Last time out I described my departure from Barra in 1958. This time round I’m going to write about my departure from the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow fifty years later. The circumstances were uncannily similar: female hissing angrily at me as I lie in a single bed, lowering male presence nearby.

They, Marion and Robbie, were going to sneak me out of the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow on Sunday the 24th of May 2009. I learned about the plan on the preceding Wednesday night during the visiting hour. Well, I heard a whole lot of blethering and mumbo-jumbo from my fellow-islander Marion Campbell midweek, but I really didn’t take in all the details of the plan. I remember how irritated she made me feel. I remember wishing she’d go away and let me sleep. I was tranquillised to the gills on benzodiazepines at the time and was finding it difficult to concentrate.

I describe familiar territory. I was recovering – yet again – from a particularly toxic and prolonged battle with the booze in a wee white hospital bed. Treatment, I knew from experience, would consist of little more than AA sessions led by minimally qualified counsellors. At the 12-step meetings I’d be encouraged to attend upon discharge, I would be told that I was in the grip of a chronic progressive disease and that there exists only one single path to recovery: lifelong abstinence from alcohol. If I succumbed to the temptation to have one drink, I’d be off on a bender. I had been bouncing in and out of rehab programmes since 1964 – some top-of-the-line places like the Crichton Royal in Dumfries and the Roosevelt Hospital in NYC offered equine therapy, art therapy and Brazilian dance therapy – and I had never got better. Accordingly, I wasn’t looking forward to the same ol’, same ol’ Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions in hospital and the war stories recounted by speakers at AA meetings.

You could say I was mildly depressed and was wallowing in the temporary relief afforded by the cortical depressants. They took the edge off my despair.

Five minutes before visiting hour on that Wednesday evening I had been given two 30mg tablets of exycodene and my mind was already drifting when my liberators materialised at my bedside. I welcomed Marion’s prattling like I’d look forward to an ingrown toenail. Fortunately, her companion, Robbie Fraser, son of an old uni. pal of mine, Neil Fraser, and the multi-talented musician and author Anne Lorne Gillies, remained silent throughout Marion’s lecture, though he did exhale audibly occasionally.

She starts off fairly quietly.

“Norman?” she coos.


“Norman? Can you hear me?”

“Uh-huh,” I grunt, my eyes barely open, eyelids fluttering.

Marion bends down so that she’s staring right into my face. She puts her hand on my forehead, and pushes my head back a bit.

“Robbie’s had it up to his gills with you, Norman,” she states calmly. “You know he’s been trying to complete this TV documentary called Tormod since New Year. He’s taken you to Oban, Loch Arkaig and Andalucia in Spain. Is that correct?”


“He’s only got a couple of PTCs (pieces to camera) to film. Right?”


“But,” she says, putting her foot on the volume pedal a bit, “every time he carts his photographic and sound gear up to your flat, you’re on the broad of your back, blind drunk, or you’re out in the pub. It was the neighbours who told us this time that you’d been rushed off to hospital.”

There is no reasonable response I can make to Marion’s accusations. I turn my back on her and try to ignore her persistent chatter. This does not faze our Marion one little bit.


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