BYE-BYE

In a couple of minutes we are back in our recliners.  From the corner of my eye I get a fleeting impression of the leader of the Celtic supporters registering grudging approval.  Pumping his clenched fist up and down he seems to be acknowledging I have done something quite astounding.  I know of course that I have been the recipient of an enormous slice of good luck.  I smugly consider my good fortune before a feeling of numbness creeps through my entire system.  I fight fatigue and determine to find out more about this creature of barely hidden fire.

“Where from you come, Trish?” I croak from a parched throat.

“Oh, back there,” she replies, flicking the back of her hand towards the starboard bulkhead.

“Name of country, please,” I ask.  “Thailand maybe?”

I take a quick look at my companion’s jaw line.  There is no trace of a prominent Adam’s apple.

“No, thank you,” comes her reply.

“Cambodia?  Vietnam?”

“Somet’ing like that,” she breezily replies.  “Shhh – don’t ask.  It’s never mind for you.”  She sounds suddenly angry with me.

“Okay,” I say resignedly.  But I don’t give up.  “What you goin’ to do, if job in Glasgow fails?”

“Me?” she replies, as though the Observation Lounge is full of beautiful young Asian women bound for the Outer Hebrides, each waiting to give a reason.

The young woman stares at me for a minute or so as though contemplating a major revelation.  “Nude man,” she says, “I am sorry.  You are a very funny man – funny face and ver’ funny legs.  But, darling, I must remain silent.”  She places her smooth left palm on my right thigh and squeezes.

“No, no,” I squeal.  I mean to say it coolly, without the one-octave-up notes that issue from my lips.  We get up from our seats at the same time and stand facing one another in the aisle.  “Tashi, I . . . I . . .,” I sigh, then start again.  Tashi, you are very beautiful . . .”

“I know,” she says calmly.  She takes a pace forward and imparts a soft kiss on my left cheek.  She caresses the spot with soft fingers.  “Soon,” she says with assurance, “you will become cool man.”

My mysterious Asian beauty pirouettes away from me and skips towards the entrance to the Bar, never to be seen or heard from again.  I don’t know this at the time and I fear she may return and do something that may cause me great embarrassment.  Alarm spreads throughout the lining of my skull.  I grab the newspaper and clutch it before me like a shield.  I back away from the row of seats and start to crab walk backwards like I don’t want to turn my back on Tashi Daleq.  I am creeping backwards towards the rear of the lounge.  I never make it.

The paper drops from my numb fingers and flutters to the deck.  I plunge forward as though to capture it.  My body lurches and begins to collapse in sections – head, then shoulders, the knees, and finally the tòn.

It’s the face of young MacPhee from South Uist, the leader of the Celtic gang, I see when I come round.  He is peering down at me, eyebrows raised in astonishment s though I have just delivered a complicated joke in Serbo-Croat. Tashi was gone from my life forever   What happened to me?  Well, I was deposited in Ospadal Uibhist agus Bharraigh in Benbecula, and for the second time in fifteen hours I found myself in a wee white hospital bed.  Plus ça change . . . and all that.

In a bizarre way her prophecy was fulfilled.  Our encounter marked the start of the ‘straight edge’ (fags and booze free) period of my life.  My world and the way I look at it, as well as how I regard myself, is now gratifyingly different.  Alleluia!

PS  That’s a wrap.  My thanks, viewers.  Beannachdan – Tormod.

 

 

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BONG

Nude-man . . . Nude-man . . . Nude-man,” is the urgent call that brings me round. “I want to give you something.” She reaches into the pocket of her jacket, pulling out a small brass pipe and a plastic bag containing big lumps of yellowish white stuff. “Follow me, please,” she commands, rising and smoothing her skirt over her thighs. The deck is pitching violently as we stagger through the bar out into the open air.

In the lee of a lifeboat we crouch on all fours and try to ignore the driving rain slanting in from the southwest. I reach into the pocket of my dressing gown for my cigarettes. The girl slaps the packet out of my hand.

“No smoke cigarettes,” the girl commands shrilly. “Take ten years off you’ life.”

Great. My eighties. Don’t want to miss those.

Tashi pinches off a large slice of material from one of the lumps, rolls it between thumb and forefinger, and stuffs a plug into the bowl of the brass pipe. She fires up a disposable lighter at the fifth attempt and sets the contents of the bowl alight. Sucking vigorously at the stem of the pipe she takes a couple of hits before handing the implement over to me. I suck in tentatively and blow out a small cloud of smoke. “Ahhhhhhhhhhh,” I go in a tone of intense satisfaction. She raises the brass pipe to her mouth, taking repeated light puffs, the bowl glowing briefly, then growing dull, and again turning red. We spend the following twenty minutes re-packing the pipe and passing it back and forth. We blow smoke into each other’s faces.

“You go to Barra?” I ask.

“Correc’, is the reply.

“What waits fo’ you there?” I say.

“A man,” she sighs.

“He from Barra?” I enquire.

“Correc’” she says. “I meet him first time in park in KL>”

“In Kinning Park in Glasgow you meet?” I say, mystified.

“Kuala Lumpur, silly man,” she says.

“You go to Barra man – let me get this straight,” I say. “You go marry?”

“No marry,” she says. “Strict cash only.”

“Why you need cash?” I ask.

“I maybe find – I dunno – new me,” comes the unexpected reply.

“A new you?” I gasp. “Old you more than good enough.”

“No,” she stresses. “In new land I find somet’ing all mine.”

“Four acres of croftland in Nask?” I enquire doubtfully.

“Maybe it work,” she says. A new thought strikes her. “Eeef it no’ work, I wait to hear if I get part.”

“What part?” I ask, becoming increasingly confused.

“In Bushfire,” she retorts.

“This is a film?” I say. She really could be a model or an actress.

“No,” she announces proudly with a broad grin. “Ees Tapas Bar in Hillhead. Een Glasgow.”

Abruptly I decide to give up. My breathing is coming in short, jagged gasps. My fists are clenched and, despite the cold wind scouring the deck, the back of my neck and my forehead are soaked in sweat.

Soon, not soon enough, my gorgeous new friend stands up and extends her hand to give me a little touch on my shoulder. “Come,” she says. “We go back for more fun talk.”

What are we on? Whatever it is, it feels good. It is like nothing I’ve ever felt before.   As I glide behind her effortlessly I marvel at how sure-footed I have become, the rising and sinking carpet of the Bar and the Observation Lounge magically smoothed out. I repeat to myself ‘We go back for more fun talk.’ What is she proposing? Is she intimating dalliance in full view of all the folk in the Observation Lounge? Getting into something freaky-deaky with this person would be one for the book: especially in full view of all the Barraich and Uibhistich in that crowded place. Strangely enough I am not too worried.

TALK IT LIKE TARZAN

Although I’ve always prided myself on my ability to get females to listen to my patter, it is only when I attempt to turn up the corners of my lips in a welcoming smile that it occurs to me that I don’t know what to say to this glamorous vision.

“’l don’t mean to presume . . .” I make a gesture with my hand casually – cool – and say, “Well, why don’t you take the weight off your . . .legs?” No sooner do I mention the divine appendages than I don’t know what to say next.

“I may sit beside you nude?” comes from the sensual mouth above me.

What am I hearing? Is this Asian girl proposing to do a striptease before sitting in the reclining chair next to mine?

It takes me about three seconds to realise that ‘nude’ is in the vocative case and the question is a simple request directed at me. She points a forefinger at my pallid bare thigh, which protrudes from the ragged hem of my dressing gown. In my late seventies the circumference of my thighs is about the same as that of my calves.

“Of course,” I gush, sweeping a newspaper and an empty crisp packet from an adjacent seat. “Please, I want you to . . . recline . . . I mean, relax next to me. The world was made for you alone . . .you’re most welcome.”

“You I t’ank,” she says.

As an aficionado of Edgar Rice Burroughs, I immediately twig that we are communicating in Tarzan language.

“What name for you?” I ask. Our vessel has just left the comparatively

sheltered waters of the Sound of Mull and now is being buffeted by very heavy waves in the Southern Minch. Indeed, for the month of May recent weather in Scotland has been most unseasonal.

“Tashi Daleq” – she pronounces it Ta-shee Daal-ek – “name for me.”

“How you are?” I demand, believing nothing can challenge my increasing

confidence in this dialect. I shake her hand and receive a little extra squeeze before we disengage. I fleetingly register that for such a slip of a girls she has some mitt on her.

“First is last,” is the unintelligible reply.

I hypothesize that in her native language – Pashtun? Tagalog? – this is the locution employed to indicate complete satisfaction with current conditions.

“What name for you?” she asks.

“Norman is name for me.”

“Noh-maan,” she repeats slowly. “I call you ‘Nude Man’ because yo’ flesh is bare.” Her index finger points to my naked peely-wally legs poking out of my old.bobbly dressing gown. She shrieks: “Nude!” and slaps her bejewelled fingers over her eyes and laughs uncontrollably. “You’ legs hurt my eyes.”

“You going to Lochboisdale?” I ask.

“No, to bar I go soon.”

This reply is promising. It occurs to me that if she intends to go next door to the Lounge Bar I may take the opportunity to sneak a double-double or two to sustain me for the remainder of the long voyage.

“Look . . . er, Tashi,” I say, handing her a twenty pound note from the crumpled heap of bamknotes I’ve taken from my pocket. “When you get to the bar, get me whisky – a lot of whisky. You understand?”

She becomes rather grave. “No,” she says, shaking her head. “I no’ goin’ get whisky. I go to island of Barr.”

“Oh, you go to Barra?”

“Yes, I tell you before.”

“Business or pleasure?”

“Beezness, of course,” she replies. She doesn’t seem to find the alternative worth considering. Only a half-naked old man would imagine that any degree of pleasure could be found on a rock in the North-east Atlantic.

“What kind beezness?’ I press. The diction adjustment is becoming contagious.

“Yes, darlin’” says the Asian beauty.

I wait for amplification but no explanation comes. In the ensuing silence despite myself my eyes close and for a brief period I am out the game.

TALK IT LIKE TARZAN

Although I’ve always prided myself on my ability to get females to listen to my patter, it is only when I attempt to turn up the corners of my lips in a welcoming smile that it occurs to me that I don’t know what to say to this glamorous vision.

“’l don’t mean to presume . . .” I make a gesture with my hand casually – cool – and say, “Well, why don’t you take the weight off your . . .legs?” No sooner do I mention the divine appendages than I don’t know what to say next.

“I may sit beside you nude?” comes from the sensual mouth above me.

What am I hearing? Is this Asian girl proposing to do a striptease before sitting in the reclining chair next to mine?

It takes me about three seconds to realise that ‘nude’ is in the vocative case and the question is a simple request directed at me. She points a forefinger at my pallid bare thigh, which protrudes from the ragged hem of my dressing gown. In my late seventies the circumference of my thighs is about the same as that of my calves.

“Of course,” I gush, sweeping a newspaper and an empty crisp packet from an adjacent seat. “Please, I want you to . . . recline . . . I mean, relax next to me. The world was made for you alone . . .you’re most welcome.”

“You I t’ank,” she says.

As an aficionado of Edgar Rice Burroughs, I immediately twig that we are communicating in Tarzan language.

“What name for you?” I ask. Our vessel has just left the comparatively sheltered waters of the Sound of Mull and now is being buffeted by very heavy waves in the Southern Minch. Indeed, for the month of May recent weather in Scotland has been most unseasonal.

“Tashi Daleq” – she pronounces it Ta-shee Daal-ek – “name for me.”

“How you are?” I demand, believing nothing can challenge my increasing confidence in this dialect. I shake her hand and receive a little extra squeeze before we disengage. I fleetingly register that for such a slip of a girls she has some mitt on her.

“First is last,” is the unintelligible reply.

I hypothesize that in her native language – Pashtun? Tagalog? – this is the locution employed to indicate complete satisfaction with current conditions.

“What name for you?” she asks.

“Norman is name for me.”

“Noh-maan,” she repeats slowly. “I call you ‘Nude Man’ because yo’ flesh is bare.” Her index finger points to my naked peely-wally legs poking out of my old.bobbly dressing gown. She shrieks: “Nude!” and slaps her bejewelled fingers over her eyes and laughs uncontrollably. “You’ legs hurt my eyes.”

“You going to Lochboisdale?” I ask.

“No, to bar I go soon.”

This reply is promising. It occurs to me that if she intends to go next door to the Lounge Bar I may take the opportunity to sneak a double-double or two to sustain me for the remainder of the long voyage.

“Look . . . er, Tashi,” I say, handing her a twenty pound note from the crumpled heap of bamknotes I’ve taken from my pocket. “When you get to the bar, get me whisky – a lot of whisky. You understand?”

She becomes rather grave. “No,” she says, shaking her head. “I no’ goin’ get whisky. I go to island of Barr.”

“Oh, you go to Barra?”

“Yes, I tell you before.”

“Business or pleasure?”

“Beezness, of course,” she replies. She doesn’t seem to find the alternative worth considering. Only a half-naked old man would imagine that any degree of pleasure could be found on a rock in the North-east Atlantic.

“What kind beezness?’ I press. The diction adjustment is becoming contagious.

“Yes, darlin’” says the Asian beauty.

I wait for amplification but no explanation comes. In the ensuing silence despite myself my eyes close and for a brief period I am out the game.

OBSERVATION LOUNGE

I wrestle open an extremely heavy fire door and, breathless, enter the Observation Lounge. This comprises ten or maybe a dozen rows of reclining lather chairs, around five deep. Almost every seat is taken. What are all these people doing crowded in the Observation Lounge rather than being dispersed between the Cafeteria, the Shop, or the Lounge Bar? Has my Creator created this gauntlet specifically to make Norman Hector MacKinnon Maclean suffer? Why are there so many ET eyes swivelling in my direction? I shuffle my way forward, holding the flap of my tatty dressing gown shut and sliding my torn green paper slippers so as not to reveal too much pallid flesh. There are many holidaymakers in the audience, but there are also many young men from Barra or South Uist, identifiable by the green and white-hooped football tops that indicate that they are supporters of Glasgow Celtic. They all wear trainers. It seems to me that all males under the age of forty on the islands have no idea what shoe polish is. “Sin thu, Thormoid, Yeah, Norman,” says one of the hoops supporters, a can of lager in his fist. “An ann a’ gabhail na grèine a-rithis a bha thu, Have you been out sunbathing again?” All his pals begin laughing at the finesse of their leader’s sarcasm. I am humiliated and ashamed. Don’t lock eyes with any of them. Act as if they do not exist. Still clutching the flaps of the dressing gown at the waist I shuffle forward until I come to the last row. At the far end two middle-aged men, shaven headed and wearing camouflage trousers and windbreakers sit companionably, the fingers of right and left hands interlocking in mutual comfort and support. There are three vacant chairs to my immediate left. I slump gratefully into the middle high-backed chair, which has a view, not of the Minch, but of a blank bulkhead of perforated aluminium. I try to arrange my bare legs in such a way that only my ill-defined pale calves are on view. The hem of the sodden gown is irredeemably far up above my knee. Since, at the age of seventy-two, my lower limbs, from knee to ankle, have roughly the same diameter, I am painfully conscious that this is not a good look.

Hey! Who is this beautiful female creature standing above me in the aisle? She has quite a head of raven black hair, trimmed to just above her caramel brown shoulders. She has a lean face with glistening cliff-top cheekbones, a broad nub of a nose, and upper and lower lips adorned by smooth, dark lipstick. She wears a smooth teal silk peasant blouse over a very short mustard coloured skirt.   Revealed are the naked brown curves of thighs and calves supported by ankle strapped shoes that are little more than insoles on pencils. It strikes me that, as the old Gaelic expression has it, ‘eadar Hiort is Peairt, between St Kilda and Perth’, this model-on-a-runway woman and old Norman Hector are the only human beings, among all the other earth people, who are either sexy enough or stupid enough to be gadding about bare legged. Funny how with us there is no contest. The woman is the sexy one. She is in her late twenties or early thirties and smiles down at me in a cool way. Her glistening white teeth are in contrast to her tawny cheeks. There is a decided Asian cast to her mischievous eyes . . .sizzling . . . aflame . . . with some kind of inner fire. There isn’t a male in the Observation Lounge who can tear his eyes away from this exotic creature, except perhaps for the two guys at the far end of the row who may well be playing for the other team.

THREE WHISKIES

Now, I am not suggesting there was any jiggery-pokery on the part of Robbie Fraser whenever he uttered the words ‘on the budget.’ I do confess to feeling a stab of anxiety when I imagined that any increase in expenditure in the budget might result in a diminution of my fee for the gig. All I know is that in March Karen Smyth lodged a thousand pounds with Glasgow Sheriff Court to pay for a bill I owed GHA. Was that it? Had I been paid in full already?

Eeny, meeny, miny, mo – in which direction do I go? I wheel away from the Honda and break into a clumsy half-gallop back towards Neil Iain Maclean’s Royal Hotel just beyond the arch.

“Don’t you dare go to the pub, Norman,” Marion shouts as she dismounts from the back seat of our vehicle. “Robbie and I are coming with you.”

The three of us more or less clatter into the lounge bar at the same time, to the open-mouthed astonishment of the young barman who is reading a newspaper behind the counter. We present a strange vision. One cool dude with four-day growth on pale chops, one female d’une âge certaine with cheeks crimson with anger, and a doubled up freak in a wet dressing gown, with exposed pale legs and torn green slippers on his feet.

“Three whiskies,” I gasp. “And what will you guys have? Robbie? Marion?”

I draw a veil over what followed. I fuzzily remember a prolonged drinking session during which I regaled the company – increased by the presence of several jolly locals who had somehow heard of the freak show in the pub – with Gaelic songs and half remembered Glasgow street chants:

‘Olaibh i buileach, tha tuilleadh san stòp, Drink it all up, there’s more in the stoup,

Deoch slàinte nam Muileach len cruinneagan bòidheach, Here’s Good Health to the natives of Mull with their beautiful maidens,

Olaibh i buileach, tha tuilleadh san stòp, Drink it all up, there’s more in the stoup,

Am Muile nan garbh-bheann tha fiadh as a’ gharbhlaich, In Mull of the high bens, deer dwell in the rugged regions,

Tha gobhair is meanbh-chrodh is sealgair an eòin ann, Goats and small cattle and fowlers are there,

Olaibh i buileach, tha tuilleadh san stòp, Drink it all up, there’s more in the stoup,

Dh’òlainn i, phàighinn i, thogainn an àird i, I would drink it, pay for it and raise it up,

Air cloinn-nighean an t-Sàilein ‘s gach àite rim eòlas, To honour the girls of Salen and every place I know,

Olaibh i buileach, tha tuilleadh san stòp, Drink it all up, there’s more in the stoup,

‘S e bhith sealltainn nad aodann ‘s do ghruaidh mar na caoran, It’s while gazing at your face, with your cheeks like rowan berries,

‘S mi smaoineachadh daonnan air faoineas na h-òige, I think of the foolishness of youth,

Olaibh i buileach, tha tuilleadh san stòp, Drink it all up, there’s more in the stoup,’

Again, the ballad of the foreign sailor who landed in Govan:

‘The first time I struck Govan,

The first time that I reached that shore,

I went down to the smoky alleys,

Trying to find a welcome door.’

Needless to tell, the poor victim falls for a pretty young girl, and accompanies her to her lodgings. There he is drugged, robbed and thrown out into the gutter.

There was certainly a hot time in old Inverary town that Sunday afternoon. A pupil of ‘Curly’ MacKay arrived with his accordion, and John the driver and cameraman joined the session. Somehow Marion and Robbie got me back into the passenger seat of the Honda and I closed my eyes for the last lap of the journey to Oban. Suffice it to say that the deep dream of peace compounded of equal parts alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs fortified me, or at least anaesthetised what I call my mind, for the horrors of what I was to encounter on the ferry. Yes, it was on the voyage between Oban and Castlebay, Barra, that I met the Mysterious Asian Beauty.

THE BUDGET

A man in the grip of his passion will not be thwarted. John’s response to my inability to explain myself is a single “Hmmmh,” whereupon he continues to harangue me in TV speak: “The shinty stick or golf club or whatever weapon Robbie decides to use will be resting on your right shoulder. Got it?”

“Uh-huh.”

“But what the viewer will see is you bringing the club down and across your body to smash into the giant container of whisky, shattering it into hundreds of pieces, okay?”

“Uh-huh,” I grunt indistinctly. I try to smile to indicate that I now realise that the word Jeroboam has nothing to do with the ancient Israelites.

“But that’s not how we’re going to film the sequence, is it?”

“Shuppose not.”

“Definitely not,” chirps John. “What we’ll do is have the head of the club resting on the side of the full massive container, the jeroboam – know what I mean?.

Unfortunately, I do, although the knowledge comes far too late.

“And,” John continues excitedly, “ I’ll film you rapidly drawing both arms backwards and upwards until the club is resting on your shoulder. Get it?”

I remain silent. John doesn’t notice and continues, laughing: “You see, ,Norman, I’m going to film in . . . reverse.”

“Reverse,” I repeat, as though I understand his gobbledegook.

“Yeah,” John says in a cheery, friendly voice. “Neat trick, humh?”

I turn my head to the passenger window. As I gaze at the dark waters of Loch Fyne I close my eyes and wish I could wake up gorked out in a wee white hospital bed somewhere. Until we reach Inveraray, I swallow yawn after yawn in strangulating gulps. Feeling heavy and dazed, I manage to tumble out of the cab about fifty yards beyond the arch on the road to Loch Awe. I am huddled against the boundary wall of either the Police or Fire Station sucking on my last cigarette when I see Robbie emerging from the back offside door and making his way toward the store on his side of the road. I shout to him to get me cigarettes.

When he returns I am waiting in the rain beside the front passenger door. “Here,” Robbie says, extending a packet of Benson and Hedges. “Let me give you some money,” he adds. “This’ll get you a meal on the ferry . . . and stuff.” He pulls out a bundle of paper money – twenties and tens – from his wallet and holds it out to me. “It’s on the budget,” he offers by way of explanation.

I crumple the money in my hand and stuff it into my dressing gown pocket. I don’t count it. I merely view it as another murky financial transaction in the long process of filming Tormod.

The phrase ‘on the budget’ I have heard on numerous occasions since we started to film this never-ending epic. In flash restaurants in Glasgow and Oban and in humble bodegas in Spain this was the jaunty phrase Robbie employed to justify expenditure on food and drink. An unpleasant sensation, not yet a thought, used to spread through my innards. I really ought to have enquired about the amount of money Belle Allée were investing in this project, and, more importantly, what was my share of it. For the first and only time in my long history of participation in television programming I hadn’t asked for a contract before the cameras began to roll. At the back end of 2008 I was so short of money that when Robbie came to me with the proposal that he be allowed to film a documentary about my life and sordid times I entered into a fuzzy agreement without taking the time to kick the tires.

For now, it was a case of taking a deep breath, gritting my teeth and getting through the unpleasant business of completing Robbie’s documentary. As we used to say in Govan when I was a lad whenever an initially tedious procedure had to be followed, ‘Rise, horse, and you’ll get grass.’ The problem was that maybe I had already received all the grass I was due.