent all his money on Brylcreem, a sharp suit, tie and shoes.
I tell a lie. Ronnie had a cousin who worked for Burtons the Tailors, and the clothes were out on a weekend pass. He did, however, buy the Brylcreem, and the string vest was actually his.
When some poor punter’s money had run out, Ronnie would glide past. A woman who sensed that her cheap date was running short of ready cash, was easy game for Ronnie. A quick glance at the opposition fumbling in his trousers for loose change, a Brylcreemed nod at the bar, a firm hand on the elbow, and the woman would find herself sitting on a bar stool. A wee bit of patter, and she would be buying Ronnie a pint and a nip.
You just had to admire his technique!

Ronnie was a regular at all the Innerleven drinking establishments. Well, the ones who encouraged women anyway. You know the sort of place. Tables, chairs and fancy fittings like that. Sawdust sprinkled only around the edge of the bar. Sure signs that you could take a lady for a couple of drinks without having some idiot getting his head bounced off the floor.

He’d do the Innerleven Hotel during the week, because you got a higher class of women there. But he still put in an appearance at the Glue Pot, next to the Model Lodging House, especially if the pickings were a bit down. The ladies of negotiable virtue in the Glue Pot, had been known to wipe the chalk off their soles if they fancied a man.
Ronnie could get a chalked price down faster than Jimmy the Fishman could, when his fish barrow ran out of ice on a hot day.

At the weekend, Ronnie was a member of the Innerleven Bowling Club. Not to play bowls, because the combination of four woods and Brylcreem just doesn’t bear thinking about. Ronnie had only one style of drive. That was in the direction of women. And now, there was something new at the Bowling Club. A fresh scent in the water. All the way from America.

Jeannette had crossed the Atlantic for her grandmother’s funeral, and having been to the Crematorium to pay her respects, she was staying at her gran’s house. With her gran who had been to the funeral, too. Nettie Simpson. (If you’re a little bit confused about the last statement, it’s because her gran wasn’t quite as dead as everybody had reckoned. but that’s another story …)

Anyway, Jeannette was at the Club that Saturday night, and being American (rich) and single (desperate), she was attracting a lot of the wee fish (and the odd lobster). Every single man between 20 and 60 (and a few married ones as well!) reckoned they were in with a chance.

She was a fine figure of a woman. Shoulders like a navvy, with nylon-clad legs like those really big sticks of Burntisland Rock. (Without the wee picture, mind). She wore a reddish-brown dress, cut low at the front, and barely reaching below the knee. Then, there was the hat. Perched on her head, with long feathers sticking out. The ones with fluff on the bottom.
If the Statue of Liberty were ever allowed to go rusty, and a giant chicken had perched on its head, then you would have a perfect picture of what Jeannette Day Pendexter looked like. She was a stunner (as Erchie Ballingall found out when his face got too close to her southern exposure!)

Ronnie had come along with Senga Marshall that night. Senga thought Ronnie was courting her, and that it would only be a matter of time before things became serious between them. Last weekend, Ronnie had taken her up to the Buckhynd Braes, for a walk in the countryside. When she had remarked that it was just a little bit chilly, she was angling for a cuddle, or the romantic ‘let me pit ma coat aroond yer shooders, hen!’ Always a good sign of serious intent.
Ronnie was the master of the romantic gesture. Quick as you like, he had moved one of the cows in a nearby field so that Senga could have a warm spot to sit down on.
When it came to pulling talent, Casanova was nowhere. Compared to Ronnie, he couldn’t even pull his boots on.

No sooner had Senga bought the drinks for both of them, Ronnie was off, like a dark fin cutting across the pool towards Jeannette. Senga’s Bacardi and Coke was thrust into Jeannette’s hand, and Ronnie’s brilliant teeth were turned up to full brightness.
“Thocht ye micht fancy a wee drink, there, hen. Sort o welcome ye tae Scotland.”“I thought that you might fancy some alcoholic beverage, my dear. My way of welcoming you to Scotland.”
At the word ‘hen’, everybody flicked a glance at her hat. Don’t know why!
“Ayuh shorely cayun tell you, bustuh! Ah ain’t no hen!”“Let me tell you this, ‘buster’. I am no ‘hen’!”
Flick. Glance. Hat. They all did it again!
Smooth. That’s Ronnie.
“Nae offence, there. It’s jist us Scots kennin a guid lookin burd when we see wan!”“I intended no offence. Let me explain. We Scots can recognise a good looking woman when we see one.”
Flick. Glance. There’s a pattern developing here.
“Ayun you ah?”.”“And you are?”
“It’s the Bacardi. Should’ve pit mair Coke innit. Sip it slower, hen.”“Its the Bacardi. I should have diluted it with more Coca Cola. Try sipping it slowly.”
Flick …

Jeannette backed off a step, to avoid getting dandruff down the front of her dress, before realising that, given the amount of Brylcreem applied, Ronnie would be taking it all home with him. As for Ronnie, his plans involved taking a bit more than that home.
And Senga was not part of his plan!

It was obvious that Jeannette was not one to be taken in by Ronnie’s slick words and the offer of a free drink. Ronnie, though, had a way of anesthetizing the common sense node in a woman’s brain. Tonight, the rest of the world would be supporting him.
Senga – for starters!

Senga was not happy. Never mind a woman scorned. Just see how one reacts when she has paid for a round, then seen her Bacardi and Coke given to another. Even Ronnie’s unique anaesthetic wears off without constant reinforcement.
It’s one thing to spend your money from the Mill on a romantic evening – but only if you benefit!

“Heh you!”“Attention! I am talking to you!”
Suddenly, it got quiet. So quiet that you could hear Malkie behind the bar, short-changeing the till.
“Aye! You! You wi’ the chicken on yer heid. That’s mah Bacardi you’re drinkin!”“Yes, you! The person with a chicken on your head. That is my Bacardi that you are drinking!”
Senga had a voice that could sandpaper the bottom of an Edinburgh sewage dumping barge.
“Are ye listenin, you …?”“Do pay attention!”

Well, everybody else was listening by now, and Jeanette certainly wasn’t deaf. Neither was there anything wrong with her voice.
“I don’t see a name writ on it anywhere, and it jist so happens to be restin in my fist for the time being!”“I cannot see your name, attached to this glass of Bacardi. It seems to be sitting in my grasp, for the time being.”
Judging by the emulsion paint flakes falling off the ceiling, definitely nothing wrong with her voice!

“An that’s mah man ye’re leerin at!”“And that is my man that you are looking at.”
Senga was determined. Ronnie was paid for!
Not that Jeanette was in the least bit bothered.
“Well mebbe you folks got different ways of looking at things … I’m thinking that you might be owing me an apology?”“Perhaps you people look at matters from a different perspective. I believe that you owe me an apology for your un-warranted accusations?”
“An why wid ah be gi’en the likes o you an apology. Efter aw, it’s me that pey’d fur the drink an the Brylcreem, an it’s you whit’s got her haunds on bith!”“Why would I apologise to a person of dubious character, like yourself? After all, I paid for the drink and the Brylcreem, and you have your hands on both! “

Now Jeanette could see a good jab when it hit her.
“You’re a fiesty one ain’tcha? I seen a smaller set on a prize bull.”“My goodness. What a display of machismo!”
It just didn’t hit her hard enough to stop her …

“Cryin’ shame yer wasting all yer energy talkin’ to the hand. I ain’t gut yer drink and I ain’t gut yer man. And I ain’t gonna sit here and lissen whilst you run your trap. Jest move it on out the door sister and we’ll get back to where we wuz.”“It is a pity that you are talking when no-one is listening. I do not have neither your drink nor your man. I will listen to you, no longer! Kindly leave the establishment, and I can return to my rightful business.”

Onlookers in the line of fire started remembering urgent appointments. The domino players in the corner started chapping, even when they could get the double six out. And the urinal in the gents started to look like a real good place to visit.

“Are you an the chicken in this the gether, or is that jist the chicken talkin?”“Are you and the chicken both involved in this affair, or is the chicken talking for both of you?”

“Well now … I’d say you wuz havin a bit of trubble hearin mah words. Maybe that’s not the onlyiest thing you gut trubble doin. Might jest be havin trubble keepin your man happy.”“My goodness! You appear to have difficulty in hearing. That may not be your only problem. You may also have difficulties when it comes to keeping a man satisfied.”

This was starting to get serious!
“Got to ask that question now, don’t we?”.”“We must ask that question, must we not?”
When the talk gets to the “‘keepin a man’ stage ….”“satisfying a man’s needs …”
“Whatdidya say your name wuz honey? Nevah mind, Ah don’t ‘spect we’ll be exchanging cahds for the holidays! And jest for the record …that wuz Jeannette speakin …
… and this heyah headpiece ain’t got one lick of chicken on it … nor under it neithah!”
“What did you say that your name was? Never mind. I do not expect us to exchange Christmas cards. For the record, my name is Jeannette…
… and this hat has no chicken. In it, nor under it!”

Ask anybody who was in the hall that night, and they’ll all say the same thing. Jeanette’s hand never left the end of her arm. They’ll all swear to it. And yet, with a smack like the wrath of Jehovah, Senga took off backwards.
Over the dance floor – and not dancing.
On to the domino table – and not chapping.
Then on to the floor – and not conscious!

“Yah gut a name, Brylcreem boy?”“Do you have a name, Brylcreem boy?”
“Ah’m Ronnie. Ronnie McLauchlan.”“My name is Ronnie. Ronnie McLauchlan.”
“Jeannette. Jeannette Day Pendexter.”
Since the way was now clear …
“Haw, Jeannette. Ye fancy takin a daunner in the moonlicht?”“I say, Jeannette. Do you fancy a stroll in the moonlight?”
Ronnie only had the one record …
“Shorely do, Ronnie!”“I would be delighted, Ronnie!”
… but it was a good one.

Coming next … The Midnight Pitboy (On the Bing)

The Good, the Bad, and the Truly Awful

Some companies are good to work with. Some are neither here nor there, and their are some whose continued existence is a puzzle to the thinking mind.

Two simple events occurred just over a week ago. I left off talking about it, till a time when a cooler mind could look back and review the whole shambolic episode. A quick response would have required a range of expletives, more suited to a Fish Market.

My phone had been ‘blacklisted’. Normally, this happen when a phone has been lost or stolen. I had purchased this phone, in ‘new’ condition, from Cash Converters. EE cut of my service – the insinuation being that I had in my possession, a phone that was not mine. I was assured that they did not believe I had stolen it. But they could not discuss it because the phone was ‘not mine’. Data Protection Act. They cut off my service, because the phone was ‘mine’, not ‘one of theirs’. What a useless lot. Cash Converters offered an immediate refund or replacement. I chose the replacement, and in a few days, I had a new phone. They even refunded the postage. Now, that is what I call ‘Service’! Entirely satisfactory. EE (are all ‘initial companies crap? It would seem so!) not so satisfactory. Business Support? Hah!

I needed a new printer. I did my homework, assessed my requirements, and picked the model I wanted. An office all-in-one printer/scanner/copier. All paper sizes up to A3. £119, with a £70 cash-back offer. It must be true when they say that printer manufacturers make their money selling ink – a set of cartridges can cost twice as much!
It was in stock, so I ordered the printer from HP. Note the name. (and the initials)
It was in stock. I paid by card, and HP took the money. 24 hours later, it was being ‘packed’. 48 hours later, it was ‘out of stock’. What happened? Did they unpack it, then give it to someone else? A promised delivery date of the 29th Jan, became 05 Feb or 06 Feb, depending who you asked. Then the fun really started …

Delivery was by DPD (another set of initials). In cahoots with HP. Emails started to pour in.
“We’ll deliver your HP Store parcel 02 Feb”. I waited in. All I received was another email.
“Were sorry your delivery has been delayed. Will now be Saturday 03 Feb”.
I waited in. Again. Nothing. I contacted HP. “We shall be in touch within 48 hours” HP never came back. Every time, it was 48 hours, and every time it was not.

I contacted DPD. Their ‘Make it Right’ Team would reply in 90 minutes. That must have been 90 ‘working’ minutes plus 90 ‘non-working’ minutes. They took over 3 hours.
The parcel was “transported to the wrong delivery depot”. They could not deliver it because that particular service did not work weekends. Forget all the promises. It would be delivered on Monday 05 Feb. The stated that it would arrive between 0830 and 1030. I queried this. They confirmed the exact time.

I waited in. Yet again. I reviewed all the emails. Confirmed every promised time. All utter bullshit. Then the email arrived. “Between 1015 and 1115”. So much for agreement and confirmation. The parcel arrived after 1050. I complained to the ‘Make it Right’ team. They apologised. I rejected the apology. The ‘Make it Right’ Team sent me an icing-coated biscuit, which read “DPD Sorry Dave”. I have never seen the like. I sent one, final email.
As follows …

Dear [******]
After the worst, by some considerable margin, experience of dealing with a company and their appalling service, and finding myself the recipient of, for want of a better description, an ‘edible beermat’, I feel that I must reply.

DPD, in league with HP, are a calamity. Every promise broken. Every date wrong. Left hanging around, day after day, wasting time and effort. I had thought HP to be fairly dreadful – never answer directly, all help links either broken, meaningless, or just plain stupid. I put that down to every tiny fraction of the order being scattered around the globe – Spain, Switzerland, USA, Luxembourg, even the UK. Every email from a different source. But, it has to be said, the printer works and the price was good.

DPD deserve their own little circle of hell. You never got one tiny thing right. Not one. You showered me with dates, shuffled the consignment around from one depot to another, without regard for destination. You wasted a Friday, a Saturday, then, after agreeing a clear delivery schedule for Monday, just made up another, later, one. The only reason that the order was not cancelled, was the sheer awkwardness of starting the whole process over with a different supplier.

I work for a living. I charge per hour. The Ministry of Defence (Army, Navy, Airforce), BAe Systems, The Royal Canadian Navy, RailTrack and many others, are happy enough to use my services. Heaven forbid that they would accept the level of incompetence demonstrated by DPD.

I was entirely happy to scrub any thoughts of DPD from my mind. Then, like a battered spouse, you send me a “Can’t we kiss and make up?” gift. Even the fact that you have an account with “Sorry As A Service” makes the mind boggle.

In comparison, let me tell you about an event that happened the same week. My mobile (purchased from Cash Converters) was suddenly blacklisted. It would seem that the original owner was running an insurance scam. With an iPhone now functioning as a paperweight, I contacted Cash Converters. Prompt reply. Immediate offer of a refund or relacement. Accepted a replacement, and received a mint-condition (working) iPhone within days. They even refunded the postage. Not an ‘edible beermat’ in sight. I would say that “This is service of the highest order!”

Unlike DPD, who sent an apology for a biscuit (or should that be the other way round?), with an advisory that the biscuit should be eaten within 7 days. With your delivery record, did you not think that you were taking a terrible risk?

Being a diabetic, I will not be testing my teeth on the biscuit. I don’t think the dog wants it. Should I send it back to you, perhaps …


This email was checked for any profane language that might have crept in. You would not have appreciated the first draft.

Back Again

It can truly be said that some days are better than others. Unfortunately, that cannot be said of the past few. Or, more than few …

Work has brought all the old miseries. Jobs that were done, dusted, and hopefully buried in a crypt, somewhere. Like an old Hammer Horror film, they just keep on coming back. One job was done as a quick fix during the Gulf War, but, like that desecrated part of the planet, it keeps on returning. Another was a problem solved, a replacement designed and tested. The original was a disaster, but the MoD could not bring itself to accept the replacement, so they are still using the old, unreliable and rotting equipment in a critical area. I cannot say what, but I would be reluctant to go to sea in one!
Forgotten but not dead.

Home life has greatly improved. Wish I could say the same for the weather.

The Innerleven Boolin Club – 6


If you were to wander along the road leading from the Innerleven Bowling Club to Lower Methil (And no! I have no idea where a Higher Methil might be, except, perhaps, in Paradise), then you would soon come to the Methil Post Office. And if you were to do so on a Tuesday, then you just might see Rachel Simpson.

She’d be standing outside, on the pavement. Message bag in hand, and her Family Allowance safely stowed away in her purse. She wouldn’t be waiting for a bus – you can’t afford a bus when you’re bringing up two bairns on the Family Allowance and an army pension. It had not been a good deal, swapping her man for a pension, and a wee bit of jungle in Malaya. Then again, she was never asked if she agreed, and I have never heard her complain. She just got on with it, and that was that.

She wasn’t there for the bairns, either. They were just across the road in the Primary School, getting an education and their ears skelped by the teachers. Safe enough, and they’d be making their own way home at four o’clock. No schoolchild over six years old would be seen dead, walking home with their mother!

There, she would be. Standing beside the Post Office, a trim wee lassie. For all the world like they had put a statue in front of that red sandstone building. Gazing out on a world of her own. A human touch to soothe the hard stone of officialdom. Always a smile. Nothing flashy, just the outward sign of a long and distant memory.
Nobody knew why she stood there, why she waited for half an hour. Then, with a slight shake of her head, she’d be off up the road. Away home.

Now, there is nothing chews away at people, quite like a mystery! Folk had watched, and folk had puzzled. Family Allowance day was the day for a blether, and all the members of The Coh-mittee would nod to each other as they went in an out of the shops in the High Street. It was the henhouse strut. Big chickens and wee chickens. Nodding and bobbing, getting the pecking order just right. Bestowing grace on those in favour, and marking those who had fallen in the eyes of the mighty. Putting them to the one side for future consideration. And gathering in petty courts, to try the disfavoured and condemn them.

Everything in its place!
Except Rachel. She was a mystery. And it’s in the very nature of The Coh-mittee to abhor a mystery. Because a mystery soon becomes a Mystery, and before you know it, it’s all in capitals. A MYSTERY! And we just can’t be doing with that.

As always, Mrs. Jeffrey had to start the proceedings.
“There’s thon Rachel Simpson. Staundin there …”“There is Rachel Simpson. Standing there …”
A crime in itself.
“Evry Tuesday. Ootside the Post Office. Same thing. Is she waitin fur summat?”“Every Tuesday. Outside the Post Office. Always the same. Is she waiting for something?”
Never one to admit to a less than perfect knowledge of the world, Big Mary just made that wee throat noise that says nothing, and admits to less.
Never in need of encouragement, Mrs Jeffrey turned to Ina, and asked a question. The wrong uestion!
“Heh Ina, Why d’ye think she staunds there?”“I say, Ina. Why do you think is the reason why she stands there?”
Ina could look down on Mrs Jeffrey (and often did!). Backing away from the impudence of being asked to think, she replied to the pin which held Mrs Jeffrey’s hat in place.
“Mebbe if ye asked her, ye’d fund oot!”“Perhaps, if you ask her, you might find the answer.”
“Ca’ dae that. It’s no fittin tae ask. It’s mebbe a private matter.”“I can’t do that. It is not fitting, to ask. It is possibly a private matter.”
“Then we’d better fund oot.” snapped Mary. “Ca’ be dae’n wi that!”“Then we had better find out.” snapped Mary. “Just cannot abide that sort of thing!”

And that’s where Eck Slater comes in to the story. If his reactions had been faster, that’s exactly where he would have slipped back out again.
Eck was sleekit, but just not fast enough that day.
Eck was the bookie’s runner. In those days, it was illegal to bet on the horses if you were not on a racecourse. Musselburgh and Ayr were too far to walk on Family Allowance day. So Eck hung around street corners. A natural, he was. Blended in with the peeling paint and the crumbling brick. There was as much black soot on his jacket as on the wall of the railway station yard, and his bonnet had generations of Brylcreem in the creases.
Not a man much affected by the education handed out to him in the school across the road, Eck couldn’t add up his toes and come to eleven. In fact, the extra toe might well explain Eck. His reading was strictly the Fun Section of the Sunday Post.
But give Eck a three-cross-double and ten shillings on Tatty Jack in the 3.30 at Wincanton, and he never got it wrong. Each way, any way. Didn’t matter. He had it all committed to memory. Couldn’t have any betting slips. It was illegal, and if the police caught you …

Eck looked shifty when confronted by Big Mary and Ina, but then again, most men avoided their gaze and tried to slip away.
“Eck Slater! A word!”
Might as well have been ‘Sit! Rover.‘ for all the chance Eck had of disobeying.
“See thon Rachel Simpson?”“Do you see Rachel Simpson, across there?”
Eck’s bonnet, the smarter part of his head, nodded.
“D’ye ken why she hings around the Post Office?”“Do you know why she waits beside the Post Office?”
Not gifted with brains, but a few pence nearer the full shilling than Mrs Jeffrey, Eck didn’t mention the subject of Big Mary’s ignorance.
“Ah could ask her?”“I could ask her?”
“Aye. You dae that!”“Yes. Go and do that!”
Rover! See the ball!
“… an back efter, mind.”“… and back afterwards. Is that clear?”
Rover. Fetch!

The Coh-mittee got back to its rightful business of judging the unworthy, and Eck sidled across to the Post Office. Eck never travelled in a straight line if he could help it.
Eyes on alert for the police ( The Police Station was just around the corner in Fisher Street), he managed to pull up alongside Rachel without ever looking in her direction.
“Mornin, Rachel.”“Good morning, Rachel.”
Rachel put away her smile, and turned towards Eck.
“Hullo, Eck. How’s the horses, then?”“Hello, Alec. How is the horse-race betting business?”
Eck squirmed.
“Wheesht! Ah dae dae the cuddies onny mair!”“Hush! I am not involved in horse racing any more!”
Watching Eck trying to wink, talk and move sideways, all at the same time, brought back the smile. If he’d been smoking a Woodbine, he’d have probably fallen over as a result of spreading his talents too thinly.
“Ah wis kindae winderin, like …”“I was kind of wondering …”
Rachel wasn’t cruel. Eck was suffering!
“Wonderin aboot what, Eck?”“Wondering about what, Alec?”
She could see where Eck’s leash led. Across the road to the Coh-mittee.
“Ah wis winderin …”“I was wondering …”
“Ah wis winderin why ye ayewis staund around the Post Office on a Tuesday? No meanin tae be nosey, mind. Jist winderin.”“I was wondering why you wait beside the Post Office, every Tuesday. Not meaning to be curious, you understand. Just wondering.”
The smile grew, yet somehow gained a little sadness. Rachel turned and looked at the red sandstone wall of the Post Office.
“Why, Eck. I’m waitin here with Edward.”“Why, Alec. I’m waiting here with Edward.”
With that, Rachel turned away, and headed up the road towards home. And if Eck imagined that he had seen her eyes sparkle, then it surely must have been the light. You don’t shed a tear when you’re smiling. Surely not.

Here, boy!
The lead tugged. And Eck shuffled back to his master.
“The wummin’s daft, so she is!”“That woman is intellectually challenged, so she does! “
“Oh!” prompted Ina. “An hoo w’d that be?”“And how would that be?”
“She says she’s waitin wi Edward.”“She says that she is waiting with Edward.”
“Edward who?” cut in Big Mary. “There’s nae Edward that ah ken o’!”“Edward who?” interjected Big Mary. “There is no Edward that I am familiar with!”
“Hoo aboot Eddie Kinninmont?”“How about Edward Kinninmont?” said Mrs Jeffrey.
Ina addressed the hatpin again.
“Dae you be daft as weel. He’s been daed fur the past six months. Guid job, tae. What wi’ the Co-op checkin up the store books, an him bein manager.”“Stop being intellectually challenged too. He has been dead for the past six months. Good job, too. What with the Co-op accountants checking the books for the time that he was the manager.”
“Then wha’s this Edward, then?”“Then who is this Edward, then?”
Big Mary’s brow furrowed.
It was so quiet, that Big Mary and Mrs Jeffrey didn’t catch it at first.
“Edward and Mrs. Simpson”
You could see that wee filament start to glow in Ina’s eye.
“Edward and Mrs. Simpson!”
She laughed. She couldn’t help it. It just started to bubble out.
“Whit’s up wi you?”“What is up with you?”
Big Mary’s brow twisted up even more.
“Have ye gaun an …”“Have you gone and …”
Then Big Mary got it.
“Edward and Mrs. Simpson!”
Now Mary started to laugh, and it looked like she would never stop.
Eck looked at Mrs Jeffrey, and blank was swapped for blank.
Through the tears and laughter, Ina looked at the baffled pair.
“Eck. She’s made a monkey o ye. Ah ken that’s no difficult, see’n as ye’re hauf wey there already.“Alec. She has made a monkey of you. I know that isn’t difficult – you must be halfway there already.”It’s a joke. Edward and Mrs. Simpson. King Edward and Wallis Simpson. The Abdication.”
“Ah dae get it.” puzzled Mrs. Jeffrey. “Whit dae ye mean?”“I just don’t understand.” puzzled Mrs Jeffrey. “What do you mean?”
Ina was doubled up by now, and could only point to the Post Office wall.
Being part of the Royal Mail, British Main Post Offices always had the Royal Crest carved on the front. Built in 1936, Methil Post Office had the initials of the King.
Edward the Eighth. Soon to abdicate for the love of Wallis Simpson.

In a minute, all The Coh-mittee was laughing. Eck took his chance and made himself, and his bonnet, disappear around the corner before the situation returned to normal. And things became unpleasant.

Somehow, the mystery never became a Mystery, and all the rest of the capitals were put back in the box. Nobody ever did find out why Rachel Simpson stood outside the Post Office on a Tuesday.

Unless you happened to be present at that spot a few years before, and saw Rachel say goodbye to the father of her bairns. He was going back, after a week’s leave. Back to the Army, and from there to Malaya. As she kissed him goodbye, she said the words that many an Army wife has said to her man.
“How are me an the bairns gaun manage without ye? We’ll shairly miss ye.”“How will the children and I manage without you? We shall surely miss you.”
Her man pointed to the Post Office wall, and said …
“Ye’ll be aw richt. Wait here wi Edward, an ah’ll be back!”“You will be alright. Wait here with Edward, and I’ll be back soon!”

It was called the ‘Malayan Emergency.’ It started in 1948 and finally ended in 1960.
Not soon enough for Thomas Simpson. And never for Rachel.

Coming next … The Midnight Pitboy (The Chicken Hat)

The Innerleven Boolin Club – 5


There aren’t many things in life, of which you can be certain. The list is short. Benjamin Franklin mentions death and taxes. You could probably add another; if you are unemployed, and on the dole, the employment manager will insist that you take any job on offer. You know it’ll be the worst job going! The one that nobody else wants. Like working twelve hour shifts at the local spinning mill.
Refuse, and he will cut your benefit.

One more certainty. If you are a bowling club member, and you wish to hold your head high in bowling society circles, the green must be perfect. Not just smooth, like a snooker table. Perfect! It really must be perfect. This demands a really good green keeper. A man who commands respect.
Innerleven had Roman. Roman Cecielski.

Roman was Polish (no prizes for having guessed!). Like most of that generation of his countrymen, he came over to Scotland during the war, pledged to fight for his country against the Nazis. Having won the war, they found that they had lost their country. Somebody else had stolen it. As a result, many Polish exiles became Scots. Married into the local community and let their families give schoolteachers a hard time with their names. Roman himself had never married. Some said that his entire family was still in Warsaw, and after the war, there they would always remain.
With the exception of a sister who lived in America, Roman was alone.

Roman lived for his bowling green, and it was beautiful. He talked to it, cared for and nourished it, and as a result, it grew like a well loved child. It flourished. Grass can surely understand Polish. Which is more than the schoolteachers could.

Do you know how you can recognise the perfect green? Let me tell you. Go out in the morning, early. It has to be in the autumn, and before the sun comes up. Choose a seat beside the bowling green. One facing the sunrise. It will be the seat that the green keeper always chooses.
Now, just wait for the sun.

The dew will be on the grass. When the sun is low in the sky, it’ll reach out and gently brush the grass. Every drop of dew will light up, and if you hold your head just so, you will see a rainbow. If the green is perfect, you will see only the one.
But if there are any little dips or rises, any tiny imperfections, even a single blade of grass out of place, then the green will be ringed with rainbows. It’s as if the angels were telling you where you could make improvement. I think that the angels were quietly pleased with Roman’s grass, and spent their time, dropping hints up in Lochgelly. (If you have ever played there, then you’ll know that it’s the Lochgelly green, and not the bowls, that has the bias!).

You may well be thinking that Roman was a sad, unimportant little man, not much to look at. You would be wrong! Roman was over six foot in height, blonde, and with the wild look that some Poles have. The one that made the women tremble, just a bit, when they were trying to put a bowl up the length of Roman’s rink. A slight nod from Roman could make a woman’s day. Even Big Mary Hennan would soften her voice when Roman was around.

Not everybody liked Roman.
Mrs Jeffrey had never forgiven him for that day. The day Roman had ordered her off the green. Not wearing the correct footwear.
And Jimmy Dalrymple. He had it in for Roman. For darker reasons. Jimmy was assistant green keeper, and thought that he should be the top man.

Which is where Cathy Fairfull comes into the story.

Jimmy fancied Cathy. He followed her around like a child with no money follows the last ice cream van of the season. Forlorn hope.
Cathy had no interest in him, but Jimmy was convinced that it was only a matter of time before he’d get his hands on a free ice cream cone.

Cathy and Roman were both single, and there was nothing to stop them. Roman would smile at Cathy, and she’d smile back. Just occasionally. I don’t think anybody ever expected it to amount to anything. Roman never took up any of the offers that came his way at the annual dances. Cathy was quiet, and never one to push herself forward.

Jimmy could never understand Cathy’s reluctance to accept his advances. As the Innerleven Bowling Club prepared for the end of the season, and the Annual Dance, he was scheming to win Cathy, and to see Roman driven out of Innerleven! ‘Put out to pasture’. That phrase had Jimmy cackling to himself, every time he thought of it.
The grass paid no attention. It spoke Polish.

In the ways of life, wickedness can always find an ally. Mrs Jeffrey would take on board any gossip that would bring Roman down.
The innocent, as often happens, would carry the knife that would do the deed. Roman’s sister, in America, had sent him a letter, saying ‘Why not come and stay with my family in Michigan?’
She had addressed it ‘care of Innerleven Bowling Club’. Grubby hands had got to it first and opened it. By the time Jimmy and Mrs Jeffrey had twisted its meaning, it began to look as if Roman would be walking out on Innerleven without so much as a by-your-leave. The green would be neglected, and at the worst possible time. The Club Finals were coming up. The weather was doubtful (as usual).
And Roman! He would be gallivanting off to America, leaving Jimmy to carry the burden, all by himself!

That was it! Roman was ordered up in front of the committee (egged on by the grey powers of the Ladies Committee), and told that the Club firmly disapproved of such behaviour. He was to surrender his barrow, and his broom. He must leave the green in more considerate hands. Out of the goodness of their hearts, they would permit Roman to stay for the Annual Dance. That way, it wouldn’t look quite so much like a drumhead court-martial.

Roman never spoke. Just smiled. Jimmy sniggered into his half-pint of shandy.

Come the Annual Dance, everybody wondered if Roman would turn up. Especially Cathy. She had been badly hurt by the way dirt had been flung at Roman. She wore an attractive little dress for the dance. Pale lemon, with long sleeves. Very fetching. It was a simple dress, but that night, on Cathy, it was beautiful. Jimmy ogled her, but one fiery look from Cathy sent him running for a drink to extinguish the flames.
He would bide his time. With Roman gone, it would only be a matter of waiting. He was certain that Roman wouldn’t have the effrontery to show up at the Dance.

The annual Prize Giving was held. Insincere expressions and practised handshakes were exchanged. Trophies large and small. Smiles to match. And still no sign of Roman.

It was getting late. I think Cathy was starting to have a tiny dab at her eyes, when, in came Roman. In a suit, and looking every inch the man! He walked straight across to Cathy. The next dance was his. And the next. If Jimmy had made any plans, then they would have to wait till the morning. The night was for Cathy and Roman.

When twelve o’clock chimed, Cathy and Roman were gone from the dance. No one noticed. Jimmy, by this time, was snoring away in a corner and his wife was considering calling for a taxi to get them home. (Jimmy’s wife, a tiny detail that Jimmy didn’t think was important).

The Bowling Club Finals were to be held the next day. Quite why the finals should be on the day after the Dance and the handing out of the trophies, I couldn’t say. I tend to believe that it was arranged this way, in order to prevent the Dance being spoiled by one smug grin and a lot of sour faces. When it comes to being champion, there can only be one. With everybody sporting a hangover, it meant that anybody might win. It’s my own personal theory, and it may well be the right one. Who knows?

It was the usual ratty, bad tempered set of rinks. Roman made no appearance. Neither did Cathy.
As the new Head Green Keeper, Jimmy became the obvious target for all the ill temper and frustration when the match for the Club Women’s Championship deteriorated into a slanging and a swearing session. Somehow, no matter how hard Big Mary Hennan and Mrs Jeffrey tried to play a bowl on the centre rink, it would wobble in mid run, and head off in some unpredictable direction. Nobody had ever seen a match like it. It was as if the bias on the bowls changed with every end.
By the time somebody had won, nobody cared. As for Jimmy Dalrymple, he would surely have his turn, up in front of the committee. Everybody blamed the green keeper. Nobody would dare blame the players!

If only Jimmy had been up early that morning, and had sat himself down in the seat that Roman favoured. He would have seen, just as the sun rose, that the dew was on the grass, and the centre rink was a riot of rainbows. What looked like a broad, shallow depression, could be seen, with a couple of smaller, deeper dents in the rink, one on each side. If it were not for the rainbows, you would never know that they were there. Plays havoc with bowls, does a dent.

Where did the dents come from? Roman would know. But he wasn’t there. And he was too much of a gentleman to say.

Another letter from America came to the club a few weeks later. All it contained was Cathy’s locker key and a note to say that ‘Mr and Mrs Roman Cecielski would be joining another bowling club. In Michigan.’

I have no proof of this, but I was told that when they opened Cathy’s locker, they found a plain lemon dress in it. With grass stains. On the back. You know how it is with some materials. You just can not get grass stains out without boiling. And boiling ruins the material.

And Roman was a gentleman!

Coming next … Edward & Mrs Simpson

The Innerleven Boolin Club – 4


The Funeral

Now, I’m sure that you can all see what’s coming. It’s a bit like starting a war, then sitting back and watching it all happen! Once the fleet sets sail, it’s hard to haul them back.

“Ina! Mak shair that taxi driver disnae sneak awa! Jeannie, you start makin ready fur the tea!”“Ina! Make sure that the taxi driver does not sneak away! Jeannie, you start preparing the tea!”
“Ay-uh. You want me to make the tea?”“Excuse me! You want me to make the tea?””
“Naw, no you, Jeannette. Ah mean her across there. Jeannie Cook. She can mak the tea, an – jist haud on a minute. Aggie! You mak the tea. Jeannie, jist mak yersel yaisefy. Get yersel aff tae the butchers. Get the biled ham. Get the bread f’ Stuarts. Lightbodys’ll be sellt oot b’no. Nae stale stuff, mind.”“No! Not you Jeannette. I mean that lady across there. Jeannie Cook. She can make the tea – on second thoughts. Agnes! You make the tea. Jeannie, just make yourself useful. Go to the butcher’s shop. Get the boiled ham. Get the bread from Stuart’s Bakery – Lightbody’s Bakery will be sold out by now. Don’t get any stale bread!”

Jeannette just stood there. It was like watching a prize turkey organise Christmas. Orders were flying out in all directions. One word in twenty was about all she grasped. But the rest of the wee turkeys were streaming out the yard in all directions. You could tell who was the big bird at the table.
Big Mary was ‘oarganisin’!

The taxi driver did try to sneak away, but Ina’s foot was in the way. (Thirty years later, when they invented speed bumps, sleeping policemen, traffic calming – call it what you will – I always had a minding of Ina Wilson’s foot)

“Ye’ll be stayin fur a bit, then.” said Ina. “An ye’ll be keepin yer haund aff that clock!”“You’ll be staying a while, then.” said Ina. “And you’ll be keeping your hand off the taximeter!”
The driver just nodded, and sweated.
“Noo that awboddy kens whit tae dae, it’s time tae get respectable. Ina! Whit time did the Yank say fur the funeral?”“Now that everyone knows what to do, it’s time to get respectable. Ina! What time did the ‘Yank’ say for the funeral?”
Jeannette got that bit.
“Listen you. I’m from the United States. From Maine. It’s Yankee!”
“That’s whit she sayed, Jeanette. ‘Yank’ She jist misses oot the excitin noises.”“That is what she said, Jeanette. ‘Yankee’ She tends to omit the interesting noises.”
She turned.
“It wis 3 0’clock, Mary.”“It was 3 o’clock, Mary.”

Looking at the thermally-insulated American, Mary reckoned there wasn’t any way to get her changed in time for the funeral.
“Ye’ll jist have tae go as ye are! At least, y’ve got a hat.”“You’ll just have to go, dressed as you are! At least, you have a hat.”
The hat in question looked like an advert for Grouse whisky – all feathers and curly bits.
“Ina! You an me’ll get changed intae oor best funeral claes. Ah’ve been deein tae wear that black suit fur ages. Tell her tae watch the taxi man.”“Ina! You and I will go and get changed into our best funeral clothes. I have been dying to wear that black suit, for ages. Tell her to watch the taxi driver.”
She explained to Jeannette.
“Me an Mary’s gaun tae get ready fur the funeral. Ye ca’ go in boolin claes. Watch the taxi fur us. We’ll need it tae go tae the Crem.”“Mary and I are going to get dressed for the funeral. You can’t go in bowling clothes. Watch the taxi for us. We will need it to go to the Crematorium.”

The guard changed over, but the prisoner remained the same. One last spark of resistance was extinguished when Jeannette took away his Rizla machine.
“I am telling you, Mister man. There’ll be no smoking in my taxi!”“Listen to me, Mister! There will be no smoking in my taxi!”
“An there wis me thinkin it wis mine. Winder if the mill’s takin on workers. Ca’ be onny worse than this!”“And there was I believing that the taxi was mine. I wonder if the Spinning Mill is taking on workers. It can’t be any worse than this!”

Jeannette was starting to worry. The hour for her grandmother’s funeral was fast approaching. The two people who were either organising or translating, had vanished. The Bowling Club was a turmoil of tablecloths and dusters. Women kept appearing with ‘message bags’ (whatever they were!). And the only person she could recognise from the moment of her arrival was Mrs Jeffrey. Not good!

“Ah’ve goat a cousin in Florida cawed Irene. Ye’ll maybe ken her”“I’ve got a cousin in Florida, called Irene. You’ll probably know her.”
“Your cousin in Florida keeps goats?”“Your cousin in Florida keeps goats?”
“She mairried a Yank durin the war. Of coorse, she never telt her first man, but then, he wis runnin around wi yon Wilma on the buses. Goad, could that woman no grow a moustache!”“She married an American during the War. Of course, she never told her first man, but then, he was running around with a bus conductress called Wilma. Heavens! That woman actually had a moustache!”

Jeanette was starting to realise that having a conversation with Mrs Jeffrey was like playing a fruit machine. Lots of lemons spinning around, but no jackpot!
To pass the time, she would give the taxi a quick nudge … like whenever the driver reached for the door handle.

Just as she was about to make one last, desperate attempt to communicate with Mrs Jeffrey, Big Mary and Ina came whirring around the corner, like two black pierries. Big on top, black and with a suspicion of a whisper of overstrained cables. Dressed to kill, and ready for a funeral.

“Richt” said Mary, “Awboddy in th taxi. Awthings oarganised, an if that driver c’n get himsel started, we can mak it tae the Crem.”“Right!” said Mary. “Everybody get into the taxi. Everything is organised, and if the driver can motivate himself, we can make it to the Crematorium on time.”
Mary and Ina struggled into the back, and Jeanette tried to get in with the driver.
“Fur heaven’s sake, Missus. The ither side! The ither side! This is no America! Ah’m the driver!”“For heaven’s sake, woman! The other side! The other side! This isn’t America! I am the driver!”
Two seconds later, he wasn’t!

“Ay-uh. Will somebody give me directions along this toteroad, jest sos ah kin get to this Crem.”“Will someone give me directions along this road? That way, I can get to the Crematorium.”
At that, the taxi was fired up, crunched into first gear, and screeching up the road.
“What do I do now?”
“Seein as y’re daein fifty, try pittin it intae top gear.”“As you seem to be doing 50 miles per hour, you could try selecting top gear.”
By now, the (ex)driver had given up on driving, working or caring about anything but breathing. He was considering asking for a sick note from the local doctor, in order to get time off work, when he remembered that this was his car, and he was self-employed.
“Left! Left! Ya daft besom. We drive on the left!”“Left! Left! You stupid woman. We drive on the left side of the road!”
If he lived long enough, he could always retire. Who wants to be a taxi driver in this town anyway?

As the taxi rocketed up the High Street, past the Wonder Store, Big Mary tried to get back into the driver’s seat (metaphorically speaking, as Jeannette was in the actual seat and the driver wasn’t, if you catch my meaning).
“Ah’ve oarganised Willmax’s wee bus fur the rest o the mourners. If ye see it, let it catch ye!”“I have hired Willmax’s little coach for the rest of the mourners. If you see it, let it catch up with you!”

Perhaps I should explain. Willmax was a garage business, and they owned a wee bus for hire. And I do mean ‘wee’! Half the length of one of Alexander’s Bluebird coaches, and available for hire at reasonable rates. All done in pastel pink and green, it featured lots of chrome and fins on the backside, and the inside had acres of that awful plastic wood. Ina described it tae Jeannette.
“Ay-uh. Sounds real cunnin. Is that it a ways down the road at the back of us? If so, how do you slow this foah bangah beetah down?”“Yes. Sounds impressive. Is that it that I see, down the road, at the back of us? If so, could you tell me how to decelerate in this decrepit, underpowered vehicle?”

Isn’t it wonderful how one, unthinking answer can provide treasured memories for years. The taxi was screaming (or perhaps it was just the driver) by Methil Primary School at the time …

“Jist turn richt! Roond b’ Fisher Street an back the wey we come.”“Just turn right! Go round by Fisher Street, and back the way we came.”
Jeannette stuck her head out of the window, and yelled …
“Can’t find the directional. Hanging a right!”“I can’t locate the indicator switch. Turning right!”
The schoolchildren had just been let out for their afternoon break. The tyre squealing and the shouting had them climbing up the railings. Round the school went the taxi, right back on to the High Street, and straight out in front of the wee Willmax bus.
“I think there are more cars tryin to catch us!”
“Well, tak the car roond again.”“Well, take this car around, again.”
“Hangin a right!”“Turning right!”

This time, it was a taxi, followed by a wee chrome and pastel bus that spun around the school, tyres blowing out blue smoke, and the occupants rattling around inside. All the children had seen Ben Hur at the cinema the week before, but this was much, much better. More cars joined in as the taxi went around for another turn.
I can tell you! Just ask any child who was at Methil Primary that day, and they will tell you that Charlton Heston drove around Methil Primary School with a chicken stuck on his head!

At last, having collected the district nurse in a Morris Minor, Jimmy the Fishman, and two Jehovah’s Witnesses in a Standard 10, the cortege (fancy word, eh!) continued at full steam up Fisher Street to Bayview.

“Bangin a left”“Making a hard turn to the left!”
There are a lot of people still alive today, who owe it to the fact that Wellesley Road was a fine, wide road in those days. The situation would be very different nowadays.
The taxi swung round to the left, closely followed by the Willmax bus. Swinging wide, the district nurse was about to overtake the bus, when suddenly, the bus driver cut across, and nearly put her through the door of the Wizard Cleaners. Meanwhile, the two Witnesses slipped by on the inside, singing hymns, so some folk say. Jimmy the Fishman trailed behind in a dismal, but safe, last place. With the taxi still in the lead, Jeanette now confidently in fourth gear, and Big Mary giving directions, it was …
“Crem! Here we come!”

As they passed the White Swan Hotel, Jimmy the Fishman tried to chicken out. Unfortunately, the Swan Brae runs the wrong way, and as he tried to take Denbeath Brig on the railway side, all he managed to do was land on top of a coal wagon on its way to the washers at the Wellesley Colliery.

Neck and neck, along the road past the Wellesley. An ambulance, pulling out of the Randolph Wemyss Memorial Hospital, stripped its gearbox in a desperate effort to pull back off the road. Having survived the experience, both ambulancemen agreed that, even if they had to pay for the gearbox, it had still
been worth it.

Collecting a van from Stuarts, the Bakers, and anyone else who was visiting Buckhaven that day, the ever-lengthening procession gathered speed. They briefly swept up a terrified ‘auld boy’, heading for Buckhynd Braes on his ‘bing bike’. It didn’t have any tyres, but it was doing a respectable speed as he disappeared into a hedge at Muiredge.

“What way, now?”
“Tak the next richt, an we’ll go along the Staunin Stane Road.”“Take the next right, and we will go along the Standing Stone road.”
“Bangin a right.”“Making a hard turn to the right.”
“Hey!” said Mary. “You’re understaunin evry word ah’m sayin!”“Hey!” said Mary. You are understanding every word I say!
“Well, if you shout it loud enough, and often enough, even us Yankees can pick up what you are saying.”
“C’n ah butt in a minute?”“May I interrupt for a moment?”
Ina prodded Jeanette’s shoulder.
“Are they level-crossin gates no shut?”“Can you see those level-crossing gates? Are they not closed?”
As Jeanette stuck her head out of the window, the chicken hat started to take flight.
“Could be. Could be.”
“An is that no wan o thae Wemyss Railway pugs comin along the line?”“And, is that not one of those steam locomotives from the Wemyss Private Railway?”
Ina was starting to sound just a bit strained.
“Ay-uh. Could be. Could be.”
Big Mary would put up with no backsliding.
“Pit yer fit doon, woman! They’ll open the gates fur us!”“Put your foot down on the accelerator, woman! They will open the gates for us!”
She pointed to the train of conscripted mourners behind them.

The gatekeeper had arrived at the same conclusion. One steam locomotive was nothing compared to the horde rushing up the road towards the crossing. One of them had a chicken tied to her head, and the wings were still flapping.
He rapidly spun the big operating wheel. Up went the big white pole, and not a second too soon. The steam locomotive driver was blowing his whistle and setting the throttle into reverse, as a taxi, a pink and green bus, the district nurse and two boys in a Standard 10, singing hymns, all shot across in front of the locomotive. The baker’s van swerved into the vertical gatepost with an almighty bang, and two hundred cream and fancy cakes exploded across the inside of the windscreen. The locomotive continued on its way untouched, and the rest of the procession poured over the track behind him.

“Whit wis that aw aboot?”“What was that all about?” the driver thought, then noticed two rhubarb tarts sitting on the coal at the back of the locomotive. Ten minutes later, when he got to the Wellesley, he was good enough to share them with Jimmy the Fishman. And tactful enough not to ask why Jimmy’s van was sitting on top of a coal wagon.

Once on the Staunin Stane Road, things eased off a bit. Ina had spotted the hearse up ahead, and Jeanette was experienced enough by now, to slip smoothly in behind it, and slow down to a more dignified pace. Funerals must always be dignified. The bus slowed down too. So did everybody else. As they rolled along the road (with great respect and dignity, because you never overtake a hearse. Ever!), the passengers took the chance to set themselves to right. Hats were straightened. Teeth re-inserted. Corsets re-adjusted. Shoes were swapped around, until everyone was wearing the correct pair. They were going to get to the Crematorium in time. No bother!

A funeral procession is a grand thing. It gives people time to ponder, to reflect on the life of the deceased. To try and remember what they looked like. And if the ceremony is over quickly, there might be the opportunity to nip down to Kirkcaldy for a bit of shopping. Or a pint.

Nobody had much to say as they arrived at the Crematorium. One last chance to get your stays comfortable before you had to sit quietly. Scratching and squirming was a definite ‘no-no’. Not dignified.
The taxi driver, he’d seen enough of dignity. First chance he got, he would be off. Sell the taxi. Emigrate. Anything!

Jeannette, Ina, and Big Mary surrounded the man ‘in charge’ (for want of a better word).
“You’ll be the faimly o the deceased, ah take it? Ah wis not expecting quite so many. None at all, in fact. I thought the deceased wis …”“I presume that you are the next-of-kin to the deceased. I was not expecting quite as many people. None at all, in fact. I thought that the deceased was …”
Big Mary cut him off short. Didn’t fancy him at all. A bit shifty. A bit of a sweetie wife.
“Whit d’ye mean! You sayin we w’dnae be here fur the ceremony?”“What do you mean? Are you saying that we would not turn up for the ceremony?”
Wilting under the glare of the female trinity, he fell back on to that old male ploy, used in all such circumstances – abject surrender!
“No. No. Ah take it that one of you ladies will be sayin a few words?”“No. No. I take it that one of you ladies will be saying a few words?”
“Try tae stoap us!” went Mary.“Just try to stop us!” went Mary.
“Ah think it should be Jeanette”“I believe that Jeannette should be the one.” Ina put in, before the poor man was roasted alive.
“Ye’ll want tae say somethin, hen.”“You will be saying something, will you not, my dear?”
I think that Ina had suddenly, really noticed the chicken hat for the first time, or it could have been simply an unfortunate choice of words.

“Richt” cried Mary. “Awboddy tak yer places. Jeanette’s gaun say a few words.”“Everybody take your places. Jeanette will say a few words.”
Jeanette stood up, and looked at the audience.
“I’d like to thank everybody that’s here today. So many have come. My gramma must have been very popular.”
The two men from the hearse looked at each other.
“Whit did she say?”“What did she say?”
“Wheesht!” ordered Mary.“Be quiet!” ordered Mary
“I would just like to say my gramma’s favourite poem.”
The man in charge looked at the two men from the hearse.
“Gramma always loved a bit of verse, an she taught mah mutha who taught it to me.”Grandmother was fond of poetry, and she taught my mother, who taught me.”
“But …”
“Will you lot no shut up, an show a bit o respect!”“Will you lot stop talking, and show some respect!” hissed Mary.
“Aye, let the lassie speak!”“Yes, let the lady speak!” Ina joined in.
The three men let their heads slump down into their shoulders.
“You cairry on hen.”“Please carry on, my dear.” urged Ina.

“Gramma’s poem”.“Grandmother’s Poem.”

You cannot choose the rose of life
No matter how you’re born
For some will touch the dew crossed bud
While others catch the thorn
You have no right to sacrifice
Another for the flower
To take it all is purest greed
And evil in its power
And yet you have a duty, plain
If come before, to warn
And fore the hand of innocence
Place yours across the thorn.

“Gramma. Ah surely miss you.”“Grandmother. I surely miss you.”

Ina knuckled away a tear.
“That wis awfy guid, lass”“That was very good, my dear.”
Mary put on her hard face, but you could tell that she was moved.
“That wis a braw poem. Ye must’ve learnt English special, jist fur that.”“That was an excellent poem. You must have learned English, just to be able to say it.”

Everybody moved in closer to share the moment.
“That wis jist hoo ah remember it. Ye h’d th words jist richt.”“That was just how I remember it. You were word perfect.”
“You’re no supposed tae be here!” shot in Mary. “You’re supposed tae be daed!”“You are not supposed to be here!” exclaimed Mary. “You are supposed to be dead!”
“Dinnae be daft. Ah’m no daed! Ah’ve jist come here fur mah weekly funeral.”“Don’t be silly. I am not dead! I have just travelled here for my weekly funeral.”
Nettie looked round at everybody else as if they were daft.
“Weekly funeral?” Ina looked baffled.
“Aye. Ah like tae come along tae a funeral. Jist the wans that disnae hae a lot o faimly. Bit o’ company fur the send off.”“Of course. I like to come along to a funeral. Only for those that don’t have many next-of-kin. A bit of company for the send off.”
Jeanette looked down at Nettie.
“But this is your funeral?”
“Oh, dae be daft. Do ah look dead?”“Don’t be silly! Do I look dead?”
Big Mary started casting around. No man was going to make a fool of her. But the two men with the hearse were doing 100 miles per hour, back along the Staunin Stane road. The man in charge had run out of ‘charge’ and had gone ‘out’.
“Whit’ll we do now?”“What shall we do, now?” asked Mary.
“C’n we still sing the hymn?” returned Nettie. “Ah ayeways liked the hymns.”Can we still sing the hymn?” returned Nettie. “I always liked the hymns.”
So they did.

Many years later, we all sang that same hymn at Nettie’s funeral. Her second, and as far as we know, her last one.

Everybody was in agreement, though. Nettie’s first was the best!

Coming next … Roman in the Gloamin